These characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions and 20th Century Fox. They are used without permission, intent of infringement or expectation of profit. This episode takes place during the first season of "Angel" at some point between "Sanctuary" and "To Shanshu in L.A." Any and all comments are very much appreciated; please send praise or flames to Yahtzee63@aol.com.
"Angel! Behind you! It's the -- oh, blast!"
"Wesley!" Angel yelled. Too late -- Wesley had stepped on a rotten plank of wood and was now caught with one foot on the pier and one in it. Angel was only ten feet away, but those ten feet contained six Velga demons in a bad mood.
Then again, maybe they were in a good mood. Mayhem and murder probably constituted a high old time for Velga demons. With tusks twisting their mouths into a perpetual grimace, their expressions weren't particularly easy to read.
One made a barking sound Angel had learned to recognize as a laugh and began advancing on Wesley. "I wouldn't do that, if I were you," Angel said.
Six barking Velga demons seemed to disagree. They were so unimpressed by the sight of Angel -- who was, he liked to think, reasonably intimidating in his own right, particularly when, as now, he was carrying a double-edged ax -- that he wondered what the problem was.
Then he asked himself: now, what did Wesley just say?
Angel looked behind him to see another Velga demon, just like the others except for being roughly three times their size. It snarled as it took another step toward Angel and raised its spiny hand.
"How nice of you guys, asking me home to meet your mother," Angel said, as he swung the ax hard into the largest demon's gut.
It howled, and Angel swung back around just in time to fend off the three demons that had lept to the mother's defense. "Wesley, just stay put and keep swinging!" he shouted.
"No problem -- with the -- staying put --" Wesley gasped. Through the melee, Angel could see Wesley's sword slice through a Velga demon's arm. It squealed and jumped into the sea.
"Not in for the long haul, huh?" Angel pushed back the demon in front of him and glanced over his shoulder; sure enough, the mother demon was slumping into the water. These creatures weren't of the rabid-fighting-to-the-death variety.
He stopped targeting his opponents and just started slashing wildly. Sure enough, no sooner had he hit each demon than it ran away. Wesley seemed to catch on quickly; that, or he had just been slashing wildly all along. In either case, almost all the demons were driven off in just a few moments.
One of the last circled Wesley, growling angrily. Angel made a stab at his remaining Velga demon and struck home, skewering it through the thigh. It hissed at him as it began limping back toward the water. The one near Wesley lunged forward and clawed him in the arm. His cry of pain made Angel spin toward him and swing the ax at the final demon.
It screeched and jumped off the pier with a heavy splash. Wesley stared after it. "Are you all right?" Angel said.
Wesley cleared his throat. "I -- I think so. Yes."
"You need to bandage that," Angel said, trying hard not to look at the blood seeping through Wesley's fingers.
Wesley seemed oblivious to Angel's concern or his own pain. "They're all gone."
"They're all alive," Angel said. "We'll have to take them out eventually. But by then we should have the research to help us do it right."
"We should," Wesley said. But he still was looking absently out at the water.
"You talk like all that information was going to drop from the sky," Angel said. "You're Research Guy."
"That's right, I am," Wesley said, finally breaking out of his disorientation. "But, at this moment, Research Guy is trapped."
"Hang on," Angel said. He broke the board away from Wesley's ankle. "Does it feel sprained? Broken?"
"No. Just a bit sore. The arm, now --"
"You need to get that looked at," Angel said.
Wesley shook his head. "No, I don't think a doctor is necessary."
"I was referring to our de facto nurse."
"Helloo? The slayage done?" Cordelia looked up from her magazine and smiled one of her million-megawatt grins as she saw them come in.
"We have a lot of slayage left to do, but we're done for the time being," Angel said. "But Wesley's hurt. Come and take a look at this, will you?"
Cordelia hurried forward to see to the wound; Angel took the excuse to step away from the sight or smell of the blood. "Eww. What happened?"
"Well, it's all a bit cloudy, but I think it may have had something to do with fighting demons," Wesley said. "Not nearly so crucial as taking the Cosmo quiz."
"Excuse me, but you may recall that I spent the evening shopping for reference books for someone who shall remain nameless but is really bitchy when he gets hurt."
"Are we expected to throw a parade?" Wesley was being a bit cutting, Angel thought; then again, humans were so susceptible to pain. Cordelia, strangely enough for her, seemed to understand.
"Now, hold still, Wesley. Hmm. It's not that bad, really. I don't think you need stitches. The cuts aren't deep; there's just a whole lot of them. What gives?"
"Spines on their palms," Angel said. "Like cactus needles."
"Yowch," Cordelia said. "I'm afraid I've got the first-aid kit at my house."
"Why did you take it home with you?" Angel asked.
"Well, I was trying some do-it-yourself fringing on the drapes, and I needed some little scissors, and I thought, hey, the ones for bandages would be perfect --" Cordelia looked sheepish for a moment. "Not exactly the best-case setup for an emergency."
"Oh, no, it's ideal, so long as we do all our demon-fighting at your house," Wesley said.
"I don't think that would be safe, Wesley. My coffee table could probably take you."
"Are you two going to carry on like this all night?" Angel asked.
"I'll have to check, but I'm pretty sure I penciled it in," Cordelia said.
"Then I'm going back out," Angel said. "You two have fun."
"No doubt," Cordelia muttered.
This is what my social life's come to, Cordelia thought. I don't get that many party invites now that I know Margot pimps for vampires and Sarina's gone into rehab. Dating is clearly evil and must be avoided at all costs. I can't seem to keep any friends other than Angel and Wesley, and what do we do? No dancing, no nightclubbing -- not that I would want to be seen with these no-lifes. No, for fun and frolic, I spend my evenings shopping for weirdo books from the Dark Ages and playing Florence Nightingale.
She sighed and wondered how and when high school started to look good.
"Are we almost there? I'm feeling a bit faint," Wesley said.
"Oh, please. It's not that bad. Besides, we're in front of my place. Do they say 'duh' in England?"
"Not nearly so often," Wesley said. "Help me out, will you?"
Cordelia begrudgingly went around to the other side of the car and pulled Wesley's good arm over her shoulders. Strange to remember that there was a time when she would have melted at the very thought of being so close to him --
Now, that was the crush from Planet Weebo, she thought.
She glanced up at him and realized that he really was sort of pale. "Come on, let's get you in the house so you can lie down."
"Good idea," Wesley said weakly.
As she fumbled for the keys with her free hand, she called out, "Phantom Dennis! Can you get the lights?" No sooner did she swing the door open than the lights flashed on. "Thanks tons. Oooh, are you taping ER?" Sure enough, the VCR was humming.
"And you watered the plants, didn't you? You're the best roommate ever! Well, I never had another roommate, but I'm sure they would've been way less cool than you," Cordelia grinned and smacked the wall. "High five."
"Cordelia, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, could we perhaps find some bandages before I actually perish?"
"Oh, right." Cordelia jogged into the bedroom to grab the first-aid kit. "Just lie down on the sofa. But don't bleed on it!"
"I shall try."
Cordelia grabbed up the box and looked around for the scissors -- where had she put them again? -- when she heard a loud crash from the living room. "Wesley? Oh my God, are you okay?"
No answer. She ran into the front room to find him slumped beside the sofa, the shattered pieces of her lamp beside him. "Come here," she said, pulling him up onto the couch without thinking twice about the blood.
"I'm all right," he said quietly. "I -- I'm sorry about the lamp --"
"Oh, screw the lamp. It just screamed Pottery Barn anyway. Now, hold still." She fetched the first-aid kit as quickly as she could and set about bandaging the arm.
"Are you sure you don't want to go to a doctor?"
"Honestly, I'm fine," Wesley insisted. "I've just been feeling a little strange."
"Those demons you fought with -- they didn't have poison in their spiny-clawy things, did they?"
"I don't think so," Wesley said. But he seemed a little worried.
The wall thumped once, then again. Cordelia glanced over. "Dennis? Problem?" But he didn't answer. "I guess he gets restless," she said.
"Imagine being inside, day after day, no change of scenery," Wesley said.
"Yeah, but hey -- I'm the scenery."
"You're right. I'm sure he counts his good fortune," Wesley said, and his smile was so genuinely warm that Cordelia blushed.
"You're crashing here tonight," she said.
"I've really bled enough on the sofa," Wesley said.
"You take the bed," she replied. "God, this job is turning me into a martyr."
"I'm sure Joan of Arc would have done the exact same thing." Wesley brushed her hair back from her face. "Thanks, Cordelia."
"Well. You're welcome," she said, a bit flustered despite herself.
After they'd gotten settled down, and Cordelia was trying her best to get situated on her couch, she thought back on her earlier discomfort.
Flustered. Blushing. About Wesley.
"Temporary insanity," she muttered as she rolled over.
Dennis thumped the wall again, perhaps in agreement.
She rolled over, smiling in the first drowsy moments of morning. Sunday? It must be Sunday -- Inez only made those wonderful brunches on Sunday, with the bacon and the waffles --
Inez? Inez had quit after her dad wrote the third rubber paycheck in a row --
Cordelia sat up and sniffed the air as she stretched. Definitely bacon, maybe pancakes. "Phantom Dennis? Have you learned to cook?"
Wesley glanced around the corner. "Look who's awake."
"Wesley? You're making breakfast? Are you sure you're up for that?"
"Up earlier than some people. Honestly, Cordelia, it's 8:30 on a weekday." His voice was gentler than his words, as was his teasing smile.
"Sorry," she said without the slightest trace of apology. "It's not like my boss isn't going to be sound asleep for another four hours or so. Anyway, I was talking about your arm."
"Oh, that," Wesley said, "It's not so bad today. Now, how do you stand on eggs?"
"Uh, very carefully?"
Wesley shook his head. "Scrambled? Fried? Poached?"
"Scrambled. Unless you think you could maybe whip up a quiche. This is great,Wesley. Thanks."
"No problem at all," Wesley said. Then, after a pause, "Anything for you."
Cordelia knew she was blushing again. And that Wesley was watching her blush. And that neither of them was looking away.
Phantom Dennis, perhaps jealous, chose that moment to toss a spatula across the room.
I am in some trouble now, she thought.
"What has gotten into you today?" Angel said.
"Excuse me?" Wesley said.
Angel leaned out of the door to his office; Wesley looked up innocently at him from his place behind the desk. "Well, yesterday, you were the one who wanted to learn more about Velga demons before we went in. And that's information we definitely could've used. I admit that."
"We got through all right, didn't we?"
"This time, sure. But they're still out there. And you can't seem to crack a book today."
Wesley shrugged. "I'm sorry, Angel. I'm -- distracted -- this morning."
Angel raised an eyebrow; he didn't often indulge in teasing his friends and employees, but sometimes the urge was irresistible. "And how have you been distracted? Let's see." He held up his hands and counted off on his fingers. "First, you had to go get Cordelia's favorite kind of coffee because we'd run out. Second, you picked up her dry cleaning because she said she was running late. Then you helped her run lines for that chewing gum commercial. And now that she's off on the audition, you're sitting at her desk with an expression some people might describe as glazed."
"Your point being?" Wesley's voice was distant, but he was smiling faintly.
"No point," Angel said. "I just noticed."
"Do you think Cordelia has?" Wesley asked, suddenly serious.
Angel paused. "Couldn't say." Privately, he was very sure she had, but very unsure of how she was reacting. "Anyway, we're not going Velga-demon hunting tonight. So, don't worry about it."
"Sure." Angel briefly thought back to his first days of infatuation with Buffy; he had been unable to do anything besides think of her, of all the help she so desperately needed, of the way her eyes looked when she glanced up at him in the night --
He knew his face had fallen, and he tried to shake off the threatening gloom; Wesley, however, had not noticed. "Thanks, Angel. If it's all right with you, I think I'll head down to the boardwalk. I haven't been to the beach in a while."
"Last night wasn't your idea of a trip to the beach?"
"Well, I -- " Wesley seemed very flustered, even for Wesley. Then he shrugged. "Let's say it's been a while since I went for the fun of it."
"And going to the frappuccino stand Cordelia likes counts as the fun of it?"
"That's the most fun of all." Wesley replied.
"Go," Angel said, waving his friend out the door.
"It was so unfair," Cordelia groused, slipping off her sandals. "I mean, I care about Winta-Mint as much as anyone, right?"
Dennis was silent, which Cordelia decided to interpret as agreement.
"I was cool and fresh. Just like the call sheet said. And they hired this little blonde thing. Maybe I should dye my hair."
Some magazines slid off the coffee table. "Okay, okay. I wasn't serious. You don't have to tear up the place to make a point." Cordelia paused. "Then again, maybe you do. Anyway, I'm just glad the day is over, and we can spend a wild and crazy Friday night watching ER."
The phone rang; Cordelia actually jumped, then sighed at the thought that her phone rang so seldom the sound could startle her. "Oh, I am on a non-stop flight to Loserville, with connecting service to Spinsterhood," she sighed as she picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Wesley -- hey,' Cordelia said, surprised at the smile she could feel spreading across her face. "If this is another pep talk, really, I'm okay. I'm moving on from the Winta-Mint."
"You're sure? You were awfully blue this afternoon."
"Nope, I'm good. Gone through the denial, the anger, the bargaining. I'm all the way to acceptance now. Well, acceptance with a little bitching." Cordelia said. The walls started pounding, and she quickly cupped one hand over the phone. "Phantom Dennis!" she hissed. "We are getting to ER soon, I promise. Just be patient!"
"Good for you," Wesley said. "But, actually, I was calling about something else. I was wondering if -- maybe -- you wanted to go out tomorrow evening. Dinner, drinks. You know."
Yeah, I know, Cordelia thought. Dinner, drinks, DATE. With Wesley. The guy with whom I had the most disastrous first kiss in human history. Word-Puzz Man. The guy who always falls down when he tries to rescue me. The guy who always tries to rescue me. The guy who said "Winta-Mint? Is that new?" about 81 times this afternoon, because he was trying to help me out. The guy who really wasn't such a bad kisser the last time we tried --
Slowly, unable to believe she was saying the words, Cordelia answered, "I -- I know. That sounds great."
"Really?" Wesley said, as startled as she was. But he seemed to pull himself together quickly. "Well, then, I'll come by for you -- what do you say? Eight?"
"Perfect," Cordelia said. "Am I going to have to ride on the back of that motorcycle of yours?"
"Apparently that's all I've got," Wesley said.
"I know that," Cordelia said. "I don't mind, really. It's kinda Wild Bunchy. Just affects my hairstyle choices."
"I'm not putting you on the bike without a helmet," Wesley said sternly. "So plan accordingly."
"When it comes to you, I guess I am."
Cordelia couldn't think of anything to say to that at first; finally, she just managed to get out, "See you then."
"Good night," Wesley said, then hung up the phone.
Cordelia curled up in a ball on the sofa and hugged her knees to her chest. She and Wesley couldn't be doing this. Could they?
Dennis began dumping out the spice rack, one spice at a time.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Jealousy is so unattractive."
Angel was running.
He could get away if he just ran a little faster. But he couldn't run faster; he could barely run at all, his feet felt as though they were made of stone, but he kept trying.
The gypsies were shouting after him, surrounding him, driving him toward the boardwalk with the help of the Velga demons, and he knew it, and he couldn't do anything about it, and they would curse him for sure --
But didn't he need the curse?
Angel froze in place, confused, caught between past and present, dream and reality, when the mother Velga demon stepped out of the shadows and said --
Angel opened his eyes. Cordelia stood at the foot of his bed, arms crossed. "What's with this? Are you planning in staying in bed all day?"
"Well, yeah," Angel said. "Don't I always?"
"Not today," Cordy said. "Today you have to help me."
"Are you in trouble?" Angel pushed himself out of bed and ran a hand through his hair.
"No. Well, not the way you mean."
Cordelia sat down on the foot of the bed and frowned, obviously troubled. Angel sat patiently, waiting for her to find the right words. He realized dimly that he was only wearing a pair of boxer shorts; once, this would have embarrassed him and Cordelia both. Now it barely seemed worth noticing.
"Wesley and I are going out tonight," she said.
"A date?" Angel raised an eyebrow.
"A date date. Me and Wesley. He asked me, and I want to go, but -- "
"But you're worried."
"Yeah," she sighed. "I mean, we got all hyped up about each other last time, and then it went nowhere. Which really isn't the point; I mean, I hardly knew him then. Not like I do now."
"So your history with him isn't the problem," Angel said. After a long pause, he said the name he so seldom spoke anymore: "Doyle. This is about Doyle."
Cordelia nodded and looked down at her hands in her lap. Angel reached out and covered them with his own. "I don't think he'd want you to be alone forever."
"It's not that. Not only that, anyway," Cordelia said. "Me and Doyle -- we got cheated of our chance. Cheated ourselves of a lot of it, I guess. But I've got to accept that. You have to move on."
"You've always been resilient."
"But this -- I mean, here's Wesley, working with us, just like Doyle used to do. And he's in danger all the time, like Doyle was. I don't think I could handle having it all happen again."
"Cordelia," Angel said, "there's no such thing as love without risk."
"Love?" Cordelia jumped up as if she had received an electric shock, then folded her hands across her chest. "Who said anything about love? This is just a date. A first date. It could all go kablooey and not mean anything besides the most awkward Monday morning in the history of Angel Investigations."
Angel held his hands up as if in surrender. "Didn't mean to jump the gun. I just mean -- " He paused, considering exactly what he did mean. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. "If you have a chance to be with someone you care about, you should take it. Not everybody gets that."
Cordelia was quiet for a moment, then quickly hugged him. "All right. No fear."
"That's more like it," Angel said as Cordy began walking toward the door.
"Oh, one more thing," Cordelia said as she paused at the elevator. "Phantom Dennis is feeling a little neglected. He really made a mess last night. I was thinking maybe you could come by and hang with him for a bit this evening. Talk dead guy to dead guy. Cheer him up some."
Angel smiled a little; before Cordelia, no one would ever have thought of him as the ideal candidate to cheer someone up. After Cordelia -- "I think I can do that."
At sundown, Angel went to the car; he had a few errands to run before going to Cordelia's, the first of which was swinging by Wesley's before he left. Not to be nosy about the incipient romance -- given that Angel Investigations was housed in a fairly tiny office, Angel figured he'd learn more than he ever wanted to know, and in short order. But something about their battle with the Velga demons was still troubling him; it had haunted his dreams all day, and they'd gotten no solid answers on Friday. If he could do some research with Wesley's books tonight at Cordy's house, Angel knew he would feel a lot better.
"Wesley?" he called as he knocked on the motel room door. No answer. He knocked again and was once more answered by silence.
Filled with a sudden foreboding, Angel took out the spare key and opened the door. "Wes? Are you okay?"
He stepped inside the apartment, grateful that Wesley had invited him over for coffee once. At least he could get in and find out what was wrong
Nothing seemed wrong. Wesley was not lying in a coma induced by demonic venom; no ransom notes were hung on the walls; nothing. Just a very shabby, very messy motel room.
Very messy? Angel frowned. Wesley was the type to straighten the magazines on the coffee table three times a day; sometimes, he would even resharpen all the pencils so that they were the same length, although Cordelia usually threw a fit about halfway through the process. So why would he have clothes and books strewn around? It looked almost as if it had been ransacked -- as if someone had been looking for something he couldn't find.
"I don't like this," Angel said to himself.
"You look wonderful," Wesley said warmly.
Cordelia twirled in place, happy as ever to bask in masculine adoration. "My clothing budget may not be what it once was, but I don't think that's any excuse for lowering my standards."
"The outfit is pretty," Wesley said, "but I was referring to you."
"When did you get so smooth with the compliments?" Cordelia said.
The coffee table shuddered, then tipped over on its side. Cordelia sighed histrionically. "Phantom Dennis, enough!"
Dennis was not so easily appeased. To Cordelia's shock and horror, blood began running down her walls. "Oh, yuck! Dennis, stop it! You're grossing me out!"
The bloodstains seemed to be taking more definite shapes; Cordelia squinted at them and saw Wesley doing the same. "Is he writing something?" Wesley said.
"Yeah, but what?" The lines and shapes were unfamiliar to her. "Is that even a human language, Phantom Dennis? Or is this some kind of ghostly graffiti thing? Either way, you are so on my list."
"Now, Cordelia, calm down," Wesley said. "The best thing for us to do is probably just leave."
"Fine," she huffed, grabbing up her purse. "Angel's coming over here," she warned Dennis. "He's gonna see all this blood, and he's gonna end up licking the walls or something, and I'll come in and see it and have to deal with this horrible, scarring image for the rest of my life. If that's what you want, then keep it up."
"Never mind that," Wesley soothed. "Let's go."
Cordelia had only ridden on a motorcycle a handful of times in her life; before, she'd always considered it a major nuisance. She couldn't wear a decent pair of shoes, or a skirt that would show off her best assets, or fix her hair the way she wanted.
But tonight, fashion compromises hadn't seemed so important -- this was Wesley, after all, who had seen her without makeup, covered in mud, all wigged out and drooly after TPTB visions, and even pregnant with demon children. What would he care about her hemline?
So she had just tossed on some capri pants and a silky embroidered blouse, and had tucked her hair back into a sleek ponytail. No fuss. She felt -- comfortable. And she'd really never just been able to relax and feel comfortable on a date before. It was different. Nice. Just zooming through the night, not a worry in the world, just the last rays of sunset over the waterfront --
"Are we going back to the boardwalk?" Cordelia yelled, screaming to be heard. "Are we double-dating with some Velga demons?"
"Sort of, and no," Wesley shouted back. "There's a little club nearby I thought you might like."
When they finally pulled up to the club, Cordelia wrinkled her nose. This place didn't look very fashionable; it looked old. "Are you sure this club is still open?"
"I called this morning," Wesley said as he pulled off his helmet, then hers. "Trust me."
"I do," she said easily, then was surprised to see his face fall slightly. "Wesley?"
"Come on," he said, taking her hand to lead her inside.
The place turned out to be an old-fashioned dinner-and-dance club. There were a few young people, clearly rejects who didn't realize the swing revival was over, Cordelia thought. Everyone else looked to be at least in their fifties. The scene did not look good. But she took a deep breath, smiled, and decided to make the best of it.
As it turned out, the quieter music and smaller crowd made it easier to talk. In most of the clubs she had once frequented, you had to scream to make yourself heard; this usually wasn't a problem because she went there with people to whom she had nothing to say. But tonight she found herself telling Wesley everything in the world.
"So, we're standing there at the Bronze, leaves and twigs sticking out of our hair -- and Devon says that there's not one winner for Homecoming Queen, but two! It was a tie!"
"You and Buffy were both Homecoming Queens?" Wesley asked.
"No. The other two girls won the whole thing." Wesley started laughing, and Cordelia couldn't help but join in. "So we were dirty, twiggy losers, which was a whole lot worse. But at that point, I just didn't care anymore."
"Well, you had just escaped with your life. I don't guess a tiara seemed so important after that."
"Are you kidding?" Cordelia joked. "Tiaras are always important. No, I was just glad to be at the party, be able to talk to my friends, be with Xander -- " Her voice trailed off. She hadn't expected to hear herself say that.
"Xander?" Wesley said blankly. Cordelia stared at him strangely for a minute, then nodded as comprehension set in.
"I keep forgetting how late you came to Sunnydale. I guess none of us ever told you that Xander and I used to go out."
"Oh -- the two of you dated?" Wesley said.
"Unbelievable, huh? I was clearly going through a bad-taste phase; I mean, I look back at some of the dresses I wore then and just cringe." Cordelia joked. But she was faking a humor she didn't feel. "I'm sorry. I didn't even mean to bring it up."
"No, it's all right," Wesley said. "Tell me about it."
Cordelia was so surprised that she was, for once, speechless. "Well, what do you want me to say?" she finally managed.
"Whatever comes to mind. How long were you two together?"
"Almost a year," she said. "That's the only long-term relationship I've ever had." After a pause, she said what, until then, she had scarcely admitted to herself. "He's the only guy I ever loved. And I'm not sure he even liked me."
"I can't believe that," Wesley said. "He was a very lucky man, and I'm sure he knew it."
Cordelia shook her head. "He was always thinking about what he didn't have. First Buffy. Then Willow. Basically, anybody but me. I was -- you know how I can be. I mean, I say what's on my mind first, think about it later, you know?"
"Do I ever," Wesley said. He said it kindly, so Cordelia decided to let that pass.
"And I totally thought he understood that about me. Like, he didn't take it seriously. Just gave back as good as he got. I like that in a guy. Or I would like it, I think," Cordelia sighed. "But no. He just wrote me off as the shallow, self-absorbed person I acted like. How dumb can you get?"
"If he wasted his chance with you, then he could be pretty dumb."
Cordelia tried to ignore the faint blush she could feel in her cheeks. "I'm not really being fair to him. We had a lot of good times together. And he may have been a total jerk, like, 90 percent of the time, but he did wind up coming through for me one time when I really needed him. Even though I had put him through months of ex-girlfriend hell."
"Were you a holy terror?" Wesley asked.
"What do you think?" Cordelia said, regaining a little of her humor. Wesley returned the grin as she said, "I could've handled it if I hadn't had to see him every day after that. He was there, laughing with his friends, enjoying his life, while I felt like I wanted to curl up and die. Just seeing him like that, day after day, totally unable to get away from him or forget there was so much wrong there -- "
Cordy's voice trailed off as she realized she was describing exactly the scenario she and Wesley faced if anything went wrong. No, scratch that, she thought it would be about ten times worse for us. Xander and I just had to share a big high school. Wesley and I would have to share a little bitty office. All day. Every day.
The same thought seemed to have occurred to Wesley; the smile had faded from his face, and he was looking at her thoughtfully. But then he held out his hand. "Let's dance."
"You sure?" Cordelia thought back to the last time she'd seen Wesley dancing; one of her friends, seeing the same thing, had run up and said someone was having an epileptic fit. Whatever Wes wanted to do in private was okay by her, but out in public --
"I'm sure," he said, leading her toward the dance floor. And as he took her in his arms, she remembered that she and Wesley had danced together once before. A slow dance, like this one, with his arms sliding around her waist, her head coming to rest on his shoulder, and the indescribably sweet feeling that, for just one moment in all the demony-vampirey-crazy madness of her life, everything was perfect.
"Dennis, calm down!" Angel yelled.
He had spent the past half-hour in the middle of a poltergeist cyclone; at first he'd thought Dennis was throwing the supernatural equivalent of a tantrum, tossing as many things around the apartment as possible. But Angel now believed Dennis was just so agitated that his energy was destroying the apartment whether Dennis wanted to or not. "I can't figure out what's wrong without your help," Angel said. "You have to focus."
The teakettle went zooming through the room. Angel ducked it just in time. "So much for focus," he muttered, then thought about what he'd just said. "Dennis!" he called. "I want you to try and do something with me. Something that's going to help you concentrate, okay?"
Amid the other phenomena in the room, Angel heard a thumping in the wall that he took to be assent. "Good." Angel looked around on the floor where the cupboard's drawers had been emptied; he grabbed up a pack of cards and sat on the sofa. "All right. I'm going to take these up a few at a time. When I call out a card, you're going to pick it up and put it on the coffee table. I want you to put them in piles -- one pile per suit, okay?"
No more thumping. Angel glanced at the first cards he had grabbed. "Three of hearts," he said.
After a moment, the three of hearts was tugged from his hand and slowly set on the table. A few of the things whirring through the air fell to the ground. Angel smiled. "Queen of diamonds."
They went on like this through about half the deck before the apartment was entirely still. Angel said, "You feeling better now?"
Two thumps. "Good. So, can you tell me what's bothering you tonight? And don't try any more writing on the wall. I can't read it, and you're making me hungry."
Silence -- and, after a moment, Angel felt stupid for having expected anything else. "I suppose I need to make some suggestions here. Cordelia thought you might be jealous. Of Wesley. Is that it?"
Silence again, then one thump. Angel frowned. "Is that a yes or a no? Are you jealous?"
More silence. Angel finally shrugged. "Okay, so it's not Wesley -- "
Furious pounding from the wall made Angel frown in confusion. Then his earlier worries came back to him, and he cursed himself for a fool. "It is Wesley, but you're not jealous. Something's wrong with Wesley, isn't it?"
Two tremendous thwacks on the wall. Angel got up and brushed himself off. "Okay, Dennis. We're going to figure this out together." How do I figure things out with someone who can't speak? Angel wondered. Then he walked over to the clock. "Show me when everything started going wrong."
Nothing happened to the clock; instead, a knife from the kitchen swooshed through the air into Cordelia's bedroom. Angel went inside and saw that it had embedded itself in the wall -- through Cordy's "Men of Guiding Light" calendar.
Angel looked at the page; the knife's point was embedded in Thursday's square. "Two days ago," Angel said. "The day of the fight with the Velga demons "
Dennis thumped once more. Angel sat down on the corner of the bed and pulled a book from the pocket of his overcoat; he'd grabbed one of the books from Wesley's apartment with the intent of reading it later, after paying his duty visit to Dennis.
But he had a feeling that he needed to know more about Velga demons as soon as possible.
Cordelia and Wesley rode back toward her apartment in silence; Cordy tried to tell herself she was just enjoying the warm evening, the crescent moon in the sky, and the drowsy aftermath of a long evening of drinking and dancing.
But there was a charge around her, through her. She liked having her arms around Wesley's waist. Liked being that close to him, and wanting to be closer. And she wasn't sure that she liked that she liked it. Or that she even knew what that meant.
When he pulled up in front of Cordelia's apartment building, they got off the bike and took off their helmets in silence. Side by side, they walked slowly toward her door. Cordelia wanted to speak, but couldn't think of exactly what it was she wanted to say.
Wesley spoke first. "I had a wonderful time tonight. I hope you did too."
"I did," she said, feeling as though she were making a confession. "I really did. This is the best night I've spent with anyone in a long time. Maybe ever."
"But you're worried. It's all right. I am too."
"You are?" Cordelia said.
"What you said before, about having to see someone after everything's gone wrong, well, you were right. It's difficult. You and I -- we would be taking a risk."
"We really would," Cordy said. She ought to feel relieved; she was off the hook, right? But she couldn't help remembering what Angel had said to her earlier. Wasn't there always risk? Didn't you just have to take a chance sometimes?
"But I'm so glad to have had this one night with you," Wesley said. "I'll never forget it. I mean that."
"Same here," Cordelia said.
Well, their date was ending, and if she just wanted to keep everything safe and nice and cozy, just like it had been, all she had to do was say goodnight.
Very quickly, before either of them could think too much about it, Cordelia leaned up and kissed him -- a soft, quick kiss, but enough to let him know she didn't mean it as a farewell. He breathed in slowly; she could tell he was surprised. She was sort of surprised herself
Then he kissed her back, then again, more slowly this time. Then again, and she found herself circling his neck with her arms. He pulled her close so roughly she let out a little cry of surprise.
"I'm sorry," he said; his voice was deeper, almost unfamiliar. "It's just been a while since I --"
"Since what?" she whispered, kissing him again, delighting in feeling him shiver against her as the kiss deepened. God, she thought, I do not know what Wesley had been doing in the six months between graduation and showing up in L.A., but it definitely involved some kissing practice. She felt a tiny twinge of jealousy as she wondered who had taught him this -- and then she didn't feel anything but the warmth of his body against hers.
When they came up for air, he said, "Since I felt like this."
"And how do you feel?" she murmured.
He looked into her eyes for a long moment before saying slowly, "Like doing absolutely anything you ask me to do."
"Oh, God," Cordelia said, trying not to melt along with her knees. She shook her head to clear it, then disentangled herself from his arms. "Let me get this stupid door open."
As she fumbled with the keys, she felt his fingertips trace the length of her backbone; she arched against his touch, and accidentally unlocked and relocked the door again before realizing what she was doing. "Just one second," she whispered, then swung the door open and pulled him in after her.
He shut the door slowly behind them as he lifted her hand to his mouth and gently kissed her palm. She let her hand rest against his cheek for a moment; when they kissed again, though, that gentleness was gone. He was kissing her in earnest now, pulling her hard against his body, letting his hands run down the length of her. As his fingertips touched her thigh, she let her head fall back --
"Cordelia? Are you home?"
Cordy jumped, then whirled around in shock to see Angel standing in her bedroom doorway. She felt her face flush scarlet. "Intrude much?" she snapped.
"You asked me to come here, remember?" Angel said. But he wasn't looking at her; his eyes were fixed on Wesley.
"Well, now I'm asking you to leave," Cordelia said. She raised her eyebrows and gestured quickly toward Wesley. "Thanks so much. Buh-bye."
Angel didn't move. "You wanted me to find out what was bothering Dennis," he said.
"No, but I'm hoping to," Angel replied. "So far, I only know what's wrong with Wesley."
"Nothing is wrong with Wesley, except maybe you being here," Cordelia said. "Right, Wesley?"
Wesley was silent. He was looking at Angel strangely; in fact, he was smiling one of the saddest smiles Cordelia had ever seen. "Wesley?" she said again.
The wall thumped once. "Oh, Dennis, this is not the time," Cordelia huffed.
"It's the only time I had," Wesley said. His British accent was gone. His expression was strange. He was looking at her, more shamefaced than she'd ever seen anyone --
Her jaw dropped. Her mind reeled. Her eyes opened wide as she cried, "DENNIS?"
"I can explain," he said hurriedly.
"This had better be good," Angel said. The wall behind him thumped emphatically.
Cordelia knew she ought to say something, but she couldn't think of anything besides "Dennis?" one more time.
Wesley -- no, Dennis -- actually cringed. "I never meant for it to be forever. A few days, I thought. Then I'd have gone back in and given Wesley his body back."
"Well, Wesley didn't know that," Angel said. "He's been very, very worried."
Cordelia thought of something else to say. "How?"
"I'm not exactly sure myself " Dennis said.
"The Velga demons," Angel supplied. "It turns out that the spines on their hands contain a toxin that makes humans more susceptible to certain supernatural forces. The Velga demons use it to make people vulnerable to their telepathic suggestions; they weaken the will to fight, which is why they aren't used to dealing with opponents at full strength. It turns out that it also makes people more vulnerable to possession by spirits."
"He came in here the other night, and there was something about him -- " Dennis tried to think of a word, failed, and shrugged. "He was like an open door. I don't know how else to explain it to you. I knew I could go through that door; I wasn't even sure what would happen. When I realized that I was in his body, and he was in here."
Cordelia's curling iron zoomed toward Dennis; he dodged it quickly. "I'm sorry, Wesley. I'm really sorry. Before you refuse my apology, you ought to hear me out. Plus remember that this is your head, and you're going to get it back in a minute. Do you really want a black eye when you do?"
Silence. "All right, then," Dennis said. "Well, at first, I was just confused. Then I realized that this was it. My chance to get out of the house for the first time in forty years. My chance to actually eat something -- do you have any idea how much you can miss eating?"
"Yes," Angel said shortly.
"Oh. Right. Anyway, like I said, I didn't mean for it to be forever. To tell you the truth, I wouldn't want it to be. I like being what I am; it's fun, most of the time. I just missed being human."
Cordelia found her voice again. "You mean you missed getting laid."
"No!" Dennis said. "Well, I mean, yeah, I was human once, after all, but -- "
"You spend two days buttering me up, doing all these things for me, listening to my stories, just to try and get me in bed while you still had a -- a chance," she sputtered.
"It wasn't like that. Oh, Cordelia, I can't stand having you mad at me," Dennis pleaded, and he looked so sincere, so sad, that she felt her temper easing despite herself. "You're the first friend I've had in all these years. The first person who knew I was there and treated me like I belonged. Like I mattered. Do you have any idea how much you can miss having just one friend?"
"Yes," Angel said again, his voice gentler this time.
"I wanted to do nice things for you -- things I couldn't do while I was trapped in here," Dennis said. "I see how tired you get sometimes. I know you can be lonely. I -- I think about you, you know. You're pretty much the only thing I have to think about."
Cordelia swallowed hard. "Then why did you lie to me?"
He hung his head. "I know I shouldn't have done it. But it all happened so fast."
"Was romancing me a big part of your plan?"
"Tonight was only supposed to be about taking you out, letting you dress up, showing you a good time. When you kissed me, though, I just lost control, I guess. I haven't had a body in a long time. So I haven't felt, you know -- that way -- in decades. I got carried away. I'm sorry." Dennis looked as abjectly pathetic as anyone Cordelia had ever seen. "You're not going to move out, are you?"
Cordelia took a deep breath and counted to ten, then shook her head. "Like I'd give up a rent-controlled place." She sighed and continued, "And I guess I will get over this. Someday."
"Dennis, probably the best thing for you to do right now is give Wesley his body back," Angel said.
"Okay," Dennis said. But he turned to face Cordelia. "This is probably the last time I'll ever get to speak to you. I thought I ought to say that I enjoyed a lot of things the last couple of days, but what I enjoyed most was just listening to you. And that's something I have every day. Never think I don't appreciate it, or appreciate you. Because I do."
"Oh, Dennis," Cordelia said. To her surprise, she felt herself tearing up; she took one of his hands in her own and squeezed it tightly.
"Goodbye," he said. And then --
Cordelia couldn't have described it, no matter how she tried. No supernatural sparkly lights went off around the room or in his eyes. No electric jolt went through the air. But one moment she was looking at Dennis; the very next, she was looking at Wesley.
Oh my God, she thought. Wesley --
"Dennis?" Angel said. "Where are you?"
The wall thumped twice.
"Wesley? Back to normal?" Angel asked.
"I -- I believe I am," Wesley said. But he was staring at Cordelia with the same stunned expression she knew she must be wearing.
She couldn't think of what to say, or to do. Finally, she swatted him hard on the shoulder. "Ow!" he yelled.
"You -- you -- bled on my walls!"
"I beg your pardon?" Wesley drew himself up and folded his arms across his chest. "I was just trying to call your attention to the trifling fact that my body had been stolen from me -- "
"So why not write English? What's with this gibberish all over the place?"
"When you're noncorporeal -- it's not like you dip a brush in blood and just write -- you are the blood, and you are the brush, and you are the wall, and you can't get any sense of direction -- well, YOU try it sometime!" Wesley didn't look any calmer than she felt.
"Uh, guys?" Angel tried to break in. They ignored him.
"What else did you do in here? Did you look at my stuff? Did you spy on me? Like, in the shower?"
"Oh, let me think, what did I see?" Wesley was beside himself now. "I can't seem to recall a thing, except that incident where you had your hands all over my body without my permission!"
"GET OUT!" Cordelia yelled, pointing at the door.
"With pleasure! For the past two days, I've dreamed of nothing else," Wesley said, then stalked out the door.
Cordelia slumped against the wall and put her hands over her eyes. "This is like a bad dream," she groaned.
"You should go after him," Angel said quietly.
"To avoid the most awkward Monday morning in the history of Angel Investigations," Angel said. "And because he's your friend."
Without taking her hands from her eyes, Cordelia continued, "I did what you said. I took a chance. And this is what I get."
"If taking chances always paid off -- well, they wouldn't be chances."
"Very comforting," Cordelia said flatly. But she went out the door after Wesley.
Angel shook his head. "Settled back in, Dennis?" He knew the answer even as he asked; the energy of the apartment was right again, and he could feel the brightness and warmth. "Hang in there. She'll get over it."
He walked toward the door, then paused. "And tell me something. Cordelia keeps saying I should watch more television. But it isn't more entertaining than this, is it?"
The wall did not thump. "I didn't think so," Angel said, and headed out into the night.
"You didn't go back to your motorcycle," Cordelia said.
Wesley didn't turn from his contemplation of the apartment building's swimming pool. "I don't know where it's parked. I didn't drive it here, as you might recall."
"It's around the corner," she said. He made no motion to go, and she came to sit beside him on the edge of the pool. "You didn't strike me as a guy who liked dunking his feet."
"I'm just enjoying having feet."
"That must have been pretty scary, huh?"
"Terrifying," Wesley said. "At least at first. After a bit, you begin getting used to it."
"What's it like, there in the walls?" Cordelia asked.
"I wasn't just in the walls," Wesley said. "I was everywhere in the apartment, all the time. The carpet. The ceilings. Your couch. And, yes, your shower -- sorry about that."
"Right when I thought this evening couldn't get any more embarrassing," Cordelia said. To her surprise, Wesley began to laugh; after a moment, she realized she was laughing too. She slid her sandals off and dunked her feet in the pool too. "So, are you going to be mad at Dennis forever?"
"I'm not mad at him at all," Wesley said. She looked over at him in astonishment, and their eyes met for the first time since she'd realized he was back. He glanced away first. "He's the stove that cooks your food. The bed you sleep in. The floor you walk on. He's your world, though you don't realize it, I think. And you -- you're at the center of it all. You give life to that world. I could understand why he'd want the chance to -- approach you in a different way."
"About that approach," Cordelia said slowly.
"That's all right," Wesley hastened to say. "I imagine things just got ahead of themselves "
"Caught up in the moment," Cordelia added.
"Could happen to anyone. Well, anyone whose coworker had been possessed by her household poltergeist," Wesley chuckled.
"So, not most anyones." Cordelia was giggling by now.
"But I am relieved that Angel came by when he did," Wesley laughed. "I mean, if you're going to have sex with my body, I want to be in it."
The laughter stopped short, and Wesley and Cordelia stared at each other for a long moment. Finally, he said, "Let's forget I said that."
"Gladly," Cordelia said.
Wesley went home not too long after that, and Cordelia tiredly went back to her apartment, sandals in hand. She opened the door slowly. "Hiya, Dennis."
In reply, the stereo was switched on; her favorite Cibo Matto album was in the player.
"No music right now," she said, and the music instantaneously shut off. Cordelia smiled. "I just meant, maybe you finally want to watch that episode of ER. I saw it last night, but you weren't here, and I know you're dying to see what's up with Hathaway."
The TV switched on, and Cordelia curled up on her sofa.
It's nice to have someone to come home to, she thought.