Angel stood, arms folded, leaning against the wall beside the library office. It had taken Buffy and Willow approximately twenty minutes to find and bring in Oz and Xander. He glanced at Buffy and her friends before quickly returning his eyes to the two men engaged in a heated but whispered debate on the best course of action to take regarding his situation. His eyes shifted and his focus changed to the scuffed library floor as he drifted off into deep thought.
This is what his future, his family, and all that he loved had to rely on? Three high school student, two bickering watchers, and a lovesick slayer. He shifted his feet and continued to stare at the floor, all too aware but unable to look at the lovelorn face he could see with his peripheral vision. What would she say when she found out what had happened to him, the him she knew? An old familiar feeling began to take up residence inside, making him want to disappear into the shadowed corners of the room.
She would be distraught and it would be all because of him. As he remembered, she was already going through the torment of their breakup and now this. He was afraid that it might be too much for her to handle. But he needed as much help as he could get to find out how to return home, and the guilt he felt creeping up on him at being the cause of more pain in her life was overshadowed by the urgency to get back to his life, his son, and Cordy.
One glance. That’s all he had graced her with since she had returned. It had been twenty minutes since Giles emerged from the library office and asked she and Willow to gather the group together. When they came back with Oz and Xander in tow, Wesley was already there, standing in front of the office door, whispering to Giles. She was furious that they were treating her like all of the others. As if she was simply some research study buddy.
She was the Slayer. She shouldn’t be out of the loop on this one, but her fear that they would possibly find out what she and Willow had done kept her silent. She sat quietly continuing her task of staring a hole in the side of Angel’s head, who was now leaning against the wall close to where Giles and Wesley stood. Silently she begged him to glance her way again so that she could give him some kind of look that would signal all she was feeling. She shifted in her seat at the table, trying to draw attention to herself by allowing her chair to creak. No luck.
A horrifying thought that had been circling around inside her head tried to push its way to the front of her mind. What if the spell had hurt him in some way? Caused him pain. She would eventually have to tell Giles what she and Willow had done. It would be easy to just stand up and tell him now, here in the library, in front of all her friend, and in front of Angel. She thought about the shame and embarrassment that such a confession would cause.
Not to mention the hurt and possible anger from Angel. She made a decision. She couldn’t risk it. She couldn’t have him hurt and angry at her while she was trying to convince him to stay. She looked at him closely. Except for the extra effort at avoidance toward her, which could be explained due to their fight the previous night, he looked fine. Giles would figure it out, whatever it was, and they would fix it.
No one would know what she had done because she sure as hell wasn’t telling, and Willow, who always followed her lead, wouldn’t breathe a word to anyone without first checking with her.
Finally free from his heated argument with Wesley, Giles began to address the students. “I’m glad you could all make it. I realize that we are all engrossed in an enormous amount of study and planning due to the Mayor’s ascension, but we have a major predicament that begs our attention.”
“There you are!” came an exclamation from the swinging library door.
“Cordelia,” Angel whispered to himself. He’d been so concerned about getting home to the Cordy he knew, that he had almost forgotten that she was here too. He looked at her as she seductively walked across the library. A smile almost reached his face when he saw the sparkle of her beautiful hazel eyes, heard the familiar rhythm of her heartbeat, and inhaled that unique scent that smelled like home.
Except this wasn’t home and that wasn’t his Cordelia. The smile faded away before it even appeared. This was a Cordelia unknown to him. One that he had barely even noticed much less had had any great feelings for. How had he missed her? His eyes were transfixed as he watched her walk in his direction.
Staring at her face, he could almost imagine that this was his Cordy and that her coy smile was for him and not the man she was approaching. His jaw uncontrollably tensed as he watched her bat her eyelashes at Wesley and flirtatiously touch his arm.
“I thought we had a date for cappuccino this morning,” Cordelia pouted.
“Yes, I do apologize. I hope you didn’t wait a terribly long time for me. Mr. Giles required my guidance and approval on a pressing matter that could not be delayed. May I request a rain check?” Wesley asked, ignoring the indignant whispers and annoyed huffs emanating from the other occupants of the room.
“Well, I’ll let you off the hook this time. Maybe you could make it up to me at dinner tonight. Say eight-ish?” Cordelia offered silkily before turning to look for a vacant seat.
Angel tried to will his fist to unclench as he watched the scene in front of him. He tried reminding himself that this Cordelia was not his. This was not the exciting, breathtaking, mature woman who had secured a permanent place in his heart and soul. This was prevision, pre-mission, and pre-L.A. Cordelia.
A young, beautiful, naïve girl simply experimenting with a crush on an authority figure. An authority figure who should be discouraging such a crush instead of ogling her backside as she walked to take a seat beside Willow.
Giles leaned in to Wesley’s ear, rousing him from his lascivious thoughts. “Good lord man, keep it in your pants. She’s barely legal.”
‘And completely off limits,’ Angel mentally added, pressing down a rising growl.
“Now, if we’re all quite through with social hour,” Giles began again with a disapproving look thrown between Wesley and Cordelia. “I was just about to explain our current dilemma.”
“If you don’t mind Mr. Giles, I will explain.” Wesley puffed out his chest, squared his shoulders and glanced toward Cordelia, ready to impress her with his knowledge and expertise. “As you know there are great powers in this world. Powers that even you who dwell atop the hell mouth could not imagine.”
Angel cringed as Wesley clasped his hands behind his back and began to pace in front of his captured audience. This was going to take forever. Wesley jumped and squealed at the cold touch of Angel’s hand on his shoulder. “Short story,” Angel began. “An enemy of mine has sent me two and a half years into the past, here. For what reason I’m not sure nor do I care. The only thing that matters to me right now is getting back. Giles here believes that the me you know, the one that belongs here, was sent to the future in my place. He has agreed to offer his help as long as I continue to do what I can to help prevent the Mayor’s ascension. I know that you all have a lot going on but I need all the help I can get. I hope that I can count on each of you to do what you can.”
Buffy tried to process what Angel had just revealed. It was so much worse than she had thought.
Wesley began to circle Angel, studying him as if he were a specimen in a science lab. “It truly is fascinating. I mean it is understandable, after all you are a vampire, but two and a half years and you look exactly the same.”
Buffy disagreed. She had never seen this Angel before in her life. The Angel she knew skulked in the shadows, barely uttering a word in front of others. This Angel that stood before her now was verbal, authoritative, and completely in control. It scared and excited her at the same time.
“Actually he looks a little puffy and he’s dressing way better than before,” came Cordelia’s bored comment.
Willow could barely contain herself. She fidgeted with the sleeve of her sweater, avoiding any direct eye contact with anyone in the room. She wouldn’t break. She had promised Buffy that she wouldn’t tell a soul what they had done last night and she intended to keep her promise.
“I suggest we identify the source of such a spell,” Wesley directed. “That way we will have more luck counteracting it.”
“I disagree. Researching everything we can about time travel will give us better odds at finding out how to send him back,” Giles argued.
“Mr. Giles, as you well know, I am in charge of this operation. And this situation, which I might remind you plays second to the Mayor’s ascension, can only be solved by finding the malevolent force behind such a maniacal scheme.”
“Buffy and I cast a spell last night to make Angel stay in Sunnydale!”
The room plummeted into silence at the standing redheads proclamation. Buffy’s heart began to race as all eyes turned to a nervous and guilt ridden Willow in disbelief. All except for two dark brown ones full of hurt and betrayal. “You did this?” Angel asked in horror.
The shower had felt good and had managed to achieve one of its purposes. All traces of Buffy’s perfume were gone, but the tingle of his skin where Cordelia had touched him this morning still remained. He tried to think of something else, sure that the shock of her touch had kept it fresh in his mind.
Angel moved to the dresser to find something clean to wear. Opening the top drawer, he found an array of underwear and grabbed the pair closest to the top. Now clad only in a pair of black sport boxers, Angel stared at the dresser, the wardrobe, then at the other pieces of furniture in the room one by one. In Sunnydale, all that he ever needed or wanted in his apartment or the mansion had been a comfortable bed and a place to put a few books and the handful of clothes he owned.
This place had those things plus so much more. He eyed the dresser again and reached out to pick up a picture frame. He studied his image pictured beside Cordelia and Wesley. They all smiled back at him. He placed the picture back on the dresser. This wasn’t just a dwelling, a place to hide the day away until he could roam the night. This was a home. He looked at the picture on the dresser again. A happy one.
Going to the wardrobe, Angel found a pair of pants and a shirt and finished dressing. Furniture and accessories were not the only things he had a lot more of. He had a lot of clothes. Nice clothes. Some he wasn’t sure he would have picked out but nice all the same. Something in the wardrobe caught his eye and gave him pause to think. They weren’t intimate, just good friends.
Yet, not only did she sometimes sleep in .. on his bed and take care of his son like it was the most natural thing in the world, but there in his wardrobe hung her dry cleaning right along with his. Angel closed the wardrobe, convincing himself to block out the questions he so badly wanted to ask and concentrate on the problem at hand. His eyes turned to the door seconds before he heard the knock.
“Hey,” Cordelia greeted as she stepped into the room. “I just wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“I’m fine,” Angel replied as he sat on the bed and pulled on his boots.
“I also came to tell you that Lorne is on his way over. He’s going to help with Connor while we try and figure this thing out. Okay?”
“Thanks.” He was glad that she had had the presence of mind to think of the baby. Earlier this morning as he stared down at the child, he had tried to elicit some sort of emotion from himself. He failed. The only thing that being close to the infant had brought out in him was a memory of a long ago nightmare that he and Darla had bestowed on an innocent family. He shook the memory from his mind and looked at the woman who now sat in the chair next to the bed.
How did she get here, in his life? It bewildered him as to how he and Cordelia Chase of Sunnydale had become friends. Granted, as he looked at her seated comfortably in his chair, he could tell she was not the same spoiled, vain child he had know … last night. She appeared to be a caring, sensitive, not to mention extremely beautiful, woman. So why was she here with him? “Has Wesley found anything yet?”
“Not yet, but don’t worry. He will,” she smiled reassuringly at him.
“He’s kinda like our Giles. Ya know, without the whole ‘useful contacts and experience thing’.
“Angel he will find a way, I promise you.”
“Cordelia, why are here?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have just barged in on you like this. I’m just so used to …” Cordelia rose from the chair. “I’ll be downstairs.”
“No,” he said, stopping any further movements she made to leave the room. “I mean why are you here with me in L.A.. You said we were friends but you never explained how we got to this point in just two and half years.”
“Angel, a lot has happened since you left Sunnydale. And as much as I’d like to sit here and continue this heart-to-heart you seem to be starting, I don’t think we have time for a game of ‘This Is Your Life’.” Cordelia took in a deep breath of air and looked down at Angel, who was still seated on the bed. “It’s a long story Angel,” she said with quiet sincerity.
“Humor me. The others I can pretty much understand. I mean Wesley I get, ex-watcher and all. Once it’s in their blood they just can’t not try. And you said that Gunn was a self taught demon street fighter, Lorne a demon himself, and that I saved Fred from a five year captivity in an alternate universe. Seems they’ve all been living this lifestyle way before they hooked up with me. But what about you? Just last night I saw Cordelia, circa 1999, standard high school queen.”
“You know what I mean. Your human. You could live like the rest of the world, in denial. I guess I just can’t understand how a normal girl like you would be mixed up in all of this.”
“Oh crap.” Cordelia began to give off a soft glow as her body lifted slightly from the ground.
Angel quickly rose from the bed, his eyes wide with shock. “Okay, maybe ‘normal’ wasn’t quite the right word.”
“You stupid, foolish girls,” Giles scolded as he paced in front of the two teens who sat in his office. “I cannot imagine what the two of you must have been thinking. Do you even realize just what you’ve done?” Giles took a cleansing breathe and leaned against his desk, wiping the glow from his brow. “I’ll need to see the spell.
“It’s in my locker,” came Willow’s weak reply.
“Go and get it and bring it back here. I’ll need to study it to see exactly what went wrong and if it can be fixed.” Willow and Buffy looked up at Giles slowly, the word if echoing in both their minds. “Go,” Giles ordered the young witch. Never looking back at Buffy, Willow silently left the room.
“I know what your thinking Giles.”
“Do you?” He asked Buffy with a look of frustration.
“You think that I had Willow do the spell because he was leaving. Your only partially right. I also did it for all of us. We need him. He has always helped us with any battle that we’ve faced. He’s one of our greatest strengths.”
“I might remind you that he was one of our battles or have you forgotten Angelus. He may at times be a help to us Buffy, even one of our strengths, but for you he has and always will be a weakness. You may try to justify what you did anyway you please, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was wrong. I thought that the troubles we had encountered with Ethan Rain would have taught all of you about the danger and consequences of using dark magic, that at least you would be mature enough to have recognized that lesson. I guess I was wrong.”
“How dare you compare me to Ethan Rain. The spell that Willow and I cast was not evil. We simply wanted Angel to know that he was wanted, that he could make his own decision to stay, without worrying about what was best for me.”
“Isn’t that exactly what you took from him? His ability to make his own decision. That, after all, is what he had done, made a decision. It just wasn’t one that you were happy with. You chose to change that to suit your own needs. You used magic for your own selfish intentions. It’s no wonder that it all went terribly wrong. Don’t you understand that magic is just the tool? Intent is what determines what exactly the magic is.” Giles eyed the hammer on the bookshelf in the corner. Picking it up he studied it intently.
Deciding that Buffy needed an example she could understand, he began his speech. “I used this today to hang a school certificate on the library wall. It’s a helpful and useful tool.” Quickly lifting the hammer, he threw it forcefully, directly at Buffy’s head. She flinched, easily catching it just inches from her face. “Now it’s a weapon. Intent defines that which we use.”
Buffy laid the hammer on his desk, unfazed by the violent lesson. Giles’ had used a training tactic to prove his point. It worked. She had been lying to herself all day, trying to convince herself that what she had done could be validated by the fact that it had been not only for herself, but for the good of everyone, even Angel. It had taken Giles’ clumsy attempt at scaring her to force her to tell herself the truth. How could Angel ever forgive her for this? She watched Giles sit at his desk, his posture finally relaxing. “I’m so sorry Giles. I’ll do anything I can to make this better.”
“I know you will,” he sighed. “Now, get to class. We’ll all meet back here at the end of the day and revue what Wesley and I find out. Hopefully we can resolve this quickly, without anything else going wrong.”
Buffy gave Giles a tight smile and opened the office door. She had hoped that Angel had left when Giles had asked Wesley to get a special book from his apartment and sent the others to their classes. She had wanted him to go off and brood somewhere, giving her time to think about just what she should say to him.
Even if he stayed and waited for her to come out of Giles’ office, she had at least expected him to wait in a dark corner somewhere, to glance at her disapprovingly and then leave. She had wanted or expected any of those scenarios from Angel, the one she knew. After all, she had experience in the ‘hide and avoid’ or the ‘skulk and brood’ Angel. She knew how to handle him because she knew what to expect.
Entering the library slowly, she silently prayed that she wouldn’t find him there, that hopefully one thing in this horrible day would go her way. It didn’t work.
Angel sat in the open at one of the library tables, leaning back slightly with his arms crossed and staring directly at Buffy as she exited the office. No, this wasn’t the Angel she knew, the one that shied away to dark corners and avoided emotional confrontation. The Angel that she was with just last night.
This was a different version. This was a royally pissed version that wanted answers. His forceful, take-charge attitude that had managed to excite her earlier now only made her ashamed … and a little frightened. Things definitely weren’t going her way at all. She slowly approached, taking the seat opposite his. “Angel, I’m …”
“Don’t,” he interrupted her in a quiet but deadly tone. “If this is the beginning of some sort of heartfelt apology, I don’t want to hear it. I just want to know one thing and that’s all. Why?”
“You were going to leave,” she began weakly, emotionally drained from the mornings events. “You said that you didn’t belong here, with me, that my life should be without you. I just wanted to show you that you were wrong. I wanted you to see where you were wanted, where you were supposed to be. I know I screwed up. I should have never used magic to convince you and I know you’ll probably never be able to forgive me. But don’t you see? I love you so much Angel, that I couldn’t just let you run away. No matter what I’ve done, the fact still remains that you do belong here. The spell might have gone a little haywire and I definitely was wrong to try something so desperate, but in a way it did work.”
“What?” Angel asked in utter disbelief and disgust.
“It brought you here, away from your future. It showed you where you belonged.”
“You’re really unbelievable. You know that?” Angel stood and leaned on the table with his fists, looking Buffy in the eye. “You didn’t do the spell on me. You did the spell on the me you were with last night. The one that lives here in Sunnydale. You showed me where I belong alright. You sent my past self there and now he’s living MY life, with MY family, in MY home.”
“Are you alright?” Angel asked a winded Cordelia, as he helped her sit back down in the bedroom chair.
“Oh yeah, I’m fine. You should have seen the way I used to get them.”
“Well, what we all call The Powers That Be,” Cordelia started, looking up at the ceiling and then back at Angel, “send me messages, in the form of visions, of people in trouble. I tell all of you what I see and we all go take care of the problem.”
“And you’ve had these how long?”
“Almost two years. Hmm, two years,” she said retrospectively. “Yeah, that’s it. Just seems like it’s been longer than that.”
“So that’s what the floating and glowing thing was, you getting a vision?”
Cordelia shook her head.
“How did this happen?”
“It’s a long story Angel, and I’m really not trying to avoid or anything,” she avoided. “But we don’t have much time. Let’s go downstairs and tell Wesley. Hopefully Gunn and Fred are back by now and we can all go together. Thankfully it’s an easy one, just a few vamps down at the boardwalk. Their going to try to turn a group of girls just after sunset. Won’t take us long.” Cordelia stood up and headed to the door. She stopped and turned before leaving the room. “You coming?”
Angel‘s thoughts swarmed. Visions, fights with vampires, more importantly fights they all seemed to take on together? He wanted to stop her from leaving the room, to force her to turn around and let him ask more questions, but every answer so far this morning had multiplied the questions by the thousands.
A son, a home, and friends? It was too much information to take in all at once and it was driving him crazy. Deciding that the vision and his sanity were more important than the long, inevitable Q&A session he and Cordelia would eventually have, he silently followed her out of the room.
Reaching the top of the stairs, he spotted two humans in a hushed conversation with a green demon. Their whispers were silenced as he and Cordelia descended the staircase. Fred was the first and only one who looked at him as she graced him with a childlike grin full of awe and innocence. It made him feel at ease and sure that he was welcome. He understood now why he sheltered and protected her here in the hotel. This was his home and she was family.
They all were and he knew just where Fred fit in. Pushing ancient thoughts of his sister from his mind, he met her smile with a tight lipped expression that could loosely pass for a grin, making the young woman beam with excitement. It was a beautiful smile, wonderful even, but it paled in comparison to the one Cordelia was giving him now.
He had received several just like it from her this morning. Each one causing him to touch the spot on his chest where her hand had rested earlier, trying to keep fresh in his mind the feel of her skin against his. He looked again between the two women, one a sister, the other … Where did Cordelia fit into this family? He looked at her smile again, felt its warmth permeate his cold dead body.
Fred had given him a smile that filled him with memories of long forgotten brotherly love. Cordelia had given him one that tested the lock on Angelus’ cage and made Angel somehow feel alive. He knew exactly where she fit in and the prospect of what that meant filled him with fear.
“Thanks for that,” Cordelia leaned in and whispered in Angel’s ear.
“For what?” he asked, broken from his previous thoughts and trying desperately to ignore the way her breath felt on the back of his ear.
“That,” she answered, nodding to Fred, who now followed Gunn and Lorne to Wesley’s office. “Your little pathetic smile just made her day,” she continued with an approving grin. “Judging from the silent treatment Gunn and Lorne were giving you, I’m sure Wesley has told them everything. Poor thing, he probably scared her to death. Thanks for reassuring her, she’s been through a lot.”
“I’m going to go in with the others and tell Wesley about the vision and bitch at Lorne and Gunn for being rude to you,” Cordelia explained flippantly. “Why don’t you go in the kitchen and warm up that blood I told you about in the fridge. I know I said the vision looked like an easy one, but we should be prepared for anything. After all, I’ve got to keep you nice and healthy, you’ve got a bright future ahead of you.”
Angel stood frozen, watching his future give him a timid smile as she closed the office door. He turned and headed for the kitchen, wondering if leaving this place would be something he could ever do.
“Family?” Buffy questioned with wet eyes.
Angel had wanted to hurt her for being the cause of this nightmare and by the look on her face he had succeeded. But he knew that he had to work with her while he was here. The Mayor’s ascension was a very serious matter and if he didn’t cooperate and work by her side to prevent it, he may not have a future to return to. He tried to calm himself and sat back down in his chair.
“You have a life and a family somewhere other than here,” she said with realization as the first tear fell from her eye. “With someone other than me.”
“Do you want the long complicated answer or the short and simple one?”
They both sat in silence, as more quiet tears dropped uncontrollably from Buffy’s eyes. Angel’s fiery fury died a bit as he truly looked at the young slayer for the first time. She was just a child. He had clung to her affection so fast and hard when he came to Sunnydale, that he had never really contemplated just how young she really was. “Buffy,” Angel tried, reaching across the table to comfort the distraught teen.
“Don’t!” she yelled, jumping from her chair as her emotions took control of her body. “I don’t want to hear anymore about how great your life is now, or how you can’t wait to get back to a time and place where I don’t belong. You don’t understand what it’s like for me Angel, loving someone like you. Giles said you were my weakness and he was right. I love you so much it hurts and when I’m with you, the pain of it makes me feel like I wanna die.”
Angel had to get out of this place and away from Buffy before he said too much about his future, using it as an example to prove her warped version of love wrong. He stood, picking the basement sewer entrance as his escape route. “That’s just it Buffy,” he said quietly before turning to leave, thinking longingly about Cordelia and home. “Real love isn’t supposed to make you want to die. It’s supposed to make you want to live.” Angel pushed open the library doors, mentally thanking Cordy for teaching him that lesson. He cursed himself for not telling her how he felt sooner.
He wished that he was there with her now or that she was here with him.
A sinking feeling suddenly took over his body. What if Giles couldn’t fix this? What if he never got the chance to tell Cordy that he loved her? Banishing the possibility that he would never get home from his mind, he promised himself that not getting back to Cordy and Connor was and never would be an option. Soon he would be home and the moment he saw Cordelia’s beautiful face, he would tell her exactly what she meant to him.
“So,” came the smooth familiar voice that had just been returning words of love to him in his mind. “You’re ‘future’ Angel?” Cordelia said with a conspiratorial grin, catching him before he reached the basement door. “Let’s have a talk shall we?”