Cordelia had washed her hair three times. Three times and she could still smell the acrid stench of smoke covering every strand. She closed her eyes and shook her head when the horrifying image of Daryl Epps fluttered into her mind. If she hadn’t been distracted by that damn vampire watching her every twist and kick she might have seen her kidnapper lurking in the shadows and stayed on the field instead of collecting a drink under the bleachers. Angel had thrown her off her guard by deciding to be her best friend and she’d almost lost her head because of it.
Yes, it was all Angel’s fault.
To make things just that little more worse Xander Harris had risked his life by rescuing her. Xander frikken Harris! The icing on the cake was the irritated dismissal he’d thrown her way when she’d tried to thank him, leaving her feeling foolish and annoyed as she made her solitary way back to the motel. The only saving grace of the entire affair was that once Angel had finally turned up he’d only had eyes for Buffy, leaving her free to make a getaway without her very own stalker two steps behind.
“Could my life suck anymore?” She asked the empty room, looking around the hovel that she had come to call her home a wry smile crept across her face. “At least things can’t get much worse.” Cordelia muttered with a sigh as she folded up her smoke stained uniform. Another Saturday at the Laundromat for Sunnydales Queen C. A soft knocking on the door startled her, she seemed to be jumping at every small noise ever since she moved into motel hell. Cordelia grimaced as the angry bruise on her side made itself known as she moved too quickly.
Again the knocking sounded, persistent and unwavering.
A strong sense of deja vu swept over her. Cordelia raised her eyes to the heavens, silently promising whatever deity that was mucking around with her life that she’d be a better person just as long as it wasn’t who she thought it was.
“Oh for crapsake…” Cordelia muttered when she finally opened the door.
“Cordelia.” Angel smiled and nodded at her, ignoring the way she was scowling at him. “I brought Chinese.” He jostled the bag in his arms and didn’t wait to be invited in as he slid past her into the room.
“Angel….this really isn’t necessary.” Cordelia said through gritted teeth, she held the door open to him hoping he would get the message that she just wanted to left alone to wallow in her own self pity.
“I didn’t know what you liked so I got one of everything.” Angel ignored her irritation and began to place container after container of food on to the small table by the window.
“C’mon, it’ll get cold.” The vampire called her over with a jerk of his head as he slipped off his coat and threw it over the back of the chair like he owned the place. When he noticed she was still standing by the open door looking at him like he’d grown horns and a tail he began to get concerned.
“You didn’t get hurt tonight did you?” Angel frowned.
“What the hell is going on with you?!” Cordelia shouted at him once she’d recovered from the sheer audacity of the man.
“You with the smiling and the takeout and hello?! Aren’t you meant to be moody-lurking-shadow-cryptic-creature of the night guy?” She slammed the door shut with her foot. “Granted I don’t know you very well, but I’m pretty sure this is freaky ass behaviour for you!”
“I guess we’re both full of surprises.” Angel said as he seated himself on the uncomfortable plastic chair, the frown that didn’t leave his face twisted something inside the brunette but she refused to listen to the part of her brain that told her she liked it more when he smiled. He had a really nice smile. Rolling her eyes more out of habit than anything else Cordelia crossed the room and picked up a carton of rice and chopsticks, refusing to meet his gaze she sat down on the bed like a petulant child just told to eat her greens. She was too tired to spend another evening trying to get the most stubborn man she’d ever met out of her room. Cordelia decided to just go with it, she was sure the vampire would get bored soon enough and go back to stalking the slayer.
“Did you get hurt?” Angel tried again, hopefully this time he wouldn’t get yelled at.
“I’m fine.” She dismissed him, digging a chopstick through the pile of fluffy rice with disinterest. Cordelia was hungry but the vampire was making her nervous. It wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t look so damn comfortable. There was that hair prickling at the back of her neck again, the cheerleader didn’t need to look up from her food to know Angel was looking at her. It was the same feeling she’d had in the library, like a chill starting at the base of her spine and flushing all the way to her finger tips……
“What?” Cordelia grunted at him when she couldn’t take being the subject of his intense stare.
“Why do you do that? Why do you say you’re fine when you’re obviously not?” Angel asked her quietly, he genuinely wanted to know the answer. He didn’t want to think about why he wanted an answer so dearly though.
“Why have you made it your new hobby to follow me around?” Cordelia threw back at him.
“Because someone needs to be looking out for you.”
“I don’t need looking after.”
“Cordelia, look around you……you’re living in a motel, you don’t know where your parents are, you almost lost your head tonight, literally, you have dark circles under your eyes, I’m guessing you’ve been living on take out for a while…”
“And you’re really not helping.” Cordelia interrupted him, if he continued listing the hell that was her life she was pretty sure she was going to cry and she really didn’t want to cry in front of Angel again. Letting him know the conversation was over Cordelia scooted across the bed and leant back against the pillows, she tucked her denim clad legs beneath her and switched the tv on by the remote. She found the least annoying programme and stared at it blankly while she ate her rice.
Angel watched the young woman as she tried her hardest to pretend he wasn’t there, but the slight increase of her heart beat and the short darting glances she kept throwing his way let him know that he was making her nervous. The demon in him delighted in that but the soul just wanted to comfort her. Still, the vampire refused to examine where these feelings came. He knew the fact that he was a vampire made Buffy’s friends uneasy around him but he’d never had that feeling around Cordelia Chase. So if it wasn’t the fact that he was a demon that was causing the young woman to be jittery around him what was?
“Did you know him very well?” Angel asked her after a full twenty minutes of silence that wasn’t completely uncomfortable.
“Hmmm?” Cordelia didn’t look away from the television. Angel picked up a couple of take out cartons from the table and sauntered, as un-stalker like as he could manage, to the other side of the bed and sat down. The sudden dip of the mattress finally caught Cordelia’s attention, her concentration ripped away from the made for tv movie to the vampire next to her. The look of concern on Angel’s face forced her to swallow any comment she was about to spout about personal bubbles.
“That guy Daryl, did you know him very well?” He asked her again carefully.
“Yeah….I…..We use to be…well, friends I guess.” Cordelia shrugged, a ghost of a smile stealing across her lips for a second before happy memories from her past were clouded by the image unnaturally pale skin and scars. “So, have you and Buffy kissed and made up after whatever it was that had the pair of you scowling the other night?” Cordelia changed the subject on to something that wasn’t her.
“Yeah.” Angel grunted, fixing his gaze on the fuzzy pictures blinking on the television screen.
“It was about that so called ‘sexy’ dance she did with Xander wasn’t it?” Cordelia asked innocently while she poked at the carton of noodles.
“How did you…..?”
“Contrary to popular belief Angel, I do notice that the entire world doesn’t revolve around me at times.” Cordelia quirked a sardonic eyebrow at him. “And it couldn’t be more obvious that you don’t like Xander.”
“The boy irritates me.” Angel fiddled with the cuff of his dark sweater.
“It’s what Harris does best.” She nodded in agreement.
“Yet he saved you tonight.”
“Yeah….” Cordelia trailed off, not sure what to say about be rescued by Xander Harris.
Xander frikken Harris!
The pair settled down into a comfortable silence as both their attentions were drawn to the sight of some C-rate actress vowing revenge on the woman that stole her man. Cordelia was certain she’d watched this film last week….or something very similar to it. She sighed thinking about the disturbing amount of time she’d spent watching bad film after bad film in the dingy motel room that was now her home. The social butterfly she’d once been had regressed into a sweat pant wearing, take out eating, Kim Delaney film watching unsociable caterpillar. The few times she had been out with Harmony and her friends Cordelia had been bored out of her mind with their inane chatter about this seasons Manolo’s and what Gucci purse was currently hot. She could image their reactions if she told them that the thrift store on main street did a very good deal on second hand Levi’s. Harmony would probably swallow her tongue from the shock of it all.
Cordelia couldn’t help but chuckle at that thought.
“This is meant to be a very emotional scene that you’re laughing at.” Angel nodded at the tv as some unknown actor begged for forgiveness.
“Oh…I, I was just imagining the look on Harmony’s face if she ever saw me like this. Might even be worth the inevitable social death.” Cordelia said lightly, her carefree tone was too carefree and Angel noticed it.
“Why are you friends with people you don’t really like?” Angel asked her bluntly.
“Why do you insist on asking me questions that you know I’m not going to answer?” Cordelia shot back, her eyes flashing with something Angel couldn’t quite determine, it might have been amusement.
“What can I say Cordy….you bring out the inquisitive side of me.” He grinned at her making Cordelia’s toes curl unconsciously. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t the brooding vampire she’d heard Willow and Buffy chatting about, consumed with guilt, a slave to his past. He was smiling, laughing, flirting, talking.
He’d called her Cordy. Cordy, without the mocking Xander used when he said her name, without the sheep like adoration inherent in everything Aura and Harmony said to her.
Like she was someone that know one else knew about but him.
“Did…did you want some chinese?” Cordelia said when she didn’t know what else to say.
“I ate before I left.” Angel shook his head and turned the channel over before Cordelia could stop him. There was only so much overacting a creature of the night could take.
“What did you have…” She knew the answer even before she finished the sentence. This is what happens when a man you hardly know says your nickname without the malice that usually accompanies it. “…OK, stupid question. Something blood based I’m guessing.”
“Always is.” Angel nodded but didn’t elaborate further, he didn’t have to anyway as the silence was filled with the muffled voices of her neighbours once again slowly destroying each other.
“Every damn night.” Cordelia groaned and slumped her head against the headboard, he eyes squeezed shut as though she could make the shouting stop if she concentrated hard enough. “Why don’t they just make up or break up instead of screaming at each other night after night?”
“Love makes you do the wacky.” Angel muttered, remembering his conversation with Buffy earlier that night. A conversation that been tense and nervous. A conversation in which neither of them had truly smiled at each other.
“What?” Cordelia snorted at his choice of words, ‘wacky’ sounded so unbelievably odd coming from Angel. She swallowed her laughter when she saw Angel was serious.
“Do you think I should see if the woman is OK…” He avoided her half asked question as an unmistakably feminine voice cursed the ground her lover walked on followed by a very male exclamation of pain drifted from next door.
“I think she can handle herself. I saw her the other day….arms covered in tattoos.” Cordelia gestured wildly with her arms in distaste, she sucked in a breath when the bruise on her side woke up.
“So when I asked you if you were OK and you said you were fine you were lying?” Angel frowned at her.
“It’s just a bruise, I’ve had worse after cheer leading practise.” Cordelia dismissed his concern. She gathered up the empty take out cartons and moved off the bed, a cool hand on her wrist stopped her movements.
“You don’t have to lie to me Cordelia.” Angel said sincerely and she dearly wanted to believe him. Cordelia looked at the large hand wrapped around her wrist, it was overwhelmingly male, she wondered for a moment the things it had done, the pain it had caused, the pleasure it had coaxed. “Just be yourself.” Angel interrupted her thoughts, his eyes bored into hers and she felt her cheeks flush under his intense gaze.
No wonder Buffy Summers was head over feet for this man….one look and he could make you feel like there was no one else in the entire world.
Cordelia couldn’t be thinking about a vampire she barely knew in that way. Not now, not when her life was so upside down she couldn’t even fathom what way was up.
“It’s been a really weird day…what with the kidnapping and everything….I should get some sleep.” Cordelia slipped out of his gentle grasp and moved to the door, Angel followed her without argument, picking his jacket up on the way.
“Thank you for dinner Angel.” She smiled awkwardly at him when he was opposite her, not use to the gratitude she felt deep in her bones.
Without another word Cordelia opened the door and Angel slipped out into the night.
They both knew he wasn’t going far.
Angel had become accustomed to a soft bed to sleep in over the last few years, a soft bed and four walls. He’d spent his time on the streets, scavenging for whatever food he could find, a diet of rats and a cold hard pavement had been the best punishment he could find for himself but then Whistler had shown him the slayer and his world had toppled on it’s axis. He’d been given a purpose, love and a soft bed.
So why was he once again sitting on the cold hard pavement outside the room of a girl that had repeatedly told him that she didn’t want/need his help?
And why was he so adamant about helping her anyway?
Because I know what it feels like to be so scared and alone that the thought of another solitary day brings tears to your eyes
The demon inside him snarled in disgust at the truth of that statement.
“Fucking pavement.” Angel muttered and tried to find a more comfortable way to sit.
He’d brought her food, asked her questions, watched a film with her. Tried to make her feel like she wasn’t completely alone and possibly scared the crap out of her by the way she’d ushered him out of the room half an hour ago.
I don’t know her. She’s not my responsibility. None of this is my business.
She has no one else.
What the hell am I doing?
But still Angel didn’t leave.
Cordelia sat cross-legged on the bed listening to Angel mutter and curse outside. She bit her lip silently arguing with herself about what she knew she was about to do.
He’d brought her dinner, asked her if she was hurt, made sure she was OK.
Who else had done that in the last few months?
I don’t know him. He’s a vampire. He’s Buffy Summers boyfriend.
He asked me if I was hurt.
What the hell am I doing
Cordelia strode over to the door before she could talk herself out of it, she flicked the locks with annoyance and swung open the door faster than Angel had time to move.
“Are you sure you’re a vampire? Aren’t they usually more stealthier than that?” Cordelia looked down at the creature of the night who had fallen flat on his back at her feet when she’d opened the door.
“I….” Angel blinked looking up at her, it was an interesting view he had of the young woman from his position on the floor. He’d never noticed how full her…
He sprang to his feet as quickly as he could, trying to banish the unwanted thoughts that invaded his brain.
“I?” Cordelia put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot against the floor. The smart thing for her to have done was to have put a robe over her vest and pants before she opened the door to let Angel in. But then hindsight is always 20/20.
“Huh?” Angel reverted back to the stoic idiot he was on occasion. While he had always known Cordelia Chase was an attractive girl…he was only just realising she was a beautiful woman.
“You can’t stay out there all night again Angel.” Cordelia figured the look on his face was due to the fact that he must have knocked his head when he’d toppled back because he’d never looked at her like that before and she knew very well that he never would.
Concussion, that was what it was.
“I’m not leaving…” Angel began to argue with her again.
“I know. Come in Angel.” She sighed and ushered him in.
Yes. Cordelia Chase had lost her mind.
Confused, Angel followed stepped back into the room he’d been shepherded out of not long ago, closing the door behind him. He watched her as she moved easily to the other side of the room, opening a cupboard he hadn’t noticed was there and pulling out a pillow and blanket. Angel caught the bedding that hurtled his way.
“Floor.” She pointed to the space next to her bed then without saying another word Cordelia slipped back into bed and closed her eyes. Shaking his head with amusement Angel slipped off his jacket and tried to make himself as comfortable as possible on the floor.
It wasn’t a soft bed…..but it was almost as good.
Cordelia’s breathing let him know that she was still awake, still slightly nervous of his presence so close.
“Angel?” Her small voice cut through the darkness.
“What you said earlier…about us being friends, did you mean that?”
“OK. I can deal with that.”
“Don’t even think about snacking on me when I’m asleep.” Cordelia murmured before she fell into a deep slumber.
“I can deal with that.” Angel smiled and punched the pillow into shape.