Cordelia paused in the hallway outside the office before opening the door, just to give herself a moment to review how the day was going to go. First, she wasn't going to cry. She'd done enough of that last night. Today was a new day, and she was moving on.
Second, she wasn't going to talk about it. Well, not in a strange, avoidy kind of way, but... again. New day, moving on.
She plastered a smile onto her face, just in case Angel was already upstairs, and opened the door.
So, of course, because she'd gone to so much effort, Angel was nowhere to be found. None of the light were even on, which was weird because she was seriously late.
Cordelia went around the corner and back into his little office, but that was all dark too, and quiet. Maybe too quiet.
Telling herself to save the drama for her audition later that afternoon, she decided that nothing was wrong. Maybe Angel was still asleep downstairs. Maybe he'd gone out... into the brilliant sunshine, right. Okay, so maybe he'd gone down into the sewers to skulk around in super-brood mode or whatever it was he did down there.
She froze when she heard the sound of the front door to the office opening very, very slowly.
Someone, she realized after a few seconds, was sneaking inside. She could hear the careful, measured footfalls, the way whoever it was was creeping at like half-speed into the room.
Moving very carefully, herself, Cordelia crept over to Angel's desk and picked up some heavy weapon kind of thing that was sitting there, then over to the doorway. The person was getting closer... closer...
With a shriek, Cordelia stepped into the doorway, weapon brandished in her hands threateningly.
She hadn't been expecting the black-leather-clad man to shriek just as loudly and cower back despite the crossbow he held in his own hands. He looked... strangely familiar. "Wesley?"
"Cordelia?" Once Wesley had stopped cowering and straightened up, he seemed just as surprised to see her as she was to see him. "What on earth are you doing here?"
She blinked. "I work here. What are you doing here?"
Wesley stood up a little bit straighter, if that was even possible. "I was looking for Angel."
"Yeah, well, join the club. He's not here." Cordelia sighed and went back over to the desk to put the weapon thing back down. "But actually, I meant 'what are you doing here in L.A.?'" She realized she was staring at him. He still had the glasses, which he really should get rid of in favor of contacts, but otherwise he looked... different. His hair was much better, and the leather jacket and pants weren't a bad look for him.
"In point of fact, I've left the Council." Wesley had a funny expression on his face, like he wasn't telling the whole truth. "I'm working on my own now. One of my contacts told me that Angel was here, and I thought that we might... well..."
Cordelia tried to stop staring at him. The whole Sunnydale kiss-disaster thing had soured her on him for a while maybe, but now he looked just as good as he had when she'd first seen him. Okay, so the dork factor was an issue. But Wesley wasn't a real fixer-upper, not in the way Xander Harris had been. Not even in the way Doyle...
She realized she'd been standing there like an idiot. "Um... sorry. What?"
"Angel and I," Wesley said stiffly, then he twitched and stammered, "Er... not like... what I meant to say..."
"Just spit it out," Cordelia advised, suddenly feeling tired. "You thought you and Angel would what?"
"Work together," Wesley said. "Just briefly, of course. It's always good to have an exchange of information, especially in this business."
"Demon hunting." Wesley adjusted his collar.
"Oh. Right." Cordelia went past him into the main part of the office, because she was seriously going to need some coffee if this was the way her day was going to go. "Anyway, if Angel's here, he's downstairs."
She dumped the old gross coffee grounds into the trash can, set the filter holder back into the machine, then found herself staring at the coffee mugs. Had Doyle had a special one? She picked one up, looked at it, frowned, then put it back down and picked up a different one. How was it possible that Doyle hadn't had one of his own? Wasn't there something seriously wrong with that?
A hand settled gently onto her shoulder. "Cordelia?" Wesley's voice was smooth and gentle. "Are you all right?"
She turned and looked at him, hoping that everything she was feeling wasn't showing in her eyes. "Uh-huh?"
"Was that supposed to convince me?" He looked sympathetic, and that just made it harder to hold herself together.
Cordelia knew she had to say it fast and get it over with. "Doyle died."
Wesley's expression softened further. "A friend of yours?"
She nodded mutely, and Wesley guided her with gentle hands over to the couch and sat her down.
"What happened?" he asked.
Cordelia swallowed. "There was this thing -- this beacon. It was going to kill everyone within, like, miles. D-doyle unplugged it." She took a shuddering breath. "He saved us."
"I'm so sorry." Wesley was holding both her hands, sitting on the couch next to her. His touch -- warm, human -- was somehow more comforting than Angel's awkward embrace had been.
"So anyway," she said, trying to get a grip, "That's probably why Angel's not in the office yet. He told me to, you know, come in late if I wanted to."
"Your friend -- Doyle -- he just... last night?" Wesley looked kind of shocked.
"Yeah. Which, again, would explain Angel doing the big avoidy." Cordelia squeezed Wesley's hands gratefully and stood up. "Come on, I'll show you where he does his brooding when he's not doing it in the office."
* * * * *
Cordelia wasn't sure, afterward, why she was surprised. Not like Angel didn't have a habit of running out when the going got tough.
As soon as she and Wesley got downstairs, it was obvious that Angel was gone. Half the drawers in his bedroom were open, clothes tossed around like he'd grabbed what he wanted and left the rest.
"I can't believe he'd just leave," Cordelia said, half-heartedly picking up handfuls of clothes from the floor and shoving them into drawers. "I mean, without even saying anything? Or, I don't know, leaving a note?"
"You mean like this one?" Wesley's voice asked from the kitchen.
The refrigerator door was open too -- the light was on, showing that it was close to empty. Wesley stood next to the table, holding a creased piece of paper in his hand. "It was on the table," he said apologetically.
Cordelia took it from him slowly, then took a deep breath before starting to read.
I'm leaving. I guess by the time you find this you'll have figured that out already.
It's not safe to be around me. Last night just proved it. You'll be better off with me as far away as possible.
I'm sorry. About Doyle, about everything. The office rent is paid for another two months, so if you want to clear anything out of there -- and here -- go ahead. Sell it, whatever. I'm not coming back.
Trust me, it's better this way.
Cordelia had to read the note twice before it really started to sink in. Then, "What a jerk!" she said loudly.
"He's gone, then?" Wesley asked, like he hadn't just read the stupid note before she had.
"Well, duh." Cordelia started to fold the note back up along the creases, then thought better of it and just crumpled the piece of paper up into a ball. "Stupid jerk. I can't believe he'd just walk out on me like this!"
Fuming, because that was way easier than admitting how hurt she was, she threw the ball of paper against the wall and stormed back upstairs, aware that Wesley was following her.
"How am I supposed to help the helpless without the vision guy and without Angel?" she asked Wesley once she reached the top of the stairs. "God! Well you know what? Forget it! I'm just gonna go back to concentrating on my career. I was just supposed to be helping out until Angel got settled, you know? This was just supposed to be temporary!" Her voice got louder throughout the rant, so that by the time she reached the end of the last sentence she was almost yelling.
"Perhaps it's best you don't make any decisions just now?" Wesley suggested. Sure, be all reasonable. "At least give yourself a day or two."
"Right, because by then I'll have to come to my senses and realized I should keep running this place by myself with no income and no help?"
"I could always..." Wesley offered hesitantly. "If you wanted me to. But again, give yourself some time before you make a decision."
"Hello? Are you not hearing me?" Cordelia threw her hands up into the air. "No visions, no messages from the Powers That Be. Even if I had super vampire strength and all that, how would I know who to help?"
Wesley looked confused. "I really can't answer that until you've explained to me what you mean about visions."
Cordelia sighed, then glanced at her watch. "Okay, look. I've got ten minutes until I need to leave for my audition, so I hope you can handle the Reader's Digest condensed version."
* * * * *
After Cordelia left, Wesley spent some time acquainting himself with the office. He felt rather self-conscious doing so, but it did seem that Angel wouldn't be coming back, so he might as well make himself as useful as possible in the meantime.
The filing was atrocious, the computer system reasonable but poorly set up. He wondered if Cordelia had been responsible for both things.
Wesley could understand why Angel had left. Not that he agreed with him -- but he understood. The death of a friend, a death that Angel felt responsible for -- it wasn't difficult to grasp why the vampire would feel that Cordelia might be safer well out of the situation. Again, not that he agreed; it wasn't as if L.A. was a particularly safe city in any case.
Cordelia was clearly more upset about Angel's sudden departure than she was trying to let on. She was also clearly rather traumatized by the death of her friend -- near-boyfriend. Whatever Doyle had been to her.
She was, despite or perhaps because of her emotional state, even more beautiful than she'd been only a few months before in Sunnydale. Wesley was just as drawn to her as he'd been then, and he had to admit that he was delighted at the thought that they might become... reacquainted.
He still cringed when he thought of the disastrous kiss they'd shared before the Ascension, but Wesley was enough of an optimist that he hoped they might be able to put it behind them. If he was very lucky.
Wesley was sitting on the sofa reading through some vaguely-written notes when the office door opened and Cordelia came in. She'd changed her clothing since she'd left -- her current top was tight-fitting, with strategically cut away bits that revealed the smooth skin of her upper arms in distracting ways.
He found himself standing up, the chafing of his leather trousers more noticeable and the papers he'd been reading abandoned on the sofa cushion. "You look -- " he started, then wasn't sure what else to say. The look in Cordelia's eyes was almost... predatory.
She came over to him without saying a word, grabbed onto his arms, and kissed him. For the first few moments he was too surprised to respond, but then he wrapped his arms around her and kissed back. It was long and sensual, and it seemed to Wesley that he wasn't the only one who'd done a bit of practicing since their last kiss.
As soon as their lips parted, Cordelia pulled back and frowned. "I didn't feel anything. Did you feel anything?"
Disappointment made Wesley's heart sink. "I thought it went considerably better than last time."
"No," Cordelia said, smacking him lightly with the back of her hand. "That's not what I meant. I was trying to see if they'd, you know... jump. Again."
He blinked helplessly. "If what would what?"
"The visions!" Cordelia threw her hands up into the air as if her answer should have been self-evident. "When Doyle kissed me, they must have jumped ship. Just like a rat."
"Doyle kissed you?" She'd left out that bit of information during their earlier conversation. "Wait -- the visions did what?"
"Are you not paying attention? Jumped ship! Into my head!"
Wesley blinked again, astonished. "Are you sure?"
"Well, hm, let me think about that... YES! Trust me, the smell-o-vision wasn't the first clue, and the blinding pain wasn't the last." Cordelia tilted her head to one side and rubbed the back of her neck. "I think I drooled in the middle of my audition."
"Oh dear, is that when it happened?" Wesley looked at her with concern, noting for the first time the small strain lines around her eyes.
"Yes, and let me tell you, the Powers That Be could have picked a better time."
Wesley reached out and caught her hand. "Come and sit down," he urged her. "Can I get you anything?"
"I already took some aspirin," Cordelia said, following him and sitting down on the couch. "But I'm thinking I'm going to need stock in Bayer if this is what they're all like." She smiled ruefully. "Now I know why Doyle was so big with the drinking."
"Don't worry," Wesley said, patting her hand. "We'll find some solution to this."
"What we need to find," Cordelia said bluntly, "is Angel."
Wesley nodded. "Because the visions are meant for him. Meant to guide him toward his redemption?"
"And what good are they going to do him now?" Cordelia asked.
"Obviously the Powers That Be hadn't counted on him leaving." Wesley hesitated. "You don't think we should try to do something about this vision, in the meantime?"
She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck again. "No. I mean, yes. You're right. But I don't know what they were trying to show me -- it's not like I had a class in vision interpretation in high school, you know."
Sometimes she said things like that, things that highlighted just how young she really was. Things that Wesley would prefer she'd not said, because they tended to make him feel rather guilty and lecherous for having those sorts of thoughts about someone so much younger than he was. "I know," he said, trying to sound reassuring. "Don't worry, we'll sort it out. Why don't you write down everything you can remember, and then we'll go through it together."
"What are you going to do?" Cordelia asked, watching him move over to the desk.
"Set some wheels in motion so that we can find Angel." Wesley paused with his hand hovering over the phone. "If you're sure that's what you want to do."
Cordelia looked a bit uncertain, but she said, "Yeah." Then, "You don't think it's a good idea?"
"I didn't say that." She deserved more of an answer, though. "I'm... concerned. He doesn't seem very reliable or stable. I don't want to see you disappointed."
"Disappointed is what I'll be if I keep having the visions for him and he's nowhere around," Cordelia explained, reaching for a pad of paper. "Besides, I need to tell him what a jerk he is for taking off on me like this."
As Wesley picked up the phone and started to dial, he hoped that they'd be able to find Angel soon.
He wanted to give the vampire a piece of his mind.
* * * * *
Wesley spent the first night at Cordelia's apartment because he hadn't had time to get himself a place to stay, and the second because she asked him to. After that, they both just accepted that he'd be there in case she needed him. She had nightmares -- quite significant ones, if her screams were any indication. Some of them seemed to revolve around Doyle's death, although Cordelia never spoke of them once she was fully awake. Others were about the visions, or the people they'd been unable to save.
Three months after Angel left, on an occasion when they were unable to prevent a vision from playing to its natural -- or decidedly unnatural, depending on how you chose to look at it -- conclusion, Wesley ended up being nearly run through with one of his own crossbow bolts. It was entirely his own fault -- he went left when he should have gone right, and one of the three vampires managed to get the crossbow away from him.
There was a jarring *thock* as the bolt hit his chest, knocking him off his feet and the wind out of him at the same time. Before he could ever draw a breath, there was a shower of dust over him. Wesley gasped, inhaled vampire dust, and began to choke helplessly as Cordelia fell to her knees beside him.
"Oh my God. Wesley? Wes?" Cordelia's hands flew to his shirt front, pulling it open with careless disregard for the buttons.
Not, Wesley thought, that it mattered, as the shirt was already a loss, what with the crossbow bolt sticking out of it. He coughed some more, then rasped, "I'm all right."
Cordelia's hands found the bulletproof vest, her fingers working desperately at the straps trying to get it undone. "Okay, okay," she said, almost to herself, in the voice Wesley had come to think of as her on-edge, but-trying-to-convince-herself-she-wasn't voice.
He managed to roll to one side far enough to help her, then sat up and let her pull the vest off, easing it carefully away from his chest.
Wesley hissed slightly as the muscles in his shoulder protested, but then sighed in relief as Cordelia let the vest drop to the pavement. "I'm all right," he repeated. The end of the bolt hadn't penetrated the interior wall of the vest -- other than what would later turn out to be some rather spectacular bruising, he was uninjured.
"Why weren't you paying attention?" Cordelia asked, shoving him with both hands and knocking him back onto the ground now that she'd seen for herself that he was all right. "God! He could have killed you!"
"No," Wesley said, sitting up a second time, slowly in case she decided to push him again. "That's what the bulletproof vests are for."
"Well yeah, but aren't you the one who's always telling me that a bulletproof vest isn't going to protect my neck from vampires?" Cordelia was sitting back on her heels, and she looked angry.
"Yes." Wesley wasn't sure what else to say. Granted, she was right -- the situation could have played out badly, and it was his responsibility. He struggled to his feet and bent painfully to pick up his discarded vest. "You're right," he said apologetically, straightening up again. "I should have been more careful."
She was still on her knees, looking up at him. "Darn right you should have," she said, eyes flashing. "What the hell do you think would happen to me if you died?"
For someone so intelligent, it struck Wesley, he really could be terribly slow at times. "Come here," he said gently, reaching for her hand and pulling until she'd got to her feet as well. Then he wrapped his arms around her. "I'm sorry," Wesley said again. "I'll be more careful, I promise."
"You'd better be," Cordelia said, standing there and letting the embrace happen, if not exactly participating in it. Her cheek was pressed against his shoulder, her breath moving warmly across his skin where his shirt was still open.
Wesley didn't bother telling himself that the goose-pimples that prickled into life were from the cold; he knew they were a direct result of Cordelia's proximity. "Are you all right?" he asked her, without letting go.
She nodded against his chest. "If you get yourself killed, I'm never going to forgive you."
"I'll try to keep that in mind." It was an effort to keep his tone light.
"Good." Cordelia still wasn't returning the embrace, but she also wasn't making any effort to move away. It was almost as if she was enjoying it despite herself.
Finally, with great reluctance, Wesley let go of her and took half a step backward.
There was no sign of the young couple they'd come to rescue, not that that was any surprise, as the first thing Cordelia had shouted at them was "Run!" The alleyway was empty bar themselves and some trash bins.
"Let's get out of here," Cordelia said, picking up the stake she'd dropped earlier, but leaving an emptied vial of holy water. "Let's go home."
* * * * *
None of her behavior would have led Wesley to anticipate what happened when they got back to her apartment.
"I'm gonna take a shower," Cordelia announced as Wesley closed the front door behind them. "Bring me a glass of wine?"
For a moment, Wesley wasn't certain he'd heard her correctly. "A glass of wine?"
"Yeah." Cordelia was already headed for the bathroom. "I have this emergency bottle back behind the cereal boxes. Dennis can show you where it is."
Wesley had been sleeping on the couch for months -- he knew where the cereal was kept, although he'd never noticed the wine, probably because he never had anything for breakfast but tea and toast.
He did need Dennis' assistance in finding the bottle opener, but he got the cork out without breaking it into little crumbs and he carried a glass back to the slightly-ajar bathroom door. "Should I leave it out here?" he called over the sound of running water.
"No, bring it in," Cordelia called back.
Hesitantly, feeling as if he was intruding into a place he shouldn't but at the same time desperately wanted to be, Wesley pushed the bathroom door open and entered the room. The mirror was already fogged up. "Would you like me to leave it here on the sink?"
Cordelia looked around the edge of the shower curtain. Her hair was pinned up, her eyes sultry. "I was kind of thinking maybe you could bring it in here."
It wasn't that Wesley didn't want to -- God, did he want to. But something about this wasn't right. "I'm not sure that would be a good idea." He set the glass down on the tile surface that surrounded the sink.
"Why not?" Cordelia sounded less certain, but held her ground.
"Because I'm not sure why you're doing this." Wesley tried to speak gently, not wanting to put her on the defensive. He wanted to get to the bottom of the situation.
Cordelia turned and shut the water off abruptly. "Give me a towel," she said, holding out her bare arm.
"Cordelia, I -- "
"Just give me a towel."
Wesley handed one to her, and her arm disappeared behind the shower curtain again. "I really think we should talk about this," he said.
The curtain flew open and Cordelia stormed past him, wrapped in the towel and dripping water all over the floor. "I really don't want to talk about it."
"Regardless, I don't think this is something we should let go." Determined, Wesley followed after her.
"Yeah, see, that's where we're different. I'm all about letting things go," Cordelia told him, turning in the center of her bedroom to face him. "Or hadn't you noticed?"
Wesley rather thought that she was repressing as opposed to letting things go, but he wasn't sure that was a wise thing to say. "I'm... concerned. That you aren't handling all of this as well as you might." Brilliant, Wesley. That's so much better.
"You think I should be handling this better?" Cordelia tucked a lock of hair back behind her ear. "And which part of this should I be handling better? No, seriously, tell me. Doyle dying? Ending up with the visions? Angel running out on me when I really needed him?" Her eyes were sparkling with tears. "Or no, maybe the part where you could have died tonight. Is that the part I shouldn't be freaking out over?"
Wesley moved closer to her, slowly, not convinced that a breakdown of some sort was avoidable or undesirable. "It's perfectly normal to, as you say, 'freak out' when things of this nature happen."
Cordelia had slipped on a silk dressing gown and now she threw the unneeded towel down onto the floor. "Things of this nature?" she repeated. "People dying, and... vampires, and visions? How often do you think things like this actually happen to people?"
"I meant that it's normal to need some time to adjust when traumatic things happen," Wesley said placatingly.
There were definitely tears in Cordelia's eyes, and her lower lip trembled just slightly. "I don't know if I can handle any more trauma," she said. "Don't you think I've hit my yearly quota? Shouldn't someone up there be keeping track?"
"Absolutely," Wesley agreed, moving toward her again. "And you've been keeping yourself together remarkably well. Too well. I think that tonight's... incident was merely an example of some of the stress you've been under attempting to find a release valve."
Cordelia looked confused. "You almost getting killed was a release valve?"
"No, I was talking about just now. In the bathroom." Wesley found himself unable to meet her gaze.
"Oh." When he did look up, Cordelia had her arms wrapped around herself. It made her look small and vulnerable. "Yeah. I don't... I mean, I wasn't..."
"No, of course you weren't yourself," Wesley said. He'd be damned if he'd admit how much he'd wished that her offer had been genuine and not the result of their difficult evening.
Cordelia rubbed her upper arms with her hands and shook her head. "No. I mean, yeah, I was stressed. The whole you-almost-dying thing was definitely something I could have lived without. But that -- " She gestured toward the bathroom. "That wasn't some crazy, didn't-know-what-I-was-doing reaction."
She shook her head again. "No."
"And instead, it was...?" Wesley left it open ended for her to finish, as the last thing he wanted to do at this point was make assumptions.
Cordelia came closer. The glow of her skin was radiant, and Wesley was sure he'd never wanted anything more in his life than he wanted to touch her in that moment.
"It was me," Cordelia said carefully. "Wanting, you know. To be close to you."
"You're relatively close right now," Wesley said huskily, looking down into her eyes. There were mere inches between them.
"Mm-hm." Cordelia's lower lip was begging to be kissed.
"Would it be all right if I kissed you?"
She reached up and pushed his glasses up along his nose slightly, and then she kissed him.
Wesley never spent another night on the sofa.
* * * * *
Things weren't perfect, of course. There were the visions to deal with -- both Cordelia's reaction to them, and trying to prevent what she saw from coming to pass. Sadly, their success rate was rather low, and Cordelia spent a fair amount of time cursing Angel under her breath.
She eventually stopped asking Wesley how the search for the vampire was going. Which was why, when Wesley finally managed to locate Angel, he had absolutely no idea how to tell her.
He knew better than to let this stop him, however.
"I've found Angel," he said reluctantly after four hours of trying to think of how else to put it and coming up with nothing.
Cordelia stopped dead in her tracks. "What? Where?"
Wesley ushered her gently out of the way of the other people who were trying to enter the small grocery store. "A few hours north of here. He's done an excellent job of remaining anonymous, obviously. Otherwise I would have been able to track him down much sooner."
She was still just standing there.
"Did... did you still want to see him? Talk to him?" Wesley had issues here, ones that he was well aware of but couldn't do anything about. Sometimes, the way Cordelia talked about Angel... well, it fostered insecurities.
"Damn right I still want to talk to him," Cordelia said, finally seeming to snap out of her state of shock. "How else I am going to be able to give him hell for taking off on me like that? Wesley, he didn't even have the decency to say goodbye."
"He left you a note," Wesley said. It was a feeble defense of Angel's behavior, certainly.
"Uh-huh." Cordelia moved over and picked up a shopping basket -- they were meant to be buying dinner. "And that's supposed to make everything okay?"
Wesley followed her down the first aisle. "No, of course not. You know how I feel about this."
Cordelia turned and looked at him with an odd expression on her face. "I do?"
"Don't you?" It occurred to Wesley that maybe she didn't. Actually, he'd done his best to keep his views on Angel's departure to himself, for a number of reasons. Apologetically, he said, "No, I suppose you don't. I didn't feel it was my place to condemn him."
"So that's how you feel? Condemn-y?"
"I don't think that's a word," Wesley said, picking up a loaf of bread and putting it into the basket, which he then took from Cordelia. "But if it were, it wouldn't be entirely inaccurate."
"You can tell me, you know," Cordelia said. "I mean, I'm already pissed off at him. It's not like you're going to, I don't know, unfairly influence me, or whatever it is you're worried about."
"It's not so much that," Wesley said thoughtfully. "Although I didn't want to upset you, obviously."
"But we're, you know, in something here. Aren't we?" Cordelia's uncertainty was, somehow, slightly gratifying. "A relationship?"
Wesley smiled at her, his heart doing that odd little half-skip that it so often did when she looked at him, or said his name in a certain way, or, well, breathed. "If that's what you want it to be." Then, plowing ahead, "That's certainly what I want. I... I care for you. A great deal. You do know that?"
She smiled back beatifically. "I know. Me, too."
It wasn't much of a declaration, but Wesley felt decidedly happy in any case. "What would you like to do, then? Write to him? Phone? Go to see him?"
Cordelia considered her options and added a jar of pasta sauce and some penne to the basket. "He went to a lot of trouble to make himself hard to find, right? What if I call and he just, you know, takes off again?"
"He may do that in any case," Wesley pointed out. "It's not as though we could prevent him from relocating again if he's determined to do so."
"Do you think he will? I mean, once he knows about the visions?"
"Honestly? I don't know." Wesley put a bag of pre-cut broccoli into the basket. She still hadn't responded, and when he turned his head to look at her, she seemed troubled again.
"You think he'd just leave again."
"Obviously I'd like to think not," Wesley said. "But I don't know. You know him much better than I do."
Cordelia grimaced. "I thought I did."
They'd reached the cashier's station, and Wesley unloaded the food and paid for it, He was nearly out of money, despite the fact that he'd been doing translation work when he could get it, and Cordelia hadn't had an audition in three weeks.
Two bags of groceries in hand, Wesley followed Cordelia out into the parking lot.
"You don't think he knows?" Cordelia asked. "That you found him."
"No, I can't imagine how he would." Wesley loaded the bags into the trunk of the car. "He doesn't seem to be working at all. He's holed up in a basement apartment and apparently isn't going out much."
"So if we show up on his doorstep, he'd be surprised." Cordelia got into the car and waited for Wesley to close his door before starting it up.
"Unpleasantly surprised would be my guess," Wesley said. "He might refuse to let us in at all."
"I can work with that," Cordelia said. She glanced over at him. "I just want him to know. You know?"
"I do." Wesley didn't want her to be disappointed by Angel, not again, but he didn't see that they had any choice but to try.
* * * * *
Angel had given up on reading, not that he'd been doing a lot of it anyway. It had mostly been a front for sitting and thinking and feeling bad -- it made him look less broody. But there wasn't anyone to put up a front for anymore, and brooding lay heavy on him, keeping him grounded.
The days were long, but then so were the nights. Without other people to distract him, Angel felt... relieved. But lonely. And then guilty about the lonely part.
The best thing he could do for everyone was just avoid people.
He thought about Doyle every day. He worried about Cordelia -- hoped she'd gone back to Sunnydale, or that maybe she'd gotten some acting work. Whenever he walked by a television that was turned on he looked at it at least briefly, thinking maybe he'd see her.
Sighing, Angel got up from his chair. He'd lost track of how long he'd been sitting there, but he could still tell that the sun had just set. He was running low on pig's blood and needed to go out and get some more. Where the hell was his coat? He spent almost a minute thinking about it before he realized he was still wearing it from the last time he'd gone out. He couldn't remember when that had been.
He stuck his hand into his pocket to check for his keys and opened the door.
Cordelia and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce were standing on the other side of the doorway.
He stared at them. His hand twitched with the desire to shut the door, but instead he just stood there.
"Well?" Cordelia said finally, long past the time he would have expected her to say something. "Are you just going to stand there?"
"Go home, Cordelia," Angel said flatly, and he reached out to shut the door.
Wesley's foot prevented it from closing. "I believe you owe her a bit more than that," Wesley said, his accent crisp and sharp. "We've expended a great deal of resources looking for you, and traveled several hours. Can't you find the decency to at least speak with her?"
"This isn't any of your business, Wesley." Angel could easily have moved fast enough to get Wesley out of the way and shut the door, but knowing Cordelia she'd probably stand in the hallway banging on the door for hours, and then he'd just be even more pissed off. Because pissed off was definitely what he was. There wasn't, he told himself very firmly, even a small part of him that was happy to see her.
He was too distracted to ask what the hell Wesley was doing there.
"Fine," Angel said brusquely, realizing that they were still waiting. "If you aren't going to leave, you might as well come in."
A look passed between Cordelia and Wesley.
"I don't know if I want to," Cordelia said stubbornly, crossing her arms in front of her and raising her chin.
Angel made a sound of pure frustration. "Okay, so you won't leave, and you don't want to come in. Are you planning on standing there in the hallway all night?"
"Maybe." Cordelia's eyes narrowed. "See, if I come in, I'm probably going to smack you at least once."
Angel waited. It hadn't escaped his notice that Wesley wasn't saying anything now, was just letting them do whatever they needed to.
"You planning on hitting me back?" Cordelia asked.
"What?" Angel was startled. "You really think I'd -- Jesus, Cordy. No, I'm not going to hit you."
She looked at him steadily. "But you left me."
This hurt. Angel didn't want to do it. "I had to."
"No, you didn't. The going got tough and you took off, but you didn't have to go."
"Yeah, I did." Angel wasn't prepared to argue about this. He hadn't thought he'd need to. "You saw what happened to Doyle. You want to be next?"
"I probably will be." Cordelia's voice was matter of fact. "Especially if you're not around."
Angel frowned. "Just... go find yourself a normal life. You'll be fine."
The high-pitched sound that came out of Cordelia was more hysteria than laughter. "Too late for that."
"No, it's not."
"Yeah, it really is."
Angel felt like they were talking in circles. "No, it's not."
Wesley stepped a little bit closer to Cordelia and lay a hand on her shoulder. "Tell him."
Looking from Wesley to Cordelia, Angel said, "Tell me what?"
Cordelia was staring down at the floor, her arms still wrapped around herself. She shook her head, just slightly.
"When Doyle kissed Cordelia, he passed the visions on to her," Wesley told him, slowly, like he thought otherwise Angel might not understand.
But he understood, and he didn't like what he understood. "But... why?"
Cordelia still didn't answer, so Wesley kept talking for her. "We don't know. We aren't sure he meant to do it at all. Perhaps the Powers That Be merely saw an opportunity to preserve the visions that you needed, and took it."
Angel found himself in the hallway with no memory of having moved. He reached out to touch Cordelia, then hesitated and pulled his hand back. "Cordy?"
She looked up at him, and there were things in her eyes that he didn't like to see there.
"I didn't know," Angel said. It wasn't really an apology, but it was definitely the truth.
"Yeah, well... you didn't stick around long enough to find out." Cordelia glanced over at Wesley, giving him a little smile. "If Wes hadn't shown up when he did..."
"Thanks," Angel said to Wesley.
But Wesley just straightened his shoulders and said, "I didn't do it for you."
This was a different Wesley -- by a lot -- than the one Angel remembered from Sunnydale.
"You owe her an apology," Wesley pointed out.
Sheepishly, Angel nodded. "I'm sorry."
Cordelia wasn't going to let him get away with it that easily. "Sorry for what?" she asked.
"Um... for you ending up with the visions?" Angel knew immediately that that wasn't right. "No. For taking off like I did." He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "I really am. Sorry."
"Good." Cordelia might have looked vaguely pleased, but it was clear that she was still irritated. "You should be. Just leaving me a stupid note." She pulled a battered, many-times-folded piece of paper from her pocket and waved it around.
"You saved it?" Angel asked. Wesley looked surprised too.
"Well... yeah." Cordelia glanced down again. "I kind of figured it might be the last thing I had from you."
For the first time, Angel noticed that she was pale. "Do you want to... look, come in. Okay?"
Cordelia looked at Wesley again before nodding. "Okay."
"You still thinking about hitting me?" Angel asked, as they all entered the apartment.
"Uh-huh." Cordelia looked around his spartan apartment. "Boy, you really know how to treat yourself right."
"It didn't come furnished," Angel explained. "Plus... I wasn't sure how long I was going to be here." He'd figured it would be temporary, and that sooner or later he'd move on.
"But you're coming back now. Right?" Cordelia didn't sit down on either of the available chairs.
Angel tucked both hands back into his pockets. "Yeah. I guess I have to."
Cordelia frowned and shifted her weight. "Well, gee, Angel, don't do me any favors. If you want to stay here, go right ahead."
"Cordelia," Wesley said warningly, and Cordy took it. That, more than the fact that Angel could smell Wes all over Cordy, defined their relationship for him.
"I don't want him coming back to L.A. if all he's going to do is brood and act like it's some huge sacrifice," Cordelia said to Wesley, like Angel wasn't even in the room.
"I know. But you do need to give him more than a few moments to absorb all of this -- it's only fair." Wesley's voice was gentle, patient.
Cordelia turned and looked at Angel. "Bathroom?"
Cordelia sighed. "Where... is... your... bathroom?"
"Oh. Right through there." Angel pointed, then waited for the sound of the door shutting before saying to Wesley, "Thanks. For, you know, being on my side."
Wesley's expression was stony, his voice cold. "If there's anything I'm most assuredly not, it's on your side. I'm here to provide support to Cordelia; that's my only concern."
Taken aback, Angel blinked, then said hesitantly, "Okay. I mean... right."
"As long as you don't forget that, we should be able to get along with some degree of civility." Wesley tightened his fist inside his jacket pocket, the sound of crinkling leather drawing Angel's attention to the unmistakable outline of what Wesley had in his hand. "The moment you do forget it... we, let's just say that I won't hesitate to remind you."
* * * * *
Wesley knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was being unreasonable, but he couldn't help himself.
Angel had come back to L.A. with them the night they'd gone to confront him, at Cordelia's insistence. Wesley had reminded himself many times a day in the week since that he was the one sharing Cordelia's apartment, not to mention her bed.
Sadly, it didn't often help for more than a few minutes at a time.
When Cordelia had a vision, if Angel was anywhere in the immediate vicinity, he caught her. It was those damned vampire reflexes -- he was able to move so bloody quickly.
And when Cordelia had a vision, depending on what she'd seen, Angel often went off on his own to deal with whatever the situation was.
Wesley wanted to complain, like a five year old, that he'd been there first. That he and Cordelia had been managing just fine without Angel for months. The latter of which was wholly untrue -- they had been managing, but 'fine' wasn't an adjective that sprang to mind. Half a dozen trips to Emergency between them was anything but fine. He should have been grateful to Angel for removing Cordelia from the line of fire.
Instead, Wesley was unaccountably annoyed.
He had nothing to say to Angel. The vampire clearly felt uncomfortable around him, and Wesley had to admit that he rather enjoyed it.
"I brought coffee," Angel said, interrupting Wesley's thoughts. "From the place down the street."
"We've a perfectly good coffee maker here," Wesley said. Although the lease on the office had lapsed in the time Angel had been gone, the landlord had been willing to allow Angel to re-let the office and his old apartment space.
"But Cordy always complains when I actually, you know, make coffee," Angel said, gesturing at the machine.
"Then perhaps you should consider learning how to make it properly," Wesley suggested dismissively, turning his attention back to putting the files into some sort of order.
He really should stop this behavior. He knew that. There was little excuse for it, especially since Angel was now, technically, at least, his employer. It was absurd, really. No one else would accept this sort of treatment from an employee. Yet Angel seemed willing to put up with an endless amount of dubious, subversive behavior.
Wesley worked quietly for some time while Angel looked on, then the vampire cleared his throat. "Um... Wesley?"
"Is this all because of, you know. Me leaving Cordy the way I did?"
The way Angel continually used Cordelia's nickname set Wesley's teeth on edge. "All what, exactly?"
"This." Angel shrugged helplessly. "You. Being mad at me."
Wesley sighed. "I'm not pleased that you chose to abandon Cordelia at a difficult time, certainly."
"But I didn't know." Angel looked genuinely upset. "And once I found out about the visions, I came back."
"So how come Cordy can forgive me and you can't?"
Wesley thought it was probably because he was well-versed in the art of holding grudges. And the fact that, although they remained unspoken, he was relatively certain that Cordelia had feelings for Angel didn't help matters. "It's not about forgiving you," he said honestly.
"I don't know what you want from me, Angel. Would you like me to feign a closeness with you that I don't feel? We hardly know one another."
Angel's shoulders slumped. "No. I mean... never mind." He turned and headed back down to his apartment without another word.
* * * * *
"Okay, that was so not cool," Cordelia said once Angel had disappeared, stepping around the corner from where she'd been standing and listening to their conversation.
Wesley looked up, startled. He obviously hadn't known she was there, although Cordelia was pretty sure Angel had.
At least he seemed to get what she was saying right away. "I'm sorry," Wesley said. "I don't know what gets into me."
"He's really trying, you know."
"Trying," Wesley said, putting away another file and then closing the drawer, "would most likely include noticing that those of us with heartbeats generally don't drink coffee after six in the evening."
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "You do drink coffee after six sometimes," she said.
Wesley was looking at her thoughtfully. "It really bothers you, doesn't it."
"What, you being all pissy with Angel all the time? No, I love that," Cordelia said with heavy sarcasm.
"I'm sorry," Wesley said again, and again it sounded like he meant it. "I'll try to rein myself in."
"What is it with you and him?" Cordelia asked. "I mean, is there something I don't know about?"
Wesley hesitated, started to say something, then hesitated again. Finally, he said, "No, I don't think so. I suppose I'm still irritated with him for having left you alone the way he did."
"But I wasn't alone," Cordelia said, going closer to Wesley and crouching down on the floor next to him. She reached out and touched his arm, secure in the knowledge that any time she touched him he'd get that sort of melty, smiley look that he always got.
Just like she'd predicted, Wesley smiled. "I'm just glad I was able to be here for you."
"Me too." They had an agreement about kissing in the office -- namely, that they wouldn't -- but she leaned in and kissed him gently anyway, just because she wanted to. "So, you'll try to cool it with the acting like Angel's your worst enemy thing?"
"You're taking advantage of me," Wesley said, not looking like he minded.
"Poor you," Cordelia said. "But you will, right?"
"I'll try," Wesley promised.
"Thanks." To seal the deal, Cordelia kissed him again.
* * * * *
Angel knew there was something wrong with him, because the more Wesley treated him like crap, the more Angel wanted to please him. He'd started watching Wesley when he thought the other man wouldn't notice, trying to anticipate what he was going to do next.
The more he knew about Wesley, Angel thought, the easier it would be to figure out how to make Wesley stop hating him.
It wasn't that he didn't know he'd fucked up by taking off after Doyle had died, but on the other hand, if Cordelia hadn't ended up with the visions, maybe he would have been doing the right thing. There was no way he could have known that Doyle had passed them on to her, after all.
And it wasn't that he didn't feel guilty about it, especially after he saw Cordelia's reaction to the first vision he'd witnessed. If he'd been given the choice to take the visions himself and free her from it, he would have.
But he couldn't. So instead, he did what he could for Cordy, what she'd let him do, and he watched Wesley. A vampire watching a Watcher.
About a week and a half after he returned to L.A., Angel did something that made Wesley smile. It was something about the filing cabinets -- maybe he put something back where it belonged, or discovered that a file was in the wrong place and fixed it. Something like that. He'd have thought, considering how he'd felt when he'd caught that little twitch of Wesley's lips out of the corner of his eye, that he'd have remembered exactly what it was to cause such a reaction, but he didn't.
"What?" Angel asked, hoping Wesley might say something nice.
"Nothing," Wesley said, but there were fewer little tension lines around his eyes than usual, and that made Angel smile, too.
The next day when Angel came upstairs, Wesley was struggling to open a bag of coffee beans he must have brought with him -- Angel hadn't seen it around before -- when suddenly the bag burst. Beans rained down onto the tile floor, bouncing everywhere, and Wesley swore and slipped.
Luckily, Angel was close enough, and fast enough, to catch him by the arm, keeping him upright. "Hey, easy!" He steadied Wesley with his other hand, feeling the warmth radiating from him. "You okay?"
Wesley took a deep breath, then nodded. "Yes." Angel let go of him carefully, making sure he actually had his balance. "Thank you," Wesley said.
Their eyes met for a long moment, and then Angel stepped back. "There's a broom in here -- hang on, I'll get it."
His hands were shaking when he grabbed the broom, and he had to close his eyes and deliberately breathe before he could take it in and start sweeping up the mess.
"I can do that," Wesley said.
"No," Angel told him, keeping his eyes on the floor because he was afraid of what Wesley might see in them if he looked up. "It's okay. I've got it."
He had it, all right. He had it bad. And what was worse was that Wesley didn't seem to have any idea.
What made it harder, Angel decided, was that Wesley was oblivious. If he could have convinced himself that Wesley knew and just didn't care, that would have been one thing. But the dismissive way that Wesley talked to him, the way Wesley didn't seem to notice even when Angel was being totally obvious and doing things like staring at Wes' lips while he talked... Wesley just didn't think of him that way.
And, of course, Wesley did think of Cordy that way. And looked at her that way, and it was probably for the best because it wasn't like Angel could have that, even if things had been different. So he told himself that it didn't bother him, and he tried not to hear the way Wesley's voice got softer and more gentle when it was directed at Cordelia, and he tried to stop staring at Wesley when he could.
"You need to stop that, you know," Cordelia said the next day, hands on her hips, glaring at him.
"What?" Angel asked.
"Mooning over Wesley." Cordelia sat on the edge of the desk.
"What? I'm not! I mean, I wouldn't... even if I -- which I don't!" Angel put his hands into his pockets, then took them out again. "Why would you think that?"
Cordelia rolled her eyes and crossed her ankles. "Maybe because you couldn't be any more obvious if you tried? He's totally going to figure it out sooner or later."
"Do you think so?" Angel sounded more eager than he'd intended to. Actually, he wasn't even sure it would be a good thing if Wesley did figure it out. "Um, I mean --"
"Just stop." Cordelia held up a hand like she was directing traffic. "Don't try to deny it or whatever. Angel, I know."
"I --" He didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry," he said finally. "I don't even know why. And it's not like I'd want to, you know, take him from you."
Cordelia snorted. "Like you could. Anyway, since when are you into guys? Or is that a new thing reserved for ones who treat you like crap?"
Angel gaped at her and sat down on the couch because sitting down seemed like a really good idea just then. "What... what's with him, anyway?"
"I don't know," Cordelia said. "I mean, he says it's because he's still mad about the whole you-abandoning-me thing, but I think it's more than that. I just can't figure out what."
"Maybe he wishes I hadn't come back," Angel said hesitantly. "Maybe he liked having you -- you know. To himself."
"He still does," Cordelia told him. "Have me, I mean. And besides, he's the one who tracked you down when you were missing. If he hadn't wanted you to come back, all he had to do was not tell me he'd found you."
Angel shook his head. "That's not the kind of person he is. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if he kept something like that from you."
"He's not a saint," Cordelia said sharply, then her expression softened. "Don't get me wrong -- I love him, I just don't have any illusions that he's perfect or whatever. You shouldn't, either."
"I don't," Angel lied. "I don't think he's perfect. He's just..." He motioned uselessly with his hands. "He's just Wesley. I can't help it."
"Well, don't say I didn't warn you." Cordelia got up off the desk. She was wearing a crisp white blouse and dark trousers. "Okay, I'm off -- I have an audition at two. Woman waiting in doctor's office."
Confused, Angel frowned. "Wait, you have an audition? Or a doctor's appointment?"
Cordelia sighed like he was the biggest trial on the face of the earth. "Never mind. Tell Wesley I'll see him at home."
* * * * *
"Angel has a crush on you," Cordelia announced as she came into the kitchen, where Wesley, with Dennis' help, was preparing dinner. He very nearly cut the end of his finger off when the knife slipped.
"He what?" Wesley put down the knife carefully and reached for a hand towel, drying his hands.
"Oh please, you heard me. A crush. A big, gay crush." Cordelia picked up a slice of carrot from the cutting board and popped it into her mouth, then walked back out of the kitchen, pausing to remove one of her high-heeled shoes.
Wesley followed her, still holding the dish towel. "What could possibly have given you that idea?"
"Hm, well. Let me see." She took off the second shoe, set both down on the floor -- bending at the waist to do so, which pulled her trousers tight across her shapely bottom -- and turned to face Wesley. Counting the reasons off on her fingers, she continued, "One, he watches you all the time whenever he thinks you won't notice. Two, he tries to do nice stuff for you. Three, on the rare occasion that you're even slightly nice to him, he gets all weird about it. Four --"
"There are plenty of other possible explanations for any of those," Wesley interrupted, but Cordelia gave him a look and he stopped.
"Four," she went on, "I confronted him about it and he basically admitted it."
"Either he admitted it, or he didn't," Wesley said. "There's no basically about it."
"He didn't come right out and say so in so many words, but he sure didn't deny it." Cordelia slipped an arm around his waist and her other hand into his hair. "You're just irresistible, I guess."
Wesley couldn't help but flush at the compliment. "That's the explanation, is it?" he asked, bemused.
"Mm-hm." Cordelia kissed him lingeringly, her lips soft and lush against his. "The only one I can think of. I think you're pretty amazing, for what it's worth."
"It's worth a lot," Wesley said, caressing her lovely arse with both hands and thinking he was glad he hadn't got any further in the cooking process than he had. "May I take you to bed and give you another demonstration?"
Smiling, Cordelia nodded and rolled her eyes. "Duh."
He didn't spend a lot of time undressing her, in part because he was so eager, as always, to feel her incredibly soft skin against his own. Within five minutes, they were naked and sprawled out across the bed, Wesley's glasses tossed carelessly onto the bedside table and his hand between Cordelia's thighs, fingers stroking into her wetness. She moaned softly against his lips as they kissed again and again, and despite his own need Wesley slid down and applied his mouth to her most sensitive spot, licking her clitoris until she was gasping his name.
"Wesley! Oh God, God..."
He loved the sound of her voice at these times, passionate and a bit desperate. There was little he enjoyed more than bringing her to a shuddering climax, tasting the salt on her skin. "Should I just do this?" he murmured against her smooth inner thigh, solicitous as always. "Or would you prefer --"
"Here," Cordelia said, shifting and rolling him onto his back. She threw her leg over him, straddling his waist, and took his erection in her hand, lifting it so that she could sink down onto him. He groaned as her slick heat surrounded his hardened flesh and thrust up into her, unable to help himself. Cordelia cried out softly and leaned forward to kiss him, her hips undulating so deliciously that Wesley knew he wouldn't be able to hold back for long. He settled his hands on her waist and held on.
"You're so beautiful," he told her. "I love you so much." He often said it when they were making love, but rarely at any other time. It was easier, somehow, when they were showing their feelings for each other in a physical way. She'd never said it back, which troubled him at times, but he reassured himself with the knowledge that she certainly cared for him, whether or not that particular word entered the picture.
Now, she rode him at a steady pace, her eyes dark as she looked into his, and he gasped and thrust up into her. Cordelia brought her fingers to his mouth and pressed her index finger between his lips; Wesley let it slip inside, wetting it and thinking that she would then use it to pleasure herself, something she'd done before and which never failed to turn him on even more. Instead, though, she leaned back, supporting her weight with the other hand, and then, with no warning, slipped her slick finger between his arse cheeks. It pushed at his opening, just pressing there for the space of a few thrusts, before it suddenly slid inside him. Wesley felt his eyes widen in surprise at the sensation, and then he was coming with a startled shout, his hips bucking upward as his release left him in powerful waves.
He was dimly aware of Cordelia moving even more purposefully before shuddering and crying out, herself, but by the time she'd moved and collapsed, sated, beside him, he was so limp he could barely move.
"Was that nice?" Cordelia asked, sounding a bit smug.
"Nice?" Wesley repeated faintly. His heart was still pounding in his chest. "I think nice is altogether too mild a word for it."
She grinned and snuggled up to him, one leg over his. "I thought you might like it."
"And you'd have been right," Wesley said. "You're far too clever for your own good."
Cordelia's lips brushed his shoulder. "I wish. Just clever enough, maybe. And who knows how many brain cells I'm losing every time I have a vision. With my luck, by the time I'm thirty I'll be a vegetable."
"What sort of vegetable? String bean? Courgette? " Wesley asked, in a light tone. He turned his head and kissed her temple. "You shouldn't think that way."
"Sometimes I can't help it. I just... this feels like such a slow way to help people. Too slow. One at a time. There has to be a better way."
"If there is, we'll find it," Wesley promised her, closing his eyes.
* * * * *
Right after that, the whole thing with Darin MacNamara and the crazy, messed up underground fighting thing went down, and things... changed. Cordelia wasn't even sure why they'd changed, she just knew that they had.
First, it had reminded her how much she really cared about Angel, which was something she'd tried to forget after he walked out on her. She'd almost managed to convince herself that he was just someone she worked with, someone she had to have a civil relationship with regardless of her feelings, but when Angel went missing, she got scared. Really scared, and pretty much all she could think about was getting him back. Angel disappearing like he had had also reminded her that she and Wesley worked pretty well together even without Angel, which was, she thought, weirdly comforting to both of them. She'd managed to pocket one of the wristbands, and Wesley had -- with her help -- figured out how to unlock the thing, and they'd gotten Angel out of there before he was dust, which was all that mattered, right?
They took Angel back to his place and bandaged him up. So not a fun process.
"Could you hurry it up, here?" Cordelia asked, setting down the bowl of hot water Wesley had asked for and keeping her eyes averted from the sluggishly bleeding hole in Angel's side.
"Go home if you need to," Wesley said. His voice was gentle and distracted.
"You should both go," Angel said. "I can do this on my own."
Wesley frowned at him, his hands pausing near the bullet wound on Angel's chest. "It would be rather difficult to remove a bullet in this location by yourself."
"I've done it before," Angel said, and then they just... looked at each other.
"Well, you're not doing it this time," Wesley said determinedly.
"Okay, fine," Cordelia said, holding her hands up. "Just don't yell at me if I lose my lunch all over the place."
"You've dealt with this sort of thing just fine in the past," Wesley said. "Could I have those pliers, please?"
Cordelia handed them to him without another word, and concentrated on Angel's face as Wesley used the fine-nosed pliers to dig the bullet out of Angel's chest.
"Wess-ley," Angel said, through clenched teeth.
"Almost..." Wesley focused, did something that made Angel cry out, then said, triumphantly, "Got it!"
"Good," Angel said, and tilted toward the right so fast that Cordelia jumped for him, jamming her shoulder against his arm and propping him up. He turned his head slowly and looked at her. "Hi."
Oh, great, this was just what she needed. "Hi," she said, making sure not to look into his eyes because she knew that wouldn't end up anywhere good. "Try not to fall over, okay?"
"Thank you," Wesley told her. "I'll just get this bandaged up -- there we are -- and, Cordelia, if you'd be so kind as to get some blood from the refrigerator..."
It was weird how Wesley had this ability to tell her to do stuff without pissing her off; Cordelia went to heat up the blood, and by the time it was ready Wesley had moved Angel into the bedroom and was sitting on the edge of Angel's bed.
"Here, now. Have this and get some sleep, and I'm sure by morning you'll be good as new," Wesley said. It was his Buck Up Little Soldier voice, which drove Cordelia nuts but not, by the look on his face, Angel.
"Thanks," Angel said. "Thanks for, you know. Coming to get me." He was staring at Wesley the way Cordelia had always wished he'd look at her, back in high school when it had seemed like Buffy had waltzed into town and ruined her life. Even now, when she was totally over him -- so, totally over him -- it made her feel strangely jealous.
"I'm going home," she said abruptly. "Wesley, are you coming, or do you want to get a cab?"
"I'll come with you," Wesley said, and Cordelia tried not to see the way Angel's face fell. "If you'll be all right?"
"Yeah," Angel said. "Like you said, right? Good as new." Only he sounded kind of flat, not that Wesley seemed to notice.
"You could have just called a cab later," Cordelia said five minutes later in the car. "It's not like I can't get home on my own."
"No, but I wanted to come with you," Wesley said. He sounded confused. "Is something wrong?"
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Of course not," she said. "What could be wrong?"
"You seemed upset," Wesley told her. "My mistake."
She reached across the seat and smacked him with the back of her hand. "Of course I'm upset!"
"But... you just said --"
"Sarcasm is totally lost on you. God, Wesley, Angel's like a big puppy dog following you around, and you're letting him. You're being all nice and caring and stuff. Don't you know what that does to someone who has a crush?"
"But I thought you wanted me to be nicer to him," Wesley protested.
"I did! 'Did' being the operative word. It's one thing not to be a total jerk to him, but you can't do what you're doing. It's not fair to him." Cordelia was so torn. On the one hand, she didn't want to see Angel get hurt, but on the other it wasn't like she wanted him to get what he wanted, not when that was Wesley.
Wesley glanced over at her, then back out in front of them. Even when they were fighting, he had to be Mr. Responsible and keep his eyes on the road. "So you think I'm leading him on by being too nice."
"Unless you want to date him, yeah." Cordelia bit her lip. "You don't, do you?"
"Want to date Angel? No." He glanced at her again. "I'm in love with you."
Cordelia turned her head and watched out the passenger side window as the city went by. There was a solution to this whole mess, she knew there was. "I know," she said.
She just needed enough time to figure out what it was.
* * * * *
Weeks later, after everything with Faith had been settled, Wesley showed up at the office one day without Cordelia. "She has errands to run," Wesley explained, but he didn't quite meet Angel's eyes as he said it.
Angel should leave well enough alone and he knew it, but instead he found himself asking, a few minutes later, "Is... is everything okay?"
"Yes, of course," Wesley said. He didn't look up from the scroll he'd been trying to translate for days, even since Angel had stolen it from Wolfram and Hart.
"Are... are you sure? Because if you wanted to, you know. Talk. We could do that."
Wesley sighed and set down the folder, leaning back in his chair. "We're having... well, I suppose it isn't a fight. More a long-term disagreement. She's irritated with me."
"Why?" Angel could hardly believe Wesley would do anything irritating.
"She thinks you have a crush on me." Wesley looked at him steadily until Angel had to look away. "Does that mean she's right?"
Rubbing one thumbnail across the other, Angel tried to think of something to say that wouldn't sound stupid. He couldn't. "Um. I don't -- well. I guess, maybe. Yeah?"
"So you do."
Angel grimaced. "Yeah."
"Well, you don't have to sound so pleased about it," Wesley said, amused, and Angel glanced up at him. "It's all right," Wesley went on more gently. "These things happen."
"Not to me," Angel said, even though that wasn't completely true.
"Do you have any suggestions on what we should do about it?" Wesley asked.
All the ideas that jumped instantly to mind were ones he shouldn't voice out loud. Let me touch you. Let me kiss you. Let me do everything for you, everything... "I don't know."
The problem, Angel thought later as he watched the blood he was heating in the microwave spinning around and around, was that Wesley got him. Wesley understood, almost on an instinctive level, how his mind worked, and even though that should have been disconcerting, it wasn't. It made him feel safe, maybe, even when it meant that Wesley had ammunition to use against him, because it had been a long, long time since someone had known him so well. Even Buffy hadn't --
He looked up and saw Wesley standing in the doorway. He'd been so caught up in his own head he hadn't even heard Wesley's footsteps on the stairs. "Hi," he said. "Did you... um. What's up?"
Wesley was holding the scroll in one hand and a handful of loose pages in the other. "I know what the word means."
"Death," Wesley said, like he didn't want to. "If it isn't Aegean, but instead descends from the ancient Majar's, then its root is proto-hugaric. In which case it would mean... death."
Angel blinked. "But I thought you said the prophecy was about me." He smiled slightly. "I'm already dead."
"I know. That's why I think it's more complicated than it would appear." Wesley swallowed and dropped his gaze. "Unless, of course, I've made an error in the translation, which is certainly possible --"
"Don't do that." Angel didn't hesitate this time; he went right up to Wesley and took hold of his arms above the elbow, keeping his touch gentle. Behind him, the microwave beeped. He ignored it. "Don't put yourself down. You deserve better."
Wesley swallowed, his throat working, but he didn't try to pull away. He didn't say anything, but his eyes searched Angel's. "Thank you," he said finally.
"You deserve more. A lot more." Angel ran his thumbs over the insides of Wesley's arms and felt Wesley shiver. Just a little bit, but it was there. "I wish..."
"What?" Wesley asked, voice soft, and with him right there, warm and alive and with all of his attention focused on Angel, Angel couldn't resist anymore. He kissed Wesley, slowly, and Wesley let him. Kissed back, even, although the response was tentative. Wesley's lips moved against his own, his head tilting for a better angle, and --
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me!" a shrill voice said, and they broke apart to stare at Cordelia standing not ten feet away, shopping bags in both hands and the scent of department store perfume clinging to her.
"Cordelia," Wesley said. "We weren't -- this isn't what you think."
"Well there's a relief," Cordelia said, setting her bags down and stalking toward them. "Because I thought I just walked in on the two of you making out." She glared at Wesley. "I can't believe you'd do this to me!"
Then, while Wesley was still standing there, open mouthed with shock, Cordelia turned to Angel. She grabbed onto the front of his shirt, pulled him in close, and kissed him. Cordelia wasn't a hesitant kind of person -- she saw something that she wanted, and she assumed it was hers for the taking. Angel knew that, and even still he was surprised by the eager passion in the press of her lips against his.
She pulled back and looked at Wesley. "There," she said sweetly. "Now we're even."
"We're..." Wesley didn't seem to have any words.
"E-ven," Cordelia emphasized. "You know, equal? You get to kiss Angel, so do I. It's only fair."
"It wasn't what you're thinking," Wesley said, sounding anxious. "It didn't --"
"-- mean anything?" Cordelia finished for him. "Uh-uh. No way, Wesley, you don't get to say that. One, because it's not true," and she poked him in the chest for emphasis. Wesley took half a step backwards. "And two, because I know you well enough to know you wouldn't say something that'd hurt Angel like that." Her eyes narrowed. "Would you."
Wesley looked horrified. "I -- no. No, of course not."
Confused, Angel glanced between them. "Um. Maybe I should... go."
"This is your apartment," Cordelia told him.
"Yeah, I know. I just -- I'm not good at this." He rubbed the back of his neck while looking at the floor.
"Gee, you think?" Cordelia sighed, then touched his arm. "It's okay. Maybe none of us are good at this. I mean, my last long-term relationship ended after I walked in on him making out with another girl --" She looked at Wesley. "So I guess that wasn't exactly the same, at least, right? And I don't think Wesley's ever been in a relationship until now --"
"I beg your pardon!" Wesley said, offended.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "And Angel, you were a vampire dating the Slayer! How screwed up is that? If you ask me, none of us know what we're doing. We all suck at this." There was a determined look in her eyes, one Angel wasn't sure he understood.
"What... what are you saying?" he asked.
"Duh! Do I have to hold up a really big sign? I'm saying, since none of us are any good at relationships, maybe we're, you know, meant for each other."
"All three of us," Angel said.
"Why not?" Cordelia shrugged. "It's not like we aren't total misfits already. There's no point in pretending we're going to live normal lives, is there?" She sounded kind of sad. "You've got the whole blood-sucking creature of the night thing going on, and I've got the visions. And Wesley can't even --"
"Whatever it is you're going to say, don't," Wesley said firmly. "You're serious, aren't you."
"Well, yeah. I am. And I think it's a good idea." She seemed to see the papers Wesley was holding for the first time. "Oh, hey, is something finally up with the prophecy thing?"
"Oh," Wesley said. "Well --"
"It says I'm gonna die," Angel said. "Well, among other things, I'm sure."
"It's probably years off," Wesley said. "After the, er, coming battles. Which is why it's good Angel isn't concerned."
Cordelia had a faint frown on her face, her head tilted to the side slightly; Angel studied her.
"Because there's nothing to be concerned about," Wesley went on, and Angel leapt forward to catch Cordelia as she grabbed her head and collapsed under the onslaught of a vision.
"Cordy? Okay, it's okay. Just... it's okay, I've got you." She was convulsing so violently that it was a struggle to hold onto her -- he could have held her down, sure, but he might have ended up breaking her bones in the process. "Shhh. It's okay."
She went limp when it was over, the heel of one hand pressed to her forehead, her breath coming in harsh pants. "Ow."
"I know," Wesley said. He was kneeling on the floor next to them with painkillers and a glass of water. "Here, take these."
"Thanks." Cordelia took the pills from his palm with trembling fingers and let him help her lift the glass so she could swallow. "It was a woman. Judging by the plastic bag on her head I'm guessing she's homeless. And there was a slime demon."
"Where?" Angel asked, poised to leave.
Cordelia looked up at him, her eyes full of pain and worry. "I smelled something awful -- that would be the slime demon, yuck -- who lives behind a waste treatment plant in Elscando."
He jumped to his feet, letting Wesley take over the job of supporting Cordelia. "Got it."
"Do you need help?" Wesley asked.
"No," Angel said, meeting Wesley's eyes. "Just... just take care of her."
Something passed between them, and Wesley nodded. "I will."
* * * * *
One minute Cordelia was shopping for Angel -- art supplies just seemed like a good idea, plus they came in all these cool packages and maybe she could offer to model for him. Not, you know, nude or anything, not at first, but it could be good. It could be a connection to the world; hopefully one that wouldn't freak Angel out as much as the idea of the three of them being more than just friends. And then, the next minute, something brushed the back of her hand. She frowned, looking around, but didn't see anyone who could have touched her. Weird.
Then the visions hit her. There was enough time between the first and second to fumble for her phone, to know that she had to call Angel and tell him, but the second one was worse -- the worst ever -- and it slammed into her. She had a vague sensation of falling, but didn't feel herself hit the ground, and after that there was nothing but a constant barrage of sights and sounds and smells. She thrashed around trying to escape it, she screamed until her throat was raw and nothing else would come out.
Through it all, there was a part of her waiting.
Waiting for Angel and Wesley to save her.
* * * * *
Angel went to the Oracles when he didn't know what else to do. Cordelia was in the neuro-psyche unit, and Wesley was in the ICU, and Angel was starting to think he might be losing it because he couldn't imagine how he'd keep going without them. He wasn't sure when his feelings for them had gotten so out of control, but they were. Now there was nothing to do but save them.
So he did. He sent Gunn to the hospital to protect them, and he followed Lilah Morgan and Holland Manners to Voca and did what he needed to do to get back to the scroll of Aberjian. If Lindsey lost a hand over it... oh well, too bad. Angel got himself back to the hospital, scroll tucked inside his coat, to find that Wesley had woken up. It took every bit of strength Angel had in him not to hug Wesley.
"Hi," he said instead.
"Hi." Wesley struggled to a sitting position before Angel could tell him not to. "They told me about Cordelia. And Gunn thought you'd gone to get something that could help."
"I didn't tell him that," Angel said, surprised, but pulled the scroll out to show Wesley. "Voca took it. I had to go to the Oracles to find out; he's the one that put the bomb in the weapons cabinet."
"We have to help her," Wesley said. His face was tight with pain as he swung his legs off the bed.
Angel moved forward. "Hang on -- let me get a wheelchair or something." It didn't take long to find one, and he helped Wesley into it, hooked the IV onto the bar, and wheeled him down the hallway to Cordelia's room.
"Get me in close, please," Wesley said. He reached to touch Cordelia's hand -- her wrist had a restraint around it, and Angel couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Wesley look so upset. "It's all right, love," he whispered. "We're here." He glanced at Angel, who crossed to the other side of the bed, and nodded. "Right. Let's do this."
He studied Cordelia's face as Wesley read from the scroll. Her eyes were open, unseeing, and tears had made tracks down into her hairline. The thought that this was his fault -- the visions, the scroll, Voca, everything that had happened to both of them -- made him kind of crazy. But as Wesley finished his recitation, there was a flash of light so bright that Angel winced, and when it had faded, Cordelia... blinked her eyes. Angel glanced down at her hand and the mark, Voca's mark, was gone. Slowly, she turned her head and looked at him.
Smiling, he said, "Hey."
"Angel?" Her voice was weak.
"Welcome back," he said.
Cordelia turned her head to the other side of the bed, where Wesley was sitting. "Hi."
A nurse appeared in the doorway, looking shocked, and said, "I'll get Doctor Evans," before disappearing again.
"Hi." Wesley touched her hand, then leaned forward to untie her wrist, gesturing at Angel to undo the other one.
"I saw them all," Cordelia told Angel. There were still tears in her eyes. "There's so much pain. We have to help them."
"We will," Angel assured her, taking hold of her hand. He reached out with his other hand and stroked her cheek gently. "We will." Her hand tightened on his, hanging on.
* * * * *
"I'm okay," Cordelia said, in response to the fifth time she'd been asked. "It doesn't really hurt, you know? It's more like the memory of it hurting's just sticking around." She and Wesley had been released from the hospital that evening, and she'd insisted that Angel come with them back to her apartment. With his building turned to rubble, it wasn't like there was much of a choice, and anyway she wanted him there.
Angel sat down beside her and, tentatively, slipped an arm around her shoulders. She sighed and leaned against him, grateful for comfort she wouldn't have asked for. "Maybe you should go get some sleep," Angel suggested.
"This is good," Cordelia said. "I'm good here."
"If there's anything we can get you..." Wesley said, sitting on her other side and tucking her hair, which had slipped forward to cover her face, back behind her ear.
She shook her head. "This is good," she said again. She reached for Wesley's hand and held it, their fingers laced together. "I just need this. You know, you guys." Smiling gently at Wesley, she added, "Besides, you're more messed up than I am."
"Only on a superficial level," Wesley protested. He'd taken off the bandages that'd been taped to his face, at least, and it made him look more normal despite his injuries. Raising her hand to his mouth, he pressed a kiss to her knuckles. "You had it much worse."
"No kidding! All you did was get blown up." Cordelia squeezed his hand so he'd know she wasn't serious. "It wasn't fun, I'll tell you. I didn't know -- or maybe I didn't want to know -- how bad it was, out there. How many people are suffering."
"We're going to help them," Angel promised, just like he'd done in the hospital when she'd so badly needed to hear it. He kissed her temple and she turned her face, lifting her chin, hoping he'd kiss her again, but for real, this time. He searched her eyes, hesitating, but something must have gotten through to him because he did kiss her, just bent his head and put his mouth on hers. She clung to him, kissing him back with more behind it than she would have thought possible, and didn't realize until they broke apart that she was still holding Wesley's hand.
She also realized that her feelings for Angel had never changed, not really.
"I think maybe I do want to get some sleep," she said, looking at Wesley. "Would you guys come with me?I know it's early, but I just... I don't want to be alone." Which sounded stupid, because she should have wanted nothing more than to be alone now that her head was finally quiet. Maybe it would have been more truthful to say she didn't want to be without them. Either way, if there was something she wanted, she went for it.
Wesley looked at Angel, then nodded. "Of course we will. Whatever you need."
They moved into the bedroom, where she curled up in the middle of the bed. Wesley lay down with her immediately, but Angel stood at the foot of the bed looking uncertain. "You, too," Cordelia told him, patting the space beside her.
"Me?" Angel said.
"You have to take your shoes off first," Cordelia said. "Then, yes. You. Just for a little while? Then if you hate it you don't have to stay."
"I don't -- I don't think I'll hate it." Angel took off his shoes and lay down, being very careful not to touch her.
Cordelia shifted so she could see his face better. "This is totally freaking you out, isn't it."
"No," Angel said. "Well, maybe. A little bit."
"It doesn't have to," Cordelia told him. "It's okay. You can trust us."
"Of course you can," Wesley said. "We trust you with our lives, Angel."
"I'm pretty sure you can trust us with your heart," Cordelia added. "Um, you know. Metaphorically."
Angel sighed and relaxed, resting his chin against her shoulder. "Yeah. It's just -- I wasn't expecting this."
The room was quiet. All the lights were on -- Angel had gone around the apartment after they'd gotten back from the hospital and turned them all on, Cordelia wasn't sure why -- and it was dark outside.
"What were you expecting?" Wesley asked after about a minute.
"I don't know," Angel said. "Not -- not this. I thought, after Buffy... I thought I'd just be alone. I thought it was better for me to be. I thought --" He stopped and didn't go on, even when they waited for him to.
"You thought it was your fault that Doyle died." Cordelia moved her hand over and brushed her fingers against his thigh.
Angel made a pained sound. "I still think that. It's the truth."
"Only in your screwed up head." Cordelia nudged him with her knee. "It wasn't your fault, Angel. And if something happened to me or Wesley, that wouldn't be your fault, either."
"I should protect you," Angel said.
"We're not children," Wesley said firmly. "We don't require your protection, nor do we want it."
"Well, sometimes we want it," Cordelia pointed out. "Like, when crazed vampires are attacking us. Um, no offense."
"None taken," Angel said. "But I want to. Protect you, and I can't. I thought -- I thought I could just... move on. Do this by myself." He sighed. "Now I think... maybe it's not that easy."
"Darn right it's not," Cordelia said. "Because if you take off again, we'll find you."
He looked at her, startled. "I wouldn't do that."
"But I don't -- we don't want you to stay because you feel guilty," Cordelia said. "We want you to stay because you want to be here. With us. We're a team, Angel; we're a good team. We can help people."
"I know. You're right."
"You can have as much time as you need," Wesley said, and they both looked at him. "To decide. It doesn't have to be now."
"What about you?" Cordelia asked him.
Wesley frowned. "What about me?"
"Are you ready to admit this is what you want?" Cordelia turned onto her side and touched his bruised, beautiful face with careful fingertips. "You had a thing for Angel back in Sunnydale -- I know you did. And you didn't look like you were not-liking that kiss I walked in on the other day." Geez, had it only been a few days ago? It felt like a lot longer.
He searched her eyes, then sighed. "All right, yes."
"Yes, I want this." She poked him to get him to continue, and he added, "I want you and Angel. Both of you."
Cordelia smiled. "Good." It was the word for the situation and for the way she was feeling. Like -- well, like the world was completely screwed up, and there was no place for them in it except with each other, the three of them trying to make everything right. Or at least better.
"Me, too," Angel said suddenly. He dropped his gaze when they turned their attention to him, then slowly raised it again, his eyes meeting Cordelia's. "I want -- I want you, too. Both of you."
Sighing with relief and satisfaction, Cordelia let her head fall back on the pillow. She tugged Wesley's arm until it was over her, then Angel's from the other side, and closed her eyes. "I love you," she said softly.
They weren't totally stupid, she thought. They'd probably only argue for an hour over which one of them she'd meant before they realized it was both of them.
It was both of them.