Title: "Prelude to a Kiss"
Author: Mala
E-mail: malisita@yahoo.com
Spoilers: Up to "Hero." *sniffle*
Rating/Classification: PG, angst, A/C/D stuff, fluff. Disclaimer: I don't own Angel. Nope. Or Cordy and Doyle. Joss does.

"His soul stretched tight across the skies/That fade behind a city block." T.S. Eliot. "Preludes." Angel slammed the poetry anthology shut and shoved it across the table. Dust clouds rose from the abused pages. Doyle would've sneezed and morphed into that Pinhead character from the "Hellraiser" movies he liked so much.

But Doyle wasn't there. Neither was Cordelia. For all intents and purposes, he was alone in the building. From attic to office to his basement apartment. . . his soul was stretched tight.

He stood up, kicking back his chair, and crossed to the fridge. It held more than pig's blood now. A bottle of wine. Cans of beer. A package of bagels. Cream cheese. But it was still the blood he reached for.

Swiping a mug from the cabinet, he poured a serving of the rich, cold, liquid. He didn't *mind* cold blood. Delia liked to call it his spin on the Carnation Instant Breakfast. But he drank it for other reasons.

Because his soul stretched tight.

And cold blood didn't taste like it came from anything that lived. Lessened the urge to drink from those around him. More like a Slim Fast shake for vampires.

He laughed to himself, sipping from the black pewter mug as he moved into the main room and flopped down on the couch.

He was comfortable. He was content. Which was why he was constantly waiting for both feelings to end. For his soul to snap him back, like a rubber band, and send him flying into brooding darkness again. Because Doyle and Cordy weren't supposed to mean so much. Weren't supposed to make him laugh or make him miss them when they were gone.

The half-demon and the half-diva fought like kids. Scuffling. Name-calling. Throwing knickknacks, file folders, and utensils at each other. And they tugged him into it. One-liners eased from his lips as he caught a paperweight or a fork, set it down, and shook his head.

And other times? Other times Angel would catch them exchanging long, sensual glances. Fond caresses. Passionate kisses in the stairwell. Intimacy that all their public tirades belied. They tugged him into *that*, too. Doyle's arm thrown casually around his shoulders as they knocked back neat draughts of scotch and watched Manchester U on ESPN2. Cordelia's fierce hugs and fiercer kisses when cases got violent or calls came from Sunnydale. Sneak attacks with pillows from *both* of them that ended with feathers and body parts all entangled.

They were a family. It was bizarre. It was unnatural. It was more than he deserved. The last time he'd been this complete. . .he'd been unsouled and the others in the twisted triumvirate had been Spike and Drusilla. To say that it had "sucked" would've been an understatement. And a terrible pun.

His soul was stretched tight. Snapping. . .snapping. . .

And it held.

"Hey. . .I don't think so, okay?!? You cannot go into an Italian restaurant and order Versace and act like it's a pasta!!"

"Queen C.. . .it was a joke. You know, a 'funny'?"

"Well, I don't think it's funny! Not that you have respect for fashion anyway! I mean, look at your clothes! I refuse to take you anywhere--"

Voices carried down from the freight elevator. Brash. . .loud. . . and then were cut off. Angel knew exactly why. Could picture Cordelia pinned to the wall as the lift hit ground, twining her arms around Doyle's neck as they necked feverishly. It was how all their petty arguments seemed to end.

He rose, slowly, setting down his drained mug, unable to resist the smile that spread across his face. "What's this about pasta?" he murmured as the couple stepped out of the elevator with linked hands.

Cordelia immediately let go and bounded across the room with some of her old cheerleader joie de vivre. As she threw her arms around him, Angel staggered backwards, landing right back on the couch again with her square on his lap. Her lips were quirking with Lolita-like mischief. "That demon over there has no class," she informed.

"And Angel does?" Doyle rounded the furniture and sat down next to them with a wry smile and a twinkle in his blue eyes. "He's dead, Delia. . .that doesn't say much."

Angel wrapped his hands around Cordelia's waist. . . moving her off gently and sitting her on the demon's lap. "No, Guys," he sighed. "I think I'm more alive than I've ever been."

There was a silence. And Delia touched his face. Her fingers were warm and soothing. He gently brushed her mouth with his and then pulled back.

"I'm glad," she whispered.

"You're not going to kiss *me* now, are you, Mate?" Doyle asked, suddenly.

"I just might." He arched a wicked eyebrow. . .and leaned in as Cordelia held the slight, struggling demon down. Laughter abounded as well as a screech and a torrent of Gaelic curses.

His soul stretched tight.


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