Cordelia eyed herself in the mirror. Mentally running through a checklist she had used many times during her reign as Queen C of Sunnydale, she gave herself an approving smile. Hair perfect, makeup flawless, dressed to kill, she was ready to face the day.
Much more importantly, to face Angel. Granted, she was digging into her old bag of tricks by wearing a façade of perfection and carefree attitude, but she was desperate. Desperate to forget about the embarrassing scene she made yesterday in front of everyone and desperate to show them that as far as she was concerned, everything was alright.
And she was alright. She had been through worse.
So what that Angel slept with Darla. So what that he had lied to her. So what that he didn’t feel the same way she felt for him. And what was it that she really felt for him? She bet herself that she really didn’t love, love Angel. That’s right, it wasn’t even really that kind of love. She had been mistaken. Mistook what she felt for him as something more than it was. After all, she had never really been in love before so she had nothing to compare the feeling to.
More importantly, she had never had a true friend and had nothing to compare that type of love to. That’s it. Angel was a good friend. One that she cared about more than anyone else in her life at the present moment. She cared about his well being and happiness but she, Cordelia Chase, WAS NOT IN LOVE WITH ANGEL! “Okay Cordy,“ she addressed her reflection, “state, repeat, believe. I am not in love with Angel. I AM not in love with Angel. I am NOT in love with Angel. I am not IN love….”
Angel sat and stared. He hadn’t moved from the crimson chair that sat in his suite since he had returned to the hotel the night before. He didn’t even move when he heard her footsteps coming down the hallway. “Go away Fred.”
“Angel, Cordy’s downstairs,” came a muffled and hopeful reply.
Fred timidly opened the door to the darkened room and stepped inside. Gently closing the door behind herself she turned on a lamp and nervously looked around the room, knowing that she was failing to hide her fear at imposing on Angel. Her eyes darted around until she finally saw what she was looking for.
“Wesley was looking for a certain book. He thought you might have it up here.” she explained as she crossed the room to Angel’s personal stash of aged books. Angel stared, not looking her way.
Fred’s eyes brightened and she knelt down smiling to herself at all of the beautiful objects in front of her. “I’ve always liked books. My cousin Winnie used to tease me something awful about the way I used to spend all my time in the town library, I know what your thinking,” Angel thought she must not or she would shut up and leave.
“Winnie, Winifred, yeah it’s the same name. My mom and her sister both wanted to name their girls after my great-aunt Winifred Anne Huckabee but I was born first so my mom named me Winifred and then when my cousin was born seven months later my aunt decided that she had just as much right to name her daughter Winifred and boy did that start a feud in the family until Uncle Gus said that they should call her Winnie and me Fred. Of course, later on I was a little disappointed that I got the boy name.”
Angel took a deep unneeded breath, leaned forward, and rubbed his forehead with one hand, trying to relieve the headache that was Fred. He cringed as she continued.
“Every afternoon she and a group of girls from school would go to the corner drug store and flirt with boys and talk about school and which ever girl that didn’t happen to be there that day. I never went. I spent my afternoons in the library. Not that they really ever invited me. It didn’t really hurt my feelings any, not really. Not as much as when she teased me about likin’ books more than boys, but I guess she didn’t know too much about the library, or about Harold.”
Angel finally looked at Fred, noticing how her eyes had glazed over, as if she had been transported somewhere else in time. She really was a sweet girl. Even if she never had a point and seemed to ramble on about nothing in particular. Wesley obviously had sent her on a meaningless errand to relieve himself of her company for a while.
Angel made a mental note to ’thank’ Wes later. He knew he would regret the next two words for the rest of his existence, but he felt a little sorry for the girl. “Who’s Harold?”
“Oh he was our town librarian. He was so brilliant. His parents owned a farm outside of town. He was about three years older than me. He loved books too. His daddy refused to send him to college because he was the only son and would be responsible for the farm someday. The people in town said that he would have gone insane if it hadn’t been for his part-time job his dad let him take at the library. He was brilliant, funny, and absolutely gorgeous. We would sit and talk for hours about science, literature, history, anything…everything. He was my best friend. My only friend.”
“You were in love with him.”
“Yeah, I guess I was. He gave me a necklace with an apple on it when I went away to college. I never took it off. We wrote and saw each other when I came home for visits. Every once in a while I would start to tell him how I felt, but I was always too afraid he didn’t feel the same way. So, I waited for him to say something, anything about the way he felt, but he never did. When my parents came, after ya’ll saved me, I asked about him. My momma said that when he heard I was missing he quit his job and came out here looking for me. His dad was furious.
After two years he gave up. He showed up on my parents doorstep one night drunk as a skunk. He told my parents that I must be dead because I would have never stayed away so long and hurt him like that. My mom said he fell asleep on their couch crying about how much he loved me and know he could never tell me.” The room slipped into silence as Fred paused and started to focus on the books in front of her again.
“Wesley didn’t send you up here for a book, did he?” Fred sat back on her heels and sheepishly shook her head at Angel who was now leaning forward even further in his chair, elbows on knees, and hands clasped in front. “It’s never too late to go home Fred. To tell him how you feel.”
“Six months after the night he showed up on my parents porch, he married Winnie. They live on his family’s farm. Winnie sent me a picture of their two boys a month ago. I guess she knew all about what the library had to offer after all.” Fred stood up and wiped at her eyes before the tears could spill out.
“Ya gotta tell people how you feel Angel or the opportunity may pass you by. I was real stupid to wait for Harold to get the nerve up to say something to me. Don’t be stupid Angel. Now,” she said as she headed for the door of the suite,” like I said at first,“ Fred opened the door and looked at Angel expectantly, inviting him to exit the dreary room. “Cordy’s downstairs.”
Lorne was tired. He had never been a big fan of soap operas and he was cursing Wes and Gunn for recruiting him to help solve the walking and talking one going on in this very office. He peeked through the office window again at the woman who’s bright smile and busy hands betrayed everything that her aura was screaming. He turned away, changing his mind about his earlier promise to help.
“No you ain’t man.” Gunn took hold of Lorne’s right shoulder while Wes grabbed his left arm, both walking the hesitant demon back toward the office door.
“Lorne, you are the only one of us capable to handle a situation such as this.” Wesley complemented. “You know that Cordelia is hurting right now and she will do everything she can to avoid the subject with us. She needs to address her anger and hurt toward Angel so that they can begin to deal with the feelings that they have been suppressing. There is no reason to be afraid.” He assured as they reached the door. “It’s just Cordelia.”
“Yeah, so get your green chicken ass self in there and help us fix this thang.” Gunn threatened as the two of them pushed him further toward the door.
“Don’t be afraid? That’s easy for the two of you to..” Lorne turned to see the rapidly retreating forms of his persuaders “..say.” Lorne felt like a lamb being lead to the slaughter. He swallowed hard and entered the office. “Hey princess, how are you doing this bright and beautiful morning.”
“Save it Lorne. If those two ‘brave’ souls sent you in here to read me, I’ll spare you the trouble. I’m fine,” she said with a fake smile that, if it had been any bigger, would have broken her face. “No more insane outbursts of emotions like yesterday. It was a shock that’s all. We were all a little ticked at Angel, to say the least. But, it’s in the past and it’s really none of my business.”
“Cupcake, I don’t have to read you to know what’s going on in that pretty head of yours. Hey, even Einstein and Hercules out there figured it out. And even though for some reason they have chosen me to be the representative of their little group, “ giving a glance back at the two men who were doing a poor job of acting innocently busy he continued, “I have to say I agree with their message.”
“And that would be?” Cordelia arched an eyebrow, ready for the attack.
“Unexpressed emotions are like food in a pressure cooker. If you don’t open the lid on what’s inside in time, it’s going to explode. And frankly sweetie, we don’t want to be around to clean up the mess.”
“I don’t have any unexpressed emotions.” Cordelia crossed her hands defensively in front of herself. “And I could care less what Angel does or has done. Angel is my friend,” she said in a rehearsed monotone voice. “The only reason I was upset is because I care for his well being and happiness. No matter what any of you think. I am not in love with Angel.” Cordelia had planned on the last statement coming out as a strong affirmation. It didn’t.
Lorne looked at Cordelia’s quivering lip. “Been practicing that mantra have you?”
“Since three this morning,” she breathed out and slumped down into the desk chair.
“Honey, you’ve got to tell the big guy.”
“I can’t. I don’t know if he feels the same and even if he does, I’m not sure he can.”
“Now that just doesn’t make sense if he does then that means he … oooh, you mean can. Well, Princess I’m sure that our crack team of investigators here at Angel Inc. can find a way for the two of you to..” Lorne trailed off as he bobbled his eyebrows suggestively.
“What!?” Her head shot up and her eyes looked incredulously at Lorne. “Gross no you perv, I’m not talking about sex, at least not with you.” Lorne slunk back and shrugged his shoulders innocently at his misunderstanding. “I’m talking about love. He’s loved before. Deeply. I’ve never had that kind of love. Not true love anyway.”
Lorne finally understood. “And you think because he’s loved like that before, that he won’t ever be able to love anyone like that again. That he won’t love you like that.”
“Well, I deserve that don’t I?” Cordelia stood and began to pace the room as she argued her point. “I mean, don’t I deserve to have that kind of love? The kind you feel like you’ll die without. I’ve never had anything like that, not even close.”
“Sweetie…” Lorne tried fruitlessly to interrupt her rant.
“I deserve to love a man who knows exactly what color my eyes are, what kind of movies I like to watch, what I do when I’m sad or feeling lonely, what makes me smile. I want all of those things with Angel but he’s already had them with someone else. Knowing that Lorne…”
“No Lorne, you started this conversation so let’s finish it. Knowing that he will never love me like that, like I love him, makes me sure that I can never tell him how I feel.”
“Sweetie,” Lorne pointed to the now open door behind Cordelia. “I think you just did.”
Cordelia’s face burned. He couldn’t be behind her. She turned and stared into a pair of stunned brown eyes. “Oh God,” she whispered to herself. And for the second time in two days, Cordelia ran from the hotel with her face buried in her hands.
Angel couldn’t move. Everything Cordelia had said washed over him, eventually reaching his brain. He tried to make sense of everything she had said. He loved her but he couldn’t. She loved him but she wouldn’t. He had to put an end to this. Angel shook himself out of the trance like state he had been frozen in and dashed to the hotel door. “Green!” He yelled from the doorway to the sunny sidewalk outside.
“What?” Cordelia asked as she turned to see Angel standing just inside the hotel enough to avoid the daylight.
“Your eyes,” he said a little softer. “They’re hazel, with little green flecks that sparkle when the light hits them just right.” Cordelia stood still a few feet down the sidewalk and just stared at Angel as he continued. “You like comedies but your favorites are all of those dramatic sappy movies; even though you always get up right at the end pretending to go into the kitchen to get something to drink when your really just getting a tissue and hiding the fact that they make you cry.” Cordelia took a tentative step toward the doorway. “When your sad you listen to Billy Holiday, Nina Simone, or Sarah …” Oh no, he knew this.
“McLachlan,” Cordelia added helpfully as she took a few more steps closer to Angel.
“McLachlan, yeah, I should have remembered a good Irish name like that. Flowers make you smile,” he continued. “That’s why you put those plastic ones in the basement for me. And, yes once in my very long life I did find love in the Hellmouth of all places. But I was able to leave that love behind me in the past without staking myself or going for a jog in the park at noon. Your right when you say that I could never love you like that. Because when you were sucked into Pylea and I thought there was a possibility that I couldn’t get you back, I knew I’d never make it if I didn’t. I can’t tell you exactly when it all started Cordy. Love snuck up on me so softly and quietly that I didn’t even notice it at first. But I do know that I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to love another person. That with you I’m better than I ever thought I could be and without you…well, I don’t even want to think of life without you.” Cordelia stood frozen, immobilized by the last part of Angel’s statement. He just said he loved her more than … no, that couldn’t even be possible.
“Cordy, please come back inside and talk to me.”
“Not now!” Cordelia whined.
“You don’t want to come in and talk about it?” Angel asked dejectedly, cursing Fred in his mind for giving him courage.
Cordelia grabbed the side of her head, falling to the ground in excruciating pain. “Vision,” she choked out as she landed on the sidewalk.
“Wes, Gunn!” Angel frantically called, helplessly watching Cordelia crumpled in pain. Wesley and Gunn immediately ran to Cordelia’s aid, both lifting her by one shoulder and helping her to the door. “Give her to me,” Angel growled as he took her from his friends arms as soon as they reached the shade of the doorway. Angel kissed her forehead and carried her to the lobby sofa. “What did you see?” he asked, sitting her gently down.
“Big ugly drawing. I think it was a tattoo.”
“You had a vision of a tattoo?” Gunn asked. Cordelia squeezed her eyes shut, rubbed her temples, and nodded yes.
“Could you be more specific Cordelia? Could you possibly describe the tattoo?” Wesley prodded.
“It was a lion. It had yellow eyes and its mouth was stretched open. I think it was on someone’s chest, but I‘m not sure.”
“Do you think you could describe it in detail to Angel so that he can sketch it for us?” Wesley gently suggested.
“There’s no need.” Angel answered for her. “I know what it looks like.”
Andre rolled the blackened automatic window up and headed back to the lavish hotel room where Aslan awaited his report. Angelus might not be wearing the Ring of Amarra, but all of their sources indicated he was the last one to possess it. Andre had to admit to himself that after hearing all of the tales Aslan told of the legendary vampire during their trip to L.A., he was beginning to worry about his ability to find Angelus’ Achilles’ heel.
He shivered at the possibility of disappointing his beloved sire. But now, after the scene he had just witnessed, his confidence was renewed. He smiled at the thought of it being a woman that would undo Angelus. Visualizing the torture he would inflict on the lucky girl, his smile widened. It was good to be him.