Dick Clark with Extra Cheese. 2

Part 2

Angel ran out of the room, pausing when he got to the stairs and looking over his shoulder to double-check that Lorne and whatever was underneath that robe of his weren’t following him. Luckily the hallway was clear.

I should feel a little guilty. Leaving my crying child. But Angel’s instinct for self-preservation had overridden any fatherly concerns. He was sure Connor would understand.

He started to head down, then thought better of it. Better check the situation out before just diving right in. Cordy could have calmed down, or she could be throwing things. I might have graduated from the School of Dumb Planning, but I have learned something in the past three years. Before focusing on what the voices below him were saying, he took a moment to just look down, over the lobby, over all that was his.

It was shocking when he thought about it. How much everything had changed. How much I’ve changed. Ten years ago he’d been wandering the earth, utterly without purpose. A shadow of a man with a shadow of a life. And then he’d met Buffy, which, for better or worse, had set him on the path he walked today.

I came to L.A. with nothing. Angel wondered if anyone truly knew how dark that time had been for him. How hard it had been to wake up with only the promise of another day without her. He hadn’t known he who was until he’d met Buffy, and he hadn’t been sure what he would be without her. He was sure, however, that the man he was today, was in large part due to the people downstairs.

He’d come to L.A. with nothing and look at him now. He was a father. He’d never realized how much he’d wanted that, not until he’d first held his son.Who is probably going to be traumatized by his babysitter and grow up with a troubling fondness for gold lamé, but oh well.

He had a real home now too. Angel ran his hands over the polished wood of the railing, nodding his head slowly. There was a certain pride in ownership, in being able to point to something and say “Mine,” instilled centuries ago in Ireland. He loved the hotel like a person. He loved the way it made them all, even him, feel safe.

Angel had friends now. He let his eyes focus on the people below. Gunn sitting on the round couch, playing his Game Boy and screaming the occasional obscenity at the machine. Fred, perched on her knees next to him, watching over his shoulder, giggling and encouraging. The scene was striking in it’s comfortableness and it’s normalcy and he loved it. Angel loved the times when nothing was happening. Because that’s when everything happened.

A child, a home, a purpose, and friends who cared about him. Angel had everything. Well almost.

On cue, as if there was an unseen director choreographing all their moves, he watched Cordy stomp out of the kitchen, muttering to herself and swinging a large black trash bag.

How did this happen? When did this happen? Angel desperately wanted to know the point when things had changed with Cordy. Not that he wanted to go back and erase it. He just needed to understand the series of events that led to his current state. How she’d snuck into his head, never once alerting his defenses. Voices, louder now, drifted up to him.

“Never thought I’d see the day when your punk ass would be taking out the trash Cordy,” Gunn said, the glee in his voice evident. The spectacle was entertaining enough for him to put down his Game-Boy.

Cordy dropped the bag at her feet and made a face. “I’m not taking out the trash,” she clarified. “I was cleaning out the cupboards.”

Fred, still leaning over Gunn’s shoulder, which was odd since he’d stopped playing the video game, looked up. “The cupboards? But the only thing in the cupboards is FOOD.” Fred sounded horrified.

“No,” Cordy told them, reaching for the trash bag again, “the only thing in the cupboards were empty calories. Twinkies, Ritz Crackers, Pop-Tarts—”

“Those were mine!” Gunn cried out.

Cordy didn’t blink an eye. “Three boxes of cookies, a bag—an entire bag of mini-Snickers bars, Apple Newtons, which are actually fat-free but have WAY too much sugar, every last bag of Doritos—”

Fred hopped up. “Is this a joke? If this is a joke, I’m not laughing.”

“Damn girl, did you leave anything in there?” Gunn asked.

“Of course. I left the Diet Snapple and a box of raisins,” Cordelia replied.

“Raisins?” Gunn did not sound like a raisin fan.

“They’re nature’s candy,” Cordy told him.

“You can’t…the Doritos…you can’t throw that stuff away,” Fred announced, reaching for the bag.

Watching the tug-of-war begin, Angel smiled. Maybe Cordelia had argued her way into his heart. Lord knows we’ve fought enough over the years. The odd thing was, Angel strangely liked most of their fights.

It was nice to argue with someone over the price of a sweater, instead of whether it was wrong to be together. It was comfortable to bicker over whose turn it was to change a baby’s diaper, instead of how to best avert an apocalypse. Why the screaming fight they’d had last week at the supermarket over generic paper towels had been one of his favorite days ever.

They’d both been so angry. Cordelia, yelling how they were buying “Brawny” so he might as well accept it. Him calling her a paper-product snob. Her pushing the shopping cart into his hip so hard he’d fallen into the fabric softener display, knocking everything over. Him chucking the 12-pack of toilet-paper at her. The way they’d both abruptly burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. And how that old woman had shaken her head at them, muttering about “young love” to her husband. That was a great day.

“Put down that bag Cordelia, or I swear, I will hurt you,” Fred hollered, snapping Angel out of his reverie. “I spent five years in a hell dimension. I learned things!” Angel grinned to himself. Fred’s getting better at this.

“I learned things too Fred,” Cordy said. “I learned what complex carbohydrates and processed sugars will do to a formerly-perfect body.” From where Angel was standing, which afforded him a wonderful view of her ample cleavage, he thought her body was still damn near perfect.

Cordy let Fred take the food and leaned against the counter, pouting. “I learned that despite my efforts…I have let myself become…fat.”

Still keeping a tight grip of the bag of goodies, Fred made a commiserating face. “That’s why you’re doing all this?” Cordelia just nodded, jutting her lower lip out anymore. “Cordy, you are not the least bit fat. You look wonderful.” Cordelia just looked morosely at Gunn, who did nothing. Fred sighed and nudged Gunn on the arm.

“What, oh, yeah, yeah, you’re not fat,” Gunn said.

Cordelia looked him up and down and crossed her arms over her waist, and even from upstairs, Angel could hear Gunn groan. “Gunn,” she asked rather sweetly, “what did you used to call me?”

Gunn was at a loss. He clearly had no idea what she was talking about. Fred nudged him again, urging him to answer. “Uh, whitey?” he guessed.

“No Gunn,” Cordy said, her voice rising, “you used to call me Stick Figure Barbie. Stick Figure Barbie. Gunn, would you call me Stick Figure Barbie now? Hmmm, what would you call me now?”

“More than a Mouthful Barbie?” Gunn offered. This time Fred hit him on the arm a lot harder than before. Cordelia snorted. Angel frowned. He does not need to be saying that to Cordy. I don’t need that mental picture, of his mouth, on her…. He moved closer to the stairs.

“Look, Cordy, guys like girls like you. They don’t want some starving model. They want a girl with a little somethin’-somethin, know what I’m sayin?” Fred coughed and Gunn became aware of his mistake.

“But you know, no one likes a fattie. Now, skinny girls. That’s where it’s at,” he proclaimed, clapping Fred soundly on the back. This time Cordy coughed angrily. Gunn looked scared. There was no way to make both girls happy. From his perch above them, Angel tried to telepathically communicate with his friend. Run. Run fast.

Gunn must have gotten the message. The door to the office opened and Wesley started over to them. Clearly not caring enough to try and warn his friend, Gunn made a speedy exit. “I’ll just go put this food away,” he said quickly, picking up the bag and walking out of the room, without waiting for a response.

Angel was debating if it was a good time to head down. Cordy seemed calmer now, as Fred spoke quietly to her. Wes was now standing on the other side of the counter and no one seemed to be yelling at him. Maybe it was safe?

“You should be happy,” Fred told her friend. “When I was in high school, I would have died to be as…uh…curvy.”

“I don’t want to be curvy,” Cordelia whined. “I want to be svelte. Slender. Slight.”

Cordelia leaned far over the counter, reaching for her purse, not realizing that by bending over she was giving Wesley quite a show. Angel’s hands curled into tight fists as he watched Wes stare intently down Cordy’s low cut top. Oh come on. This is a business. No one’s allowed to just be looking down her shirt like that. Angel quickly amended that statement. No one’s allowed to look down her shirt EXCEPT me. He started down the stairs.

Cordy, still bent over as she tried to fish her brush out of her purse, complained, “Curvy sucks.”

“Not from where I’m sitting,” Wesley muttered, apparently too transfixed by the breastage to consider the appropriateness of his words. Fred frowned, Cordy raised an eyebrow, but this time Angel was the one who gave the angry cough.

Wesley looked over to where the vampire stood at the bottom of the stairs and quickly took a couple of steps away, fixing his eyes on the floor. “Ah, yes, so, Cordelia, what are your plans for tomorrow night?” Wesley asked. He met Angel’s eyes and Angel nodded and came over to stand on the other side of Cordelia.

Gunn, walking out of the kitchen, answered for her. “I’ll tell you what she should be doing. She should be coming with the three of us to my boy Derek’s place. Gonna be the most happening New Year’s party in L.A.” he announced.

“Really?” Cordy considered.

“It should be lots of fun,” Fred told her. “Come!”

Gunn put his hand on Cordelia’s shoulder. “We’re talking tons of hotties, just like me.”

Cordelia removed Gunn’s hand from her shoulder, pleasing Angel immensely. “Gee, well, as much as I love poor bald men, and lord knows I do,” she said, reaching up and rubbing Gunn’s head, “I think I’ll have to pass.” Angel felt his whole body relax. She isn’t going out with them. She can’t fit into her dress. She can stay here, with me, and at midnight we’ll—

“I have plans,” Cordy went on. “With those girls I met in that Pilates class, you know, the one I clearly haven’t been going to enough lately.”

Angel tried not to let his disappointment show. Cordelia smiled brightly. “There’s this huge bash up in the Hollywood Hills. It’s gonna have everything I’m looking for.”

Gunn, Angel, and Wes all exchanged glances, as if to say, “What could she possibly be looking for? She’s got us.”

Cordy answered the unspoken question. “Attractive men with 9 to 5 jobs and 401K’s—”

“Cause those have been working out so well for everyone lately,” Wesley grumbled.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Guys who get no-polish manicures and don’t cut their own hair, guys who drive fast cars—”

“You know, the Plymouth is actually pretty speedy,” Angel felt the need to point out.

She ignored him completely. “Guys who were in fraternities. Guys who speak French—”

“Voulez-vous couchez avec moi c’est soi?” Gunn sang.

“Oh lord,” Fred opined.

Cordelia wasn’t finished yet, though. “Men who surprise you with Dom Perignon and strawberries. Men who give backrubs that make you melt like butter, make you want to beg them to fuck you, men who know how to use their tongue and teeth to—”

“I think we get the point Cordelia,” Angel growled.

Fred exhaled loudly. “Wow,” she said, her voice strained.

Seeing Fred’s reaction, Wesley mumbled, “I don’t see what’s so great about—”

“Are you kidding me?” Gunn interrupted. “The way she was making it sound—I’m thinking I want one of those guys!” Everyone’s jaw dropped. “But I don’t.” Gunn clarified.

“So anyway,” Cordelia said, sounding like she was recovering from her weight-woes and starting to look forward to tomorrow night. “That’s what I’m doing for New Year’s Eve.”

“More like who you’re doing,” Gunn joked.

“God willing!” she said in turn and everybody laughed. Everybody except Angel.

IT wasn’t that he was angry. She’s excited and happy. I haven’t seen her like this in so long. Vibrant. Alive. He liked her like this, even if what she was excited about made him crazy. Cordy didn’t get many chances like this. Looming over their lives, always unspoken but generally acknowledged, was that the visions were doing very bad things to her. She hurt often. Too often. She’s so young. She deserves nights like that. Men like that. Angel wanted her. He wanted her with him, he wanted her to want him the same way. But over-powering all of that, he wanted her to have a life. A life that made her happy. Even if he wasn’t the one who was making her happy.

That didn’t make it any easier, of course. Listening to her talk about letting other men touch her. Letting them in, letting them know her more intimately than he ever would. He decided to make one last try.

“Hey,” he said, so falsely cheerful that everyone cringed, “I’ve got a great idea.”

“You’ve changed your mind and decided to come out with us?” Wes guessed, not sounding altogether happy about it. Fred’s crush on Angel was a little too recent for Wesley’s liking.

“No,” Angel said slowly.

“You want to go to the movies?” Fred asked. Wesley made a face.

“No, Fred,” Angel began again, “I was actually thinking that—”

“That you came to your senses and are giving us a belated Christmas bonus?” Cordy said, bouncing up and down and clapping her hands together.

“No.” Cordelia stuck her tongue out at him, which was unfortunate, because it momentarily distracted Angel and gave Gunn a chance to interrupt.

“I know,” Gunn said. “Your great idea is that—”

“NO,” Angel said, more loudly than he intended. I love them all, but sometimes, I want to cut them up into little pieces. Is that wrong? “I was thinking, you know what would be really fun?” Gunn opened his mouth and Angel raised his hand to stop him from speaking. “That was a rhetorical question.”

He rubbed his hands together. “How great would it be if no one went out tomorrow night?” Everybody just stared at him. “Think about it guys. Our own private New Year’s Eve party. Much less expensive. No line for the bathroom. Gunn, you would get to pick all the music. It’ll be great,” Angel told them, smiling broadly. “The whole family. Together.” Angel stopped talking and waited for their reaction.

Wesley took off his glasses and started to clean them on his shirt. “Well…yes…well.”

“It’s a nice offer bro,” Gunn forced a tight grin.

“It sounds very…nice,” Fred told him.

Angel nodded distractedly. Those three could be guilted into almost anything. Like everyone in the room, he knew it all came down to one person.

“Are you kidding me?” Cordelia screeched. “Have you guys lost your mind? You made those plans before Thanksgiving. Fred, I personally spent three days searching for your dress. And Gunn, you’ve been doing that Eight Minute Abs tape for the past month. My God people, Wesley secretly got his teeth whitened!”

“Not such a secret now, though, is it?” Wesley grumbled.

“Sorry Wes,” Cordy had the good graces to admit. “But my point is, you three have been looking forward to that party. You are going to that party.”

Fred noticed the forlorn look on Angel’s face. “It wouldn’t be so bad. Staying home. It would be nice to all be together on New Year’s.” Thanks FredAngel thought.

“Pfftt,” Cordy sputtered. “And what? Kiss each other at midnight?” Why Miss Chase, what a wonderful idea. But she didn’t seem to think so. She pointed accusingly at Wes. “Been there, done that, not worth repeating.” Gunn burst out laughing.

“Hey,” Wes cried out, offended.

“You kissed Cordelia?” Fred exclaimed.

Satisfied she’d made her feelings quite clear, Cordelia once again reached for her purse. “Well, I’m out of here. The clock is ticking and I need to find something to wear. I’m thinking black. Short.” Angel swallowed and Fred glanced at him like she’d heard it. “Dangerous,” Cordy added, unnecessarily.

“I’ve heard good things about muu-muu’s” said Gunn, helpful as always. Cordelia cheerfully gave Gunn the finger.

Then she patted him on the head, tugged one of Fred’s braids, kissed Wes on the cheek, gave Angel’s left butt-cheek a healthy squeeze, and walked out the door.

Part 3

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