Angel sat alone in his apartment waiting for the sun to set and release him from his prison, the heart breaking sight of Cordelia Chase crying in the rundown Sunnydale Motel playing over and over again in behind his eyelids. She had looked so small, so scared. So very different from the confident young woman that had flirted with him and spat scorn at his girlfriend and her scoobies.
He had watched Cordelia from his shadow for two hours, watched as her sobs halted as quickly as they had started, stood enthralled as she spoke to herself words that the vampire couldn’t hear even with his enhanced senses. Every emotion she felt declared itself on her face, anger, fear, frustration screamed at him with the snarl of her mouth and the flash of her eyes. Vitriol that had so often been saved for others was turned on her reflection as Angel watched Cordelia berate herself for something the vampire knew not. He saw a stillness descend over the young woman as her shoulders slumped and her chin dropped in defeat, whatever argument she was having with herself she had lost.
That was the image Angel couldn’t erase from his memory, Cordelia Chase accepting her own defeat. He’d watched her misery and it had burnt into his soul.
The fake smile plastered on Cordelia’s face was beginning to give her a headache. Or maybe it was Harmony’s never ending high pitched babble assaulting her ears that was the cause. Either way the dull ache pulsating behind her eyes had the makings of a migraine if she didn’t get away from her friends very soon. She squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her temples. Maybe when she opened her eyes everything would be better. Maybe she wouldn’t be in the middle of a too crowded cafeteria. Maybe, just maybe, when she opened her eyes she’d be lying on some sun kissed beach with out a soul around for miles.
Cordelia prodded the food on her tray, she was hungry but no power on this earth could force her to eat the slop they’d served up today. Her stomach growled in decent.
“So Cor, are we mall bound after practise?” Harmony beamed at her, Cordelia felt several pairs of perfectly mascaraed eyes looked at her for approval. Can’t they think for themselves just once, she thought to herself.
“I can’t tonight, I have other plans.” Cordelia said, absently flicking her long hair over her shoulder.
“Hot date?” Aura piped up from behind Harmony.
“Of course.” She lied to them, she couldn’t very well tell them the truth, that she planned on staring at the wall of the motel room she was currently residing in.
“Who?” Harmony arched an eyebrow at her, as second in command of their group the blonde prided herself on knowing who was seeing who at Sunnydale High-school and she was well aware that for reasons they hadn’t been able to deduce their leader Cordelia had been on a suspiciously lack of dates in the last few months. Add to that that Harmony was pretty sure Cordelia had worn the clothes she was wearing just last week.
Harmony could smell a dethroning in the air, maybe she wouldn’t just be Queen C’s side kick for much longer. Queen H, it didn’t have the same ring to it but the blonde liked the sound of it all the same.
Cordelia was saved from having to further lie to her friends when the awkward elbow of Xander Harris accidentally connected with her head as he hurried passed. A silence descended on the tables around them, waiting for Cordelia Chase to hand Xander his balls on a platter.
“Umm…sorry?” The young man winced ready for the scathing put down he knew would be headed his way.
“Just….watch where you’re going Xander.” Cordelia muttered and rubbed her hand over where his arm had connected with the back of her head. She knew everyone expected something a little more vitriolic but she was too tired to live up to her persona right now, another sleepless night was taking a toll on her reigning bitch status and she really couldn’t bring herself to care.
Cordelia realised that not only where her friends staring waiting for a cutting remark that would bring the boy to his knees but so was Xander himself and most of the inhabitants of the cafeteria. With an annoyed glare the congealing food in front of her Cordelia picked up her bag and stood up. Dozens of curious eyes watched her as she walked out of the cafeteria.
“Well….that was significantly less painful then usual. What’s up with your commander in chief, didn’t she have her extra strength bitch wheaties this morning?” Xander said to no one in particular, he took a step backwards when he noticed he was the sole attention of Cordelia’s friends, the Queen C’s in training. Xander gulped. He was severely outnumbered.
“Oh, look at the time…I have to be….not here.” Xander spun on his heel and hurried away while he still had his dignity. He might be an idiot but he wasn’t stupid.
Buffy Summers wondered if she were to lay her head down on to the book that she was reading would the information somehow seep into her brain thereby cutting out all that time she seemed to spend reading from her life. She let her head fall on to the table.
“My brain hurts.” Buffy mumbled. “Is there no end to this research induced hell?”
“You’ve been reading for half an hour Buffy, don’t be melodramatic.” Rupert Giles clucked as he deposited another pile of heavy tomes on the library table. Last period, and more importantly school, was over of the pupils of Sunnydale High with the exception of Buffy, Willow and Xander. Defenders of the Hellmouth, warriors of the dark, consumers of too many donuts.
“Why did no one stop me at my forth?” Xander grumbled as his stomach tried to repel the glazed goodness he’d chugged down earlier that evening.
“We tried remember? You ran off with the box screaming like a girl.” Willow spoke up from behind the computer she was studying intently.
“Oh yeah. My bad.” Xander chuckled then winced when his stomach flipped in annoyance. “Scratch that. Donuts bad.”
“Do you think it would be possible for everyone to at least try and concentrate for a little while?” Giles sighed taking off his glasses and cleaning them.
“Hate to nay-say you Watcher man but I don’t think we’re going to find anything about our slice and dicer in your turn of the century comic books.” Xander slammed shut the heavy tome before him.
“I’m not even going to pretend to understand what you just said.” Giles frowned and suddenly felt very old.
“That was Xander speak for ‘we’re not going to find whatever killed those poor girls by research’. Maybe I should patrol….” Buffy stood up eager to get out of the library and burn off some energy.
“I’ve just taken a sweep of the graveyard. Nothing new.” Angel’s voice slipped from the shadows of the stacks making every one jump at his sudden appearance.
“You have to stop doing that.” Xander shook an annoyed finger at the vampire while he attempted to wring out the soda he’d spilt on his shirt when Angel had suddenly emerged.
“You might want to see a Doctor about that Harris.” Angel smirked nodding at the soda stain on the front of the boys pants. Willow had to swallow the laugh that threatened to spill from her mouth.
“I didn’t think you’d be around tonight.” Buffy made her way over to Angel, unsure of how things stood between them anymore.
“Thought you might need a hand.” Angel shrugged, he decided to leave out the fact that he was hoping to see Cordelia and discover what was going on with the young woman.
“Oh.” Buffy gave him a sad smile.
“Yeah.” Angel nodded.
An intense silence swallowed the room as slayer and vampire stood together in the middle of the room, Xander rolled his eyes, Willow bit her lip to muffle her romantic sigh and Giles cleaned his glasses.
“Oh for crapsake, don’t you two ever get bored of the whole tragic Romeo and Juliet drama you’ve got going on?” Cordelia spoke up from where she stood unnoticed at the library doors.
“Will you people please stop with the sneaking!” Xander blustered as he leapt out of his chair.
“Still peeing in your pants Xander? I thought you’d stopped doing that in second grade.” The cheerleader felt the first proper smile grace her lips that day as she teased the boy she’d known all her life. The strange sound of Angel laughing quietly halted any response Xander was about to throw at her.
Angel was laughing.
There was something very disturbing about that.
“What?” The vampire frowned when everyone’s attention turned towards him.
“You. With the laughing.” Buffy squinted at him. “Like, big chuckles laughing.”
“It was funny.” Angel shrugged.
“The world just got that much weirder.” Xander shuddered and sat back down.
“Cordelia, what can we do for you?” Giles decided to bring the group back to some sort of order.
“Nothing really, I was just passing after practice….wondered what you guys were doing.” Cordelia tried to sound as uninterested as she could, the truth was that she couldn’t bare the thought of going back to that damn motel room just yet. She would never admit it but she longed for the company of others, even if it was Buffy and her band of freaks.
“And the weirdness multiplies.” Xander looked at Cordelia in disbelief. “Angel laughing, Queen C thinking about something that isn’t herself…it all sounds decidedly hell mouthy to me.”
“But you’re still a loser…so at least some things stay the same.” Cordelia gave him a saccharine sweet smile.
“Score one for Cordelia.” Buffy chuckled, relieved that the tension in the room had some what dissipated. Xander stuck his tongue out at Buffy and sat back down with a huff.
“Can we get back to the research now please?” Giles said with an annoyed sigh as he wandered in to his office. Rather surprisingly his charges did just that for once. Buffy joined Willow at the computer, Xander idly flicked through the book in front of him and Angel leant stoically against the counter, his arms crossed across his chest as he pretended not to be watching Cordelia out of the corner of his eye as she still stood by the doors, looking as though she couldn’t decide whether to stay or leave.
“Cordelia will you be joining us?” Giles asked her as he crossed the room to the table. He ignored Xander’s whine as he deposited another pile of books in front of him.
“I….sure.” Cordelia shrugged, she shot Xander a death glare before he had the chance to say anything.
There was a comfortable silence inside the library as books were read and yet more donuts were devoured, the occasional hushed voice trickled through the room but mostly the practised quiet that only occurred between close friends reigned supreme.
Cordelia had never felt so out of place.
Words blurred and skid across the page she was reading, the dull ache that had began between her eyes earlier that day had graduated in to thick headache that flashed at the back of her eyes and turned her stomach with nausea. All she wanted to do was go home and crawl into her bed….but she didn’t have a home to go to any more. So instead Cordelia sat with people that barely liked her because the thought of returning to her empty motel room threatened to make her cry.
And she wouldn’t, no, couldn’t cry in front of these people. She could smile and bitch and roll her eyes and be the person they expected her to be but she couldn’t cry. Not yet at least.
For the third time that evening the hairs on the back of Cordelia’s neck stood to attention. She’d had the feeling that someone was watching her since last night and she hadn’t been able to shake it, during cheer leading practise Cordelia had been so convinced she was being watched she’d missed two cues in a row. The feeling had only intensified during her time in the library.
Her gaze drifted over the room, heads were bowed in concentration, everyone diligently reading except for….Angel? From the shadows of the staircase the vampire sat staring at her with such intensity it caused the cheerleader to shift nervously in her chair. Thinking that it was merely a reaction to her looking at him Cordelia averted her stare, counted to thirty then quickly flicked back to him.
Still the vampire watched her. Cordelia arched her eyebrows in a silent question of ‘what you staring at bub?’ yet Angel continued to observe her unfazed. For a fleeting moment their gazes locked and Cordelia felt as though he could read her every thought, see her every secret. A concern that she’d never seen directed at anyone but the slayer was emanating from the vampires eyes in her direction. Could he see her fears, see the truth behind the charade that was Cordelia Chase? Her stomach knotted at the unspoken thought. Before she realised she had moved Cordelia stood up, panicking for a reason she couldn’t put into words.
“You OK Cordelia?” Willow asked the girl that had just pounced out of her chair as though she’d been electrocuted.
“Yeah….I have to go….” Her voice sounded forced even to her own ears, grabbing her purse she didn’t look back as she walked as calmly as she could out of the library and away from the vampire’s soul penetrating stare.
“Cordelia Chase. A whole new brand of crazy.” Xander chuckled and reached for donut number seven.
Angel had been staring her, he couldn’t help it. She’d seemed so distant from the rest of the group, so alone in a room full of people. He had watched Cordelia as she moved her body with practised ease through one routine after another with the rest of her cheerleader friends. Watched her as she’d laughed and joked, twirled her hair and flirted with the random jocks that had sauntered her way during practise.
She didn’t seem like the same lost girl he’d watched cry in a motel room the night before but as he studied Cordelia as she sat quietly reading, rubbing the muscles in her neck, Angel realised it was very much the same person, she was just wearing a different mask.
Then she’d caught him staring at her not once but twice yet Angel still didn’t look away, too intent on trying to understand the mystery Cordelia guarded behind red glossy lips and perfect hair. He saw a flash of panic in her eyes and then she was gone. With one look Angel had spooked her like a frightened deer.
“Walk me home?” Buffy asked him before he even noticed the petite slayer was standing next to him. “Angel, you awake?”
“Sorry…” The vampire shook his head and dragged his gaze away from the library doors. He wondered how long he’d been staring at them after Cordelia had dashed through them. Xander and Willow must have left soon after the brunette because the only people left were himself Buffy and Giles.
“Sure, lets go.” Angel offered her a smile as he stood up, feeling guilty that his thoughts had been so consumed by Cordelia, Angel slipped an arm around Buffy’s small shoulders. She gazed at him oddly before slipping her arms around his waist, Buffy knew they were still due to finish the conversation they’d started two nights ago but right now she was content to simply walk home quietly with the man she was falling in love with.
Three Advils and two slices of pizza later Cordelia sat crossed legged in sweat pants and a vest on her bed in her motel room. She threw an unwanted crust at the fuzzy tv as David Letterman repeated the same overused phrase again and again until she was sure her ears were going to bleed. Cordelia was about to fire another dough missile when three short sharp knocks echoed on her door making her jump with surprise from the bed, knocking over her food.
“Oh crap.” Cordelia muttered as a dark coffee stain spread across her bed sheets. “Well that’s just perfect.” She reached to clean up the mess when the knocks resounded against the door once again. Moving quickly to the window Cordelia peeked through the blinds to see who it was but whoever it was was out of her line of sight.
Biting her lip Cordelia slipped the chain lock across the door, then cautiously unlocked the dead bolt and turned the door handle. Standing on the other side of the door was the last person she expected to see, she instinctively tried to push the door shut but a large black boot was in the way.
“Cordelia, I think you’d better tell me what you’re doing here don’t you?” Angel frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. Cordelia swallowed.