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Armadillos and Salsa

Chapter Three: Urban Cowboys and the 12:15 Flyby

The Burkle Ranch, San Antonio, Texas

"I still say we kill it."

"Shut up, Connor." Gunn said, smacking the teen on the arm as he watched Roger mounting one of the horses. The horse danced in place the as Fred's father settled his weight in the creaking saddle with ease. "Looks easy enough."

"As easy as milking a cow?" Connor countered with a laugh, noting the brand-new shirt Gunn was wearing. Gunn glared at him and then turned back to Fred, who was being helped into the saddle by Grayson. His eyes narrowed and he clutched at the reins of the horse he'd been handed. The mare tossed her head and made a whuffing noise as if she sensed his anger. He distractedly laid a hand on her nose and continued to watch the blonde cowboy helping Fred onto her horse.

As if she needed the help.

"Thanks." Fred replied with a wide grin as she shooed flies off her filly's ears. "Come on up, Charles!"

"Need a hand up, Chuck?" Grayson said with a barely concealed smirk. He patted Fred's leg and moved toward Gunn's horse. Gunn swung up in the saddle before he could cross the brightly lit barnyard, glaring at Grayson, his jaw working in anger.

"I got it." He said as he gingerly attempted to wheel the horse's head around like Roger had showed them and, to his surprise, the horse obeyed him. It turned around and snorted at the pair standing before it as Grayson walked back into the barn.

Wesley smiled to see Gunn horseback, while Faith was busy rubbing her ass for some reason. Connor's eyebrows rose as he watched her feeling the plump round curve, craning her neck around to get a good look at it.

"What are you doing?" He asked as Faith looked up with a troubled expression on her face.

"Do I have a fat ass?"

"What?" He exclaimed as Wesley snorted with laughter.

"Tell me the truth, is it too fat?" She turned her rear end in Connor's direction and he happily examined it, a smile on his lips.

"It's um...nice?"

"See?" Faith said turning back around and smacking Wesley in the stomach. He winced, but still kept his grin. "Told you it was a nice ass."

"I didn't say it wasn't nice--it's just--"

"Whoa, okay! No ass talk! Not around my D-A-D!" Fred exclaimed in mock horror and gestured to her father, who was trotting his horse around the small barnyard.

"I didn't hear a word." Roger said as he passed by, leaving Fred to blush and turn back to Wesley and Faith. Faith squeezed her butt with both hands again and mimed pushing it inward as Grayson came out of the barn guiding two horses. His eyes trailed over the two newcomers and he waved at them.

"More friends, Winnie?"

"Oh! That's Wesley and that's Faith!" Fred said as she pointed to them both. Wesley nodded at him as Faith looked up and took in Grayson with raised eyebrows. "Guys, this is Grayson."

"How y'all doin'?" Grayson asked, as Faith looked him up and down. He smiled that charming white grin at her and tipped his hat like a gentleman.

"Yeah, whatever." Faith said as she rolled her eyes and then stalked toward one of the horses. She snatched the reins out of his hand and led the horse away as Grayson stood there with a sour expression on his face. Gunn grinned to see him so easily put off. Grayson handed the reigns to the other horse to Wesley and disappeared into the barn again.

"Aren't you going to help me up?" Faith said, batting her eyelashes at Wesley as he started to mount Rufus, the horse he'd groomed earlier. His eyebrows rose and he looked less than amused.

"Are you serious?"

"Come on! I thought you English were all proper and chivalrous or something! You're supposed to help a lady into the saddle."

"Faith," Wesley said, leaning forward in the saddle to stare down at the Slayer. "They day you become a lady will be the day I get 'God Save the Queen' tattooed on my ass."

"Hey! Ass-word!" Fred interjected as Faith smirked and swung up into the saddle of the horse before her--without using the stirrups. She acted like she was born to ride, but Wesley knew it was just one of her abilities as a Slayer to adapt well to new situations. Still, she sat a pretty seat.

"Everybody ready?" Roger asked, turning his mount's head back toward the others with ease. He watched as Grayson brought two more horses out of the barn and climbed atop one of them, leaving Connor climb up on the remaining horse. The horse's eyes rolled around in its sockets as Connor nervously sat on top of it. He didn't look like he liked the feel of it underneath him any more than the horse liked the way he sat on top of it. He glanced at the cowhand beside him and then back at Fred and Gunn, a sly smile playing over his lips.

"Hey...uh...where's that Cordelia gal?" Grayson asked, craning his neck to stare back into the shadowed confines of the barn. Connor's eyes narrowed as he tried to handle the nervously whickering horse beneath him. "Don't she wanna ride with us?"

"She said she'd catch us later." Fred said as she turned her horse toward her father, who was moving toward the big wide pasture, where they could ride along the dirt trails beaten into the dusty grass.

"Oh." Grayson's face fell as he dug his heels into his horse's flanks and headed up the rear of the pack. He glanced at the barn once more before turning his head to the beaten, dusty trail, where the warm, early-summer sun invited them with open arms.

****

Up in the hayloft, Angel watched them go, his back against the rough wooden beams, his boots just inside the warm shaft of sunlight that striped the hay and turned it a bright gold. It was warm up here and even he could feel the heat the barn sucked in through the black-shingled roof. The sweet smell of hay swirled into his lungs as he took a deep breath and then expelled the unused air.

As he turned his attention back to the view of the huge pastures and the corral of well-fed cattle, he felt a whisper of breeze at his elbow and the sharp scent of Cordelia told him all he needed to know. He hadn't missed the fact that she wasn't with the others as they rode out on the horses.

"Why didn't you go? I know how much you were looking forward to riding."

"Yeah, that would have been nice, but I'm not really in the mood for physical labor right now. Besides, we'll be here for two weeks, the horses aren't going anywhere." She answered, her gaze riveted on the beautiful scene before her. He glanced at her, seeing the sweat breaking out across her skin from the oppressive heat of the loft. She pulled up her short brown hair with one hand and fanned the back of her slender neck with her other. "Plus, hey...quality time. Alone."

"Oh, it's time for that, huh?"

"Yup. Why do I think I insisted on getting you in the barn? You can't really run away and if you try to be all avoid-y, I'll just poke you with a pitchfork." She glanced at him and he saw the mischief shining in her eyes. Oh yeah, she'd do what she said; he had no doubts about that. "So..."

"So, what should I say?"

"How about, 'I know things are weird and dammit, I don't want them to be and couldn't we just get over it and move on with our lives?' That sounds good to me." Cordelia said as she blew out a breath, lifting the damp strands that were plastered to her forehead.

"We are moving on, Cordelia. That's why we're here."

"Is it? 'Cuz I was under the impression we were here because we were running from responsibility."

"What?"

"So many bad things happened back in L.A., Angel. Some demon went all Bodysnatchers on me and slept with Connor and Angelus was let out...people died. When I woke up, I nearly had a full-term demon baby--AGAIN! Can I just tell you how old that's getting? I am not some demon surrogate mother, all right? Jeez!" Cordy exclaimed, throwing up her hands in aggravation.

"I'm sure you had a point in all that ranting..." Angel said in amusement as she glared at him, dropping her damp hair back onto her neck.

"The point I was getting at was that we kinda just split after we killed my aforementioned demon brat Jasmine or whatever the hell she was called. We left everything we called home and came here to escape the past. That can't be healthy."

"Well, we could have stayed and dealt with all the death and destruction and painful, awful memories that happened there. And something bad would have happened again and we'd go back through the cycle of never-ending badness that we always seem to come up against. Gee, I don't know about you, but I'd rather not."

"Angel, is that what you think would have happened if we'd stayed?" Cordelia said lightly, biting her lip as Angel crossed his arms over his chest and moved one step to the right to avoid the expanding sunbeam coming in through the open doors.

"Well, judging by my record at lasting happiness--yeah. Every time I think things are going to work out, something happens. My only son gets kidnapped or I get thrown into the ocean and when I come back, the only person in my life that matters is gone. And when I finally think you're back--you're not. Yeah, I think that's what would have happened."

"Angel...do you blame me for what happened?"

"I already told you I don't."

"I know...I just feel like sometimes you can't look at me because of what that thing did. You know I'd never, EVER, do that with Connor right? It's...I get cold chills trying to imagine it..."

"Try seeing it first hand. That'll keep you nights, completely terrified..."

"What? Why, didn't I look good? I know I looked good!" Cordelia exclaimed and then stopped herself with a laugh. "Oh dear God...what the hell am I saying?"

"I'm not sure, but you're not coming off the best in this conversation."

"No surprise there." She said with a roll of her eyes. Then she looked up, studying his face. "So...are we okay? I mean, are things un-weird between us?"

"Do you want them to be un-weird?"

"Duh!" She exclaimed, throwing up her hands again. "I bothers me that we're not...close anymore. Ya know? I haven't seen you in over a year, really. And we've kinda grown apart. I don't want to be apart."

"Me neither."

"So, we're cool?"

"I think it's safe to say we are."

"Good." Silence fell over them again and he watched her toeing a pile of hay with her ragged sneaker. His gaze traveled up her body, noting the cut off jean shorts and the small red tank top that hugged her curves. He swallowed hard as she looked up and caught his eye. "What?"

"Nothing." He said quickly as he turned back to look out at the pasture, where the rest of the gang could no longer be seen for the small hill they'd crossed over a few minutes ago. He felt the air stir as she stepped close to him, her skin giving off a heat that scorched him through the thin fabric of his white button-down shirt. He'd actually managed to put on a color that wasn't black today, know it would make her happy. "Cordy...?"

"Angel, I just want you to know that...I'm not going anywhere from now on. No ascending, no skipping off to Mexico with certain Grooselugg's who shall remain nameless and no getting body jacked. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere. You can be happy. Okay, not perfectly happy, but happy. Got it?"

He felt a stab of guilt go through him, but he didn't correct her. Instead, he leaned away from the wall and cupped her sweaty face in his cool hands, then kissed her forehead tenderly. "Okay, I got it. As long as--"

His words were cut off as Cordelia grabbed his head in both hands and slammed her mouth against his.

****

Out on the trails, Connor was busy attempting to get a handle on his nervous stead as Grayson gave him directions.

"Now, boy, you gotta show him whose boss! Horse who don't know who his master is'll just take it into its head to bolt and to hell with whoever's on it's back. Ol' Montezuma there's gotta be shown whose boss."

"So what should I do?" Connor said in mock exasperation as he attempted (and failed) to hold the reins like Grayson was showing him. Gunn watched him struggling and couldn't help the grin that spread as he thought of how well he was doing compared to Connor. His horse was a gentle mare that didn't seem to have any cares in the world and he couldn't blame it.

Who could be upset on a gorgeous day like this, with the air so fresh and un-polluted? He took a deep breath and glanced over at Fred, who was riding her horse next to him, her face turned up to the sky, her skin soaking up the rays of the bright golden sun. She looked so beautiful that his heart seized and he couldn't keep his eyes off her.

"Gorgeous, isn't it?" Fred said, glancing over at him.

"The most gorgeous thing I've ever seen." He said, not tearing his eyes off her face as their eyes met. She smiled widely and then glanced behind her, where Grayson was attempting to get close enough to Montezuma and Connor to loop the reins over the pommel of his saddle. Slightly ahead of them, Faith and Wesley were loping along with her father leading them. It sounded like Faith and Wesley were arguing again and she felt a slight shudder of dread come over her as she thought about what they could possibly be saying in front of her father. Wesley she could trust to keep the conversation civil, but Faith had a runaway mouth.

"Uh-oh." She said, her nose scrunching.

Gunn followed her gaze and smiled. "Maybe we should go rescue your dad from the dangerous duo?"

"Good idea...but I promised Grayson I'd ride with him..." Fred's voice trailed off as she looked behind her at the struggling Grayson, who was still attempting to get a hold of Connor's horse. It seemed like Connor was deliberately making the horse shy away from his outstretched hand.

"Hey, if you guys need to go ahead, don't let us stop you." Connor said, flicking his long hair out of his face with a jerk of his head that sent the horse dancing to the left. Grayson's suntanned face was disgruntled as he looked up and waved them off.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah! We'll catch up!" Connor said brightly as Grayson hopped off his horse and grabbed Montezuma's bridle in his callused fingers. Fred waved goodbye and then gestured to Gunn to keep moving.

They moved down the bumpy path, slowing moving into the scrubby wooded area that sat on the farthest edge of the Burkle's ranch. The blistering sun was immediately dimmed as they moved into the cool shade. Fred sighed happily and glanced at him again.

"You know, you make a good cowboy."

"A black cowboy? That's gotta be a first."

"Well...not really. The very first cowboy was black."

"What? Really?" Gunn exclaimed, glancing over at her in amusement.

"Yup! Umm...I think his name was...William Pickett maybe? I think. Possibly. I'd have to look it up on the Internet..." Fred said with a frown, a thick line between her eyebrows.

"Don't worry about it. I'll take your word for it. After all, you are the smartest person I know." He said with a chuckle as he ducked a low tree branch.

"Not that smart." She said bitterly, casting her head down to stare at her filly's ears. He opened his mouth to say something, but she suddenly snapped her head up and her eyes went wide. "Oh! See that over there?"

He followed her finger and saw a tiny wood structure in the trees; so old it was warped and rotted. "Yeah, what is it?"

"It's a deer stand. You sit on it and...shoot deer."

"Oh."

"But that's not all. It's where I used to..." Her eyes got really big as she pinched her thumb and index finger together and brought it to her lips. His mouth fell open. "Yup, I spent many a day baked out of my skull in that old deer stand."

"I can't believe you smoked pot way back in the day. You just don't seem the type."

"Oh yeah, because super-smart, loopy-brained physicists can't work a bong!" Fred said with a giggle, as the deer stand disappeared into the trees. "You don't give me enough credit, Charles."

"I'm ain't sure what to give you, girl! I'm just surprised is all. You--"

"Hey!" They both looked up to see Roger looking back behind him from where he had his horse stopped on the path. Faith and Wesley were stopped too and they weren't fighting anymore. "Either of you got a watch?"

"Yeah, why?" Fred called in confusion, holding up her thin wrist to display the tiny watch strapped to it.

"What time is it?" Her father called as he turned his horse's head back toward her.

"12:13, why...OH!" Fred's eyes went wide and she quickly clamored off her horse. "Hop off Charles, quick!"

He did so immediately as the others did the same. "Why, what's going on?" He asked in confusion, his legs hurting and bowed from riding for even that small amount of time. Faith and Wesley also looked perplexed as they led their horses back toward Fred and Gunn.

"Where's Grayson and the kid?" Roger asked, squinting at the sky.

"They're back there...uh-oh..." Fred said, biting her lip in worry. "Should I hurry back and tell em what time it is?"

"Not enough time. Let's just hope Grayson realizes what time it is and gets that kid off of Monty before it happens."

"What happens? Enough with the mystery!" Faith exclaimed, throwing up her hands in frustration.

"You just keep ahold of them reins cuz you're about to find out..." Roger said with a sigh as he continued to squint at the sky. Everyone else looked up too, waiting as if they were in anticipation of a battle.

****

Back in the barn, Angel was doing his own kind of battle as Cordelia jumped him. Surprised, he fell back against the wall, bringing her with him. His arms immediately went around her waist and he lifted her against his chest. Her mouth was hot and sweet under his as he greedily accepted kiss after kiss, their tongues battling as she writhed against him.

Finally, he managed to pull away for a moment. "Cor--Cordy!"

"Huh?" She gasped, her cheeks even more flushed than before, sweat rolling down her temples and her chest heaving up down as she drew in lungfuls of hot air. Her eyes were dark brown and seductive in the light.

"What's...what?!" He stammered in shock, letting his hands wander up her back, where the red shirt gaped open above her shorts.

"You don't know how long I've been wanting to do that!" She exclaimed as his eyes went wide. "What? You don't wanna?" He immediately answered her by capturing her mouth again, his hands trailing back down her back where he cupped the rounded globes of her ass and lifted her against him. Her legs went around his middle as she clung to his neck with both arms. He stepped away from the wall and moved away from the encroaching beam of sunlight.

Cordelia grunted as they fell backward, the huge piles of hay softening their landing. Warmth spread between them as he leeched it out of her body. Her hands slid between them, her fingers popping buttons and reaching inside his shirt to caress along cool muscles. Her back arched as he petted his hands along the soft curves of her hips.

"I thought you weren't in the mood for physical labor?" He teased as she pulled away for air.

"Shut up." She gasped as he moved his head away from her mouth, kissing along her jaw line and down to her neck. His tongue flicked out, catching tiny droplets of her tangy sweat. He moaned against her as the flavor spread and he yearned to taste more. She twisted her head to the side as he kissed down the crook of her neck and landed tiny bites along the sweaty skin.

"Cor--" He muttered into her skin as his fingers slid up the inside of her thighs and down into the hot cleft of her body. The old denim was damp and warm as he pressed is fingers into her, teasing her with his nearness.

"Angel...let's not go too far..." Cordelia said in a pained voice as she arched her back, her belly sliding against his. He looked up from his careful marking on her skin to stare into her desire-darkened eyes. He felt warmth spread throughout his limbs and he opened his mouth to tell her the whole truth.

And that's exactly when the walls of the barn started to rattle so hard they thought it was going to crash down around them. Then, with a deafening blast of sound, the sky exploded.

****

Lorne sauntered toward the barn as everyone hopped off their horses. He stopped short as Wesley and Connor limped into the barn, followed by Faith who was grinning widely.

"What the holy hell happened?" Lorne exclaimed, taking in the gash across Connor's forehead and the way Wesley winced every time he took a step. His hands hovered near his crotch and his face was pale.

"Dude, you so missed it!" Faith said, her face lit up as she clapped Wesley on the back. He grimaced and shrugged away from her hand as he led Rufus into his stall.

"What was that noise?" Angel's voice suddenly split the air. Everyone turned to stare at him as he started climbing down the ladder that led to the hayloft. There was straw and hay in his hair and his white shirt gaped open where it was unbuttoned.

"The 12:15 flyby." Roger, Grayson and Fred chorused in amusement as Angel hopped off the last rung and attempted to straighten out his hair.

"The what?"

"San Anton is just full of air force bases and at 12:15 every morning we get a nice little how-do-you-do from Brooks down the road. Spooks the horses every time." Fred said in fond remembrance.

"You think?" Connor groused, touching his tender forehead where blood was drying in a thin line.

"Do I even want to know?" Angel asked as he stepped up to Connor and gingerly touched the wound. He glanced at Wesley, who was moving very slowly now that Rufus was put up. He collapsed down onto the milking stool Fred had recently abandoned.

"Can I tell him? I want to tell him!" Faith exclaimed, nearly jumping up and down as Gunn laughed out loud. Angel's eyebrows rose and he looked from Wesley to Connor and back again.

"Tell me what?"

"Let's just say Connor's a sucky ass horseman and that Wesley didn't get out of the way in time." Gunn said as he mimed someone getting plowed over by a rather large something else. Faith gave a great huff of annoyance at being beaten to the punch as Angel's eyes widened.

"I hit a branch and finally fell off the horse, which is when I hit Wesley...in the balls." Connor said, glancing at Wesley, who was still sitting on the stool trying to appear brave.

"You okay?" Angel asked, as he looked him over. He didn't have a scratch on him, but he looked like he was in pain.

"Fine." He said through a tight-lipped smile. Faith grinned deviously.

"He may never have kids, but he's fine." Faith said as Wesley glared at her, obviously not as amused as everyone else.

"You're better off without them, Wes. They're just a pain in the ass." Angel said with a grin as Connor's mouth flew open. He glared at his father and then tentatively smiled to see the glint in his eyes.

"Why do I miss all the funny stuff?" Lorne lamented as he patted Connor on the back and then turned his attention on Angel. He looked away and then did a double take, his mouth dropping open. "Already!! What? But! What?"

Angel's face went red and he looked away quickly. "Lorne, stay out of my aura!"

"I'm not the one dipping my pen in the company ink, cinnamon buns!" Lorne said in mock astonishment. Every eye in the barn was suddenly riveted on Angel, who's mouth opened wide for a moment before he grabbed up a blanket darted past Gunn and escaped into the sunshine. Everyone watched him go, especially Grayson.

"Am I missing something?" He murmured to Roger, who just gave him a quelling look and went back to his work. A second later, Cordelia suddenly appeared at the bottom of the loft steps, a big smile on her face. She too, was covered in bits of hay and straw.

"Hey! Hi...have a nice ride?" She asked as everyone stared at her with wide, knowing eyes. "What?"

****

"Angel?!" Cordelia shouted as she left the barn, looking around frantically for some sign of Angel. The sun was bright and just as deadly as a stake in the heart.

She swung around, her eyes going wide as she saw Angel sprinting toward her, half covered in a horse blanket, smoke rising. Her heart jumped into her throat and she quickly pushed him inside the nearest shelter--the motor home parked next to Trish's yellow school bus.

Once inside, he yanked the blanket off and patted the smoking places with a wide grimace of pain.

"Are you okay?"

"Not a big flame-y pile of nothing, so yeah, I'm fine."

"Good." She said and then proceeded to smack him. He flinched away from her flailing, deadly hands and sank down into the booth. "Why the hell did you run out into the sunlight for? Stupid ass!"

"Sorry! I just...." He said guiltily as she sank down onto the shallow couch opposite him. The motor home was even hotter than the hayloft and she was already sweating. "About what happened in there..."

"Oh, you mean the hot, groin-y, action that was so rudely interrupted by the Powers That Don't Want Us to Screw?"

"Well yeah...there's something I wanted to tell you and--"

"Why the hell did you run out? Why?"

"Because...they all know what we were doing up there and, and..."

"And what? Are you like, ashamed?"

"NO!"

"Then what is it?" Cordelia cried, throwing her hands up in the air and glaring at him.

"It's...complicated." Angel said shakily, licking his dry, blistered lips.

"I have the time." Cordelia said through clenched teeth, her hands balling into fists he knew would be landing on his face sometime soon if he didn't spit it out.

So, he squared his shoulders and said the hardest thing he'd ever had to say to the woman before him.

"Thecurseisgoneandwecanhavesex."

"Pardon me?"

"I...we can have sex."

"No we can't." Cordelia insisted with a emphatic nod of her head, as if she were completely and utterly sure of herself and she would not be contradicted.

"Yes we can, Cordy. Willow changed the curse when she restored my soul. There's no happiness clause now. I can't lose it unless it's stolen or something. We can...make love."

"No we can't." She insisted with a stone face.

"Yes we can!" Angel exclaimed, as if he could hammer it into her skull if he said it loud enough.

"No we can't. I don't want to." She said sulkily, crossing her arms over her chest.

"What?"

"You lied to me, Angel. All this time...what, you thought I couldn't handle it or something? Do the others know?" He nodded his head and she glared at him. "What!? They all knew and I didn't? Why didn't you tell me?"

"I was waiting for the perfect opportunity and...sitting in a motor home that smells like an Innit demon in heat is not how I wanted to do it."

"And what...you thought me learning you were suddenly sexually available would automatically get me in the sack? I'm not a whore, Angel!"

"What?! I never thought that...you're blowing this way out of proportion!" He protested as she moved toward the door of the motor home.

"I am not! You didn't trust me enough to tell me right away and then you suddenly spring it on me out of nowhere and just expect me to jump into bed with you--"

"First off, I don't expect that!! I was about to tell you when we got the most badly timed flyby in the history of the world! It was the perfect moment and then it got ruined--just like I knew it would. And besides, you were the one who started the whole hot, groin-y action back there, not me!"

"This isn't about what I started--this is about what you didn't tell me and what you didn't tell me has a lot to do with what you'll never get! EVER!"

"WHAT?" Angel sputtered, his head spinning. Whatever the hell it was she was arguing about was going right over his head. He blinked rapidly and clutched his head. "I have no idea what we're even fighting about!"

"Well...if you don't know then I'm not telling you!" Cordelia shouted and kicked open the door to the motor home, the disappeared into the sunshine, leaving him to stare after her in complete and total confusion.

****

A few hours later saw a light wind sweeping the dust into little tornadoes that twirled around the little farmhouse. The sun was still shining brightly down, turning the world into a bright, bleached blister. Gunn stepped outside, enjoying the refreshing breeze passing over his skin. Down the wide wooden porch, he saw Lorne, Trish and Connor standing in a circle, talking in low voices.

"Hey guys." He called as they jumped and broke up, nervous smiles on their faces. "What's going on?"

"Nothing." They all chorused as one. Lorne shot Trish a knowing look and watched as she walked off into the house. She came out a few minutes later with Cordelia and Fred in tow. Gunn watched Fred climb into her mother's pick-up truck with a longing in his gut. She met his eyes across the driveway and waved as Trish turned the truck down the big, long gravel lane that led away from the ranch.

"Where are they going?" He asked Connor as he sat down next to him. Lorne walked past them, heading toward motor home, where he knew Angel was still brooding or doing whatever it was he did when he wasn't around them.

"The mall."

"Cordy ought be happy about that one." Gunn commented, sitting down on the steps with a smile. He looked up at the sun, not caring that it would make his vision blotted out by a big red after-image. He just wanted to make sure it was still there.

"So, hey...I heard Grayson talking about going out to some bar tomorrow night. Might be fun." Connor said nonchalantly as he picked up a rock from the driveway and smoothed his fingers over the bumpy surface. He lifted one hand to the Band-Aid across the cut on his forehead and rubbed the sore flesh a little.

"Oh, really? Who's he taking?"

"I think he said something about asking Cordelia. I don't know."

"What did Fred have to say about that?" Gunn asked in a tight voice, his eyes following the truck as it disappeared behind a hill on the road.

"She said it might be fun. She was worried you wouldn't go though, since it's a country bar or something and she knows how much you hate that kind of music."

"She said that? Really?"

"Oh yeah! She's really excited to show you the sights around town. I'd hate to see you disappoint her." Connor said, glancing slyly at him. A smile spread across Gunn's lips and he took a deep breath.

"Yeah, I'd hate that too...maybe I could mingle with the American Honky Tonk Bar Association for one night, at least."

"Cool, it'll be fun." Connor said in triumph.

"What? Whoa...you can't go!" Gunn said forcefully, snapping out of his reverie in a hurry.

"Why not?"

"Do the words 'under' and 'age' mean anything to you?" Gunn said, ruffling Connor's hair as the teen crossed his arms and muttered under his breath.

"I never get to have any fun."

****

"Knock, knock sugar plum!"

"Go away Lorne." Angel said as Lorne swung the door to the motor home open and stepped inside anyway.

"Now, is that any way to talk to your favoritest demon ever? Barring your little flapjack Cordy, that is." Lorne said as he sat down on the couch Cordelia had occupied not long ago. He immediately started fanning his face; the heat in the motor home was stifling.

"Oh yeah, she's my favorite psychotic, unpredictable half-demon Seer with a vengeful streak a mile long. I just loooove her." Angel said bitterly, taking a swig of something liquid from a brown, unlabeled bottle.

"Whoa! Angelface, tone it down! And give me that!" Lorne reached forward and snatched the bottle from his hands. He lifted it to his nose and took a whiff. "Oh sweet muscular Jesus! Wild Turkey? Where did you get this?"

"Your bag."

"Oh yeah." Lorne said with a smirk as he took a drink. "So...you wanna tell me what happened?"

"What? After you intruded on what was none of your business? Sure! Let's go there!"

"I didn't intrude! You were practically screaming at me!" Lorne protested, setting the bottle down on the little table.

"I don't care...you really should learn tact."

"Cordelia doesn't have any tact and you like her."

"Yes, but she has breasts and therefore deserves to have certain things overlooked. You...don't." Angel said as he mimed cupping two giant breasts in front of Lorne. The demon smacked his hands away and glared at him.

"First off--calm down the misogyny and second of all why the hell are you all drunk and surly?"

"We had a fight."


"Really? What about?"

"You know...I don't have a clue. And now she's probably off talking to that cowboy guy who reminds me of that one actor...you know who I'm talking about? Remember, he was in that that Jackie Chan movie with the cowboys Cordy made us watch a million times? He's got the same nose..." Angel said, biting his lip as he reached for the bottle again.

"Owen Wilson?" Lorne said, snatching the bottle back before Angel could grab it.

"Yeah! That's the guy. I don't like that guy."

"Owen or Grayson?" Lorne asked, obviously very confused.

"Grayson! Keep up!" Angel exclaimed as he chewed his lip some more. "He likes her, doesn't he?"

"He barely knows her, Angel-pie. But he's definitely looking."

"See? I'm not completely dense. I get these things sometimes. So...is she looking?"

"I don't know...maybe. Uh, he's probably going to invite her to this bar in town that he mentioned earlier. Everyone's going tomorrow night, I think. What do you say?" Lorne said, turning the bottle around and around in his lime green fingers as he watched Angel.

"You think she'll say yes?"

"If she's mad at you she will."

"She's definitely mad."

"Well, maybe I should go...I could keep an eye on her." Lorne suggested, feeling his stomach clench. He hadn't expected a fight to happen so soon; not since they had been getting along so well, but it just served to further his goals. Making Angel jealous was very easy actually.

"Yeah, you could and uh, I could go too. Keep an extra super-human eye on her. Not that I care!" Angel said quickly.

"Of course. So, is it a date?"

"You bet. Now hand me that bottle."

"Sorry, I'm cutting you off. Get your own Wild Turkey!" Lorne exclaimed as he stood and looked around the motor home. "And for goodness sakes, sober up! You're a Champion, not a whiny loser!"

Angel nodded and laid his head in his hands. "Got it. Anything else?"

"Yeah, put my underwear back in my bag!" The demon said, gesturing to the tiger-striped g-string that was strewn across the floor next to his opened bag. Angel followed his gaze and stared morosely at the tiny garment as Lorne went out the door.

"My life sucks."

****

Wesley hissed as a large plastic baggie full of ice cubes landed on his crotch. He jerked up in the lawn chair and glared at Faith as she laughed and straddled the other lawn chair beside his. They were both sitting in the backyard, just beside the back porch.

"How's ya nuts doing?" She asked, tossing her hair over her shoulder. He picked up the baggie of ice cubes and tossed it at her. She caught it with one hand as he sat back down, putting his book down on the ground next to his chair.

"I'll answer that question with a large ouch and a piss off." He shot back at her as she turned around and reclined the plastic lawn chair. She fanned her hair out across the headrest and tilted her face to the sun. "What are you doing?"

"Catching some rays. Been awhile since I've had the chance to soak up the sun and not worry about someone pulling a knife on me in the yard. Unless you're going to try something?" She asked as she grabbed her t-shirt and pulled it over her head.

Wesley swallowed as her pale blue bikini top was displayed for the entire world to see. "Uh...no...I'm not quite that dense."

"Damn, how are you not sweating? I'm about to die!" Faith said as she fished an ice cube out of the baggie and slid it along her throat, and then dipped it between her breasts, drawing a glistening wet trail across her skin.

"Well I'm...manly and...wearing light colors..." He said slowly, his eyes zeroing in on the piece of ice in her fingers.

"And you're hogging the only patch of shade near the house." She pointed out as she tossed the ice cube aside and reached down into the bag at her side, bringing out a tube of what looked like suntan lotion. "Can I ask you a favor?"

"Huh?"

"Get my back?" Faith looked at him with that dewy-eyed simpleton grin that irritated him so much. Wesley narrowed his eyes and looked her up and down. "Look, I can't reach it on my own and if I burn my back then I'm going to blame you, got it?"

"Well...it's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it." He said, taking the tube from her and squirting some in his hands as she rolled onto her stomach. He gingerly moved her hair to the side and started rubbing the coconut-scented lotion on her skin. She sighed unconsciously and arched against his hand.

"Damn Wes, where have you been all my life?" She said as she laid her head on her arms.

His mouth snapped closed and he cleared his throat. "So umm...what were the others doing?"

"I don't know. Cor and Fred went to the mall with Fred's mom."

"And you didn't go?"

"Fuck that. I don't do the mall. Besides, I think C was going to bitch about Angel or something. I so don't want to be there for that angst-fest." She declared, turning her head and staring him down. "Do you think they're going to screw soon?"

"I'd really rather not go into their personal lives. If Willow hadn't anchored his soul, then I'd be concerned."

"What about Fred and Gunn? They seem like they're getting along..."

"I really don't want to talk about that either."

"Still sore? I thought you gave up on her?"

"I have. But that doesn't mean I want to discuss her love life."

"Point taken. And I can already tell that you've been working on that thing we talked about. Good job! If I had scratch-n-sniff stickers, you'd definitely get the banana kind." Faith said with a grin as she dipped her fingers into the baggie of ice. She brought the melting cube to her lips and sucked on it thoughtfully. "You know, I really think we're the lucky ones."

"What do you mean?"

"Okay, I was listening in on Lorne and Trish this morning and they're totally planning something. I think they're trying to hook Fred and Gunn up again and I know for a fact they're trying to get Angel and Cordelia to get off the diving board and into the pool. I just feel lucky is all."

"I don't follow."

"Well, there's no pressure for you and me to hook up with anyone on this trip because let's face it, we're the social rejects of the group. We wouldn't even be here if Angel wasn't all psychotic about keeping his family together. Nope, we're just the leftovers and for once, I'm glad no one's attempting to get down my pants."

"Right." Wesley said as he tore his eyes away from his view of Faith's rear end. "And no one's trying to get down my pants either. That's...depressingly familiar, actually."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that..."

"Huh?" Wesley asked as Faith launched out of her chair and landed on top of him. He yelped at the pain in his crotch as she straddled him in the grass and dirt. "Faith!"

She grinned like a Cheshire cat and suddenly grabbed the front of his pants as he tried to scramble out from under her. Her hand suddenly plunged into the front of his jeans and he gasped as he felt an ice cube sink around his lower extremities. Faith laughed as he grabbed her arm and let go a steady stream of obscenities that would make a sailor blush.

He threw her off of him and reached for the bag of ice cubes. She squirmed around as he settled his knees on her thighs and pushed an ice cube down her shorts. The cold make her screech and wriggle beneath him, laughing all the way.

"What are they doing?" Connor asked from just inside the house. He staring out the rusty screen door at Faith and Wesley wrestling around on the ground, hands down each other's pants. Lorne looked over his head and smiled.

"That is none of our concern, boy wonder."

"Thank God. This matchmaking stuff is hard." Connor said with a frown as Lorne led him back into the kitchen.

"Welcome to my life, Connor. Welcome to my life."


Chapter Four: Of Bar Fights and Body Shots

"My ass feels like I've been riding three bikers and a drummer." Faith said as she climbed out of the Winnebago the next day, wincing as the sun set and sank below the horizon. "Why did I let you drag me sightseeing? Why?"

"Because San Antonio has some fascinating history, Faith. You could use a little education." Wesley said with a smirk as everyone piled out behind her.

"I got all the education I needed in the communal shower, thanks." She muttered, glancing at Wesley, who just lifted his eyebrows at her. She tossed him the keys to the RV and then stretched one muscle at a time. Wesley watched her with large eyes.

"Faith! You nearly killed us!" Cordelia screeched as soon she stepped out of the motor home, her short brown hair falling in her eyes as she glanced wildly around for the Slayer. "Do you even have a license?"

"I got a license to kill if you don't shut up, C! Anyway, I got you home safe, didn't I?" Faith remarked as Fred and Connor walked by her, followed by Gunn and Lorne, who was looking slightly greener than usual, which was probably due to the fact that Faith drove like she lived her life--wild and dangerous and with a constant stream of obscenities coming from her mouth.

"Safe in an Oops, I Crapped My Pants! kind of way, yeah." Cordelia groused as she pushed her hair away from her forehead and stalked toward the house.

"Hey, did you guys have fun? Winnie show you the sights?" Grayson asked as he loped out of the house and perched on the railing of the porch, a bottle of beer in his hands.

"Yeah. Fred showed us around." Gunn said as he walked past, his eyes narrowed at the lean cowboy before him. Grayson glanced his way, noting the hostility with a purse of his lips.

"Soo...Stubby's still on for tonight?" Grayson asked with a sly glance Cordelia's way. The Seer smiled tight-lipped and walked past him as Lorne grinned. "Good. Are you all coming?" He looked around nervously, spotting Gunn, who was still giving him the evil eye.

"That is the plan, buckaroo. Barring our junior member, of course." Lorne said, clapping Connor on the shoulder as the teen scowled and shook his hand off. "Ahh, don't look so down, Connor. I'll bring you back some stale nuts and a pickled egg."

"Yeah thanks." Connor said dryly and moved off for the house. He glanced backward at Lorne once and winked. Lorne nodded and grabbed Gunn's arm as he walked by.

"What?" Gunn asked as he tore his eyes off Grayson. The demon grabbed Wesley's arm as he walked by too, stopping the Englishman dead in his tracks. Faith sauntered past and disappeared into the house along with Fred and Cordelia.

"Come with me. Both of you. And where is Angel?"

"That guy with the permanent frown? He's in the h--" Grayson started to say as Angel stepped outside, his face in shadow.

"I'm right here." Angel said, glaring at Grayson as he cut him off. "Connor said you wanted me."

"That's right Broody cakes! You boys are coming with me. Right now."

"Why?" Gunn asked, ever suspicious.

"Yeah, what's going on?" Grayson asked with interest, taking a swallow of his beer and inching closer to them. Every eye was turned on him immediately, glaring. He shrank back a pace as his eyes widened.

"I don't think you were invited." Angel said coldly as Lorne sighed and lead them all back toward the motor home. Grayson tipped his hat back and watched them go as he bit his lip in thought. He glanced around as the screen door creaked open and Connor walked back out onto the front porch.

"You know, I don't think they like me much."

"You don't say?" Connor shot at him and then he too trotted back out to the motor home, a smirk on his face.

"What did I do?" Grayson wondered aloud, throwing up his hands and taking another swig of his beer. Tonight was going to be interesting--if he didn't get his block knocked off.

****

Back in the house, Fred closed the door to the den and averted her eyes as Faith pulled off her shirt. Cordelia was too busy brushing her hair to notice. She crossed the room wearily and collapsed onto the pulled out couch, her legs drawn up to her knees.

"Do y'all think everyone's acting weird today?" She asked as Cordelia flipped her head over and started brushing the underside of her hair.

"You mean Wesley and Faith practically dry-humping each other at lunch? That's not weird. That's normal." Cordelia said in a muffled voice.

"We weren't dry-humping!" Faith interjected with a growl as she unzipped her jeans. Cordelia flipped her hair back over and rolled her eyes at the Slayer. "What about Fred and Gunn being touchy-feely ALL day? Huh?"

"No, I mean...Lorne and Connor kept whispering and this morning I walked in on Mom and Lorne talking and they got really quiet as soon I came into the kitchen. Something's going on." Fred said, blushing and hastily changing the subject.

"And what was up with your mother giving us that talk in Victoria's Secret yesterday? Like I need to know about the birds and bees, cuz hello? Too late for that." Cordy said as she chewed on her lower lip in thought.

"She was acting weird." Fred conceded, rocking back and forth as she remembered the big speech her mom had given her and Cordelia yesterday. "I kept getting the feeling that she was pushing me to...well you know. With Gunn."

"She was? Damn, your mom is cool." Faith said with a laugh as she shimmied out of her jeans and grabbed for a fresh pair. She grinned to herself and pulled them on. She wasn't about to say anything to the two women in the room with her. It was much more fun watching them get played.

"She never used to be! Something's definitely up." Fred said as she unfolded her legs and reached down into her bag, pulling out a blue jean skirt and a sweater.

"You think? Not to mention Lorne getting both Gunn and Angel to go dancing. Angel doesn't dance! It's weird. What do you think, Faith?"

Faith chewed on her lip for a moment and then spoke up, sighing wearily. "I think you guys are looking for conspiracy where there is none. Just relax, have a few drinks and I really hope you're not wearing that tonight Fred!"

Fred looked up through the tumble of her ponytail, her nose scrunched as she glanced down at the skirt and sweater in her hands. "What's wrong with it?"

"You look like a school marm, for one! We're going to a bar, not a nerd convention."

"Well, what should I wear?"

"Oh sweet Jesus--Fred you're not seriously going to let Faith dress you? She looks like a hooker half the time!"

"Fuck you!"

"No thanks. I don't know where you've been."

"Bitch."

"I wouldn't call me that. Most girls get their hair ripped out when they call me that."

"Most girls, but not Slayers?"

"Yeah, like I'm that stupid."

"Are you guys done?" Fred interjected with a sigh as Faith grinned and pulled a tight shirt over her head. Cordelia smirked and went back to brushing her hair. "Thank God. I've had enough bickering the past few days."

"Yeah, how is that going C? You and Angel still on the warpath?"

"None of your business. And don't say that name in front of me." Cordelia sniffed and opened her makeup case as Faith dug through her bag with a frown.

"Still pissed I see. And you going out with Cowboy Bob--"

"His name is Grayson!" Fred interjected with a huff. Faith rolled her eyes and trudged on.

"Dick Grayson or whoever, has nothing to do with you trying to make Angel crazy?"

"Grayson's a nice guy. He's cute and...and..."

"And you barely know him." Fred said sourly, brushing her hair away from her eyes.

"Oh, someone sounds jealous. What about you being all Gunn obsessed?" Faith said, pulling out a sparkly red top and a pair of tight leather pants.

"I'm not jealous! I'm...it's nothing."

"Let me guess, childhood crush? Those always die hard, but they never work out. Listen Fred, forget about Cowboy Bebop and go after the guy you love."

"Whoa, Faith is channeling Lorne! That's creepy." Cordelia commented, looking up from the mirror in her hand, a line of eyeliner half-drawn on her left eye.

"Well, I'm feeling extra-nice today. Plus, I'm tired of seeing Gunn sniffing around Fred like a dog in heat. Just get back together and spare us all the testosterone-fest. Please!" Faith said, thrusting the leather pans and the red top at Fred. Her eyes widened.

"You want me to wear that?"

"No, I want Lorne too. Yes I want you to wear it, stupid."

"Isn't it too big? I mean...I'm a stick and you're...all...curvy."

"The shirt is stretchy and the pants are too tight on me. They should fit."

"I don't know. I'm all for looking sexy, but that's kind of...slutty."

"Faith's clothes? Slutty? Never!" Cordelia said in mock amazement as Faith flung the hairbrush at her. She turned back to Fred with a grin.

"I heard Gunn say that he liked you in red..."

Fred bit her lip, thinking of the reaction Charles was sure to have once he saw her in the clothes. The whole day he'd been looking at her hungrily, as if he were ready for things to change for the better. She wanted that so bad. She took a deep breath and then took the clothing from Faith's hand. "Okay, but if it doesn't fit I'm going back to the sweater, kay?"

"Of course!" Faith said with a grin as she turned back to her own clothing. Hey, Lorne wasn't the only one good at this matchmaking shit. Tonight was going to be fun; she just knew it.

****

Stubby's was a smoky, dark bar with a low wooden ceiling, a big dance floor, a country band on the small stage, cramped corners and tiny tables. Not to mention a mechanical bull that was the center of everyone's attention.

Angel was in hell.

He looked around, peering through the crowded bar, smoke swirling around his face. From his seat at one of the tiny tables in a cramped corner adjacent to the dance floor, he could see everything. For instance, Cordelia.

She was out on the dance floor with that...Grayson guy. Anger boiled through his system as he watched her laugh and shoot a glance in the direction of his dark corner. She was wearing a tight pair of jeans and a slinky black shirt that dipped down in the front, revealing the plump swells of her breasts. And Grayson was certainly looking for all he was worth too.

"Wow, I didn't know Cordy could line dance." Fred said as she took a small sip of her drink, sweat rolling down the sides of the tumbler in her palm. Angel glanced her way for the first time all night and let his eyes go wide.

Fred was dressed in a tight red top and a pair of what looked like Faith's leather pants, her hair drawn up off her neck and dark makeup on her face. She looked...hot. Angel tore his eyes away from her and regarded the four other people at the table with him. Gunn was sitting next to him with his elbows on the table, his fingers picking at a damp napkin, a cowboy hat on his head.

He didn't look too happy. Not that Angel could blame him; he'd be pissed if he had to wear that hat too. Not that Lorne hadn't tried. He'd tried to get all three of them to wear this western crap Fred's mom had bought for them. He was glad Lorne hadn't pressed the issue too much.

He glanced at Faith and Wesley, who were sitting side by side. Faith was straddling a chair backward, a bottle of something alcoholic in her hands. Wesley was drinking something too, his eyes on Faith who was licking the rim of her bottle seductively. Angel's eyebrows rose a little. He didn't even want to know what was going on there.

"Yeah...she's good. Who knew?" Gunn commented as Fred sighed over the loud music.

"Whoa, look at you sourpusses! That's it! I am not having this be the Table of Doom!" Lorne exclaimed as he appeared out of nowhere, looking ridiculous in a fringed jacket and white cowboy boots and a matching Stetson on his head that covered his horns. That still couldn't hide his green face, but he didn't seem too worried about it. In fact, he was grinning from ear to ear.

"We're having a good time, really." Fred nodded, trying to appear enthusiastic. Lorne huffed a sigh and grabbed her hand.

"You're dancing with me, little lady and that's it."

"Oh well--" Fred glanced sharply at Gunn, who looked up and met her gaze.

"Go ahead. Don't let me stop you." He said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Well, then if he says it's alright..." Lorne said, helping Fred to her feet and leading her out onto the dance floor. Gunn watched with an amused smile as the demon tried to imitate the elaborate line-dancing going on. Fred immediately fell into step and led him along with her. Grayson and Cordelia danced their way over to them and the four of them went through the steps together, laughing over the loud music.

Angel watched them, grabbing his beer and taking a swig. Bitterness spread over his tongue as he followed Cordelia with his eyes.

"Angel!"

He glanced sharply at Gunn, who was staring at him with wide eyes. He followed his gaze and saw beer spilling down his hands and onto the table from the bottom of the bottle. He hadn't even realized he'd broken it in two in his anger. He immediately dropped the shards and started mopping up the mess with Gunn's shredded napkins.

"Why don't you just go ask her to dance?" Gunn said in a low voice, glancing back at the dance floor. Angel scowled and stood.

"I'm going to get another drink." With that he moved off toward the bar, darting past the padded ring where they kept the mechanical bull. The bar was packed with people getting drinks and shouting over the music.

"Hey there." A husky female voice said from his right elbow. Angel turned to face the owner of the voice, surprise crossing his features as he took in the sight of a curvy blonde with big green eyes smiling at him. She was tan and dressed in a tight shirt that showed off all her ample curves. He smiled politely and glanced around. "Haven't seen you here before."

"Well...I'm not from around here." Angel said, motioning at the bartender for a beer.

"Oh? Where you from?" She asked, lifting a drink to her lips and taking a small swallow, her eyes locked on his.

"Umm...Los Angeles."

"Ooh, City Boy! What's your name, City Boy?"

"Uh, Angel."

"I'm Kari Anne. It's nice to meet you, Angel." He nodded in greeting and slid his money at the bartender, then took up his bottle of beer. When he turned around, Kari Anne was blocking his path back to the table. "So...what are you up to tonight?"

"Uh...just having a night out. With friends." He said pointedly, feeling very uncomfortable under her hungry stare. He glanced over her shoulder to see Cordelia still dancing with Grayson. His eyes narrowed.

"Oh, you're here with your girlfriend?"

"Not exactly."

"Well, if you're not exactly here with someone...would you care to dance?" She asked, touching his shoulder lightly. After so many years of being around humans, he knew when he was being flirted with and the signals she was throwing at him were anything but subtle.

He glanced back at the dance floor and caught sight of Cordy and Grayson again. His eyes narrowed. It was on the tip of his tongue to say no, but the reply came without warning. "Sure. I'd love to."

Kari Anne smiled widely, grabbed his hand with her own and lead him toward the dance floor before he could really think about what was happening. As soon as she swept him out onto the dance floor though, he suddenly remembered he couldn't dance.

Ahh...shit.

Back at the table, Gunn was busy drawing pictures in a big pile of spilled salt with his pinky and feeling rather glum. He wanted to go onto the dance floor and get Fred, but he wasn't sure she wanted him to. Her signals were rather mixed. His ears perked up as Faith laughed out loud, breaking the silence at the table.

"Dude, is that ANGEL?"

"What?" Gunn whirled around and stared where Faith was pointing, his eyes going wide with surprise. "What the hell?"

"Who is that?" Wesley asked, squinting through the darkness and smoke at the dance floor.

"Looks like a random bar slut if you ask me. Angel, Angel, Angel. Where has your taste gone?" Faith said, clucking her tongue in amusement.

"Is he...is he doing the Electric Slide or is it just me?" Gunn asked, mouth falling open as they all watched Angel attempting to do the dance. The blonde was holding possessively onto his arm, as Angel tried to get his feet moving.

"Well, he's...moving like he's trying to do it. This is the saddest thing I've ever seen." Faith said, blinking rapidly. She glanced at Cordelia, and noticed that the Seer had stopped in the middle of the dance floor. She was glaring right at Angel and the blonde, her eyes slits of anger in her face. "Oh fuck, red alert people."

"Uh-oh. Cordy's spotted him. He's dead."

"I don't know...she's...smiling. That's slightly worrisome."

The three of them watched, as Cordelia turned back to Grayson, pulling him close. He smiled widely, as she whispered in his ear., then began to dance with the music, their bodies drawn close together. They immediately turned their attention back to Angel, who was glaring at the two of them. He turned a wide grin on the blonde and started dancing closer too.

"This isn't going to go down well. I'd better get Lorne and Fred..." Gunn said, jumping up from the table and disappearing onto the dance floor.

Wesley glanced at Faith and bit his lip as she took a deep breath. She turned to him and smiled, thrusting her chin at the dance floor. "Ten bucks on Cordelia beating the shit out of that blonde."

"I don't know...Angel's really doesn't like Grayson. He might snap."

"You're on. Either way it's gonna be fun to watch, though. I might just get in on it." Faith said with an impish grin, taking a swallow of her beer and grimacing. "God I hate this shit. You can't get drunk fast enough on it."

"Drunk? Who said we were getting drunk?"

"I said. What's the point of going out to a bar if you're not going to get shit-faced and wake up naked the next morning?"

Wesley swallowed hard. "Naked?" Faith only smiled and took another drink.

Out on the dance floor, Gunn weaved his way through the line dancers until he found Lorne and Fred. He tapped Lorne on the shoulder, making the demon jump and grab his rear end.

"Oh lordy! Charles, I about had a heart attack! Feel my ass, it's going a mile a minute!"

"Uh...no thanks!" Gunn said with a stricken look on his face. "We've got bigger worries than your ass, Lorne. Look!"

Lorne followed where he was pointing, his mouth falling open. "Angel doesn't dance!"

"Well that's obvious, but he's trying. And look at Cordy."

Lorne followed his finger to Cordelia and let out a long-suffering sigh. "That stupid ass vampire. He never makes things easy on me, does he?"

"What are you gonna do?"

"Nothing. I'm getting a drink and then I'm going to try out that mechanical bull. Excuse me." With that, Lorne held his head high and walked off in the direction of the bar, leaving Gunn in the middle of the dance floor with Fred. She smiled and then jumped as the music suddenly changed to a slow song.

"Hi."

"Hi."

Gunn glanced around and saw people pairing off, cuddling close as the slow strains of music filled the air. His gaze refocused on Fred, who was looking uncomfortable in the dim lights. She looked so beautiful his heart ached.

"You wanna dance?" He offered her his hand and she took it hesitantly, drawing in close to his body. They nestled together, her head on his shoulder and his hands going around her waist. "Wow, this feels..."

"Yeah."

"So...I like your outfit. It's different. Not your style, but sexy."

"Faith dressed me. I like your hat."

"Lorne did it."

"Oh."

They both went quiet, moving in slow circles as the music went on, a disco ball in the low ceiling making patterns of light swirl over them. He started to look for Angel and Cordelia again, but found that he couldn't really care what they were doing. He was dancing with Fred and it felt right. For the first time in a long time, something felt right.

His hands slid up her back and she shivered under his touch, tilting her head to the side. She smiled as he looked down at her, his fingers curling into the soft hair on the back of her neck.

"Charles..." She started to say as he drew her closer, her chin tilting upward.

"Yeah Fred?" He whispered, barely audible over the music throbbing through the air. His eyes were dark pools that sucked her in and made her feel like she was drowning in the sky. She wanted to kiss him and she opened her mouth to say something.

"I...I'm really hot. Could we get some air?" She wanted to kick herself.

"Sure." He pulled back immediately and let her go. Together they made their way through the crowd and into the empty parking lot. The night air was crisp and stars were sprinkled across the sky in twinkling fistfuls. A pale sliver of waning moon shone down on them as they leaned against the empty motor home.

Fred tilted her head to the sky and drank in a lungful of the clean, crisp air. She didn't know what to say. How could she make him understand what she was feeling? "It feels really good out here."

"And look at those stars." Gunn said, taking off the cowboy hat and smiling at her. "They're almost as pretty as you."

"That was a good line." Her heart jumped into her throat as she turned his eyes on her. Where they really going to...?

"I thought so. Did it work?"

"Hmm...I don't know. Let's find out." Fred reached for him as he reached for her and suddenly, they were kissing. Slow, tender and full of a million things they could never say. She pulled away quickly and smiled. "I love you." The words tumbled out of her mouth and she flushed at the rapt expression on his face.

"I love you too."

"I'm sorry...about everything. I never wanted to hurt you. You know that, right?"

"I know. And I'm sorry too. I just...I want everything the way it was. I miss you."

"Ever since we got here, I just keep thinking about how much I screwed up. I lost the only thing I was ever sure about cuz I'm a great big idiot and you had every right to act the way you did. And I didn't mean to make you jealous!"

"Fred...honey, you're rambling."

"I can't help it! I have so much to say to you. Like I don't want you to be jealous of Wesley or, or Grayson--"

"I'm not!"

"Yes you are! You're being all mean to him! He's a nice guy and I've known him for a long time, but I don't feel anything for him. We're just friends. The same way I'm just friends with Wesley. I need you to understand that, Charles."

"I do baby. I do."

Fred pressed her face into his chest and drew in a shuddering breath as his hands buried themselves in her hair. He held her close and tilted her face to the side. Their lips met and there was no going back, no time for talking. That would all come later. Kiss after kiss came and went as the minutes wore on. When they finally came up for air, they were both gasping.

"This is way better than line dancing." Fred said breathlessly as lifted her by her waist and carried her into the motor home. He lowered her down onto the bed in the back, his hands exploring the places he'd long claimed as his own. His mouth lifted away from her neck, where he was making a nicely sized hickey, a smile spreading slowly across his face.

"Way, way better than line dancing."

****

"It's called a shiver shot." Faith explained as she set down two shot glasses full of tequila and a cup of ice.

"A whaty shot?" Wesley asked, leaning forward. His cheeks were flushed and he was well on the way to being quite drunk, although he was at the stage of denial right now. Faith was holding up quite well though.

"A shiver shot. Come here." She gestured with her index finger and he scooted closer. She grabbed his shirt collar in her hands and tilted his head to the side.

"What are you--?" He asked, his voice trailing off as she licked his neck, her tongue sliding across the thin scar on his throat. "Whoa...Faith..."

"Shut up." He closed his mouth with a snap as she licked his neck again, her fingers reaching for the saltshaker Gunn had abandoned. She sprinkled salt on his skin and licked it off, then sprinkled it again. He took a shuddering breath and stared at her.

"Now, the point of this is that you shiver..." Faith reached for an ice cube and placed it between his teeth. He held it there and watched her with fascination as she took one of the full shot glasses in her hand. She met his gaze with an impish grin. "While I get the shot."

She licked his neck again, downed the shot and then captured his mouth with her own. He was too surprised to move, her tongue sweeping into his mouth and claiming the ice cube as her own. She pulled back a moment later, crunching down on the ice with a grin.

"Fun, huh?"

"What's with you and ice cubes?"

"I don't know. I think it means I'm sexually frustrated." Her mouth snapped closed as soon as she said it. He just smirked and grabbed the saltshaker.

"I wanna do one." He said, licking his lips, salt from her mouth clinging to them. He swallowed hard as she tilted her head to the side, the long column of her neck exposed to him. Wesley's tongue swirled over her skin and she shuddered, biting her lip in anticipation. The salt followed and he licked it off slowly, picking up each tiny crystal before sprinkling it some more. He reached for the other shot and an ice cube, but she grabbed the shot from his hand with an evil glint in her eyes.

"It's different for girls." His eyes widened as she put the shot between her breasts, a splash of the liquid spilling down her top. She took the ice cube from his hand and placed it in her mouth. "Okay...I'm ready."

Wesley's eyes were trained on the shot glass. He took a deep breath and then licked the salt off her neck with one fast, hot stroke of his tongue. Then he dipped his head down between her breasts, his lips and teeth closing over the rim of the shot glass, nose pressing into the soft muscles between her breasts. He lifted it up and tilted his head back, tipping the liquid down his throat, and then grabbing the glass out of his mouth. He swallowed with a grimace and looked at her expectantly.

Faith wiggled the ice cube at him from between her teeth, inviting him to take it. He leaned in, mouth closing over hers and sucking deep. The ice cube was slowly worked onto his tongue, but neither of them felt the pulling away. The ice slowly melted as it was passed back and forth between them, until finally Faith pulled away.

"Wow." She said, licking her lips, her head swimming from the alcohol in her system. Her stomach was warm and not just from the shot.

"Yeah." Wesley said, shaking his head to clear it. His eyes traced the curve of Faith's lip and he wondered if she'd let him do that again. Faith took a deep breath and looked up.

"We need more shots."

"Definitely." He answered with a grin.

****

Cordelia was seething. Her teeth ground in frustration and anger as she caught sight of Angel dancing with some blonde again. She was groping him pretty tightly and Angel looked like he didn't mind. Jealously flared through her system and she felt like cracking someone's skull.

Grayson's hands splayed out across her shoulders and she felt like shrugging his hands off. He was starting to get on her nerves. Not that she didn't think he was a great guy, but she barely knew him and it made her feel bad that she was using him to make Angel jealous. Of course, he had no clue and that just made it easier for her.

"So, how did you meet Winnie?"

Cordelia forced her attention back to Grayson, his blue eyes on hers as she looked up at him. "In the Library...kinda."

"Oh. That's cool. So...you from Los Angeles originally or..?" His voice trailed off as Cordelia stopped in place, her mouth falling open as she glared at Angel and the blonde. The strange woman's hands were spread out over Angel's ass, squeezing slightly. And Angel really looked like he was enjoying it. Her hands balled into fists. "What's the matter?"

"I need a drink." She said shortly as she grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the bar. As they passed Angel, he looked up, his eyes narrowing.

Kari Anne's hands were all over him and it made him want to jump away from her. But he stayed where he was, barely managing the slow dance she was pulling him into. He watched Grayson and Cordelia with growing anger. He watched as Grayson's hand slid down Cordelia's back and hovered above the round swell of her ass. Angel suddenly broke away from Kari Anne and gestured toward the bar.

"I...I need a drink." He stammered and started off toward the bar. She followed closely behind, running her fingers through her long blonde hair, a frown on her face. He stopped at the bar and glanced around as Kari Anne hovered at his side.

"I'm gonna powder my nose, City Boy. Be right back." He watched with relief as Kari Anne disappeared in the direction of the bathroom.

"You look like you're having fun out there." A cool voice said in his left ear, causing a shudder of fear to lace through his system. He knew what was coming and it scared him to death.

"So do you." He said just as coolly, his face a mask of indifference. Cordelia stood with her arms crossed over her chest, cheeks flushed from dancing. She smelled wonderful so close up and it drove him crazy.

"So what are you trying to prove with that bar slut?"

"Oh, you mean Kari Anne? Sweet girl. I think you'd like her."

"Doubt that." Cordelia shot at him, grinding her teeth in anger.

"What's the matter, Cordy? Am I making you jealous?"

"Not even!"

"Why don't I believe you?"

"You're only doing this because I'm dancing with Grayson."

"Where is he anyway? Shouldn't he be following you around like a little puppy?"

"He's getting me a drink and don't change the subject. You're jealous of him!"

"That little redneck? I don't think so. And he's too stupid to know you're using him to make me jealous. Pathetic." Angel shot at her as she got in his face, her finger pushing into his chest.

"Listen up, I think you've proved your point, okay?"

"I had a point? I just came here to have a good time." Angel said with a smirk as Cordelia glared at him. Angel grabbed her shoulders, pulling her against him.

"You are so begging to be slapped." Cordelia said, gripping his chest with her hands, anger and excitement running through her. As pissed as she was, he was so hot when he was being jealous. It was half of the reason she was doing this. Just to see him squirm.

"You'd love that. Why don't you just give up? You want me, not him." Angel said, his eyes boring into hers. She shook against him, her anger giving out for a split second until--

"What's going on? Who's this?" Kari Anne's tight voice interrupted them and Angel flinched. Cordelia let go of him and glared at the blonde with an air of contempt. Angel felt his stomach drop. This was not going to end well.

"Kari Anne...this is...Cordelia." He said with apprehension.

"Oh. Nice name." Kari Anne said, smiling falsely, her eyes taking in Cordelia. Her lips pursed and she inhaled sharply. "Nice outfit too. Looks...cheap."

"I could say the same about yours. Hookers R Us must have been having a half-off sale." Cordelia retorted immediately, a glint in her eyes that made Angel want to grab her and run before anything happened.

"Didn't I see you dancing with some other guy earlier?" Kari Anne asked, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at Cordy.

"Yeah. You did." Cordelia forced out through her clenched teeth.

"Well...shouldn't you be hanging all over him and not someone else's property?"

"Whoa...property?!" Cordelia's mouth flew open and she flung up her hands. She glanced at Angel, who looked just as stunned.

"I saw him first, bitch. Now why don't you just move along."

"Oh no you didn't. No one calls Cordelia Chase a bitch without getting her hair ripped out."

"Are you threatening me?"

"That's not a threat, that's a promise." Cordelia's eyes narrowed into slits again as she glared at the blonde.

"Hey, what's going on here?" Grayson said as he drifted over to them, his gaze going back and forth between Cordelia and Angel. His gaze landed on Kari Anne and he let out a low whistle. "Did I miss something?"

"Yeah, your bitch was all over this guy right here."

"Oh...well that's...and who are you?" Grayson asked, confused, as he looked Kari Anne up and down.

"She's Kari Anne. Evidently she got lost on her way to the Hee-Haw convention." Cordelia retorted as Kari Anne's face went red with anger.

"Glad to meet ya. M'name's Grayson." He tipped his hat at her politely while Angel rolled his eyes.

"Nice to meet you too. So, I gotta ask...why are you here with the queen of slut town and not me?" Kari Anne asked, batting her lashes at him. He smiled and then wiped it off his face as Cordelia smacked him in the stomach.

"Don't worry white trash princess, he's in good hands. Now why don't you go back to your trailer park?"

"Bitch, you are riding my last nerve."

"And that's the last 'bitch' you throw in my direction!" Cordelia growled, jumping at Kari Anne.

Both women landed in a sprawl with Cordelia on top. Kari Anne screeched and clawed at Cordelia's hands as she grabbed a fistful of blonde hair. Kari Anne yelped as Cordelia slammed her head into the dirty floor. Kari Anne bucked and twisted, dislodging Cordy from her perch; she grunted in pain as Kari Anne bit her wrist. Punches flew as both women rolled on the floor.

Angel was trying to find a way into the fight, but he was kicked in the face with a high heel for his troubles. Blood flowed down his lips and chin, but he was lucky; Grayson attempted to get in the middle of it and he was kicked in the crotch. His eyes crossed and he dropped to his knees immediately.

Finally, one of the bouncers waded through the milling, cheering crowd, and grabbed Cordelia by the scruff of her neck, hauling her off of Kari Anne. She was getting one hell of a black eye and Kari Anne had a claw mark across her forehead.

"Take it outside!" The bouncer exclaimed, pushing both women out the front door and into the parking lot. Angel and Grayson followed; Angel grabbed a hold of Cordelia immediately when he saw her going for Kari Anne again.

"Yeah, you'd better keep that bitch on a leash!" Kari Anne exclaimed, fingers pressing to the claw mark on her face.

"I'm gonna fucking kill her!"

"Cordy! Calm down! Kari Anne, you'd better go!" Angel said, his hands gripping Cordelia's middle so hard he was sure to leave a bruise.

"Fuck that shit! You can have the psycho! You guys were made for each other!" Kari Anne said, attempting to straighten her disheveled hair.

Cordelia squirmed in Angel's grip, trying to get free. He held on even tighter, but he couldn't stop her from kicking her shoe at the blonde. The shoe smacked Kari Anne square in the chin. She stumbled backward in shock.

"Ha!" Cordy shouted with a mean smile on her face.

"Jumpin' Jesus, Cordy. You could have taken her eye out!" Grayson said as he stepped toward Kari Anne, whose lower lip trembled as he touched her face. "Are you loco?"

"I may be temporarily insane...but she deserved it."

"Yeah, whatever. Listen, I'm gonna patch her up. You guys better get back to the Burkle's." Grayson said, wrapping his arm around Kari Anne's shoulders. He didn't look at Cordelia and Angel wanted to smile in triumph.

"Can you...drive me home?" Kari Anne sniffed, her lip quivering again. Grayson smiled and nodded. They watched them walk off across the parking lot for a minute before Angel sighed and loosened his grip on Cordy.

"Are you happy now?"

"Me? Why should I be happy you got in a bar fight?"

"You knew exactly what you were doing. You knew I'd get jealous and do something and then Grayson would stop sniffing around I'd stop making you jealous and then things would work out and I'd stop being mad at you. Well, ha! It's not going to work on me."

"Your logic defies all known thought process, you know that right?"

"Shut up and let me go."

"Are you going to behave yourself?"

"Yes. Besides, I got what I wanted." Cordelia said, shrugging off Angel's arm as he let her go.

"What's that?" Angel's brow furrowed with worry.

"This." She lifted her hand and Angel's eyes widened to see a huge chunk of blonde hair in her fist. "No one calls me a bitch without getting their hair ripped out. Trailer skank found that out the hard way."

"You frighten me."

"One of my many talents." Cordelia sighed wearily and brought her hand up to her face, wincing as she felt the huge bruise blossoming spectacularly on her face. "Am I all Quasimodo?"

"You will be if we don't get you something to put on that. Come on." Angel said with a smile, leading her toward the motor home parked not far away. "Put something cold from the fridge on it while I go get the others, okay?"

Cordelia nodded and made her way into the RV. She sighed and opened the fridge, pulling out a can of Sprite and pressing it to her eye. It was cold and it made her brain jolt with pain. All she wanted was to lie down. She turned around and threw open the sliding door that lead to the back room of the motor home.

"Cordy!" Fred and Gunn yelled and she immediately drew the curtain closed with a yelp.

"Oh...eww!! If only that bitch had blinded me!"

****

Faith sucked the melting ice cube from Wesley's lips and opened her mouth wide, daring him to take it back. By now they were quite drunk, having emptied a little more than half a bottle of tequila between them.

She tilted her head as his fingers dug into her scalp, his mouth pressing to hers, tongue dancing hungrily over her lips. His mouth tasted dark and salty. A moan ripped through her throat as she felt his hands venture beneath her shirt.

"Hey, you guys...are making out!" Angel's voice interrupted them with a look of disgust on his face. Faith cursed as Wesley tore his mouth away from hers.

"Oh hey Angel. We were just doing some shots and..." Wesley looked like he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"And we were making out." Faith interjected, her mouth dipping back to his neck, her tongue swiping away the last remnants of salt from his skin.

"Yeah. Okay. Well...we gotta go." Angel said impatiently, his brow furrowed. It was then that they both saw the blood on his chin and nose.

"Dude, what the hell happened to you?"

"Long story. Come on, we gotta go. Where are the others?"

"Lorne is...I don't know. And Fred and Gunn are...you know, I don't know that either." Wesley smiled and grabbed the bottle of tequila in his hand as Faith helped him to his feet.

"Alright, well I'll go look for them while you guys find Lorne. He shouldn't be too hard to spot." With that, he disappeared onto the dance floor, leaving them to look for the green demon.

"Come on." Faith said, tangling her fingers in the front of his shirt and pulling him after her, weaving a little with each step. They both scanned the crowd, looking for a green face among the mass of rosy flesh.

"Where the hell did he go?"

"Hey man, you seen that green-faced fella on the bull?" Someone a few feet away said. Both of them listened up, blinking in the smoke.

"No! What do you mean he's got a green face?" The other person answered, rising on tiptoes to glance in the direction of the bullring.

"Yeah, I think he's from one of them circus acts or something. Maybe the carnival's in town."

"Yeah, maybe!" Both of the talkers moved off in the direction of the ring. Faith turned to Wesley with raised eyebrows.

"Come on. I gotta see this." Faith pushed her way into the crowd around the bullring easily--with her elbows. Wesley followed in her wake as the crowds closed up around them again. Faith reached the edge and stared in shock at the sight before them. "I wish I had a camera."

"Me too."

Lorne was perched atop the mechanical bull as it spun and dipped, trying to buck him off. One hand was wrapped in the reins; the other one was holding his white Stetson high in the air. A huge grin was spread across his face.

"That's disturbing."

"You're telling me. There are three of him." Wesley said, squinting at the demon and then taking a quick swig from the bottle. Faith laughed and leaned forward.

"Lorne! HEY! LORNE!" Lorne glanced around, trying to see who was yelling at him. He smiled at her and waved his hat. "WE GOTTA GO!"

He nodded and immediately let go of the reins, sliding off and hitting the padded matting with a roll. He came up on his feet as people cheered and whistled.

"Yeah, I know. I'm bad." Lorne exclaimed as he climbed out of the ring. "What's up?"

"We gotta go."

"Phew!! You two been bathing in tequila or something?"

"Body shots."

"Damn, and I missed it?" Lorne said with a laugh as they made their way out of the bar, Wesley and Faith staggering as they went. They entered the motor home and looked around to see Cordelia with a black eye, a can of Sprite pressed to one swelling eye.

"What happened to you?"

"I kicked that bitch's ass."

"Pay up!" Faith declared, turning to Wesley, who grudgingly pulled out a ten and handed it to her. "Shit...I missed it too. Did you whomp her good, C?"

In answer, Cordelia held up a huge chunk of blonde hair. Lorne's mouth fell open and then he suddenly got distracted. He turned toward the back of the motor home, his brow furrowed. Everyone followed his gaze.

"What in the world?"

"Hey, I couldn't find Fred and Gunn. Are they...?" Angel asked as he jumped up into the Winnebago. He looked around to see what they were all looking at.

The curtain across the back room slid open and Gunn and Fred stepped out, faces sweaty and red. Gunn had lipstick all over his face and his shirt was on backward. Fred's makeup was smeared and her hair was a mess. Faith grinned at the sight of the huge hickey on her neck.

"Did you guys do what I can sense you did?" Lorne asked with obvious delight.

"Oh yeah. I walked in on it." Cordelia said with a shudder. "Scarred for life."

Fred blushed a brilliant crimson and smoothed one hand over her hair. "Can we change the subject? This is none of your business!"

"I couldn't agree more. Let's go." Angel said with a shake of his head. He sat down in the driver's seat and started the motor home as everyone settled down to hear the story of Cordelia's great bar fight.

Lorne watched them with a grin, his gaze lingering on Fred and Gunn. Oh yeah. One down, one to go.****