Angel felt funny about agreeing to go out with Paige tonight.
He was staring at his imaginary self in the mirror, fingering his slightly spiky hair and running his hands over his freshly ironed shirt. He was wearing black. Black on black. Again.
Lately he had been wearing more colors, at Cordelia’s influence, that was obvious. But after the other night, he’d felt himself wanting to revert somewhat into his old, dark, inconspicuous self…an uneasily admitted comfortable resignation.
And it hadn’t helped that for the past two days Cordelia had been mostly avoiding him. (And he, her.) But he couldn’t blame her. After what had happened on the previous Wednesday, after the movie, after Caritas, in Cordelia’s apartment…how he’d stormed in and said what he’d said… She may have deserved it then, she did, he guessed. But he felt bad about it now. And he’d take it back if he could.
Probably take back every day of the last few weeks, too. Take back everything. Just to make everything right between them. With him, her, his best friends, his family. Again…
Closing his eyes and sighing, he couldn’t help but wish he’d listened to her in the first place. What Cordelia had been saying, been batting into his head ever since he’d met Paige, had slowly come together in a blast of cold fact in the last few nights since the incident at Paige’s apartment.
And anyway Angel realized he really didn’t have any idea of what he’d been doing. Dating. Really. Had he really been fooling himself that much? It was just so wrong.
He remembered these same feelings all those years ago with Buffy… Seemed like another lifetime… It was… Thinking about it now, it was wrong. Being in Paige’s arms, feeling like a normal guy… He wasn’t a normal guy. He never had been and he never would be. Normalcy wasn’t something anyone in this office would ever know.
Wanting to be normal, pretending to be…it was a lie. He’d been lying to himself and his friends, and…Paige.
And right around now he felt really, really bad, as if he’d been tricking her or something. And now he didn’t have any idea of what he was doing. But what could he do now besides fix it? What could he do?
He glanced at his watch and bit his lip, something completely uncharacteristic for Angel. Nearly 7:50. He was late. On purpose. He was stalling. He was deathly afraid. And he hated to admit it but it was true. He should have left twenty minutes ago, but he kept finding excuses to stay.
Glancing into the empty reflection again and again – and finally only one last time – running his fingers through his messy hair – finally in final acceptance – and he finally turned and took up his coat and keys, and his boots didn’t make a sound as he crossed the floor of his suite and exited into the hallway, down the stairs and into the lobby of the Hyperion.
“Fred! Come on! We’re going to be late!” Cordelia’s voice boomed through the open space, bounced off the walls and hit his eardrums with force.
Angel startled as he rounded the stairs. He hadn’t known she was here. He came down to the floor, surprised when he came upon her leaning heavily against the old check in counter as she fought furiously to adjust the strap on her sexy, black high heel.
Getting it right, she spun around, lips parted in motion to shout for the other girl once again when her eyes went wide catching with Angel’s. He was staring, completely surprised, and nearly speechless, as his eyes seemed to focus on her appearance, truly taken aback.
Cordelia’s face went red and panic caught in her throat. He was white with awe, and the simple innocent leer on his face was nearly enough to cause her to stammer. “YOU SCARED ME!” She hissed, slamming her clutch purse down on the counter with a scowl.
She purposely turned away from him and took a quick, deep breath. “I didn’t know you were still here! I thought you left to pick up Paige twenty minutes ago! Jeez! Bell, Angel. Wear a BELL!”
“S—Sorry.” He stammered back, swallowing, as he looked her up and down for the second, third, fourth, maybe fifth time. She looked stunning. “Are you going—going out?” He managed when he finally got his bearings back.
She gave him a look that told him it was a stupid question, and sarcastically answered, “Yes.”
“Oh. Well…that’s nice.” She wore a simple black dress. It had just the slightest hint of a silver sheen, and Angel swore it had been sculpted to fit her body, and her body alone. No sleeves, only thin straps that fell around each shoulder instead of over them, leaving her shoulders perfectly bare. Low neckline, dipped slightly to accentuate her breasts…not that he was THINKING about them…exactly… It fitted at the waist and hugged at the hips to trail down her thighs with the slightest ruffled flare just at her perfect knees… And no stockings.
Just bare, tan legs, long as they stood perfectly footed in the strappy heels that showed off perfect feet; open-toed to reveal painted toenails in a natural, pearly shade. He checked her hands. Nails left bare with clear polish. Her hair was combed in a sleek part down the middle, barely grazing her shoulders as her head bobbed with her movement.
She turned and looked at him again and he noticed lips – a soft glaze of natural lip-gloss glistening moistly on her pout. Then the makeup around her eyes, shimmering pale in the light… Her lashes were the best though, long and black, framing clear, hazel eyes. He was captivated by those lashes…
She stared at him, eyes blank and a perpetual scowl causing the slightest frown lines to mar her perfect face. Angel caught himself leering, and feeling foolish, looked away. He even took a step back, adjusting his collar, right hand digging through his pockets for keys which he finally remembered were already clutched within his left hand.
He felt pretty lame standing there like he did, eyes darting nervously as he realized she was probably expecting some kind of explanation. He quickly glanced at his watch.”I’m, uh, running late.” He said.
“Yeah, weren’t you supposed to pick her up like at 7:30?” She asked.
“Well, it’s almost 8 now. You better move your ass.”
“Yeah. I’m going now.”
“Well,” She said too blandly with a small shrug. “Then later.” She turned back up at the stairs and hollered again. “FRED!!! DOWN!!! NOW!!!”
“COMING!” Fred called back from somewhere on the second floor.
“I, uh, thought you cancelled your plans tonight.” Angel said.
“We cancelled with you.” Cordelia said too easily with a callous coldness. She immediately regretted it. “Well, with you guys,” She lied. “Me and Fred are still going out. A girls night out, you could say…”
“Oh.” His brow rose and he nodded. “Well, that’s good. You girls should go out, have some fun, have a good time,”
“We will.” Cordelia said shortly. They could hear Fred running through the hallway towards the stairwell, and Cordelia was relieved when her head peeked out from over the banister.
“I’m coming right now!” Fred called down.
“Well, hurry! The cab’s waiting,” Cordelia called back up.
“You could’ve borrowed my car,” Angel said then. “I could’ve had Paige pick me up, and—”
“Angel, we gotta go.”Cordelia walked past him as Fred reached the landing, clad in a sexy red dress, which Angel was surprised to find she actually looked comfortable in.
“Sorry I took so long,” Fred gushed.
“It’s okay,” Cordy smiled. The girls, shoulder to shoulder started towards the door in a confident sexy, stride courtesy of the tall heels. Angel stared after.
“Bye, Angel!” Fred beamed as they started out. “See ya later!”
“Bye.” He said forlornly. “Have a good time.”
“Don’t’ worry, we will.” Cordelia huffed defiantly as she held the door for Fred. Glancing back and feeling a tinge of guilt at his expression, she added almost apologetically, “Hey…you too.”
He nodded, and smiled. But his face fell a little, as she disappeared. He followed to the door and waited for the cab to pull away before heading out and locking up behind him. He got in his car and went to pick up Paige.
“Do you think he suspects anything?” Fred asked in the cab as they rode down the boulevard towards the club. She felt the tension thick like cheese when she’d descended the stairs and found them standing there, Cordy ignoring him, Angel standing idly.
She didn’t say anything, it was their business after all, and she wasn’t one to pry. But she couldn’t WAIT for this to be over and things to go back to normal, however unnormal that might mean. And she wasn’t the only one.
Gunn and Wesley had commented on the subject themselves in an earlier conversation between just the three of them–
“Nah.” Cordy interrupted Fred’s train of thought – a good thing considering how off track her trains could get – dismissing all insecurity about the subject. “I’ve been so mean to him all day,” The Seer said almost proudly. “And yesterday, the only time I really talked to him was to give him the directions to that Mango nest—”
“Meshango. You said ‘mango’.”The Seer rolled her eyes.
“Mango, meshango, what’s the diff? Point being, yesterday I only talked to him like once to tell him the vision info on where to find those nasty things. And today, I mostly just glared at him and he kept his distance, so this is the last thing he’s going to expect.”
“Poor Angel.” Fred frowned. She looked over at Cordelia, Cordelia’s smile faltering just the slightest, causing the two of them to share a brief, depressing silence.
“I know.” Cordelia finally said. “I know. I suck! But it’ll be worth it! The look that’s going to be plastered across his big, dumb face tonight ALONE has been enough for me to keep on him like this…” She smiled broader then. “When he walks into the club, he’s going to be totally surprised,”
“Yeah,” Fred agreed. “He will.” A grin made it’s way across her mouth. “Cordelia this really was such a good idea, I really think he’s going to appreciate it. He’s going to have a lot of fun,”
“Well, he deserves it.”
“Even…though…he’s been so STUPID lately-“
“Cordy!” Fred exclaimed, covering her ears in protest.
“Sorry!” The Seer shrugged. “I know, I know! I’m sorry…” She settled back in her seat, face marred with nagging doubt. “I know it’s not my place, I really do. But I still can’t help wishing Paige wasn’t a part of his life! Does that make me a totally terrible person???”
“Not totally…” Fred mused. But you’ve done the right things, so that kinda makes up for the terrible,” She clasped Cordelia’s hand nervously.
“Yeah, I just hope Girlie comes through and gets him to Caritas on time,” Cordelia growled.
She watched the traffic through the window, her brow suddenly arching and she twisted back to stare at Fred.”I wouldn’t put it past her to sabotage this! OH DAMN—” Cordelia’s face filled with rage.
“CORDY!” Fred exclaimed.
“What if that little tramp—!”
“It’ll be fine!” Fred assured her.
“DAMN! Why did I trust her to handle this! I bet she’s going to screw me over! What if she doesn’t bring him!”
“She wont screw you over! She’s going to bring him!” The Physicist insisted. “Cordy, take a deep breath! Everything will go according to plan! She’ll bring him!”
“I hope so!” Cordelia huffed, trying to remain calm. She felt the veins in her neck start to bulge and her face grow hot. She took a couple of deep, resigned breaths, if not to make herself feel better at least to make Fred.
“I swear,” She said, smoothing down her dress. “If that little @#%$ doesn’t bring him, I’m going to kick her prissy ass! I’ve been DYING to get my fingers into her hair and just pull…!”
“As much fun as that would be,” Fred agreed, and Cordelia’s eyes widened in surprise. Fred smiled. “You really wont need to. I have faith that this…ALL OF THIS…will work out. All according to plan, and Paige wont ruin it.”
“You mean to tell me you don’t like her either?” Cordelia asked suspiciously.
Fred shook her head sheepishly. “No. Well, I mean, she’s nice…but… She’s like, how can I say this? Not the right one for him. I mean, HEL-LO!”
“I’m glad you agreed to come,” Paige smiled easily as she unfolded the napkin and lay it across her lap.
Angel glanced about the restaurant with a nervousness she hadn’t ever seen on him before, and she could tell that something was making him very, very uncomfortable. She let it go for a few moments, but then couldn’t help herself. She said almost casually, “Angel, I’ve been wondering if you were planning on telling me what’s wrong,”
It was enough to make him stop fidgeting.”You’ve been acting strange,” She said. “Ever since…well, the other night. And, I don’t really understand why. We’re okay, right? No hard feelings, right? You’re not upset about that, are you??? Because I’m not—”
“I’m so sorry about that.” He interjected genuinely. “I’m really sorry, Paige. Really. I didn’t mean to make you feel…like I was.”
“Well, that’s a relief,”
“I guess,” Angel continued. He frowned. “I guess things have just gotten really…complicated, for me lately…” Her face fell. “But I don’t mean that that’s your fault! It’s not! If anything it’s mine! All mine! All my fault, all of this, me—!”
“Angel?” She interrupted, meeting his eyes.
“You’re so tense, I’ve never seen you this way before, not even at the movies the other night,” She giggled. “Maybe you should…you know…talk about it. Let me in—” He fidgeted with his silverware.
“Look,” She said hastily. “I know we’ve only known each other for a few weeks. Good weeks, I might say—I hope for you too—and things probably got too fast for you, or something, right? But that’s okay…no damage done. We can put the brakes on, we can slow down! If that’s what you need. Take things slow… We don’t have to like, rush into anything you don’t want…”Angel stared at her awkwardly and a flush flooded her cheeks.
“And it’s usually the guy giving this speech!” she grinned nervously. “So you’re going to have to tell me whether or not I’m doing okay!”Angel only stared at her.
“So I understand we probably need to talk right?” Paige said almost fearfully, and he looked pained. “It’s alright,” She assured him, reaching out across the table and touching his forearm. “I know what it’s like to have things going on that you have a hard time talking about.”They were interrupted by the waiter.
“May I take your order?””Huh? Oh, yeah! Um…” Paige snatched up the menu and quickly glanced over her options. “I don’t know what I want yet.” She told Angel.
“How about we start off with drinks?” The waiter suggested. He looked at Paige expectantly. “Chardonnay.” She answered.
“Very good. And for you, sir?”
“A glass of Kiante, please.”
“Any appetizers?”Angel looked to Paige who shook her head.”No, thank you.” He answered.
“Very good. I’ll be back with your drinks.” The waiter walked away.
“Anyway,” Paige went on nervously, hands beginning to tremble ever so slightly. She placed them in her lap, wringing them together out of sight. “So you have stuff going on. Things to talk about. And I’d like to hear it, if you want to share. I mean, I’m interested in what’s going on with you, Angel. I’m all ears. So talk to me. Just open up and say what’s on your mind. At least give me that much. If something’s wrong, please give me a chance to know.” Now she was the nervous one.
Angel took a deep contemplative breath, focusing on appearing relaxed if not human. It seemed to work because Paige followed suite and sank back into her chair, the worry draining slightly from her features, though hidden beneath the table cloth, her hands still trembled, clasped.
Angel leaned slightly forward, eyes downcast, fixating on the grain of the elegant tablecloth. “There are things…” He started slowly. “Going on. Stuff…you don’t know about…yet.”
The yet hung in the air as a pair of hands appeared with two wine glasses, placing them on the table before them while two bottles were uncorked and poured. “Have you decided on your order?” The voice of the waiter asked.Paige glanced quickly at the unopened menus sitting at the side of the table.
“Fettuccini, please.” She nearly whispered.
“Please. With Vinaigrette.”
“Certainly. And for you sir?” Angel just shook his head waived the waiter off. “Very good. Thank you.” He left.
“You’re not eating?” Paige asked, slightly puzzled as she picked up her wine glass and sipped.
“No.” Angel said confidently. “I don’t…eat. Just…drink.”
“Like an alcoholic?” She was able to deadpan, and he smiled, caught off guard.
“Well, that’s good…don’t want a boozehound for a boyfriend.”
“Uh…” He said nervously, sitting back in his chair. “About that…”
“What?” She asked, setting the glass back down. “Did I say something wrong? Did I use the “b” word incorrectly or something?” She smiled again, broader, suddenly more confident, and then took his hand across the table.
“Not exactly.” He repeated as she stroked her thumb over his. Other couples in the restaurant dined in their own conversation, oblivious to theirs, and it pained Angel inside to wish that he…they…he and Paige, could ever be involved in such an easy, natural, existence.
He never would though. And as he tried, though vaguely, to make her understand that, she didn’t seem to realize what he was trying to say. She interrupted often, assuming he was heading in completely different directions, and when she did allow him time to speak, he realized he wasn’t making any sense.
What he thought he made clear she didn’t seem to be taking to heart, and most of what was said seemed to be only heard and not listened to. Not her fault really, how could she understand?
Her food came, and as he watched her eat – accidentally making her feel somewhat self-conscious in her efforts – he longed for Cordelia’s simple truth.
His Seer always understood. She always knew exactly what he was getting at…except for when it came to a certain characteristic behavior of Meshango demons. Stuff that like he had to explain in terms of ooze, goo, pus, slime, dissolving, absorbing, and a substantial lack of limbs. But who else besides Wesley could understand all the other stuff anyway???
Cordelia always understood what was on his mind – except for when she was being a pain in the ass, which was a lot of the time – and he thought to himself that she very well might be the only person he didn’t have to actually speak to to relate to.
There had been many times when they’d shared comfortable silences, during even the hardest of times, just sitting, listening only to the silence but still understanding, and she’d always made him feel better…she always understood. And right now, Angel felt very misunderstood.
“I don’t understand, Angel.” Paige said deftly, pushing her half empty plate aside and taking a sip of her Chardonnay. “I can tell that your heart’s been broken somewhere in the past. Severely. Why, anyone can tell that. But everyone’s gone through it. Everyone’s heart has been broken once…I just don’t understand why you wont tell me about it.”
“It happened a long time ago,” Angel sighed. “It really has nothing to do with things now,”
“Of course it does.” Paige insisted.
“Paige, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you,”
“What’s not to believe?”
“There is so much…”
Paige glanced at her watch, cringing at the hour. “Uh, well. Go on. We’ve…got time.”
Angel basically repeated everything he’d said earlier, only with more pressure, which left her more and more confused and him more frustrated. By the end of the hour, they were both dispensed, with only one thing certain.
“Paige, I appreciate everything you’ve tried to say, really. But it isn’t the right…time.”
“Will it ever be the right time?” She asked boldly. Angel regarded her regretfully.
“I…I don’t think so. I’m sorry. I wish there was something more I could say to help you understand,”
Paige took a deep breath and stared down at her hands.”Believe it or not, that last part came through loud and clear.”
“I’m sorry. I wish I could—”
“No, you don’t have to say anything else,” She picked up her near empty glass and finished it off. Her hands trembled again and he caught it, and he felt really, really bad. But he didn’t know how to offer her any comfort without making things worse.
Meanwhile Paige was running through everything that Cordelia had said to her the day before, everything that had happened in the last two weeks, everything that had been said in the last hour and a half…
Her eyes widened as she glanced at her watch and gasped. “Angel, we gotta go. We’re running late!”
He stared at her, puzzled.”Late for what?”