Arms folded, Buffy clutched her own biceps so tight, she was sure there’d be bruises. She felt her lip tremble just a little. And her eyes swam with unshed tears.
But, no! She wouldn’t cry. She was angry. Anger was better than crying.
“Tell me what’s going on!” she demanded, her voice shaky.
“Yeah,” Xander demanded. He pushed past her and took up an aggressive stance in front of the couple. “What’s with the touchy feely?”
Angel and Cordelia glanced at each other. And, to Buffy, it seemed like a thousand words passed in that one look.
They seemed to come to some silent agreement. Cordelia shrugged. And Angel slowly, *finally*, let his hands fall away from arms.
“Buffy,” he began. Then, he paused for a split second. Long enough for her to wonder what he would say.
((Cordelia and I have been seeing each other behind your back for weeks. But, hey, at least you know we haven’t had sex. Not with the curse and all. Just a kiss here, a cuddle there. Nothing for you to get upset about.))
What she didn’t expect him to say was
“We don’t belong here.”
“No,” Xander sneered. “You belong at the nearest Shag and Shack Motel!”
“Xander,” Willow said. Always the peacemaker, she stepped forward and rested her hand on his arm. “Don’t…”
“Yep,” Cordelia said. She stiffened up her spine and looked down her nose at her boyfriend. “Still the same jack ass I remember so fondly.”
Xander, apparently too angry to speak, clamped his mouth shut.
“Look,” Angel said. Quiet. Reasonable. “I think we should talk about this out…”
“What?” Buffy interrupted. “Don’t want to air our dirty laundry in public. Don’t *tell* me you’re embarrassed. I mean, with a past like yours, I wouldn’t think *anything* could embarrass you. Talk about having skeletons in your closet.”
As a heavy silence fell over the group.
Buffy’s heart dropped. Why had she said that? She didn’t mean to say that!
Angel’s eyes did that shuttering thing, where they went all cold and distant. She could almost hear the doors slam shut.
An angry Cordelia took a step forward. “What the *hell* is your problem?”
Refusing to feel bad about what she’d said, Buffy narrowed her eyes at the brunette. “My *problem* is nausea. I just saw my boyfriend with his hands all over *you*! And, let me just say…”
“No!” Angel interrupted, his quiet voice sharp with command.
Willow jumped, a startled gasp passing her lips.
Xander’s eyes widened, that little bit of fear he always felt around Angel coming to the surface.
And Buffy stammered into silence.
Angel gave her a cold, intense look. “Do you want the explanation? Or would you rather finish your tantrum?”
This time, it was Cordelia who seemed startled. A surprised frown marring her brow, she turned to face the vampire.
Buffy didn’t have to tell herself to be angry this time. She just *was*.
“Okay,” she said through gritted teeth. “Explain.”
She wasn’t prepared for what she heard.
Giles’s apartment was filled to capacity.
Oz and Willow shared an armchair. The werewolf/guitarist was slouched down in his seat, by far the most relaxed of the group.
((If he gets more relaxed,)) Xander thought, ((he’ll be lying on the floor.))
Willow sat perched on the arm of Oz’s chair. And Buffy stood near the window, alternating between looking at Angel, and looking outside.
Giles sat in another chair. As Angel spoke, the Watcher’s excitement—which, for him, meant a slight widening of the eyes—grew.
And Cordelia sat next to Angel on the sofa.
Xander, who sat on the floor, watched them with narrowed eyes. He didn’t like it. They were sitting much too close together. And they seemed way to used to being all comfy cozy. It wasn’t like there wasn’t plenty of room on the sofa. Plenty of space for them to spread out a little. Instead, they were barely an inch apart. Okay, maybe two inches. But that was it!
He definitely didn’t like it.
“So,” Angel concluded, “all I can figure is that our present minds have been transported into our past bodies.”
“And your…past minds?” Giles said, stumbling over the terminology.
“Still here, I think,” Angel said. His frown was thoughtful. “My memories of this time are much clearer than they were before. Not exactly like they happened yesterday, but…” He turned towards the brunette. “Cordy?”
“Yeah, me too,” she said.
“Cordy?” Xander grumbled. He picked at the carpet. “Since when does *he* call *her* Cordy?”
No one seemed to hear him.
“You’re from the future,” Oz said, casually. Like it was no big thing. “Cool.”
“Fascinating,” the Watcher agreed.
“No,” Cordelia said. “Not cool. And so *not* fascinating. We *have* to get back. Now! There are people worried about us. And…”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Angel interrupted. “We’ll fix this.” And he rested his hand on her shoulder.
Xander gritted his teeth. He felt his jaw pop.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Buffy turn to look out the window.
“This is…” Willow began “This is…whoa.” Then, a speculative light lit her eyes. Suddenly eager, she leaned towards Angel and Cordelia. “What’s the future like?”
“No!” Giles shook his head. “I don’t think it’s wise for Angel or Cordelia to reveal too much…”
“The temporal prime directive,” Xander interrupted, calling on years of Trekker wisdom. “Though shall not mess with the time line, or you’ll screw up future history.”
There was a lengthy pause.
“Yes,” Giles finally said. He took off his glasses and began to polish them. “Xander’s quite right.”
“You bet I am. Which sometime happens.”
“Yes, of course.” Replacing his glasses, the librarian stood up. “It’s best that neither Angel nor Cordelia reveal any details about future events. I think our first order of business is to identify the statue.”
“I only saw it for a second,” the vampire said.
“Yes, but it sounds very distinctive. And it obviously has something to do with time. That will narrow down the search.”
“Ooh, fun,” Cordelia said. “A research party.” But she didn’t sound nearly as disgusted by the prospect as Xander was used to.
“I’ll see if I can find anything on the ‘Net,” Willow said. She took her trusty laptop out of her bag and carried it over to the writing desk. Oz helped her hook up.
Angel and Cordelia followed Giles to the bookcase. And, of course, they had to stick all shoulder-and-shoulder to do *that* too.
“Hold hands, why don’t ya,” Xander muttered.
Standing, he looked over at Buffy, who was still had her back to the room. And was probably thinking the same thing he was.
In what kind of future did Angel feel he had the right to hug Cordelia Chase?
After Angel drew a picture of the statue—as much of it as he could remember, anyway—Giles started to hand out the books.
“Hey, Giles.” Xander tested the weight of the large tome he was given. “Do you want me to read this thing, or bench press it?”
“Xander,” Giles began in his familiar, aggrieved tone.
“I’m reading, I’m reading.” Dropping onto the floor, he opened the book. “Oooh, pictures!” P>“Just your speed,” Cordy quipped.
Buffy was still staring up at the moon, when she felt him approach.
“Hey,” he began.
Buffy turned to face him. “Hey,” she said. And donned a smile that felt so false, it almost hurt. “So, three years, huh?”
“Yeah.” Hands in his pockets, he leaned his shoulder against the wall. “Three years.”
She nodded. “I guess a lot’s change.” And there was so much she wanted to ask him. What were they all like three years from now? And had things gotten any easier between him and her? They had to, right? That was kind of what she was counting on.
But they’d all agreed—without her vote. No details.
So she tried for a light, cheerful tone. “Would it be breaking the rules to ask whether or not I’m alive or dead in three years?”
And she saw Angel flinch.
Buffy’s eyes widened with horror. “Oh, God,” she whispered. She was the Slayer. And Slayers came with expiration dates. She knew that. But she never really…
“No!” Angel rushed to assure her. “No, you’re fine. I just…wasn’t expecting the question.”
After a skeptical pause, she decided to believe him. “Well, good.”
“Yeah, it is,” Angel said. And the genuine sincerity in his eyes made her feel better than she had all night.
They were both trying to think of something else to say when Cordy approached.
“So, Buffy,” she began. “Are we okay?”
The Slayer was surprised by the question. “Um, yeah.” Her surprise turned to chagrin. “And I’m sorry about earlier…”
“Hey, no problem. I’ve kinda been where you thought you were.” For some reason, she cast a quick glance towards Xander. Then, she clapped her hands together. “Now, let’s hit those books! A trip down memory lane might be fun, but…”
“You want to get home,” Angel finished.
“There’s no place like it. So, chop chop!” And she graced him with a brilliant smile.
Buffy had never seen that smile before. It was wide, and open, and took over her entire face.
And it seemed to be contagious. Because Angel smiled back.
Buffy’s heart tripped all over itself. He had a really beautiful smile. Breathtaking, even.
((Too bad I’ve never seen it before.))
Buffy watched the other girl walk away. “It looks like you and Cordelia have gotten…closer?”
“Uh, yeah,” Angel began. “We’re…friends.”
Buffy thought about that for a second. “Right. Friends.”
Willow stared at the computer screen.
“Wow, there’s a lot of *stuff* here. Next to love magic and revenge magic, time magic’s the most popular. And the least likely to work. Which is probably a good.”
“Everybody wants to change something about their past,” Oz said.
Willow graced him with a loving smile. Okay, so he didn’t talk much. But, when he did, he was so insightful.
While waiting for the computer to narrow down the search, Willow glanced around the apartment. Things were unusually quiet, even for a research session. They could always count on Xander to make a few wisecracks. But, except for an occasional mumble, he seemed content to…well, mope.
And Cordelia. Not a single complaint since she opened her book.
There was something different about Angel.
For one thing, Willow wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him just…sitting before. Not unless he was hurt, and the alternative was falling over. He usually found the darkest corner of the room, and all but vanished into it. It was his way.
But seeing him just sitting on the sofa? It seemed like such a normal, part-of-the-group thing to do.
“There’s nothing in here,” Cordelia said as she closed her book. “What are *you* reading?” And, leaning against Angel’s side, one hand on his shoulder, she looked down at the book on his lap.
Willow saw Xander actually cringe.
“It’s in Latin,” Angel said to Cordelia. He didn’t seem at all phased by her closeness. In fact, he seemed kind of used to it.
“Latin, huh?” Cordelia frowned. “You taught me a little Latin. So why can’t I understand a single word in this book?”
“Maybe because you weren’t really paying attention at the time?”
“Oh, yeah. That would explain it.”
And Angel chuckled. He actually chuckled. A little.
Willow wasn’t the only one who noticed. Everyone in the room turned to stare at him.
Sensing their looks, Angel cast suddenly looked uneasy. “What?”
“You laughed,” Cordelia explained. “It takes some getting used to. You know. You being all…mirth-y.”
“Mirth-y? Is that even a word?”
“Think so. Want me to check?”
“No, I’ll take your word for it.”
And the two shared a smile.
Xander mumbled something, and turned a page in the book with more vigor than necessary.
Giles watched the two with interest for a few seconds, then went back to his research.
Buffy stared at them. And, from the look on her face, Willow couldn’t help but worry about what she was thinking.
((I’ll talk to her,)) she decided. ((As soon as we get a minute alone.))
“It looks like those two have gotten pretty close,” Oz commented quietly.
“I guess so,” Willow agreed. Actually, Angel and Cordelia looked as comfortable together as she was with Xander and Oz. It was just weird.
Angel had a friend. And she was *Cordelia*.
“Uh-oh,” the girl in question said suddenly. She stood up, her eyes focused on some point in the far distance. Then, she clutched her head and cried out.
Angel caught her before she fell. Carefully, he eased her body onto the sofa.
“What is it?” Xander exclaimed, alarmed. He jumped to his feet and rushed to her side. “What’s wrong? Cordy?”
Cordelia writhed in pain, Angel’s powerful arms the only thing keeping her from falling to the floor.
Scared, Willow grabbed Oz’s hand. Was this some kind of weird side effect from the time travel? Was Cordelia going to…?
Finally, Cordelia’s pain seemed to ease a little.
“What did you see?” Angel asked.
“Waverly Park,” Cordelia gasped. “A horny young couple. A picnic basket. And a pack of demons. We have to hurry.” Her body sagged into Angel’s arms. “Damn! That isn’t supposed to hurt anymore! Unless it’s because I’m not…” But she didn’t finish the sentence.
Angel’s eyes were filled with worry. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” She pressed her fingers into her temple. “Just go. Hurry!”
“Right.” A grim set to his mouth, he turned towards the Watcher. “Giles, I need weapons.”
“Weapons?” Giles staggered to his feet. “Waverly Park? I don’t understand.”
“What’s going on?” Buffy asked as she stepped forward.
“Cordelia has visions,” Angel explained. “Of people in trouble.”
“Cordelia!” Xander exclaimed in disbelief. Which was shared by everyone in the room.
Giles stared at her, his interest newly peaked.
“Giles,” Angel reminded him. “Weapons.”
“Yes. Of…of course.” And the Watcher hurried over to the weapons chest.
“It figures,” Xander grumbled. “Now, everyone’s all magical-y but me.”