Angel woke to see soft light streaming into the cave around them. Although not direct enough to be of danger, the soft glow of morning lit the space around him, alerting him that he’d slept for about an hour.
Knowing that the vampires couldn’t possibly be outside the cave in which they were hiding, he nevertheless decided to take every precaution and, true face coming to the fore, he pushed his sense beyond their immediate surroundings. Finding nothing he shifted back, and looked down at the girl still pressed against him, only to collide with a wide pair of questioning hazel eyes.
In the midst of his own panicking, Angel missed the calmness emanating form Cordelia.
“Oh God Cordelia. I can explain. It’s – I -”
“Angel, it’s okay.”
And as he let his fear ebb somewhat, Angel knew that it was.
“Whatever’s going on Angel, you saved me last night, you found us a safe place, and you watched over me while I was hurt. Whatever the explanation is for what I just saw, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a good guy Angel…Although I’d still love to hear the explanation.”
Staring into the laughing eyes he saw that to Cordelia it was really that simple. It was probably the lack of memory that made it so, but the eyes looking back into his held nothing but gratitude and understanding. And even though he knew that he’d never deserve either after all he’d done in his life, he couldn’t help but dive into both, the wonder of them being so overwhelming.
“Cordelia, I’m a vampire.”
Angel watched as she thought that over. Even though all of her reactions had surprised him so far, he still expected some form of hysterics at that revelation. Instead she simply seemed to be mulling it over in her mind, trying to make it fit with what little she personally knew of the world.
“Like the vampires that attacked me?”
Angels was already shaking his head before her sentence was finished.
“No. I have a soul.”
“Oh. I take it most of you don’t then.”
Angel smiled at the understatement.
“No. That’s what makes us evil.”
Reminding himself that Cordelia had a head wound, he tried to get her to clarify what seemed like a nonsensical response.
“You said ‘us’. ‘That’s what makes us evil’. But you have a soul; therefore you meant ‘them’.
Angel stared. Not in a million years would he have expected this conversation to ever go quite this way.
“Cordelia, it’s not that simple.”
“Maybe it is Angel. Or maybe I just don’t have all the other things that complicate it inside my head anymore. Vampires are evil because they have no soul. You have a soul. That soul led you to save and protect me. Therefore you are not evil. It sounds simple to me.”
He didn’t quite know what to say. Even though he knew that she was right when she said that she was lacking a grasp of the things that complicated the issue, he couldn’t help but bask in the acceptance being offered to him. Not even Buffy had ever looked at him with quite this much faith. Not even in the beginning.
And although he knew that Buffy, as the slayer, could never, should never, completely overlook his nature, and that it was unfair to compare them, he still couldn’t help but relish the complete and utter lack of fear from someone who knew what he was and what his kind could do. No matter how limited that knowledge might be.
“So how come you have one and they don’t?”
“Huh?” Angel muttered as her voice pulled him from the warm feeling building inside.
“A soul. You know, the reason for the lack of evilness?”
He didn’t want to answer. It was that easy. He was enjoying this brief moment of faith from her and he didn’t want to ruin it by explaining the animal he used to be, that he still was. But he owed her that. After all, he’d almost killed her last year. She deserved to be prepared in case her memory had deserted her for good.
“I didn’t always have one. I’ve lived now for over two centuries. I’ve done horrible things in my time. About a hundred years ago I killed a gypsy girl. She was the favored daughter of her tribe. In return the gypsy’s gave me back my soul.”
He didn’t want to see the disgust in her eyes, but forced himself to look. Only there was no disgust there. Instead there was a look of puzzlement, as if what he said didn’t quite make sense. Slowly, as if she was still missing something she responded to his dark disclosure.
“Well…that was nice of them.”
Now he saw where the confusion came from.
“Nice? Cordelia, it was a curse. They cursed me to live with 150 year of brutal killing and vicious torture.”
Cordelia’s face scrunched up, but once again Angel saw no disgust, merely confusion.
“I don’t understand. If the soul is what makes you different than the other vampires, what lets you be good, then how could anyone have expected you to be good without it? Why should you feel bad for something you had no way of controlling? Are you sure they just weren’t helping you out so that you wouldn’t kill anyone else’s daughter?”
Angel was absolutely speechless. It’s not that Cordelia wasn’t making sense; it was just that generally people he met tended to agree that he needed to pay for what he’d done as Angelus. No one had ever accepted that he was Angelus, but suggested that it had been beyond his control and therefore not his burden to shoulder for eternity. Holding on to what he had known as truth for a century he tried to explain again.
“They wanted me to suffer, to feel guilt for all I’d done.”
As he watched Cordelia’s eyebrow arch he could almost believe that she was in possession of all of her memories. Except that the words that kept coming out of her mouth were so different than the one’s he knew she’d normally say.
“Well just because they wanted you to feel guilty doesn’t mean that you have to. Do you always do what people who curse you want?”
Despite the serious nature of the discussion he couldn’t help but smile.
“I don’t get cursed that often.”
Patting his hand in a gesture of comfort reminiscent of the previous night, Cordelia smiled up at him.
“Of course you don’t. You’re a good guy who spends his time saving damsel’s in distress and helping super girls inaptly named Buffy.”
Angel was so charmed by the blinding smile set against a background of dirt and blood that he almost missed Cordelia’s next statement.
“Of course, you probably hear that from lots of people.”
Cordelia watched as Angel ducked his head, hiding his deep velvet eyes from her.
“Actually, I don’t know all that many people.”
That surprised her. He was, after all, a genuine hero, and definitely not hard on the eyes. Surely he was just being modest.
“Come on, a guy willing to fight a bunch of vampires for a girl he barely knows must have plenty of friends.”
She wished he’d look at her again, but his eyes stayed firmly downcast as he answered her,
“No, I’m not really the friendly type.”
“Well, what about super girl – Buffy?”
Well at least she finally got him to look up.
“Buffy? We…dated. We’re in love, but it didn’t really work out. Besides, as someone pointed out to us recently, we were never really friends.”
Cordelia certainly hadn’t expected that reply. She may not remember much, but didn’t dating someone kind of make you friends?
“Of course you two were friends. Otherwise how would you have known what kind of flowers to buy her, or – or what color bear to get for Valentine’s Day, or what kind of candy to buy her at the movies?”
Angel looked down at the eager expression of the young woman trying desperately to convince him that he had friends, and while he never talked with anyone about things like this, the clear and open look in her eyes made him feel like he could tell her anything.
“Buffy and I, we weren’t like that. We were just, in love I guess. It was passionate and intense, all forbidden love and Romeo and Juliet, but it was never flowers and candy. Those were things we never had time to learn about each other. Maybe they were things we never took the time to learn. Anyway, trust me when I say that it’s too late now.”
Angel felt Cordelia’s hand grasp his once again, lending him silent strength even as she offered him spoken comfort.
And he knew that she meant it. Knowing nothing about him but what she’d learned in their brief time together in this cave, she was genuinely saddened by his failed relationship with a girl she didn’t even know.
“So” Cordelia sighed, “I can’t remember anything about myself and you’re sad and alone.”
Angel couldn’t help but smile as he realized that Cordelia’s stunning lack of tact was apparently genetic and not a defense mechanism meant to hold others at bay. But that thought was soon lost, burned away in the brilliant light of Cordelia’s growing smile.
“Do you know what this means?”
Puzzled by her sudden excitement, Angel shook his head.
“This means we’re best friends!”
Angel knew that his confusion must be showing on his face as Cordelia rushed on.
“I mean, you know my favorite color, my favorite flower, and my favorite food. And I know that you’re a vampire with a soul who desperately needs someone in his life to remind him that he’s one of the good guys. See, if you tell me your favorite color, although I’m getting the strong impression that it’s black, then it’ll be all settled. You and me – best friends.”
Angel was completely unaware of what to say next. He’d never really had a best-friend. Well, not since he was a boy. Sure, he’d had drinking buddies as he got older, but never true friends. And Angelus wasn’t one to inspire friendship. Fear and loyalty? Yes. Friendship? No. Since then he’d mostly avoided humans. His few attempts to connect seeming to always end in disaster.
As his silence continued, Angel watched Cordelia’s smile begin to dim, and suddenly, more than anything, he wanted to bring the light back into her eyes.
And the light was back.
“Really? I never would have guessed.”
“When I was a boy in Ireland, my mother had a beautiful garden. Full of every color of the rainbow, but her pride and joy were the cheerful daffodils she planted along the walkway to our house. She treated them like they were her children, the way she tended them. She said they were like the sun leading the way to our door. Every time I see that color I think of her; I think of the sun.”
Angel felt rather dazed. Confession may be good for the soul, but disclosure of any kind had never come easy to him. And yet, it hadn’t hurt to share this with her.
“I’ve never told anyone that before.”
Looking down he watched as Cordelia hid a yawn behind her hand. As she snuggled closer to him he wrapped his arm securely around her. Before sleep could pull her under he heard her reply, muffled by his shoulder.
“It’s okay Angel. After all, you’re my best friend.”
Angel looked down at Cordelia. She’d been asleep for hours now and he was once again debating whether to let her sleep or wake her up. This time he admitted to himself that it was more than just concern for her health that made him want to gently shake her awake. He missed her. He missed her smiles, he missed her laughter, and he missed her odd perspective on both of their lives. S
he had woken off and on throughout the day and they’d leisurely discussed his life and invented one for her. It was soothing, not just to his mind, but to his soul. He knew that he was being given an honor few people had probably ever received – seeing the real Cordelia Chase. And he would cherish every minute of this day for the rest of his existence.
Realizing that sunset was at hand, he pushed aside all selfish thoughts of waking her, wrapped her tighter in his jacket and made his way outside to begin the trek towards the hospital.
He was surprised upon reaching the large white structure how nice a journey it had been with his friend held tight against him, sleeping soundly in his arms. If it wasn’t for the fact that he knew she needed medical attention he’d turn around and take them straight to the mansion where she could clean up and they could talk some more.
But his concern at her continuing unconscious state was rising and even if it meant their talks were on hold, he was relieved that she was finally going to be under a doctor’s care.
Entering the Emergency Room he called for a nurse. Being used to trauma cases given the nature of the town, reaction was fast, and before he knew what was happening Cordelia was being unwrapped from his duster and placed on a gurney. As they rolled her out of his sight a nurse approached him with questions about her injury.
Angel provided what information he could, but it wasn’t much. Luckily Cordelia’s information was still on file after her recent stay. Retiring himself to a dark corner, he planned to keep watch until her parents arrived and then slip away, hopefully before Sunnydale’s “best and brightest” could show up to start what passed for an investigation in this town.
As time passed he grew more concerned both by the absence of Cordelia’s parents and by the doctors hushed conversations, still audible to his ears, that Cordelia could not be awakened. Trying to push down fears that he’d made the wrong choice, gone the wrong way in evading the pursing vampires, that he’d let her sleep too much or not enough, he was finally distracted by a woman in her late forties inquiring as to the health of Cordelia Chase.
Angel listened in disbelief as she identified herself as the Chase’s housekeeper and explained that her parents were at a retreat Switzerland and had been informed of the circumstances, but couldn’t leave at this time. She produced paperwork that allowed her to sign the appropriate forms in their absence, and assured the nurse that she would update the Chases as to Cordelia’s progress.
As he listened with a heavy heart as she repeated Mr. Chase’s explanation that his daughter was very accident prone lately and that it wasn’t really feasible for them to come back every time she ended up hurting herself, Angel began to understand with perfect clarity why Cordelia hid the beautiful, bright-eyed girl he’d spent the day with, and the urge to kill her heartless parents was outweighed only by his desire to gather Cordelia close and protect her from the harsh realities of the world.
Knowing that he could do neither at that moment and that sunrise was fast approaching he turned as silently slipped from the hospital, making his way home.
Once again Angel was waiting impatiently for sunset.
It had been five days since he’d left Cordelia at the hospital. Five days since he’d gotten the call from Buffy saying that they were canceling the meeting for that night so that they could go visit Cordelia. She went on to explain that Cordelia had apparently been injured on her date with some football player who’d abandoned her and that some Good Samaritan apparently brought her to the hospital. Not knowing the agony she was inflicting she told the vampire that Cordelia seemed fine, except that she didn’t seem to remember the accident or any of her time until she awakened in the hospital.
As Buffy ended the call Angel was surprised to find himself on the floor, not having noticed that he’d seemed to crumble along with his dreams.
In that time he’d thought a lot about what happened. Pushing aside his desperate need to have his one friend back, he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t meant to have people like Cordelia Chase in his life the way he’d had her for that one golden day.
Whether she had wanted to believe it or not, his soul was both a gift and a curse. It was a gift in that it let him know someone as beautiful as Cordelia, and it was a curse because it would be too easy to lose himself in her friendship, in her acceptance. Buffy might believe that the curse was confined to sex, but he understood that it wasn’t in the act, but in the moment of forgetting who he was, what he was that danger lay. And forgetting seemed all too easy in Cordelia’s open smiles.
This was best for all of them, and although a part of him would always mourn the loss, he’d moved passed the grief and onto infinite gratitude that he, with all of the suffering he had caused, all of the atoning he had to do, had been given such a perfect, if brief gift. A day in the sunlight could not have been as bright a light in his darkness as the memory of acceptance in Cordelia’s eyes that day.
But still, a small part of him hoped, even as he knew the impossibility, that she did remember, and just didn’t want to share their special time with the others. And although he didn’t really believe that to be true, he knew that he’d never be able to completely let the hope rest until he saw her, until he looked into her eyes.
It was this thought that held him as he entered the library. Seeing her there, at the end of the table, was like a jolt of lightening to his overtaxed nerves. Knowing he was quickly moving past looking and onto staring, he was curiously upset and relieved as Buffy stepped into his line of sight.
“Hey, Angel. You’re just in time. We’re about to go out and track down some new menace that I’d tell you about except I stopped listening to Giles after ‘venomous mucous’. Cordelia’s agreed to bait our hook and we could use all the back up we can get.”
At Buffy’s words, his eyes jerked from the Slayer to Cordelia, searching for signs of injury that would keep her from being a part of the night’s activities. Seeing none, he questioned her directly.
“Are you sure you’re up to that?”
“Pfft. Don’t worry about me. Just make sure that you guys get your butts in gear when I scream. I definitely don’t feel like running around that disgusting cemetery in these heels.”
Don’t worry? Impossible, thought Angel as he tuned out Xander’s no doubt asinine reply.
As he blended into the shadows he watched as everyone gathered their weapons of choice and slowly filed out of the library. Cordelia was the last to leave, but upon reaching the door she turned.
Locating Angel in the gloom not far from the exit she smiled hesitantly.
“I wanted to thank you for the daffodils you sent. They were beautiful. I’ve always loved daffodils.”
Moving forward, Angel finally had a chance to look deep into Cordelia’s eyes. And even as a part of him wept for what he didn’t see, a part of him rejoiced as his certainty grew, now that he was so close to her, that she could definitely endanger his soul.
“You’re welcome, Cordelia.” Angel repeated the words to her that he’d said that first night, but he no longer waited for recognition that he knew wasn’t going to come. Instead he reached over and pushed the door open for her.
Throwing him a confused glance and a tentative smile, Cordelia turned and made her way out of the library. Letting the door swing closed behind him, Angel followed, determined not to lose sight of her on this or any other night. Wherever they were patrolling, whatever they were fighting, he was now stuck to her side like glue.
Because whether she knew it or not, Cordelia Chase was his best friend.