Title: Breathe Again
Summary: Never did make sense how Cordy acted like it had been a week instead of three months that Angel went away- especially after they hadn’t long been finding their feet.
Spoilers: This is set the morning after Angel returns from Tibet [Heartthrob].
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Notes: Reworked in places.
Thanks/Dedication:To Helen, who betared most of this fic, before commitments elsewhere took her away. *mwah* And to Lysa who was wonderful enough to take on the last several chapters, and help make the ending turn out as I’d hoped. *mwah again* & Christie for a line of Angel dialogue she suggested & I just had to use. She knows the one 😉
Feedback:would be nice.
Sometimes as I sit at my desk when doing nothing much, I get to wondering just how I got to where I am now.
So much has happened… so different to the life I had planned for myself; but you find out quick that expectations have to change when your fortunes are abruptly reversed.
What if I hadn’t gone crawling to Russell Winters that night? Would I have ever met up with Angel again? A large part of me doubts it.
And what if that majorly ugly vamp hadn’t *been* a vamp? Would I have ended up a kept woman- or a one-night stand that pushed me further down the zero rung of fame I was on? I have to shove down the wave of nausea as I think of what that one night of desperation may have turned me into. I shudder at the all too true possibility. The guys would look shocked and deny that would have ever happened, I know, but you have to wonder what desperation will lead you to.
But that didn’t happen; and Angel never once asked me why I was at that creep’s mansion that night. That kinda makes me wanna hurl sometimes, cos God knows what he thought of me then.
Maybe that’s why he looked so surprised when it sorta came out that Wilson Christopher, the demon spawn donator, was my first attempt at the horizontal tango. Probably was a little skepticism there although I didn’t pick up on it; and yeah, I looked- hard.
I thought I’d worked Angel out. But he never ceases to knock me on my ass- and not always in a good way. He saved me. He took me in and accepted me, warts and all…and that made me… care about him; a lot. Opening up to him over time seemed so easy. Big mistake.
Let’s think about his Beigyness. That sure was an eye-opener. Being hurt was an understatement. Abandonment is an ugly word; one I have a lot of personal experience with.
The night Angel fired us I just couldn’t get my head around it. Even as we sat in Caritas and drank ourselves blind, it didn’t hit me until the next morning when I woke up with a killer hangover followed rapidly by a vision that almost took me over the edge. Not quite.
That edge came when Dennis automatically picked up the phone and dialed the hotel… through my struggle to keep yesterday’s lunch safely in my stomach, it took a while for me to realize that I hadn’t shared the news with my phantom. The answering machine kicked in and the sound of my own, oh, so cheery voice sent jackhammers raging through my fragile head.
Then I fell over the precipice.
Luckily for me, Dennis disconnected the line before the sobs wrenched from my throat. That woulda been a bit embarrassing, my ex-best friend hearing the beginnings of my melt down. I’m such a lucky gal.
All of the attention and the gifts of clothes afterwards, to be honest, made me shudder inside. Was that all it took to get me back on his side? I played his game and whee-ed and whooped as I held armfuls of new clothes, deliberately ignoring Wesley’s expression of disbelief at my turnaround. God, neither of them understood why.
It wasn’t the clothes. It was never the clothes. I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but I *needed* to get back to that place with Angel. I needed him in my life. Does that make me weak? Probably. His attention was a balm to my insecurities and I let him in.
Then he left me again.
Oh, he had good cause for needing space; I get that. Doesn’t mean I didn’t feel abandoned all over again. Three months; three long months he left us- *me*
Just beginning to feel secure around him again and then the love of his life dies. The fact he was rescuing me at the time made me feel like crap too. My reaching out to him that night was brushed off without so much as a look. He ascended the stairs to his room, but I was too hurt by his abrupt reaction to my instinctive soothing embrace- plus the whole Willow crying silently and the news of the death of the Slayer to follow him immediately, as I would have normally done.
After listening to the redhead until the early hours, we three finally trudged home. The next morning we returned, finding Willow had left. Angel, we saw neither hide nor hair of. I had shoved my hurt feelings down deep, as it wasn’t the time to be selfish, and had finally gone to his room with a mug of hot blood. I knocked several times and silence greeted me. After five minutes I placed the cooling mug on the floor and returned to the lobby.
The following day we returned to find a note from Angel on Wes’ desk.
Need some time to myself. Blah blah. I cursed myself for my immediate reaction of hurt yet again and agreed with the others that maybe it was for the best. God, I’d felt so mean and selfish being upset that he hadn’t even taken the time to say goodbye. But wounds were still relatively raw and I had this pathetic idea that I mattered enough in his unlife to at least make an attempt. Especially when I later found out he’d taken the time to talk to Gunn. Does that make me a bad person?
Now, as I look at him talking to the guys, just a day since he’d returned, I find that hurt pouring to the surface along with the guilt. Always the guilt. My selfish streak was obviously buried, not gone as I’d stupidly imagined. I don’t know who I dislike more right now, him or me.
Oh, I gave a stellar performance last night; well, it *was* wonderful to find him on the other side of that door. But as the hours went by, the euphoria wore off and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Then I cried for most of the night. He was back, but things had changed in the interim. Me? I realized I hadn’t changed that much at all.
Mostly all the feelings I had for him buried deep. No one would ever be able to abandon me again, I decided a few nights after he’d upped and left. Each day of absence strengthened the wall around my heart, and except for my little slip when first laying eyes on him last night, I had settled back behind my wall and ignored the confused looks he eventually sent my way…like he was doing right now.
I turned my head and concentrated on the open file in front of me when he finally walked over; ignoring him when he perched on the corner of my desk and just stared. “So…” Angel cleared his throat before continuing, and I knew he wanted me to look up. I didn’t.
So, how have you been, Cordy?” I flicked him a brief glance and an equally brief smile.
“Good. You?” Answering a question with a question kept my response to a minimum, and at the long pause before he replied, I knew he’d pretty much picked up that I wasn’t in chat-mode.
I watched out of the corner of my eye as he shifted, his thigh sliding a little nearer. Moving the file out of the way, I also moved my chair further from him. His thigh stilled and I could feel his dark eyes boring into my throat as I nervously played with the silver pendant I wore; then it occurred to me he was probably wondering why I wasn’t wearing his gift.
“Good,” he finally replied, and his voice was as subdued as mine was cool. “Would you like a drink?” A tinge of hope colored his tone and it took all of my new determination not to look up and ease his way with a smile.
I pointed vaguely towards the drink Gunn had brought over. “Nope, I’m good,” my tone so cool I almost cringed. The silence stretched until I could hear the muted conversation of Wes and Gunn clearly across the lobby; then the thigh shifted again and Angel finally straightened up. But I could still see him hovering from the corner of my eye; his hurt confusion almost eating into my soul.
“Okay…good,” and didn’t I feel like the biggest bitch known to man? So I glanced up and smiled blindly towards him before ducking my head back down- but not before seeing the hurt shimmering in those chocolate eyes. “I’ll just…” his voice petered out and his large hands pushed into his pants pockets and he rocked a little.
Don’t bail now, Cor… this is for the best, I inwardly reminded myself, forcing my body to remain in the chair when he finally turned and walked away.
But as I walk away from my best friend’s desk I feel like I made a detour and ended up in an alternative dimension; one where my best friend refuses even to look me in the eye.
When that basement door had opened abruptly last night, the vision of Cordelia’s beautiful face glowing with a blinding and joyful smile made me want to hold onto her and never let her go.
In fact, I did attempt to, but she had other ideas and I was released far too soon for my liking. Linking her fingers with mine had eased part of my disgruntlement, but that didn’t last long either.
The easy smiles lasted a little longer, but as the hours drifted by, those dimmed too, and all too soon, Cordy had made her excuses and left the hotel. My thoughts on her almost cool behavior before she left were temporarily forgotten when I paid a visit to our new occupant, Fred, and by the time I went to my room, showered and made my bed before sliding between cool sheets to sleep off the long journey home, I was too tired to really think about the last few hours.
Next morning brought it back all too unpleasantly.
Cordelia was already at her desk when I descended into the lobby, refreshed from a good night’s sleep, and I immediately approached her with a pleased grin.
It had taken three months of being without her to realize just how much I needed her in my life.
The grief I’d experienced over the loss of Buffy had lessened, but would never go completely. Though the sabbatical had helped me sort out my head. To a degree I was finally at peace. Once the pain of her death had eased, I’d realized the pain wasn’t so much the loss my ‘true love’, but of a dear one who would always have a place in my heart.
Without even being consciously aware, my heart had moved on. By that final month, I came to the startling conclusion that it had not only moved on, but was full with feelings for another. That had been the moment I knew I had to return. The knowledge that my soul had been secured by the real monks as a reward for killing the demons that had taken over the monastery gave me that extra push.
Before I had even got as far as her desk, Cordy had risen to her feet and muttered ‘bathroom’, click-clacking away from me. I stood there watching her until she disappeared around a corner, and then fidgeted as I waited for her to return.
Ten minutes had passed and I’d continued to stand there gradually feeling like an ass, then the main doors had swung open and my boss entered briskly.
“Morning, Angel. You’re up early,” he’d commented, glancing up from the paperwork he was holding to grace me with a vague smile before dipping his head back down. How he didn’t trip over or walk into furniture of walls always amazed me. Wesley Wyndham Pryce could walk around with his nose stuck in a book and hand out drinks and still somehow avoid having an accident or collision.
Although the man had seemed more into his reading material than looking at me, his whole body language cried out absorbed interest rather than the avoidance I’d earlier picked up from my seer. I glanced once more towards the direction of the bathroom and hesitated, then the door behind Wes opened again and Gunn entered with a casual greeting, strolling over to the checkout counter to offload the tray of drinks he’d brought with him.
With an inward sigh, I turned and walked over to join him. Wes vanished into his office for a moment before exiting to come over and grab a cup of tea. General conversation began and shortly after Cordy finally emerged and called out a warm greeting before sitting back at her desk.
Gunn grabbed a drink and sauntered over to her, pausing to chat quietly and hand over her coffee. I watched silently as she laughed lightly at something he’d said, her lovely face split with the warmest smile, then turned back to her work when he walked away to rejoin us.
I half listened to the chat between my friends before finally walking back over to her desk. Taking a breath I perched on the edge of her desk, my heart sinking a little when her shoulders and spine visibly tensed. It seemed I hadn’t read her slow change from happy-go-lucky to Miss Cool last night.
I shrugged it off and spoke, then had to clear my throat before continuing in an upbeat tone. Her abrupt reply and returning of my own question threw me for a second. I shifted a little, my thigh inadvertently touching the edge of the open file on her desktop. Instantly, Cordy moved it away and then slid her chair further too. As she did so, a hand rose to her throat and well-manicured fingers curled around a silver pendant that rested just above the neckline of her silky blouse.
“Look how it brings out my breasts!” the cheeky remark she’d made last night echoed through my head even as I wondered why she’d chosen to wear a rather plain necklace instead of the one that had made her eyes glow with pleasure; the one I’d taken so long to choose.
“Would you like a drink?” I asked, hoping to breach the gap that seemed to be widening by the second. Her shoulders tensed a little more and I swallowed thickly with a surge of self- annoyance as she pointed vaguely towards the one Gunn had brought over a few minutes earlier. I’d forgotten all about it in my need to get her to talk to me in more than two word sentences. Could I be more obvious?
“Nope, I’m good,” her voice so cool I almost cringed. The silence stretched until I could hear the muted conversation of Wes and Gunn behind us word for word; all too aware that still she hadn’t even looked my way. I finally straightened up, but found myself unable to walk away.
“Okay…good,” then Cordy glanced up and smiled, her shadowed eyes locking with mine for an instant before she ducked her head back down. But although I’d caught a flicker of… what, regret? The coolness I’d heard in her soft voice was enough for me to retreat.
“I’ll just…” my mouth dried up and for a moment I had the insane urge to reach out and pull her out of the chair and shake her; to demand she tell me what I’d done so I could make it better.
Only the knowledge of our friends presence several feet way put that idea into the ground, and with deliberate care, I shoved my hands into the pockets of my pants in case she noticed the way they slowly clenched into fists. I rocked on my heels for a moment longer and then turned to walk away and join the others.