Angel had returned to the refuge of Cordelia’s crowded apartment seconds before the threat of sunrise. Hours later he reconsidered gulping down a day’s supply of nourishment under the blanket of his companions’ sleep. Returning his attention to the book propped on his lap he ignored the hunger pains hoping his stomach wouldn’t wake them wake them with growls of empty frustration.
He smelled her, the same instant he felt her warmth. Cordelia had a unique scent often recalling lazy, afternoon strolls in his homeland of long ago. Sifting through his collection of memories Angel questioned if the aromatic recollection was real or if the appeal that in some small way she had always been with him had created the memory.
“Morning big guy.”
“Morning,” Angel greeted tilting his head for an obscure look. Her pajamas looked soft and the pale blue fabric was definitely too thin. He wondered if her choice of sleepwear was habit from having her home to herself or typical indifference to sharing that home with two male friends.
Most likely, the latter Angel assented wandering over Wesley’s long form, his legs curled to fit inside the cramped space of the sofa. Wesley was the epitome of a true gentleman and Cordelia would never feel the threat of that friend’s wandering eye. By her own admission, Cordelia considered Angel less of a threat than even Wesley. Though his pride chided him to dissent Angel reluctantly accepted that Cordelia viewed him as a eunuch, a sexless creature and possibly impotent.
Cordelia watched the myriad of emotions span across Angel’s face before quickly fading behind his stoic, chiseled features. She wondered what his thoughts were, wondered if she would ever know and wished for even the tiniest invitation into that secret place Angel guarded with such passionate secrecy.
“Have you been brooding in that chair all night?” Cordelia asked rescuing Angel from unproductive thoughts.
“Huh? No, I’ve kept busy.” Angel lifted his book hoping to squelch Cordelia’s uncanny gift for seeing below the surface. He was beginning to understand why Doyle left the visions in Cordelia’s care.
The innocent and confused look on his face gained Angel a suspicious glare followed by a disbelieving uhum. “Why don’t you take my bed; it is technically your bedtime and it looks like I’m up for the day.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea Cordelia.” Angel mumbled burying his head inside the book clutched a little too tight.
“Not a good idea; why not? I don’t have coodies.” Cordelia snapped louder than intended causing a yelp of pain when Wesley attempted to roll from the disturbance. “Now look what you’ve done. Mr. Grumpy is awake; well so much for alone time.”
Angel now understood Cordelia’s offer. She wanted some time to herself and at this moment, Angel could certainly relate to that particular yearning.
“I could use some sleep if you don’t mind and some time to myself would be nice too.” Angel recanted his earlier dismissal of her offer hoping Cordelia wouldn’t stay angry with him.
“Sure big guy go ahead. I’ll stay out her and play Florence Nightingale. I just need to grab my nurse’s uniform.” Teasing the slow to catch on vampire, Cordelia’s lips slid into a sly grin.
“Uniform?” Angel stood from the chair facing Cordelia, his usual blank expression marked with misunderstanding.
“You know the one,” using her hands to accent and accentuate, “low cut and really short to show off the white garter belt.” Still clueless as ever. “Oh never mind.” Cordelia abandoned her one-woman show of unappreciated wit accepting the thick-headed vampire would never get it. “Go to bed Angel you’re no fun sleepy; you hardly rate fun awake.”
“Thanks,” Angel grumbled returning the book to its stack on the table. “Goodnight.” Another muttered utterance and Angel slipped into the bedroom closing the door behind him.
Cordelia leaned over the back of the sofa staring down at Wesley. He was mumbling, more translation gibberish she couldn’t understand. “If you’re a good boy and sleep a while longer I’ll make you some of that nasty smelling tea you sneaked into my kitchen cabinet. Gibbering mumbles fell silent under a contented yawn and his head lobbed to the side as Wesley drifted into a deeper sleep.
“Yay Dennis it’s just me and you. You make the coffee and I’ll drink it. That’s sharing the workload don’t you think?” Cordelia plopped into the chair, her mind mulling over her conversation with Angel. Is it even possible to have a conversation with that dork of a vampire Cordelia pondered exasperated with her friend’s high maintenance. Their usual dialogue consisted of her talking and Angel grunting.
Waiting for her morning coffee Cordelia mused on the chain of events that had brought her to this point in her life. Her life, she sniggered at the implications of that particular phrase. Her new life in LA consisted of a ghost, a vampire with a soul and his redemption-seeking mission that included skull-cracking visions for her, thank you very much and… She looked over at Wesley contemplating his role in her life… And a Wesley she added, a pleased smile gracing her morning-fresh face.
Like most times her thoughts returned to him. That irritating dork, that soul bearing vampire that drove her crazy and gave her warm fuzzy feelings all at the same time. What is his problem? He’s uncomfortable in my home. He’s petrified at the thought of sleeping in my bed. Bite me Angel, Cordelia mouthed glaring at the securely closed bedroom door.
What is his problem, she silently asked again fearing she already knew the answer. Angel had been Buffy blinded in Sunnydale and he and Cordelia had barely been casual acquaintances. Since their reunion in LA, they had definitely moved up on the friendship scale but Cordelia believed Angel still wore the Buffy blinders even after all the good and bad they had shared during the past year. He looks at me but he never sees me Cordelia admitt
ed feeling the gaping hole of emptiness trailing that concession.
The smell of fresh coffee dispelling her unhappy deliberations Cordelia pushed the books and papers aside to make space for her cup. “Careful Dennis, if we spill coffee on Wesley’s precious scroll there’ll be hell to pay and as much as I love you I’m not ready to join the undead just yet.”
The soft mumbles from the outer room drifted into Angel’s subconscious. He resisted the urge to check the time, instinct telling him it was still light out. Regardless of the clock’s display, Angel knew he had not slept enough. It had taken him too long to clear his head and find the much needed escape of sleep. Even as he cursed the lingering aromas of soap and lotion, Angel had snuggled deeper into the bedcovers still warm from her use.Thoughts of the tight fitting nurse’s uniform, virginal white and way too short had lingered. Fingers eagerly flicking loose the garter’s tabs holding her stockings in place had taunted him as he fought for the peace that sleep might provide.
Finally sleep had won only to abandon him much too soon. Angel threw back the covers looking down at his wrinkled clothes. Too self-conscious to sleep in Cordelia’s bed wearing only underwear, Angel had slept fully dressed removing only his shoes after several long minutes of deliberation. Naked feet or dirt on Cordelia’s bed, Angel knew which choice he was more likely to survive. He could shower, that would improve his disposition but then what; his clothes were out there.
Remembering that Cordelia had worn a pair of his sweatpants home after a rather messy night of demon killing Angel left the warm, sweet smelling bed to search for the one article of clean clothing available. He pulled the dresser drawer open slamming it shut instantly. Not in there he was certain. Contained there were silky things, frilly silky things and he had no business thinking about much less touching Cordelia’s intimate, frilly-silky things.
The closet, he bounded across the room certain it would be a safer place to search. Relief, hanging in plain view not just his sweats but sharing the hanger was his tank. It wasn’t his first choice for appropriate attire but better than bare-chested. Elated by his bountiful discovery Angel briefly considered the prospect of basking while in the solitude of his shower.
Hair and body parts freshly washed and dried, he dressed in his clean and rather comfortable clothes. Picking up his socks, he considered placing the dirty items on his clean feet. Choosing to be brave Angel opted for feet bare, shoes in hand. Approaching the door, he stilled taking in the private conversation.
“Angel has been rather quiet these last few days.”
“Quiet for regular people or quiet for Angel?”
“Yes, I see your point.”
“Gees Wesley, you told Angel the scroll prophesied his death; not really happy dance news. Then it’s oops, I may have made a tiny mistake, maybe you’re going be human instead.”
“I am certainly capable of understanding how two such varying pieces of astounding information would knock a person off center. But that didn’t happen with Angel. No I believe my original assumption is correct. Angel is cut off from the world and the people around him and therefore not only isn’t bothered by death but doesn’t feel hope when offered the possibility of life. It is our desires that make us human and there is nothing in life Angel wants.”
“And I told you, Angel’s not human…not yet anyway and he’s definitely not big on the sharing. Whether he’s bothered or wants anything, we’ll never know. Besides, I suggested a puppy or a plant. We can force our way in but if Angel doesn’t want us there…well he’ll probably just tell us to leave.”
Admitting that aloud felt worse than keeping it to herself but Cordelia had thought it over. She and Angel weren’t likely to ever have the closeness she wanted. It was best to accept that and concentrate on what they did have. Not even Doyle had trusted her enough to share his most important secret. Now she would never know if Doyle had really wanted to love her or had only wanted *other* things from her.
Angel froze at Cordelia’s words. So taken aback to realize she felt that way he failed to question why that notion bothered him much more than Wesley’s misinterpreted death prophesy. He shared with Cordelia. She and Wesley knew more about his past than anyone did. Regardless of her suggestion, Angel was sure he didn’t want a puppy or some big plant crowding his new apartment, wherever that was going to be.
“Still his reaction or lack of one concerns me.”
“Well then dig a little deeper; maybe you’ll find something that gets a reaction out of the dork. Of course even if you do its not like you can ever tell the Nobel Prize people about your amazing feat.”
“Nobel Prize aside, I shall do my best Cordelia.”
“Good for you. Who’s hungry?”
An opening in the conversation presented itself and Angel jumped at the opportunity jerking the door open. “Hey,” the soft utterance brought attention to his presence as he stooped inside the closet grabbing clean shocks and a more appropriate shirt from his bag.
“Ah Angel, you’re up; slept well I hope.” Wesley greeted choking down the surprised squeak caught in his throat.
“Uh yea thanks,” Angel took a seat at their makeshift research table quickly adding socks and shoes to his skimpy attire. “So what have you guys been discussing?”
Still a little perplexed by Cordelia’s attitude Angel was hoping for a chance to deny her claim. That one he could handle, the other, what would be the point? He had desires, lots of them but he had learned over the last century pursuing his desires always ended badly.
“Zorbo the great is still hung up on that word and your reaction…or lack of one. You know, the one he needs to retranslate every time the sun comes up.” Cordelia gave what she considered a satisfactory answer to Angel before turning to Wesley. “Why can’t you just pick a translation and move on to something else?” You know some of us are aging as you translate.”
“Excuse me for being thorough but I take my research very seriously. Lives may depend on the correct translation of this text. I’m sorry if that’s not as important as your upcoming basement theater play.”
Wesley hurt all over from his recent injuries and now he had a headache. The only reason he was stuck sleeping on Cordelia’s lumpy sofa was she wouldn’t hear of him returning to his own apartment with no one to look after him. Harsh words regretted, his agitation mellowed almost instantly. Wesley doubted Cordelia even realized how much her heart was showing lately.
“He sure gets testy when he’s translating.”
“I told you Cordelia this word is pivotal to what it prophesies about the vampire with a soul.”
“Look Wes why don’t we put the Shanshu prophesy aside for now; we have more important things to worry about.” Wesley stared at Angel his mouth agape. This would be Angel’s opportunity to correct his friends’ assumptions but as usual, Angel couldn’t get his mouth to say the words inside his head. “Just for now Wes; later when things are calm we’ll research the rest of the scroll.”
“Yes, quite right; we must set priorities. I’m sorry, I don’t know what they raised in that box…I’ll keep looking.”
Angel nodded giving Wesley the hint of a grin but his thoughts had already followed Cordelia’s swift retreat to the kitchen. She was either hungry or searching out a less populated space in her apartment. The thought of food, his kind of food, caused Angel’s stomach to clinch again. Pushing the small inconvenience aside, he questioned why Cordelia had no problem sharing her home with a ghost. That’s just great, now I’m jealous of a ghost. The inner workings of Angel’s sometimes-warped brain shifted into overdrive.
Inner ramblings squelched with a hard shake of his head Angel returned his attention to Wesley and their more important research, at least for the moment. “I want to help; where should I start?”
“Page one.” His head still buried inside his own book Wesley simply mumbled gesturing to the stack of untouched books with an extended sweep of his arm.
The smell of blood drifted from the kitchen. Cordelia was preparing blood for him, again. Barely conscious of his reaction Angel’s lips parted allowing the taste to coat his tongue.
Cordelia rejoined her fellow researchers with a tray of food and drink spouting orders under its weight and the lack of table space. “Move your smelly crap; the other tenants are gonna start complaining about the foul odor in here.”
Pushing his smelly, old books aside Wesley continued ignoring Cordelia’s current rant. He may be onto something and this translation was by far the most difficult he had ever attempted. If he was finally making headway he wasn’t about to interrupt the positive flow that had finally kicked in.
Oblivious to Wesley’s disregard Cordelia rested the tray on the table sliding his sandwich and tea in front of him before reaching the cup of warmed blood to Angel.
“Don’t be embarrassed; we’re family.” Angel accepted the cup as the replay of her words warmed his cold heart just a little more. “Thanks Cordy.”
“You’re welcome big guy. Lets just hope Mr. Grumpy gets his translating butt in gear after he eats then we can find out if you’re gonna get dusted before you’re even alive.” Glaring at Wesley, she added with a touch of teasing acidity. “So you eat then back to the translating and let’s get it right on the first try this time.”
Cordelia returned the two stares aimed at her. “Hey I may be the new and improved version but I’m still Cordelia Chase.”
Angel lifted a finger to caress the hand resting on her hip, his voice soft, “you know I like them both, right?” The curled finger dropped to his side before making contact.
“Of course you do.”
“But why, Johnny? Why?”
Clutching his script Angel stared at Cordelia curious if rehearsing with the struggling part-time actress could be one of the foretold apocalyptic battles, plagues or unleashed fiends; possibly even the coming darkness.
“Because it’s over.” Angel nervously read his character’s line, his voice so morbidly monotone Cordelia figured it could put wood to sleep.
“No I love you! I gave you everything. Didn’t I?”
“Yea, and now it’s time to move on.”
“No. You can’t. You’re everything to me. I’m nothing without you baby. Nothing.”
Cordelia slapped Angel in the face probably a little harder than she should have.
“OW! Hey and…OW! You hit me!” Angel quickly scanned his copy of the script. “Where does it say that you hit me?”
“I threw that in myself. Eleanor seems so spineless begging this creep not to dump her.”
“Cordelia I don’t think the director is gonna like you changing the script; I’m sure Johnny’s not.”
“Hey this girl Eleanor has never been as bold as I’m doing her. I’m on fire Mr.”
“Yea me too,” Angel agreed rubbing his hand against the sting of her handprint.
“I’m back,” Wesley announced entering the apartment. The load of his two new old books were quickly relieved by Dennis. “Thank you Dennis,” Wesley greeted prepared to duck should the ghost have a another quick change of heart concerning his and Angel’s intrusion.
“Thank God!” Angel threw his script on the sofa contemplating the repercussions of shouting Hallelujah.
“Hey!” Cordelia countered with a foot stomp before throwing her script on top of Angel’s and following him to join Wesley.
“What did you find out Wes?” Angel’s tone was close to begging wanting it to be something he should take care of right away.
“It’s a Praetorian sacrifice and it’s taking place at the North Shore gym at…” Wesley gave his watch a quick glance, “well right about now actually.”
“Demons going to a gym; what’s the matter, demon strength not good enough these days?” Cordelia mused with a bit of a smirk.
“If Wes’ informant is right it’s a Carnyss demon and they love muscles…and mirrors.”
“Who doesn’t…well besides you?”
“Right let’s go stop a sacrifice.” Angel answered shaking his head at Cordelia.
Entering the crowded gym the trio marched pass the attendant ignoring his can I help you and spying nothing amiss continued into the next room.
Cordelia looked around the busy room. Everything looked normal. “Are you sure we’re in the right place?”
“Well there is certainly plenty of muscle in here.” Wesley answered with a slight gulp.
“Oh yea and a good bit of healthy sweating too,” mumbling, her eyes rolled over the male patrons hard at work.
Angel slipped his index finger under Cordelia’s chin slowing turning her gaze from the pumped up body builders to the mirrored wall likely hiding the sacrifice already in progress. “And there are the mirrors.”
“Oh right, mirrors.”
“I’m sorry this club is for members and their guests only.” The attendant tried again moving to stand in front of Angel.
“Yeah, well I’m thinking of joining.”
“Excuse me! But you can’t come in here without a membership or a guest pass!” The attendant insisted gawking into the mirrored wall when he finally noticed the gap that should be a reflection.
“Huh, no reflection; I’ll fix that.” Shattering the mirror with a hard kick Angel stepped through surprising the occupants of the small, secluded room.
The Carnyss demon raised his sword over the two bound and gagged human sacrifices while a third human in a red robe chanted at his side.
“Stop that.” The words growled from his vamped out face.
Angel knocked the charging human against the wall heading for the demon. Despite his injuries, Wesley managed to deflect the punches from the human hitting him with a right cross before kneeing him in the stomach. Their human foe now crumpled on the floor Cordelia dropped a round metal weight on his head, knocking him unconscious. Within seconds Angel had wrestled the sword away from the demon and with a stab through the heart, their short battle ended.
“That guy has horns.” Angel heard the attendant’s frightened stutter and donning his human face glanced back as they headed out the exit. “Steroids, not good for you; remember that people.”
The apartment was dark and quiet again. His roommates had retired for the night and Angel was alone…again. They had returned to the apartment hours earlier and free of injury other than bumps and bruises had fallen into the usual routine of reviewing cases, leads and prophesies.
Wesley and Cordelia had reviewed and discussed, Angel had reflected and quietly interjected ideas that in his opinion were too readily dismissed. He had thought joining the gym was a good idea, something the three of them could do together. Cordelia had enjoyed her short yet informative tour and Angel figured it would give him the opportunity to show her what real muscles could do. Cordelia had been only mildly irritated with his interruptions. Of course, mild irritation grew after her precious glass figurine crashed to the floor. For Angel the surmisal was simple; it wasn’t his fault. Cordelia had experienced her first vision since Vocah’s spell. A moment Angel anticipated dreading its possible consequences but eager for the first vision to occur without damage.
The concept of his possible future was slowly beginning to take form. Perhaps a bit distorted but the formation had begun and lack of readiness didn’t seem to be a deterrent. Had he foolishly given up the chance of a human existence granted by the Mohra demon’s touch? That couldn’t be his reward, could it? He had done nothing to earn it. Would The Powers have allowed him to unwittingly forfeit his prophesied humanity? No, he had made the right choice, for both of them. Time apart had given him proof, the proof they both had consistently denied in their struggle to be together. They may have found each other because of his soul but his vampire nature had torn them apart. Their union had been too weak to withstand the weight of reality.
Was he still weak? Would he fail again if he allowed himself to believe he could be a part of this world without destroying the good around him? The very force that drove him and Buffy apart had brought him and Cordelia together. She had welcomed him into her life with simplicity and grace, had offered her friendship never doubting his ability to accept and return it.
Angel was unaware he was on the other side of the room until his gaze fell on the door separating them. Panic rose and doubts mounted, the doorknob rattled under the clinch of his shaking fist. Releasing his grip the empty hand grabbed his coat as he fled. The door closed quietly behind him followed by the almost soundless slide of the bolt. Dennis understood. Perhaps the only one that could understand Angel’s doubts and panic. What more could this cursed soul offer than friendship and protection? Protection only proper distance would provide. The engine revved and the car pulled from the curb heading where he didn’t know. Angel only knew it was dark and he was alone… again.