Nothing Gold Can Stay
Synopsis: Post-Epiphany. Just a random bit of Angel-angst that wouldn't go away until I wrote it.
She approached the ominous door with cautious, catlike steps, doubting that even Angel's preternatural senses would warn him that she was coming. Better that way. If she let him hear her coming, he would have a chance to prepare. And preparation meant, in Angel terms, "No, Cordelia."
She sighed, standing in from of the door. The brass doorknob glittered in the light, and she couldn't help but flash back to a year ago, when there was no door. She could just barge right down into his living quarters whenever she wanted.
Now there was a lock between them.
Not to mention a whole bunch of other difficulties--Angel going nuts and things like that. She shuddered at the thought, but forced it back. It had been weeks ago, now, that he'd come back to them. At least two months. Angel had made every effort to accommodate them.
For her, it had taken a while, but all was forgiven. Certainly, however, not forgotten.
Things were not the same.
She didn't think she'd ever be able to look at him again without seeing that cold, dead thing he had become. <You're fired.> Echoing in her head like a lost whisper, over and over again until it streamed into a continuous breeze.
She wanted things back the way they were before, when Angel would cook her breakfast, and she would pester Wesley and Angel would referee, and she would pester Angel and Wesley would chastise her for dragging the antisocial vampire all over the city doing all the things he'd never, EVER do if it weren't for her. Like shoe-shopping.
Shopping. For the entire purpose of going to seventeen different shoe stores to find the perfect set of pumps to go with her brand new outfit. <But, Aaaaangel, I don't have a car, and you'd NEVER let me drive yours alone... So. You'll just have to be my chauffer.>
He had hemmed and he had hawed, but he had done it.
And then there was that one night a long time ago, before Miss Bleached Blond had squiggled her way into Angel's sleep patterns. Wesley had said something that reminded her of Doyle--sent her bursting into a fountain of tears. And Angel, Mr. 'Hug? Hug? You expect me to HUG?!' had held her until she'd stopped. He'd never even asked what it was about. He'd just rocked her like a baby, and everything had been okay.
Things were not okay now.
He was back, and they were working together. But not together. Angel closed himself off from them--letting himself get back in their lives, but always keeping himself at a distance. Like, he was afraid they would break if he touched them, be it with a hand or a smile. Wesley had expressed his concerns, and she had agreed. Angel needed help.
She stared at the door.
To knock or not to knock.
She shrugged. Not to knock, she decided.
She gripped the doorknob and twisted, flinging the door open, but she kept her eyes shut -- knowing that the one time she decided to barge into his private sanctuary, that he'd be just stepping out of the shower, or naked, or something else she really didn't want to see. With one hand out in front of her to guard against unexpected Angel- objects, she stalked forward and came to a pause, about ten feet inside the room.
"Angel!" she cried, loudly enough to warn even the deafest of men that there was a female present--one that meant business.
She heard Angel clear his throat from somewhere over to her right, and she cautiously opened one eye, and then the other. He was sitting in his chair, book in his lap, and looking utterly flustered. Hah, wasn't used to having his territory mercilessly invaded!
"Cordelia?" he finally managed.
She wasted no time. "Hi, Angel. I just happened to notice you were doing some quality brooding. Hey, what are you reading?" she asked and grabbed the book right out of his lap before he could stop her.
He looked like a landed fish, the way his eyes bulged and his mouth kept opening and closing--trying to say something but ultimately failing each time. "So Eden sank to grief," she read, "So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay."
She closed the book and looked up. "Jeez, Angel, can you get any more morose?" she joked.
Angel had finally recomposed himself. "Cordelia, what are you doing here?"
She shrugged. "Reading gloomy poetry to you?"
He glared, and she couldn't help but compare him to a bird who's feathers had been ruffled. He stood up, almost as if he were intentionally trying to puff up his stance. "Give that back..." he said, his tone containing a slightly hostile edge, and yet, he sounded sad--like the two emotions were a two part harmony, chorusing together.
Backing away, she hid the musty book behind her back. "Nope," she replied as she felt the corners of the old book poking her in the small of her back. "This is officially a no brood zone now."
He advanced upon her, but she absolutely refused to allow him to intimidate her because she knew that was exactly what he was trying to do. Before, he had never really taken well to invasions of his own personal territory, but at least he had tried to make himself appear to be the human he wasn't. Now, he was practically stalking her--she doubted she'd escape this situation without at least one growl on his part. She couldn't help but wonder why he would cling to their companionship like a security blanket, and at the same time, push them all away so harshly.
Seeing her resolve, he paused. "Please," he said.
"Please..." His voice contained a desperate edge--it cracked at the end like a fragile thing, fine china being dropped.
Something was wrong with him...
She brought the book back to her front and let it fall open along the well-worn cracks. Nothing seemed particularly special about it, other than the fact that the damn thing opened to the SAME poem again. Nothing gold can stay. Nothing gold can stay... Blah! Angel didn't need help with his brooding. God, talk about beating a dead horse...
He reached out with a hand, his eyes pleading but she pulled it back. "Jeez, Angel, it's just a stupid book... What's got you all wound up? You know, maybe I'll just borrow this and see what's so interesting about it."
Angel looked as though she had slapped her, and silence stretched between them into an eternity as he hunkered down into his customary slouch--like a weight was pressing on his shoulders and his spine was curling in on itself. His Adam's apple slid up and down his throat as he swallowed repeatedly, trying to gain control of himself. Cordelia peered at him, wondering what he was hiding behind that stony face.
"No," he finally whispered. He reached out with a large hand, palm upward, fingers extended an obvious motion that asked for her to relinquish the book.
She glanced down and noticed that his hand was shaking. Trembling. How strange was that? She'd never seen him so utterly wrecked over a book before. Actually, she didn't think she'd ever seen him so wrecked, period. "Please, I... Please, just give it back."
She stared him in the eyes, desperately fighting the urge to give into that longing, beaten look that made him appear all of his 247 years. "Nope. Not until you do me a favor."
He lowered his hand. "You're going to blackmail me for a book of poetry?" he asked, his shaky voice dripping with disbelief. There was something beneath that, though. Something more primal. Fear. She saw his nostrils flare. What was his deal?
She shrugged. "If you want to brood, fine. But you have to pay for it," she stated resolutely.
Angel swallowed. "What?" he asked, his slouch becoming even greater, his opposing height brought down from over six feet to a meager 5'10" at best. She couldn't help but marvel at how variable his height could be--almost like a direct extension of his ever-guilty conscience.
"We're playing Scrabble downstairs and Wesley is beating the pants off me and Gunn. I swear, the man is a walking dictionary encyclopedia rolled up into a thesaurus... I figure with your billion-lingual capabilities we'd at least stand a chance," she finally explained.
She had never expected Angel's previous expression of disbelief could ever be topped. But as Angel's face registered what she had said, she was forced to amend her previous opinion. "You. Want me. To play Scrabble?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yup. The secret's out. Get this vampire a prize..."
"You. Came up here. And took my book and pestered me. Because you want me. To play Scrabble?"
She grinned, despite his Neanderthal imitation. "Yes. Angel. Oh ye with good vocabulary..."
He looked about ready to protest at this point, but she grabbed his arm and dragged him out of his room before he could even begin. So surprised and confused, her broody vampire didn't even drag his feet, and he was down at the table before he managed an, "Uh..."
Cordelia set the poetry book on the table over by Wesley and grinned at the ex-watcher. 'It worked,' she mouthed. They had set up the Scrabble game a few hours ago in hopes of passing the time between clients and visions, and after getting completely wrecked by Wesley in all things English, she had finally gotten the idea that this might be a good opportunity to do some Angel-fixing.
Wesley smiled and then looked menacingly at the befuddled vampire. "Ah, Angel, Cordelia thinks you will be able to beat me."
"Uh..." Angel said again, like a broken record.
Cordelia scootched her chair closer to Angel's seat as Gunn spoke up. "Fifty bucks on the vampire..." he said with a smile.
Wesley raised an eyebrow. "Really. You want to waste the money, be my guest. English isn't even his first language..."
Cordelia joined in, trying to get Angel to finally connect events and realize what was going on. The poor guy was rattled beyond belief--she didn't think she'd ever resorted to such tactics before. "Yeah, but he's got, like, two hundred years plus of life-experience on you. He'll know all the archaic stuff that you don't have a clue about..."
Angel grunted. "Archaic?" He sounded almost offended.
Wesley smiled. "What do you say, Angel--are you up for it? You think you can beat the master?"
Cordelia elbowed him hard in the side -- eliciting a grunt, but nothing else. "You want your book back?" she prodded.
His eyes flitted to Wesley's side, where the musty book sat silent and untouched. A pained expression crossed his features before, finally, the vampire nodded. "Ok."
Cordelia grinned, trying to ignore the hopeless defeat that fell from Angel's lips with each and every word. "Thattaboy!" she smacked him playfully on the shoulder. "I've got a ten on you too, so you better win or I'll send Gunn after you." She set a rack in front of Angel and filled it with letter tiles.
Wesley made a grand gesture with his hands. "By all means, you go first..." he motioned towards Angel.
Cordelia couldn't help but snicker. Wesley's ego had been a bit inflated after fifteen straight wins against her and Gunn. Actually, she amended, it was probably the size of a gigantic hot air balloon by now. "Yeah, go for it, Angel. I want to see this man eat his words..." she encouraged him.
But Angel just stared at the tiles in front of him.
Thirty seconds passed. More intent staring, to the point that Cordelia thought his gaze would burn holes in the letter tiles.
Almost a minute now. She began to wonder if he couldn't find a word. She saw at least three different ones that would all suck, but would at least be a start. There was no way Angel could have missed them...
And still silence.
She thought for an instant that maybe Angel had simply resumed his brooding there, giving up on ever escaping her. A sad look crossed his face, mingling with a strange, stony expression until everything was back under Angel's tightly kept stoic mask.
"How do you play?" Angel finally asked, his voice quiet. Wary. Almost as if he expected to get jumped.
Cordelia blanched. "You've never played Scrabble before?" She hadn't expected that, but then it occurred to her, that no, he probably hadn't. Why would he have?
Angel looked down into his lap. "No," he whispered. "I didn't have anyone to play it with..."
She frowned at his expression--he looked for all the world like little boy lost. Placing a warm hand on his shoulder, she gestured to the board. "Just spell out a word that'll get you lots of points. See the little numbers on the tiles? That's how much the letter is worth. And then on the board, if you play it over one of those special boxes you either get a multiplier over your total word score, or the letter on the tile gets multiplied in value," she explained.
He sighed--a small rasp of breath, as if a vice were forcing the air out of his lungs ever so slowly. "Oh. Ok."
He stared at his tiles for a moment, his face blank. It occurred to Cordelia that she had perhaps made a mistake. He had looked pretty unhappy before, and despite the way she went about things, she knew that sometimes it was best to simply leave people alone... Plus, he wasn't really a game person. She could just picture him now trying to figure out what the all the rave about Go Fish was...
All seven tiles went out onto the board. "Like that?" he asked, his eyes darting to the book.
Cordelia gaped. All seven... Banshee, he had spelled. All she had seen were ban, she, and sane. "Yes, exactly like that," she replied with a grin, noticing Wesley's nervous look.
Wesley looked furiously at his tiles, mumbling something akin to, "Bloody consonants..." but it was under his breath, so she couldn't be sure. Finally, his tiles went out. Five, added onto Angel's previous B.
Banjax??? "That's not a word!" she cried, pointing frantically as Wesley began merrily writing down points for the X and the J and the extra word scores and the...
Angel grunted. "Yes it is."
"It don't look like one to me," Gunn commented with a shrug.
Wesley looked up. "I decided that since Angel was going for an Irish theme, I would continue the trend," he explained haughtily.
Angel shrugged as Cordelia put more tiles down for him.
And the battle was on.
She watched as Angel turned into a relentlessly competitive participant, rather than just a forced one. She leaped backwards in surprise, almost tipping her chair over in the process as Angel rose to his feet and hovered above the table, calculating each and every possible angle of approach. The silence he exuded while he contemplated the board as if it were Armageddon approaching was unnerving at best--that intense look that he always got when he was thinking particularly hard about something almost made it seem like death rays were going to shoot out of his eyes at any moment. After several seconds of careful contemplation, Angel growled, a predatory sneer slipping across his face as he laid all seven tiles out again.
Wesley looked perplexed as Angel slipped back into his seat, and the ex-watcher cracked his knuckles as he stared at his own yield of letters. "You force me to resort to desperate measures, Angel," he said with a sigh, and added an S onto Angel's word. The vampire looked stricken. "You stole my word!" he grumbled as Cordelia replaced his letters.
"No, I received more points for it because of the S," Wesley replied happily.
Angel looked down at his own tiles. A silent answer to Wesley's theft, he took an ING out of his stash and added it onto one of Wesley's more complex and strange verbs that Cordelia doubted the validity of as a legal member of the language.
The crushed look on Wesley's face made her want to burst out laughing. "Damn!" Wesley cried.
And the battle raged on.
Gunn had long since fallen asleep, and Cordelia was well on her way when Wesley finally cried uncle. "I can't... I can't use this Q!" he mourned. "Damn, you beat me!"
Cordelia snapped awake at Wesley's outcry, in time to see Angel smile happily. His posture had puffed up considerably since the game had begun. And she felt herself smiling right along with him. Her work had been done.
Wesley frowned for a moment, but then his face spread into a grin as well. "Good game, Angel. Rematch tomorrow night, barring visions, evil demons, and general apocalypses?" the ex-watcher asked hopefully.
Angel's smile widened. He peered at the ex-watcher for several moments as if debating what to say--he almost looked like he didn't know what to do with that grin that was plastered across his face. "Sure, Wesley," he decided. His voice wobbled with uncertainty, as if he had just come to some monumental realization but he wasn't sure if it was correct. "Anytime."
He got to his feet and was gone, as fast as Cordelia had dragged him forcibly down to the seat. Gunn and Wesley picked up the game, after Wesley had reluctantly dished out the money he owed. Cordelia paused as the board and mess of tiles was finally removed from the table.
There, on the flat surface, in the corner where she had left it, was the book that Angel had so desperately wanted, not two hours before. She reached over and slid it towards her, opening it to the title page.
There, was a small message in casual, looping cursive.
Willow helped me pick this out for you after she found out you were back--I know you've been lonely. Maybe you can read this to me sometime. Friends, right?
And, almost as if the book had a life of its own, the pages flipped to that poem in the middle.
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
She looked sadly at the book, and then closed it. She would put it back in his room tomorrow.
| Fiction Index | Home Page | Back |