Title: A Tangled Web
Notes: Ok, this story credit goes entirely to Love's Bitch whose idea it was in the first place (thanks for sharing, by the way!). This isn't paticularly a feel-good piece, but I don't quite know that it's angsty either. *shrug* It might be more philosophical than anything. It's a little different than anything else I've written, so I would love to know what you guys think so far.
She walked into the bar, scanning for her target. Advancing at a seductively slow pace, she eyed the various patrons scattered throughout the half empty room. Meeting the bartender’s gaze, she merely raised an eyebrow, asking an unspoken question. He quickly nodded towards the back room. Not immediately heading that way, she instead stepped up to the bar and ordered a shot of vodka. The bartender noticed the slight trembling of her hand as she tossed back her drink and ordered another one, but he said nothing. Finishing her second drink, she laid a few bills on the bar and slowly turned to head to the back.
As she stood in the doorway, her heart fell even as a smile lit up her face. He was there. He was there and he was already drunk. Allowing herself a small smile, she sauntered up to the table, “Hey there stranger, miss me?”
He looked up at her with bleary and dead eyes, “What took you so long?”
“That’s not the way you do it!”
“You wanna bet?”
Lowering her forehead against her keyboard, Cordelia tried to block out the incessant yelling of Wes and Gunn.
“Well, then, why don’t we just ask Fred!”
Her eyes narrowing as she heard Wesley’s pronouncement, Cordelia quickly got up and walked towards the stairs to get a better view of what was happening. Taking in their situation, she rolled her eyes before shooting a commiserating glance to Fred. The whole thing was becoming entirely too predictable. Wes, Gunn, and Fred would be working on something. Wes would question Gunn’s method, Gunn would get defensive, and poor Fred would be asked to mediate what was inevitably an idiotic argument in the first place. As much as she would have liked to rescue the other woman, Cordelia had learned quickly that it was best to steer clear of their melodrama. Heading up the stairs, she heard the beginning of Fred’s tired response. “Now, I think that maybe the best thing to do here is ………”
She was still shaking her head when she gently pushed open the door to Connor’s nursery. Angel was sitting quietly in a large cushy chair in the corner feeding his son, and his face lit up when Cordelia walked in. “Hey! I was wondering if you were going join us.”
Sighing with a grin, she walked over and perched lightly on the arm of his chair, “Yeah, well, I had to sneak through World War 3 down there.”
Angle’s smile faded a bit as a touch of irritation crossed his face, “Are they at it again?”
Nodding, Cordelia slumped back to rest her arm along the back of the chair, “Oh yeah. I believe this time it had something to do with the correct polishing methods for daggers versus swords.” She paused for a moment before continuing, “Angel, the weird thing is that nearly all of these fights are started by Wes.” Scowling at nothing in particular, Angel thought about her words. It did seem like Wesley had been very quick to find fault with anything Gunn did or said lately. “And the moron somehow thinks he scoring points with Fred by making Gunn look incompetent when all he’s really doing is making himself seem like a giant boob!”
Raising an eyebrow as he turned his head to look up at her frustrated face, Angel tried to bite back his smirk, “A giant boob?”
Smacking his head lightly, Cordelia otherwise ignored his comment, “I mean, I know they both like her, but does that mean they have to turn into prepubescent boys who must duke it out on the playground?” Sitting up a bit as another thought occurred to her, Cordelia narrowed her eyes and lowered her voice, “And speaking of everyone having some great yearning for Fred, you don’t have something to tell me do you?”
Blinking rapidly, Angel began to stutter, “Wha…No… I mean, NO! Why would you…who said that….Cordy!……That’s just….NO!”
“Alright, alright calm down Rain Man. I was just making sure, after all, Fred is apparently the new office ingénue. Not that I’m not perfectly happy for her, mind you!”
Calming a bit once he saw that she hadn’t been serious, Angel once again grew contemplative. “Do you really think this is all about Fred?”
Seeing that Conner was done with his bottle, Cordelia took him from his father’s arms and stood up to start burping him against her shoulder. Arranging a rag to protect her new shirt, she turned to continue her point. “Angel, has your past taught you nothing? Hello! All conflict is about love on some level.”
Having been momentarily distracted by the vision in front of him, Angel tried to formulate a fast response to her words. “Uhm, it is?”
“Duh! Alright, I can see you are going to be about as useful as usual, so we need a POA.”
Angel’s voice raised slightly, “A POA?”
Nodding briskly, Cordelia continued, “Yes. A Plan Of Action! Ok, Mr. Eloquent, here’s what we do. I’ll talk to Fred and see what’s going on in that quirky little head of hers. And you are going to talk to Wes, tell him to grow up, and to quit provoking Gunn. Got it?”
Standing up quickly, Angel eyes widened, “You want me to talk to Wes?”
Jostling slightly while patting Connor’s back, Cordelia sighed. “Unless you wanna talk to Gunn…but really, the problems seem to always be starting with Wes. If we can get him to back off, I don’t think we should have a problem with Gunn.”
Angel slid his hands into his pockets as he began to shuffle his feet, “But Cordy, I don’t do the talking thing….maybe you should talk to them both.”
“No, this is a guy-girl thing, which means I, being a female, will speak to the girl, and you, being a male, with speak to the guy. Got it?
‘Thank you so much for gettin’ me out of there, Cordelia, I just needed a breather, you know? I don’t know what’s gotten into those two lately, but they’ve been……well….”
Looking at Fred over the rim of her coffee cup, Cordy raised an eyebrow, “Impossible? Juvenile? Exhausting? Annoying?”
Giggling slightly, Fred let out a sigh of relief, “Well, all of the above, I guess.”
“Yeah, well, that’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about, Fred.” Leaning up in her seat, Cordelia rested her chin in her hand as she looked across the table, “All is not peaceful in the land of Angel Investigations, and I think we need to get to the root of the problem.”
Clasping her hands together in her lap, Fred refused to look up, “The root of the problem?”
“Regardless of what you may choose to believe, Angel, I am still the man in charge of this office, and you really ought to consult me before giving an employee the entire afternoon off.”
Angel say quietly in the corner chair for a moment before responding, “You’re right, Wes, and next time I’ll ask you first, but nothing is going on and there was really no good reason for Gunn to be here.” Looking at Wes out of the corner of his eye, he continued, “Besides, with the way you two have been lately, I would have thought you’d be glad to have him out of your hair for the afternoon.”
Wesley’s face grew expressionless at Angel’s words, “I don’t know what you mean.”
Shrugging slightly, Angel continued with an intentionally light tone, “Oh come on, you two have been at it for weeks now. Everybody’s noticed, me, Cordy, Fred…….everyone just seems more tense.”
Leaning back to put his feet up on his desk, Wesley looked at Angel, “Tense? Hmm, and that probably has nothing to do with the newborn child that we have all been adjusting to.”
His eyes darkening for the first time, Angel leaned up slightly, “Don’t even try to make this about Connor. You have been angry for weeks now, Wes, and I think it’s about time we talked about why.” Angel surprised himself with the tension in his voice, but Wesley didn’t seem to respond in kind. Instead, a disturbing peacefulness seemed to be etched across his face.
“Oh, you thinks it’s time, do you? Call me crazy, Angel, but I would hazard a guess that this little man-to-man chat wasn’t even your idea.” Sitting up to put his feet back on the floor, Wes leaned onto his desk and continued without looking away, “In fact, I would wager everything I own in this world that it was Cordelia who ordered you to come down here and talk to me.”
Angel merely shrugged, “Look, we both know Cordy’s a better judge of human nature than me, and if she says something’s going on with you and that it has something to do with Fred, than I believe her.”
Putting his finger into the air as if he were Sherlock Holmes, Wesley narrowed his eyes, “Ahhhh! Now we get to the heart of the matter, if you’ll forgive my pun. You aren’t worried about workplace tension. This is a fishing expedition for Cordelia to find out more about my feelings for Fred, and you are merely acting as errand-boy. Well, you needn’t worry…that’s all over and done with. I have all the answers I need.”
“If it’s all over and done with, than why can’t you look at any of us without a grimace?”
Wesley stood up and walked over to look out his door at the empty lobby. There was dead silence for a few moments before he turned back to respond, “Why don’t we just say I’m having my own little “dark period” and leave it at that.”
“Look, we both know what’s going on here, Fred, so I think it’s got to be decision time.”
Fred looked up, “We do? It does?”
Seeing her genuine fear, Cordelia decided to slow it down a notch. “Ok, let’s think about it this way: how long have you been uncomfortable being around both Wes and Gunn at the same time?
Her shoulders sagging in defeat, Fred sighed, “It’s all my fault, Cordy, but I just didn’t know what to do with all these feelins’ I was havin’, so I started confidin’ in Gunn about it.”
Cordelia spoke softly, “What feelings, Fred?”
Continuing to look out at the street, Fred seemed to be almost talking to herself, “I just went over there to get his advice, to come up with a plan…. But then he saw me there and I just didn’t know what to say…” her voice faded off as tears filled her eyes.
Feeling completely at sea, Cordelia reached over to grasp Fred’s hand, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Too many pronouns. Who are you talking about? Where did you go and who saw you there? And, not to repeat myself, but what feelings?”
Her eyes seemed to clear as she looked down at Cordelia’s hand on hers before looking up to meet her eyes, “I went to Gunn to tell him that I think I might be sorta fallin’ for Wes…to ask what I should do, but…but when I got there, Wes was already there…and I think he thought…he thought that I…..Oh, Cordy, I just couldn’t tell him why I was there. I couldn’t!”
Wes sat on his couch trying to ignore the ticking of the clock on the wall, but the more he tried to ignore it, the louder the clicks became. He didn’t know how it had all begun, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew how it would end.
Glancing at the wall he saw his resolve melting away with the movement of the second hand. Three hours. He wouldn’t make it. He never did. Not anymore.
“What the hell does he mean, ‘he’s going through his own dark period’?’
Putting his hands on his hips, Angel shot her a stern look, “Cordy, you have to concentrate when you throw your punches. We’ll talk about this when we’re done training, ok? For now, focus on your opponent.”
Mimicking his stance by putting her hands on her hips, Cordelia cocked her head and grinned, “Was that your way of telling me to shut-up about Wes already and start paying attention to you instead?” Reaching up to pat his cheek, she made a face at him she usually reserved for Connor, “Is somebody feeling left out???”
Attempting to glare at her, Angel swiped her hand away, “Cordelia, this is serious. You have to be focused at all times when we do this, otherwise someone could get hurt.”
“Angel, come on! There is no reason that we can’t talk this through while we work out down here, this is something that is really effecting…OOOOF! Ow! Hey! What the crap was that?”
Angel didn’t attempt to hide his grin at the young woman who was now shooting him death looks from her new position on the floor, “That was me showing you just how distracted you are by swiping your legs out from under you.” Leaning back on her hands that were placed on the mat behind her, Cordelia merely continued to glare at him. Unfortunately, her facial expressions had ceased to be of interest to Angel because her current position was causing her chest to jut out, and he found himself mesmerized by a bead of sweat that was making its way down her neck. It was slowly streaming down, down, down, headed towards……
Blinking hard, Angel suddenly realized that he was now on the floor next to Cordelia. She stuck her tongue out at him before speaking triumphantly, “Now what was it you were saying, Oh Great One, about getting distracted?”
Too embarrassed to speak immediately, Angel simply laid on the floor and looked up at the ceiling. If he’d had any breath, it would have been knocked out of him when a sudden heavy object landed on his chest. Shifting his eyes, Angel tried to control his reaction when he saw that Cordelia was now sitting sideways on his chest, her feet both off to one side as she propped her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hand.
“So, about this Wes thing….”
“Cordelia, get up.”
Winking as she patted his chest, Cordelia kept her seat, “Just get comfy, Angel, because I seriously think we should talk about this. Now, I told Wes what I thought about romance in the workplace but I went ahead and gave him my blessing anyway…..so I will not have this get messed up now!”
Angel folded his arms behind his head as he gave up and decided to just enjoy the warm weight currently on his torso. However, her question peaked his curiosity, “What do you mean you told him about you think about romance in the workplace? What do you think about it?” As he waited for her response, he dismissed the tightness in his chest as the added pressure of her weight.
Looking down at him matter of factly, she shrugged, “I think things are already complicated enough around here without getting our hearts tossed in the mix. But Angel, I saw the way he looked at her, how much he respects her, and I just couldn’t help it, I told him to go for it anyway….but now he seems to think that she’s hooking up with Gunn and he’s acting all….all……stupid!”
“Yes, stupid! He’s going to mess this up. Fred’s about this close to returning his feelings, and he’s going to ruin it!”
Angel tried not to frown as Cordelia suddenly stood up, taking away his blanket of warmth. Her face remained preoccupied as she put her hands out to help pull Angel up without a conscious thought.
“We need to talk to him. If I can just tell him that he misunderstood, than…”
Looking like a child who’s been told that recess is over, Angel cocked his head as he looked at her, “We do?”
“Yes. Where did he say he was going?”
“He said he was going straight home, that he just wanted to be alone.” Angel realized absently that their hands were still joined as they stood talking. He tried not to move so as not to draw her attention to it. “Cordelia, I think we should just leave him alone for tonight. Enough pushing. You can talk to him in the morning.”
Automatically trying to protest with her hands, Cordelia suddenly realized that they were still tangled with Angel’s. Growing slightly flustered, she pulled them away and saw Angel start to fidget as if he had just noticed it as well. “Well….uhm……yeah, anyway, I think I should talk to him tonight, no need to drag this thing out.”
“No. Just let him be for a few hours.” The firmness of his tone surprised her into silence. Reaching over to put a hand on her shoulder, Angel tried to explain, “Look, sometimes guys just need some time to themselves. Wes wants some alone time, and we just need to respect that, ok? I don’t think he’d listen to a word you said with the mood he’s in right now.” Cordelia frowned but nodded.
“Look, I have to go pick up some blood tonight anyway…why don’t you come with me? We’ll leave Connor with Fred and Lorne.”
Crossing her arms and raising her eyebrows, Cordelia looked at him nonchalantly, “And why would I want to do that?”
Angel smiled in victory as he turned to head towards the stairs, “Oh, cause we might just stop at a certain boutique you’ve been dying to visit on the way.”
Her voice followed him up the stairs, “You think you know me so well. But you know, I cannot always be bribed with clothing!”
Having reached the doorway, Angel turned around with a grin, “We leave at 8.”
Throwing her towel at the closing door, Cordelia sighed. “One of these days, that is not going to work!”
As he sat in the chair that had become all too familiar, Wesley thought about his conversation with Angel that afternoon. Angel. Powerful, Immortal, Clueless Angel. Tension in the workplace….Wes gave a drunken chuckle. There was more bloody tension in that hotel that anyone wanted to see. Angel always peaking glimpses at Cordelia, Cordelia pretending not to understand why. It was ironic, really, that they would be trying to give anyone romantic advice.
Romance. He should have listened to what his father had always told him about romance, what he had taught him about love. Young Wes had been 5 when his father had first sat him down to explain that love was just a word people tossed around to comfort themselves with, an excuse humans use to rationalize selfish and crazy behavior. Some people, he had told him, will use the notion of “god” as a crutch their entire lives and other people will use “love” in the same way, but both are ultimately for the weak. Strong men, Wyndham-Price men didn’t need such aides, Wesley recalled with a bitter smile.
Seeing Fred at Gunn’s had merely confirmed what he had suspected for weeks. He had seen them together, whispering, talking, touching. At night he dreamt of them laughing at him behind his back, pitying him for his sad, hopeless affection for Fred. But he and Gunn were friends and had always been honest with one another. He had gone in hopes of getting a straight answer, and had instead been handed a pack of lies. Gunn had no sooner said that nothing was going on than Fred has shown up at his door in the middle of the night. Friendship, indeed.
Offering up a toast to an invisible companion, Wesley’s eyes grew bleary from alcohol and misery, “Here’s to you, Father. You were wiser than I knew.”
He knew she was there before she spoke, so her words drew no immediate reaction.
“Can anyone join in on this toast?”
Angel tried to stand patiently as Cordelia tried on another dress, but her earlier words were haunting his brain for reasons he didn’t want to analyze. Leaning up against her closed fitting room door, he looked at the ceiling as he began to talk, “Cordy, what did you mean before when you said that office romance were a bad idea?”
Her voice came out muffled as she attempted to respond, “Well, Angel, what does it sound like I meant? The statement seems pretty self-explanatory to me!”
Trying to ignore his pressing thoughts about what Cordelia was, or wasn’t wearing, not two feet away from him, Angel closed his eyes as he responded, “But the way you said it, Cordy, you acted like any romance in your lives at all would be too complicated.” His eyes fluttered opened when the door he was leaning suddenly disappeared and he abruptly fell into Cordelia’s dressing room and on top of her, shoving her to the back wall.
“OW! Angel, get off!”
Clumsily pulling himself upright, Angel turned around to apologize as he back his way out of the room, “I’m sorry, but you opened that without any warning!”
Rolling her eyes as she straightened the dress she had been about to show him, Cordelia smiled, “Yeah, whatever.” Once she had the dress rearranged to her satisfaction, she struck a pose, “So what do you think?”
Looking at the incredible picture she made, Angel was torn between telling her that the dress had obviously been made for her, and locking her in the fitting room so that no other male would ever see her in it. Unable to come up with a compromise, he settled for “Uhm, it’s nice.”
Angel nodded while shrugging noncommittally, but began to feel guilty when he saw the frown cross her face as doubt crept into her eyes when she turned to look in the mirror once again. “Hmmm, well, for $300, it’s got to beat ‘nice’.” And she swung the door closed without another word.
Trying to ignore his pangs of conscience, Angel distracted himself by talking to the wooden door once again, “ Cordy, you never answered the question.”
“About your lives being too complicated for love. Do you really think that?”
The door swung open as Cordelia emerged pulling her jacket on, “Yes, I do really think that.”
The pair silently made their way back out of the store. As they walked down the sidewalk to the car, Cordelia began to quietly talk again, “I’ll tell you what I told Wes. Sometimes I wonder if maybe we aren’t meant to be alone. I mean, what are the chances of us finding someone who can put up with what we do? Who could understand what we do?” Seeing the guilt in his eyes, Cordelia stopped and put a hand on his chest, “Whoa. That was not the signal for the beginning of Guiltmania 2002, so just stop before you even get started, OK?”
Angel nodded and was grateful that she would never know what was really going on in his head. She thought he was feeling guilty for robbing her of a normal life, when he was actually feeling guilty for the relief that had flooded his soul because it sounded like she had given up on a normal life…and that meant she wouldn’t leave him for someone else. He felt like a jerk for being happy about that, but he couldn’t help it. His musing were interrupted by a sudden, hissed whisper from Cordelia.
Angel looked down at her, “Yeah, I know, this is really all about Wesley and Fred.”
Shaking her head furiously, Cordelia pointed at a man and woman who were walking down the sidewalk, across the street from them, “No! That is Wesley! I thought you said he was going home!”
Angel frowned as he saw that she was right. “He did say that, but he must have changed his mind.”
“But he’s walking with someone! Who is he with?”
Looking more closely at the pair, Angel sucked in a breath as he realized who Wesley was with. Knowing his sight has allowed him to see what Cordelia had not yet made out, he pondered the best thing to do. He didn’t have to wonder long, however, because Cordelia soon let out a gasp.
“Angel! He’s with…what the fu….”
Clasping his hand over her mouth, Angel pulled her towards the car. “Shh, Cordy. He might be in danger, let’s just follow them for now and see what’s going on.”
Ten minutes later, they sat in front of an apartment building in dumb silence. Cordelia finally got out of the car and spoke up, “Angel, you have to go up there and see what is happening!”
Looking around at the dark street, Angel knew she was right, but he still didn’t like leaving her there on her own. As if she could read his mind, Cordelia waved her hands dismissively, “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I’ve got my Bag o’ Weapons, and the best trainer money can buy. Just go see if he’s OK.”
Angel saw the genuine worry in her eyes and nodded. “Stay here, I’ll go see what I can make out.”
Cordelia was surprised when he showed back up not 15 minutes later, but he was walking slowly as if he was afraid of what he was about to tell her. “So what’s going on? What did you see?”
Angel refused to meet her eyes as he looked back towards the buildings, “I went on the roof across the street and was able to see into her windows.”
Cordelia was growing impatient, “And???”
Running his hand through his hair, Angel continued to gaze across the street, “And he’s fine, sorta.”
Closing his eyes in defeat, he knew he would have to tell her because otherwise, her worry would drive her up to the apartment herself. “Cordelia, just stay calm. He’s fine, but, uhm, they are….well, they seem to be……”
Her eyes widened in shock as understanding and horror flooded through her body. Suddenly Angel’s reluctance and stuttering made perfect, awful sense.
“He’s screwing Lilah!”
Taking her hand, Angel led her back towards the car, “Shhh! Yeah, he is, but Cordy….”
Stopping in her tracks, Cordelia began to poke at his chest, “No! There are no ‘buts’ here! He’s up there doing the evil bitch when he’s supposed to be in love with Fred!”
Angel opened the door and gently shoved the scowling woman into the seat. “Well, maybe we should just be grateful that he’s just sleeping with her…”
Blinking up at him, Cordelia’s voice grew dangerously low, “What the hell does that mean?”
Glaring back, Angel leaned his head down as his hand rested on the now-closed car door, “If you let me finish a sentence, I’ll tell you.”
Cordelia merely rolled her eyes and waved a hand, “Oh, by all means, proceed.”
Instead of immediately responding, Angel walked over to the driver’s side of the car and got in. He looked ahead for awhile before turning in the seat to look at her. “Cord, all I meant is that it’s probably just sex. Meaningless sex. It’s not as if he thinks he’s in love with Lilah. He isn’t going to propose….” But he faded off when he saw that his words were only feeding the quiet fury on Cordelia’s face.
Her mouth opened and closed a few times before her voice finally came, “Wait a minute. Are you actually presenting that as if it’s the good news? Like that’s the option you wanna go with on this one? Gee, maybe Wes is just having meaningless sex with an evil psycho! After all, we all know there are NO ramifications to that happening, now don’t we?”
“That isn’t what I meant, Cor. Of course it’s not good that Wes is up there….well, doing what he’s doing….”
“Hey! If you ever want me to eat again, you’ll stop with the words that bring up the mental images!”
“…What I’m trying to say is that this isn’t as simple as you’re making it. He’s obviously in a really bad place right now and what is happening has nothing to do with his feelings for Fred or Lilah. It has to do with how he feels about himself.”
Angel began to squirm as the minutes passed and Cordelia continued to sit in silence. He was beginning to wonder if she had even heard him speak when she turned slowly in her seat to look searchingly in his eyes. After a few seconds she shook her head and began to speak, “Are you mentally challenged? Do you have some sort of special needs that we just aren’t aware of? Because I can’t think of any other reason that you would actually believe the absolute crap you were just spouting….”
“No, Angel, trust me. You want to shut up and just listen right now.” With flashing eyes, she saw him close his mouth and nod. “Do you actually believe that having sex can be totally devoid of emotion? That you can sleep with one person while loving another all the while?”
Angel glanced away as he looked up towards the windows of Lilah’s building, “Yeah, Cordy, you can. I happen to know you can.”
“Oh yes, how can we forget…you and Buffy, the eternal lovers who can go for years without seeing one another, who can screw other people, and yet still be soul mates.”
Cordelia couldn’t help the sigh that escaped her lips as she saw him flinch at her harshness. And even though she felt bad, she knew she had to get this off her chest because this thing with Wes and Fred was getting entirely too personal. “Don’t get me wrong, Angel, you know you are my best friend and that I love you… But if that’s your definition of romantic love, if that’s the love that we are all so desperately in search of, then heaven help us all if we ever find it.”
Angel’s eyes hardened even as he felt a bizarre sort of panic at her words, “Cordelia, how can you….You know that what I felt for her was…”
He felt the eyes that gazed back at him penetrate his soul, “Was what? Pure and lovely and beautiful? Angel, what world are you living in? I won’t deny that you two had potential, hell, you can quote me as having called her the love of your life. And it’s probably true…by most people’s standards, you two had the ultimate love. After all, what could possibly be better than a passionate and completely selfish affair? What with all the kissing and fighting and hurting and sex and attempted murder and sending to hell…. You had better hope to heaven she was the love of your life, Angel, cause I don’t think either of you could survive another love like that.”
Gripping the steering wheel, Angel avoided Cordelia’s eyes as he tried to put a lid on his boiling emotions. When he spoke a few minutes later, his voice was low and without emotion, “I think I should just take you home now, we can talk to Wes in the morning…”
“No. I’m not going anywhere until I see his British ass walk out of that building. I’m not giving him any wiggle room on this one. You can go if you want, but that just means that me and this curb will have to become acquainted.”
He knew there was no doubt in her mind that he would never leave there, and he also knew that she was right. Angel could tell by the closeness of her voice that she was still looking at him, but his eyes remained forward, and his voice cold, as he responded, “Fine, we’ll stay.”
“You saw it again, didn’t you? You know what I’m talking about.”
He didn’t look up. “Enough with the talking. I don’t come here for the conversation.”
She grinned as she poured a drink and turned to watch him speculatively, “Yes, I am well aware of that, but that doesn’t make me any less right, you know.” She somehow managed not to smile as his shoulders slumped in defeat as he looked at anything but her.
Pulling her coat more tightly around her, Cordelia turned sideways in the seat so she could rest her head on it. Watching Angel, she frowned. He literally hadn’t moved in 30 minutes, and neither of them had spoken except for her call to Fred to ask her to stay with Connor. Looking at his tightly clenched jaw, she realized he was still mad, and she couldn’t really blame him. She believed every word she had said about his view of “love,” but she also was beginning to see that maybe she had made her point at too high a cost. Buffy was off-limits, and for just one second Cordelia had forgotten that. Closing her eyes, she tried to think about why she had been so frantic to get her point across to Angel, why she had been rash enough to break the ultimate commandment—the “don’t presume to know anything about the great love of Angel and Buffy” rule. Opening her eyes and sitting up, Cordelia realized there was only one thing to do in a situation like this.
“So, Angel. You think you’re gonna blink sometime this century, or is that dry eyed stare really working for you?”
She tried not to smile when she saw him blink out of sheer surprise at her abrupt attempt at humor. Her victory was short lived, however, when she realized he wasn’t going to respond. Sighing, she leaned back against the car door and tried not to shiver.
Watching her valiant attempts to appear warm out of the corner of his eye, Angel waged an internal battle. He knew she thought he was mad, and the truth was, he wanted to be. Desperately. He wanted to be pissed at her for saying the things she had about something she didn’t know anything about. And the truth was, he wanted to not want to give her his coat, but when he saw her start to gnaw on her thumb as a pretense to blow warm air on her hand, he knew it was a battle he wasn’t going to win. Shrugging out of his coat, he tossed it at her without a word, figuring he could at least make it look as grudging a gesture as possible.
Her brows knit in confusion, Cordelia picked up the heavy coat that was now lying on her legs and draped it over herself like a blanket. “Thanks.” When he only nodded a silent response, she rolled her eyes.
“Alright, that’s it! Enough with the silent treatment. I mean, I know you don’t usually talk to me anyway but this is not the normal silent treatment…this is a pouty silent treatment and it’s getting old! If your pissed at me, FINE, then be pissed! But say something damn it!”
Angel reluctantly looked over at her, “What do you want me to say, Cordelia?”
“Anything! Tell me to shut the hell up! Tell me I’m wrong! Better yet, tell me why I’m wrong, because as ‘over the line’ as you obviously think I was, I don’t think I was that far off the mark.”
Her expression was daring him to contradict her, and he knew what she was doing. She was trying to goad him into telling her more about he and Buffy than he ever had. As much a part of his life as Cordelia had become, that was one topic that had gone untouched all these years. He had never wanted to discuss that with anyone, let alone Cordelia. So what he didn’t understand was why he was having this urge to tell her about it now, to explain what had happened, to describe the changing sensations of his heart over the years. But there was too much to say, and it had nothing to do with their relationship. At least that’s what Angel had been telling himself for weeks, but the excuse suddenly seemed hollow. Desperate for something to say to stop the stare he could feel penetrating his thoughts, Angel began to shake his head.
“Cordelia, you’re young and inexperienced. I understand your view, but frankly, it’s a bit naïve.”
An eyebrow went up, “Naïve?”
He nodded and turned to look at her, “Yes. You have wisdom beyond your years, Cordy, but I’ve been around a lot longer than you, and I’ve felt….I’ve felt….”
“You’ve felt what…more than me?”
Shrugging, Angel found it was easier to look at the street as he talked, “I know it sounds bad, but yes. I do think I have felt more than you in my very long life. In a perfect world, we could all live by your definition of love, Cordy,” his voice lowered measurably, “but this isn’t a perfect world.” He paused and looked over at her, but Cordelia was sitting in silence and didn’t seem about to open her mouth. He couldn’t read the look in her eyes, and that made him uncomfortable.
“Cordelia, when you’ve seen as much of human nature as I have, the good and the bad, you come to understand that sometimes, even when you love someone with all your heart, you can do horrible things that have nothing to do with that love, that your actions don’t always reflect your emotions.” The car was quiet as they both sat and pondered Angel’s philosophical outburst.
It was a few moments before Cordelia looked at him again, this time more curious than irritated. “Is that what you honestly believe? That’s what your 250 years have taught you?”
Her words, while spoken calmly and without sarcasm, still grated on Angel’s nerves. His eyes flashed as he turned to glare at her, “Why do you insist on never….” His voice faded off as Cordelia abruptly jumped up and slammed out of the car. Feeling immediately contrite, Angel jumped out as well, “Cordy, I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to yell at you.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes at him as she tossed him his coat and whispered in a hiss, “Wes just walked out!”
Shoving his arms into the coat, Angel looked across and saw Wesley’s form slinking down the sidewalk with Cordelia in hot pursuit.
Angel flinched as Cordelia yelled down the deserted street, but he saw the other man stop abruptly. Cordelia walked within a few feet of him before she stopped.
“Well, speak of the devil! What are you doing out here this time of night? Tracking a demon maybe? I’ve heard there are some nasty beasts that live in this neighborhood.”
The moment he had first heard Cordelia’s voice, Wesley had frozen. Unable to turn around, he stood in the street with his eyes closed as her words continued to wash over him. It was the nasty beast comment that sparked his courage and allowed him to face her. Slowly turning, he saw Cordelia standing with arms crossed as Angel walked up behind her.
“Cordelia., and Angel too. Nice to know some thing are still predictable.”
Angel merely looked down as Cordelia seemed to rise to the challenge in Wesley’s tone.
“Predictable? Now there’s one word I wouldn’t have picked to describe the events of this evening.”
Realizing there was no hiding what they obviously knew, Wesley expected to feel shame but surprised himself when a sudden rush of indignant anger filled him. “Am I to understand that you two have taken to following people now? If you’re under the mistaken impression that I owe either of you any sort of explanation for my chosen activities, you are sadly mistaken. In fact, I think you have been forgetting for quite some time just who exactly is in charge.”
By the end of his speech, Wesley had stepped dangerously close to Cordelia, and the two of them were presently engaged in a glaring contest. And even though he knew she was in no real danger, Angel instinctively tensed up at the tension directed towards Cordy.
“Back off, Wes.”
His eyes flickering from Cordelia to Angel, Wesley began to laugh derisively. “You’re the voice of reason, Angel? Now I know we’ve hit bottom.”
Cordelia was beginning to feel physically ill. The look in Wesley’s eyes was one she had never seen before. There was a coldness there, a hostility that chilled her to the bone. It made her sad, but mostly, it just made her mad on behalf of the man she knew and loved. Grapping his jacket lapel, she pulled him back towards her.
“You want to talk about hitting bottom, Wes? I think you have a little explaining to do, and don’t even try to say this doesn’t involve us. I don’t have to be Julia Roberts to know you’re sleeping with the enemy.”
He looked down at her hand with a raised eyebrow. Cordelia released his coat, but didn’t relax her stance. She could feel Angel standing directly behind her. His soft voice brushed past her ear.
“Wes, we’re just trying to figure out what happened. When did this start? What does she want?”
Something brief and unrecognizable flickered through his eyes before he regained his detached expression and responded, “Of course, you assume that it couldn’t possibly just be me that she wants.”
Cordelia’s hands came up, “Well, not to state the obvious, Wes, but DUH! When has Lilah ever done anything not, uhm, evil?”
He turned and began to walk away, “I’m not having this conversation with you.”
Cordelia’s voice was deathly soft, “What about Fred?” He stopped but did not turn around, so she continued, “You were wrong about her and Gunn, you know. It’s you she cared about, but you just had to go and literally screw that up. How is this supposed to make her feel?” Her voice broke, and she felt Angel’s hand on her shoulder. Wesley’s head was dipped low, but he wasn’t responding. Cordelia felt a tear slip down her cheek as she began to plead. “Wes, please. Tell us what’s going on. Don’t shut us out.”
His eyes were tortured as he turned around and looked into Cordelia’s eyes, “Please, Cordy, just leave Fred out of this.” She felt another tear drop as he turned and walked away from them without another word.
Walking from the kitchen to the living room, Angel handed Cordelia a steaming mug and sat down next to her curled up figure on the couch. He looked at her profile and felt a tightness growing in his chest as he realized that this must have been close to what she had looked like when he had fired them all. Her eyes contained a painful mixture of confusion, hurt, and anger. He sat still, unsure of what to do but wanting to be a comfort.
Cordelia drank her hot chocolate in silence, thinking absently that she was glad Angel had learned to put that extra half-packet of the mix in as she liked. She felt its warmth spreading through her, but it didn’t bring the comfort she had come to expect. Feeling Angel’s eyes on her, she thought back over all the words that had been spoken throughout the evening. Frowning, she remembered the last thing Wes had said before disappearing into the night.
Seeing her darkening face, Angel shifted sideways. Putting an arm on the back of the couch, not quite around her but still feeling intimate, Angel took the now empty mug from her hands, “Cordy, what is it? What are you thinking?” He did not expect the words that came out of her mouth.
“Angel, you were mad at me, weren’t you?”
He blinked a few times before managing a “What?”
“When we were in the car, you were pissed. You were pissed because of what I said, and then you said that I don’t understand realistic love.”
Angel knew exactly what she was talking about, but he didn’t understand why she was bringing it back up right now. “Cordy, what does that have to do with…”
“Angel, he told me to leave Fred out of it. You tried to say it had nothing to do with Fred, and now he’s going to try to say that too.”
He rubbed his brow, “Cordelia, I know you don’t want to hear this, but it’s entirely possible that it doesn’t have anything to do with his feelings for Fred.”
She shook her head as some of the confusion faded out of her eyes, “That’s absurd.”
“ Something is going on inside of him, Cordy, something that none of us have seen. Whatever sick thing he has going on with Lilah, you can bet it’s about his feelings about himself, not Fred. Trust me on this. It’s familiar territory. My fight with an inner demon may be more actual than most people’s, but don’t think its any different than what Wes is going through. He’s battling his own dark side, his own past. That’s what this is about. It doesn’t change his love for her.”
Cordelia felt the dark intensity of his eyes burn through hers and for some reason, she found herself struggling not to blush. Absently, some part of her brain wondered about that reaction, how it made any sense at all, but she didn’t have time to analyze it. Her voice was very quiet when she spoke again.
“Angel, this isn’t about you and Darla and Buffy.”
‘Cordelia, that isn’t….”
She put a hand up, “Angel, just listen to me, OK? You said before that I don’t understand what kind of world this is. You think you have to remind me that this isn’t a perfect world? ME. Vision girl extraordinaire, who feels the pain of humanity? I know exactly what kind of world this is, Angel.”
Pausing, Cordelia lowered her voice, “But that’s not the point. You can try to say that Wes having sex with someone else has nothing do with his supposed love for Fred. Wes may have been trying to say that too. Hell, you could have everyone you’ve ever met tell me that, Angel, and that still wouldn’t make it true.”
Sighing, she grabbed a blanket off the back of the couch and arranged it over herself as she sat up against the couch arm and abruptly flopped her feet into Angel’s lap. He looked mildly surprised but not unhappy with her change in position. His arm remained on the back of the couch, while his other hand came up to rest on her ankles. Somehow, the seemingly inconsequential touching gave her the courage to say what had been nagging at her brain for hours.
“I haven’t loved many people in my life, Angel, but nearly every time I have, it’s been a painful, heart-wrenching experience. And you wanna know why? Growing up, I didn’t have the slightest notion what unselfish love was about. Never in my life have I had someone love me regardless of what they could get from me.”
Angel looked at her, and realized to his horror that she was fighting back tears. She took a deep breath before she continued.
“By saying you can have sex with one person while being in love with another, you are saying that loving someone can be separate from your treatment of them. That the feelings can be real even when the actions aren’t. You think you’re the first person to ever tell me that? Please. That’s my childhood. I spent 17 years being told that the way my parents treated me had nothing to do with their ‘love’ for me. I was raised to believe you could feel one way and act another and not be a liar.”
A tear rolled down her cheek as she continued, “Angel, that just isn’t true. Wesley is screwing Lilah, and whatever the hell his ‘reason’ is doesn’t matter, it still has everything to do with his supposed love for Fred. You try to say that our actions don’t always reflect our emotions, but that’s the opposite of the reality. The truth is, when your actions say something different than your ‘feelings’, it’s usually just because your actions are admitting something that your head can’t.” She looked up suddenly, “Action is the purest form of emotion, Angel. Never forget that.”
Angel looked into her tear-stained eyes and prayed that she didn’t understand the ramifications of what she had just said.
“You know what she’s like. She craves a man who is strong, a man of action, a man who could save her scrawny little ass should the need arise.”
“Shut up. I am strong. I fight along side them everyday.”
“There’s more to strength than wielding a weapon that someone else made, you know. He was strong enough to fight Billy’s influence off long enough to let her knock him out. You, on the other hand made her feel like a cheap whore and tried to kill her.”
“Just….just stop. She’s forgiven me for that, that wasn’t ME.”
“Sure, she’s forgiven you. But you think a girl ever forgets something like that? You may know less about women than I gave you credit for.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about….”
“Poor, deluded little Wesley. He doesn’t see that he’ll never….”
“Go away! Just quit coming here like this and ….”
“….he doesn’t see that he’ll never really be in charge. He’s just a worthless little stub of a man that’s only good for reading the books that no one else can.”
“STOP!! JUST SHUT THE HELL UP FOR ONE BLOODY MINUTE!”
Angel sat looking at Cordelia who seemed lost in her thoughts, her words echoing in his head like some sort of mantra.
Action is the purest form of emotion.
He thought about the actions that had defined who he had become these last few years. Angelus had claimed to hate Buffy, and yet he had been unable to leave her alone. And after regaining his soul, Angel had left her because he had claimed to love her. And while it was true that his passion for her had been as strong as is always had been when he left Sunnydale, Cordelia’s words were making him view his actions is a different light.
He had claimed to be leaving to give her a normal life. But Buffy was a slayer. What chance at a normal life had she ever really had? Her life would have been a freak show with or without his help, though he had admittedly done his share of adding to the side-show atmosphere. Suddenly, a new thought rose to the surface of his mind, and it made him quickly glance at the silent girl next to him. Her head was resting on the back of the couch, her eyes closed. Looking down to her feet still nestled in his lap, Angel realized that he had absent-mindedly been rubbing them and that the action must have lulled her to sleep.
Reaching down with his hand that had been resting mere inches from her head, Angel brushed a strand of hair away from her cheek. Was what she had suggested possible? Had he left Sunnydale out of selfishness? Was selfish love all he had ever known? He thought about how life had been for him in the months before he had left Buffy and realized that his leaving had a lot to do with his own feelings of guilt and unhappiness. He had grown tired of the endless parade of people telling him she would be better off without him, had grown frustrated with the torture of being near her but being unable to truly be with her. The unfulfilled passion had left him feeling desperate and tired because there had been little else to their interactions, certainly no real friendship.
And so he had left. He had dragged his emotionally exhausted self to Los Angeles. Shifting slightly in his seat, Angel continued to gently rub Cordelia’s cheek as a new clarity swept through him. Just who exactly had he been trying to protect when he left? Closing his eyes as he laid his head back on the couch, Angel looked up at the ceiling and let an unconscious breath leave his mouth. Hindsight was really a bitch sometimes.
When Cordelia moaned slightly and shifted, Angel realized he had left his hand tangled in her hair. Not wanting to wake her, he began to withdraw it only to have her nestle into his touch. Smiling slightly, Angel let his thoughts begin to move from the past to the present.
Actions are the purest form of emotion.
Looking at Cordelia and thinking of his actions over the past year, he could no longer deny the truth of her words. He had pushed her away, had left her only to be drawn back again because what they shared wasn’t about passion. It was about being known. He had lost her only to realize that he would do anything to get her back. And indeed, he had been forced several times to do anything to protect her, to keep her in his life. Running his fingers through her silky hair, he wondered if she realized what his actions had been telling her for months. What his heart had known long before his head had acknowledged it.
Thinking over the complicating factors of recent events, he prayed that she didn’t.
Cordelia sat blissfully unaware of Angel’s rapid thoughts as she hovered in a hazy half-sleep. She could feel his touch literally from her head to her toes, and she had chosen not to overanalyze the feeling of peace he had been able to give her despite the evening’s events. It was only when his hand in her hair began to tense up that she shook herself awake, though she left her eyes closed to maintain the cover of sleep. She could only imagine what he was thinking about. Goodness knows she had spent her evening giving him an earful. For the first time, she began to feel more than a little guilty at lambasting Angel when it was really Wesley she was furious at. Whatever she thought of his past actions in the name of ‘love’, he wasn’t responsible for the travesty that Wes was currently in the middle of. When she heard him sigh, she couldn’t help but try to comfort him in the only way she knew, the way that had become their ritual. Cordelia did what only she was allowed to do, she touched him. Moving sleepily, she shifted so that her head was no longer lying on the couch, but instead was nestled into the crook of his arm, her knees cradled in his lap.
Angel was surprised and tensed momentarily, but assuming that her actions were in her sleep, he quickly drew her closer with his arm around her shoulder and laid his head on hers. Reveling in the smell of her hair and the warmth of her body, Angel allowed the worry to drain away, if only for a moment.
Cordelia blinked and tried to shift her body only to discover a heavy object pinning her chest down. With a sigh, she tried to force her eyes to focus but all she could see was a big black mass on her chest. Her memories of the night before suddenly came flooding back, and Cordelia couldn’t help but smile when she realized the position that she and Angel had somehow ended up in. She was now lying on her back on the sofa with Angel curled onto his side, resting his head on her chest, arms around her waist, but the pretzeling didn’t end there because their legs were a tangled mess. So much so that Cordelia was a little afraid of making any motions for fear of brushing something inappropriate and causing the situation to become even more awkward.
She was just beginning to ponder her options when some of the pressure on her chest lifted and she realized that there were two black eyes now focused on hers.
She tried not to grin at how cute his sleepy eyes looked, “Hey yourself. Guess we fell asleep.”
Angel smiled slightly at her statement of the obvious but made no move to get off of her.
When Cordelia realized that he wasn’t moving, she couldn’t help but giggle. Surprised by her actions, Angel leaned up on elbow to look down at her.
“So I take it we aren’t fighting anymore?”
Her eyebrow quirked, “Well, you’re the one on top of me, so maybe you should answer that.”
Angel heard her heart speed up at her words and that made him view her tone differently than he would have otherwise. He tried to remember his resolution from the previous night, to recall why now was the wrong time to tell Cordelia how he felt, to show her how he felt, but waking up wrapped around her warmth had turned his mind into a hazy mush of desire. And now she was looking at him with those eyes, those questioning eyes that made him ignore everything he had sworn never to forget.
Cordelia saw his eyes start to darken and suddenly forgot to breathe. She’d meant the words in jest but hadn’t been able to stop her heart’s quickening at the mention of their postition, and Angel had heard it. She was sure of that. Before she had time to contemplate their situation any further, Angel’s head had dipped lower, and she froze as he hovered inches away from her lips.
She thought absent-mindedly about how odd it was not to feel warm breath coming from someone speaking almost directly into her mouth.
Tearing her eyes away from his lips, she blinked up into his eyes and tried to swallow. His hand came up to brush her hair off her forehead as she finally answered, “Yes?”
Looking into her eyes, Angel saw nothing but pure vulnerability. She was completely open to him, all her defenses were down. It was the moment he had been waiting for, the perfect time to declare his love. He had imagined that he would feel a thrill at this moment but all he felt was panic. He was holding the woman he loved, and she trusted him completely. But then her words from the previous evening came flooding back. She had been burned by love so many times, hurt by those not worthy of the depth of her emotions, betrayed by those who supposedly loved her. What did he have to offer her that was different than that? He had hurt anyone he had ever loved. It was just a matter of time. She was right, he was as selfish as she has said.
Her warm breath fell across his lips like a caress and it made him want to die before doing what he knew he had to do. Closing his eyes to block out her gaze, he leaned up to gently kiss her forehead before pulling himself away from her and off the couch.
“I’ve got to go find Wes.”