Title: Mix & Match
Summary: “You’re Welcome” during the beige period
Spoilers: Not set in season 5, but mentions things from then. I’ll probably spoil everything eventually
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Notes: Actually, I had this idea to take parts of episodes from one season and stick them where I felt they should go (hence the mixing and matching). So a lot of the dialogue is from the show and thus entirely the property of the people who own the show -people who are definately not me. (I read the trascript at BuffyWorld. I also realized as I was writing this that I like angst, but only the resolvable kind, so even before I was done I was making notes for a sequel to get myself out of the depressing hole I’d dug for myself. So yes, it is sad, but hey, at least I can fix it later.
Feedback: Sure, but I’ve never written a fanfic before, so please be semi-gentle (i.e. don’t make me cry :)). If you really think it’s bad, feel free to let me know and I’ll try to find someway to replace the lost 20 minutes of your life.
At first he thought he was dreaming. Angel had had this dream too many times to count. He hated it then and he hated it now, only this time something was different.
“Our rats are low -”
Doyle. Angel wondered which dream it would be – the heartbreaking nightmare where Doyle died and all he was left with were the prophetic words on a video tape; or the near bliss inducing fantasy where he finally managed to do something different, be quicker, smarter, not underestimate the hero in his best friend. That dream was wonderful. It was a break in the endless sea of nightmares of lives he’d ended or people he’d failed. Of course, waking up always meant that, no matter what safe havens his dreams might create, the real world was still the same cold, miserable place that he was finally recognizing.
It was this thought that began to drag him slowly but surely from the arms of Morpheus. And as his slowly returning consciousness began to clear the fog from his mind he started to grasp what was different about the dream this time – it wasn’t a dream. In fact, it was more like a memory.
“It says ‘rats’. Our rates are low, but our standards are high. When the chips are down, and you’re at the end of your rope you need someone that you can count on. And that’s what you’ll find here – someone that will go all the way, no matter what.”
As Doyle’s lyrical accent continued to resonate in the background, bringing feelings from home, both sought and unwelcome, Angel struggled to open his eyes. And while one would assume that this would not be an impossible task for a champion of The Powers That Be, Angel’s internal clock told him that it was only a few short hours after dawn, far too early for him to be dealing with anything that required open eyes, especially something that was already stirring emotions he hadn’t felt in months.
“So don’t lose hope. Come on over to our offices and you’ll see that there’s still heroes in this world. Is that it? Am I done?”
As Doyle’s voice faded away, Cordelia paused the videotape. A movement from the bed caught her eye as she saw Angel finally waking up. As he pulled himself into a sitting position she switched her attention from the television screen to offer a sincere smile to her confused friend.
“Cordelia?” Angel hesitantly inquired, sure he must be dreaming still; an endless cataloging of people he could no longer have in his life. Reality was returning with a vengeance and as the ever present bands around his chest began to tighten once again, driving out the tendrils of warmth that had crept into his soul at her sunny smile; he exchanged his uncertainty for displeasure.
“Sorry. I was snooping. I found this.” As she watched Angel’s confusion harden into a scowl she figured that she’d better attack while the iron was hot, get while the getting was good, and whatever other vague clichés might apply to confronting angry, isolating vampires. Although she honestly doubted that facing irate, bloodsucking demons was the root of many clichés. Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound. Aha! She knew there were more out there.
Turning back to the screen she scrutinized Doyle’s beloved face once more before approaching things in typical Chase style – she blurted out exactly what she was thinking.
“The first soldier down. Doyle pissed me off so righteously going out like that, but he knew. He knew what he had to do. Didn’t compromise. Used his last breath to make sure you’d keep fighting. I get that now.”
“Cordy…” Angel sighed out her name. He’d been awake for less than five minutes and already he was utterly exhausted. He couldn’t do this now, couldn’t make her understand. She was Cordelia; she was sunlight and cleansing summer breezes. She was beautiful memories and a home he never thought he’d find again. She couldn’t conceive of the shadows in which he lived; and that was good because she belonged in the light.
He’d do anything to keep her there, even leave her. But she had to go soon, because the soft smile she’d given him earlier had already chipped the walls he’d forced himself to build around what was left of his heart. Walls that left his family on the outside of his life and him alone and cold in a darkness through which even his demon eyes couldn’t see. “There are reasons I have to go after Wolfram & Hart, reasons you don’t understand.” Angel bit out.
“I understand just fine.” Cordelia bit back. Suddenly she stopped and took a deep, calming breath. “I forgot my white flag in my other pants, so would you just take it on trust that I didn’t come here to argue.”
“I guess that depends on why, exactly, you did come.” Angel responded warily. All he and Cordy had done for weeks was argue, what could possibly interrupt that cycle now? His agenda hadn’t change and he doubted her disapproval of it had either. Was this just a new strategy on her part? He knew he’d hurt her when he’d threatened to “move” her.
Oh, not physically, but he’d hurt her all the same. Why was she still trying? Why was she forcing him to hurt her more? She *had* to go. “Scratch that. You know what, it doesn’t matter. Whatever reason you think you have for coming here, you’re wrong. Don’t you get that you’re not wanted here? *I* don’t want you here anymore.”
A flicker of hurt passed through Cordelia’s eyes, gone almost before it had been. Almost. There just long enough for him to see it, for it to burn its way into the tatters that passed for his soul. The part of him that still remained amongst that debris howled in agony, begging him to take back his lies, quickly before they were believed, but the part of him that was held in the iron grip of his grim obsession urged him that this was for the best.
Better hurt feelings away from him, alive and well, than happiness with him and the risk of her being hurt in the crossfire of the bitter hostilities between him and the bastards at Wolfram and Hart.
Angel watched in shock as her brief expression of pain was replaced by something completely unexpected – compassion.
“Careful, Angel” Cordelia warned tenderly, “You don’t want to say too much that you’ll regret later.”
At her gentle yet solemn tone, Angel bit back his automatic retort. He couldn’t tell if it was what she’d said or how she’d said it but he could feel the truth in her words. He’d been pushing her away for so long now that he didn’t know why this would be the moment he would care, but he knew with unquestioned certainty that she was right; he would regret harsh words spoken on this day. Unfortunately that left him little else to say.
Tired and resigned Angel asked one of the few things left to him given these new restrictions, “What do you want, Cordelia?”
“Well,” Cordy paused as if giving the thought careful consideration. “The way I see it its daylight right now, no time for vengeful vampires to be out reigning down justice upon the heads of their foes, so I thought that maybe we could spend the day together. Just until sundown, of course, and then I get that you’re all over the retribution bandwagon.”
Of all the things Angel expected when he woke to find Cordy sitting on the end of his bed this morning, this scenario wasn’t even in the top one hundred.
“What are we supposed to do Cordy? Have a slumber party? Do each other’s hair?”
“Pfft. Yeah right. Like you’d let me touch your hair.” Cordy rolled her eyes at Angel for good measure, in case her pffting was missed in light of his incredulity at her suggestion. “Actually, I thought maybe we could just hang out and talk. You might not believe this, what with being a social boy-blunder and all, but I’ve honestly missed the me-and-you thing.”
Cordelia Chase was the only woman that Angel had ever known in over two centuries who could insult you and compliment you at the exact same time and genuinely mean both sentiments. Unwilling to examine the compliment he focused instead on the insult.
“Hey! There’s nothing wrong with my social skills, and I thought that we weren’t going to say things today that we would regret later.”
With a regal lift of her brow that always reminded him how she got the nickname ‘Queen C’, Cordelia began ticking off points on her fingers. “One, we agreed that *you* shouldn’t say things that *you’ll* regret. Two, I can’t really see any possible situation that would lead me to regret stating the most obvious fact since ‘the sky is blue’, which, what with you being a night person and all you might also feel you can justly contradict. And three, too much alone time obviously make you delusional, name one social skill that you possess – and not draining the hostess so does not count.”
“I…” As Angel desperately tried to think of the last time that he’d even been in a social situation without trying to escape it he wondered how they’d managed to find themselves in the midst of this ridiculous conversation. He really didn’t have a leg to stand on, and he couldn’t even take exception to Cordy’s ‘hostess’ remark because it had been uttered in that uniquely Cordy way with a mischievous grin and laughter lurking in the warm caramel of her eyes.
Giving up any pretense of explanation, Angel settled instead for a look of wounded pride. He might not have social skills but he had ‘Cordy skills’ and he knew that her weakness was always his pain. Any minute now…Bingo.
Cordy’s laughter melted away at Angel’s indignant look and even though she was reasonably sure that she was being played she couldn’t stop what seemed to come so naturally to her.
“Now come on, this is no time to turn into a broody-boy. You’re much better at social interactions than you used to be. Back in Sunnydale you hid in dark corners for most gatherings, but I remember when you came to my party you spent most of the evening talking. Okay, so it was to Dennis, but he still counts. Maybe you just need to find a common ground. You and Dennis have that whole ‘being dead’ thing working for you and- hey! How did I end up defending you from my own insult?”
“Aha!” Angel pounced on her last words, his expression smug. “So you admit you were insulting me!”
“Admit it? Of course I admit it you dork. Have you even met me? But you know,” Cordy returned with a smug look of her own “just because it’s insulting doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
And with a laugh at the return of Angel’s pouty expression she grabbed the vampire and began the impossible task of attempting to tug him out of bed.
“Come on, Angel. I’m hungry. How ‘bout some eggs for an old friend?”
As Cordelia stood there bathed in the glow of the television, the bluish light and flickering of the suspended tape giving her an ethereal radiance, something seemed to break free inside of him trying to bubble its way through the hidden parts of his psyche and into the waking parts of his mind. Angel knew in that moment that he should send her away, that he should enforce the distance he’d created between them.
All this time he’d thought he’d been holding her at more than arms length because he was a danger to her, but seeing her here, warm and loving, he realized that he’d been shutting her out because she was a danger to him. Her soft velvet eyes and inviting smile offered him everything, but they had a steel core to them that made clear that she expected the same returned to her, and deep down inside where even Angelus refused to tread was the fear that he had nothing to return to her, and that one day she’d see that and leave.
He couldn’t be that stupid, could he? Angel questioned himself derisively. He couldn’t possibly be rejecting his family simply to prevent them from walking away first. Was Darla nothing more than the convenient excuse he grasped with both hands, fanning the flames of an irritant into an obsession so that, if he had to be alone once more at least he was the author of his fate?
No! He couldn’t allow himself to think like that. Self-doubts were exactly the opening that Wolfram and Hart would need, and no matter what his deep seated insecurities might be, the evil in lawyer’s clothing needed to be stopped and he was obviously the only candidate for the job.
Cordy sighed inwardly as she saw the cold resolve creep back into Angel’s eyes. She’d been so close to reaching him, but then they had the whole day ahead of them. She let go of the hand on which she’d been pulling and reached up to soothe away the lines created by his ever growing scowl.
“It’s okay Angel. It’s just breakfast. There’s rarely anything life altering about a pancake.”
And as sure as Angel had been a moment ago that this was the dangerous edge of a slippery slope, seeing the almost infinite acceptance in her eyes, he couldn’t for the unlife of him remember why. Dazed and reeling from the effect of having her so suddenly back in his life, Angel gave voice to the only thought that his brain seemed able to coherently string together –
“Pancakes?!? I thought you said eggs.”
Feeling that the tension had passed for now, Cordelia giggled almost giddily and turned to make her way to the kitchen. Casting her piqued friend a flirty glance over her shoulder, she laughingly stuck her tongue out at him.
“Come on Angel, don’t be such a baby. I’d make you more than ‘Cup-o-Plasma’, but it’s all you ever eat. Besides, if you make me those pancakes I’ll be sure to add a little something extra to the old bloody sans Mary, today.”
As he watched her disappearing figure, he began to pull on some grey sweatpants and a black T-shirt, mumbling under his breath, “Threatening to contaminate my blood is hardly the way to get any breakfast extras.” But he was careful not to say it too loud because he knew that no matter how horrible Cordy made his every meal taste with her constant experimenting with ways to ‘spice up’ his mundane routine, it was worth it to have the perpetual proof that she not only accepted everything he was, but that she cared enough to try to make every part of his life better.
Breakfast had been a leisurely affair, and as if some unspoken accord had been reached, Angel and Cordy had kept things lighthearted, content to wrest away these few, precious moments from reality and pretend instead that all was right with their world, with their relationship, with themselves. After the dishes had been washed and the kitchen set completely to rights the couple made their way out of the kitchen, sad in the thought that no more moments could be wrung out for them there.
Taking Angel’s hand Cordelia led him out back to the garden, pulling him down with her to sit on one of the benches strategically positioned to remain shaded throughout the day.
With a look wiser than her years could possibly explain, Cordelia looked deep into the chocolate pools of Angel’s eyes. “I guess it’s time, huh?”
No matter what he may have told himself, or how he might have rationalized her visit in order to bask in the serenity she’d carried with her into the hotel, Angel knew that at some point during their time out of time they were going to have to address whatever really drove her here; back to the man who’d hurt her, left her. But deep inside he understood that if this was the price to pay for the gift, no matter how transient, of her presence once again, he was willing to pay it. Willing to pay this and more to feel like a man again, to feel like family again, just to feel again.
Angel’s brow creased and he felt sure he must have misheard her. Trapped in a world so different than the one in which he’d fallen asleep the night before, he could only stare, helplessly at Cordelia, hoping that she could rescue him from the surreal sea into which she seemed to have cast him.
Sensing his confusion, Cordelia tried to clarify. After all, what was she thinking, she asked herself. Offering Angel blanket acceptance was like giving a Sholvok demon a Stone of Aeraminthia, all it did was cloud their thinking – and how messed up was it that she knew that. She didn’t know who to be more upset with; the Powers who kept putting the endless parade of demons in her head, or Wesley who kept making her look them up. Screw it, she was Cordelia Chase, she could be mad at them all.
Realizing she’d blanked out on Angel for a moment she refocused and found her Champion still grappling with the concept of understanding. Knowing he’d never get it on his own and loving him for that all the more, she set about explaining.
“I understand. Darla, Drusilla, Wolfram and Hart, the all-you-can-eat lawyer buffet. I get it.”
Even before she had finished Angel was shaking his head.
“No. No, you don’t understand Cordelia, you can’t.” Cordelia couldn’t understand this, she couldn’t know. She was outside of this. He’d put her outside where this wouldn’t touch her, where she couldn’t see it. It was the only way to protect her, to protect him. It was his only chance of getting her back when this was all over. His one hope, that in her anger at him for abandoning her she’d remain blissfully ignorant of whom he really was, of what drove him to do the things he’d done.
As his gaze darted frantically away from hers, Cordelia placed her hand on his cheek and gently turned his eyes back to hers. Willing him to see the certainty singing through her soul, she tried again.
“I understand, Angel. Do you? And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry it took me so long to see; to know what you saw when you looked at Darla.”
Angel wanted to look away so badly. He wanted to flee from the sight of his best friend’s seemingly all knowing eyes, but he couldn’t move, he couldn’t speak, he could do nothing but watch, silently, as she prepared to lay him bare.
“All that time I thought that it was a blonde obsession, that you couldn’t let go of your past, that you actually needed to be feeling bad all the time. But that wasn’t it, was it? It wasn’t about any of those things. Wasn’t even really about Darla, when everything was said and done. It was about you. This has all been about you because, in your mind, Darla *is* you, isn’t she?”
Angel sat, stunned by what he was hearing, drowning in a sea of denial. No! This wasn’t about him. This was about Wolfram and Hart and their never-ending campaign to ruin his life. This was about Darla, not about stopping her in her vampire form, but saving her in her human one. This was about her soul making a difference, about proving that even after all that she’d done she deserved a chance at humanity, he deserved a chance at humanity – Oh, God. What was he saying? This wasn’t about him. Was it?
Seeing the comprehension slowly dawn in Angel’s eyes, Cordelia pressed onward, hating that this was hurting him, but also knowing that the strongest steel is always tempered by fire.
“You thought that if you could save her life, her soul, if you could prove that she could be worthy of a second then they’d notice, and they’d see that you were worthy, too.”
Slowly, Cordelia pulled Angel’s head down until their foreheads touched. Quietly, her voice no more than a whisper, she said the words that she needed, with all of her heart, for him to understand.
“You – Are – Worthy.”
“Sshhhh.” Angel could feel the moist air slip past her lips to caress his cheek before his protest had even finished forming in his chest. He knew he had to stop her, he couldn’t allow her to continue in this fantasy where he was some kind of hero. If he was truly honest, he wouldn’t even allow her the misconception that he was an equal. And yet, as if the soft sound that had so briefly warmed his skin contained some mystical incantation, he found himself unable to offer even the smallest dissent.
“Angel, the Powers know what I know. What I’ve always known – You are worthy, you’re just not ready.”
Finally finding his voice, Angel jerked back, out of Cordelia’s soft hold.
“No, you’re wrong, Cordy. But it doesn’t matter, I don’t need the Powers and I don’t need their rewards.” And with that, Angel steadied himself to tell the single greatest lie of his life, souled or unsouled. “I’m fine.”
All of Cordy’s soft, assuring glances throughout the day hadn’t prepared him for the look she had on her face now. If he had to describe it he would lean towards untold disbelief and what could only be identified as a complete and utter lack of faith in his intelligence.
Forcing herself not to jump up and smack the fangs clean out of the inconceivably stupid vampire’s face, Cordelia settled for hitting him with her words.
“Don’t give me that, ‘everything’s fine here’ company line. I’m not buying it. Neither are you. And neither are the Powers That Be. They know you slipped the track, and they want me to help put you back on it.”
How could she say that, after all that had happened? Didn’t she realize that she wasn’t the only one who’d been abandoned?
“You’re wrong about the Powers. They’re not in my corner anymore.”
With that utterance, Angel turned away from Cordelia, away from her faith in The Powers who left him, her faith in the friend who left her. But she wouldn’t be closed out that easily, not when they’d come so far. If only she could reach him, make him see what she saw. How could one person go so far a field so quickly? Walking towards him, she laid her hand on his shoulder, offering the only comfort he would allow.
“I naturally assumed you’d be lost without me, but this?”
He turned so fast that she would have lost her balance had he not grasped the hand previously resting on his shoulder; the hand he now clutched to his chest like a lifeline. Lost in a turbulent storm of emotions two centuries in the making, Angel spoke the only words he knew to be true.
”I am lost without you.”
Cordelia smiled and the sadness that tinged her gaze was lost on the vampire who was drowning instead in the devotion he saw.
“No, Angel. You just forgot who you are.”
Maybe he did forget. Hell, maybe he never even really knew, but she seemed to. She seemed so sure. If only she could –
Desperate. Pleading. And at that moment Cordelia might have sold her soul for the ability to do just that. But understanding was a harsh taskmaster and she knew that no matter how badly she wanted to soothe the ragged edges of Angel’s spirit and convince him of the goodness of his soul, some things he had to learn on his own for them to be meaningful.
And with that in mind and holding on to the knowledge that his greater good was being served by the immediate sacrifice, she took a deep breath and prepared for his disappointment.
“Uh, no. That’s for you to figure out, bubba.” And no matter how she’d readied herself, the distress etched into his features was more than she could silently stand.
“I can tell you who you were. A guy who always fought his hardest for what was right, even when he couldn’t remember why. Even when he was miserable, which was, let’s face it, a not small portion of the time. He did right. And that gave him something. A light, a glimmer. And that’s the guy I fell in -” Cordelia caught herself, aghast at what she had almost revealed, but Angel was too lost in her words to notice her slip. “That, um… the guy I knew.”
Angel was no longer staring at her, he was staring through her; through the armor she’d crafted to fend of uncaring parents, through the walls she built to stem the pain of adolescent betrayals, through the resigned acceptance in which she cloaked herself to stay sane, first on the cusp of Hell, and then while the pain of LA flooded all to often through her brain. None of those untruths held him as he moved, effortlessly, through all of her defenses to the real Cordelia, to a little girl afraid of being alone, but nearly unable to bear the pain of being hurt by love once more.
And yet, for all of her fear, the woman that housed that girl believed in him; loved him.
Who was the real Angel? Was it the monster that he imagined or the man that she believed in? And suddenly, he knew and nothing was hard anymore. There was no question of who to believe – it was Cordy, it would always be Cordy. She gave him purpose, direction. She linked him to The Powers, she led him to a family, she bathed him in humanity. If she saw something good in him, if she believed in the man that he could be then who was he to do other than strive to be that man everyday until he actually became him.
As if the skies had opened and sent forth a torrential rain, Angel felt cleansed. For once, in all of his years since his turning he felt as if the good in him outweighed the evil, as if the scales had tipped in his favor. It was a catharsis of the soul, and even as it left him renewed on an almost cellular level, it also left him bone-weary and drained of energy, all his reserves having been spent.
Barely able to hold himself upright, Angel wrapped his arms around Cordelia’s supportive form. As if even his very words were fatigued he breathed out an entreaty to the young woman who had healed him.
“I’m so tired.”
As she’d known how to restore his spirit, so she knew how to mend his body.
“Then come, rest with me.”