Cordy sniffled over a cup of coffee, feeling stupid for sniffling but unable to stop it as she drank her coffee out of ‘that stupid, arrogant vampire’s’ cup.
“Can anyone join in the pity party? I’m a newly paid up member!” Cordy swiveled round in her seat at the familiar yet quivery voice that came from the main entrance of the hotel. Taking in the tousled blond hair and tearstained face of the petite girl standing in the doorway, Cordy’s mouth dropped open.
They both sat nursing coffee, and lost in their own private hells, when Buffy finally broke the silence. “How’s life been treating you?”
Cordy pulled a face. “I can honestly say- like a major suck”
“Hmm” Buffy took a sip of her coffee.
“What about you?”
“Good…till I came to L.A.- I now join you in your major suckage. Cheers!” They clinked cups.
More silence, then Buffy glanced up briefly. “Had the mother of shocks today.”
“Oh. Just the one?” Cordy figured one wasn’t so bad. The blonde shook her head.
Cordy rolled her eyes. “Right- cos there’s never just one!” she commented drolly.
“Nope, there never is.” Buffy stuck her finger in her rapidly cooling coffee, stirring it. “Angel told me about the whole turning evil gig- how did that work out?”
“The same old, same old; ya know: cackle loudly, betray your friends, carry evil spawn- kill, maim and basically try to take over the world.” Nonchalantly spoken; eyes deep wells of pain.
“Cool!” a pause “actually, I can see why that wouldn’t be much with the coolness.” She flicked the brunette a sympathetic glance.
“Yeah- kinda sucked- for them. Me? Thankfully blissfully ignorant of it; at the time, anyway” A long pause followed that, and then Buffy looked up.
“Found out Spike is alive; well, undead and kicking. – And, boy, was he kicking!”
“And that’s suckage for you?” Cordy frowned; the blonde nodded morosely.
“Yeah… no; well, it IS if you find him hanging all over some floozy.”
“Okay…that’s a bit dated- how about skank?”
“That works for me.” Cordy took a sip of her coffee, and then asked, “Has this skank got a name?
“Yeah… Fred I think” Cordy’s coffee shot out of her nose in a not very ladylike manner
“F-*cough*Fred? *Splutter* ” pulling herself together with the help of a-little-too-healthy back slapping from the visiting slayer, Cordelia wiped her eyes and finally made eye contact with her.
“I think our monosyllabic by-play should now evolve into real conversation, don’t you think?” the light fake tone now completely gone from the brunette’s voice. Buffy stared at the girl sitting opposite her across the counter for a long moment, then visibly sagged.
“Yeah; time to be all grown up and less BTVS-ey” She finally agreed equally lacking in forced lightness…
“I mean… when I was a lot younger, I used to think about the whole getting pregnant and having kids deal. The idea was all wrapped up in the excitement of carrying a new life and the joy of giving birth- me; I get impregnated THREE times, and every one of them fucked up my mind and was ultimately evil.” Cordy concentrated on the fingers that twined and twisted in her lap before continuing.
“I’ve always been a survivor; but now… I just can’t seem to deal with this crap. I don’t know where I’m going anymore” Cordelia rubbed her face wearily, “All I do know is here is so NOT where I wanna be right now.”
“What about Angel? – Yeah, I can see why you’re mad at him,” she caught the raised fine brow and grimaced. “Okay, pissed to high heaven with the sometimes totally clueless vampire- but he loves you.”
Cordy sighed. Great! He’d even told his ex-love…that should make her feel better, right? And it did, but that wasn’t the only area of conflict between her and Angel. Could they work through it? She honestly didn’t know.
“If love was the answer to everything, Buff, you two wouldn’t have split up- God! Sorry, that came out so totally different than I meant it.” Cordy grimaced and reached out a placatory hand.
Buffy felt strangely honored in a way to see the real Cordelia Chase; less the snark, arrogance and cold indifference that she still recalled acutely. It was a side she’d never seen…the woman she was looking at now, she could easily see herself making friends with her. Whoa!
“I get what your saying, no probs- but isn’t it worth fighting for? – and before you bring up the weird similarities again, let me tell you, and I never thought I’d say it, but we were never friends, and I think you need that as a real basis for love.” Cordelia stared at the blonde in a moment’s shock before dropping her eyes.
Angel was-is her best friend. For a few years, that’s what they were- at first . Regardless of other, deeper emotions that had crept in, at least there was that. Trouble is, was just friendship enough now?
“You know, if you really need to get away right now…” Buffy took a deep breath before continuing after getting the brunette’s attention.
“We could always use another pair of hands” Buffy grinned at the expression of shocked disbelief on Cordy’s face. “The pay kinda sucks big time,” she admitted.
“That’s one of the hazards of a career in Demon fighting”, Cordy finally spoke; forcing a lightness she didn’t feel into her tone. “Plus I had the advantage of working for a boss seriously tight with a buck: okay, not such an advantage.” Cordy smiled with genuine humor for the first time in a very long while, and her face transformed, giving Buffy yet another glimpse of the true beauty within- then it melted into an uncertain frown.
“Are you being serious here? –I’m not saying yay or nay right now, only I think you should be careful offering something that sounds pretty darn tempting to me right now.”
“Oh, I’m deadly serious- not quite sure how long it’d take Xander to get over the shock, though,” Cordelia rolled her eyes and snorted inelegantly, which caused Buffy to choke back a giggle.
“Can I…can I think about it?” the smile faded and the shadows slid back into the brunette’s eyes. “Cos you know, no matter how much I want to run away right now, a part of me doesn’t want to go out like that- a coward.” Buffy leaned forward and patted the other woman’s hand lightly.
“I can think of a lot of descriptors where you’re concerned; not all peachy, either” she grinned cheekily for a moment, and then her face turned quietly serious. “But ‘Coward’ isn’t one of them.”
A fresh flood of moisture threatened to fill Cordelia’s eyes, but she forced them down; she’d done way too much of that lately. Her eyes settled on the blonde’s looking past the light-hearted smile.
“What about you?” She asked, her voice serious. Buffy shrugged and grinned. “Oh, I’m sure I won’t get the urge to throttle you- not all the time anyway!” Cordy shook her head.
“Not that; this- Spike.” Instantly the grin melted away, leaving a pensive sorrow that tore into Cordy’s heart.
“Oh, I think he’s pretty happy where he is,” Buffy curled her lip. “I mean, he’s been here for months. He had plenty of chance to tell me he was around, but he didn’t- got himself another little pet by the look of it too.” She couldn’t keep the bitterness out of her voice.
“Fred? Seriously, Buffy, they’re just friends.” Cordy gave a grin, adding, “Her clothes may have upgraded to ladyvamp, but her head and body are still all romantic and dreamy- and she’s with Gunn as far as I know.” Cordy frowned. The last time she was here, they were together.
“Yeah? Who’s Gunn- you don’t mean some kinda fetish thing or anything do you?” they both laughed at the images that brought to mind, then Cordy told her about Charles Gunn.
“But I haven’t seen Gunn- or Wes since I woke up.” That was something she still couldn’t get her head around, thinking they’d at least make an appearance; surely they’d understand her reluctance to set foot in that place- and Angel hadn’t mentioned them at all so far.
“Plus I saw both Spike and Fred here, and all he talked about was you,” she added softly, not adding the rest he had to say; that was something she still needed to get her head around.
“Yeah, well, “Buffy shook her head and yawned. “I’m not in the awake enough mind to even think in a straight line right now, what with the traveling and seeing Spike – and did you see who Angel has for a secretary?” her eyes widened. “He wouldn’t even let me stake the bitch- and he said she was still evil!” She shook her head in disbelief.
“Welcome to Wolfram & Hart; Evil Incorporated.” Cordy’s lips twisted bitterly, then she rose to her feet with a strained smile. “God, look at the time! We girls need our beauty sleep; well, not exactly need, us being so darned gorgeous and all”
Buffy stood up and stretched like a feline, then struck a coy pose before they both giggled, heading for the stairs as soon as the main doors were locked and the lobby lights turned off…
Leaving a certain anxious dark vampire hovering outside and slamming his head off the wall.
Loves old and new having heart to heart talks. Could his unlife get any worse? As Angel slowly turned around to walk away, he paused.
“Leave it,” He ordered under his breath before continuing on towards his car. After several seconds, the bleached vampire also turned away and melted into the shadows.
“Buffy’s getting ready to leave,” Cordelia informed Angel coolly, glancing at her watch as she did so. “In fact, her cab should be here soon. She’s asked me to go back with her,” she added, a thoughtful frown on her face.
Angel searched her eyes desperately trying to read her thoughts. Although he’d heard it mentioned the night before, up until this moment, he’d shrugged it off; Cordy wouldn’t- couldn’t leave…. could she?” “And?” he finally asked, his face tight with restrained emotions when she stared at him at him long and hard before replying.
“Truthfully? I think it would probably be the best for everyone.” He growled low in his throat and turned abruptly away, fighting for control over his primal urge to scoop her up and lock her away somewhere…somewhere she couldn’t escape and leave him. Again.
“Not for everyone,” he eventually replied, turning back to face her. Cordy frowned; dipping her head and fixing her unreadable gaze on invisible lint she plucked carefully from her skirt. “Things have changed- a lot.” Looking up, she continued more strongly. “I don’t like that you’re working for Evil Inc; you’ve no intention of stopping that and returning to the mission-” he cut her off angrily.
“One, I work for me; already told you that. Two: still helping the helpless.” Her lips wobbled for a second at his achingly familiar phrasing.
“The ‘helpless'” she air quoted, “being clients of Evil Inc who pay good money for bad deeds?”
“Stop calling it that- and no… not all of them are clients,” he raked his fingers through already disheveled hair then raised stormy eyes to hers. “I still go out there – alone, and help out where I can.” He revealed in a quieter voice.
“Okay…” Cordy conceded, and then looked around. “What about this place? This one suddenly not good enough for the big highflying vampire/CEO.” His teeth gritted at the snark lacing her light tone.
“I suppose you’d miss all the frills; like designer suits, fancy cars…” she continued blithely, pausing and then adding, “blonde assistants.” Before she could blink he was looming over her, hands gripping the arms of the chair and his face too close for comfort.
“That was a mistake,” Angel reminded her tightly. Cordy pursed her lips, hoping he couldn’t feel the fine tremble that shimmered through her body at his close proximity.
“A mistake.” A small smile touched her full mouth for a second; fading just as quickly. “You have a hell of a lot of those hanging from your belt, Angel- so do the others.” Looking him right in the eye, she added softly. “Are mine the only ones that are accountable?” Angel recoiled a little at the pure bitterness that clouded her lovely eyes, but still refused to move.
“Don’t do this to us, Cor.” His unneeded breath brushed across her mouth, and she licked them unconsciously, drawing his darkening eyes. “I’m trying here.”
“No kidding,” her quick comeback lifted his eyes back to hers. A faint smile whispered across his mouth, quickly erased by her next words. “And let’s be honest here. There is no ‘us,’” she added almost as an afterthought. “Maybe once I thought…” Cordy closed her eyes against the pain that flared in his, and then squeezed them tight before capturing his gaze once more, sadness tingeing her now clear expression. “A big part of me thinks it would be best if I left.”
Before he could respond, footsteps sounded on the stairs, drawing their attention. Buffy hopped down them, seemingly unaware of the tension- except for the wary expression in her eyes. They snapped from the vampire to the brunette.
“Sure you won’t change your mind, Cordy?” Angel’s narrowed gaze returned to the woman he still caged in the chair.
Keeping her eyes trained on the blonde, Cordy shook her head with a faint smile.
“I’m sure- but if I do, is the offer still open?” her voice sounded uncertain to Angel’s sharp ears, as if she were regretting refusing almost soon as she’d said it, which made his heart sink. Buffy nodded, cautiously watching Angel, her eyes narrowing in silent warning at his continued intimidating stance over the other girl.
Angel read the veiled warning clearly, and slowly straightened up, taking a reluctant step back as he did so. “Buffy.”
“Angel,” hazel eyes reflected mild amusement, but neither the vampire nor the Slayer noticed. The small scene strangely reminded her of a Xander/Angel moment of years past. Angel cleared his throat after an awkward silence.
“So… you’re going back today?” his eyes dropping to the heavy backpack she held easily in one hand. Buffy nodded, and then looked down at her feet as she read the silent question in his knowing gaze.
“Don’t.” She descended the rest of the steps before speaking again. “My head can’t fit in anymore angst right now.” Cordy’s expression empathized wholeheartedly. Been there, doing that… still.
Angel remained silent. The ‘relationship’, past and present, had nothing to do with him now- if at all, really. He’d lost the right to interfere in Buffy’s life the night he left. And to be honest with himself, he preferred it that way.
Anyway, this was something Spike and his ex had to figure out for themselves. Angel was far from blind- when it came to anything that didn’t involve him, and hadn’t missed the pure joy- quickly followed by an expression of betrayal and wrenching hurt when the blonde vampire had entered his office, draped all over Fred like an accessory. Spike always did have rotten timing.
“Fred is a friend, Buffy,” he felt the need to say something, though; as much as it pained him to do anything to help the irritating ass-thorn in his side of late. Buffy’s face closed off instantly.
“Just leave it, okay? Right, gotta go.” She threw the backpack over one shoulder before walking over to join them; her blue eyes locked with hazel for a moment before she spoke.
“You’ve got my number; call me if you change your mind, or… need anything else, okay?” Cordy smiled up at the girl she’d never have thought in a million years would end up being a friend and nodded, then followed the urge to rise and briefly hugged the blonde before pulling away awkwardly, both now with foolish grins on their faces. Angel looked on silently, shuffling his feet and feeling like he was intruding on a private moment.
“Safe journey,” Cordy’s grin widened into a genuine blinding smile. Buffy nodded and took a step back before turning her gaze to the silent vampire. “Good to see you, Angel.” Her eyes narrowed for a second as she added, “though not so great to see where you’re at right now. sort it out… or next time, maybe I’ll have to visit in an official Slayer capacity.” Angel stiffened at the not so subtle warning before relaxing enough to let a slight cool smile touch his mouth.
“Good to see you too. Safe journey.” Buffy returned an equally cool smile then turned and left, waving a casual hand just before she exited the hotel.
Silence again permeated the lobby until Cordy shifted her feet and turned to make her way to the coffee machine. “Want some?” she indicated the mug in her hand, and after a brief pause, Angel nodded.
He watched carefully as she pulled out another mug- his old one, and set them out before lifting the coffee jug and pouring the hot black liquid into them. If he hadn’t have been looking so closely, he would have missed the fine tremor of her hand.
Cordy was staying- or, not going to Italy anyway. Angel knew he should have been relieved, but the knowledge that his ex-seer had itchy feet kept him tense and ready.
But ready for what?
If she really wanted to leave, move on, could he stop her? Angel rolled his heavy shoulders. Oh, he could stop her if he let his demon have his way, but he’d pay for locking her away with him every single moment he looked into her lovely eyes.
She’d end up hating him- if she didn’t already. But looking at her now as she approached and handed him his mug, he knew that wasn’t true. Angry, frustrated; disappointed with him and decisions made when she was ‘absent’….
“I don’t want you to leave…us, Cordy.” It was out. He didn’t feel better for saying it though.
“What was that all about?” Cordy responded with a question, waving a hand towards the main door before one brow arched high knowingly. “Evil Inc getting a threatened kick up their collective Asses – or was that just for you?”
Angel’s jaw tightened at the faint gleam of dry amusement that touched her eyes. “Did you hear what I said?” He ignored her question doggedly. They’d been down that road too many times in the past few days, and the last thing he wanted was to rehash it- especially now.
Cordy pursed her lips and retreated, waiting until she sat on one of the couches before looking up at him. Angel paused, and then followed tentatively, easing down beside her and cradling the drink in his large hands.
She sighed, long and weary. Everything had changed. A year lost in between, and then waking up to a nightmare world- not a shred of the old left behind.
Wes and Gunn seemed to be two of the casualties. Cordy hadn’t seen either of them since waking up in that room. Lorne…. on the outside, just as flamboyant, but that special spark he’d once had was sadly lacking. Fred…now Fred was so unlike the way Cordy remembered she still couldn’t quite get her head around it. And Angel….
He’d changed. Oh, he’d deny it till he was blue in the face; but he had, and she didn’t like this new version…well, maybe not liking was a little harsh. Angel was an unknown quantity to her now.
Take-charge vampire who although had seemed to have gotten wise to the fact that stepping back got him nowhere seemed to have jumped to the far end of the spectrum without even taking a breath. The last few days, Cordy had seen sides of him she could never have imagined him having.
It worried her that some of those sides were too attractive for her own- or his health. This possessive thing he had going over her … Angel had always been protective – except when it counted drifted slyly through her mind, and she shrugged it off with a shudder that the vampire noted with mild confusion. Now it wasn’t so much protectiveness as… a determined brand of ownership. That was new and not just a little scary.
“There’s no real place for me in your world any more, Angel.” The tight set of his jaw and narrowing eyes told more than words could ever do.
It definitely wasn’t protectiveness she could feel rolling off him in waves. This was something…. Something she couldn’t put a name to right now; all that she did know was the feeling called out to a primal part buried deep inside, something that needed to stay buried.
“You’ve moved on- all of you.” Her eyes slid from his and rested on the mug she held tightly in her lap. “I…don’t fit your slice of the world anymore. And I certainly don’t recognize my old… friends,” her voice lowered bitterly as she once again thought of the two other men who’d once stood at her side through thick and thin. What was their deal now?
To be honest, Cordy really didn’t think she wanted to find out right now.
Angel sat back and remained silent. So many things he wanted to say, to refute, but at the same time, a lot of what she said rang true. He didn’t recognize them – or himself, either. Gunn in particular was a completely different animal. Whatever was going on in that head of his? Not that Angel had ever really taken the time to ask since that night that changed everything.
As for Cordelia; she’d been though so much, and the more he thought about it the more he wondered -what right had he to keep her here – when it seemed with every day since she’d awoken that it was purely to fulfill his own need for her to be so?
“You really wanted to go- to Italy?” he finally asked her. A small smile touched his pale mouth. “It’s really something over there at this time of the year.” Cordy stared into his eyes, not quite sure if he was saying what she thought he was.
“Yeah, it is. It was one of my parent’s favorite vacation countries.” A short and shaky breath puffed out before her darkening eyes met his somber ones. “You want me to go?”
Angel dropped his gaze and fiddled with the pressed crease of his pants “I want whatever makes you happy,” he replied simply, slowly raising resolute eyes to hers again.
His heart felt like someone had suddenly put it in a vice when uncertainty flickered; he could read her decision before she even spoke.
“Then…okay. I think I’ll go.” Cordy refused to cry as she waited fruitlessly for Angel to say something- anything. But he remained silent; his gaze now unreadable.
If she’d wanted to know of his feelings, there were no doubts now to what they were.
Him not fighting- actually encouraging her… it was completely at odds the way he’d been acting up until this moment that it threw Cordy completely. It crossed her mind that it all seemed to about-turn since his ex-love had arrived- then felt petty for bringing Buffy into this. It was obvious where Buffy’s heart lay.
No… this was purely about Angel. His seeing Buffy obviously made him rethink the whole in-love-with-Cordelia gig. If she’d had any lingering doubts, Angel has just quashed them as surely as he’d also just unknowingly crushed her heart.
“I guess I’d better pack then.” She finally spoke, breaking the strained silence. Angel instantly rose to his feet as she did.
“I’ll help you,” he began, only to be halted by an abruptly raised hand and frigid “no thanks, I think I can manage a few cases of belongings.” He nodded and swallowed hard as Cordy retreated, watching her climb slowly up the stairs until she disappeared from sight.
Then he let the tight hold on the back of the chair he’d been holding, crush the wood to tinder.