Part 11: Close But No Cigar
Buffy came in and set her shopping bags down by the stairs, while Dawn headed straight for the baby. For some reason, Buffy still hadn’t felt comfortable enough to hold Connor. She wasn’t much of a baby person but she had never actually felt afraid to pick up a child before.
This child. I’m just scared to pick up this child.
His very existence only increased the general sense of confusion she had felt since they walked in the door. Dawn, however, had no such qualms. By the time Buffy walked over to the couch, Dawn was playing airplane with Connor and telling Cordy and Angel about their day.
I don’t like how that sounds. Cordy and Angel.
“So, Cordy, my dad’s new girlfriend told me I should dye my hair blonder. Whatcha think?” Dawn asked.
Cordelia noted Buffy standing behind the young girl, shaking her head ‘no’. “Well you know, Dawnie, I really wouldn’t suggest it. Not because you’re too young or anything,” she added when Dawn’s face fell. “It just wouldn’t work so well with your coloring. Besides, if you’re not trying to catch the eye of any ensouled vampires, why bother with the bleach?”
Buffy coughed. “By the way, Cordelia, have I mentioned how much I LOVE the highlights.”
Cordy looked down. She was getting soft in her old age. She had walked right into that one. She snuck a peak over at Angel. Maybe he hadn’t heard.Yeah, cause those vampires, it’s not like they have super hearing or anything. Angel was smirking and Cordy had the weirdest urge to stick her tongue out at him. So she did. Did he just gulp?
Spike walked out of the basement. His knuckles were torn and bloody and Angel guessed he had been the one to break the punching bag. He seemed to be in a better mood though. Spike had gotten progressively moodier once Buffy left. Seemed fine now though.
“So children, what are we doing this evening?” he asked.
“We, as in everyone except you, are going to do karaoke,” Buffy replied.
Cordy stood up. “Spike of course you are invited to Caritas with us. After all, it’s just a bunch of FRIENDS, hanging out.” There, we’re even for that comment about the highlights.
Buffy wasn’t clear on what to do. She had come to Los Angeles with very specific plans and so far nothing was turning out the way she thought it would. First of all, this was supposed to be about putting Spike behind her, about finding herself again. How could she find herself when all she saw was him?
I mean, when he’s always around. I did not mean that Spike is all I can see. He is not all I can see. I can see many things, things that are not Spike.
Angel had just seemed so distracted. Part of what she had loved about being with him was how focused he had been on her. When she was in the room, she knew she was all he saw, all he breathed. Now, he was definitely distracted and Buffy was starting to get a good idea of what he found so distracting.
Cordelia. The self-professed Dating Slayer.
It was hard to see what he saw in her. Sure, when Cordelia was ruling Sunnydale High, she was attractive to boys but that’s because dating her promised an upward rise in popularity. But in LA she was very small fish in very big pond, so the appeal of that was gone.
And it’s not like she wasn’t still cute, but four years ago, Cordelia was so coordinated, so made up, so perfect looking. Every one of her features had always been exhibited to it’s utmost potential. Now…not so much. Gone was the icy prettiness. Gone was the calculated but powerful beauty. Angel, he was a guy who appreciated beauty. So…why?
Dawn’s laughter drew Buffy out of her reverie. Cordelia was holding Connor, trying to get him to show Dawn how he could stick out his tongue. When he did it, throwing in a spit bubble for an encore, Cordy laughed down at him then looked up and smiled.
It was like being struck by lighting. In that moment, Buffy thought she might know why. Buffy didn’t even really like the girl, but that smile was like being held by someone you loved.
A sudden burst of warmth and comfort. Who knew Cordelia had something like that inside her?
Buffy turned to see if anyone else noticed it. Spike and Angel were both looking at Cordelia with very similar expressions on their face. Like they were shocked. Like creatures like them didn’t deserve to have a smile like that directed their way. A flood of jealousy ran though Buffy’s blood.
But that wasn’t the worst part.
The worst part was not knowing whether she was jealous because Cordy was being stared at by Angel…or because Spike was looking at her too.
“So, Angel,” Buffy said, moving in front of him to break his Cordy-worship. “Maybe you and I could do something tonight, before we go to Caritas.” She stared at Angel beseechingly. She didn’t see Spike’s frown or the way Cordelia moved to lay a commiserating hand on his shoulder. She didn’t hear Dawn sigh in annoyance and walk upstairs.
She just waited for Angel.
Angel was puzzled. Okay, so he wasn’t that puzzled. He had an inkling of what was going on. Buffy was using him to make Spike jealous. Fortunately, he had better things to do than participate in that ill-fated love affair. He wanted to finish his conversation with Cordy.
I can offer to make her dinner. We can go upstairs to give Connor a bath. And then we can lock the door to my room and get the hell out of this limbo we’ve been in. Angel realized Buffy was still waiting for an answer. “Actually—.”
“Angel, you guys should do something.” Cordelia couldn’t believe she actually said that. But in a weird way, she was sorta proud. She had overcome all those “fight for your man” urges and just given in to the inevitable. She was like that guy, in that Casablanca movie. Who was all noble.
This is the right thing to do. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, yadda yadda yadda. “Go to dinner or something. For old times sake.”
“Cordelia, Angel is a VAMPIRE.” Buffy shook her head, like Cordy had gone retarded.
“Yeah. AND? What, he can escort people to prom and hang out at the Bronze but god forbid he pay for a nice sit down every now and then?” Cordy was not seeing the problem here.
“He doesn’t eat dinner food.” Buffy was having awful images of Angel sipping blood from a flask at the table.
“You’re kidding. Wow! That explains why there’s all this blood lying around all the time. Finally the mystery is solved. Thanks Inspector Gadget.” Cordelia was getting pissed. Buffy was acting like Angel didn’t know how to act in public. Like he was some kind of freak.
Angel put his hand on Cordelia’s shoulder. He leaned in and, under the pretense of kissing Connor on the forehead, he whispered for her to behave. Cordelia gave a “Pffft” and rolled her eyes. Angel turned to Buffy. “Actually, dinner sounds like a nice idea. Cordy’s been dying to go to this new French place. Spike, I’m sure they have an excellent wine collection.”
Cordelia almost had a heart attack. Sweet, adorable, completely dense vampire. How do you live 250 years and not know when you are being seduced. He thought all four of them were going to dinner. Awwwww, why is that so damn cute? Cordy saw the way that Buffy’s face fell.
I should be enjoying that more. But it was hard to appreciate the Slayer’s frustration. It was all futile. No matter how many twists and turns the plot took, Cordelia was still sure how the story was going to end.
Angel and Buffy will overcome all obstacles and blah blah blah. “I think you two should go. I want to head home and take a shower. Spike, you care to join me?”
Spike got a huge smile on his face, Buffy’s jaw dropped, and Cordy swore that Angel growled. “NOT join me in the shower, join me in going back to my place. Heads out of the gutter people.”
Connor had gotten squirmy so Cordelia gave him one last squeeze and put him back on the mat. “Angel, remember to tell Wesley to put on that tape we used last night.” In a last ditch effort, Cordelia had put on the “Last of the Mohicans” soundtrack and Connor had magically settled. It had actually been sorta creepy. “And go over diapering with him again, and make sure he is still certified for CPR.”
While Cordelia went over nine million details with Angel, Spike snuck up behind Buffy. She knew he was there seconds before he spoke She broke out in goose bumps as she felt his cool breath hit her neck, just under her ear.
“I know what you doing Slayer. You think I don’t know why you came here. I suppose I should be flattered. You’re so scared of what you feel for me you ran all the way to LA. Well, you can’t run from me. From us. Because when you stop fighting this lost cause, I’ll still be here, waiting for you.”
Buffy felt like she had been punched in the gut. She didn’t say anything, she just shut her eyes. She kept them closed until Cordelia and Spike walked out the door.
It was shocking to realize that she and Angel were actually alone. And while the lobby of the hotel was no candlelight dinner, or even a romantic stroll through a Sunnydale cemetery, she was pretty sure now was a good time to try a little…rekindling. Angel was sitting on the couch watching his son wriggle around on the floor.
She sat down next to him, curling her legs underneath her and leaning towards him slightly. She got his attention by trailing her finger slowly down his arm. That had always worked before.
“So, I’m really glad I’m going to have some time for just us, you know, you and me,” she started.
From the floor, Connor made a noise. Angel’s face went into worry mode and he leaned over and picked his son up. “Did that sound like a cough to you?” he asked.
Actually Buffy thought the noise had sounded an awful lot like Cordelia’s patented “Pfft”, but she wasn’t about to tell Angel that. “I’m sure it was nothing. Angel,” she tried to get him to focus, “I’ve really been missing you a lot lately.”
Angel gave that small sheepish smile that she had seen so many times before. “I’ve missed you too. We didn’t get to talk all that much after you…when you …the last time we saw each other. You seem a lot better now.”
Buffy leaned even closer to Angel. “I am better. Just seeing you, being here like this again, it makes everything better.”
Angel nodded absentmindedly. “I think I heard that sound again. That wasn’t a cough right? A cough would sound more cough-y, don’t you think?” Buffy sighed in answer and Angel flashed a soft shy apologetic smile. It made him look dorky and endearing and nothing at all like the soulfull brooder she fell for.
“Sorry Buf, I’m doing the over-protective thing, aren’t I? I can tell, you sighed just like Cordy does when I’m going overboard.” Buffy’s noise wrinkled. Was there some sort of rule that he had to mention Cordelia every five minutes? She didn’t want to talk about what “Cordy does” or what “Cordy says.” It was still throwing her for a loop hearing Angel call her “Cordy” in the first place.
Calm down Buffy. Don’t get sidetracked. She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear and said, “Ever since, you know, this fall, I’ve been thinking a lot more lately, about life and love.”
“Me too,” Angel said, surprising her. “Ever since this little guy came along, I catch myself thinking about how much life changes in an instant, how amazing it is when life surprises you. When love surprises you.”
“I don’t like surprises much. In my experience, change isn’t always good. I like things I can count on. Love I can count on.”
Angel noticed the weird tone but he had no idea where Buffy was going with this. Was she trying to tell him about her and Spike? He knew they had slept together at least once. Judging by the amount of tension between them since they got there, it had probably happened a lot more than once.
“Buffy, you know you can tell me anything.” If she needed to work through her problems with Spike, he would be there for her. He owed her that much. “Seriously, I’m always here,” he added.
“I just wanted to tell you…” Buffy couldn’t believe it was finally going to happen. She had been waiting two days for this moment. It was now or never. There was magic in the air…and it smelled a lot like…dirty diapers. “I wanted to tell you that I think your son needs a change.”
Angel laughed and started babbling baby talk to Connor as he rose and started to head upstairs. Buffy followed slowly behind him, heading to her and Dawn’s room to change for dinner and mull over how close she had just come to getting what she came for.