Cordelia lets Angel off the hook when he tries to atone for damaging their friendship.
- CONTENTS: C/A friendship
- CATEGORY: Post-Episode / Ats Ep39 (2.17) ‘Disharmony’
- RATING: PG-13
- LENGTH: Short Story / 4,800 words
- STATUS: Completed
- CHALLENGE CREDIT: JennieC / Challenge#3 from AO’s ‘Lysa Says: Challenge Me’ thread
- FICPIC CREDIT: Califi
- WARNINGS: None
“I loved this so much. I’m a puddle of mush.”
Wesley scowled while watching Angel follow Cordelia back to her desk, designer clothes and accessories layering it in a swath of color.
Not five seconds after advising Angel to give her time and space to adjust to the vampire’s presence again, to allow their friendship to heal rather than force it and upon hearing his agreement to give her the room she needed, Wes witnessed what he considered a blatant attempt at buying back Cordelia’s friendship.
Worse, it seemed that Cordy was enthralled by the pile of designer wear and had forgiven Angel all of his sins within an instant of seeing his gift.
Standing statue-still in the doorway, Wes let his anger stew. This simply wasn’t right. Angel both deserved and needed to crawl his way back into Cordelia’s affections, not to take this easy path of least resistance into her good graces. It had been a very long time since Wes considered any action of Cordelia’s to be shallow, but this came close to that description. To forgive Angel for his wrongs in exchange for a brand new wardrobe…there had to be more to this than he was seeing.
“So you braved the big bad world of Rodeo Drive,” Cordelia seemed amused by the idea as she sifted through the pile until she pulled out a blouse to go with the skirt already draped across her arm. “How’d that go?”
Angel leaned up against the desk, his eyes trained on her every move. “I’d rather take out a nest of Raskthor demons on my own than go back there again.”
She paused to glance over her shoulder at Wesley, raising her eyebrows and adding a cheeky grin. Holding the blouse up for their inspection, Cordelia’s eyes sparkled as she explained, “Vera Wang chiffon, definitely to die for.”
With that, Cordelia darted into the adjacent cloak room that Angel Investigations used as a storage space for files and office supplies. Angel’s grinning face was still focused on the closed door as he listened to the sounds of off-key humming and the rustle of clothing. Unable to just stand there without saying anything, Wesley cleared his throat to catch the vampire’s attention.
“You’re looking rather pleased with yourself,” he commented drolly as Angel spared a brief glimpse at his tight expression.
Wesley doubted he’d ever seen Angel smile so damn much. It was almost eerie.
“Maybe I am,” admitted Angel, his arms crossed over his chest. “I want her happy, Wes. I want her to forget the past few weeks. I want her friendship again, her smile, her warmth. I want h—”
“Wanting rather a lot, aren’t you?” Wes squared his jaw. He wasn’t a fool. Cordelia and Angel’s friendship had always been on a separate level. That’s why his actions had cut Cordelia so deeply and why Wesley felt certain it would take a long time to heal those wounds.
The dark eyes that pierced him with an unblinking stare gave away nothing. No hint of emotion showed now that the smile had dipped down into a straight line. Then he spoke and it became clear to Wes that Angel’s easy acceptance of his earlier advice had been a cover for his desperation.
“Don’t interfere,” the low-pitched words came out as a warning audible only to the Englishman in the few feet separating them.
There was a smidgeon of danger in that voice. Having dragged himself back from the dark edge of the emotionless void he’d found himself in, Angel was still too close to it for comfort. Wesley had no time to respond as the cloak room door was flung open to reveal Cordelia modeling her first outfit. His thoughts were a little unfocused after that as Wes was sidetracked by the seer’s infectious smile and appearance.
“So…am I gorgeous or am I gorgeous?” Cordelia spun around in a slow circle. The diaphanous chiffon topped a silk lining that clung to her curves as its plunging neckline knotted in the valley of her breasts. As she turned, the daring open back provided peeks at the curve of her spine while the soft red skirt followed the line of her hips smoothing over her rounded bottom and ending abruptly several inches below.
Angel ate her up with his eyes realizing that his imagination hadn’t done half as good a job as reality did in filling out that blouse. He’d only bought that one because it felt so soft and he figured Cordelia would like the way it clung to her skin. He hadn’t counted on the fact that he might like the way it was clinging or that the slit in the back would make him want to slip his hand inside sliding it over the delicate curve of her spine.
“N-Nice,” he managed to comment much to Cordelia’s annoyance.
Wes reminded himself that he was supposed to be a little irritated by this situation, not standing here admiring the way Cordelia looked. “Gorgeous,” he agreed before adding, “considering the price.”
“It’s about time Scrooge dug deep into his pockets,” shrugged Cordelia. “Besides, he owed me.”
“I meant the price you’re paying, Cor,” corrected Wesley garnering a sharp look from Angel who stared over Cordelia’s head as she stood between them.
You could cut the air with a knife. Cordelia put her hands on her hips as she strolled closer, “What’s that supposed to mean?” Too engrossed in gauging Angel’s pressure-cooker temper, Wes missed the knowing gleam in her eyes.
Despite the anger glinting in Angel’s eyes, Wesley couldn’t stand letting Cordelia be set up this way. “You’re being inveigled into forgiving Angel his actions in return for a few froo-froo items of clothing,” he advised a little tautly, arms crossing defensively and chin lifting in a silent challenge to the simmering vampire.
“That’s not true,” Angel denied on a growl stepping up behind Cordelia, so close that she felt his shirt brushing against the exposed skin of her back. His hand came up to encircle her arm, just holding on and half expecting her to jerk away from his touch as she had been doing ever since he returned.
“What is the truth, Angel?” She was still looking into Wesley’s eyes as Angel’s fingers absently tucked the short strands of her hair behind her left ear, the touch of his cold fingertips innocently meant if a little proprietary.
“I just…want you back in my life again,” he told her. “The way it was before.”
Hearing that, Cordelia tilted her head so their eyes caught and held. With an edge to her voice, she returned, “It won’t ever be that way again.”
“Yes, it will,” Angel sounded determined to make it so. Her eyes flickered in silent acknowledgement of the needy resolve she saw in those dark depths.
Wesley knew that Cordelia was right. No matter how desperate he was to recapture the relationship they had before, Angel would never be able to return their friendship to its previous status. There were too many emotions bared raw by his betrayal and abandonment. What little Angel had revealed about his entanglement with Darla and the fact that he’d purposefully kept Cordelia in the dark about the fact that he’d slept with his sire made Wes realize there was far more going on here than wanting to get back to the status quo.
Breaking away from his hold and the invisible bonds he was even now trying to reattach, Cordelia walked over to her desk, glancing down at the clothes strewn across it. At random, she plucked a red dress from amongst the pile of colorful garments holding the smooth fabric against her and running a hand down its length. “Is this all just a scam to get your way? Do you think I’m really that shallow?”
The last question was aimed at Wesley as well as Angel and the Englishman started to look more than a little nervous at being included in her escalating ire. Spluttering at the idea that Cordelia was irritated with him, Wes commented, “N-No, I’m certain that Angel thinks he has a good reason for trying to buy back your friendship, but that doesn’t mean you plan to accept it.”
In for a penny, in for a pound, thought Wes cringing a bit at the duplicate looks on both faces. Why the devil didn’t I just keep my mouth shut and let them get on with it? Cordelia is more than capable of holding her own, even against Angel.
“Stop saying that,” Angel demanded through gritted teeth, his words a soft growl. “I just wanted to do something nice. Cordy made a big deal about the clothes.”
Cordelia nodded with a reminder, “He gave mine away.”
Not that the clothes had been new, but some of them were one of a kind even if they were bought second hand or left over from her credit-happy Sunnydale days. It was just the thought that Angel had gone into her room here at the Hyperion after firing her as if ensuring that no trace of her existence remained within the walls. He’d attempted to erase her from his life for reasons she still did not fully understand.
During the few times they’d crossed each other’s path, Cordelia barely recognized him as the friend she’d considered part of her L.A. family. Along with Wes and Gunn, Angel meant so much to her. Only, he’d discarded them all like used Kleenex. Her champion had fallen long and hard from the pedestal she’d been building up for him, a flawed and fallible being after all.
Not that he hadn’t reminded her of that time and again or even proved it to her on a daily basis. Cordelia just allowed herself to overlook those flaws because that’s what friends did, when they weren’t making fun of them, of course.
The fun died a fiery death the day Angel fired them. It certainly wasn’t there the night he came to their new office demanding one of the reference books and Cordelia felt it necessary to try to stop him. She’d never seen such a look in his eyes, certainly not directed at her, when he’d blocked her against the bookshelves and his voice caused vibrations to shiver from her head to her toes.
“Don’t make me move you,” he’d threatened and Cordelia read the dare in his eyes. Angel didn’t want her cooperation. He wanted to see how far she’d push him and just how far he’d let her go before taking what he wanted…the book. Though for a single heart-stopping moment, she’d wondered if that had been all he’d wanted.
If Wesley hadn’t been there, Cordelia doubted she would have handed over the book Angel had come for. She would have defended their claim to that book just to prove to herself that Angel was a lost cause.
But he wasn’t.
“Angel hurt my feelings,” Cordelia sounded out the words, her lips pressing together as the tip of her tongue darted out to moisten them. His careless disregard for their friendship stuck like a bitter pill in her throat. He’d woken her heart when she thought it immune to such feelings, made her feel cherished and safe and a part of something she’d never really had before. Only he’d thrown all that away, along with her clothes.
Wesley looked pained that he had reminded her of that. Sad that her gleeful smiles had faded back to the clouded expression she’d been wearing for weeks. She’d not even been able to say Angel’s name much less talk about her feelings. Maybe that was why Wes was so confused about her willingness to accept the clothing.
As Cordelia’s eyes flitted back to him, Angel wanted to reach out and touch her, just a soft sweep of his thumb over the sad tilt of her mouth. He wanted her smile back, but the reminder that he’d been such a bastard made him wonder if Wes wasn’t right.
Maybe he didn’t deserve her smile.
No matter his excuses, Angel knew the clothing was more than just a way to replace the ones he’d given away. It was the first step in his search for forgiveness.
Cordelia’s joy and ready smile had catapulted him straight to a place where hope actually existed. Now he wondered if everything Wesley had cautioned him about this morning wasn’t right on-target. He’d cut corners trying to win back her affections the one way he thought would make a difference, by mutely recognizing and appealing to the feminine side of her nature.
What if he’d just ruined everything? Angel knew he couldn’t bear that and the need to swallow convulsively was suddenly overwhelming.
Cordelia stressed to them both, “Broken trust takes more than a few clothes to repair.”
“I know that,” he croaked bitterly glancing down at the piles of dresses, blouses, skirts, shoes and matching handbags. The urge to sweep them onto the floor came difficult to resist realizing that the carefully selected items now appeared to be a bribe rather than a supplicant offer of atonement.
“But I’ve already forgiven you, Angel,” she took a step closer, still hugging the dress to her frame, her fingers curling along his sleeve.
Angel’s head lifted slowly as if he wasn’t quite certain that he’d heard those words correctly. A glance at Wesley showed him to be equally surprised. “You have?”
A glimmer of mirth crept back into her eyes as Angel met her gaze. “Yep, big guy. I have and you’ve got Harmony to thank for it.”
“Harmony?” Both Angel and Wes repeated in unison.
Cordelia snorted at the fact that they sounded like a pair of squawking parrots. Then she turned serious again, telling Angel, “When Harmony showed up and I found out that she was a vampire, I figured she could fill the void you left behind.”
“I was back,” Angel pointed out he could fill his own void. No substitutions needed and certainly not by the Harmonies of the world.
“Oh, you were back,” nodded Cordelia pulling her hand away before his own could capture it, “but I wasn’t letting you in.”
“No, you weren’t,” he agreed having felt the bitter cold of being shut out from her affections quite acutely.
Fingering the soft material of the dress in her arms, Cordelia asked him, “Did you realize that I’ve known Harmony my entire life? We’ve been friends of sorts since we were in diapers.”
“No,” Angel admitted. He’d never really given Harmony much thought even when they were all in Sunnydale together and he wasn’t really getting the connection that Cordelia seemed to be making. Except for the fact that they were both vampires, he had nothing in common with the ditzy blonde.
One thing, he reconsidered. Cordelia herself was their common bond.
“If I had such a thing as a best friend back then, it was her,” Cordelia explained with a wry smile. As far as she was concerned, that didn’t say much for her past choices.
Wesley suddenly began to feel out of place in the midst of this conversation hearing Cordelia’s revelation. He thought about going back into his office, but was afraid that any movement would distract them from actually opening up to each other.
“So I figured…hey, she’s still my best friend in a way. Better than you who’d dumped me onto the streets,” accusation sounded in Cordelia’s voice. Upon hearing it, she added quickly, “along with Wes and Gunn.”
Angel didn’t like the comparison, nor the reminder that came with it. “I told you why I—”
Holding up her hand, Cordelia staved him off as she cut in, “I’ve heard the excuses, Angel. I didn’t like them the first time.”
“Are you sure you’ve forgiven me?” Angel wasn’t so certain and doubt played in his eyes as he asked the question.
“I said so,” Cordelia stressed. “Sheesh! You might find out why if you’d just go back to brooding in the dark corner for another minute or two so I can finish saying what I’m trying to tell you.”
Sliding a glance at Wesley, Angel caught him standing with his hand draped over his mouth smothering his laughter. There were few people who could tell Angel to shut up and get away with it and they were both standing in this room. Glaring at his new boss, Angel felt the tug of a smile at his lips as he realized that whatever road she’d taken to get there, somehow Cordelia had forgiven him.
Turning his attention back to Cordelia, he listened attentively. “I wanted to trust her the way I’d trusted you. Only it bit me on the ass again. Not literally, of course, but I realized something when she was standing in front of me with my crossbow trained on her.”
“I would have killed her, Angel,” Cordelia’s resolve sounded clear despite the glassy shimmer in her eyes, “dusted her just like that, my one-time best friend. Harmony’s betrayal hurt especially because you’d warned me that she would do it and I refused to trust you.”
A bitter tone crept into her voice as Cordelia added, “Betrayed twice by vampires I considered my friends. What a record.”
“It won’t happen again, Cordy,” Angel’s solemn promise sounded in her ear and she realized just how close they were standing. Closing her eyes for an instant, she took strength in those words and in the familiar sensation of his hard-bodied presence.
“Damn skippy! I’ll kick your ass all the way to Santa Monica,” lightening her threat with a grin. Then she added, “Standing there with Harmony made me realize that if it was you, I would never have done it.”
That had Angel frowning. “You would. You always said…”
“If it was Angelus, maybe,” Cordelia clarified, adding when he made a move to speak, “okay, then, yes, in a heartbeat. Soulless you is a whole lot different than you just being a coldhearted bastard.”
Though to be perfectly honest to herself, Cordelia guessed there would be a lot less of the crossbow action and more likely a thick set of chains, a gag and a line of witches with a certified history in re-ensoulment.
“Oh,” Angel responded only slightly mollified by the news.
“So I let Harm go,” she continued where she’d left off. “That vampire was never my friend, Angel, not really, but you were once and I knew the difference, that’s all. I went home thinking about everything that happened. Just a couple of days ago, I’d been so certain we weren’t friends and that I’d never allow myself to think of you that way again.”
Cordelia had come right out and told him so, Angel remembered. “What’d I do?” It had to be noteworthy, but he couldn’t think of a thing except for his big show with buying the clothes and she’d supposedly already made up her mind by then.
“I’d like to know the answer to that one,” Wes held up his index finger like he was asking the teacher for attention. So much for staying out of it.
“Nothing special,” she explained to Angel, “at least nothing out of the ordinary for you. I don’t think you were back five minutes before the PTB came knocking with a vision. Vampire you may be, but you’re still the man with the mission. You’d come back to us when it would’ve been easier just to walk away forever.”
He’d never have walked away; Angel couldn’t tell her the reason. Even at his worst hour, Angel had watched them from afar. Watched her. Apart from him, she’d been safer. Less of a target. Less likely to be touched by the darkness that followed him, surrounded him and threatened to swallow him whole.
“I watched over you sometimes,” he got out.
She’d asked for silence, so Cordelia made no notice of it now as Angel struggled for the words to further explain himself. Long before he managed to come up with anything that sounded reasonable, Cordelia said, “I remembered a promise I made you back at my apartment. You know the one.
Angel nodded. “We were talking about the Shanshu prophesy. I thought I was so damn close to it. Only now I wonder if I’m not further from it than I was then.”
“I didn’t sign on to this mission. It wasn’t my choice, but if it had been I wouldn’t change it,” Cordelia let the dress drop back to the desk as she faced Angel. “When I made you that promise, when I told you I’d be with you until it happened, I wasn’t just talking about the good times…cos, geez, there are so many of them compared to the demony uprisings and apocalyptic plotting.”
“We had some good times,” Angel caught the sarcasm, but started ticking off a mental list preparing to recite it if necessary.
Agreeing Cordelia gave him an indulgent smile. “I set myself up for it, Angel. I never expected you to push us away. Any of us, but especially me. I’m Vision Girl, after all and not some clinging vine.”
Though I’m sticking to you like Saran Wrap from now on just to keep you out of trouble.
“Cor—,” he started up, but got no further as her hand swept up covering his mouth as she leaned close to make her point. Stunned, Angel drank in the warmth of her palm and didn’t so much as move a muscle, not even a twitch.
“Realizing that you might have made wrong decisions concerning certain nameless blondes and knowing that the PTB still consider you their champion despite the oh-so obvious bad choices you’ve made recently,” Cordelia barely stopped to take a breath, “I decided that I could forgive you. Nobody’s perfect, Angel, but you’ve tried harder than anyone I know to be good…until you forgot that you could be.”
Cordelia kept her hand in place adding an arched look aimed squarely up into his face. Returning her gaze, Angel realized that forgetting to be good wasn’t hard with Cordelia around. Then introspection aside, he dragged his mind back to what she’d said.
Angel couldn’t deny that. He’d needed to forget, made himself go back to that place where feelings didn’t matter. Until Darla helped him remember just how little he felt for her despite the ultimate intimacy. It was nothing in comparison to how much he felt as a result of a single touch of Cordelia’s hand. Her friendship meant everything to him, made him feel again.
“I don’t pretend to understand how or why all of this happened, but I believe you’re sorry,” Cordelia accepted that as the truth.
As his large hand enclosed her wrist, Angel pulled her hand away from his mouth and down to his chest where his fingers threaded through hers to hold her there. “I am sorry, Cordy. Words just didn’t seem to be enough, so I—”
“Bought out Rodeo Drive?” That arched brow came accompanied by her bright smile spreading warmth across her face like the rising sun he could never see.
“Looks that way,” Angel ruefully glanced back down at her desk. “I suppose it’s not too late to return them.”
“Pfft! After giving my clothes away, you owe me, buddy,” Cordelia grabbed the red dress and headed back toward the cloak room. “La, la, la, la, la! I have new clothes.”
Angel couldn’t stop the smile from tugging at his lips again the moment Cordelia’s infectious glee filtered back through the barrier of the door. Then sensing Wesley’s eyes boring into the back of his head, Angel commented, “Give it up, Wes. She likes the clothes.”
“And you, too, apparently,” Wesley muttered. “Cordelia has thought through her way to forgiving you. I still say you got off too easily.”
Maybe, Angel admitted silently.
“Just be careful,” added Wesley trying to caution Angel into taking things slowly with Cordelia. “She may have forgiven you, but that doesn’t mean you can pick right up where you left off.”
Keeping his eyes on the door, Angel asked distractedly, “Where was that, Wes?”
Cordelia burst out of the cloak room half dressed and holding the top of the red gown to her chest. “I’m stuck. The zipper won’t budge.”
She turned her back to Angel, expectantly peeking over her shoulder and waiting for him to respond. He met her gaze for a moment, eyes darkening in anticipation. Then his fingers slipped inside the gown moving along the open zipper and along the silky bare skin of her back until they stopped at the junction of flesh, cloth and metal near the base of her spine.
Fixing the problem, Angel slid the zipper into place, smoothing his hands up over her shoulders as he did so, his thumbs rubbing the nape of her neck just long enough to elicit a purring response. Then realizing what he was doing, Angel dropped his hands to his side, “How’s that?”
“Felt good,” Cordelia responded with a sigh. “Why’d you stop? My neck is still sore from wrestling with Harmony.”
Sensing Wesley’s scrutinizing stare again, Angel cleared his throat. “I meant your dress.”
“Oh, it’s perfect,” Cordelia gave a little laugh over the misunderstanding. Trust her to stay focused on where Angel’s cool fingers pressed little magic circles into her skin. “Did you check the labels on my clothes before you gave them away?”
“No,” Angel tried to keep his answer simple.
When Cordelia turned around and he confirmed the fact that the dress did indeed fit quite perfectly over her luscious curves, Angel wondered what he’d been thinking when he bought that particular red dress. It had looked almost demure on its display mannequin, but that certainly wasn’t the case now.
Cordelia was too curious to let go her question even if Angel was a little distracted by the fact that she’d left her bra in the cloak room so it wouldn’t spoil the lines of the dress. “How’d you know my size?”
“I-I just know you,” Angel forced his gaze to go a little higher, away from the soft, yet firm curves of her breasts and managing to make it to the turn of her throat as she glanced toward Wesley.
“Is that some kooky vampire thing?” Cordelia rolled her eyes at the idea. “Centuries of fashion experience.”
A wry look appeared on Wesley’s face as he wondered whether Cordelia was truly that clueless or just being purposefully blind to the way Angel responded to her. The worrisome thought already pounded in his head. “No, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with Angel being a kooky vampire.”
Cordelia laughed at Wesley’s dry comment despite the serious look he was sending in Angel’s direction. His harsh stare had no effect and Wes found himself giving into the fact that he had more to wonder about than Cordelia’s reasons for forgiving Angel his wrongdoings.
Reading between the lines, he found the truth a little glaring. It was the same for Angel, realized Wes, except he’d shown it with this extravagant purchase of clothing, all hand-picked with Cordelia firmly in mind.
Wes straightened up from his position in the doorframe, his spine feeling a little stiff from staying in one spot for so long. Watching them, eyes wide behind the frames of his glasses, Wes realized that it wasn’t the vampire who’d made a grasping gesture of atonement, but the man.
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The Challenge by Jennie C
S2 A/C Friendship, scene after clothes, convo why she lets him off the hook.