The skyline outside Angel’s window had not changed much since Wesley had come and gone. He’d had the tinting on the windows turned almost to black when the former Watcher had been there, making the room as dark as night. Now, after ending his phone call to Buffy, he strode over to the controls and lightened the room. It seemed fitting to adjust the ambiance to match the drastic changes he’d just made in his life. The late afternoon sun now streaming harmlessly through the necro-tinted windows should have looked like bright rays of hope and a promise of happiness, but all they seemed to do was magnify the flaws in Angel’s most recent decisions.
In the last hour, he’d had his loyalties questioned, his soul secured, and the supposed love of his life had given him what could be considered a verbal cold shoulder. Well, maybe not cold, exactly, but Buffy was definitely less enthusiastic than he would have imagined she would be given his soul’s new status and their last meeting in the Sunnydale Cemetery. He was lucky he’d convinced her to come.
He thought back to their conversation, trying to view it clinically and objectively. He conceded that he probably shouldn’t have just opened with, “I have some really good news.” Knowing Buffy and the way she analyzed things, she probably translated that to mean “When can I sleep with you again?” after he told her about his soul. She’d responded to his announcement with something less than what he’d anticipated.
“Angel, I thought we already talked our future the last time you came to visit.”
He was stunned. Hadn’t she always wanted to be with him? Even when she was with someone else? Come on, it’s not like Riley was much of a replacement. And Spike? Ha! Please. If that wasn’t a desperate attempt to Xerox her lost love, what was?
He found his voice after a few moments. “Yeah, I remember what you said, but I thought that this changed things.”
She was silent for a moment, thinking. “It does, kinda.” She paused again, and Angel could tell she was trying to find the right words. “Angel, when we said goodbye the last time, right before I fought The First, I said that I wasn’t done baking yet. That I needed some time.”
Angel gritted his teeth in irritation. That girl and her damn metaphors. “I get the idea, Buffy. You wanted some time to figure out who you were. But I thought that was just a smokescreen because I still had the curse and not much had changed.”
“It wasn’t a smokescreen, Angel. I really did need some time to work things out. I wanted to see if I could be someone apart from the Slayer. If I could have a real life.”
“And can you?” he prompted, hoping she would say no. “Maybe” or “Yes” equaled “no lovin’ for Angel.”
She sighed. “It’s been a month and a half since Sunnydale was destroyed, and I can’t seem to get away from the Hellmouth. Sure, it hasn’t followed me here, but I still slay. I still deal in the paranormal. I can’t escape it. It’s my life.”
“It’s your destiny, Buffy. Even if there are a million other Slayers in the world, you’ll still feel that pull,” he added softly.
“That’s what I think, too,” she agreed, sounding reluctant.
“So what does that mean for us?” He asked, wanting to get some kind of an answer out of her.
She turned the question back around on him. “What do you want from me, Angel?”
His hastily rehearsed speech fled his mind. “Um, well. . . I had hoped that you’d come here to visit.”
“For what, exactly?”
“To see me?” He sounded like he was fishing for her to tell him what he wanted.
“To sleep with you, you mean,” her voice was emotionless, and Angel knew that to be dangerous.
“No, Buffy, that’s not it.” He let out an unnecessary breath in an attempt to release some of his tension. “Look. A lot has happened here in the last year. While you were out fighting the invisible evil, we were fighting some serious badness of our own up here. I lost . . . some people who were very important to me. Cordelia was one of them.”
Buffy gasped. “Cordelia is dead? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“She isn’t dead, Buffy. She’s in a coma. The entity that we fought last year possessed Cordelia and wreaked havoc on our lives in a way that nothing has ever done before. For half the time she was being controlled by this being, we didn’t even know it wasn’t Cordy. She started doing some really un-Cordy things, but because it looked and sounded like her, we didn’t question it. It wasn’t until she turned violent and a whole lot of other nasty things happened that we realized it wasn’t really her.”
It was Angel’s turn to pause and reflect. “I haven’t seen the genuine version of my best friend since last May, Buffy. I don’t even know if Cordy knew what was going on and couldn’t control it, or what. All I know is that I’ve lost her, and she’s not the only person.” He wisely left out the fact that he’d been in love with her, too.
Buffy was quiet on the other end, absorbing everything he’d said. “I’m sorry, Angel. I had no idea.”
“Yeah, well, you had your own problems to deal with,” he said, the comment dismissing but the tone bitter.
“Anyway,” he continued after a moment, “the only way to salvage everything and save the world was to take over management of the law firm that has been our worst enemy since the moment I set foot in L.A. Let’s just say that this place has taken its toll on what’s left of the staff of Angel Investigations. I rarely see anyone anymore, except Wesley, and quite frankly, I was hoping you’d come here so that I could start to heal from all of this.”
He could almost hear her softening through the phone line.
“I trust you, Buffy. I need you here, even if it’s only as my friend.” He took a deep breath to calm himself, then dropped the big one. “But I won’t deny that I want you as more than that. What we had was special, Buffy, and it would mean a lot to me to see that you still think so, too.”
Even as the words left his mouth, the statement reverberated in his head, echoing with the hollow sound of self-serving pretense. He shook himself mentally, reminding himself once again that he wanted Buffy back. He did. She was all he had left.
The silence from her end roared in his ears as he waited for her response.
“I can’t come right away, Angel. I have to take care of some things here for a few days, tie up some loose ends. I could probably be there in a couple of days.” Although she had agreed, she sounded peculiarly apathetic.
Disturbingly, her acquiescence left him with an empty, gnawing feeling in his soul, not the flood of warmth and happy anticipation that he had expected. He cleared his throat and shrugged off the disquieting emotions.
“That would be fine. Do you have any idea how long you can stay?”
“Yeah, well, its kind of funny this should come up now. I’m in the process of moving again. Visiting you would be kind of a stop over in the move.”
“It’s not working out in San Diego?”
“Not really,” she said, sounding uncomfortable. “Everyone else has left. Willow and Xander went to New York, Faith went to Miami, and Giles went back to England. Last week I heard from Wills, and it sounds like everyone is heading to the Hellmouth in Cleveland. It seems that Giles was contacted by the Watchers’ Council and they want him to head up some kind of Slayer Headquarters from there. He wants me to move there, too, to help him run it.”
“And you don’t want to?”
“I don’t know, Angel. I guess that coming to L.A. would give me the perfect excuse to put Giles off for awhile while I figure out what I want. So it works out for my benefit, too.”
“So basically you want to bring all your stuff and dump it at my place,” he said, forced amusement hiding behind the dry words.
She laughed harshly. “Hey, it’s not like I’ve got much. Hello, house buried in dirt and ash. Couldn’t salvage much furniture from the bottom of a crater.”
“Been there, done that,” Angel responded. “So, I can expect you in a couple of days?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there,” she said softly.
“Thanks, Buffy,” he said simply, ending the conversation. They hung up shortly thereafter.
Now, looking out at the late afternoon sky, Angel was filled with a mixture of anticipation at her return and dread at his spontaneity. He wouldn’t even let himself acknowledge the other, more volatile emotions that were swirling beneath the surface.
Did he really want Buffy back?
He refused to contemplate the answer to that question. The only reason for him to say “no” to a renewed romantic relationship with Buffy was in a coma indefinitely. He could not allow “what ifs” to spoil his chance at happiness. The time for second guessing had come and gone. What was done, was done. Buffy was coming to L.A., and he would be happy with her, goddamn it.
For the second time that evening, Angel reached for the telephone and dialed a number from memory. As usual, Wesley’s formal greeting came through after one and a half rings. Even after everything he’d been through, Wesley was still as predictable as always.
“Wesley.” It was a statement laced with command.
“Hello, Angel. You aren’t having any side effects from the spell, are you?” He sounded somewhat anxious.
“No, it’s nothing like that.” Angel twisted the curled phone cord between his fingers as he spoke. “I know you’re always thorough, but I’d like you to double check the authenticity of the spell just in case. Buffy is coming to town, and I want to know for sure that Angelus is not a possibility.”
Wesley was silent for a moment and Angel could imagine the scowl on his face. “I can state with certainty that the spell is authentic, but I will check it again if that’s what you want.”
“It is,” Angel said firmly. “I don’t want anything screwing this up for me.”
Cordelia stared at the outside of Wesley’s front door with a dangerously high level of apprehension. Her heart was racing, her palms were sweating, and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath. She wasn’t nervous to see Wesley, exactly. She was scared of what he might tell her. There were so many unanswered questions, and it seemed like more and more popped up everywhere she turned. In short, she was scared to death that the life she wanted back so badly had been wiped from the face of the earth.
As soon as she’d safely exited Wolfram & Hart, she’d walked the long stretch back to the Hyperion. Expecting to open the door and see Fred behind the counter, or Gunn practicing with his weapons in the lobby, she’d been flabbergasted to find the place practically boarded up. The front door was locked soundly, and it was only after a search of several windows that she was able to find one she could jimmy open and slide in. She walked around the building in a near catatonic state, flooded with memories and finding nothing to answer her questions but more questions.
The place was stripped. It looked as though something had caused some structural damage before they’d moved out because there were walls with holes and doors that had been seemingly ripped off their hinges. There was no order to anything; it was as if someone had caused random destruction throughout the hotel. In almost every room, Cordelia got a very creepy feeling, as if the place were filled with some sort of residual evil. Cold, bony fingers seemed to tickle the back of her neck and make her shiver.
The only room that seemed to be free of that eerie sensation was Angel’s suite. There was no furniture left, but it was as though she could feel his presence in the air. She didn’t know if it was real or imagined, but for nearly an hour, she sat cross legged in the middle of the floor with her eyes closed, just breathing in the comfort that his presence always gave her.
She’d left the hotel and not looked back. She knew she wanted to move back in, and she would, as soon as she could find Angel and figure out what was going on. A simple cleansing spell should take care of the heebie jeebies, and then she could sit in Angel’s room all day and seek the healing comfort that she needed.
Now, though, she had to face Wesley. The last thing she remembered, he and Angel weren’t on speaking terms. He’d kidnapped Connor and had been summarily banished. It had torn her heart in two to see him leave like that and head down a path of self-destruction, but her loyalties had lain with Angel. It scared her to death to see which direction Wesley had gone in the last year: further into misery or back to his old self. She prayed it was the latter.
Before she could chicken out, she raised her fist to the door and knocked rapidly. She heard some shuffling behind the door and then it opened, revealing a scruffy-faced Wesley who was more ruggedly appealing than she’d ever remembered. She couldn’t help but smile at his disheveled but sexy appearance. Sexy Wesley. Who’dve thought.
He gaped at her, reaching up to adjust his glasses in a reflex action. “C-Cordelia?” He said, his voice nearly a whisper.
“Hi, Wes,” she said softly, smiling slightly.
“Oh, god. Cordelia!” Wesley said, his voice breaking. He reached for her, enveloping her in tight, soul-healing hug.
It was more than Cordy could take. She stopped breathing for a moment, then the next breath came out in a sob. Her arms wrapped around his back and she squeezed him with all her might, her tears flowing unchecked as sobs wracked her body.
Wesley loosened his grip somewhat, bringing one hand to stroke her hair as the other rubbed her back tenderly.
“I can’t believe it’s you, Cordelia,” Wesley said brokenly. “We thought we’d lost you forever.”
His touch soothed her more than she’d ever thought possible. After a moment, she pulled back from him and looked at him through blurry eyes.
“Everything’s changed, Wesley. It’s all so different. I went to the hotel and there was nobody there. I was so scared—.”
He led her to the couch and they sat down, hands grasped firmly.
Wesley looked at her, concerned. “How did you get out of the basement hospital, Cordelia? My staff was receiving regular reports on you, and so were Angel and the Partners. The doctors said that you were in a coma and weren’t likely to awake soon, if ever.”
Alarm bells went off in her brain at his statement. “What staff, Wesley? The Partners? What the hell is going on?”
“So much has happened, Cordelia. I don’t even know where to start. What do you last remember?”
She eyed him suspiciously for a moment, almost afraid to trust him. But this was Wesley, damn it. He wouldn’t betray her, would he?
“The last thing I remember was being on the freeway, on my way to see Angel last May. Skip stopped me in the middle of traffic and told me that I was supposed to ascend to a higher plane because I had fulfilled my destiny here on earth. And I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.”
He blinked, stunned that she’d lost so much. “Would you like some coffee, Cordelia? This is going to be a very, very long explanation.”