THE OTHER HALF LIVES
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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!"
"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
"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 instantly 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.