"Study in Darkness and Light"
by Hannah R.H.
(See notes at end.)
The party she'd attended that night was close to Angel Investigations, so Cordelia had enough of an excuse to stop by on her way home and see if her boss needed anything before she called a cab. She admitted a
little concern to herself, sure; the full moon sometimes brought trouble to their door at strange hours, and despite Angel's complete ability to take care of himself, she liked to make sure he was okay.
The party was close by, after all.
She let herself in almost silently and went down the stairs to his apartment, clutching her small purse in her hand. She found him quickly, just where she expected to. He sat in a large armchair in the center of the room, folded into himself just the right way to tell her he was brooding. Elbows on his knees, hunched, his fingers woven together and just touching his mouth. A single small lamp was on across the apartment, and its light barely made it to his features. He was a study in darkness.
Oh, yeah--that was brooding.
She knew he knew she was there, that no matter how silent she was, he could smell her perfume, the shampoo in her hair, and her blood. Her emotions. When she was happy, he'd usually try to meet her with a
half-smile; when she was angry or down, his frown mirrored hers before she had turned to face him or spoken a word. She often thought it would be nice to have a boyfriend with that ability, no matter how
unnerving it sometimes was.
Actually, maybe it was a little too unnerving. Only Angel could get away with it.
At times like these, when she just watched him and he was especially moody and uncommunicative, he could smell her concern, but until she questioned him, he wouldn't acknowledge her presence. She suspected he
enjoyed the drama a little bit, and in his mind, it was her place to speak first. So he sat, and let her watch. And, leaning against the doorjamb, she did.
It really was unfair, she thought, that God could create such a great-looking guy and then abandon him to become a vampire. She remembered those first times she saw him, how darkly attractive and exotic he was, and how she knew if she really gave it a shot, she could have him. There was a good bit of lust directed at him then, and now she knew with a rueful grin that he probably could smell that, too.
Then, later, when she discovered there really was no weakness to exploit in his relationship with Buffy, those feelings evaporated as they had to--no point banging her head against a wall, since she was
Cordelia Chase, which meant something then--and she moved on to greener pastures.
Okay, maybe browner, deader pastures.
She wondered what Xander thought when he learned--as he must have by now--that she was here in L.A., working in Angel's agency. She wondered what they all thought. Willow she had talked to a little, but the conversations were only slightly gossipy, since they usually only called each other about spells or computers or spells on computers. It pleased her a little that Willow sounded happier to hear from her
these days, that she increasingly talked to Cordelia like she talked to everyone else, instead of sounding weary or irritated.
Cordelia knew that Willow had every right to sound that way when she did. She had prided herself on tormenting Willow throughout their school years. It's funny how things develop, she thought, still watching the dark profile across the room. Here was Angel, Buffy's Angel, and she was with him, but not like she had once wanted to be.
Not long ago, she had asked about Xander, and Willow hadn't paused a second before chattering cheerily about Anya, the basement Xander lived in, and the unbelievable yet oddly amusing string of jobs he had
held. It's funny how things develop, again--Willow and Xander friends, then more, then friends again. It mirrored her own relationship with him, though she'd have to replace the friendship parts with painful,
Then, unbidden, Cordelia flashed on one of their last moments alone, her and Xander, the shouting, long after they had broken up even, her trying to defend Angel after he was good again, Xander shouting at her, demanding that she look at Giles' arms, the blade scars and puncture marks at his wrists where Angelus had bitten, taunting his victim with a promised slow death. Some of Giles' scars were products of his Ripper time and Watcher life, but now, most of them, the fresh ones, were from that single day, alone with Angelus.
Xander pointed out, almost smugly--hell, yes, he was smug--that they could see Giles' arms every day, he couldn't hide them, but there were other scars they would never see, covering his flesh, on his soul. The
pain he must have felt, the fear ... She had been scared of Angel then, truly scared, looking at Giles later, looking at his arms, and even though Angel was good, it took her a long time to forget ... and she never really did forget.
She watched Angel intently, wondering not for the first time how the vampire thing worked, how his heart, though silent for centuries, kept him together, how he had form and bulk but didn't cast a shadow or
give a reflection. If it was a trick of the light, shouldn't her hand pass through him? If he were real, shouldn't she see something in the glass?
What are you? She asked him that question silently sometimes, especially times like these when she had a little to drink but not enough to have fun, just enough to lose track of her trains of thought and let them pile up in dark tunnels, confused and jumbled. A little jumbled. What are you?
The hands pressed lightly to his lips tonight were the same hands that held Drusilla down as he made her crazy and turned her, that twisted Jenny Calendar's neck, that held a blade to Giles' flesh and cut, cut.
Those hands had killed thousands over the centuries, the vamped-out face she had almost gotten used to was the last vision those people had. His body, the bulk of him, she found it a comfort now standing behind her, but it had been turned against her more than once, and, as Angelus, his bulk was terrifying. It was unstoppable.
Those same hands ... That same face ... The demon still in there, held down by the force of a vulnerable soul. A spell, a moment of happiness, a needle or pills, and it's gone. How can the soul be strong enough to hold back the demon day by day, minute by minute, this very second? And a drug, a moment of happiness, and she and Wesley are gone, because this time, no doubting it, they'd be the first. She wondered what it would be like, after all this time, to have his face be the last thing she sees, his fangs the last thing she feels.
Angelus, held down just barely by the soul. A monster that can't cast a reflection because there is no soul ... but Angel has a soul ... and yet no reflection.
What are you?
She blinked, once, and suddenly he was just Angel again, hands, shoulders, face. She found herself cold and shivering with her thoughts, and cursed herself for the lapse. He would feel--
Too late. He looked over at her instantly, concerned, then--achingly--blank when he realized she was simply watching him still. He knew.
"Cordelia ... " He hands dropped across his lap, though he otherwise remained the same.
"I'm sorry." The fear had disappeared instantly, replaced again with concern. She took a couple of steps toward him.
"Don't be," he said quickly, brushing aside her delay. He tried in vain for a conversational tone. "What were you thinking about? I mean, specifically."
She sighed, dropping her bag to the floor, and crossed the room. "You want another reason to be the brooding guy?"
That made him smile a little. He shook his head. His words, as they always were toward her, were gentle. His voice, as much Angelus as his hands, only made her sad. "No ... I guess I'm curious."
The chair was big enough that she could sit on the overstuffed arm of it and look down at him, so she did. He leaned back, resting his head against the wing, and watched her face.
She thought carefully, and her words were slow and deliberately chosen. "I was thinking ... how weird it is that ... such horrible things have been done, with your hands ... I was wondering ... what you are, that the same body, the same face that I see every day, that I count on ... is the same that Angelus used."
She knew the pauses and careful phrasing wouldn't do anything to make the words hurt less. He'd read into it what he wanted. She tried to explain more: "It was just thinking, Angel. It didn't mean anything."
He looked down at his own hands then, clasped them together and pressed until the knuckles were white. His voice was quiet. "It's hard to get your head around, isn't it ... "
"Sometimes ... " She touched his hair lightly, felt him respond. They didn't touch often, probably by mutual agreement that it was the wrong path to start down.
He laughed a little, but it was bitter, and he shook his head before looking up to meet her eyes again. "I wish I could tell you to leave, give you my permission or whatever is required, but you can't, can you?" He snorted. "I thought I could do something decent for
you, and instead I've condemned you to this ... perversity. I'm sorry."
Perversity, he called it. She hated herself for thinking of Angelus tonight, for making this one scene unfold. She knew what he expected her to say, her response, and what his answer would be. She ignored
the expected, and instead asked, "Are you happy that I'm here?"
He blinked, smiled a little. The back of his hand brushed her leg, stroked back and forth twice before stilling. "Yes."
"Good. Then don't be stupid." She enjoyed the rare, startled laugh her sharp command elicited. "I'm here. You want me here. This is my life, for now or for however long it has to be before I can get rid of
these goddamned headaches."
His attention was riveted on her face, and she wondered what he saw there, what he thought when he watched her sometimes. If it was half as cruel as the things she thought, well, they were both in trouble.
She doubted his thoughts were cruel, though. She
couldn't smell his feelings, but she could read his face, and right now he wanted to be touched, by her hand and her words. Her fingers brushed across his temple.
"Angel ... I know you don't always understand me, which is fine since I'm two hundred years younger than you are, female, and, oh yeah, mortal, but I can get my head around what my life in Los Angeles would have been like without you, and you know what?"
It took him a second to realize a response was needed. "What?"
"It would have sucked." He chuckled again, but she was insistent. "Seriously. I'd be waiting tables right now, going on the same lousy auditions, fighting off the same gross guys--not knowing half of them were vampires or demons or whatever, and yeah, there's that, you've only saved my life about a million times when I was a total bonehead."
"You weren't a--"
"Yes! I was." She paused. "Come on. I know how things could have been different. And no matter what, I'm here."
"Cordelia," he said, still watching her, eyes sharp. "You're afraid of me sometimes."
"Angel," she said flatly. "I've seen you. The other way. Sometimes I can't help but think about it. Wesley does, too--I know he does. But we're thinking about Angelus, the demon, not you. Never you. You, we love."
His small smile collapsed at the word, and she cursed herself again. "That's probably not a good idea," he sighed.
"Too bad," she snapped. "Maybe it's part of the deal. Doyle loved you, too, you know. He told me so." At Angel's raised eyebrow, she continued, "Okay, well, maybe not in those words, but I could tell how much he enjoyed being around you. This whole messenger-warrior thing? It's a lot easier if you care about each other, right?"
After watching her for a long moment, he nodded.
"Then just accept it and move on, mister. You're stuck with me. I'm stuck with you. And sometimes, I really don't mind ... "
She looked down at him again, marveling at how safe she could feel around him, just moments after considering his uncountable sins. Her fingers were in his hair, still lightly, but the moment was passing. A
road they weren't going to go down ... In a quick motion, she pulled her hand back and lifted herself off the chair arm.
"However, right now I mind," she continued smoothly. "I'm tired. That party sucked. And I need to get home. Drive me and save me a few bucks?"
He stood without answering, looking around for the car keys. She spotted them on an end table before he did, and she picked them up. As she passed him in the doorway, her hand settled in his, just to give him the keys. For a second, just a second, they both held the keys, and his hand against hers was cool and strong and Angel's.
And she trusted him. Always.
Notes: I'm not sure when this is supposed to take place. They still are in his Angel Investigations apartment, it plays on the smelling-Lindsey's-fear scene in the penultimate ep, but I think it relies on
some of the feelings that were explored in the season finale, after his apartment exploded. Whatever--that's why it's fic.
Yep, I'm always into the needier Angel (shades of Mulderfic--stick Scully in here and you'd hardly have to rewrite) and the nicer, deeper Cordelia. Though Angel/Cordy 'ship does absolutely nothing for me, I do think she'd be a freakin' moron for not having some of these thoughts (both the schmoopy and the scary). ... Though I just reread it and it could easily be interpreted as 'ship. Dude.
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