“Here we are,” Clem announced, opening the large, oak-paneled door. “Third floor sitting room. Pretty nice, isn’t it?”
Buffy agreed, it was lovely. Tastefully decorated, everything about the room looked expensive, yet it somehow retained a comfortable, welcoming feel. The walls were pale lilac, lending the room an aura of cheerfulness despite the heavy plum curtains that hung on the windows, shutting out the suns rays.
Purple, Xander noted, fighting the urge to groan. The color of royalty.
“Is there anything else you two need?” Clem offered.
“We’re fine,” Buffy assured him. “Thanks for bringing us up.”
“No problem. Any friend of Cordelia’s is a friend of mine.”
“You met us first,” Xander reminded him bluntly.
“And I still can’t believe you were that awful high school boyfriend Cordy told me about!” Clem exclaimed. “A love spell Xander? Come on.”
Xander clenched his teeth. “I already told you that-”
“Thanks again Clem,” Buffy said, grabbing Xander’s arm and tugging him into the room. “We’ll take it from here.” The demon nodded, padding off down the hall.
“You know, it’s not like the spell even worked,” Xander whined. “And it actually brought us closer.”
“Get over it. That was years ago.” She let go of his shirt and began wandering around the room. There were white roses everywhere, all in beautiful crystal vases that had to be Waterford and probably cost more than her rent.
“Then how come, whenever people find out, they act like I slipped roofies in her Diet Coke? How come no one understands that the spell was in fact very romantic?”
“Yeah, I don’t get why more people don’t see the brighter side to mind control,” Buffy quipped.
“Exactly!” Xander completely missed the sarcasm.
“You’re hopeless,” she told him affectionately and went back to perusing the room. Xander glanced to the right and left, as if some form of entertainment was going to magically appear. Finally he just sat down on the couch.
On the wall, in between two large windows, there was a beautiful painting hanging in an ornate silver frame. It was a woman sitting in a garden, drawn as if the artist had been looking down at her from high above. Buffy moved closer to get a better look. The woman’s face was only slightly visible in profile, but Buffy could tell, by the softly curling hair, the delicate curve of her waist, that she was beautiful.
A pretty girl in a pretty garden. It should be a happy little portrait. And yet…it wasn’t. The woman, she looked, well, she looked sad. The set of her shoulders, the way she held herself, the slight downturn of her lip. Not sad. She looked lost.
Acting on a hunch, Buffy hooked a finger around the heavy window covering and tugged it aside, peeking out. The courtyard below was an exact replica of the garden depicted in the painting. Which would make the woman in the painting –
“What are you staring at?”
Buffy turned back to Xander, now leaning back on the couch, feet propped up on the coffee table. She shrugged. “Just checking out the artwork.”
Xander half-heartedly eyed the picture behind her. “Well, it’s no ‘Black Velvet Elvis’ but yeah, it’s all right I guess. If you like that sort of thing.”
“Cordelia obviously does.”
“Cordelia can afford to like that sort of thing,” Xander remarked.
Buffy simply nodded, even though she was almost positive that that particular painting hadn’t cost Cordelia a dime. Instead of pointing that out, she opted to join Xander on the couch. For a few moments they sat in comfortable silence. “Do you think she’ll be different?” Buffy finally asked.
“Who? Cordelia?” She nodded and Xander shook his head. “Naaah.” After a minute. “Why? Do you?”
Buffy sighed. “I’m not sure. Last time I was here, which was admittedly a pretty bad day for me, she seemed…I don’t know. When I first saw her, she was smiling and laughing and Xan, I’m not kidding you, I had never heard her laugh before.” Xander gave her a disbelieving look. “I’m not talking about laughing at someone. Just laughing. Making with the happy happy joy joy. It was…”
Buffy snorted. “Yeah,” she admitted. “Kinda.” She paused, collecting her thoughts. “Was she like that with you? When you two were -”
This time Xander was the one who snorted. “Are you kidding me? It was all whine, fight, make out, whine, fight, make out. A vicious, but entertaining cycle.”
“Hmmm,” Buffy said noncommittally. After all, who was she to judge anyone’s high school relationships. Thinking about what she was like then, about Angel, about everything made her a little queasy. Although not as queasy as thinking about Xander and Cordelia together. It must have showed in her face.
Xander put his arm around her and hauled her up against his side. “Don’t let it bother you too much Buf.” Her mouth fell open. Noting her expression, he dropped a quick kiss on the side of her temple. “They’ve been divorced for, like, ever. Queen C is no competition for the Super Slayer. And if Angel can’t see just how amazing you are, then he’s completely clueless and doesn’t deserve you.”
Buffy smiled weakly and leaned her head on the shoulder of the only man more clueless than Angel.
* * *
Angel had no clue where everybody was. He could see that they were not, in fact, in Cordelia’s office like Clem had said. Despite all the renovations the hotel had undergone after they got married, Cordy had chosen to use the same space where the office had always been. His, then Wesley’s, and finally, rightfully, hers.
She still had those same glass windows. He’d tried to talk her out of those.
“I like them,” she said, leaning back against his solid frame, sighing happily when he wrapped his arms around her from behind. One hand gripped her just under her breasts, the other palming her stomach, that soft little belly that always jutted out slightly, no matter how many sit-ups she whined her way through.
“I don’t,” he grumbled. “How am I supposed to molest my wife in her office when the entire world can see in?” The construction workers had left for the day; they were finally, finally alone.
Cordelia craned her head back to see his face, eyes sparkling. “You have a hundred other rooms here to molest me in,” she reminded him.
“True.” Angel nuzzled her cheek. “But I had plans for that office,” he whispered gruffly in her ear. He took the lobe in between his teeth and gave it a gentle nip, smiling at the resulting tremor that ran through her.
“Shades!” Cordy squeaked out, as Angel shifted his attention to her neck. “I’ll call the decorator tomorrow.” He pulled her tighter against him, rolling his hips so she could feel all of him. “Big…big…shades,” she stuttered.
The shades were up now, the office obviously empty. Angel didn’t feel an ounce of compunction at walking right in.
It was like walking back in time. Papers piled messily on the desk. Invoices slipped between the pages of In Style. The muted sounds of Sam Cooke coming from an unseen CD player.
Angel closed the door behind him and leaned against it, inhaling deeply. Lemon scented pledge. Old coffee and fresh flowers. The remnants of a spicy perfume. She’d switched scents, Angel noted. His chest felt oddly tight and he rubbed his hand over it absently as he ambled over to her desk.
She’d gotten herself a new perfume to go with her new life, her new man. Playing a hunch, Angel tugged on the handle of the middle drawer. He gave an empty chuckle when he took note of the blue and gold bottle and a familiar scent drifted up. He recognized it immediately. Dior’s Addict. He’d bought her that. Handed it to Cordy, made some stupid joke about being addicted to her.
Angel abruptly shut the drawer, wondering what other reminders of him Cordelia had stashed away. Out of sight, but never out of reach.
* * *
Cordelia suddenly shivered, nearly smearing OPI Bogota Blackberry all over her pinkie finger. “Is it cold in here?” she asked Fred, wiping at the tiny smudge.
Fred held up her finger, signaling ‘one second.’ “I know what I told you last night,” she shouted into the phone. “Now I’m telling you 102.” She paused briefly, offering Cordy an apologetic smile that was in direct contrast to her harsh tone.
“I refuse to believe that, with the money I’m paying, you can’t figure out how to feed an additional three people. Find a way!” Fred flipped her cell shut and flopped down next to Cordelia.
“What were you asking? It’s not cold. Why? Are you cold?” Fred’s words came out in an endearing jumble.
Double-checking to make sure her nails were perfect, Cordy slid the cap onto the bottle. “I don’t know. All of the sudden I got this chill, out of nowhere.”
Fred sprang back up and raced over to the thermostat. “But it’s 76 degrees in here. And you’re chilly? Oh my god, what if you’re coming down with something. This wasn’t in any of the bridal manuals. Should we call a doctor? No, that will take too long. I know. An ambulance. Connor! Clem!”
Cordelia laughed. “Fred. Relax. I’m fine. It was just a weird feeling. I’m perfectly fine now.” She patted the seat on the couch next to her. “Seriously. Sit down. You’re the one who’s not looking all that hot at the moment.”
“What’s wrong?” Connor yelled from the room next door.
“Nothing,” Cordy shouted back, thankful that the walls were thin enough that they could communicate without actually moving. “Fred’s just crazy.”
“You’re both crazy,” Connor responded. “Now shut up, I’m trying to kill something.”
Fred shot a perplexed look at her friend. Cordelia shrugged. “I told him he could set up his X-Box in the den.” Fred gasped. “Geeze Fred, he’s just taking a break.”
“No, not that. It’s just…what if that chill was a premonition.” Fred reached for Cordelia’s hand.
Cordy smacked her on the arm. “Watch the nails! And you know I don’t get visions anymore.”
“Not a vision. A premonition.”
Fred made a tiny frustrated sound. “You said you had a weird feeling. How was it weird?”
“No weirder than you’re being right now,” Cordy mumbled.
“I mean, was it scary?”
“No scarier than you’re being right now.”
“I don’t know, it was just a feeling.”
“Would you call it foreboding?”
Cordelia nibbled her lip. “Maybe?” Hoping that was the answer Fred was looking for.
“Oh God.” Fred put her head in her hands. “Something horrible is going to happen. I just know it.”
Cordy reached out to wrap her arm around the young woman before remembering her wet nails. Grimacing, she rubbed small soothing circles on Fred’s back, using just the flat of her palm. “Nothing is going to happen. This wedding will be perfect. You know why?”
“Because you’ve planned this thing down to the smallest detail. We’ve got extra security. Lorne already cast the non-violence spell. And we’ve got back up plans in case of rain – both the normal kind and the firey kind. I know you Fred. Nothing’s going to happen that we are not fully prepared for.”
Fred looked up. “You think?”
Cordy grinned. “Hey. I don’t think, I know.”
* * *
“So what do we actually know?”
Buffy frowned. “Not much.”
Xander got up and started making with the pacing. “Cordelia currently lives here with Angel’s son -”
“Connor. And he doesn’t live here,” Buffy corrected. “He’s got his own apartment, I think he’s just staying here for the wedding.”
“Right,” Xander started ticking them off. “Cordelia, Connor, and that friend of hers-”
“Fred. Who used to be married to some guy real high up on the Wolfram and Hart Tower of Power.”
“According to the file, Fred still is. Married that is.”
Xander froze mid-pace. “What file?”
“The giant black file on Lilah’s desk that I was reading while she was outside talking to Angel and you were picking your nose.”
“Scratching! I was just scratching!”
“Whatever you say.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “I was skimming the file. Part diary, part evil plan to rule the world.”
Xander sat back down. “You’re good. You are very very good.” His voice was full of admiration.
Buffy shrugged and resumed leaning on his shoulder. “I’m the Slayer Xander. It’s my job.” Xander smelled nice, she noticed. Like the aftershave Dawn had bought him for Christmas and the fabric softener she always liked. Xander smelled like home.
Experimentally, Buffy shifted her head slightly so that her nose was nuzzling his neck. Xander didn’t appear to notice. “So. The file?” he prompted.
She sighed. “It was chock full of all sorts of interesting information.”
“Everything. It went back at least 5 years. Copies of emails, transcripts of meetings. There was a memo from a private detective informing her that Fred still hadn’t filed for divorce. IQ test results on a guy named Charles Gunn.”
“Charles Gunn? Yeah, like that’s his real name,” Xander mumbled.
“She even had Cordelia’s credit card statement from last month.” Buffy made a face. “You don’t want to know how much she spent on shoes.”
“You’re right, I don’t. So what else was in there?”
“I don’t know. Documentation of all the hundreds of ways the firm has tried to bring Angel down.”
She could feel Xander smile. “Ooooh, stories about bad things happening to Angel? Tell me more!”
* * *
MORE INSIDER DETAILS ON CORDY’S WEDDING! Angel couldn’t help but grin at the lurid headline. Connor had mentioned in an email the tabloids’ fascination with Cordelia, and her increasing displeasure.
He wasn’t entirely sure why he was casually flipping through “People” Magazine. Only a few floors separated him from the family he hadn’t seen in years and instead of searching for them, here he was hiding in the office.
It had taken so long to decide to come back. Even longer to prepare himself. Maybe that’s why Angel was hesitating. So much was riding on this weekend.
Those first few months in Argentina had been a blur. All he had done was work. Work and grieve. Trying to come to terms with the life he had lost. Trying to get over all that had happened to him.
And then one night, it hit him. An epiphany, minus the chest pains of last time. He’d spent years trying to get over things that were lost to him, without ever really trying to find them. So many times he’d accepted the things that happened to him, instead of actively choosing a different path.
Angel was a fighter. That’s what he did, who he was. He’d fought to save the world. Fought to save innocents. Fought for Wolfram and Hart.
Had it just never occurred to him to fight for himself? For his own happiness? That night, outside looking up at the stars, Angel had come to the startling realization that it hadn’t. She’d told him to leave and he had. It had never occurred to him to stay. To fight.
He’d given up on Cordelia. Just as he had when Groo had shown up the night of the ballet, or when Skip had taken her from them, or when she came back and he’d known something was wrong. He’d given up again, just like he had when they told him she would never wake up…
The call came early in the morning, right as he was drifting off to sleep.
“Mr. Angel? Sorry to bother you sir, but we thought you would like to know. She’s awake Mr. Angel. Cordelia Chase woke up.”
She was down in the sub-basement of the building, in a high-tech hospital room the firm had retro-fitted just for her. In the four months that she’d been there, Angel had visited only once. Alone, in the elevator, he cringed, wondering how he would explain that one to her.
There was so much to explain.
The doors opened and Angel didn’t move. How would he explain everything? What could he say, what could she say, that would make everything okay? And then he heard it, bouncing off the walls of the long empty corridor. The tinny echoes of someone screaming out in pain. Cordelia.
He started to run. He instinctively remembered the way, navigating the maze-like halls with inhuman speed.
Angel burst into the reception area of her suite panting like a wild man. Her screams were louder now and Angel was assailed by an overpowering sense of déjà vu. They’d played this scene before.
“Mr. Angel!” The nurse ran around her desk and grabbed him by the arm. “Sir, you can’t go in there. She’s with the doctors right now.” Angel looked at her brokenly. “You can’t go in there,” the nurse repeated gently.
“I, I have to,” he whispered, flinching when Cordelia’s shouting increased in volume.
The older woman edged him into a chair. “You can see her as soon as the doctors are done.”
“I assure you Mr. Angel, Miss Chase is in no physical pain right now.” Angel gave her a doubtful look and the nurse bit her lip hesitantly. “It seems that, upon waking, all of her memories of the previous year returned, all at once.” She smiled grimly. “the doctors’ are sedating her now,” she added quietly.
So Angel waited. Long, interminable minutes. Staring at the wall. Listening as her screams faded to soft cries. He didn’t notice anyone had entered the room until Wesley sat down next to him.
“I’m shocked to see you here,” the other man said. Wesley’s tone was censorious and Angel wasn’t surprised. They all knew just how rarely he’d been down here. He was aware what they thought of him. He’d always told himself he didn’t owe them any explanations.
“Years ago, before Jasmine, even before Pylea,” Angel began abruptly, surprising both Wes and himself. “Back when I first noticed that she, that I had these…”
“Feelings?” Wesley suggested.
“Stirrings. When those first feelings started, I wondered why. What gave her that power over me? Why her?” Angel paused, running a hand through his sleep-mussed hair.
“It wasn’t beauty; or at least it wasn’t just beauty. I’ve had beautiful women before.” Wes snorted but Angel ignored it and continued. “It certainly wasn’t her singing voice or her secretarial skills or-”
“Or her utter disregard for subtlety?”
“Exactly.” Angel nodded. “She had nothing in common with the other women I loved. Darla was a, a temptress. Everything was a seduction with her. And Buffy, she had this, I mean, despite who she is, she had this fragileness. This very desolate, innate vulnerability. It, I don’t know, it called to me.”
“Cordelia never had that,” Wesley commented.
“No. So I couldn’t figure out why. I couldn’t figure out why it was so important that I got her back. I mean, I wanted to win you and Gunn back too but…” Angel trailed off.
“It was different with Cordelia,” Wes filled in succinctly. “It always has been.”
“And then she had a vision and I caught her and I knew. I knew why. Wesley, being near her, feeling the pressure of her hand, catching her scent right before she walked in the door, even just watching her across a crowded room. It was the closest I ever got to feeling alive.” Angel sucked in an unnecessary breath and exhaled slowly.
“She does have a certain vitality,” Wesley said after a while.
“Not in there she didn’t,” Angel gestured to the closed door across from them. “In that box,” he hissed. Wolfram and Hart had the most expensive medical technology available to them. Instead of hooking her up to a bunch of uncomfortable tubes, they had put Cordelia in a glass incubator of sorts.
Like Snow White, Fred had once told him, and she was right. In that room, incased in glass, Cordy was his pale, untouchable fairy tale princess.
“I couldn’t go back again, not after I saw her like that,” Angel told Wesley. “That wasn’t her in there, in that coffin. That wasn’t the woman I-” He abruptly stopped. He still hadn’t said it. He’d never let himself say it aloud.
“Yes Angel? Wes stared at him intently. “The woman you what?”
He could hear her in there, whimpering like a wounded animal. His heart, the heart that she had owned for years, broke for her and the answer came easily. “Love,” Angel blurted out and Wesley grinned.
“Well, that wasn’t so hard, now was it?”
Angel shook his head. “I love her.” Not only did it come naturally, he found he liked saying it.
“To quote our girl, ‘well duh’.” Wesley had the good graces to look sheepish. “I’m sorry, but your feelings have been quite apparent for some time now.”
“I love her Wes,” Angel repeated. “And now she’s back. Now that I’ve got her back, I’m never letting her leave me again.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” the nurse said timidly. “You can see her now. Mr. Angel?”
“Mr. Angel?” Angel’s head whipped around, startled to see Clem standing just outside the office. “Sorry sir, I was almost positive they were back here.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Angel put down the magazine and straightened his shoulders. Preparing for battle.
“They’re on the second floor,” Clem said. “Cordelia and Fred are in the living room and I’m pretty sure you’ll find Connor playing video games. You want me to show you the-”
Angel was already walking out the door. “I know the way.”