Part 6 Continued…
“So let me get this straight. Wolfram and Hart tried to buy Cordelia’s eyes, hired Faith to kill Angel, and brought his evil ex-girlfriend back from the dead to haunt his ass?”
Buffy nodded as Xander ticked off the firm’s list of offenses. “Yeah.”
“You know,” he said thoughtfully, “suddenly I have a lot more respect for that place.”
“Kidding, I’m kidding.” He patted Buffy’s knee. “You used to have a sense of humor.”
“You used to be funny,” she shot back. Xander jaw dropped and he clutched at his heart, as if mortally wounded. “Seriously though, I feel bad for him. He’s been through a lot.”
“It hasn’t exactly been Easy Street for us,” he reminded her.
“We had each other,” Bufy said quietly.
“You’re right. All Angel had was his cool car and his brooding good lucks. Poor poor Angel. Oh, and now he’s got an even cooler car and millions of dollars. I feel so bad for the guy. We should send flowers. Or maybe one of those giant cookies.”
Buffy simply shook her head, trying to stiffle her giggles. Suddenly Xander shot out of his seat. “Hey look!” He ran over to the antique desk by the window. “It’s a list of extensions.” He grinned at Buffy, suddenly looking about 10 years old. “We can call any room in the hotel!”
“Xander,” she warned.
He ran his finger down the list, looking for a lucky number. He picked up the phone and dialed. 2. 1. 1.
“Yes,” a woman answered, sounding slightly flustered.
“Yes,” he began in what was distinctly not his normal voice. “This is the bridal suite. Would you send up a couple of cucumber sandwiches and a bottle of Dom Perignon?”
Buffy had to slap her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Xander never failed to amaze her.
“What?” said the woman on the other end of the line.
Xander took a deep breath. “Your days are numbered,” he shouted into the phone. “To the seventh son of the seventh son!”
This time Buffy couldn’t hold back her giggles and Xander abruptly slammed the phone down.
* * *
“Um, okay,” Fred said, confused. She stared at the phone for a minute before finally hanging it back up.
“Who was it?” Cordy asked, blowing on her nails.
“I think it was Lorne.” Fred frowned. “Something about cucumbers and seven sons. Isn’t it a little early in the day for him to be drinking?” Cordelia raised an eyebrow. “Never mind. Stupid question,” Fred said.
“He’s not the only one who could use a drink,” Cordy said, leaning back on the couch and tucking her feet under her. “This wedding is completely stressing me out.”
Fred swallowed the urge to point out that the only thing Cordy had to do for the wedding was fit in her dress and show up. “It’s a very stressful time,” she said mildly.
“You’re telling me. Trying to fit in all these appointments for the wedding…”
Fred double-checked her Palm Pilot. “All you need for the marriage license is a blood test.”
“And a facial. Deep tissue massage. Spray-on tanning. Chiropractic adjustment. Mud wrap. Deep-conditioning.”
Fred‘s lips pressed into a thin line. “Yes, I can see how it’s very tough on you”
“I know.” Cordelia grabbed a lock of her friend’s hair. “Speaking of deep conditioning, your ends are completely fried. You should really find some free time and get these taken care of.”
“Free time?” Fred repeated slowly. She wasn’t sure she remembered what free time was.
“Well sure. I told you, there’s going to be a lot of eligible men at Lorne’s party tonight and at the wedding tomorrow. And no man wants a woman with poorly hydrated hair.”
“Thanks, I appreciate your concern.”
“Anytime,” Cordy said breezily, not quite catching the sarcastic edge in Fred’s voice. “My stomach’s starting to feel a little rumbly, are you almost ready for lunch?”
Fred rolled her eyes. “Do you really have to ask?” From the other room they both suddenly heard Connor talking. “What did he just say?”
Cordelia shrugged. “I don’t know. He probably killed the bad guy or stole a car or won a race-whatever the purpose of that game is.” She checked out her nails, silently debating whether to add a clear cover coat.
Then they heard Connor again, this time much louder.
“Am I crazy, or did,” Cordy began, before Fred interrupted.
“Did he just say -”
* * *
“Angel.” Connor’s voice was barely more than a whisper. The video game controller fell to the floor, forgotten. He blinked rapidly, testing to see if the man before him was real. If that was really his father.
“You’re dead,” Angel said in a low voice.
“Huh?” Time stopped. Connor wasn’t sure what was going on. Angel’s soul had been secured years ago. This couldn’t be-
“You died,” Angel said, pointing at the large flat screen TV.
Connor let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding. He smiled. “You’re bad luck.”
Angel shrugged. “But I’ve got great fashion sense.”
“You sound like Cordelia.”
His father grinned wryly. “I’m going to choose to take that as a compliment.”
He was back. Angel was back. Connor wasn’t sure what to do. He hadn’t seen his dad since he left. The only contact they’d had were quick cursory emails, and those were few and far between. Should he wave? Shake hands? He clearly needed to make the first move, because this was Angel after all. Cordelia had taught him that much.
Before he was even consciously aware of making a decision, Connor was on his feet. “Angel,” he yelled. Three long strides and he was pulling his father into a tight hug. In his left ear he heard Angel suck in a ragged breath Connor knew he didn’t need.
They stood like that for nearly a minute before finally stepping back, shooting identical awkward smiles at each other. Neither entirely sure what to say.
“You’re late,” Connor blurted out.
Angel ran his hand over the back of his neck. “I know.”
His son gestured to the door. “They’re in the living room.” Angel nodded and started to follow his son out. Suddenly Connor stopped and spun around.
“Did you bring me anything?” he asked, beaming.
* * *
Cordelia slowly stood up. Her knees felt weak. “What the hell…” She turned to Fred, who’d gone pale.
“It couldn’t be,” her friend muttered, even as the door opened.
“…so Clem said you all were down in the office,” Angel walked in, one arm casually slung around Connor’s shoulders. They both froze when they saw how the two women were staring at them. “But it appears you’re all right here,” Angel added weakly.
The bottom dropped out of Cordelia’s stomach. Emotions swirled up in her so fast she couldn’t catalogue or identify them.
“Don’t you dare PRETEND that you know me.”
“I know you Cordy. Better than you know yourself. I know you’re scared. I know you wanted me to make you feel safe again, and that I somehow failed. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry I failed you Cordelia.”
“Look guys,” Connor said in a stilted voice, fully aware of the tension in the room. “It’s Angel.”
He looked good. Cordelia hated the part of herself that recognized that. But he did. Dressed all in black. That same old leather jacket, which was so ridiculous in L.A. in July but also so very Angel that Cordy felt like weeping.
His hair was longer. And he looked too pale, which tugged at something deep inside of Cordelia that she thought was long gone. But other than that, he looked exactly the same. Just like he had that last night.
He cupped the side of her face. Softly, the way a lover would. And it was then that she flinched. Because the easy caress hurt far more than any right hook ever could.
“You’re so beautiful Princess.” Angel’s voice was thick with emotion. Cordelia’s mouth went dry.
“But you’re such a fucking bitch,” he told her. This time Angel’s voice betrayed no emotion. Then, calm as day, he pushed her into the bushes and walked away.
She’d dreamed and feared and fantasized about this day for God knew how long. Tried to imagine how she would feel, what she would say. And now here Angel was, her errant ex. And she had nothing.
Fred was the first to move. Hands clasped, she scurried over to the vampire. “Um, Angel, you do know that there’s a wedding tomorrow, right?” she asked quietly.
“I heard a rumor.” He answered in that dry confident way of his and finally Cordelia could recognize at least one of her emotions. Anger. He was standing there, arm around Connor, gazing at Fred fondly, looking far too comfortable in her home and looking far too good than any man had a right to be. It was too much to bear.
“I don’t know why you’re here and I don’t care,” she announced, nearly shaking with the effort to sound unbothered. “You just go back to whatever Wolfram and Hart office you came from-”
“I missed you too darling,” Angel smoothly interrupted, letting go of Connor. Their eyes caught and Cordy really did start shaking, because Angel always saw too much. No one was allowed to see her like that anymore. She quickly glanced down at the ground.
“You look great,” Angel told Fred, gathering the small woman in a warm embrace that she tentatively returned. “I heard from We-” Connor coughed discreetly, hinting not to go there. “Anyway, you look great,” Angel recovered smoothly, before turning back to Cordelia.
“Princess,” he said, moving toward her. She brought both of her freshly manicured hands up, poised to attack him with her still-drying nails. “Ahh, Cor, I’m hurt. You didn’t think I’d miss your wedding, did you?” She gave him a disgusted look. “I have to say, I was a little put out when I didn’t receive an invitation. Must have gotten lost in the mail.”
“Figures.” She shrugged blithely. “I wasn’t sure how many stamps I needed to send a letter all the way to hell.”
Fred suddenly latched onto his arm. “Angel, please tell me you’re not gonna…I mean, you wouldn’t…” He took the hand clasped around his bicep and squeezed it firmly. “No Fred, I wouldn’t,” he assured her. “I just figured the bride would need someone to give her away.”
Cordelia guffawed. “I’d rather be walked down the aisle by the Scooby Gang.” Angel chuckled. “What’s so funny?” she demanded, moving to put her hands on her hips, remember her wet nails in the nick of time.
“Funny? Oh nothing,” Angel told her. “Well, since you don’t need me, how about I offer my services as best man?”
“I need to sit down,” Fred said to no one in particular. She walked slowly over to the couch, Connor right behind her.
“Sorry Angel,” Cordelia said. “I’m afraid Spencer might prefer a non-evil actual man for the job.” Her ex-husband’s face remained passively blank at the caustic remark. For some reason, this made Cordy even more annoyed.
“So, uh, did you bring Gunn with you?” Connor asked. “Or W-” he darted a look at Fred, “or anyone else?”
“’Fraid not,” Angel told him, slipping out of his leather jacket and putting it on the back of a chair. “Gunn’s, ah, Gunn is…tied up overseas.”
“That sounds kind of vague,” Fred said.
“It’s actually not as vague as it sounds,” Angel told her, thinking that in all likelihood Gunn probably was tied up. “Anyway, I don’t think he’s gonna make it. But I think you guys might like the people I did bring.”
“People?” Fred gulped, already despairing over her headcount.
“I know Cordy’s just gonna love them.” Angel’s tone indicated that Cordelia would most certainly NOT love them.
“Let me get this straight,” Cordy said. She started pacing around them, partly to keep her anger in check and partly because she just couldn’t stand next to him anymore. “You, an uninvited guest, brought two more uninvited guests.”
“When you put it that way it sounds rude,” Angel said.
“Ha ha Angel.” Cordelia wagged her finger at him. “Not funny. Now, if you’re done, we have things to do.” She stalked over to the door and held it wide open. “Get out and get gone.”
Angel reached down for the open water bottle on the coffee table and took a long drink, ignoring Cordy’s squeak of protest. “I think your guests are waiting for you on the third floor. You’ll have to decide which rooms you’ll be putting them in.”
“Rooms?” Cordelia repeated dumbly.
He waved the water bottle, HER water bottle in her direction, offering it. It didn’t even register on her radar. “Not just rooms. I’m sure they’ll have all sorts of questions for you. Black tie or just black tie optional. Chicken or fish. That sort of thing.”
Fred immediately reached for her cell. The caterer was number four on her speed dial.
“So who are these people?” Connor asked Angel.
“Old friends,” he said succinctly.
“Pfft. You don’t have any friends Angel.” Cordy snatched the phone out of Fred’s hand and flipped it shut. “And they certainly aren’t crashing my wedding. What the hell are you trying to pull?” Despite her best judgment she moved to stand in front of him. “You show up, out of the blue, with two randoms who…” The light dawned. “This has Wolfram and Hart written all over it!”
Angel raised an eyebrow. “I’m impressed. I thought you lost all of your superpowers.”
“That’s it.” Cordelia’s eyes narrowed. She could almost feel her blood start to boil. “I’m calling them right now.” She flipped Fred’s phone open.
“Whoa.” This time Angel ripped the phone our of Cordy’s hand. “Wait. Just wait a second.” She made a grab for the cell, shooting him a glare when he easily held it out of her reach. “You’re slipping Princess. That look used to work on me.” She reached again and Angel simply raised his arm higher. “Remember how it was Cor?”
“I’ve tried my best to forget the nightmare that was our life together.”
“You’d look at me and I’d be lost. Stunned into silence by the withering glance of a goddess.” Angel’s voice was harder now. Gone was the smug, relaxed man from before. “Those days are over now Cordy. We both know you’re no goddess.”
“I never said I was,” she hissed, darting around him and briskly walking out of the room. Angel tossed the cell to Fred and followed Cordy, out into the hall, around the corner.
Cordelia wasn’t sure where she was going. It was just too much. Ten minutes ago she was on her way to the wedding of her dreams. Then Angel walked through the door and nothing made sense anymore.
* * *
“How long?” Xander asked tonelessly.
“It’s two minutes after the last time you asked,” Buffy murmured. Xander gently jabbed her in the side. “Owww,” she said, mostly for effect, before glancing at her watch. “Ten minutes. We’ve been waiting ten minutes.”
“Feels like it’s been ten years,” he whined.
Buffy reached into her purse, grabbed what was easily five grand worth of surveillance equipment and dumped it in Xander’s lap. “Since you’re bored, why don’t you start setting some of this stuff up.”
He unceremoniously put it back on her lap. “That’s your job.”
“That’s your thing. You’re the Sydney and I’m the Vaughn.”
“I repeat, what?”
“You do the spy work and wear the tight pants while I offer comfort and support and exude a manly sexuality.”
Buffy opened her mouth to protest and then immediately shut it. Xander did exude a manly sexuality, in between sarcastic remarks. And she did like her pants tight.
She picked up a tiny camera and went to work.
* * *
Angel had known this wouldn’t be easy. Coming back. Dealing with the firm. Cordelia’s wedding. He had been more than aware that his was an uphill battle. One that required patience. Finesse. A detailed plan.
And then he saw her. And it nearly brought him to his knees.
She was everything Angel remembered, everything he had dreamed about during those endless days and lonely nights. The few pictures he’d managed to take with him, the sketches he’d been compelled to draw, the sordid dreams that left him aching – none of them had done Cordy justice.
She wore a simple sleeveless light blue shift that clung in all the right places and gave him an appreciative view of those long tanned limbs of hers. Her hair was longer now. Pulled back away from her face in a smooth low ponytail, it made her seem younger than she was.
One look at those flashing hazel eyes, at her brightly painted mouth – wide open in shock – and it took everything Angel had not to toss the patience idea out the window. Not to grab Cordelia and take her away. Somewhere, anywhere, where they could be alone and he could show her, with lips and sweat and touch and tongue, that he was back. And he wasn’t going anywhere.
But Angel hadn’t let himself do that. Not just because he knew she would probably try to kill him. Because he knew it wouldn’t work.
Cordelia was still locked away in her anger. Still angry at him. The firm. The Powers. Hell, she was still angry at Wesley for making a deal with Holtz and that was a million years ago.
But mostly, even though she would never admit it, Cordelia was very very angry at herself.
Angel couldn’t do anything but stick to the plan. He had to wait until she was ready.
So instead of grabbing her, he had set about pushing her buttons. Because, honestly, he’d missed that. Chasing after her now, watching the short dress flare out over that perfect ass of hers, Angel had to smile. He’d missed that too.
Suddenly Cordelia stopped on a dime and spun around. Angel ran right into her, nearly knocking them both down in the process. He grabbed Cordy’s arms to steady her and they both gasped.
He could feel her, practically vibrating under his fingers. She was all righteous anger and pounding blood and it had been so long since he’d been able to touch her. Too long. His grip tightened. Her hands, caught between both of their chests, clutched his shirt.
Angel wavered, grinding his teeth, struggling for control. Finally he let her go. After a few beats, Cordy stepped back.
“I can’t believe they thought this would work!” Her voice was unnaturally high, as if she was trying to cover for whatever that almost moment had been. “I can’t believe YOU thought this would work. Sending two spies to my wedding. Angel, they’re probably bugging the sitting room right now!” she whined.
“Shhh,” he said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Cordelia nervously took another step back. “They’ll hear you and think you don’t want them.”
“Good! Cause I don’t want them. I want them – and you – and any little spy toys they brought with them to pack up and head back to Wolfram and Hart.”
“Whatever you say your majesty.” Angel bowed sarcastically. “But first, could I interest you in some blackmail?” He hadn’t planned on telling her so soon, but she would need to know eventually.
Cordy’s mouth dropped open. “No!”
She waved her hands in the air. “They wouldn’t.”
“They did,” Angel said matter-of-factly. He reached into his back pocket and handed her the creased letter Lilah had sent him while he was in South America. It had been pretty funny actually. The Fed-Ex van had pulled up two minutes after the entire Wolfram and Hart Buenos Ares satellite office had blown up.
Cordelia quickly skimmed the letter. “Is this true?” Angel nodded. “They won’t help Gunn?”
“Or release Wes from his contract.”
“Unless,” Angel confirmed.
Cordelia stared at him intently. “Who’s behind this?”
“Lilah,” she ground out. Cordy closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. “That bitch.”
“No argument there.” He joined her against the wall, closing his eyes as well. “She’s convinced it’s in the firm’s best interest to know what’s going on over here.”
“But you don’t live here anymore,” she reminded him needlessly.
“It’s not about that. The big bad law firm-”
“That you work for,” Cordelia cut in.
Angel decided to wait on clearing up that fact. “The firm likes to keep tabs on the white hats. Same old same old.”
“This isn’t even about good and evil,” she muttered. “Lilah’s still pissed about losing Wesley to Fred.”
“Whatever her reasons…”
Cordelia was so quiet for a moment that Angel got worried. When he opened his eyes, she was standing in front of him. “Angel, you simply have to fix this.”
She was whimpering in her sleep. She’d kicked off the top sheet but her entire body was bathed in a cold sweat. Twisting the sheets in tightly clenched fingers, gasping for air. Crying out blindly for help.
This wasn’t the first time. Nightmares were commonplace, ever since she woke up from the coma. They never talked about them. He wasn’t sure Cordelia was even aware of the things she said, the quiet confidences she uttered in that hazy place between asleep and awake.
“Come back to me Cor,” he crooned. Angel grabbed her shoulders and shook her gently. When that didn’t work, he hauled her up into his arms, rocking her like a child.
Even in the darkness of their bedroom, he could tell the minute she came out of it. Her eyes flew open, dilated and glassy and she mumbled something he couldn’t quite hear. “What baby?” He brought her head up.
She was trembling. “Fix it. Please Angel, fix it,” she begged as tears started to roll down her face.
“Fix what? Angel asked, but he had a sinking feeling that he knew. Knew that he couldn’t fix it, that maybe no one could.
“All of it,” she whispered brokenly next to his ear. “Me. Everything. Fix it,” she pleaded.
“I did fix it,” Angel told her quietly. “I agreed to all of this.” He shook his head when she sent him a pleading look. “It’s the only way Cor. And come on, it’s not that bad. You know about it. You can have the entire hotel swept for bugs, top to bottom, once this mess is over with.”
Whatever softness that had been blooming in her gaze died. “You want me to LET them spy on me? I’ve been trying for two years to get away from that horrible place and you want me to just welcome them with open arms?”
“It’s two days of your life Cordy. It won’t hurt. Although it might put a damper on the wedding night.” Angel couldn’t keep the tiny edge of glee out of his voice.
“You’re just loving this, aren’t you?” Cordelia accused.
“Am I Princess?” he shot back solemnly.
Sighing, she wordlessly turned away and headed back to the living room. When they got there, she paused just outside the door and Angel seamlessly reached around her and opened it. A small, simple thing. Something he had done hundreds of times for her.
Cordy studiously ignored the fissions of bone deep recognition that swirled through her.
“Owww!,” Connor howled. Angel and Cordelia looked down and saw the young man sprawled on the floor, clutching his shoulder. “Have you never heard of knocking?” he whined.
“Have you never heard that eavesdropping is rude?” Cordy shot back. Angel nodded, offering him a hand up. “Uh,” she huffed, stepping around them both. “It’s your fault Angel,” she accused.
“Excuse me?” he said, taking his hand away just as his son was reaching for it. Connor groaned and pulled himself up off the ground.
“You never bothered to teach your kid any manners!” Cordelia said, her voice rising, still tense from the way just being around Angel affected her.
“Hey!” Connor said, brushing off his pants.
“You think he learned this kind of behavior from me?” Angel exclaimed. “Refusing to admit when something is none of his business, sneaking around, GETTING CAUGHT sneaking around,” Angel ticked off the list. “Which one of us does that sound like?”
“Hey,” Connor shouted. “I get it. I’m sorry. Now what’s the deal?”
“Yeah,” Fred added, ending her phone call, voice slightly hoarse from yelling at the caterer. “What did I miss?”
Cordelia shot another angry glare Angel’s way. “I guess we should get presentable and go introduce ourselves to Angel’s ‘friends’,” she air-quoted.
“So they don’t work for Wolfram and Hart?” Fred asked.
“Oh no, they do,” Angel told her.
Connor moved his arm experimentally, trying to assess the damage the door had done to his elbow. “So they’re not old friends of Angel’s?”
Angel bit his lip. “Actually -”
“No, they’re not,” Cordy cut him off. “It’s just a poorly researched cover story. But for now, we’re going to pretend that they are his friends, and let them come to the wedding and spy their little hearts out.” She took a deep, dramatic sigh. “I don’t know why Lilah even bothers anymore. I certainly could care less about what that stupid law firm is up to these days,” she said airily, for Angel’s benefit.
“So we let them spy and pretend we don’t know?” Connor said, before Angel could rise to the bait. “But what are we supposed to do? How do we act?” he asked.
“Act normal,” Angel said.
“Wait!” Cordy grabbed Angel’s forearm. She had an inkling of a plan. “Don’t act normal. Act MORE than normal.”
“Right!” Connor said. “Uh, what does that mean?”
She licked her lips. “It means we give Spies R’ Us exactly what they need to see to get them off our backs as soon as possible.”
Fred tapped her on the shoulder. “In case you don’t remember, there’s supposed to be a wedding tomorrow. We don’t have a lot of time for games.”
“It’ll be super easy,” Cordy assured her. “We just make ‘em think we couldn’t possibly be a threat to their incredibly powerful evil law firm. I’ll play flighty rich party girl. Fred, you dig deep and play a combination of head-in-the-clouds scientist and distracted wedding planner.”
Fred rolled her eyes. “Well, it’ll be a stretch, but I think I can make it work.”
“What about me?” Connor was practically bouncing with excitement.
Cordelia smiled. “Connor, you just channel a little of that psychotic rage you had when you first came back from Quartoth.” She brought her finger to her chin thoughtfully. “You don’t still have those animal skins, do you?”
Fred coughed. “I think the Peter Pan outfit is a little much. Let’s not go overboard here.”
Connor rubbed his hands together. “This is gonna be so much fun!”
Cordy patted his back. “You and I will go get changed and then pop in and meet our new friends.”
“Old friends,” Angel corrected, finally speaking up.
Cordelia frowned. “I thought the story was that they were YOUR old friends.”
“That too,” he said enigmatically.
“Then I…” Her frown turned petulant. “What are you not telling me?”
“Well, it’s actually pretty funny Princess,” Angel said. “Remember how you were just joking about the Scooby Gang walking you down the aisle…”
* * *
During the requisite snooping that was required when one was tapping a phone while one’s partner in crime set up a miniature hidden video camera, Xander had uncovered an old deck of cards in one of the desk drawers. He was kicking Buffy’s ass at “Go Fish” when suddenly a blood-curdling scream echoed through the building.
Buffy and Xander glanced at each other and then back down at their cards.
“Buf?” he said.
“Got any fours?”