“They’re not here yet,” Cordelia growled, hand clamped tightly about the pink Cosmopolitan that the Host had whipped up to relax her.
It was meant to calm her nerves, but it seemed to just be adding fuel to the fire. Cordelia was…irritated, to say the least and for lack of a better, more civilized, word. Patience was not one of her best virtues to start with, and with already four drinks in her, her patience was wearing severely thin.
Lorne stood by, looking empathetic.
“They’re not here yet,” She repeated grumpily. “What the hell is going on! Where the hell are they!”
“Relax, doll.” Lorne lolled, wiping down the counter. “Angel Cakes will show,” He promised. “I can feel it.” The new bartender, Bruce, was busy down at the other end of the bar, working his mojo, designing new drinks.
Only Lorne suspected his mojo wasn’t so mojo-y tonight…Lorne always said orange juice and Kahlua didn’t mix. Sergio, the headwaiter, and Dante, one of the more reliable busboys, were the only other employees on the clock. Both were busy delivering drinks and appetizers and clearing dishes from the tables to make more room. They were working hard, and it was expected. Lorne was paying them double time plus tips!
The entire place was decorated with streamers and bright, colorful balloons, a’la Cordelia. Of course it was tasteful, if not a little over done, but then she wanted it all to be perfect. The Karaoke machine was warmed up, the guests were dressed in their party time best, and on the outside of the bar entrance door hung a sign that read, “Closed tonight for Private Party.”
Everything was perfect. Everything was ready. Everyone was ON TIME, everyone that is, except the guest of honor. Oh, and his trampy girlfriend.Cordelia sighed in an angry huff. “I swore I would murder her!” She brought the drink to her lips to take a nice, long, gulp.
When she set the glass back down, it was nearly empty. She glared at Lorne. “I swore I would kill her!!! I said, ‘If she didn’t get him here…'” She rolled her eyes. “Me and Fred were even discussing it on the way in the cab! I just KNEW she would do SOMETHING to sabotage this, I just knew it!” Lorne smirked.
“That lousy, little, conniving…” Lorne frowned. “Skanky, skinny-assed, prissy little fu—”
“Hey, hey, hey!” He exclaimed, covering his ears. “Watch the language! My virgin ears! You’re going to soil me!” The light caught his fingernails and they reflected a sparkling ruby glitter over fresh, deep-red varnish.
“Nice nails!” Cordelia exclaimed, momentarily distracted as she grabbed his hand for closer inspection.
“Thanks.” He beamed. “Just got ’em done this morning.”
“Hey, what color is that?”
“What a great name!”
“Isn’t it, though!”
“I picked it up at Lucia’s Salon. She mixes colors especially for me.”
“GOD I wish I could afford to get my nails done, it’s been like forever!”
“Lucia and I are very close, I get a great discount.”
“Lucky, lucky! Must be nice!”
“Hey, want her number? I’ll refer you!”
“That’d be awesome!”
“K, so back to Paige.”
“Right.”Cordelia emptied her glass, and sighed in frustration for about the millionth time. Lorne suspected that if Angel didn’t show, he’d have one ballistic Seer on his hands…not good.
“Lorne, I swear, if she ruins this for me, er, Angel…I can not be held responsible for my actions! First, I’m going to slap her a few times. Then I’m going to…to…to strangle her! AND THEN, I most DEFINITELY am going to have to probably pull out all her hair!”
“Hey,” Lorne broke in. “If she doesn’t follow through, I might have to kill her myself! Closing the club on a Friday night is nuts as it is! It’s costing me a fortune! And then to have Mr. Man Of The Hour himself not show…?”
“We’ll both kill her.”
“I don’t understand the rush,” Angel said in exasperation as Paige led him by the jacket sleeve across the noticeably empty Caritas parking lot.
“We have to hurry,” She said adamantly, her tone very businesslike, no nonsense.
“But hurry for what???”
“We just have to get inside.”
“Just come on!” She glanced at her watch again, biting her lip at the time. It was after ten.
She dragged Angel to the club door, and before he could see the sign on it, Paige yanked it open with all her might and ushered him in. He came down the steps, silent as a mouse as usual, with Paige stuck to his side like glue.
As they came to the end of the stairs, she looked up at him worriedly, and when he glanced back down at her, clearly confused by the fuss, she looked away.
As they crossed the threshold into the bar, Angel halted. Party favors and guests aside, the first thing he laid eyes on was the stage, as was usual when entering the Karaoke bar Caritas. His eyes immediately locked onto an oddly familiar figure.
A completely unnerving sight–familiarity flashing overwhelmingly through his brain—it was definitely a familiar figure, busy blaring into the microphone. Busy strutting around his stuff. Busy being tall, and thin, and far too blonde to be natural. Busy, to say the least, rocking out to an old Billy Idol tune.
It took a minute, but ONLY a minute, before—face blanching, jaw dropping, and eyes widening in shock horror in a quasi deer-in-headlights/flabbergasted-awed-shocked sort of way—Angel finally registered just who it was he was staring at…William The Bloody had never been more frightening!
Spike was up there singing “White Wedding”.
“Hey little sister, what have you done…Hey little sister, who’s your only one…” He gyrated his hips and snarled his lip and made eyes at the room as he danced. Angel stood in the doorway, any residual color drained completely from his face.
His jaw dropped lower, if that was even possible, and when Spike jutted his ass and grabbed his crotch and wailed into the microphone in a raunchy display of showmanship, it didn’t take anything more for Angel to finally find his voice as an obscenity rose from his throat.
“WHAT. THE. F—”
Spike glanced over at the pair in the doorway, halting in song as he cast his grande sire a disdainful expression. At the utter look of horror plastered across the man’s face, with a chuckle erupting from his throat and a rueful grin to the room, Spike gently raised the mic up to his lips, and every so gently, most properly in an enunciated British tongue, announced to the room,
“Look, everyone. Peaches is here.”
Besides the music, the room went dead silent, and as faces turned to regard him, Angel found a sea of disturbing figures. Xander Harris was standing with his arm about the ex-Vengeance demon Anya, the two of them looking very much the same as when Angel had last seen them last.
Except only that Xander wasn’t so scrawny anymore, and Anya looked less…demony. More human. More blonde. More…married? He’d heard a few months ago that the two of them had wed.
Truth be told, he’d been a little surprised, Xander had never seemed the marrying type. At least not back when Angel knew him. But then, times changed, he guessed. And then, also, who was he to talk?
Willow Rosenberg lolled in a booth, longtime girlfriend Tara at her side. The witches looked glowy–and cozy, he noticed–leaning into one another, glowy glowiness being all…glowy.
He wondered if the glow was something to do with the noticeably…and admittedly hair raising, if only to the mystically sensitive vamps in the room…awesome amount of magical energy that crackled between them. Or if it was just the fact that they seemed so happy…
Another girl sat off to the side of them, and he almost didn’t recognize Amy. The witch looked far less furry than the last time he’d seen her. And she wore a wide eyed expression…still contemplating running wheels maybe?
Angel’s thoughts ran short when he spotted someone he hadn’t expected to see. Dawn, all grown up, grinned at him from where she stood at the edge of the stage where a moment ago she’d been egging on Spike, whooping and hollering and humoring him as she pretended to be a groupie.
Angel’s eyes finally fell on Buffy, sitting apart from everyone else, a halo of gold about her head that had never left her for him. He stared, and when she stared back, the look she gave him wasn’t exactly what he’d expected to see from the Slayer.
She smiled–almost shyly—insecurely maybe? It didn’t matter, she’d started to get up from her seat.
He was about to ask what catastrophic event had brought them all out of their own Hellmouth at Sunnydale to his own little Hellhole called L.A. when finally, thanks to Anya, a hesitant “SURPRISE!” was finally bellowed out.
Wesley, Gunn and Fred, virtually appearing from nowhere surrounded him. And as the others rushed towards Angel, Spike made sure to stay exactly where he stood on stage. The platinum blonde looked rather perturbed that the attention was no longer on him, but he was quiet. Just impatiently waiting as he gripped the mic while the others swarmed about Angel.
But after a moment, patience wore thin and the younger vamp rolled his eyes, and mumbling something volatile under his breath, decided to purposefully ignore those on the ground floor and continue on with his song and dance.”It’s a nice day for a White Wedding…”
Angel didn’t get it. Even as he finally noticed the balloons and streamers. He looked up to find a huge, brightly painted banner strung along the wall with the words ‘Happy Birthday Angel’ written on it…only the Angel had been crossed out with a marker and the word ‘Poof’ had been scrawled in…penmanship remarkably close to that of Spike’s hand.
Angel was frozen with shock until Fred, using the company’s digital camera, snapped a picture right in his face. The flash caused him to wince, and he recoiled painfully, and it was enough to snap him out of his petrified state. He glanced over to find Paige still at his side, grinning from ear to ear.
Then Fred threw her arms about his neck and gave him a big, enthusiastic hug, her grip tighter than he’d thought possible from someone so small and lithe as she. Strong arms, that one, he thought as she finally pulled away and allowed Wes and Gunn to give him their version of the guy hug.
Xander and Anya and the witches said hello, Dawn gave him an excited waive, and Buffy stepped up to say congratulations.”Happy Birthday,” She said. She slipped into his arms, hugging him warmly and kissing him on the cheek.
“Birthday???” He asked, puzzled as she released him.
“Hey, talk to Cordelia.”Lorne came from around from the bar and made sure to shake his hand.
“Hey there, gorgeous! In case you haven’t guessed, this is your surprise birthday party!”
“The banner didn’t say it all? I thought it pretty much spoke for itself…”
“What do you mean, birthday???” Angel repeated again fuzzily. Paige took his arm in hers, squeezing it appreciatively.
“Are you surprised, Angel?” Willow asked.
“Uh…y-yeah. Totally.” Up until then, Cordelia had gone unnoticed. She spun around on her barstool, sucking a cherry from its stem as she watched Paige the Date hang off of Angel’s arm.
Dropping the stem back into her empty glass, Cordelia gave them both a sour look.
With a long, hard sigh, she mustered up enough want-to to pull herself from the bar stool and trudge up to Fang Face and Little Bo Peep–as sickening as the whole situation was–and smile.
And also, by now, she was just a little bit drunk.”Well, well, well, look who finally decided to show.” She scoffed, walking tall, if not a little wobbly, to confront the two of them. Paige looked up, feeling very nervous. She released Angel’s arm, and slipped up to Cordelia in apology.
“I’m so sorry we’re late,” She swore, eyes wide and sincere. “We kinda just…lost track of time. But when we saw what time it was, we rushed over here, we really did!”
“I just BET you did,”
“I sorry we’re late, I’m really sorry—”Cordelia practically shoved Paige aside and strode up to Angel. The others parted a path, intelligently, and Xander pulled Anya extra close. He knew sometimes these things with Cordy got messy.
Stopping just short of bumping into his nose, Cordelia crossed her arms and glared.
“You!” She breathed, nostrils flared and nose pink from drink. “You’re late!”
The music from Spike’s set still played in the background, though now the Vamp stopped singing and amusedly watched the show. The Seer glared up at Angel, and he stared back. One minute passed, then two, though it was probably more like just a few long seconds.
Didn’t matter to Cordelia, she’d been waiting all night. What was another quarter of an hour if she wanted it, standing there staring ruefully at her so-called best friend.
“Cordelia,” He smiled gently, and somewhere in the interim, Paige slipped back up to his side. “Hi.”
“Yeah! So! I went to all this trouble…” She snapped caustically. Her body swayed slightly, inebriated. But she somehow managed to maintained a dead on eye contact that was enough to make even Angel feel a like shrinking and hiding.
“You’re late!” She scolded. “And, you know…I think you know that doesn’t make me happy.”
Anya glanced up at Xander and he just pressed his lips tighter together, holding his breath. Wesley and Gunn moved to flank Cordelia, worrisome expressions on their faces. Lorne bit his ruby red lips…party suddenly about to take a dive.
Everyone was staring at her, she could feel it. Cordelia glanced around, catching their frowns. Fred actually looked afraid, and everyone else looking really uncomfortable. Gunn gave her a disparaging shake of the head, but she turned to ignore him and instead, spat, “So…Like…I did all of this for you! And you have the nerve to be LATE…” Angel sighed as if he were stilling himself for a storm.
“You like…go to dinner, and like, hang out with…” She glared at Paige. The venom in her eyes, and the others were ready to intervene. Lorne said a silent thank you, glad that the club was magically charmed making it invulnerable to human-on-human violence.
Cordelia stared at Paige hard, Paige looking really sorry. The Seer’s eyes narrowed as some really spitefully brilliant ideas on how to handle Miss Thing sprang to mind. A smile even started to curl at her lips, fantasies of looks of horror and hurt from Miss Thing running rampant through her mind.
She bit down on each word, processing them very deliberately. “You hang out with her. And you…you…yous…” Suddenly the thick fuzziness of her tongue stalled her, but no matter. She swayed a little, smiling even, as she basked in her own little torturous fancy. Angel cocked his head at her, and reached out for her arm.
“Cordy, you okay?”
“I think she’s had a little too much to drink,” Lorne started.
“Maybe she should sit down…” Tara suggested.
“Xander,” Willow said. “Get her a chair.”
“I DON’T WANNA SIT DOWN,” She snapped. She took a step back, and almost stumbled. Wesley and Gunn reached out simultaneously to catch her if she fell, but she didn’t.
Suddenly Cordelia’s boiling anger turned in to a pissed off hurt and her tone changed from menacing to high pitched wailing, and her face dropped and she looked like she were about to cry.
“You were late!” She pouted babyishly. “You were supposed to be here at nine! NIIIIIINNNNE.” She pointed at the clock on the wall. “It’s after ten, Angel! Tell me, how am I supposed to make a good party if you don’t show up on time!”
“I’m so sorry, Cordelia! It was my fault!” Paige interrupted.
“I’m sorry,” Angel said, interjecting, looking suspiciously amused. He stepped towards her and gently took her wrist, and she let him as he helped to steady her off kilter step. “I’m sorry Cordelia, what can I do?” She looked up at him forlornly.”Huh, Cordy? Tell me. What can I do?”
“Well…” She sighed reverently, everyone holding their breath. A look passed between Wesley, Gunn and Lorne. Lorne smirked, shaking his head at a loss of the whole situation.”Mmm, Well,” Cordelia toiled. “I don’t know, I guess you could—”
“I am so sorry, Cordy,” Paige interrupted yet again. Cordelia coolly ignored her.
“Well I guess…” She stepped in closer to him, looking up into his eyes and smiling softly. “The least you could do is give me a hug and thank me, you big retard.” She suggested. A sigh of relief ran through the group and Angel opened his arms to her.
“Thank you.” He said, and she fell into him. He hugged her, and she rolled her eyes, and the moment was interrupted as Spike blew into the microphone.
“Helllllllo!!! Trying to put on a show here!”
“Go ahead, honey!” Lorne encouraged. “Sing it up! You look marvelous up there!”
“I do, don’t I!” Spike beamed.
“You sure do! Now go on! We need some MUSAC!”
“Right then.” Spike pushed a few buttons on the karaoke machine and another song came on.
“Sergio!” Lorne called, rushing over to his boy wonder. “More drinks! And bring out some more food! Oh, and get that special bottle of chilled O negative that’s hidden in the back of the fridge! I’ve been saving it for for Angel for DAYS! And bring out two glasses so Blondie there can have a drink too…”
Everyone was all smiles again, and Wesley taking the intruder aside, took the liberty of introducing everyone to Paige.”You know, it’s not my birthday,” Angel said as he and Cordelia broke apart.
“Sure it is.” Cordelia shrugged.
“249 doesn’t come around for a couple of months.”
“NO,” She said, shoving his arm playfully. “This isn’t your VAMP birthday, this is your HUMAN birthday!”
“Your human birthday!” Angel looked confused. “But Cordy, I can’t even remember…”
“Look. Wesley was digging around for some information on the Internet last month. He came across this…thing. I don’t know what you call it, some service thing. Like a family tree data base thingie,”
“A family tree database.”
“And, like, for 29.95 they’ll track your family history, like even all the way back to the 1600’s! So I was like, Hey, let’s try it on Angel! And he was like, no, no, don’t be silly! And I was like, Come on, Wes, you FREAK! Let’s just see! And he was like, No, no, all no nonsense Wesley, and so I was like, Just give me the keyboard! Get outta my way! And so I start digging around in your hometown records, oh…I guess maybe about the time I figured you were still all Irish boy and not all fangy—”
“And you found my family history???”
“Well no. There wasn’t anything.”
“It IS the Internet after all,” Cordelia said. “They’ve got a lot, but they don’t got everything. ANYWAY. So then I like REALLY started wondering, you know, when it was that you were born. And I don’t mean turned, I mean born. As in human. As in baby!” She grinned.
“And then I got the cutest image in my head of you crawling around on a dirt floor in saggy, poopy filled pampers! HAHA! But then I realized there probably weren’t any pampers way back then, so I pictured you laying in a hay crib with a leaf over your…er, baby parts…sorta like Jesus in the manger—”
“Hey, I didn’t sleep in hay!”
“Anyway I just HAD to know when your birthday was, like cause, you know, we don’t even know your sign or anything…” She smiled lopsidedly. “Well…turns out, Angel, that you are a Pisces.”
“Yep. You were born on March 15th, 1727 in Galway, Ireland, so you’re like really, really, old. And today is your birthday. And you are a Pisces.”
“Yep. Old as dirt.”
“Wow.” Angel stared at her, completely in awe.
“So…you like the party?” She asked hopefully.
“Yes, yes, I do.” Angel glanced about, taking in the group of “friends.”
“I tried to get a hold of Kate, but she’s gone. Sorry. I know she meant a lot to you.”
“And Buffy’s here,” Cordelia glanced over at the blonde talking with her sister. She looked up at Angel, almost hoping—if it meant that he’d drop paige—for that old spark of intrigue at the B name to pop up in his eyes—It didn’t, darn it!
Cordelia would have seriously rather had him fawning over Buffy again than to be going out with Paige. She knew how to handle the Buffy situation. She knew what to do with broken hearted, mopey, sad assed Angel! But this happy-go lucky-possibly in love with a human girl-thingy just didn’t compute—
Ah, but not her decision she guessed sadly. Time to buck up and welcome the date into their happy little sunless world. Cordelia rambled. “Angel…I’m really, really sorry about all the trouble I’ve caused. I talked…talked with Paige, and I think we got things squared away. I’m still not completely 100% agreed about you dating her…or anyone…for that matter. But if she’s what you want, well…then…and you’re right, she’s a nice person.”
Tears started to sting in her eyes, and she couldn’t help it.
Her voice cracked, and came out low, throaty, and rushed. “Angel…she likes you. She really, really likes you. Might even…love you…and I don’t want to be the reason you don’t get to be loved! I mean, if there was something I could do, something to take the place of that, I might…if I knew, I mean, that you’d be like…happy—” Angel froze, gazing at her, and suddenly she blushed.
Panic started to build in her stomach, and she cursed herself for opening her mouth to begin with. She started to apologize, and apologize thoroughly, for everything. But when she looked back up at him, and saw the way he was looking down at her, all the words flew right out of her head!
Everything did, in fact, except for him. And so they stared at one another, locked away in some clichéd eternal moment, where confusion and anger had been placed aside and all there was were the both of them.
So many things ran through his head in that moment. So many things through hers. If he could just tell her everything—open his mouth, let it all spill out! Nothing held back, truth revealed—she would understand!
If SHE would just let it all out, tell him everything—let him hear what she had been thinking, give him a clue, give him the choice—he’d want her too. And then things would be perfect. Things would be absolutely perfect, and nothing could ever come between them again…
As it were, perfection was out of his league, and it was a cold, harsh reality that slammed down on her shoulders. She blinked, head cleared, and Cordelia felt the moment fade.”Angel,” She said, resigned to the fact that in the here and now, the foot between them was the closest they’d ever truly be.
“If you haven’t already, tell her what you are. I don’t think it will matter, I think she’ll…she’ll…it’ll be okay. Look, just tell her, okay?”
And then, before Angel could respond, a head popped up to his right and there was Paige—speak of the devil—wrapping her warm little fingers about his arm. “Wow, Angel, you have a lot of cool friends! I’m glad I got to meet them.”
“Hi, Paige.” Cordelia said brightly. She regarded the other girl. “Look, thanks for getting him here. I’m sorry if I…well, just sorry. You did me a huge favor, so…I owe you one.”
“Oh…it’s cool.” Paige smiled, and owing it to this girl, Cordelia started to back away.
“Look, I’m, uh, going to get another drink. Water, this time. So…Angel, go. Have fun. Talk to your guests. They’re here for you…”
“I need to…go over there.” Cordelia regarded the other end of the bar nervously, then spun and departed.
And Angel would have stopped her if it weren’t for Paige tugging him the other way.”Angel, introduce me to your friend on stage! He’s a riot! And I love his accent!”
Angel glared down at Paige and frowned.”Uh?”
“Come on! Introduce me!”
Angel allowed himself to be led away. He would have been worried…no matter what she thought, Paige did not want to get involved with Spike! But luckily…if you could call it that…for her, Angel knew for a fact that Spike and Buffy…were…well….sorta together…