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SUMMARY: Angel and Cordelia travel to a very familiar past.
SPOILERS: I'll say up through `Provider' on `Angel', just in case. Also general spoilers for `Buffy the Vampire Slayer'.
CONTENT: A/C...and B/A. Yes, you heard me right.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own `Angel', `Buffy the Vampire Slayer', or any of the characters on either show.
Angel staggered against the marble pedestal.
The priceless vase perched atop it teetered for a moment before giving up the fight. It fell, shattering into a thousand pieces when it hit the floor.
"No!" the lead Kempaar demon howled, hands clutching his head. "My Ming!"
With cries of pain and outrage, the dozen other Kempaar pressed their attacks.
Fights ranged throughout the chamber in which the demonic thieves had stashed their...booty.
Gunn put his homemade axe to good use. Any Kempaar that came within 6 feet of him lost their heads. Literally.
Wesley and Cordelia, outfitted with swords, fought back to back. Aside from the occasional shriek or "Ewwww!" when a spurt of slime found its way onto her person, Cordy held her own. Her beheading technique had improved a great deal since Pylea.
Angel, in full vamp face, had a sword of his own. The Kempaar, while strong, weren't the best fighters in the underworld. Angel chopped them down like a lumberjack let loose in a forest.
"Kill them!" the lead Kempaar ordered...while making no attempt to join the fight himself. "Kill them all!"
And his minions tried. They really did. Because, along with being greedy, they were also loyal...to anyone who could make them rich. Which there leader had done, as one look around the chamber proved.
But they were no match against the demon hunters they faced tonight. In no time at all, the lead Kempaar was the last Kempaar.
As it realized the fighting had ended, the demon stopped moaning over its Ming and took stock of the situation. The tentacles that hung from its lips (and sort of resembled a handlebar mustache) twitched. It's pale blue skin turned a sickly shade of gray.
Whimpering at the thought of the wealth it was about to loose, the demon ran.
Straight towards Cordelia, who happened to be closest to the entrance.
"Cordy!" Angel cried as he started towards her.
But he didn't have to worry. The former May Queen of Sunnydale High was prepared. Tired of getting slimed, she decided against beheading. Instead, she skewered the demon, driving her sword through its chest with a forceful "Ha!"
The creature's momentum pushed her backwards, and she staggered into another pedestal, this one topped by a small, bronze, egg-shaped figurine.
The bronze egg fell, hitting the floor with a CLANG bigger than its size should have allowed. A brilliant light exploded from it, bathing the girl and the demon impaled on her sword.
Still half a room away, Angel watched in horror as the light engulfed his best friend. A million tiny, blue sparkles covered her body. Seemed to seep into her skin.
"Cordy!" he cried again.
"Angel!" the girl cried, terrified.
With a burst of vampiric strength, Angel reached her. Knocking the impaled demon aside, he wrapped his arms around her...and felt a strange tingle pass through his body.
"Angel!" Wesley cried.
"Cordy!" Gunn exclaimed.
Those were the last words the vampire and the seer heard.
Cordelia Chase staggered against the counter, hands clutching the edge. Eyes closed, she waited for the dizziness to pass.
"So I told her," a voice said, "if you don't want to be called a skanky `ho, don't wear a blouse that goes all transparent when sunlight hits it."
"For total sure!"
"She's such a loser!"
Cordelia frowned. That wasn't right.
The last thing she remembered was being in a chamber filled with the ill gotten gains of a pack of demonic felons. Somehow, the chorus of feminine voices discussing some girl's poor fashion sense didn't belong.
Still feeling faint, Cordy opened her eyes...to find herself looking in a large wall mirror. In the reflection, she saw what appeared to be a public bathroom. And a very familiar one, at that. If she didn't know better, she'd think she was at the Bronze. But, of course, she knew better. So...
A group of girls stood by the door, chatting and gesturing as if the fate of the world hung on their conversation. They looked like a group of girls she knew back in high school. Cordette wannabes who were way too desperate to be popular. They tried so hard, but there was always something off about them. The hair was wrong. The shoes were knock-off. The clothes, though stylish, were last season. Stuff most people wouldn't notice, but Queen C spotted in an instant.
With a shake of her still spinning head, Cordelia stared at her own reflection. Her sensible--but fashionable--demon fighting ensemble was gone, replaced by a pair of leather pants, and a silver silk tank top. And her hair, chin-length and blond-streaked just a second ago, was its original mahogany brown, and hung well past her shoulders.
"What?" she whispered. This wasn't right. None of this was right.
Cordy turned and half sat on the counter. Where was that damned chamber? Where were Wesley, and Gunn, and...
Cordy turned to see that the girls were now staring at her. The one who had spoken--Tracy something--looked almost scared.
And Cordelia remembered why. Whenever one of them had talked to her, she was quick to put them in their place. Didn't want to encourage them.
Standing erect, Cordy dredged up a weak smile. "I'm fine," she said. "Just tired, I guess."
Tracy and her cohorts looked shocked. Stunned. Cordelia Chase being nice? Impossible.
Too preoccupied to worry about it, Cordy turned back to face the mirror. What was going on?
And what could she do about it?
Angel turned in a full circle, taking in his surroundings.
He knew where he was. In Sunnydale. In the alley outside the Bronze.
But how? How did he get there?
"The statue," he concluded. The one Cordelia knocked over. He remembered the wave of energy the thing had emitted. The panic he felt when Cordy got caught up in the light show. And the electric tingle that passed through him when he grabbed her.
The thing must operate as some kind of portal. Somehow, it had transported him from Los Angeles to Sunnydale.
But, if he was here, where was...
"Cordelia!" he called. "Cordy!"
There was no answer.
Feeling the first stirrings of panic, Angel started to search the alley. If he was here, she had to be here too, right?
But he kept remembering Wesley's lecture about portal jumping. Two people who jumped through a portal at the exact same time wouldn't necessarily end up in the same place. In fact, they could end up on opposite sides of the world.
"No!" Angel denied. He shook his head. Cordelia was here. Somewhere.
And he would find her.
It was a typical Friday night at the Bronze. Dancing. Music. People shouting to be *heard* over the music.
Buffy and Willow sat at a table near the stage, pretty much insuring they wouldn't be able to hear until sometime tomorrow morning. Dingoes Ate My Baby might not be the best band in the world...or even in the tri-county area. But they were definitely loud.
The red head was gazing at the stage, her adoring eyes glued to Oz. Every time the guitarist looked at her, she'd give him a shy little grin, and a wave.
Buffy tried to pay attention to the band. She really did. But she couldn't keep her eyes from searching the club. Searching for a particular set a broad shoulders. A distinctive, leather duster. An intense, handsome face...
"Isn't it great?"
"Hmmm." Preoccupied, Buffy glanced at her best friend.
"Oz wrote this song," Willow said. Her eyes sparkled with pride. "He says it isn't any good because there are only four cords. But I think it's the best!"
Buffy forced herself to listen. It kind of sounded like the first song Dingoes played that night. And the song they played before the ballad. But, noticing Willow's hopeful expression, the Slayer smiled and offered a polite, "Yeah, it's great." And, of their own accord, her eyes started to search again.
And Willow, of course, noticed. "No sign of Angel yet, huh?" she asked sympathically.
"No," Buffy said. "But he didn't say he was definitely going to come tonight. Just that he might. It was a maybe. A solid, more likely than not, but no promises, maybe."
Willow gave her a reassuring pat on the hand. "He'll show up. I know he will."
And Buffy *did* feel reassured.
Once upon a time, before she had a boyfriend--or even the prospect of a boyfriend--Willow lived on daily doses of the drama that was Buffy's love life. Always there to cheer Buffy on when she felt uncertain about her relationship with Angel. Which was most of the time.
Even now, Willow had no doubts. As far as she was concerned, Buffy and Angel belonged together. End of story.
Buffy, on the other hand, was confused. She and Angel were...Well, she didn't know what they were at the moment. They were *trying* to be friends. Who sometimes held hands while on patrol, and stole passionate kisses behind whatever mausoleum was handy.
Last night had been a "let's patrol while trying to keep our distance, shall we?" night. Buffy spent most of it babbling about one thing or another, afraid to let an awkward silence fall. And Angel contributed by pretending to care that Mrs. Staley gave her a C on an essay that deserved a B at least.
Buffy was almost glad when he walked her home, and disappeared into the shadows. Then, she spent the rest of the night telling herself that climbing out the window and sneaking over to the mansion was a bad idea. A bad, *bad* idea.
"Hey, my two favorite girls!"
Buffy and Willow turned to see Xander Harris loping towards them. He plopped down at their table.
"You better not let Cordelia hear you say that," Buffy warned. "Or you'll probably end up singing soprano."
"Of!" Xander exclaimed. Alarmed, the gangly teen looked around furtively. "How are two *of* my favorite girls?"
"We're good," Willow said. "Except Buffy's upset Angel hasn't shown up yet."
"Thanks, Will," Buffy sighed. She knew how Xander felt about her sort-of boyfriend.
As expected, Xander's expression turned sour. "So, how is tall, dark and deadly?"
"Xander!" Willow chastised.
"Hey, would I ask if I didn't care?" Off their looks, he shrugged. "Okay, I *don't* care. But wasn't it thoughtful of me to ask?"
Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed. "Angel's fine. Where's Cordelia?"
"We're meeting here. After she almost killed me by wrapping her car around a telephone pole last night, I decided to spare her the inconvenience of picking me up."
Buffy shook her head. She still didn't get what Xander saw in Cordelia. Or, to be honest, what Cordelia saw in Xander. Neither one was the other's type. And, unless they were kissing, or one of them was in mortal danger, they didn't seem to like or care about each other all that much.
But they were still together. Their relationship had even survived the summer, which Buffy had so *not* expected.
<<It has to be chemistry,>> she decided. <<There's no other explanation.>>
"Hey!" Willow suddenly exclaimed. Her smile was smug as she pointed toward the door. "Look whose here. Just like I said he'd be."
Heart pounding with anticipation, Buffy turned.
Seeing Angel made a shiver race up her spine, goose bumps cover every inch of exposed skin. And everyone else in the room seemed to disappear.
"Look at him," Xander scoffed. "Standing there all mysterious and...stuff. Makin' the big, dramatic entrance."
"I know," Willow sighed. "Isn't it romantic."
Towering over the throng of teens that surrounded him, his intense eyes roamed the room, searching for...
<<Me,>> Buffy knew. <<Searching for me.>>
She held her breath, preparing herself for the shock that would pass through her when his eyes met hers.
But they never did. Instead, his gaze settled on something else. And a look of intense relief passed over his face.
Curious, Buffy tried to find what he was looking at.
"And there's my sweetie," Xander said. He actually sounded glad to see her. In a sarcastic kind of way.
Cordelia was walking across the room. And she didn't look happy.
<<Of course,>> Buffy thought. <<What else is new? She probably saw someone in the exact same designer original. And we'll get to hear her bitch about it all night.>>
Shrugging, the Slayer turned back to face the man she loved...
Just in time to see him move with the speed and grace only a vampire could possess. In an instant, he was across the room. And was wrapping his arms around a startled Cordelia Chase.
"What?" Xander exclaimed as he jumped to his feet. "He's attacking my girlfriend!"
"I don't think so, Xander," Willow said in a soft, hesitant voice. "I think he's...hugging her?" She paused, as if waiting for someone to dispute the statement. When no-one did, she continued. "And she's hugging him back."
And she was. After a moment's hesitation, Queen C wrapped her arms around the vampire's broad back.
As Buffy watched with growing disbelief, her heart did a sickening THUD. Angel and Cordelia clung to each other. The seemed unaware of the people around them. Of the curious glances they received.
"What the hell?" Xander demanded. And he all but fell back into his chair.
Pain slicing through her like needles, Buffy squeezed her eyes shut. Suddenly, she remembered all the times Cordelia had tried to get Angel's attention. All the times the brunette had thrown herself at him, clung to him, flirted with him. It had made the Slayer insecure for a while. She couldn't deny that Cordelia was beautiful. That any guy would...
But Angel never seemed interested. The vampire seemed not to notice any of Cordelia's signals. That, or he'd just chosen to ignore them.
Or had he? Buffy had always thought it was strange. One minute, Cordy was all over Angel. The next, she seemed to pay about as much attention to him as he did to her.
Was that all a game? A lie? Were they...? Had they been...?
"Oh, wow," came Willow's shaky voice. "There...um...wow."
Gritting her teeth, Buffy's forced her eyes open. They were still hugging. Still touching.
The pain grew. And with it came anger. Hot, blinding anger.
She didn't know what the hell was going on. But she was going to find out.
Relief flooding through him, Angel held Cordelia a little tighter.
"Breathe," she gasped. "Like to breathe sometime soon."
"Oh. Sorry." Reluctantly, Angel stepped back. Still holding on to her forearms, he looked her up and down. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Cordelia said. "Except..." and she indicated her hair.
Angel fingered the long, mahogany tresses. He eyed the outfit she wore. "You look like..."
"Like I did back in high school," Cordelia finished. "And look at the stage."
Angel looked...and was surprised to see Oz there, along with the rest of Dingoes Ate My Baby. When had the werewolf returned to Sunnydale?
Frowning, the vampire looked around the room. Now that his frantic search for Cordelia was over, he allowed himself to notice the details. Hadn't Cordy said something about the Bronze being redecorated? Something about a troll attack.
Well, to Angel, the place looked exactly the same.
He turned to see Buffy, arms crossed, glaring at him. Behind her stood Willow and Xander. The former looked puzzled and confused. The latter even less happy to see Angel than usual.
"Buffy," Angel said...and realized she looked different than she had the last time he'd seen her. Hair was shorter. Body a little more filled out. Younger.
She also looked hurt. And angry. Her eyes were glued to his hands, which still held on to Cordelia's arms.
"What's going on?" she demanded, voice shaking.
Sighing, Angel closed his eyes. "I think I know."
Arms folded, Buffy clutched her own biceps so tight, she was sure there'd be bruises. She felt her lip tremble just a little. And her eyes swam with unshed tears.
But, no! She wouldn't cry. She was angry. Anger was better than crying.
"Tell me what's going on!" she demanded, her voice shaky.
"Yeah," Xander demanded. He pushed past her and took up an aggressive stance in front of the couple. "What's with the touchy feely?"
Angel and Cordelia glanced at each other. And, to Buffy, it seemed like a thousand words passed in that one look.
They seemed to come to some silent agreement. Cordelia shrugged. And Angel slowly, *finally*, let his hands fall away from arms.
"Buffy," he began. Then, he paused for a split second. Long enough for her to wonder what he would say.
((Cordelia and I have been seeing each other behind your back for weeks. But, hey, at least you know we haven't had sex. Not with the curse and all. Just a kiss here, a cuddle there. Nothing for you to get upset about.))
What she didn't expect him to say was
"We don't belong here."
"No," Xander sneered. "You belong at the nearest Shag and Shack Motel!"
"Xander," Willow said. Always the peacemaker, she stepped forward and rested her hand on his arm. "Don't..."
"Yep," Cordelia said. She stiffened up her spine and looked down her nose at her boyfriend. "Still the same jack ass I remember so fondly."
Xander, apparently too angry to speak, clamped his mouth shut.
"Look," Angel said. Quiet. Reasonable. "I think we should talk about this out..."
"What?" Buffy interrupted. "Don't want to air our dirty laundry in public. Don't *tell* me you're embarrassed. I mean, with a past like yours, I wouldn't think *anything* could embarrass you. Talk about having skeletons in your closet."
As a heavy silence fell over the group.
Buffy's heart dropped. Why had she said that? She didn't mean to say that!
Angel's eyes did that shuttering thing, where they went all cold and distant. She could almost hear the doors slam shut.
An angry Cordelia took a step forward. "What the *hell* is your problem?"
Refusing to feel bad about what she'd said, Buffy narrowed her eyes at the brunette. "My *problem* is nausea. I just saw my boyfriend with his hands all over *you*! And, let me just say..."
"No!" Angel interrupted, his quiet voice sharp with command.
Willow jumped, a startled gasp passing her lips.
Xander's eyes widened, that little bit of fear he always felt around Angel coming to the surface.
And Buffy stammered into silence.
Angel gave her a cold, intense look. "Do you want the explanation? Or would you rather finish your tantrum?"
This time, it was Cordelia who seemed startled. A surprised frown marring her brow, she turned to face the vampire.
Buffy didn't have to tell herself to be angry this time. She just *was*.
"Okay," she said through gritted teeth. "Explain."
She wasn't prepared for what she heard.
Giles's apartment was filled to capacity.
Oz and Willow shared an armchair. The werewolf/guitarist was slouched down in his seat, by far the most relaxed of the group.
((If he gets more relaxed,)) Xander thought, ((he'll be lying on the floor.))
Willow sat perched on the arm of Oz's chair. And Buffy stood near the window, alternating between looking at Angel, and looking outside.
Giles sat in another chair. As Angel spoke, the Watcher's excitement--which, for him, meant a slight widening of the eyes--grew.
And Cordelia sat next to Angel on the sofa.
Xander, who sat on the floor, watched them with narrowed eyes. He didn't like it. They were sitting much too close together. And they seemed way to used to being all comfy cozy. It wasn't like there wasn't plenty of room on the sofa. Plenty of space for them to spread out a little. Instead, they were barely an inch apart. Okay, maybe two inches. But that was it!
He definitely didn't like it.
"So," Angel concluded, "all I can figure is that our present minds have been transported into our past bodies."
"And your...past minds?" Giles said, stumbling over the terminology.
"Still here, I think," Angel said. His frown was thoughtful. "My memories of this time are much clearer than they were before. Not exactly like they happened yesterday, but..." He turned towards the brunette. "Cordy?"
"Yeah, me too," she said.
"Cordy?" Xander grumbled. He picked at the carpet. "Since when does *he* call *her* Cordy?"
No one seemed to hear him.
"You're from the future," Oz said, casually. Like it was no big thing. "Cool."
"Fascinating," the Watcher agreed.
"No," Cordelia said. "Not cool. And so *not* fascinating. We *have* to get back. Now! There are people worried about us. And..."
"Hey, it's okay," Angel interrupted. "We'll fix this." And he rested his hand on her shoulder.
Xander gritted his teeth. He felt his jaw pop.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Buffy turn to look out the window.
"This is..." Willow began "This is...whoa." Then, a speculative light lit her eyes. Suddenly eager, she leaned towards Angel and Cordelia. "What's the future like?"
"No!" Giles shook his head. "I don't think it's wise for Angel or Cordelia to reveal too much..."
"The temporal prime directive," Xander interrupted, calling on years of Trekker wisdom. "Though shall not mess with the time line, or you'll screw up future history."
There was a lengthy pause.
"Yes," Giles finally said. He took off his glasses and began to polish them. "Xander's quite right."
"You bet I am. Which sometime happens."
"Yes, of course." Replacing his glasses, the librarian stood up. "It's best that neither Angel nor Cordelia reveal any details about future events. I think our first order of business is to identify the statue."
"I only saw it for a second," the vampire said.
"Yes, but it sounds very distinctive. And it obviously has something to do with time. That will narrow down the search."
"Ooh, fun," Cordelia said. "A research party." But she didn't sound nearly as disgusted by the prospect as Xander was used to.
"I'll see if I can find anything on the `Net," Willow said. She took her trusty laptop out of her bag and carried it over to the writing desk. Oz helped her hook up.
Angel and Cordelia followed Giles to the bookcase. And, of course, they had to stick all shoulder-and-shoulder to do *that* too.
"Hold hands, why don't ya," Xander muttered.
Standing, he looked over at Buffy, who was still had her back to the room. And was probably thinking the same thing he was.
In what kind of future did Angel feel he had the right to hug Cordelia Chase?
After Angel drew a picture of the statue--as much of it as he could remember, anyway--Giles started to hand out the books.
"Hey, Giles." Xander tested the weight of the large tome he was given. "Do you want me to read this thing, or bench press it?"
"Xander," Giles began in his familiar, aggrieved tone.
"I'm reading, I'm reading." Dropping onto the floor, he opened the book. "Oooh, pictures!"
"Just your speed," Cordy quipped.
Buffy was still staring up at the moon, when she felt him approach.
"Hey," he began.
Buffy turned to face him. "Hey," she said. And donned a smile that felt so false, it almost hurt. "So, three years, huh?"
"Yeah." Hands in his pockets, he leaned his shoulder against the wall. "Three years."
She nodded. "I guess a lot's change." And there was so much she wanted to ask him. What were they all like three years from now? And had things gotten any easier between him and her? They had to, right? That was kind of what she was counting on.
But they'd all agreed--without her vote. No details.
So she tried for a light, cheerful tone. "Would it be breaking the rules to ask whether or not I'm alive or dead in three years?"
And she saw Angel flinch.
Buffy's eyes widened with horror. "Oh, God," she whispered. She was the Slayer. And Slayers came with expiration dates. She knew that. But she never really...
"No!" Angel rushed to assure her. "No, you're fine. I just...wasn't expecting the question."
After a skeptical pause, she decided to believe him. "Well, good."
"Yeah, it is," Angel said. And the genuine sincerity in his eyes made her feel better than she had all night.
They were both trying to think of something else to say when Cordy approached.
"So, Buffy," she began. "Are we okay?"
The Slayer was surprised by the question. "Um, yeah." Her surprise turned to chagrin. "And I'm sorry about earlier..."
"Hey, no problem. I've kinda been where you thought you were." For some reason, she cast a quick glance towards Xander. Then, she clapped her hands together. "Now, let's hit those books! A trip down memory lane might be fun, but..."
"You want to get home," Angel finished.
"There's no place like it. So, chop chop!" And she graced him with a brilliant smile.
Buffy had never seen that smile before. It was wide, and open, and took over her entire face.
And it seemed to be contagious. Because Angel smiled back.
Buffy's heart tripped all over itself. He had a really beautiful smile. Breathtaking, even.
((Too bad I've never seen it before.))
Buffy watched the other girl walk away. "It looks like you and Cordelia have gotten...closer?"
"Uh, yeah," Angel began. "We're...friends."
Buffy thought about that for a second. "Right. Friends."
Willow stared at the computer screen.
"Wow, there's a lot of *stuff* here. Next to love magic and revenge magic, time magic's the most popular. And the least likely to work. Which is probably a good."
"Everybody wants to change something about their past," Oz said.
Willow graced him with a loving smile. Okay, so he didn't talk much. But, when he did, he was so insightful.
While waiting for the computer to narrow down the search, Willow glanced around the apartment. Things were unusually quiet, even for a research session. They could always count on Xander to make a few wisecracks. But, except for an occasional mumble, he seemed content to...well, mope.
And Cordelia. Not a single complaint since she opened her book.
There was something different about Angel.
For one thing, Willow wasn't sure she'd ever seen him just...sitting before. Not unless he was hurt, and the alternative was falling over. He usually found the darkest corner of the room, and all but vanished into it. It was his way.
But seeing him just sitting on the sofa? It seemed like such a normal, part-of-the-group thing to do.
"There's nothing in here," Cordelia said as she closed her book. "What are *you* reading?" And, leaning against Angel's side, one hand on his shoulder, she looked down at the book on his lap.
Willow saw Xander actually cringe.
"It's in Latin," Angel said to Cordelia. He didn't seem at all phased by her closeness. In fact, he seemed kind of used to it.
"Latin, huh?" Cordelia frowned. "You taught me a little Latin. So why can't I understand a single word in this book?"
"Maybe because you weren't really paying attention at the time?"
"Oh, yeah. That would explain it."
And Angel chuckled. He actually chuckled. A little.
Willow wasn't the only one who noticed. Everyone in the room turned to stare at him.
Sensing their looks, Angel cast suddenly looked uneasy. "What?"
"You laughed," Cordelia explained. "It takes some getting used to. You know. You being all...mirth-y."
"Mirth-y? Is that even a word?"
"Think so. Want me to check?"
"No, I'll take your word for it."
And the two shared a smile.
Xander mumbled something, and turned a page in the book with more vigor than necessary.
Giles watched the two with interest for a few seconds, then went back to his research.
Buffy stared at them. And, from the look on her face, Willow couldn't help but worry about what she was thinking.
((I'll talk to her,)) she decided. ((As soon as we get a minute alone.))
"It looks like those two have gotten pretty close," Oz commented quietly.
"I guess so," Willow agreed. Actually, Angel and Cordelia looked as comfortable together as she was with Xander and Oz. It was just weird.
Angel had a friend. And she was *Cordelia*.
"Uh-oh," the girl in question said suddenly. She stood up, her eyes focused on some point in the far distance. Then, she clutched her head and cried out.
Angel caught her before she fell. Carefully, he eased her body onto the sofa.
"What is it?" Xander exclaimed, alarmed. He jumped to his feet and rushed to her side. "What's wrong? Cordy?"
Cordelia writhed in pain, Angel's powerful arms the only thing keeping her from falling to the floor.
Scared, Willow grabbed Oz's hand. Was this some kind of weird side effect from the time travel? Was Cordelia going to...?
Finally, Cordelia's pain seemed to ease a little.
"What did you see?" Angel asked.
"Waverly Park," Cordelia gasped. "A horny young couple. A picnic basket. And a pack of demons. We have to hurry." Her body sagged into Angel's arms. "Damn! That isn't supposed to hurt anymore! Unless it's because I'm not..." But she didn't finish the sentence.
Angel's eyes were filled with worry. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." She pressed her fingers into her temple. "Just go. Hurry!"
"Right." A grim set to his mouth, he turned towards the Watcher. "Giles, I need weapons."
"Weapons?" Giles staggered to his feet. "Waverly Park? I don't understand."
"What's going on?" Buffy asked as she stepped forward.
"Cordelia has visions," Angel explained. "Of people in trouble."
"Cordelia!" Xander exclaimed in disbelief. Which was shared by everyone in the room.
Giles stared at her, his interest newly peaked.
"Giles," Angel reminded him. "Weapons."
"Yes. Of...of course." And the Watcher hurried over to the weapons chest.
"It figures," Xander grumbled. "Now, everyone's all magical-y but me."
It was decided that Angel, Buffy, Xander and Oz would go to Waverly Park. Cordelia said she'd seen a dozen demons in her vision, so they needed the muscle. And Oz's van was the quickest way to get there.
Once they had left, the apartment was much less crowded. And much too quiet.
Giles glanced at the beautiful brunette. She lay on the sofa, eyes closed, one hand pressed to her forehead.
"Are you alright?" he asked her.
Her left eye opened just a crack. "I will be. It'll just take a minute. Or thirty."
Careful not to jostle her, he sat on the edge of the sofa. "Are your...visions always this painful?"
"They used to be. I could have sworn I fixed it, though." Wincing, she closed her eye again. "I'm liking this time travel crap less and less."
Giles waited a beat before continuing. "If you don't mind my asking, how did you..."
"Details, Giles?" Cordelia said. And, despite her obvious pain, she graced him with the slightest of smiles.
Giles was startled by how...enchanted he was by it. He'd always known she was a stunning young woman, of course. He wasn't blind. But it was a very impersonal awareness.
But, now, a warmth he'd never noticed before seemed to shine through the beauty. As he looked at her, a strange heat seemed to climb up his neck.
"Y-your right," Giles said, as he rose to his feet. "Of course. I don't know what I was thinking."
"Your chronically curious," she said. "I'm used to it."
A little thrown by her graciousness, he backed away.
Just then, Willow returned from her search of the bathroom.
"All I found was aspirin." She gave him a disapproving glance. "You only have aspirin, Giles."
"I'm...sorry?" Giles said, not quite sure what he was sorry for. Never being sick enough to have anything stronger?
The red-head disappeared into the kitchen, and came back with a glass of water. "Here, Cordelia. Maybe this will help."
"Maybe." The brunette pulled herself into a sitting position. When Willow shook two pills into her hand, she scoffed. "Give me a couple more."
"Four?" Willow glanced at the label on the bottle. "But this says..."
"I can handle four aspirin, Will."
After a moment's hesitation, the young witch gave her the extra pills.
Giles frowned. Cordelia acted like taking pain medication was an everyday occurrence. Which, if the visions had always hit her this hard, might be the case.
Of course, she'd said the visions didn't hurt anymore. Or, at least, weren't supposed to. Which was some consolation.
After taking the pills, Cordelia closed her eyes and lay back down. "Thank you," she sighed.
"Um, you're welcome," Willow said. Looking uncertain, she walked over to Giles's side. "She's...different." Then, as if she needed a second opinion, "Don't you think she's different?"
"She certainly is," Giles agreed.
Assured, Willow nodded and continued on into the kitchen.
Eyes still on the young woman. It was obvious that Cordelia *had* changed. And it wasn't just the lack of complaints, the warmth in her smile. The change was a tangible thing. It radiated from her spirit. There in every word, every gesture. In her eyes, and in her voice.
Three years. What else would change in that time?
Mind exploring the possibilities, the Watcher returned to his seat and picked up his book. Soon after, Willow returned to her computer.
Giles was convinced Cordelia was asleep when she suddenly sat up.
"They did it," she said.
Willow glanced up from the keyboard. "Did what?"
"Beat the demons and saved those kids."
"Um, how do you know?"
"Because." She tapped her temple. "This always gets easier whenever *whatever* the vision wanted done gets done." She glanced towards the door. "Our little hunting party should be back any minute now."
Xander looked up at the stars. He was in the perfect position to do it, lying on his back and all.
The teen closed his eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. It was nice being able to breathe again. Breathing was good.
Why had he been so eager to come a-demon-fighting anyway?
Oh, yeah. Angel was going. And *Oz*, too. And there was no *way* Xander was going to be the lone guy left sitting by the hearth, waiting for the heroes to return.
Okay, so Giles was there. But no-one ever questioned *his* manliness.
Xander opened his eyes...and yelped when he found a tall, dark figure hovering over him.
Smiling, Angel held out a hand. "Here."
After some hesitation, Xander took it, and let himself be pulled to his feet.
"You okay?" the vampire asked.
Xander paused, suspicious of the question. Unable to find a hidden meaning, he said, "I'm fine."
"Good," Angel said...and seemed to mean it. Giving the teen a strong pat on the back, he moved off. The vampire stopped a few feet from Oz, who had somehow managed to stagger to his feet. "How ya doin'?" he asked...sounding eerily like a character in a modern-day mobster movie.
"Not too bad," the werewolf said. "Mostly." Rubbing the back of his neck, he moved his head from side to side. "That kinda hurt."
And Angel chuckled. Again! "I'm sure it kinda did. That hit would've taken *me* down." And he gave Oz a pat on the back, too.
Xander felt dazed and confused. Since when had Angel become a back patter? Or a chuckler? Or even the let-me-help-you-up type?
That's when Buffy returned. From what Xander remembered, she'd taken off after a couple of runners.
"Everybody okay?" She took a look around. "Where did that couple go?"
"Took off," Oz said.
"Good. Maybe next time they'll get a room. Or at least do it in a car. Like normal people."
Then--like she always did when the subject of S-E-X came up and Angel was around--she cast him a shy, embarrassed look.
Sighing, Xander turned towards the vampire. This was going to be one of those long moments when everyone was supposed to shut up and stay still while the two gazed longingly at each other.
But he was surprised to see that Angel had already started walking towards the parking lot.
"We should get back," he said. "I want to check on Cordy."
Buffy's face fell. Her shoulders sagged.
And Xander had yet another reason not to like the vampire.
The drive back to Giles's was mostly made in silence. There was one surreal moment when Oz put in the tape for an up-and-coming LA band.
Angel nodded his head and made a grunting sound. "Good song."
"You like Play House?" Oz asked, obviously surprised. Or as surprised as he ever got.
"They're not bad. I think they're best live, though, which is probably why their record didn't sell."
And the dazed confusion kept on a-comin'.
They all trooped through Giles's door, ready for their usual, post-demon slaying party.
"How did it go?" Giles asked, the worry he usually tried to hide flashing in his eyes for a brief moment.
"Are you okay?" Angel asked, going straight towards Cordelia. And not trying to hide his worry at all.
Cordy gave him a long, hard look. "*I'm* fine. But *you're* not."
An entire room of startled faces turned towards the vampire. Who looked completely fine to Xander.
"Cordy," the vampire said, shaking his head. "It's nothing."
Hands on her hips, she eyed him up and down. "Where does it hurt?"
After a brief staring contest, the vampire sighed in defeat. "Here." And he gingerly placed his hand on his left side.
"Okay, sit down."
And, without argument, the vampire took off his coat and sat down on the sofa. Sitting next to him, Cordy--without hesitation--lifted his shirt.
Xander winced. There were three slashes along Angel's rib cage. Demon-claw-type scratches.
"Ewwww," Cordelia said, crinkling up her nose. She looked at Giles. "First aid kit?"
"Yes, of course," the Watcher said as he disappeared into the bathroom.
Xander wondered if he was the only one who noticed Buffy slipping out the front door.
Apparently not, because Willow slipped out after her.
Xander wanted to follow, too. But, at the same time, he didn't want to leave.
So, he turned back towards the sofa, and listened to Cordy fuss about Angel's habit of getting hurt every time he went out to fight a demon.
And watched Angel try to hide his smiles.
"Are you laughing at me, buster?" Cordelia finally demanded.
Immediately, the vampire donned a look of pure innocence. "I wouldn't dare."
"Hmmmph," Cordelia...well, hmmphed.
And Xander felt his heart sink. He'd seen this side of Cordelia before. But, somehow, with one thing or another, he always managed to forget it.
Well, it looked like Cordy had found someone who saw and remembered. And it wasn't him.
((Hey, look! Another reason to hate the guy!))
Buffy paced from one side of the courtyard to the other.
She wasn't angry exactly. She was...she wasn't sure. She just felt like pacing.
And was glad Willow hadn't said anything. She just sat on the bench and waited for Buffy to speak.
"She knew he was hurt," Buffy finally said.
"Yeah," Willow said, the confusion plain on her face.
"I didn't know he was hurt, and I was there when he *got* hurt. But she knew he was hurt."
"Oh," Willow said. She searched for something to say. "Well, maybe it's tied in with the visions. Or..."
"No." Buffy gave her head a vigorous shake. "She just looked at him and knew. And he lets her take care of him. Did you see that?" she demanded, giving Willow a hard look.
"W-well, yeah. I m-mean..."
"It looks like she takes care of him all the time. Like he's *used* to it. You know?"
Willow didn't try to answer. Just waited.
"And he keeps *smiling*!" She said it almost like an accusation. "I've seen him smile more tonight than he has since I've known him. And the way they talk to each other, all tease-y and joke-y. And they were *hugging*! I'm not the only one who *saw* that, right?"
Obligingly, Willow shook her head.
"And he's going to rock concerts, and letting Cordy bully him, and holding her when she has visions. Whatever *they* are." Running out of steam, Buffy sank lower in her seat. "So," she sighed. "What does it all mean?"
There was a lengthy pause. Frowning, the Slayer turned to stare at the witch.
Willow jumped, like she'd been startled. "Oh! Me talk now." She paused to gather her thoughts. "Well, I think it means that, in the next three years, Angel and Cordy will become...friends."
"Friends?" The word left a strange taste in her mouth. "How in the world will Angel become friends with *Cordelia*?"
Willow almost seemed afraid to say what was on her mind. But she forged ahead. "Well, Cordelia does seem kind of...different?"
"Why? Because she's not bitching about whatever at 100 miles an hour?"
"No, it's not just that. There just seems to be something different about her. Inside. You know?" She shrugged. "I can't really explain it. She's just not the same person we saw at school this morning."
Buffy scowled. Okay, she'd admit that something seemed to have changed about Queen C. Still...
"Buffy?" Willow said carefully. "Are you jealous?"
Buffy gave it some thought. And, okay, she *was* jealous. But not for the obvious reasons.
Okay, the obvious reasons were part of it. But there was something else. Something that was the tiniest bit petty.
"I'm all he has, Will."
Willow gave her a questioning look.
"I'm all Angel has," she explained. "When he's hurt, or lonely, I know I can help him. *I* can make him feel better because there *is* nobody else. I'm all he has."
"Yeah." She sighed. "And I feel bad about that. When we're at school. Or at a party. Or I'm having a movie night with my mom. I feel bad knowing Angel is alone. Waiting for me. That he'll be alone until I can get there. I feel bad about it because I'm not there. And I know he needs me."
"Oh," Willow said again. And she gave Buffy a sympathetic look. "Well, he *has* kind of devoted his life to you. It seems like you're everything he needs or wants. It's not your fault that that's how you expect things to be."
"But it's not how things will be in the future. Sometime, in the next three years, he and Cordelia are going to become friends. And he'll have someone else to turn to when he feels hurt or lonely. And he won't need me anymore."
"Buffy!" Willow admonished. She looked at the Slayer like she'd gone crazy. "Angel will *always* need you."
Buffy looked down. She just kept seeing Angel and Cordelia together. There was a connection between them. Even when they weren't together. Even when Angel was at the park, fifteen minutes away, there was that connection.
Buffy squeezed her eyes shut. Maybe it was the suddenness of it. Maybe in three years, after watching Angel and Cordelia's friendship progress naturally, it wouldn't bother her at all. Maybe...
Buffy and Willow turned to see Oz standing in the door.
"Giles found what we were looking for."
"It's good we found this reversal spell when we did," Giles said. He looked fondly at the book he held. "Apparently, the magic of the statue lingers inside those it affects for several hours. But, once that magic dissipates, this spell would be useless."
"So, that's it?" Cordy asked, her eagerness plain to see. "Say a few words, and poof?"
"Not quite. We have to prepare. Fortunately, I have all we need right here."
"Then let's do it"
So, they prepared. Candles. Herbs. Circles and runes drawn on the floor. The whole bit.
Finally, Angel and Cordelia were standing in the center of the circle.
"So, um, it's been real," Cordelia said. And she graced them all with that brilliant smile.
Xander, who'd been walking across the room, actually tripped.
"Fascinating," Giles agreed. "Although, I wish we'd had more time to..."
"Giles. Details?" Cordy interrupted.
For some reason, the Watcher smiled with chagrin. He even blushed a little.
((What's *that* all about?)) Buffy wondered.
"Safe trip," Oz said, like they were about to hop in the car and make a quick stop at Thrifty Mart. Not travel through time.
"'Bye." Willow said. And did that shy wave thing she liked to do.
"Toodles," Xander said, managing to sound sulky and sarcastic at the same time.
Buffy stepped forward, her attention focused on Angel. From somewhere, she managed to dredge up a smile. "So, I guess I'll see you in three year."
And he flinched again. "Um, yeah."
After an uneasy pause, Buffy stepped back.
"Alright," the Watcher began. "Angel, Cordelia. Hold hands, please."
And they took each other's hands like it was the most natural thing in the world. And gave each other small, reassuring smiles.
Buffy looked down.
"Let's begin," Giles said. And, reading from the book, began to speak in a language Buffy didn't even pretend to understand.
Suddenly, Angel and Cordelia were surrounded by tiny, blue sparks of light.
No, the sparks weren't surrounding them. They were coming *from* them. Being pulled through the pores of their skin. Dancing and swirling, like the winds of a tornado.
Without warning, a brilliant flash of light filled the apartment.
Buffy threw up a hand to shield her eyes.
"Ewwwww! What is going *on* here?" a shrill voice demanded.
Buffy opened her eyes to a sight weirder than anything she'd seen since coming to the Hellmouth.
Angel and Cordelia were holding hands.
That is, until Cordelia snatched hers away. Folding her arms, she glared at the room at large. "Okay, what mondo weirdness have you freaks and geeks managed to get me mixed up in now?"
It was a question everyone was asking themselves as they looked around the apartment. With the exception of Giles, this wasn't the last place any of them remembered being.
"Well," the Watcher said, staring at the book he held in her hands. "It's obvious that...something occurred."
Xander gave the Watcher a look. "Ya think."
Frowning, Buffy looked around the room. Something had happened here. Something none of them could remember. Which, on the Hellmouth, probably meant serious non-goodness. She should probably feel really worried.
But, when she looked at Angel--who was already gravitating towards the darkest corner of the room--all she felt was relief.
Angel and Cordelia crashed to the ground. One with a grunt. One with a painful yelp.
"Angel!" Wesley cried.
"Cordy!" Gunn exclaimed.
Frowning, Angel looked around the chamber. They were back. To the exact moment--the exact second--when they had left.
Wesley and Gunn hovered over them.
"Are you two alright?" the ex-Watcher asked. "Did the light effect you in any way? Do you feel...strange."
"'Cause it looked nasty," Gunn offered. The young man shivered for illustration.
Cordy didn't comment. Just raised an uncertain hand to her shorter hair. Eyes wide, she turned to look at Angel. "Did we really just...?"
"Yeah," he agreed. Seeing the worried looks on the other men's faces, he couldn't help but grin. "What a trip."
Author's Note: For the record, I was not trying to make Buffy seem petty. Well, no more than the rest of us. Her feelings are those of anyone who's best friend, boyfriend or girlfriend meets someone knew that they hit it or with. We feel kind of left out.
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