Angel watched woman and child sing and laugh for a long, endless moment. Until the sight of them, so happy just being together, was almost painful.
Finally, he left the suite as quietly as he’d arrived.
Still with no desire to return to his room, he decided to investigate the rest of the hotel.
The dark, deserted hallways weren’t so different from the cemeteries of Sunnydale. When memories drove him out of the mansion, or when he and Buffy managed to hurt each other yet again, he would prowl the graveyards for hours, walking the night away. Swimming in a sea of thoughts and doubts.
Eventually, Angel found a room that looked far worse than any other in the hotel. It looked like it had suffered an earthquake the rest of the hotel had somehow escaped, perched on the top floor like a wounded thing,
Angel went to the window and gazed up at the moon. But, in his mind’s eye, he saw the nursery.
Cordelia Chase. The same girl he knew back in Sunnydale. And, yet, so different.
He had gone for years, decades, without changing. Well, except to become more withdrawn, more isolated, more torn by guilt. Not change. Just more of the same.
Change was…hard for him. Even three years after leaving the gutters of New York to help the Slayer in Sunnydale, he hadn’t changed all that much. He still spent most of his time alone, in the shadows. Avoided humanity whenever possible. Was uneasy when he had to deal with someone face-to-face. Even Buffy, sometimes.
And, yet, look at Cordelia. In just three years, she had changed from a spoiled, self-centered, insensitive girl into a woman who…
Into a *woman*. A woman with warm, hazel eyes. A compassionate woman, who had reached out to him not once, but twice. A woman who found joy in spending time with a baby.
He hadn’t realized it at the time. But, when he’d talked to her, his confusion, his disorientation, had eased a little. He’d felt better…for those few moments.
It was hard to believe that the girl who passed out insults with absent-minded cruelty had become such a…soothing presence.
Which didn’t answer the most puzzling question.
What was she doing here, in LA? With…him?
In Sunnydale, they barely knew each other. Once she gave up on flirting with him, they rarely spoke. They could be in the same room, and not exchange a single word.
So what had changed? How had she ended up working with him? Taking care of his son?
Angel shook his head in frustration. More questions that didn’t have answers.
Angel explored the old hotel for another hour or so. Then, he headed back towards his room.
Angel paused, startled by the sound of his own voice.
“Angel! Sit still and stop being a baby!”
“I’m not being a baby. But that hurt!”
“Oh, please. I barely touched you.”
Angel stepped forward, careful not to leave the shadows. Curious, he studied the scene below.
The lobby had filled up in the last few hours. Everyone was there.
Wesley sat behind the counter, four more books spread before him. Fred sat next to him, staring intently at a lap top.
Gunn was playing a video game. He seemed oblivious to what was going on in the rest of the room.
The Other sat on the sofa, shirtless. Cordelia, a first-aid kit open at her side, dabbed at a gash on his shoulder with a cotton ball.
Fred cast worried glance at the gash. “Does it hurt a lot, Angel?”
“Yes,” the vampire said.
“No,” Cordelia said at the same time.
He gave her a look. “I think I know whether it hurts or not, Cordy.”
“Pfft. It’s just a scratch. Barely deserves a bandage.”
“You call *this* a scratch?”
“Well,” Wesley contributed, “compared to wounds you’ve suffered in the past, this one *is* rather…unimpressive.”
“And, it probably looks worse than it is,” Gunn added over the bleeps and blips of his game. “So I’m thinkin’ it can’t be all that bad.”
“Thanks, guys,” the Other grumbled.
“No problem, bruh.”
Cordelia shook her head. “Angel, you’re just lucky you don’t scar easily, or you’d be a mess. I swear, this is like a bad habit with you. Can’t fight the darkness without getting a gaping wound as a souvenir.”
“Well,” Fred said, “since you won’t let him collect heads anymore, maybe…
“It’s not like I got hurt on purpose,” the Other interrupted.
“Yeah? Well, I notice Wesley and Gunn manage not to get sliced-and-diced every case,” Cordelia pointed out.
“That’s cause I’m the man,” Gunn said. “And Wesley’s got luck on his side.”
“Thank you, Gunn,” the Englishman drawled.
“Well, I’m the one who usually gets to go hand-to-hand against the big nasties,” the Other said.
“That’s true,” Cordelia conceded. “But you’d think that, with all the practice you get, you’d be better at the demon fighting thing.” She grinned. “What? Getting slow in your old age? Those reflexes not as sharp as when you were 150?”
“Cordelia,” the vampire said, a warning growl just below the surface.
“No wonder I kicked your butt,” she continued smugly.
“You kicked Angel’s butt?” Fred leaned forward, a delighted smile on her face. “Angel, Cordelia kicked your butt? Because you’re a really good fighter, and if Cordelia can kick your butt…
“No, Fred.” The image of injured pride, he sat up straighter in his seat. “Cordy did *not* kick my butt.”
“Oh?” Cordelia asked. “So that wasn’t you I knocked on your ass yesterday? That wasn’t you I disarmed during the sword training portion of our fun afternoon?”
“Yeah, well…” he sank back into his seat. “That doesn’t qualify as kicking my butt.”
“Whatever you say.” She taped a bandage over the now-clean gash. “There you are. Good as new. And stop pouting. I mean, it’s cute and all, but…”
“I’m not pouting,” the other said. But, even as he spoke, a smile began to form on his lips.
And so it continued. The five of them talked and teased. Gentle insults filled the room. Along with occasional laughter.
Cordelia went behind the desk. It looked like she was organizing files.
The Other wandered over to Gunn.
“Hey, is that new?” he asked. And, within moments, he was playing the video game. Gunn watched over his shoulder, yelling out advice.
Angel studied his future self. He seemed so…at ease with all of these people. And they, knowing exactly what he was, seemed to be at ease with *him*. They were…his friends.
Frowning, Angel thought about his life. Before Sunnydale, he rarely came into contact with people. Those decades were a blur of faces, very few clear in his memory.
Sunnydale was the first time he’d had extended contact with the same people in decades. But, after over two years, could any of them—Giles, Xander, Willow, Oz—be called friends?
Willow was kind, but he knew he made her nervous. Oz was accepting by nature, but still a stranger. Giles had somehow found the strength to tolerate his presence, but there was an understandable tension between them. And Xander didn’t bother to hide his dislike.
No. They weren’t his friends. He’d die for any of them…because Buffy loved them. And they’d all risked their lives for him…because Buffy loved *him*. But they weren’t his friends.
As he watched the scene below, he suddenly felt wistful. Longing for something he never knew he wanted.
Angel started to turn away. Then, he saw that his twin’s attention was no longer on the video game. He was watching…Cordelia. His eyes followed her from her desk, to the filing cabinet, back again. A smile curved his lips.
He looked like he’d be content to watch her for hours.
Angel frowned. That hint of a suspicion that had formed earlier took shape.
“Hey, Angel!” Gunn exclaimed.
The Other acted like he’d been snapped out of a dream. “Uh, what?”
“It’s my turn, man.”
“Oh, yeah. Right.” He handed over the game. And his eyes went right back to Cordelia.
“Enjoying the show.”
Angel spun around. Behind him stood a tall, green demon with read eyes and horns.
Instinctively, he took up a fighting stance.
“Hey,” the demon whispered, alarmed. “Put the fists away before you hurt somebody.”
Realizing the demon didn’t seem the least bit threatening, Angel relaxed. A little.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Houseguest, nanny, fabulous singer, and former host of the best little karaoke bar in town.” He grinned affably. “But you can call me Lorne.”
“Lorne.” The name sounded familiar. “Uncle Lorne?”
“So, you’ve heard of me.” The demon puffed out his chest. “I *am* worthy of discussion. You’re a topic of conversation yourself. Sorry we couldn’t meet and greet before now, sweet cheeks. I was spending a little fun time with a specka demon when you made your grand entrance. Kind of lost track of time.” And he laughed.
Angel didn’t know what to make of this creature. He was used to demons either trying to kill him, or quaking in fear when he walked by. ‘Friendly’ wasn’t the response he usually got.
“So,” Lorne continued. “What peaked your interest, pumpkin?”
Of their own volition, Angel’s eyes returned to his twin. The man had picked up a book and taken a seat in a chair. But it was plain to see that his attention wasn’t on the words on the page.
“Oh, you noticed that, too?” Lorne asked. “It *is* pretty obvious.”
Angel started shaking his head before the demon stopped talking. “No. There’s someone…”
“Don’t I know it,” Lorne interrupted. “You may be a little too closed off for me to get a good read without a tune. But *that* particular emotion is on full display, lambkins. She’s so deep in you, I can almost see her standing there at your side. It’d be spooky”—he provided a shiver to illustrate his point—“if I didn’t know it was your heart sending out echoes.”
Angel didn’t bother to question that. Just looked back at the scene below. Cordelia had gone to sit next to his twin. The two were lost in some quiet, private conversation. “I don’t understand.”
Lorne’s smile was knowing. “It’s three years later, angel eyes. Things change.”
Angel had just laid down, ready to sleep despite the thoughts swirling around in his brain, when he heard voices outside the door.
“Get in there.” An exasperated hiss.
Angel frowned. That was Cordelia.
“No. I don’t know why I have to…”
His own voice.
“Because you probably hurt his feelings and scarred him for life,” Cordelia whispered. “I think you need to talk to…yourself.” She giggled. “And doesn’t *that* sound weird? Anyway, get…in…there!”
“Why *not*, Angel?” Exasperated. Again. “I mean, I know this is a weird situation. But a psychiatrist could have a field day with you right now. You not liking an identical version of yourself. I bet Fraud would come back from the dead for this one. Which we both know could happen.”
A lengthy pause, followed by a deep sigh.
“Remember what you were like back in Sunnydale?”
“I kind of lived it, you know?” Cordelia said. “So, yeah.”
“Well, what if the girl you *were* suddenly showed up in your apartment tomorrow morning?”
A thoughtful silence.
“Whoa! Faith would probably end up with a new cellmate. And prison orange is *so* not my color.”
“But come on, Angel. He hasn’t done anything to make you all…homicidal.”
“No. But he’s a past I try not to…think about too often. It’s hard to explain. But seeing him makes me…angry. I don’t even know why. Maybe it’s because I know all the crap he’s going to pull. All the people he’s going to hurt. And I know I won’t feel *right* again until he’s gone.”
Angel stood up and walked towards the door. That Fred girl was right. You didn’t hear good things about yourself when you were eavesdropping.
“Well,” Cordelia began. “I guess it doesn’t matter now, but…”
Angel opened the door.
The couple turned to stare at him. Cordelia looked slightly embarrassed, like she’d been caught at something. His twin just stood there, stoic and silent.
“Um, hi,” Cordelia began. “Uh, we just…came to tell you th-that Wesley thinks he knows how to get you…back where you belong. Isn’t that great!”
Giving that a second to sink in, Angel nodded. “Yeah.”
“So, let’s go!” And the young woman turned and hurried down the hall.
After pausing to stare at each other for a few seconds longer, the two Angels followed.
“Are you sure this will work?” Cordelia asked. Drawing a final symbol on the floor, she stood up and wiped the chalk off of her hands. “It sounds iffy to me.”
“Oh, not at all,” Wesley said, walking across the training room. “It’s the same reversal spell Mr. Giles used. We’ll just be using something very similar to a portal—only much less powerful—to return Angel’s mind *and* body to the past.” He turned toward Angel. “If you’ll just stand in there.”
Nodding, Angel stepped into the chalk-drawn circle. He looked around the room. At all the people who would become an important part of his life. In the not-too-distant future.
Wesley started to read the spell.
And that same, sickly green light seemed to fall on Angel. Like a terrible weight crashing from the sky.
Shocked by the suddenness of it, by the pain and nausea that seemed to consume every cell, he groaned and slammed to his knees…
Angel woke with a start. To find his face pressed against dew-dampened grass.
Moaning, he sat up and looked around the clearing. The last thing he remembered was…throwing his dagger at the demons head, and a wave of sickly green light.
He had a strange feeling their should be more. But didn’t know what.
Standing, he went to where the demon’s victim lay. And wasn’t really surprised that the boy was dead.
“Too late,” Angel muttered, adding it to a long list of regrets.
He also regretted that he would have to leave the body where it was. It seemed…disrespectful somehow.
But the boy would be found in the morning. His parents would know what happened to him, and not spend years trapped in a limbo between hope and grief.
Angel found his dagger lying in a patch of scorched grass. Not much of a surprise either. When a demon put out that kind of energy when it died, you could usually count on there not being much of its body left.
Angel wondered if the light might have any lasting effects on him. For a moment, he considered asking Giles what kind of demon it had been.
But, no. Things were strained between them. And would probably always would be. It was best to keep his distance. Unless they needed his help.
With one last look around the area, Angel left the clearing.
He was almost to the mansion when he realized he felt…different. That oppressive weight that was always pressing against his heart had eased. A little.
Usually, on these walks, he had nothing but dark memories to keep him company. But tonight, for some reason, and even though he usually didn’t think too far ahead, he found himself wondering.
What would his life be like in two or three years?