Buffy scrubbed the dirt off her face, wondering if Maybelline would ever come up with graveyard-proof products – or at least a facial care line. Of course what did it matter if her make up was messed up, or hair had dirt in it she wasn’t supposed to want to impress Angel. Lifting up she met the mirror and watched her face fall into a frown at the thought of …her…her? Ex-boyfriend it sounded too normal and her life wasn’t.
Her heartbeat had returned to normal, her focus was no longer on the demons she’d been slaying in the graveyard after a full day of tracking them. Instead she didn’t have focus. Her mind was wandering from, how she was going to pass Snyder’s prohibition if she kept having to slay during school hours. Didn’t demons have any sense of decorum anymore. They were supposed to wreck havoc after sunset. Then her mind would fly to Angel, then it would remind her she had a new boyfriend now – Scott.
She was supposed to care if Scott saw her hair a ratted nest of dirt and grass after Slayage. She was supposed to care if Scott missed her when she ran out to stake something. She wasn’t supposed to have her mind constantly on Angel. She didn’t want to miss him. She’d never wanted to miss him. She’d wanted him with her, always and forever, they were in love. But she’d lost him, first because of a curse and then because of her own sword. Curses and swords, who had break ups like this in a normal life?
She just wanted normal, or one normal thing, and that’s where Scott came in. Of course every time she’d crossed paths with him today as she sneaked on and off school grounds, she’d had to say ‘Bye’ before the ‘Hi’ had even left his mouth. It wasn’t fair.
And then there was Giles, which led back to Angel.
It always led back to Angel. She should check on him, she didn’t think he was doing as well as he claimed, despite seeming fine. Buffy couldn’t even remember if she’d said she would, or wouldn’t tonight. But she wanted to, but it was already so late and she’d promised her mother she’d try to be home early. Again. Her mother was so scared and confused now that she knew Buffy was the Slayer. She’d hated lying to her mother all those years but now that the secret was out the guilt hadn’t abated.
Her mother worried, and Giles worried too because of Angel – and that was why she kept Angel a secret. His return a secret, because she didn’t know how to tell Giles. She was afraid he’d want Angel dead, take Angel away from her again – and she wasn’t supposed to allow herself to think about ‘having him back’ because that could lead to what ifs about a relationship and a future. And they didn’t, couldn’t… because there was a curse. Curses, parents, vampires and slaying.
It wasn’t fair. She wasn’t fair.
Giles said there was trouble and he wasn’t sure if it was vampires or not, and she’d immediately thought it was Angel. He wasn’t quite well yet, he’d been feral when she found him. She’d blamed Angel without thought, but only vocalized against it being vampires. It’d turned out to be true and the relief that it was another type of demon she’d felt had been palpable. But shouldn’t she have trusted that he wouldn’t harm anyone?
Buffy closed her eyes to her reflection. She didn’t want to see it in her eyes, the truth to the voice in her head. You can’t trust Angel. He’s a vampire. A killer, a murderer, and he’d tortured your watcher, he tortured Giles. But he was also Angel, always Angel, the man she loved who didn’t know his curse could be undone. He hadn’t know what would happen…and the soul was back in place. Angelus was gone…Angelus had to remain dead. And for that to remain true she had to keep her distance. She had to grab onto what was nice and safe and normal.
A boy whose faults would have nothing to do with blood, fangs and gypsies. Yet, could she really stop her feet from walking to Angel’s? Could she really make herself go home and not go and see if he was all right?
The door to the bathroom opened, the noise startling her out of her thought. Buffy prayed it wouldn’t be a teacher because she couldn’t think up an excuse for being in the school after hours. Luckily it was Cordelia, which for once caused Buffy to feel extreme relief. Cordelia hadn’t gone home yet either, Cordelia could give her a ride home and help her avoid the mansion.
“Hi, Buffy. Snyder’s yapping at Giles. He’s such a rodent.”
Buffy grimaced, now she really had to get out of the school fast, the last thing she wanted to face was Synder. “Uh, look, Cordy, I kind of…”
“Uh, huh?” Cordelia asked distractedly as she raised her hair off her neck and stared at it in the mirror. Buffy watched for a moment and rolled her eyes, thinking ‘vain much, Cordelia?’ before asking, “Could you give me a ride?”
Cordelia remained silent, fixated on her reflection one of her hands raising to touch her neck, which was red from what Buffy guessed the other times Cordelia had run her fingers over her skin.
“Huh, oh, Buffy! What?”
“Ride. To my home. Can you give me one?”
Cordelia turned, her hair falling over her shoulders with the actions, causing Buffy stifled the urge to rip it out. It fell perfectly over her shoulders and looked all brushed and shiny. How did the girl do it? It wasn’t fair. If she was the Slayer she probably wouldn’t be covered with dirt. She’d been in the graveyard, she’d been bait, why wasn’t she more dirty? Realizing what she was doing, Buffy quickly shoved the envious thoughts away. She couldn’t let Cordelia push her buttons, she needed that ride home.
“Yes, that’s a great idea,” Cordelia said suddenly with such sincerity and a weird look in her eyes.
“It is?” Buffy asked, feeling confused it had been so easy. Cordelia usually wasn’t so nice after spending the night in the graveyard.
Cordelia gave a half-smile and then turned toward the door. “Let’s go. We don’t want to run into Snyder.”
The seat belt snapped into place and Buffy found herself once again fighting the feelings of envy that Cordelia Chase always evoked inside of her. Cordelia had a drivers license, but more than that she had an amazing car. Her mother had yet to let her go for her license, saying she wasn’t ready yet, her driving wasn’t good enough, however Cordelia was speeding haphazardly through Sunnydale everyday. Buffy bit her lip and realized she should never let her mother see how Cordelia drove, she’d probably not be allowed in the car and that would really cause a problem since Cordelia was the chauffeur on a lot of her slaying missions.
Not for the first time since returning home from her time in Los Angeles Buffy felt a huge surge of regret for her actions at running away. While she’d been able to mend things with Willow and Xander everything with her mother was still out of sorts and she wondered if it would settle back into place. Running away after her mother was hit with the news she was a Slayer during a fight for the world…it had just compounded everything. She had royally screwed up with her mother and things, though better, weren’t really great with Giles either. Yet everyday she looked at Giles and kept a huge secret one she knew she shouldn’t be quiet about. It was her duty as a Slayer to tell and beyond that she owed Giles the truth for much better reasons. She loved Giles. He wasn’t quite like a father, but he was more than a Watcher to her. He was Giles.
Buffy breathed out purposely, damn it, her mind was going in the same constant circle. She felt like a gerbil stuck on a wheel. She glanced at Cordelia and realized the other girl wasn’t talking to her nonstop, or irritated at Buffy for not paying attention. That wasn’t normal, things should be normal, she wanted inane Cordelia chatter to stop the constant loop of her thoughts and the urge to tell Cordelia to turn towards Crawford Street – and how would she explain that one to the ever curious chatterbox.
“You’re quiet,” Buffy stated. “Did the demons hurt your tongue?”
“Buffy…” Cordelia said but Buffy didn’t hear she was too busy talking in a sudden decision that she couldn’t keep sitting in silence and if Cordelia was going to be weird she’d have to be the chatterbox.
“Do you think Scott is mad at me? I mean when I call him what should I say about all those ‘Hi-Byes’ I gave him all day today, when we managed to be, you know actually in the school for a few glasses. I mean it’s not normal for your girlfriend to be flitting in and out, not explaining… I just don’t know. I wish I could just tell him the truth, but then again he probably couldn’t handle it. I mean Xander and Willow are different, and well you…you handled it okay but you’re not exactly the average Sunnydale student. Scott’s nice and average. I really like that about him, I know it doesn’t really sound all that nice. What is your advice?”
“Juliet, Cinderella… is that a move up or down?” Cordelia said, her voice edgy.
“Buffy, I really…Uh, what’s up with your street?”
“Well, thanks for the ride, Cordy.” Buffy said quickly, climbing out of the car, feeling as if she’d had her fill of the girl for the day.
In a blink of an eye Buffy slammed the door, forgot Cordelia and headed down her street all the while building up her courage to smile and talk to her mother about her day – with the inevitable barrage of worried questions in regards to slaying.
Then her heart stopped. Angel was in front of her house, hands in his pockets, head hunched down looking at the grass. Right in front of her house, where lights blared out of uncovered windows. Happiness at the sight of him quickly changed to fear and confusion, she swung forward, grabbed him and pulled him around a tree at the edge of her yard.
“Angel, you shouldn’t be here. My mom could see you.”
He stared at her, his back to the trunk of the tree and then glanced toward the house for a moment. Looking back at her his eyes clouded with guilt. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to tell you…you didn’t show up at the mansion today?”
“Was I supposed too?” Buffy asked, her arms crossing over her chest. She wanted to touch him. “I really wanted to… I almost did, now, but since you’re here. There was this demon problem today. Mom is probably freaking….I really did want to see you…” she trailed off and stepped closer to him, feeling hypnotized by his eyes, his smell, his very presence.
“So, you didn’t stop by because of…”
“Slaying. Giles had everyone on it, even Cordelia was in and out of the school, driving us and being bait.”
“Bait,” Angel repeated.
Buffy stared into his eyes, they were still so clouded by guilt and she felt awful for hiding him behind the tree. “I’m sorry. I just, I’m not ready to tell. My mother especially, she’s so freaked out by things and my running away made thing so much worse. I don’t know what to do, Angel.”
He reached out and touched her face, Buffy wanted to turn her cheek into his touch, feel his palm against her cheek but instead her body tensed. Angel quickly dropped his arm. “I’ll go.”
” “Okay. I’m so glad you’re doing so much better. I’ll try to drop by the mansion soon… we can talk…figure things out, right?”
Angel nodded. “Right.”
“Right,” Buffy whispered, biting back tears. How was she going to stop herself from crying, she thought as running into her home.
Cordelia stared at her shut passenger door. She’d been a wuss, a total pussyfooting wimp and now the Slayer wasn’t in her car, a captive audience for the information that Cordelia knew she needed to tell. She had to tell about Angel, what had happened, what he’d been like, the things he said. She had to tell.
Because good news or bad news, she really wasn’t sure what it was, Angel was back from hell and with a soul. But he wasn’t okay, and no matter how much blood she’d stolen for him her instincts told her that Hell had to make a person – vampire, whatever – not okay.
“Far from okay,” Cordelia muttered to herself and unbuckled her seatbelt. Not telling Buffy when she had her in the car about Angel had been wrong, it’d been a wimpy. And she Cordelia Chase was not a wimp, if only she’d had two minutes alone with Giles during the day, this would be over with. But no, the demon problem kept the library, the Scoobs, and herself busy for the entire day. Then when she finally found herself alone in the library with Giles, Snyder came in with his weasel eyes and started questioning all the notes Giles’ had written for her and the others. And he’d kicked her out or threatened detention.
Finding Buffy still in the school and in need of a ride, at felt like a blessing. Only she hadn’t been able to spit out the words, like she was some shy and retiring girl. She didn’t get it but she didn’t know how to tell Buffy about Angel. It’d been why she’d chosen Giles in the first place. Alone in her car with Buffy, all she could think about was how close she’d come to getting bit by Angel, her hand constantly flying to her neck.
She hadn’t been able to keep her hands off of it all day, she could feel the paper thin cuts, but they weren’t noticeable unless you really looked for them. Which she’d kept doing, in fact she’d been doing it in the bathroom so lost in the memory of that terrifying moment she’d barely heard Buffy give her the opening to tell her.
Then she’d kept her lips shut like she was fraidy-cat. She’d just managed to shake some sense into herself when Buffy started babbling about Scott Hope and his average loveliness, trying to create some fairy tale to use for their relationship, much like Angel and Buffy had resembled Romeo and Juliet. The snipe at that had left her mouth before she could think. It’d been stupid, she should have blurted out, ‘Forget Scott, he’s bland and plus Angel’s back and I’m pretty sure he’s all soulful.’
Instead she’d nearly run into a road closed sign blocking Buffy’s street and dented her car. Then Buffy was gone.
She snapped herself free from her seatbelt, grabbed her purse thinking solely of the stake and cross inside of it. She didn’t really think vampires would be lurking on the Slayer’s street, but then again a lot with low IQs seemed to be turned. Everything inside of Cordelia screamed that Buffy and the others needed to know about Angel, and if she had to start with Buffy then that was what she had to do.
Hurrying down the street, she finally caught sight of the back of Buffy’s head, thankful the Slayer hadn’t used her supernatural speed. When suddenly, the blonde sped up into a blur, that stopped on the side of her house, pushing a dark figure against a tree so they’d be hidden from the house.
From Cordelia’s place on the street though it was very clear that the dark figure was Angel. Her steps sped up stopping only when her brain caught up with her, that getting between a Vampire and a Slayer wasn’t a smart move. She stopped short, why was he here? Had he come to confess? Or was he crazy again? Had she gotten him enough blood to stop the insanity of hunger? Was that possible with a vampire?
Cordelia stood still, leaning forward and blinked when she thought she heard Buffy say something about ‘not ready to tell’, was that right. She moved closer, silently, praying that neither of them heard her, that they were too caught up in each other.
“I don’t know what to do, Angel,” she heard Buffy say.
Cordelia’s brow furrowed, her nervous dissipating with confusion as the obvious floated through her mind that Buffy should tell Giles.
“I’ll go,” said Angel.
“Okay. I’m so glad you’re doing so much better. I’ll try to drop by the mansion soon… we can talk…figure things out, right?”
A click resounded through Cordelia’s head. She knew, Buffy knew, had known that Angel was back. They weren’t talking like two people just reunited, the shock was gone. Buffy knew Angel was back and she hadn’t told Giles, most likely she hadn’t told Xander, because he would have gone ballistic he hated Angel. Willow? Cordelia wondered, could Willow keep a secret like this? Probably for Buffy.
Buffy. That bitch had known Angel was back, that he was dangerous and starved, probably crazed from whatever happened to a soul in Hell and she hadn’t said anything. It was all her fault, all her fault Angel had nearly killed her and that poor guy from the butcher’s. What was the Slayer thinking? Why wasn’t she telling?
She gasped, startled out of her thoughts and once again could see where she was staring. Angel was about a foot away from her, looking right at her with intense dark eyes. Her hand flew to her neck, unconsciously, and she stepped backward.
“I won’t…I’m sorry. Please just let me apologize.”
Angel took a step toward her as he spoke but went still in an instant. He studied her, his senses on alert to the sounds and sight of Cordelia Chase. Rapid heart beat. Healthy dose of fear. Heavy breathing. Really wide eyes. Beautiful, wide eyes, they were a swirl of ambers and golds, and stared at him with distrust. Yet there was just enough curiosity to give Angel hope.
“Why? So you can alleviate your guilt?”
Shit. Angel dug his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, glanced behind him at Buffy’s house before meeting Cordelia. Too sharp for her own damn good, he thought frustration tensing his muscles. “Look, let me walk you to your car okay?”
“Don’t want to talk in front of Buffy’s house? Really? Why? Not like she doesn’t know you are back? Though, I bet she has no clue that an innocent butcher and me were almost your supper last night.”
“Cordelia.” He could hear his teeth grinding against each other. “Just…she had reasons.”
“It’s not easy on her.”
“Right. Death. Carnage. Sending her boyfriend to hell — after he killed her classmates, a teacher and then tortured her Watcher. Oh, wait, more than once. Or was leaving Ms. Calendar in the bed just a pre-show.”
“Car. Cordelia. Walking you to it,” Angel said, stepping closer to her, using his bulk to get her to move back down the street. She met his eyes, her heart rate the only sign he had any intimidating effect on the woman, but she was more angry now than scared. Yet she stepped into place next to him and started digging through her purse.
“I thought you wanted to get some guilt off your shoulders, Angel, not boss me around?”
“I get that you’re mad.”
“How long have you been back?”
“I, uh, the days blend. A while.”
“How long has Buffy known?”
“A few weeks, give or take,” Angel guessed.
“But you were starving?” Cordelia snapped, stopping short in her steps and pulling out a cross. “And personal bubble, Angel, out of it!” She thrust the cross into him and he nearly escaped it being slapped against his chest.
He nearly smirked at her actions but guilt at his own stopped him. “I didn’t tell Buffy how bad it was.”
“So she wasn’t feeding you enough, because you were what? Being Mr. Strong Vamp Guy, protecting the little Slayer Woman from your pain?”
Put like that it sounded extremely stupid, Angel thought, but it was much more complicated than that. Buffy had been through hell, sure he’d been in it, but he’d at least deserved it. A monster. He was a monster.
“Pfft.” Cordelia breathed out and moved to lean against the road closed sign near her car. “And Buffy didn’t see through the macho act?”
“Usually, I had blood in me around her. Easier to seem strong and getting stronger.” He watched her, she was calmer again but on guard. Protected and defensive, Cordelia had the two actions honed to a science he realized. Was it just a growing up on the Hellmouth thing? No, Willow and Xander weren’t this practiced at hiding the signs of fear. It was Cordelia being Cordelia, he realized. It was why she’d been able to save herself by helping him. “I owe you…”
“…a thank you.”
“Oh,” Cordelia started, she hadn’t expected that and the result on her expression was priceless. Unguarded and shock vulnerability was there, for a split second before anger, distrust and confusion sprung back. “What? You are supposed to be alleviating your guilt.”
“I am,” Angel said and he stepped closer unable to stop himself from raising his eyebrows as the cross was thrust up again. “You do know I can knock that out of your hand, little girl?”
Cordelia’s own eyebrows arched and her mouth lifted into a curve. “But we both know you won’t.”
Angel nodded and got as close as he could with the cross erected between them. “You’re right. I was wrong to hide things from Buffy, she would have made sure I had enough blood – and what happened wouldn’t have…I can’t take it back. I can never take anything back…” guilt overwhelmed him. “I’m sorry, it’s all I can offer. And I owe you thanks, because you didn’t run away, you helped me.”
“Was that the right move?” Cordelia whispered, staring at him before her eyes fell onto the cross. “Did I make the right choice?”
Angel’s jaw clenched and he inhaled the night air around them but he refused to take his eyes off of Cordelia. He waited for her to lift her head back up, and look at him. Maybe he’d find an answer in her eyes, he’d know what she wanted from him, what she needed or the truth. Moments ticked by, it almost felt like another century in Hell, but he waited because he didn’t know what to say. Finally Cordelia lifted her head up and their eyes locked and Angel knew if he’d been human the breath would have been knocked out of him. Her eyes held nothing but expectation. All she wanted was his answer.
“I don’t know,” he said, it was all he could give her.
And she smiled and he had to close his eyes to it for a moment, blinking away at what had to be a mirage. But it was still there when his eyes focused on her Cordelia. An open, though tired, sincere smile. “I get that,” she said. “I saw it you know.”
“Your soul. Willow, she did the gypsy curse, we thought it wasn’t working, but suddenly her eyes changed, her voice changed, I think she was speaking Romanian or something…and the Orb. It got gold. A shiny gold and it floated, then it vanished. I guess that’s when it went into you. I don’t know. I just know that I knew that she’d conjured your soul.” She drew in a deep breath. “It was terrifying.”
“You saw my soul?” Angel echoed before her words penetrated his mind. “Willow has power, to be able to do…”
“That’s what scary.”
“Power like that? It’s the one thing…” Cordelia sighed. “You scared me. Almost as much as Willow did that night. I put those up there with the most terrifying nights of my life. Right on the same list as the time you almost bit me in the cemetery, when they grabbed Giles from the library. It’s funny how there are actually times when I was kidnapped and near death that aren’t on the list, huh?”
“Um, yeah,” Angel said, feeling dizzy trying to keep with her. “Cordelia?”
“I know I went off on a tangent. Anyway, you scared me, Angel. A lot. I thought…then you didn’t.”
“You saved yourself. The blood.”
Cordelia met his eyes. “You held back. So, in good faith. Because of what I saw Willow do, what you didn’t do that night…and the fact this isn’t my secret to tell anymore. I won’t say anything. Just count yourself and Buffy luckyy I never got a chance to tell Giles about last night. Stupid ugly green demons that were rampaging the town, saved your dumb asses.”
Bait. Buffy’s words about her Slaying duty of the day came back to him, guilt and concern took over his actions and without thinking he stepped even closer to Cordelia. Completely, unaware that he could because she’d lowered the cross and touched his fingers under her chin gently. Slowly his fingers moved to her throat, to where he had sliced into her soft skin. He felt the wounds, his eyes latching onto the thin slices no human could see. “I am sorry, Cordelia.”
Her heart was racing, he heard her gulp. “I already accepted.”
“You had to play bait,” he said.
She looked at him confused by where he was going, her heart slowing down as she grew used to his nearness, his fingers on her skin.
“Were you okay, was it okay? I mean…” Angel struggled to find the words for what he wanted to say. He couldn’t find them, he’d already apologized and more words wouldn’t do any good. “You shouldn’t had to have done that after…” he trailed off and forced himself to pull his hand away from her neck.
“Almost being the real victim?” Cordelia finished for him, her eyes following his hand as he pushed it into his coat pocket. She exhaled noisily. “Please! There is a huge difference. I mean for one, Buffy was there. Slayer. What’s better protection. Second, Giles, Xander, Willow and Oz all there too, with weapons. It was no big.” As she spoke she stepped backward, and for the first time he noticed her car had been right behind her all along. “I’ve got to get home.”
“Are you going to tell…”
Cordelia cut him off. “Buffy? That I know about you? Please. No way.”
Angel nodded, thankful and confused by her decision. He hadn’t alleviated any guilt, but he felt a bit better because he’d learned something new. Cordelia Chase impressed him.