“Wow…look at you!”
“I see your vocabulary has improved a bit since I last saw you,” Cordelia responded with a faint grin, and Xander returned it with a sheepish one, a dark brow quirking when he picked up the teasing glint in her lovely eyes…eyes that held shadows even as she spoke lightly.
“Sorry,” Xander’s eyes again ran over her newly shorn hair appreciatively, “it’s just…wow!” he repeated, his grin widening when her eyes rolled.
“I take it you like?” Cordelia’s hand rose to touch the blunt edges tentatively, still not quite used to it herself. Xander nodded instantly.
“Oh, yeah. At first it was just a shock- I didn’t even realize it was you until you looked up after we bumped into each other,“ he admitted, adding; “and yeah…it really suits you- makes you look more…”
“Human?” They both laughed.
“I was gonna go for mature- but that works too,” he teased. A short silence settled between them as they took respective sips of their coffee.
After the initial shock wore off, and the surprised questions kicked in, Xander had paused his twenty questions ramble to suggest they hit the coffee shop a few doors down. After a slight hesitation, Cordelia had agreed.
And there they now sat, facing one another at a small table, sizing each other up. Xander’s initial discomfort had eased off after half an hour of casual catch-up, inwardly surprised by the noticeable changes in the former Queen of Bitch- and not just physically.
Her tone was easy, her comments thrown in as he filled her in on the latest in Good Old’ Sunny D were lacking in the edge of mean she’d once perfected into an art form. But the almost tangible veil of sorrow that hung around Cordelia’s slimmer figure as well as her seeming reluctance to talk about her new life in L.A. was what threw him the most. From past experience, he knew that a tacit Cordelia was the one that hid bad things in her life.
“So… what brings you from deadboy’s batcave to our creepy, demon-infested neck of the woods?” he finally asked, pretending not to notice the almost imperceptible flinch that jolted her hand by dropping his eyes to his cup and reaching for it. “It’s just…you were so gung-ho about never setting foot here again.”
“I had some vacation time due and decided to stick to somewhere a little familiar,” Cordelia forced a slight smile onto her face before taking a long sip of her cooling coffee. “Plus, Hawaii? A little out of my price range nowadays,” she added with a wry grin, which Xander returned.
That he could relate to. “Makes sense, I suppose.” He agreed. “Been here long?”
“About a week now.” Surprise lightened Xander’s eyes.
“And yet we haven’t seen you around, which is pretty amazing considering how small this place is. Where are you staying?” He finished his coffee and put the cup slowly on the table. “Don’t say you’re enjoying the rustic ambience of the Roach Motel!”
She pulled a face. “I may have changed- but I prefer not to share my sleeping space with bugs.” With a shudder she added “Been there, done that, and believe me when I say I didn’t wait for the door to hit my ass on the way out,” she shuddered for good measure.
So, where are you staying?” He asked. Cordelia kept her eyes trained on her finger that traced the floral pattern imprinted on the Formica table as she debated her reply.
“Just outside of town.” Deciding a little white lie was better than most probably worrying him- or, worse still, it getting back to Buffy, she added; “A friend in L.A.- her parents have a small place here. They let us have use of it for a few weeks.” Glancing at her watch, she got to her feet. “Speaking of which… I’d better get back. She’s waiting on the milk.” The growing list of lies fell easily from her lips, but strangely she felt no guilt for doing so. Needs must and all that shizz.
Xander instantly rose up with her; surprisingly looking disappointed, and reached over for her grocery bag. “I’ll give you a lift.” Her tactic forgotten, Cordelia pulled the bag closer to her chest, then shot a look of surprise at him.
“You have a car?” she asked but on seeing his back stiffen a little, was quick to soften the sharp question with a faint grin. “Which is something I don’t have the pleasure of anymore. God, I miss my Corvette,” her sigh more than a little wistful.
Xander’s expression reflected sympathy even as he replied. “No car. A truck – but it’s clean,” he assured her hastily.
“What, no candy wrappers and half eaten pizza?” The twinkle in her eyes belied the serious expression. “Wow. You’ve grown as a person,” she smirked cheekily when he grinned and winked, then stepped around the table to head for the door
“Thanks for the offer of a lift though, but after being cooped up for a couple of days, I’m kinda looking forward to the walk.” She explained as he fell into step beside her, moving slightly ahead of her to open the door.
As they exited the coffee shop, it was on the tip of Xander’s tongue to insist, but at the determined expression on her lovely face he let it go. It was the middle of the day, and from experience they both knew it was probably the safest time to be on foot. With a shrug of his broad shoulders he fell into step with her.
At her look of enquiry he explained; “my trucks just up there” and pointed it out
Once they’d reached it she paused and turned to face him. “Thanks for the coffee. Xander. I actually enjoyed our little tête á tête,” Cordelia smiled up at him and lightly punched his arm, but her smile soon faded; teeth worried her lip as she thought of how to put her request across without it coming out all wrong. “You know, I really don’t feel like the doing the whole Reunion Girl thing this time round. Could you…?”
Xander caught on pretty quickly. “My usually flappy lips are sealed. Scouts honor” h,e made the sign with his hand and Cordelia couldn’t help giggling. He’d been thrown out of the Scouts within a week of joining after being caught red-handed hiding a frog in the rucksack of a visiting Girl Scout’s Leader.
“Can we, um… do this again, before you head back to L.A.? – The coffee thing?” Xander added at the lift of a finely arched brow.
Cordelia found herself relaxing a little more, reassured by his easy stance and open, friendly expression. “Sure, why not? Hold on…” Opening her purse, she dug around inside until with a murmur of “gotcha,” pulled out her cell phone. “Do you have a number I can reach you at?” she asked, inwardly glad she had a monthly plan, which meant at least another two weeks or so before the dreaded bill arrived, which would inevitably end with her being cut off. “Or I could give you mine-?”
Xander instantly shook his dark head, an expression of alarm flaring in his warm brown eyes. “Not of the good, methinks.” He replied hastily, a wry grin tilted his full mouth as he explained. “Believe me, you’d understand if you knew Anya.” Shuddering theatrically before adding, “my life wouldn’t worth living if she ever found another girls’ number on me. ” Especially one belonging to Cordelia Chase’ he thought to himself with a gulp.
Cordelia smirked, recalling Xander’s earlier mention of the ‘love of my life’- said with a pained grin and added him to her call list instead. After lingering a little while longer as he went through his work schedule and free time, Cordelia left him with a promise to call and a cheery wave.
Xander watched her go, his brow furrowed in thought, unable to shrug off the feeling that all was not well in Cordelia-Land right now.
Recalling how close-lipped she could be- her financial fall from grace a few years back being a perfect example, Xander hoped, as long as it wasn’t just a polite ‘I’ll call’, he’d have a chance to find out soon enough to maybe help.
Cordelia’s hand shook a little when inserting the large, heavy key into the mansion’s imposing front door, her heart racing from the energetic walk back.
Although Xander had promised not to breathe a word, there was still that little insecure- and paranoid voice going off in her head that maybe, just maybe, she should only trust him 88.5 percent. That amount didn’t make her feel so mean, as she had, in fact, put more faith in his promise than many in her short life.
But it hadn’t stopped her from checking over her shoulder every three steps all the way back.
Making sure the door was closed firmly and relocked, Cordelia turned to face the lobby and looked around with a weary sigh.
When she’d first arrived, she’d found drapes that had felt stiff and cumbersome under her hands from, most likely, being shut for so long, and just pulling them open made a big difference- the large picture windows letting in bright sunshine and cutting through the morbid (and creepy) gloom.
It made her feel much better about being here; constant darkness and artificial light just reminded her of the lifestyle she’d been living until thrown out on her ear. Although dusty and obviously neglected, Cordelia couldn’t deny the magnificence of the building.
Growing up in Sunnydale, Cordelia knew the history of the place well – especially this part of town, that had once, according to her parents, been the very epitome of wealth and status- until many of the properties were tragically destroyed by a spate of earthquakes in the area.
Ennis House had been designed by the Architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1924, but although avoiding the fate of the others at first, had finally been damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, and the owners after considering the chances of it happening again- and the cost of repairs had upped and abandoned it.
It was a shame, Cordelia had thought, when she’d first looked around the place. The Architect had pulled out all the stops on the mansion, combining elements from his past work with a new vocabulary created specifically for the sun-drenched, slightly rugged topography of Southern California. Aware that his client shared his affinity for Mayan art and architecture, he’d drawn inspiration from that culture’s highly ornamented and organized buildings. But now the state of decay was heartbreaking.
From past talks with Angel, in which the mansion had come up after Cordelia had come across the keys in the vampire’s pile of rescued belongings from the old office, she found out that due to the earthquake damage, Angelus, and later, Angel, had only used a small portion of the large building, avoiding the areas that weren’t deemed safe to either human or demon.
On her solo tour the morning after arriving, Cordelia had found that, surprisingly, there was a working generator, which was a relief at night for lighting- although she’d been very careful to double check drapes and keep the lighting to a minimum to avoid possible interest.
Making her way through the echoey building, she finally deposited her shopping in the relatively bare kitchen. Not that Angel of old had needed a stove or any mod cons for his none-human foody habits and total lack of friends, but luckily there was a working fridge and even a crappy old microwave.
As Cordelia was so far from being a cordon bleu chef it didn’t bear thinking about, it was more than adequate for her needs. She was just grateful that there was hot water too, as her best find had to have been the fabulous – and anally- spotless bathroom off from Angel’s old room.
Not that that had lasted long what with a growing pile of damp towels and various toiletries strewn around on every available surface. It was at those times she missed Dennis most of all. Although her ghostly roommate was most likely enjoying the break from being chief cook, bottle washer and all-round picker-upper of all things Ms Chase.
The free-standing tub was a hedonist’s dream- big enough for both herself and Angel, she’d thought at the time- and then had flushed a deep red at the ease with which she had placed him of all people-demons, whatever, into such an intimate scenario.
Thinking about it now as she put her meager supplies away, the heat was again quick to surface. Although putting it down to the fact that it had most likely popped into her head due to Angel’s past use of the opulant tub, after what had transpired between them the last time Cordelia was face to face with Angel, just the thought of intimacy should have been totally off the menu.
Trouble was, although traumatic, it left its mark in her in ways that still made her blood zing when her thoughts went back to that night.
There was no ignoring the fact that Angel had gone in No-Friends Land and sexually assaulted her. But the fact her body had succumbed to his manipulation with an ease and spontaneity still caused heat to grow in her belly and filled her with mortification and a deep sense of shame.
That her anger at his actions was more self-directed wasn’t lost on her either. Whatever had been going through his head at the time had nothing to do with feelings of love. Cordelia knew that, which was why, even if she could ever bring herself to forgive him, she doubted she’d be able to forgive herself for giving Angel such an easy target.
Dismissing the recollection of his obvious arousal and lack of control, she strove to keep in mind what had occurred after, which had hurt- still did, beyond belief.
“Jeeze, get a grip!” she muttered to herself, slamming the fridge door and keeping herself busy for the rest of the long day in the hopes of squelching the irrational yearning to be back by his side.
Her need for him scared her beyond belief too.
Angel dug his clenched hands deep into his sweatshirt pockets as he shadowed several demons seemingly too distracted by their haste to get wherever they were going to notice him.
Passers-by shivered inwardly at the tight pale face and unfocused black gaze, quickening their step to widen the distance, unable to help checking over their shoulders in case they’d caught his eye. Oblivious, the vampire continued on his way, eyes on his targets, but his thoughts elsewhere.
Several weeks of enforced solitude and the urgent need to find his errant seer in sheer conflict with that of dealing with Darla and Dru had hardened Angel to a point of bleakness that wrapped around his soul.
Although warmth hadn’t been a part of him for centuries, he’d never felt so chilled. His only respite being the heated dreams that had been plaguing him since his last confrontation with Cordelia. She invaded his mind constantly, and what had first caused him shame on recollection slowly turned to frustration and growing anger towards her.
Rather than soothe the man and demon, the erotic dreams had escalated his desire for Cordelia to a point of twisted need. So great that the soul that still governed his actions and thoughts to a degree was now ruthlessly shoved into the background and practically ignored.
Only the stronger need to get rid of the possible threat to her and to a slightly lesser degree, his abandoned family, kept him in L.A and not gallivanting all over the country desperate to find her.
What he would do when he finally had a chance to look and come face to face with Cordelia was still in debate. Fall on his knees and beg forgiveness? Irrational thoughts of unmerited punishment pushed aside clarity. Making sure she never had a chance to run again; ignoring the fact that it was his fault she’d fled in the first place.
Self inflicted isolation doggedly eroded Angel’s veneer of civility day by day. His grasp on what was acceptable behavior was slipping by the minute. Flickers of sane reasoning did little to quench irrational anger aimed towards his Seer.
Abruptly pulled into the present by the sound of a heavy clunk, the vampire refocused to see a warehouse door judder shut behind the demons he’d been stalking. Shaking himself into alertness, Angel pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt, gameface sliding into place with an ease born of centuries of practice.
These ending scenes are cannibalised from S2, the episode
“Me and my girl, we’re not just the new thing in town – we’re the only thing in town. And we’re in the market for some… Well, one doesn’t really want to use the term ‘muscular slaves…’ – Actually, one does. Unfortunately for most, we’re only looking for the best. Those creatures who not only excel at devastation, but revel in it. Our crusade is one of malevolent joy.” Angel moved through the demon crowd, head down as Darla grabbed center stage amongst the demons congregated in the condemned warehouse.
Dru, who stood by her side gasped as he slipped past the demons standing behind her. “Eyes like needles.” She uttered with a little shiver.
Darla glanced at her with a frown. “Dru, I’m working here?” she muttered, attempting to keep the alluring smile on her pretty pale face, but the other vampire seemed not to hear her, now swaying gently, a faraway smile on her equally pale face.
“He sees you. Sees what you were.” She gasped aloud and took a step closer to Darla and whispered, “You’ll never be alone again.”
“Stop! – J-just don’t.”
”He’s watching you, my sweet, right now.” Dru continued on, oblivious to Darla’s growing anxiety, who’d spun around to check out the crowd of surrounding her.
“Angel.” She pushed into the crowd almost desperately, a childlike yearning twisting her delicate features.
“He wants to punish us. He thinks we’ve been naughty. – He remembers when you were warm.” Dru’s mouth drooped sadly, reaching out to clasp the blonde vampire’s arm.
Darla spun around to face her, spitting out, “Shut up, Drusilla!” Dru turned away, her mouth clamping shut while Darla attempted to shake off her growing anxiety.
Releasing Dru’s arm she stiffened her spine and turned back to the quizzical eyes of the congregated demons. “Now, as I was saying, if you think you have what it takes to join us, auditions are tonight, here.” Ignoring their low whispers she pulled a business card out of her cleavage. “… at this address. Winners will have the opportunity to foment mass-destruction; losers will be gutted and left for dead.” She dropped the card on the floor with a flourish.
“Have a nice night.” Darla added with a strained smile and grabbed a hold of Dru’s arm, hustling her towards the door “Come on,” the smile abruptly dropping away, eyes lowering to hide the rush of disquiet that refused to go away.
Five minutes after, Angel stood in the deserted alley outside. His features softened into human as he pulled his hood off. Leaning against the wall, Angel glanced down at the card in his hand, eyes blackening to pitch as cold resolve filled him.
Several hours later, Darla and Dru walked up to the abandoned warehouse they’d chosen as their meeting place. “I want to make this quick, alright? We get in there, weed out the losers, and get out. I’ve got precious little patience left.” Darla spat out the words to Dru, who looked at the building with an enchanted smile.
“Oh, it’s beautiful! Dank and dark. It reeks of death.”
Darla’s returned smile was as dry as her voice. “That’s motor oil, Dru.” The willowy brunette approached the building and put her hand on the handle of the door.
“Ten little soldiers, all in a line. A shot rings out” she slapped her hands sharply; “down to nine.”
Darla snorted in disgust. “Ten? I’d be happy if we could find three who can hack it.” she slid the door open and they walked in to see the floor littered with demon corpses and severed limbs and a pile of dust between them.
Dru looked down her slim nose, her blood red lips drooping at the corners. “Dead already? Bad soldiers!” she chastised uselessly while Darla looked around and locked eyes with Angel, who stood casually leaning against the hood of a dusty car, smoking a cigarette.
“I should have known.” Darla smiled, unable to quell the surge of pride she felt at her boy’s success, for a moment ignoring the fact it possibly meant their failure. Dru on the other hand looked disconcerted and shook her head:
“A shadow.” she lifted her hand as if trying to wipe away a cobweb in front of her face, never taking her dark eyes off Angel for a second. But Darla seemed oblivious to the growing menace in the rank air.
“Why so far away, my love? Why don’t you come over here and … stake me?” she asked, frowning uncertainly when met with continued silence and total lack of reaction. Angel’s face, bruised and smudged with dirt, was expressionless as he mantained his outwardly relaxed stance and drew heavily on his cigarette until the tip burned a searing crimson as Darla took another step forward. “Angelus?”
Angel finally moved, throwing down his cigarette butt. It ignited a trail of gasoline a few feet in front of him. Darla and Dru looked from him to the flames, confused for a moment as to what was happening – then they realized the flames were racing towards them. Before they could shake out of the shock stilling their flight, the flames ignited the puddle of gasoline they had been unknowingly standing in.
Then they screamed as they were engulfed and begin to burn, swiveling quickly round Darla grabbed up a sledgehammer leaning next to the door before following Dru at a run out of the building..
Angel turned around to pick up his bag of weapons, revealing a can of gasoline sitting on the hood behind him, and walked slowly over the now burnt-out trail to follow the screams. He watched unemotionally as the burning vampires made for a water hydrant, Darla quickly knocking the top of a fire hydrant off. She and Dru stood under the spray of water, letting it extinguish the flames, then sank down to sit on the edge of the sidewalk under it, with Darla holding Dru.
“I’m burning. Make it stop, please.” Dru whimpered pitifully, and Darla leaned in protectively.
“Shh. Shh. That wasn’t Angel.” She replied, her face a picture of shock.
“He’s gone. He’s all gone. Oh – it hurts! It hurts!” Dru cried, attempting to touch her face then flinching as burns connected with each other and almost melded together.
“Wasn’t Angelus either.” Darla muttered, too shaken to offer real comfort. “Who was that?” she asked out loud, for once unaware of her surroundings, thus missing the soft thud of footstep approaching them.
“Your savior” Her head jerked up at the sound of the husked yet cold voice, and the borrowed blood in her veins curdled in unfamiliar fear.
“And your executioner,” Angel added thickly before lifting the stakes held in both hands and plunged them swiftly down and into the ragged chests of both vampires.
He stared down for a moment as the dust swirled before being washed away with the flow of water, his expression blank, then he reached down for his bag and walked away without looking back.