Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.
Historical note: The action in the story takes place shortly after "Heroes".
AS THE PAGE TURNS
by Evan Como
"Thank you, Cordelia, but I think I can manage from here."
Rupert Giles stumbled through the doorway of Angel Investigations in a hurry. He just had to get away from the annoying girl who had driven him from the airport. Legendary Los Angeles traffic played its own part in his misery--a jackknifed truck made the normally 25 minute drive last well over an hour so Cordelia's usual insipid ramblings included various comments on the traffic, as well. With so apprehensive a beginning, Giles concluded that the weekend had no where else to go but down.
And so it began.
Giles looked up into his host's face while he placed his valise on the floor. He blinked, once, to clear his thoughts. The young man he saw before him seemed somehow different from the being he had known in Sunnydale. In this setting--an airy space, filtered sunlight reflecting on polished wood--he could have sworn that Angel had aged by several years. Of course, with Angel being vampire that would not be the case. Still it took a moment for Giles to gather his wits about him enough to finally say hello.
The smallest of smiles turned up the corners of Angel's mouth. "Traffic?"
"Oh, my God! It was a truck! They just shouldn't allow trucks on the freeways when regular people have to get places. It's just not fair. You know, we would have been here so much sooner--"
"OK, then. Let's get you all settled in." Giles' look of utter remorse prompted Angel to cut Cordelia short of her tirade. He could only imagine what the ride from the airport was like. "Why don't you go ahead and run to the store now, Cordelia? It'll give Giles a chance to wind down."
"I was going to stay at a hotel, actually. I don't want to be an imposition."
As the door slammed behind Cordelia, Angel stood for a moment to consider his uneasy guest. It surprised him that Giles had accepted the invitation to come in the fist place and it seemed the traffic wasn't the best of omens for the start of the weekend. With his guest's arrival, it was up to Angel to be a good host. The thought that somehow seemed reasonable a week ago didn't seem so easy now and he found himself missing Doyle's affable ability to put anyone at ease.
"It was the car ride with Cordelia?"
"I beg your pardon?" Giles, growing more uncomfortable by the moment, removed his wire-rimmed glasses and wiped them with a cloth from his pants. He folded the cloth in half, quarters, and then eighths before replacing it in his pocket.
Angel held the bag in front of him with both hands, stepping back to stand eye to eye with Giles. Although their difference in height was minimal, the other man still needed to obviously raise his head. Plus, Angel realized that Giles' discomfort was probably due to his sudden loss of personal space; he was the stranger in these surroundings.
"I thought that since you were only going to be here for three days, it might be more convenient for you just to stay here. You know, closer to the project... But if you would rather stay nearby, that's OK, too. Actually, even in this neighborhood, there's a very nice place a couple of blocks away. When Cordelia gets back, I can have her take you there."
There was a cordial, unassuming manner that Angel used as he spoke and Giles found himself acquiescing. He had come to Los Angeles on Angel's invitation to avoid yet another weekend of boredom. His life had lost its edge--whatever edge an unemployed librarian's--a decommissioned Watcher's--life could possible have, at least. Babysitting the weakened vampire Spike was hardly the role he could have imagined for himself although after the ride with Cordelia, Spike's company wasn't looking half-bad.
His hesitation began to subside with the remembrance of his current lifestyle's routine. "Perhaps, it was Cordelia. Does she ever shut up?"
Smiling warmly, Angel replied, "Cordelia does still have the tendency to use a dozen words when half will do. But, when it comes right down to it, sometimes she has amazing insight." When Giles chuckled at the absurd idea, Angel continued, "If you're around her long enough you eventually learn to weed out most of the babble. In the course of a few days you probably won't be able to get the hang of it. But, really, she's not all that bad."
There was something odd about Angel's change of heart regarding Cordelia. Giles had never remembered the two of them ever getting along, and if memory served him correctly it seemed as though Angel had deliberately avoided Cordelia in the past. But then, in the past, Angel only seemed to really care for Buffy and merely endured his relationship with the rest of the Slayer's team out of necessity. It began to seem odder that Angel should extend an invitation to him, of all people.
His curiosity finally got the better of him. "You were going me to show me to my accommodations?"
Angel nodded and turned, leading Giles into the elevator at the end of his office. The two men rode the one floor distance in silence until Angel pulled back the grate from the chamber when they reached the basement.
"My God." Giles looked out into the sweeping expanse of the apartment. The furnishings were a mix of kitsch, antique and classic--an eclectic hodgepodge of styles. Somehow everything worked together to seem homey, although not quite lived in. A chill traced his spine.
The decor of the apartment had a distinctly masculine attitude, however the warm colors accented the simple design shapes in such a way that it spoke more of the occupant's need to be comfortable than anything else. Little touches of opulence were visible everywhere, yet they were hardly the focal point of any one area. Giles admired the elegance behind the stylish luxury, the feel for even the smallest of details such as when Angel led him through the master bedroom area and placed the valise on a valet table. The tour finally ended in the simple kitchen where Angel began to fill a kettle with water.
A task as mundane as making tea gave Angel a moment to collect his thoughts. He wanted Giles' short visit to be a pleasant one. Over the past year, he had tried to find a meeting ground for the two of them to be less hostile. He genuinely liked Giles and every attempt in the past to convey that fondness had been less than successful. He could never think of the right thing to do or say.
Under the stuffy British veneer, Angel knew that Giles was a caring man who possessed a sharp wit and an adventurous spirit. He had seen glimpses of that person revealed to others but never to himself, doubting that in a few days' time he would be able to become acquainted with that man. But, he knew that he wanted to try. Doyle had shown him firsthand how important personal relationships were.
Giles leaned against the counter trying to put everything into perspective. He, Rupert Giles--former Watcher of the True Slayer, was in Los Angeles at the invitation of a vampire who used to date the aforementioned Slayer and had caused him considerable grief because of that relationship over the previous three years. The demon restrained inside of the polite man making tea had caused untold pain to those Giles cared most about. Mixed emotions of his relationship with Angel began to resurrect the past.
"Ow!" Angel shook his right hand for a moment before placing his burned finger into his mouth for comfort.
Giles watched the episode with detached disbelief. "How is it that you do that?" he asked. He received the offered cup as Angel continued nursing his injury, noticing the ring he wore--two hands holding a heart, the tip of the heart pointed towards the back of Angel's hand. His emotions were less mixed, more resentful.
Angel ran cold water over his hand, examining where the burn should have been. "I'm sorry. Do what?"
"How you do that--act so mortal all the time? I seriously doubt that you burned yourself." He examined the afflicted hand, confirming his assumption. "This tea. The hospitality. The grandeur of this basement dwelling. Upstairs--all that sunlight. Who are you trying to fool?"
Angel was taken aback by the sudden sharp words, unsure of how to reply. "I did burn myself. I'm just as susceptible to burns as you know most vampires are. It hurt for a second..." he wriggled his finger "...and now it's OK."
The two men stood in stoic silence as each tried to decide what to do next. Angel strained to think of something to say that would take the animosity away from Giles' harsh indictment. Giles, for his part, didn't offer to help ease the mood, preferring to busy himself with his cup, avoiding direct eye contact by fixating on Angel's ring.
"I'm back." Cordelia called from the top of the staircase. The plastic bags swayed wildly from her fingertips as she bounded down the stairs.
Angel, relieved for the interruption, met Cordy at the last step where she promptly discharged her purchases to him. Without even pausing to see if Angel had control of them, she charged ahead to the kitchen to pick up Angel's cup and continue her conversation with Giles as if she had never left. "Pretty cool place, huh?" She raised the cup to her lips, suddenly realizing that it was only half full. "Hey, Angel, did you drink out of this?"
"Where's my change?" Angel brought the bags into the kitchen. As he began removing their contents to the counter he realized that it had been his own fault for giving Cordelia too much money to begin with. She pretended not to hear him and he dropped the subject to concentrate on what she had purchased. When he pulled out the jar of peanut butter he felt troubled; the finger began to throb.
Giles bored his eyes on Angel's back, noticing the sudden change in his posture. "No, Cordelia, he didn't get a chance to drink out of it. It's not full because he burned himself while pouring the boiling water," he finished. His cynical tone was lost on her.
"Whatsamatta, Angel?" she leaned over and playfully patted his arm, "dead guy reflexes just not up to speed today?"
Giles watched as Cordy gulped from the cup and offered the rest of its contents to Angel. Their exchange was touching despite her reference to his lack of vital signs. Whatever the meaning behind her ministrations, they seemed to do the trick. Even Giles began to feel less bitter.
"So, what have you guys been doing since I've been gone? Catching up on old times?" She peered up over the top of the cup at the two men. Giles, in casual attire and with his hair still a little mussed from the convertible ride appeared more attractive than what she had remembered him to be and she could almost imagine him quite the catch in his college days.
"No," Angel began, "just showing Giles around, waiting for you to get back. Lunch?"
Cordy nodded her head enthusiastically. "I'm on E!" She backhanded Giles' bicep, catching him off guard -- he bobbled his beverage. "This guy can really cook, believe it or not. You're in for a treat!"
Angel glanced over his shoulder and noticed that his visitor seemed to be relaxing. "Cordelia, why don't you show Giles the library and I'll throw something together from the things you bought that weren't on my list." He gave her a scolding look that she, largely, blew off.
"Ooooooh! C'mon, Giles. You are going to freak! If you thought your piddley High School library was good, wait until you see what Angel's got." She towed him the distance between the kitchen and the false wall of the hidden book shelves, the sleeve of his button-down shirt taking the brunt of her abuse.
At the false wall, Cordelia slid her hand along the grained wood until she found the fastener. With an almost inaudible click, the wall unlatched. She pulled the opened side back easily, reached inside and flipped on a light.
Giles moved to the opening and peered in to the cavernous space. The smell of fine leather and aged parchment raised memories as he stepped in towards the shelves, mesmerized. On almost two dozen shelves were hundreds of books, varying in size and age. He breathed in the heady smell and reached out to trace the golden lines on a binding. He lost all track of time trying to examine everything all at once.
"I called you right after the last trunk arrived a week ago."
Giles turned and watched as Angel joined him. He could have sworn that Angel's reaction to the library aroma had been the same as his own. "My God. Some of these titles had been assumed lost forever. Where did you get them all?" He caressed a book, the edges charred and fraying.
"I bought most of them," taking the book from Giles' hand, Angel replaced it on the shelf gently. "Some of them I saved. Some were gifts. A few are stolen." The relief that Giles' eager expression provided helped to dispel Angel's fears that the invitation had been a mistake. His hope for a common interest seemed, for the moment, to be found.
"It's an amazing collection, Angel. And most of them already seem to be in some categorized order. So, my question would have to be what, exactly, is this project that you invited me for all about?"
Angel led Giles out of the room to the table where Cordelia had already begun to dig into the meal. Something smelled wonderful; rosemary in whatever Angel had prepared was a warm compliment to the scent of the books. After placing Giles' plate in front of him Angel sat, finally, with his cup of tea.
"I remember that your books were catalogued. But, I don't remember how everything was sorted. What the exact order was of certain subjects. So, what I figured is that if you came you could help me file everything properly."
Giles savored a chunk of the home fries. The mystery of rosemary was solved. "You want it in Watcher's order? For what possible reason? I'm sure that any order you put them in would be fine for you. The only true reason for organizing anything is for ready reference, easy access." A burst of lemon peel in the tuna sandwich accented freshly ground black pepper and parsley. He eyed Angel, trying to determine if it was possible for someone who didn't actually eat to have such an inclination towards cookery.
"It'll be easier for you eventually." Angel's arms were folded across the tabletop. He looked into the cup, only the overhead light reflected on its glassy black surface.
Mid-chew, Giles caught the gist of what Angel was suggesting. Cordelia had left the table, rummaging for whatever scraps of potato were still in the skillet but he lowered his voice anyway, "are you suggesting that your death is imminent?"
Angel lifted his eyes to meet Giles'. "It's always a possibility. In fact, if Doyle--my late assistant--hadn't diverted my attention a couple weeks ago, then we wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation."
"What about Doyle?"
Giles watched as Cordelia, her plate piled high, retook her seat.
"You know, you're not the only one who's eating. Maybe Giles wanted more."
Cordelia indignantly shoveled a bite into her mouth. "I'm sorry, Mr. Giles, did you want seconds?" she asked sarcastically, lifting her plate to push some of its contents to his.
Giles motioned 'no' with his hand. "Thank you, though. I'm fine."
Cordelia scrunched up her face at Angel who cut his eyes at her. The mimed exchange was brief, but Giles understood every unspoken moment of it.
"Nothing about Doyle."
"You know, Angel, it's OK to talk about Doyle. I realize that he's never going to walk through the door again, but we can't keep pretending that he is or that he didn't exist at all. I miss him. He was a much better listener than you'll ever be."
Angel rested his cheek on his fist, twirling the cup by its handle. He thoughtfully explained, "I don't pretend that he's coming back, Cordelia. Just because I don't go around emoting all the time saying 'oh, I miss Doyle so much' doesn't mean he wasn't my friend, too."
The exchange fascinated Giles who suddenly began to wonder when the intimate connection between Angel and the young woman had formed. Cordelia was as obstinate as ever, but her patter with Angel had less of the childish tone of her High School days. Angel, for his part, didn't belittle her opinion as Giles had remembered doing so many times. Their discussion bordered on mutual respect as opposed to mutual condescension.
"I don't mean to pry, but who, exactly was Doyle? Oz mentioned someone was helping you--could that have been him?" Giles began to rise from the table with his plate, but Angel took it from him quickly and withdrew to the safety of the kitchen. He had always known Angel to be moody never fully realizing that, perhaps, the vampire's evasive nature was just a reflex against exposing how much he cared about certain subjects.
"Doyle was our associate, this half-demon guy who used to have these visions sent through him by the PTB--the Powers That Be, ever heard of them?--that would let Angel know where all the trouble was going to be so that Angel could go out and vanquish all the bad guys--or whatever--and save, like, the person or demon-people in distress."
"You done with that?" Angel loomed over Cordy, with his hand out for her empty plate. Instead of handing it to him, she scooted her chair towards Giles. Angel removed the plate, obviously annoyed.
"He ended up being, like, Angel's best friend," she leaned towards Giles conspiratorially, "I don't think that he's ever had a best friend before so Doyle's death hit him pretty hard. He kissed me."
Giles tried to shake off the deja' vu he was experiencing from Cordelia's explanation, even to feeling slight motion sickness. "Angel kissed you?"
Disgust wrinkled Cordy's features. "Why would Angel kiss me? Get with the program here, Librarian. Doyle kissed me." She sighed at the memory. "That was some kiss."
Giles paused for a moment to consider Cordelia's dreamy look. He found it difficult to believe that Cordelia--the original debutante snob--not only allowed herself to be kissed by a demon, but she seemed to relish the memory of the experience. He pushed back from the table quickly and rose to follow as Angel passed by on his way to the shelves. "I believe I'll get to that project now," he called out.
Cordelia didn't notice him leave, preferring to hold onto the memory of Doyle's kiss for a moment longer before returning to work.
"I actually find it quite unusual that your friend Doyle was half-demon. It's not something that one would expect in modern times and would probably prove to be quite a fascinating study." Into the second day with the cataloguing already 2/3rds finished, Giles was giddy with excitement. It felt good to be in his element again, even better to feel productive.
Almost the entire contents of the chest had been emptied since late morning, tingeing Angel's portion of the day's project with a melancholy that he hadn't expected. Glancing around at the almost full shelves, he realized that during the course of the past decades his life had been so transient that it seemed pointless to keep all of the books in one place.
His collection was nearly assembled for the first time ever, giving Angel a sense of permanence that he'd never felt before. In less than a year, this apartment already held so many memories. Although he was sure that his immortality precluded him the right to call any place a home, this was probably the closest he would ever come to one.
Cordelia, standing next to Angel, bent over and whispered, "Does he ever shut up?" When Angel responded to her with an amused smile, she continued, "I mean it. I don't think he's stopped talking once since lunch."
He glanced at the book in her hand: INQUIRY OR EXTERMINATION: THE SUBTLE ART OF INTERROGATION. "That one goes over by Giles. And here," he handed her a massive volume--the last book from the chest, "this one, too."
She tried to snatch the book from Angel, but it was at least as heavy as it looked. Still, she managed to extract some level of drama when she took it from him--enough to let him know better than to try patronizing her.
"Giles?" Cordy rounded the corner, nearly tripping over the man as he tended to a lower shelf.
Giles rose straight into the oncoming book, his forehead piling into its sharp metal corner, to bounce back against the bookcase. If not for the earthquake-proofing measures to secure the shelving firmly in its place, all of trio's hard work would have been destroyed in one catastrophic domino effect.
"Oooooh, Giles!" The books toppled from Cordy's hands.
Retrieving his almost-flattened spectacles from the tile floor, Giles put them on to see what, exactly had attacked him. He read the title: TECHNIQUES OF TORTURE, UNABRIDGED EDITION and commented, "Touche'." With further inspection, he noticed a wet stain on the burnished metal framing of the tome and added, "I do believe I'm bleeding."
Angel half-carried Giles, making him feel weightless, and deposited him on the kitchen tabletop. A very remorseful Cordy watched over the wounded man while the first aid kit was retrieved from a kitchen shelf.
"Do you think he'll need stitches? I could have gouged out an eye or something." She laughed nervously. "Books are dangerous."
Angel returned with a wad of gauze and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, gently nudging Cordelia away from an anxious Giles who could feel a glob of blood ooze down the bridge of his nose.
Giles suddenly winced in an attack of searing pain. He gripped the edge of the table for support, reeling until the episode passed. His eyes opened to the expectant faces of Cordelia and Angel. "What?" he asked.
"Did you see something?" Cordy peered deeply into his eyes, as if she could look completely inside of his head.
"The sewer," Giles replied.
"You saw something in the sewer?" Angel, confused, was trying to put some meaning behind Giles' mysterious answer.
"No. I didn't SEE anything. Am I smelling the sewer? I hadn't noticed the odor before..."
He thought that he detected a little disappointment as Angel's features relaxed. The vampire walked over to the sewer's entrance, lifted the grate and placed a metal plate over the opening. "When the bookcase is open, it breaks up the air flow and sometimes the sewer odor will come up into the apartment. I should have remembered. Let's look at your head."
Cordelia waved her hand quickly in front of her nose in an effort to clear the air. "How bad does it look?"
He didn't feel as much as a hint of draft, but the sewer smell had already begun to subside. "Is it bad enough for stitches?" Giles asked, looking expectantly into the face of his medic who remained silently intent upon administering treatment.
Giles studied Angel, finally realizing just what the difference was that he had noticed the day before. In his own environment, Angel was very different than the being that he had come to know as Buffy's boyfriend. This Angel was very much older and Giles could only imagine the almost two and a half centuries experience that he detected in Angel's expressive brown eyes. Distanced from the group of teenagers that Giles had become patriarch to, Angel was very much an adult, with an almost ancient quality apparent in his serene maturity.
Obviously feeling the scrutiny as he tended to his patient, Angel became noticeably self-conscious. "Here, Cordelia. It's not so bad. I think an adhesive strip will do the trick." He handed the espresso-colored bottle to the relieved young woman to get one from the offices upstairs.
Cordy dabbed at the superficial wound, scrunching her nose at the bubbling peroxide.
"Did I offend him? I didn't mean to stare."
She capped the bottle and set it next to the soiled gauze on the table. "Oh, don't worry about him. When he's offended, you'll definitely know."
"Yes, well, it's not so easy to tell what he is, even with an experienced eye. He really is different in that respect from others of his kind. I wonder if he ever forgets, himself?"
Cordy lifted Giles' arm and glanced at his watch. "Hey, I gotta go. I'm only on an eight hour O.T. clock, here, and I've still got to get home and shower this old book smell off of me." She listened as Angel descended the stairs. "There's nothing like the scent of literacy to repel eligible young men. And, trust me, until that dormant heart of his starts beating again, he'll never forget what he is."
Cordy snatched the bandage from Angel when he returned, unwrapped it quickly, haphazardly slapping it on Giles' forehead. "OK, I'm an outie!" In one swift motion she grabbed her oversized bag, threw it over her shoulder and dashed from the apartment through its side entrance.
Giles watched Cordy leave, vaguely aware that she had made a very profound comment, book-ended by two very typical Cordelia Chase statements. He looked around for Angel who seemed to be preparing to leave, too.
Angel walked from the bedroom after changing his shirt, tugging on the hem of his pullover as he walked over to seal the library's wall. "Yes?"
"I've been wanting to ask you this, and I hope that you don't take offense. I would have asked when you visited Sunnydale, but there were so many other things going on, and, well..."
He took the blank expression as an opportunity to continue. He examined Angel from head to toe and finally found the 'difference' that wasn't apparent in Angel's face. 'It' was a physical distinction--that undeniable vampiric arrogance in the way he carried himself--a side-effect of immortality. Even in Spike's weakened state, the characteristic was still visible in him, as well.
"I was wondering when you got the Gem of Amarra, why you didn't come back to Buffy?"
Angel closed his eyes, as if listening to a silent conversation. "Is that what the ring was for?"
Giles had no answer. He merely shrugged his shoulders. Another moment of very uncomfortable silence passed between them.
"When you were in Sunnydale on Thanksgiving, I assumed that you had finally decided to use it. But I never saw you wear it."
"Because I destroyed it."
Giles let his confusion show plainly on his face. It asked the question he couldn't find words for.
Angel swung his coat on while walking to the door. Before exiting, he paused and spoke, his back facing Giles. "I was just supposed to assume that she wanted me back because she gave me the Gem? Or was I supposed to assume that because of the Gem, I was free to go--to get out of her life forever? They're both rhetorical questions because Buffy never explained why she wanted me to have it. I figured that if she wanted me to return to her, she would have given me the ring herself."
Giles began to speak, but Angel cut him off. "The ring wouldn't have changed the circumstances, there was no reason to risk keeping it."
"Touche', again." Giles spoke aloud after Angel vanished into the night.
"So, I'm telling you these L.A. girls just don't know how to dress. I mean Emily had on this spaghetti strap monstrosity--straps criss-crossing every which way. And, lemme tell you, unless they're perky they need to be in a bra."
Angel turned to acknowledge Giles when he heard the man enter the area, grimacing in regards to Cordelia's recounting of her previous night's adventures. Giles' smile suggested heartfelt rapport.
"And then Alondra--who has a name like Alondra? That's a street, right? So Alondra has got these cheap-ass shoes on, that squeak EVERY time she moves. But who ends up getting the guys? These two! UN-BE-lievable! Men just don't know a quality woman when they see one." Cordelia paused long enough to pinch off a piece of bagel. "But I'll tell you one thing, my fake ID was way better than their fake ID. We had to go to 3 different clubs before they could get in."
Angel deposited coffee in front of his two guests. "I got you that ID for business purposes, Cordelia. Not for you to get into clubs that you're too young for."
Cordy poured half & half into her cup then opened two packets of Equal, stirring the powder until it was dissolved to her liking. "How am I ever going to know if my fake ID is useful if I never use it? Duh!" She turned towards Giles for support, "you know, I was telling this guy that we could generate major cash flow if we sold fake ID's. But, nooooooo. Who knew the undead could have such high moral standards?"
Giles took the morning's repast from his host and examined it, glad for an excuse to avoid a Cordy conversation so early after rising. If presentation was half of the meal, then he was already immensely satisfied. "This looks delicious, Angel. Thank you."
Cordy, oblivious to Giles' snub continued, "so, anyway, this loser guy that finally decided to ask me to dance ended up being this wannabe screenwriter who couldn't even manage his own dialogue. I told him to step off. Although, I'll have to admit he wasn't so bad looking."
"Maybe, Cordelia, the screenwriter wasn't a 'loser' after all. It could just be that you compared him to Doyle..." Angel let the sentence trail off.
Cordelia slumped a little in her chair as she sipped her coffee. "Thanks for bumming me out, Angel. I was trying to ignore the fact that I didn't realize until it was too late Doyle had all those wonderful qualities that made him the most datable man I've met since coming to this stupid city. It's going to be easier to find his replacement for you."
Angel brought her juice. "That may be true, but you don't see me rushing out trying to find one, right?" He patted Cordy's shoulder after placing the glass in front of her. "There are probably lots of datable guys in L.A. but you're never going to meet them if you don't work out your feelings for Doyle first. Just take it slow," he bent over to look at her. She looked up and gave him a very disenchanted smirk, "--and stop flaunting that ID. OK?"
Giles listened, feeling very much like an intruder on their extremely private conversation. Angel's gentle advice began to lift Cordelia's mood and he could almost imagine Doyle's spirit hovering in the apartment, even taking a chair opposite him at the table, to enjoy their fond recollections.
"I do believe that we're almost finished with the project," Giles said, changing the subject as Cordelia began to eat. "The cross-categorization will be the most time-consuming portion, but we should be able to get to that by--" he glanced at his watch, suddenly realizing the time. "I had no idea that it was so late already."
Cordelia looked at him indignantly. "Yeah, boy. Consider this brunchtime, OK?" She harshly poked his arm with her index finger. "Anyway, since I'm not on the clock yet, let's cut out the book chat. You do anything special last night, Giles?"
He looked briefly at Angel before answering negatively.
"Alrighty then, back to me."
Giles began almost immediately to disregard Cordelia, reflecting on the brief exchange with Angel from the night before. Angel made no attempt to mention it, so Giles had to assume that the subject was closed, his answer only instigating another question. He began to consume his meal quickly in order to get back to the project at hand, hoping that the busy work would keep his mind occupied.
Pressing his shoulder blades together and attempting to straighten up in his chair, Giles glanced at his watch. It was approaching midnight and he was exhausted. Cross-categorizing Angel's collection was even more time-consuming than he had supposed. There were just so many different types of books, their subjects written in numerous languages. He looked across the table at Angel who seemed as fresh as ever. The same could not be said for Cordelia whose head rested firmly atop her folded arms.
Giles wasn't sure what sound he actually made as he mouthed Angel's name, but it was enough to catch the vampire's attention. Angel picked up the sleeping girl carefully. He positioned her on the sofa, tenderly draping an ethnic-patterned throw across her. Cordy snuggled into a comfortable position, never once waking.
"How about you?"
"I think this will be my last one for tonight. You'll have to finish this part on your own since I don't know how much help I'll be tomorrow. My flight leaves at noon." Even without completing the project, Giles felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
"Don't worry about it. You've been more than helpful. By starting me in the right direction, I'll be able to finish from here."
Giles rose with his book and walked into the library one last time, glancing around. These books reminded him, a little, of his grandfather's collection except that those had resided in a furnished room filled with the hazy sunlight of his childhood memories. He replaced the book in its position on a top shelf, using the reach to stretch his inactive muscles, adding a yawn that felt just as good.
As he left the room, a stack of ledgers in a shadowy corner caught his attention. He was sure that he hadn't seen them before. There were all kinds in various sizes and, from the looks of their bindings, in various states of maturity. He picked up one of the newer looking ones, surprised upon opening it. The beautiful calligraphic script dated the book at a little over a century. Shortly after reviewing it, however, Giles began to recognize names and events, finally realizing just what he held in his hands.
He gasped. Time dissolved.
"I would prefer that you not read that." Angel politely pulled the journal from Giles' grasp, closing the book reverently, placing it back on the darkened shelf where it had come from.
Completely dumbfounded and reeling from the words he had read, Giles didn't know what to say. When Angel dropped his head and moved to turn away, something inside of the older-looking man snapped.
"I take it that you've NEVER spoken to Buffy about the incident?" He wasn't expecting an answer. He already knew it. "You are so unbelievably selfish!"
"Oh, come off of the poor-helpless-mortal routine, Angel! Do you think, by looking like the wounded puppy, I'm going to let you off of the hook? I dare say NOT! Even Buffy is obviously finally onto your theatrics. You have always used her. And I've idly stood by and watched her suffer--despite my better judgement--because she wouldn't let anyone berate you. Not 'precious Angel'. What a load of crap we've all ingested! All the suffering you've caused even with that precious soul of yours completely in tact."
Giles glasses rubbed against the bandage on his forehead as he massaged his eyes, trying to control his anger. It didn't work. "Did you ever, at least, think of speaking to her about it at all or did you just arbitrarily decide to keep yet another thing to yourself?"
Angel ignored the question and exited the room, his reaction bringing Giles' anger at to a head.
Angel was hesitant to reply. "I don't know what you read, Giles. Whatever it was, you weren't meant to see it yet."
"Yet? Oh, yes. That cryptic reference to my receipt of your fine collection in the case of your misfortunate death? Well, Angel, pardon the irony, but I believe that despite the occupational hazards, your immortality still disqualifies my ever getting the opportunity to enjoy your bequest."
Angel's knew there was nothing he could say that would calm Giles' anger. He felt personally violated, but was willing to assume responsibility for not having put his journals out of reach.
"You're tired, Giles, and what you read is probably not as bad as your fatigue is making it out to be. I've obviously taken advantage of your diligence. I have to run out. So you can collect your thoughts in private, get some sleep and I'll see you in the morning." Angel glanced up, briefly, and took the full impact of Giles' searing animosity. A nod of his head acknowledged the hostility before he turned away.
"DON'T YOU WALK AWAY FROM ME!" Giles lunged at Angel's back, only realizing after the two crumbled to the floor that Angel could have easily deflected the attack or snapped him in two. He rose quickly, standing over the fallen demon, panting from the adrenaline rush his pent up rage had released.
Angel remained on the floor, shifting to seat himself. He could feel his own anger rising and felt it best not to meet Giles face to face. Trying to keep his voice calm, "are you satisfied?" he asked his assailant.
Giles mistook Angel's prostrate position as one of defeat and mustered all of the venom that he could. "I won't pity you. You are such a coward." He spit each word out deliberately, enjoying the powerful emotion as hatred erupted from him, contempt that had been swallowed for so long.
That he was hurt by the comments was evident in Angel's face. He tried to fight the emotion beginning to surface. The words cut him deeply--as truth often did. He closed his eyes and waited for the worst. "What exactly did you read?"
Giles folded his arms across his chest and regarded the loathsome creature before him with unconcealed disgust. "The night she cured you--"
Angel nodded and remembered. Fate had twisted once again and it was he, ultimately, who stood completely healed watching as mortal medicine worked to save the young woman that he loved.
At long last he got to his feet, brushing at his pants. "What I wrote has nothing to do with you, Giles."
Angel's manner was too calm, making Giles realize that it must have taken a great amount of personal control for him to avoid the conflict suspended in the air between them. Giles could feel his own anger rising up from his toes, his body hot as his temper continued to flare. Two could play the serenity game and he struggled to restrain his tone.
"I have but one question for you, Angel. You pretend that you've always had Buffy's best interests in mind--that's the main reason why you left. But, if your concern has always been so genuine, how could you have fed off of her?"
When Angel looked away, Giles felt some measure of self-satisfaction. He had finally crushed Angel's resolve. It pleased him to watch the vampire struggle with an answer.
The awkward stillness that had visited so often over the past two days returned.
Smugly, Giles added, "Well? Are you going to answer me or just run off into the night and hope that this topic will evaporate with the sunrise?"
Angel took a deep breath and resolutely returned Giles' intensity. "You want to blame me for everything that's gone wrong since I came into your and Buffy's lives and that's fine. I'll accept all the responsibility for her not being The Slayer that history dictated she be and for you wanting to overprotect her to the point of losing your own position within The Watcher's Council. I know that my actions have often bordered on the obscene--'with or without my precious soul in tact'--and there's no real way to know whether my influence impacted your lives so severely or whether these things were meant to occur even if I wasn't there.
"But what I won't accept is that I invited you as a guest in my home, my new life--OUR new lives, and all you've seemed to do since arriving is try to apply what you used to know to be true instead of seeing the way things are now. I don't owe you an explanation for my actions now or then, but I'll try anyway out of payment to some ongoing debt that will, obviously, never be paid." Angel took a deep breath and shouldered himself to full height. "You asked me how I could feed off of Buffy, knowing what we meant to each other and even after reading my journal. My only answer can be 'how could I not?'"
The two men stood for a moment more as a look of immense sadness swept across Angel's features and then faded away. He exhaled and moved into the shadows of the apartment, returning with his greatcoat on and a black iron battleaxe in his hand. "For what it's worth, I appreciate all of the hard work you put in on this project."
Cordelia padded up softly behind Giles, finally awake from the commotion. She rubbed her sleepy eyes while walking over to Angel. They spoke in hushed tones, Giles unable to discern just what their conversation was all about. Cordy placed her hand on Angel's shoulder, but without audio the visuals could have meant concern or just that she needed to balance herself.
"Don't bother trying to get home, Cordelia; it's too late. Just stay here, alright?"
Cordelia nodded to no one in particular, as Angel withdrew from the apartment, out to his waiting encounter.
"You had to bring up Buffy, didn't you?"
"I read something in one of his journals by accident." Giles suddenly felt less righteous about what he had done and more like an errant parent who had disrespected his son's privacy.
Cordy leered at Giles. "I would have ripped your throat out."
Her response may have shocked him but it made him fully realize that he didn't have the right to invade Angel's privacy. He looked back on his actions, remorse replacing what had been, just moments before, scorn.
"He seems to be coming to terms with their separation."
"Yeah, well he's real good at mourning," she replied, squinting. "You guys aren't exactly the best of buds and he was really trying to think of some way to get past your past. It looked like this project was doing the trick for all of a split second." Her sleepiness gave way to passion for her subject. "It's just as well Angel got out of that tiny hell town. He's doing important work here in Los Angeles, Giles. It's just no fair that he'll never live down breaking Buffy's heart. At least hers will mend."
Giles examined Cordelia as she spoke. Her fondness for Angel had been apparent since his arrival, but her concern for his well-being was drastically out of character for the young woman he once thought he knew so well.
He thought of Buffy's new life, the promise in her future and how true Cordelia's words actually were. "I guess that I've tried to forget just how intense their situation actually was. I've often wondered if they had a chance to turn back time, would they have even bothered in the first place? You know, if it was really worth all this anguish?" Cordy's pensive expression puzzled him, but he let it pass without question.
"I've seen the wreckage ultimate soul-mate love leaves in its path and I've come to the conclusion that, maybe, TV dinners with Joe Schmoe in a trailer park outside of Barstow wouldn't be such a bad life after all."
The young woman in front of him, despite the occasional Cordy-isms, seemed a complete stranger. Feeling suddenly patriarchal, he tried to convey that warm sentiment as he replied, "you know, Cordelia, if you hadn't broken up with Xander, that description would probably describe the life that you'd be leading at this very moment."
Rage flared in Cordelia's eyes at the suggestion and she responded indignantly, "I'm speaking in metaphors, here, BookMan! Not about my life and, certainly, not about Xander Harris. Let's all get on the same page. I may be willing to settle for less than my One True Love, but seriously--me in a trailer park? I think not!"
Giles, flustered, quickly backed down. "Yes, of course. Metaphorically speaking."
She walked over to the library's opening and shut the wall. Before he had the chance to begin apologizing profusely, Cordelia flicked off the light overhead. He decided against disturbing what little peace had finally settled.
Giles was drained. He nodded on his way to bed as Cordelia returned with linens for the sofa. "He gets a little nuts about his furniture," she commented with a sweeping gesture, making Giles suddenly pause to picture her as a Game Show Hostess. The thought just as quickly disappeared when she heartily yawned in a less than feminine manner.
Under the covers, Giles tried to sleep, but found his mind too active. The stillness of the apartment was eerie and he tried several breathing exercises to relax. Finally, he gave into what it was he was trying not to think about as Angel's beautifully penned words flowed back into his mind:
"...I doubted that I would live another day, but five have already passed. Much has changed in the course of less than one week. I already regret the decision that has me sitting here alone in Los Angeles, in the secluded basement of an industrial building.
"My books began arriving from storage almost immediately. They will be my anchor to this lonely place, for without their value I would have already returned to Buffy--to beg her forgiveness, to plead for solace within her embrace. A portion of her life courses through my veins to sustain me. She sacrificed for me, yet again, and--if there be no other reason--I must leave her forever before I take the last possession of hers that is left to give.
"I promised at the beginning of this journey towards redemption that I would be honest with myself. As the coward I have proved to be time and again, it would be easier to lie to myself to ease my conscience. Here, in the sanctity of this desolate room, with these noble volumes as witness, I confess that of which I have ached for.
"I dared not drink from her when she offered herself to me. From the first moment I met her, this vile condition has caused me to want her in this way. I resisted, at first, preferring the finality of death over the ecstasy of my lover's neck beneath my lips. I will not say that she made me feed. I willingly gave into her, perhaps fearing that she would not conquer the Mayor's Ascension without my assistance.
"But, I promised truth, and truth be told here that I wanted her in my arms one last time. I conceded to my passion for her, and that passion took me on the path--an ultimate test of my love, leaving for me to decide where it would lead, how it would end.
"Five days now, and still I taste the salt from her skin. I smell her perfume. Man and demon merged in a way that only one of my kind would understand. And Buffy. Buffy knew. She relinquished herself to me completely; nearly lifeless in my arms, and still I wanted more from her. I wanted all of her. The pounding of her heart as it slowed still choruses in my mind.
"This was the heart I felt when first we kissed--an aberration of nature that demon and mortal should fall in love. This was the heart silenced briefly by death when she fell to The Master. The heart that I could not revive.
"I stopped feeding. Why? There was no warning touch on my shoulder, no cry from Buffy's lips. She lay tranquil beneath me as I drank from her, her heartbeat the accompaniment to my abominable cure. With each count I came to realize that it is Buffy's heart that calms my madness; that makes her whom she is.
"I could not--would not destroy the only person within creation who loves me so unconditionally that everything she is, is everything she offers me. I will lose her to another one day, I know--to the normal life that she craves. Unconditionally, I must let her go. Truth again, I would hope that I love her enough to surrender that heart to duet with another, than to have her immortal body in my bed.
"It took several transfusions to revive her. And during their course, I endured the scrutiny of Buffy's friends. They think me horrendously evil. And, from their points of views I am that depraved creature that they approach with polite regard because they don't want Buffy to realize how much they disapprove. I know it is of little consequence that I sit here, craving her, in self-recrimination. It does nothing to change their opinions of our tragic circumstance. That I love Buffy with every increment of my wretched being is of little consolation when my actions continue to overshadow my affection.
"If I were a mortal man, I would surely suffocate from grief. The torment that these words resurrect, leave me weak, with little resolve. I miss her so much..."
2AM. Giles took a mug from the cupboard and placed it on the counter. When he opened the refrigerator to remove the carton of milk he couldn't help but muse, that with Spike's food supply, the contents of his own refrigerator was very similar. He poured the milk half-full into his cup and placed it in microwave. The device purred while it operated, almost masking the sound of the apartment's opening door.
Giles watched a very weary Angel enter the room. His coat was draped across his shoulders and he shrugged it onto the floor, placing the axe next to it. He was disheveled, his clothes covered in a shiny substance that Giles assumed to be his conquered opponent's blood. It wasn't until the microwave beeped, causing Angel to look up to see him standing there, that Giles noticed his arm--a huge gash ran vertically from almost elbow to wrist.
Abandoning his beverage, Giles reached up onto the shelf for the first aid kit. Angel silently walked into the kitchen and sat on the table, finally taking the opportunity to examine his arm under the light. A massive sensation of pain creased his brow--as if seeing the injury finally made it real to him--but he still pulled away defensively as Giles came to his aid.
"I can do it myself."
"Yes, I suppose that you can, but I can do a better job."
Silence hovered over the two men for a moment until Angel pulled back what remained of his sleeve.
Giles worked in the still quiet of the room, oblivious to Angel's study. Whatever had been used against him was obviously a very nasty piece of weaponry. Shards of metal filament had imbedded in Angel's skin--the piece had, literally, shredded the arm. He didn't doubt that it was painful, but Angel received his treatment impassively, as if the damage was less than a burned finger. When Giles had removed the last fiber using the care of a surgeon, he wiped the area liberally with Betadine.
"Hmmmm?" Giles peered at Angel briefly before reaching for the gauze. He unrolled it and began bandaging Angel's yellowed arm carefully, finally willing to accept that 'immortal' did not necessarily mean 'invulnerable'.
"Why did you come?"
Giles continued to wrap, trying to complete his task before engaging in conversation. The activity gave him time to reflect on his answer.
"I suppose that the reason I accepted your invitation was because I've felt less than useful since Buffy's been on her own. I thought that a three-day diversion--a change of surroundings--would be interesting. And, no matter how little we actually have in common I thought that we could always fall back on our shared concern for her well-being."
Angel contemplated the comment. He dismounted the table and replaced the supplies in their box. "But, maybe what you should have remembered is that our concern for Buffy's well-being has actually been the root of our conflict. It was short-sighted of you not to consider that."
Replacing the box on its shelf, Angel opened the microwave and brought the cup to Giles. After handing it to his guest he sat at the table, making no gesture for Giles to join him.
"You're right...again. I've been taking out my frustration on you personally and that's wrong. Not everything has been your fault. My role in Buffy's life was to instruct her--to tell her what to do." He sipped from the cup. "You know firsthand about trying to tell Buffy what to do..."
Angel smiled weakly.
Pleased with the response, Giles continued, "I've just always tried to fight against my destiny. I wanted to be more than an ordinary Watcher. I wanted to prove how brave I was by being in the thick of the action--where you always were--by Buffy's side."
Angel thought back to Thanksgiving Day, watching Giles fight at Buffy's side against the Native American spirits--how they were almost killed. "You don't think that, by being her support, you were helping her?"
Giles considered the question. "I knew that I was helping. I have just, personally, wanted so much more out of my life."
Angel reviewed his expertly dressed injury. "Sometimes the support is more important than the soldier in a war. Sometimes you fight so much that you lose sight of the cause."
Giles thought of the sleeping young woman in the next area. "Cordelia does that for you? Helps you focus?"
That sad expression was evident in Angel's features again. "No, actually, Doyle was the one who kept me focused. Cordelia--" he glanced in her direction and paused. "Cordelia reminds me what courage actually is."
Angel placed his elbow on the table and propped his head in a way very reminiscent of Giles' research all-nighters with Buffy's fellow teens. If memory served him correctly, it was a sure sign he was losing his listener's attention.
"Well, I guess I'll try to get a few hours rest, Angel. Maybe you can do the same." He studied Angel for a moment. With his eyes closed, resting, he looked like the young man that Giles remembered from Sunnydale.
Pausing before continuing onto bed, he turned. "Yes, Angel?"
"I just wish the weekend had turned out better."
Giles refrained from replying. The truth was that he wasn't sure now that the weekend had actually turned out so poorly after all.
Giles carried his bag to the front room, nearly missing being sideswiped by Cordelia as she raced, barefoot, into the kitchen. Angel seemed to be chasing her, catching her glass in mid-flight when she tossed it towards the direction of the sink.
"Is this your hair in the kitchen sink, Cordelia? That's just so gross! And you're not even going to wipe it out?"
Cordy pattered past, cheering, "Good morning, Giles. Are you almost ready? It's quarter to 10!"
"Cordelia, did you hear me?"
Giles watched the feisty brunette run back into the bathroom, disappearing from Angel's wrath.
"I hate when you stay here!" Angel called over the sound of running water. He scoured the sink a little more, then rinsed it thoroughly.
"Yeah, well Dennis hates when I stay here, too!" Cordelia, now wearing a pair of sandals, twisted her head, searching for something. "Angel, where'd you move my makeup bag?"
Giles turned to Angel as he passed and asked, "is Dennis her boyfriend?"
Angel, distracted by Cordelia's question, answered her first. "Don't you keep your makeup upstairs in your desk?" He calmed slightly and responded, finally, to Giles. "Dennis is her roomate."
Examining the fiasco that Cordelia had created in such short time span, Giles found it hard to believe anyone could live with her for any duration. "He must be some guy."
"No, he's a ghost." Angel moved towards the sofa. As he bundled up the blanket, a pair of Cordelia's shoes fell out of its folds. He spoke to her sternly while she returned from upstairs. "How is it that you can be here for less than 24 hours--most of it spent sleeping--and I've already tripped over 3 pairs of your shoes?"
Cordelia stood in front of Angel with her empty hands on her hips. "I wasn't sleeping most of the time. I worked on your old boring project. And I believe you owe me double time for Sundays."
She kept looking around. "Hey, my bag's not upstairs." When Angel began removing the sheet she had used, she squealed in delight. Plopping onto the sofa, she reached under a pillow to extract the missing object. "Here it is!" she sang.
"Your roommate is a ghost, Cordelia?" Giles asked.
Angel yanked the sheet free from under her.
"Oh, yeah! Angel told you? I have the coolest apartment and it's practically free because of the ghost. After everything that I've seen in the past couple of years, a ghost is way better than trying to live with crawly things. Plus, he keeps the place spotless!"
Returning his attention to the sofa, Angel primped the pillows surrounding Cordelia who didn't seem to notice the fuss. "You're spilling powder on the leather!" When he bent over to wipe the offending makeup from the cushion, she smacked the back of his hand, then pushed the translucent dust onto the floor. Angel grunted and stormed away.
"You know, Angel, you really need to get a handle on your passive-aggressiveness. People skills, my man. It's all about people skills!" Cordy dabbed a bit of blush on her nose, clipped the compact shut before dropping it into the bag and zipping it. It went into her handbag, along with the found pair of shoes.
Giles was extremely amused by the absurd behavioral pattern of the pair. This was the Cordelia that he knew, and it surprised him to think that he had actually grown fond enough of her to already miss her. He caught Angel's sleeve as his host passed, finally causing the irritated being to stand still long enough to hold a conversation.
"How's your arm, by the way?"
Angel looked at the limb covered by his long sleeve. "Good. Thanks for wrapping it." He took Giles offered hand and graciously shook it.
Cordelia walked up behind Angel and leaned into his ear, mocking the congenial exchange with ghostly sounds. "Ooooooh. Mystic Touch of The Vampire! Oooooooh!"
Giles caught himself wanting to laugh, thankful that Cordelia's comment took the discomfort out of another potentially awkward moment. "I would really like to thank you for your hospitality, Angel. I am so very sorry for my intrusion. I was wrong, very wrong. I had no right to invade your privacy."
Angel nodded, accepting the apology without comment. "Thank you, again, Giles. Your help really meant a lot. If you ever need one of the books, just let me know."
"I'll do that." They stood in silence again until a ringing phone took Angel away.
Cordy pinched at Giles' sleeve, motioning for him to follow her.
"Shouldn't we wait?" he asked, unsure if he had properly said goodbye.
Cordelia smiled and walked into the elevator, waiting for him to join her. He closed the grate and looked out onto the expanse of the apartment as they rose away from it, remembering how terrible Angel was with farewells.
Rupert Giles waited patiently for his flight to arrive. His departure had been delayed. He took the opportunity to reflect on his brief excursion.
In the car, Cordelia had regaled the saga of the late Alan Francis Doyle. She seemed to need to speak about him, and Giles was glad to hear the story of his brief association with Angel and of his heroic death. Her own story on how she and Angel were reunited was just as fascinating. He enjoyed her dramatic embellishments so much the ride seemed almost too short.
When she pulled up to the unloading zone, she reached into the cavernous bag she carried and pulled out a simply wrapped gift--"something from Angel that he wanted you to have, no matter how good or bad the weekend went." Giles had remained at the curb to watch her drive away with the same unfinished feeling he had experienced from his goodbye with Angel.
Sitting by the gate, Giles unwrapped the gift carefully, unsure of what to expect. The tooled leather coverings gave away the gifts' identities. There were 2 books, one of them in considerably better shape than the other. He knew that they were old, but not how old until he opened the cover of the first in the stack.
"That looks ancient," the woman next to him said after turning to see what Giles was in awe of.
Giles was flooded by emotion, unable to acknowledge the woman's comment. He lifted a handwritten note--the lettering immediately recognizable:
"Giles-- "I came across these journals as one of my first purchases, never realizing that someday the writer would actually be of some meaning to me. Unfortunately, as much as I would love to hold onto them, the author is of more importance to you. Please accept these with my sincerest appreciation of all your talents. Sincerest regards, Angel"
Giles traced the outline of Everitt Rupert Giles' name on the title page of the book dated 1687. He tried to recall just how many times the word 'grand' would be placed in front of the word 'father'. Suffice it to say, he established the man's name from somewhere deep on his family tree, extremely touched by the generosity of Angel's gift.
He sat for a moment, watching the runway's midday traffic through the terminal window, and reflected on how two seemingly insignificant acquaintances invited him into three days of their lives to become two fascinating individuals. He made a mental note to keep in touch with Angel, if only occasionally. They were more alike than dissimilar, he had to admit, entwined by their respective relationships to the Slayer.
Giles rewrapped the books carefully, finding a place for them in his bag by removing his own journal. Opening it, he turned to the next available page and marked the date. Immediately underneath he began writing:
"I had an insightful and worthwhile visit with the dead guy and that annoying girl..."
8 jan 00
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