Angel hesitated before starting the car, looking sideways at the young woman sitting in his passenger seat. It felt wrong that he didn’t mind. He’d argued with Wesley for an hour that he needed to go to Buffy to… he wasn’t sure what he would do when he got to the cemetery, but he’d been insistent that he go it alone.
It was about her and him, their connection and whatever happened, whatever came over him had to be done in private. Including the journey, which he was planning on taking his time doing, driving slowly, tempting dawn to come before he reached Sunnydale so he’d have to wait longer. Prolong his visit.
But now his journey wasn’t alone and it wasn’t with a stranger. Nor was it with a friend, which in some way and manner Wesley had become. In his passenger seat sat Cordelia Chase, in the back seat of the convertible was her suitcase and she was now staring at him, expectantly and he thought maybe impatiently.
“Are you going to start the car?”
“Oh.” He ignited the engine and pulled back out on the road, glancing at the Mercedes stranded on the side of the road. “Are you sure about just leaving your car?”
“It’s not mine.”
Angel stared at her.
“I didn’t steal it. Geesh. Think much of me.”
“Well…” he trailed off realizing she hadn’t meant did he remember her but that he didn’t think highly of her. “I mean I was surprised to see you, you know on the side of the road.”
“I’m just glad you weren’t looking for dinner.”
He smiled wryly she never had been very tactful, choosing to go to the point of things and he had to admit it was refreshing after days of Wesley and Gunn walking around him on eggshells. Not sure what to do or say about Buffy.
“It’s my boyfriends. I’ll call him as soon as this damn thing gets a signal.”
Angel glanced over at her again and saw she was fiddling with a cell phone. “Mine is always dying.”
“You have a cell phone?”
“Wesley insisted all of us have one for quick communication in dire circumstances. Usually it doesn’t help much.”
“Wesley?” Cordelia’s eyes widen. “As in Wesley? Giles’ Meek and Stuffier Twin?”
Angel laughed. “He’s gotten less meek. Actually, he’s not bad in a fight. Useful with the research. He helps me out.”
“In L.A. I have an agency. Private Investigations but we specialize in supernatural stuff… I try to help.”
“You mean, you help us L.A. citizens not get eaten by vampires and other stuff?”
“I try to,” Angel gripped the steering wheel tighter. Buffy’s face and then Doyle’s flitting through his mind followed by a brief second of Darla. Anger and emptiness filled him and he forced himself to remind himself why he hadn’t fallen to pieces. “It’s all that matters, I guess,” he whispered.
“Well what else are you going to do? Go into movies, they’d wonder why you insisted on only filming at night. Some guys have big egos but they only cater to the unknowns so much you know…” Cordelia trailed off and Angel heard her swallow. “It’s good you still help fight the big bads that are out there,” she said her voice softer than usual.
Angel had to agree, it was good he was helping, but he didn’t know what to say. Instead he kept his eyes on the road and tried not to think about why Cordelia had been heading to Sunnydale. It was for the same reason as him and he was reminded again that he’d wanted to do this alone. Yet, was Cordelia really company? He looked over at her and realized she’d never think of going with him to the cemetery, she’d probably go to the house first. She’d be out in the daytime and not lurking at night in any shadows.
He was still on his own journey, to Buffy, on his own. The way he wanted it and that was why it felt okay to have her in the car. She hadn’t brought the reason they were both there up once and he had a feeling she wouldn’t.
“Where do you want me to drop you off?” He asked.
“Oh. Um. My mom’s I guess. She has a guest room, I think. I forgot to even call her. I wasn’t really planning…” she trailed off and smiled at him. “I don’t always think ahead when I decide to visit Home Sweet Hellmouth.”
“Where it used to be?”
“Oh. No. Government took that away when they got my dad on paying his taxes. That and everything else. No my mom left him and found a smaller place and a new husband. It’s on Emery Street.”
Angel nodded. “Okay.”
Angel glanced at Cordelia and waited.
“Thank you for saving me from the side of the road and for the ride.”
Angel shrugged. “Wasn’t going to leave you out there in the dark.”
Cordelia nodded. “No, right. You’re a dark avenger. Saving people from the big bads of the world.”
Angel looked at her and felt something tug at him. He would have helped anyone in her situation, especially so close to the Hellmouth, but he had felt a small sense of relief it hadn’t been a stranger, he’d liked seeing a familiar face and hearing a familiar voice. It had been nice. “It was nice to see you. See a familiar face.”
She smiled brightly at him but suddenly turned away her smile fading away. “I never wanted to come back here.”
Angel nodded to himself, turning his focus back to the road toward Sunnydale. He felt the same way, he never liked visiting Sunnydale and this time was especially unwanted.
Angel pulled his car in front of the house Cordelia pointed out as her mothers and looked at it. It was sterile. There was nothing on the lawn or the front porch that showed the tenants were even human.
“It’s ugly,” Cordelia said as she turned and pulled up her suitcase. “No wonder I’ve never visited before and didn’t think to call her first. At least Daddy has a sense of style,” she paused and face him with a smile on her face. “You know, a sense of style due the fact he had large sums of cash from not paying his taxes.”
Angel gave her a wry chuckled and figured it was part of how she dealt with her parent’s choices. “I’ll wait.”
She moved out of the car and looked at him. “For what?”
“For you to get inside.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes as she straightened up but she didn’t turn around. Instead she stayed standing, facing him and he realized her breathing was getting louder and more controlled.
“Thank you,” Cordelia said as if it was one word and the she spun on her heel. Angel watched her make her way onto the porch, realizing with each swing of her hips that she was building up her determination to get through whatever would happen after she rang the bell.
He heard the doorbell when she rang it and started a bit. He’d forgotten how quiet towns like Sunnydale could be after being in the city so long. The sound of a doorbell at night could be heard by him at this hour of the night. So much could be heard at this hour in a small town, yet no one spoke of the screams that had to punctuate the air of the city over the Hellmouth. He frowned and wondered at the oddness of the world, how humans remained so ignorant of their surroundings and what was around them.
He jumped in his skin again when he heard a loud knocking and focused his gaze toward the porch. Cordelia had put the suitcase down and was now knocking on the door. A loud insistent, constant rapping the kind that made the most reluctant hurry to open the door to stop the sound. Cordelia knew how to be annoying, Angel thought, waiting for her mother to answer the door.
The door swung open a full minute of knocking later but it was a man in a ratty brown robe and a sour expression. The un-welcoming body language of the man made Angel uneasy and he found himself hoping Cordelia hadn’t picked the wrong house. She had said she’d never been there before.
“It’s me, Cordel…”
Angel closed his eyes and realized that Cordelia’s conversation with this man wasn’t going to go well at all.
“Cordelia. Chase. Your wife’s daughter.”
“Oh. You. She’s not here.”
“She said she was restless, paid for her to go to Paris.”
“What!” Cordelia shrieked and then she just blew out some air. “Well, Frank, I’m in town for a few days, so if you could just let me in I can settle myself into your guest room.”
Frank stared at her, Angel watched and he could see Cordelia shifting her weight from foot to foot. Then her stepfather burst out laughing and shut the door in her face.
Angel hopped out of his car and made his way up to the porch, listening to Cordelia curse out mother’s husband with hopes that all his hair fell out and with the fact she knew a witch who would curse him with boils if she asked. She jumped when she saw him and let out a small squeal of shock.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“Sorry, just thought I’d carry this back for you. You seemed busy with the boil-cursing.”
“Whatever. I knew I hated that man. He’s beneath my mother, he just makes a lot of money so she… and she took off to Paris without telling me? And worse not asking me to with her!”
Angel tossed her suitcase into the car. “Getting back in?”
“Where am I going to go? I don’t have enough money for the sleazy motel Faith used to live in.”
Angel stared at her. “No?”
“No.” Cordelia sighed. “I told you I didn’t plan this trip home very well. I didn’t plan it at all. In fact I had decided there was no way I was…” she trailed off, looked down at the ground before suddenly opening the door and getting into the car. “This sucks.”
Slipping behind the wheel of his car Angel looked straight ahead, he had an idea in his head but was it really the right idea? He wasn’t sure but it seemed to be the only thing he could do and he wasn’t about to leave Cordelia alone. But there was one other place he could take her and they would let her in. He wouldn’t even have to wait to be sure of that. “I could take you to…Rivello.”
Cordelia gasped and her mouth hung open as she stared at him and he heard her heart beat speed up and could smell the tang of aroused fear.
“Or you can stay with me.”
And as quickly as he’d scared her she calmed down and nodded. “Choice number two. That one.”
He nodded and turned the key in the ignition. He didn’t blame her, the last people he wanted to see were the people sleeping in Buffy’s house right now. He had no plans to see them at all but he wondered about Cordelia. He didn’t think she’d really come all this way because of Buffy and not see them. She probably just wasn’t ready to see them but he had to admit it puzzled him.
She’d dated Xander and she’d spent more time with them all than he ever had. He’d only been connected to Buffy. He shook his head mentally and focused on the drive to where he planned to the spend the daytime hours before he finally found the strength to go to the cemetery.
The awareness that he didn’t breathe flooded Angel the moment he stepped into the mansion. All the reasons he’d left Sunnydale were in the dust-filled air bringing up the days he’d lived in these rooms. The urge to inhale in to steady the slam of emotions was instinct, a tangible thing within that hadn’t died when he’d been turned. It was like the memories of his human life, and right now memories were thick in the air around him arousing pain and guilt. He was trapped unable to move, or do anything but remember.
In this mansion he’d been evil.
He’d lived here and shown no mercy to the human life living around him. He’d felt glee in the violent deaths of men and women whose names he hadn’t known. By chance, luck, or reason he’d been restored his soul, sent to hell and then returned. And found his world dominated once again by Buffy, the protectiveness he felt along with admiration of her strength. He’d fallen even more in love with her and never thought to question why he’d been returned to the world until The First.
The First Evil had used both his guilt and the incessant craving for blood to try woo him back into being Angelus. It’d been harrowing, the vivid dreams of his past, the memories, seeing The First manifested as Jenny Calendar near Giles, other people of his past he’d emotionally tormented and murdered. He’d been weakened by the guilt, let it eat at him and had almost fallen for the trapped and then resolved to give up. He’d almost killed himself, tried to take himself out of a world his guilt told him he didn’t belong.
And again because of chance, luck, or reason he’d been saved. And he had learned things about what it really took to be a hero. The inner strength and determination that it took to do what had to be done not only because it had to be done but because it was right. Once again Buffy had been his salvation. She’d opened his eyes to what he could do with his second chance at existence and that maybe he could make some difference, maybe make up for the evil he’d done.
He’d been brought back from Hell, a place he rightly belonged and it had become clear that it hadn’t been to love Buffy. His reasons for being at Sunnydale never had been about a love affair. Loving Buffy had been a gift but it hadn’t been the purpose for their meeting, or maybe even their connection. And days passed and he saw more and more that he was hurting Buffy by being in her life but not a part of if. He was hurting too, seeing it, feeling selfish and weak for wanting her and he knew he had to leave. He’d had to leave to find out why he he’d been returned to the world, to find out if he could do something to atone and he’d had to leave to allow Buffy to go out into the world and find out who she was apart from the dark world of vampires and slayers.
And In the years since he’d gained friends, lost one and nearly lost the rest. He’d faced his past in more ways than he’d thought possible. Recently he’d fallen into his own darkness and invited the evil inside of him to take over, feeling bitter and unable to care enough to maintain control. But instead he’d found a deeper capacity inside of himself and more knowledge of who he really was and why he was fighting evil in L.A. and with his newfound clarity he’d felt stronger.
But back in the mansion, where he’d made the decision to leave, the reason he was became heavier and pushed against his chest. Irrational thoughts raced through his head; what if scenarios about not leaving, or staying in touch with her more often. It all mixed with the denials he hadn’t allowed himself to acknowledge but had been flitting through his mind since Wesley had told him the news.
He had been hoping when he got here and stepped into a part of his Sunnydale world he’d see her again. See Buffy standing in front of him smiling, laughing and embracing him. Again he felt an odd sensation in his chest as he took an unneeded jagged breath. It wasn’t harder to breathe, he didn’t breathe, it was that he thought what he hadn’t let himself think in days. What he was feeling was grief and for the first time since Wesley had told him the news he allowed himself to think the words.
Buffy was dead and he’d come here to say goodbye.
“Hello!” Cordelia’s voice startled Angel and he blinked, realizing that the woman he’d picked up on the side of the road was standing next to him staring at him with a look he couldn’t read.
“Cordelia,” he said, feeling for the first time since he’d found her that he didn’t want her around. Maybe she’d be more intrusive than he’d thought, what did he really know about her.
“Not only is this place covered in dust but there are spider webs everywhere, you know in between the cobwebs and dust bunnies. I mean I appreciate the offer but I think I rather sleep in your car than on that bed of dusty-ickiness.”
Or she’d keep it superficial, he thought. “I have stuff in the car, in the trunk, some linens to cover up the dust and crap. I didn’t want to sleep on it either,” he admitted to her. His mind falling on the bed, on him and Buffy falling asleep on it once and the next day her mother coming over to remind him how young Buffy really was, how much life she had left.
“For your trunk, dumbass. If you are going to brood I’m getting the damn sheets and stuff. I’m tired.”
He met her eyes and she held the gaze and raised her hand palm forward for him to put the keys into and something about it all comforted him, and the doubt he’d had when she’d intruded on his thoughts earlier vanished. He fished into his pocket and handed her the keys. She flashed him a smile and then walked away and even before she’d left the room he’d stopped hearing her heels on the hard floors. His mind back on Buffy, thinking about what had been and why he was here.
It was weird, Cordelia thought, slipping the key into the trunk of Angel’s convertible. Not once had either of them mentioned why they were in Sunnydale. Cordelia knew he was here to grieve, to mourn, to do whatever he needed to do to accept, or maybe even not accept Buffy’s death. And she was here to…Cordelia sighed and lifted up the trunk. Her eyes sparkling with happiness at what she saw. A rolled up futon cushion that looked as though when freed from the confines of the twine would be as wide as the bed-bug ridden bed inside the abandoned mansion. Plus sheets and three pillows.
“Three pillows,” she whispered to no one and giggled. Who knew Angel was a pillow vamp, she thought her nose wrinkling as she tried to figure out how she was going to carry everything. She couldn’t ask him to, he’d already started his grieving; she’d seen everything hit him the moment they stepped into what had been his home. She wouldn’t invade that, not when he was being so nice to her, at a time she was sure he’d wanted to be completely alone. She wanted to be alone herself and whatever it was she was feeling about Buffy’s death, wasn’t close to the pain that Angel was feeling.
“At least he managed to plan ahead for his sleeping quarters,” Cordelia said to herself, berating herself for not thinking that far ahead. She’d been so busy not planning to be here at all she’d never really thought that her mother might be out of town. And even her mother had been in town the door could have still been slammed in her face. Only instead of her stepfather laughing, her mother would have been saying an insincere apology. Cordelia shivered, she was getting cold.
Pushing away all thoughts she grabbed the bedding materials, putting them momentarily in the back seat of the car, before closing the trunk and locking it up again. She put the keys in her pocket, wondering briefly if Angel would let her borrow the car tomorrow and then figured out how to load her arms up. Quickly she made her way back up from the road to the mansion, dumped everything on the bed, scrunching up her face in disgust at the dust. It was then she noticed Angel had lit a few candles and had seated himself near the fireplace. He had a lighter and she saw the logs but he had yet to light it. He was just staring into it and she bit her tongue, hard, to stop herself from saying something but it worked against her. “Ow,” she snapped, rolling her eyes at herself.
Angel looked over his shoulder at her.
“I was going to ask you something stupid, about the non-existent fire you are staring at…and well, I tried not to and all it got me was pain. You know, since to shut myself up I have to draw blood…” she trailed off, realizing she’d just said ‘draw blood’ to a vampire and then she throw up her hand in a gesture that said to ignore her. And Angel did turning back to the fireplace.
Cordelia sighed and looked around the room, trying to look for anything that made it seem less icky to focus on. The candles were nice, the sun rising outside was lovely too, she thought and then she tensed. She glanced at Angel and then the outside, the dark night turning to gray. The pinks and purples shining in the east. Taking her focus off the outside, she saw the curtains, thick curtains that had been closed at all times while Angel lived her and she wondered who’d opened them for about two seconds, before her mind went to what she had to do.
He couldn’t even decide if he wanted to start a fire, and she mentally rolled her eyes at him and walked to the door they’d used to get in. It had curtains too, since the door had long been kicked in or rotted away, she didn’t know or didn’t care. She grabbed for the fabric and cringed as her hand went through a cobweb.
“Eww,” she whispered under her breath closing them. And it became a mantra as she went from window to window closing out the coming light until she was sure she’d gotten them all. It taken her around the room and she ended up on the other side of Angel who was still staring into the unlit fireplace and she watched him for a moment but knew there was nothing she could do. And even if she thought there was she wasn’t so sure she would do it. He knew why he was here, he was feeling everything probably and she almost envied the fact that his mind was clear about it. Grief. Pure and simple. She still didn’t even really know what had driven her to come. She started toward the bed, intent on making it decent enough to sleep in.
“Is it necessary?” Angel suddenly asked her, just as she started to pass him.
“A fire? Are you cold? Or would it make you too warm?”
Cordelia stared at him and realized she didn’t know. She didn’t feel warm, she didn’t feel cold. She felt…confused. “I don’t think it’ll bother me either way, Angel.”
He nodded, leaned forward and started to start a fire. Cordelia watched for a moment and then walked to the bed. “Feel free to get on the bed with me, I mean it’s huge for one thing and “B” no one should sleep on the layer of dust and dirt on the floor.”
“Thank you,” Angel said as the fire roared into life and he moved back and finally staring into flames.
Cordelia stared at him, something in his voice made it clear he hadn’t meant about the bed. After all it was his bed, she was just assuming he was going to be a gentleman and let her have it. She was Cordelia Chase after all. “For…”
“Oh.” Cordelia bit her lip and suddenly she felt too vulnerable. Everything about this situation was too intimate, she could see right into his raw grief. “I didn’t do that for you, I can’t sleep with the sun staring at me.”
Angel turned away from the fire and looked at her. She held his gaze, forced her facial muscles to remain unfazed. She had to look like she meant it and who was she fooling. She did mean it. She hated sleeping in the daytime, or with lights, the candles were okay. They were so few and closer to him anyway. She didn’t want the sun on her; it hadn’t been about her. She focused on the thought and it became real. Then she smiled. “I’m going to bed now, Angel.”
Cordelia woke up cold and disoriented. She pushed at the soft blanket that seemed to be plastered to her, feeling sticky and gross, and sat up looking around her disoriented. Then she remembered, shivered and made a face. Moving out of the bed, or rather off the futon on the bed, she grabbed her suitcase from the floor and flung it onto the bed. Looking through it, she chastised herself for the millionth time since she’d packed it, she hadn’t packed a sweater, or her robe. Nothing to warm herself up with. She hugged herself and stared at the thin shirts, and pants in the suitcase feeling more confused and as empty as always.
“Take my jacket.”
Angel’s voice startled her and she turned to see he was still where she’d last seen him. At the fireplace, the fire had died out and the sun had risen, it was probably close to setting by now she thought. She looked at her wrist and found she’d slept from a 5 am-ish sunrise to 1 in the afternoon. She sighed and rolled her shoulders, what the hell was she doing here. A rustle in front of her made her start and she stepped back realizing that Angel had moved. He was standing right in front of her holding out his leather jacket. A jacket he hadn’t taken off until now she realized and offering it to her.
“No thanks,” Cordelia said, making a decision. She wasn’t going to waste anymore time. It wasn’t really what she wanted to do, but something was making her do this so she might as well start. Plus she had a feeling she wasn’t going to get a shower, or get to pee in this place. “I need your car.”
“My…car?” Angel asked looking and sounding apprehensive.
“Do we have a working toilet?”
“Well, I don’t like to urinate in the woods or in front of vampires. Also I feel gross. I need a shower. And I know where I can get one and I’m going there. Now.”
He stared at her.
“You know, I didn’t even have to ask, Angel. I have your keys.”
He continued to stare.
“Okay, taking the silence as a yes.”
“Where are planning to urinate and shower?” He suddenly asked, his mouth turning up into a small almost smile at the end of the sentence. Cordelia supposed at the oddness of the question.
“The house,” Cordelia said, simply, running her hand over her slept-in and severely wrinkled clothes from last night and frowning.
Cordelia looked up from her clothes and met his eyes. She felt jolted by how dark they were, nearly black brown full of things she had no right to be looking into, the instant she thought it Angel closed the door she’d peeked into. His expression shifted first to unreadable and then it was anxious. “Could you not…”
“Mention you? Please. I don’t even want to mention me.”
He looked at her, apparently baffled by her last statement but then he just shrugged. “Thanks.”
“Whatever. I need to at least brush my teeth before I leave. And it will be in your car by the way, not that you have bothered to say: Yes Cordelia, go ahead and drive it. Not like I can use a convertible in the daytime anyway.” She pulled out her toothbrush and toothpaste from a small bag in her suitcase and quickly started to brush her teeth.
“Yes Cordelia, go ahead and drive my car,” Angel suddenly said. “But be careful, don’t grind the gears – you can drive a stick right?”
Her mouth full of toothpaste she stared at him; rolled her eyes and nodded. Then she started to look around for a good place to spit, wondering what on earth she was thinking. Spitting in front of a man, well vampire, but still not very classy and totally embarrassing.
“You’re sure. It sticks a bit going into third.”
She looked over her shoulder at him, motioned at him to step back and waited for him to follow the direction. When he did, she opened the curtained the door, stepped into the afternoon, let it close behind her and spit out the toothpaste. Wishing she’d thought to walk out there in the first place. Plastering on a smile she walked back into the mansion. “Angel?”
“Yeah,” he said walking over to the bed and sitting down.
“Your car is in safe hands with me,” she smiled even wider.
He nodded, his expression growing unreadable again. “Shouldn’t be worrying about it anyway…” he muttered before his eyes grew vacant. Cordelia realized he’d fallen back into Buffy-Mourning mode.
It was why he was here. She was here because, she still didn’t know why but she wasn’t going to waste anymore time. Grabbing a change of clothes out of her suitcase and the bag with her soap, shampoo and other essentials she left. Outside she looked up at the sunshine and thought for a moment that it looked like any other day but it really wasn’t.
Not for her. She was way out of her normal schedule, her normal actions, her normal thoughts. She’d be on lunch break right now back in Los Angeles. She’d be sipping a class of water with lemon and eating a salad. Instead she was gross, in need of a shower and had just had a conversation with a vampire in mourning about his car.
She shook herself mentally and then headed for the car, slipped into the drivers seat, fixed the seat so she could reach the peddles and slid the key into the ignition. Fear gripped her and in turn she gripped the steering wheel. She didn’t want to see them. She didn’t want to see their pain anymore than she’d felt okay seeing Angel’s. She didn’t want to do this but the feeling she needed too that she had too kept burning in the pit of her stomach and the back of her mind.
She had to do this, didn’t matter that she didn’t want to. “Damn you Buffy Summers,” she said, as she turned over the engine.