A week had passed since she’d left Angel’s. A week in which she’d had to endure glares from Buffy until finally she’d snapped and told her in no uncertain terms that, even though it was none of her business, there was nothing going on with her and Angel.
There wasn’t. She’d thrown herself into school and her schoolwork, avoiding Harmony and her little group of sheep about as much as she was avoiding Xander which, difficult, considering they had most of the same classes together.
Her parents returned from their cruise with the usual nonchalance they afforded her which meant they bestowed her with gifts, asked how she’d been since her stint in the hospital – where, by the way, she totally could have died – and went back about their business ignoring her. Her mother didn’t even bat an eyelid when she mentioned the fact that she and Xander weren’t a thing any more, just nodded with what looked like it could’ve been sympathy and resumed looking for her next lot of pills.
It wasn’t like she wasn’t used to it or anything but it stung when she realised that she’d talked more to Angel about her problems than she ever had her parents and wasn’t that weird?
She didn’t see him again until weeks after she’d left his mansion and Buffy had stopped glaring at her on a daily basis, walking into him outside the Espresso Pump two days after her father went and lost them everything.
She was wearing one of the few outfits she still owned, a perma-frown on account of the whole losing-everything schtick and was very much not prepared to run into the one person who she thought might actually give a crap.
His smile was soft, tentative. His eyes actually seemed to light up when he saw her and Cordelia’s own misted in response, a fact she tried to cover by faking a cough and looking away.
If she thought their goodbye had been awkward? This was even more so. He towered over her, all skulking manpire with the overhanging forehead and Cordelia realised that she had no idea what the hell to say to the guy. “Uhm, how’ve you been?” She asked and groaned inwardly. Lame small talk was his thing, not hers!
“Good,” he nodded quickly, “I’ve been—Good.” Awkward pause. “I—Uhm, you?”
What she wanted to say was that in the space of one year her life had gone to shit. What she wanted to say was that her father was a big, dumb, jackass who’d not paid his taxes in the last ever and now she was living in Sunnydale Motel because she was an adult in her own right and she needed to finish out school and figure out what she was going to do with her life.
What she said was “Oh, I’m great,” with not a hint of sarcasm. Maybe acting really was going to be her forte once she figured out how to get the hell out of Sunnydale. “Totally a-ok.”
It was a total lie and for a whole moment, Cordelia thought he’d bought it.
“You look tired,” he observed, his head tilting just-so.
Cordelia swallowed, hard. The last thing she needed was for Creature-of-The-Night-Guy to grow a brain-cell and clue himself into his feelings and shit. She did not need sympathy, not from him.
“Hello, SAT’s,” she rolled her eyes, “You try booking it 24/7 in order to get into a decent college and see how awake you look.”
He smiled, “You’re going to college?”
She gave him her ‘duh’ look, completely aware of how easily the lies were tripping off her tongue lately, “What? You think I’m gonna stay in Sunnydale? There’s nothing here for me.”
And that last part? Didn’t come out half as snippy as she’d like. She realised that were true only a moment after she said it and she launched into her next sentence which, unfortunately, was not a lie. “I got into every college I applied for.” She ticked them off on her fingers as she said them, painfully aware that the acceptance letters were burning a hole through her purse, “USC, Colorado State, Duke and Columbia.”
Sure, she’d got in. She was lying about the booking it part – she happened to do well on standardized tests, thank you very much – the tired came from the worry that her father was about to become somebody’s bitch in prison and her mother was going into total meltdown while staying with a relative.
“You, uh, you picked one yet?” He asked, watching her closely.
“The one that’s furthest away from this place,” she murmured. She hadn’t honestly thought where she would go after she’d graduated but Angel didn’t need to know that; he didn’t need to know that the college letters were mostly useless either because she wasn’t going. Ever.
They both fell silent until Cordelia decided that this was far too awkward for her to endure in her fragile state and made her excuses to leave. She was almost down the street when he called her name. “Cordy?”
She turned back, arching one eyebrow at the familiar nickname, only to find herself nose-to-chest with big lurking manpire himself. She was too jazzed to be really pissed at his scare the crap out of her routine. “What?”
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said quietly, so quiet she almost missed it.
“Me too,” she nodded, and turned to walk away.
She was lying. Angel had known it from the moment she’d said she was booking it and yet—He didn’t have the heart to call her out on it, not then. She looked so tired and worn, her emotions running dangerously close to the edge and Angel was struck by the fact that he wanted to… Protect her? To know whatever it was that was bothering her so that he could help?
He watched her walk down the street, didn’t puzzle over the fact that she didn’t have her car until she was out of sight and then he decided to follow her.
He didn’t have far to walk.
He remembered the way to Cordelia’s house from the last time he’d been there, getting her clothes. He walked quickly, vampire speed very much a plus in this situation… And didn’t catch up with her at all.
He got to the gate that led to her house, glancing up to find that there wasn’t even a light on which was about the time he noticed the big foreclosure sign on her front porch. Angel’s mouth dropped open in surprise.
He vaulted the gate easily, sure that there was something vastly wrong with this scenario, and went to the same balcony window he’d gotten in the last time she’d invited him in.
Her room was empty. Gone was the four poster bed, the lavishly decorated units. A quick check through the other windows showed Angel everything he needed to know; Cordelia’s house was empty.
He didn’t catch up with her for another two days. He’d made subtle enquiries with Buffy when he’d seen her on patrol but Buffy was pretty much oblivious to her classmate’s fate, concerned more with the fact that Prom was coming up and she was going ‘stag’.
He didn’t tell her about Cordelia’s house or what he saw, managed to dodge the subtle anvils that Buffy was dropping about not going stag tomorrow night and kept an eye out for Cordelia as much as he could.
He’d been getting blood from his local butcher when he saw her in the very last place he expected, dressed down in sweats, her hair pulled back off her face as she exited the local K-Mart.
Her mouth made an almost-comical ‘o’ when she saw him, clutching her grocery bag like armour as she tried to formulate an excuse for why she was in this part of town doing grown up things like grocery shopping the night before her Prom.
“Angel, hey…” She was ten shades of too tired for this crap.
Today had been the shitty kind of day at work – who else could say that they’d turned up for five hours of slave labour after school, only to find Xander ready, willing and able to reign down death-blows that they’d barely been able to deflect.
His parting shot had been something about the colleges she’d been accepted at seeing a different side of her father’s money and Cordelia almost lost it then and there.
“What are you doing here?”
He held up his bag of blood and gave her an awkward smile. “Cordelia-“
“Look, can we not?” Somehow, the lies weren’t coming to her at all tonight because she couldn’t think of one tiny little reason why she’d be shopping in this part of town.
“I know.” He said softly.
Her gaze narrowed, though her heartbeat sped up a little, “You know what?”
“Your house. I went by there the other night and saw the foreclosure sign…”
Cordelia’s face drained of colour. Now that Angel knew it would only be a matter of time before everybody else knew and-This was so much more humiliating than Xander cheating on her with Willow.
“Have you told anybody?” She managed to ask quietly, not even looking up to meet his gaze because pity was the last thing she wanted to see on his face right now.
“It wasn’t my place,” he told her gently and Cordelia was taken back to the first time he’d ever said those words to her, the bitch-fit that’d followed and the barb about him trying to pass for human 95% of the time and actually acting like one.
She let out the breath she’d been holding, unaware that she’d even stopped and then she glanced up. The look on his face wasn’t one of pity – if he felt sorry for her, he didn’t show it. His jaw was clenched, his face schooled into that Angel-look of impassive, but his eyes were friendly, God, worried even. And that right there was her undoing because for the first time since this whole losing-everything crap had beat down her door?
Cordelia started to cry.
They were back at her motel room and Angel had since learned how dank the place was as he’d watched Cordelia unload her groceries and place them in her crappy, makeshift fridge.
“My father didn’t pay his taxes for twelve years,” she murmured, sitting opposite him on one of the chairs, “That’s what happened.”
She couldn’t sugar-coat it any more than that. Once again, Angel had been privy to one of the darkest fucking times of her life and Cordelia was-Actually, she was kinda grateful. He hadn’t made a big deal out of it (although it wasn’t like she suspected he got off on hot gossip or whatever) he’d just let her cry, given her a semi-awkward hug and walked her back to her motel room.
“My Mom?” She cut off his awkward pause, “Staying with a cousin I’ve met, like, twice. I wanted to stay and finish up school and since I’m an adult…” Cordelia raised an arm, gestured around her, “Welcome home Cordelia.”
“You call this home?” Asked Angel, unable to stop himself.
She didn’t even answer that like he’d thought; gone was the blaze of anger in her eyes as she contemplated just how crappy her life was these days. Cordelia merely shrugged, “It’s not like I get a lot of choice in the matter. We lost everything,” she said quietly, “No car, no house, none of those fancy-pants colleges I gloated over when I saw you outside the Espresso Pump. Everything I have is right here in this crappy motel room and all I keep thinking is that maybe I finally got mine as if I didn’t have a shitty enough start to the year.”
Angel’s head tilted, “Got yours?”
And God, she really hadn’t been around him in a while because she’d forgotten how exceptionally clueless he could be. “Oh, come on. You know as well as I do that as soon as this comes out? That’s what everyone’s gonna be saying. How Cordy finally got her comeuppance ‘cause, hey, bitch.”
Angel frowned. He knew people could be cruel but that? Was on a whole other level of cruel that he didn’t want to contemplate. “Have you tried talking to anyone?” He asked carefully.
“Like who?” She could just imagine Buffy’s reaction to all of this – she’d laugh just like the rest of them and she wasn’t even gonna get started on Xander. “It’s not like it’d make a difference. I only have to survive school and the Hellmouth for another couple of weeks and then I’m gone.”
“Gone?” Angel blinked, a little surprised, “Gone where?”
She shrugged, trying to perfect the carefree look she’d given weeks ago when she’d left Angel’s mansion but she didn’t quite pull it off. “Anywhere but here? I have no idea, Angel. I’m working at a dress shop to fund my little trip and then it’s adios Cordelia.”
Angel thought about that for a moment, thought about what Buffy had been concerned with earlier in the week and glanced at her. “You’re not going to Prom?”
She bristled. She’d been thinking about Prom non-stop for a week – seemed kinda trivial what with all her current problems but she was still a girl and her after all. “I need all the money I can get for when I leave. I put a dress on layaway at April Fool’s but even with my staff discount it’s… I can’t even attempt justifying spending that on a dress,” she shook her head. Prom was definitely a no-go area for her. “Once I graduate I’m out, providing evil Mayor Guy doesn’t, like, make a meal out of me at his ascension or whatever.”
Angel met her gaze. “You could have come to me, y’know…”
She made a face at that, “Why? So you could play the big white knight and rescue me from the evil motel room? I’m fine.” One of the bigger cockroaches chose just that moment to dart from underneath her bed and Cordelia shrieked, drawing her legs quickly up to her chest.
She heard the crunch of the thing underneath Angel’s boot and made herself not look as he flushed the offending little critter in her bathroom. “Okay, so maybe fine is stretching it a little…”
“Come stay with me.”
Cordelia blinked. He didn’t sound awkward or stammery – he actually sounded like he’d thought about it and come to the conclusion that this was one of his better plans. “What?” She choked out on a laugh.
“You said yourself it’s only for a couple of weeks. This place is awful.”
She couldn’t disagree there but she also couldn’t – and wouldn’t – move in with him no matter how short the timeframe. Cordelia shook her head, weary all of a sudden. “Angel, I really am fine. It just looks worse than it is, that’s all…”
One of her less friendly neighbours chose that moment to scream at his girlfriend and Cordelia bristled. He heard much more of this and he’d be tempted to go all macho-manpire and cart her out of here on his shoulder.
Angel frowned, “It doesn’t get much worse than this. Come stay with me.”
She boggled at his repeated offer, probably would’ve cried if she hadn’t bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself. “Y’know, for a guy who avoids people as much as you? You sure know how to treat a girl decent when she’s down.”
He frowned, knowing a rebuff when he saw one.
“I am so, so grateful,” she continued, being completely honest with somebody for maybe the first time in her entire life, “For everything you did for me, not just tonight. But I can’t stay with you, Angel. I’m leaving in three weeks.”
And if she stayed with him? She’d get comfortable and probably never want to leave which would be really fun explaining to his very disgruntled ex.
Angel thought about that for a moment, sighed. He’d been serious about the offer but he couldn’t force her. “Cordelia, if you need anything…”
“You’ll be the first to know,” she promised, giving him her thousand watt smile as she walked him to her door.
She closed it after him and for the first time in two days – since that God-awful moment where Mr. IRS had come into her home and snatched everything? Cordelia didn’t feel like her life was completely spiralling apart.
Of course, that all changed the very next day.
She was just starting to think that maybe life was cutting her a break when a Hellhound happened at the place she worked and, wouldn’t you know it? Xander was in the very midst of it, being all noble after the insults and totally pushing her out of harms way.
Through sheer calm she managed to get Mrs. Finkel to hand the surveillance footage over and gave it to Xander to give to Buffy once most of the panic and hysteria had died down.
Her secret was out now, she was sure – no going back, ‘cause Xander would’ve told them all about it and-Honestly? She couldn’t bring herself to care. She stood, putting some of the dresses back when one of the salesgirls popped her head around the door. “You’re still here?”
Cordelia gave a shrug. The overtime wasn’t gonna kill her. “I figured I’d help clean up a little.”
Lisa frowned, “You aren’t going home to get dressed? Your Prom’s tonight, right? I overheard that guy…”
That guy being Xander, thought Cordelia, frowning slightly. “Yeah. Right. I’m not going.”
Cordelia tried for nonchalance, failed miserably and turned to hang up another dress. “As much as I hate to admit this? I didn’t finish paying for my dress.”
Lisa looked puzzled, “Some guy came in this morning and cleared off the balance.”
Cordelia spun, “What? Who?”
“Tall guy. Kinda hot… A little older. He just said to tell you it was from a friend,” Lisa shrugged, and reached up to get Cordelia’s dress, completely missing the look on her face. “That other guy tried to pay it off too… Y’know, the sweet-in-a-dorky-way guy who pushed you out the way of that dog?”
Cordelia blinked, “Xander?”
“Yeah, that was his name. I told him someone had paid off your dress so he bought you this,” she rummaged around under the counter for a second and handed Cordelia a silver pin for her hair, one she’d been looking at earlier when she and Xander had been trading barbs.
It was small, pretty expensive, beautiful and it made Cordelia want to cry.
Lisa grinned, “So, I’m guessing Cordelia is going to the ball?”
It was the kind of night that she was never likely to forget in a hurry.
Buffy kept up her end of the chaperoning deal by making sure that no Hellhounds got into Prom; Cordelia even shared a dance with Xander (who’d agreed to come with Anya, by the way – the Vengeance Demon at the heart of that *airquote* dream) and thanked him with a gentle kiss on the cheek and a squeeze of the hand as the music changed to a more up-tempo beat.
It was pretty much the perfect goodbye to Sunnydale and even Cordelia clapped when Buffy got her Class Protector award – like her or not, it was deserved.
It wound down around midnight and Cordelia stood watching her friends – both former and sort-of current and realised for the first time that as much as she hated Sunnydale and 95% of what had happened in the last year? She was actually going to miss these people.
She was the last to get dropped off in the limo she’d hijacked with Buffy, Willow and Xander so she asked the guy to drive her over to Angel’s mansion once Prom was done, riding on the tux-tails of that particular wave of melancholy. She figured he should see what he’d paid for, after all, and she really did want to thank him before the Mayor got all ascend-y and she lost her chance.
She found him sitting in front of the TV and smiled to herself as he got up to greet her.
“Cordelia,” he looked surprised but pleasantly so, “You look-“
“Amazing,” she grinned and twirled, giving him the full show, “I know. Thanks to you.”
He ducked his head, still totally not used to anything resembling a compliment and Cordelia realised that after all the inevitable things she was going to miss about this place – her parents, her home, this town minus the sucking stomach wound and the near death experiences – there was something else she was really gonna miss too and it brought a lump to her throat.
“That’s why I came.”
Angel’s head lifted, “You don’t have to thank me, Cordelia.”
“Actually, I kinda do… And I’m not very good at it,” she grinned, though there was a grain of truth in there somewhere.
If Angel had the Awkward Dead Guy shuffle down pat then she herself had the I’m Not Very Good At Accepting Help one down too. Because she wasn’t. Hell, she’d even thought there was something sinister in Angel trying to help her and looking back? He’d done nothing but help in his own awkward and semi-kind-of-sweet way.
“I’ve pretty much lost everything these past few months,” said Cordelia, choosing her words carefully, “Daddy’s awaiting trial for only the huge kind of tax fraud, my Mom is currently self-medicating up the wazoo to get through her pain and I’m leaving Sunnydale with what qualifies as a few photos, a potential Graduation certificate providing I survive next week and the clothes on my back, beautiful dress not withstanding.” She took a breath, and smiled at him, “You know what really surprises me about all of this?”
Angel shook his head.
“I’m okay,” said Cordelia, “Like, really okay. And I think maybe you have something to do with that.”
He thought that maybe she was giving him far too much credit, opened his mouth to tell her so and was cut off again.
“The best I thought I was gonna get out of that dinner party was a free meal, maybe some awkward conversation when I realized Willow was going stag. I didn’t expect to get a friend out of it,” she said softly, “And that is me saying thank you… For everything. I really think I’m gonna miss you.”
Angel smiled and it was neither awkward nor serial-killer-ish. It was kinda sad, actually. “I think I’m going to miss you too, Cordelia.”
“Duh,” she grinned, and stepped forward to hug him. “How could you not?”
He held on for just a fraction of a second longer than was really necessary. He really was going to miss her – sarcasm, tactlessness and all. “You know where you’re headed?” He asked, after his arms had dropped and she’d stepped away.
“Not a clue.” She didn’t. She had enough saved up for a Greyhound ticket out of here and after that? It was just her and the open road, she guessed. She meant what she’d said though… She really was gonna miss him. “I’d offer to call but I’ve just dragged you kicking and screaming into the 90’s with that thing,” she pointed at the TV, grinning, “I think a cellphone would be pushing it.”
Angel laughed. “I think you’re right.”
And just like that, Cordelia realized that Graduation and big Mayor-Ascension gig aside? This was probably the last time she’d ever see him. “You’re a good guy, Angel. I mean, aside from the whole going evil once in a while and biting people? You really are.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” he smiled.
Cordelia nodded, was yanked out of her whole goodbye with Angel when the limo driver blasted his horn once. “Crap. That’s me,” she frowned, “He is so not getting a tip.”
Angel chuckled despite the heavy feeling in his heart, “Cordelia, if you need anything, before you leave, I mean, or…”
Cordelia smiled and reached up to kiss his cheek, “You’ll be the first to know, Broody, I promise.”
~ FIN ~