*~*~ Part Four ~*~*
"That was Wes on his cell." Cordelia announced to the table. "He and Gunn are heading over here. He ... kinda wants to see everyone too." Cordy sat back into her seat and glanced furtively around the table. If she had been unsure of the Scoobies reaction to her, then Wesley would be doubly unsure. After all, Wesley hadn't really gotten along with the others while he had been Watcher in Sunnydale.
Dawn, who had remained very quiet, spoke to Angel next to her. "That was great Angel." She smiled at the vampire shyly. "I had no idea you could, you know, cook."
Conversation reverberated around the room as Angel smiled back at Dawn. His recollection of her was vague and piecemeal at best, but with Giles' revelation that Dawn was, in fact, The Key that Buffy was protecting, her presence was doubly fascinating. It was difficult to imagine a world where Dawn didn't exist, and seeing the protective attitude that Buffy had formed over Dawn first-hand really made it quite impossible for Angel to think of her as anything but Buffy's little sister. Especially now that Joyce was gone.
Things were a lot different now. In fact, as Angel threw his gaze over to examine everyone's faces, he realised that everybody had changed a lot too. Willow he had seen transformed from a quiet, slightly unwieldy girl into a powerful Wicca who moved with full confidence in herself. Xander, an awkward boy now grown into a more confident man, holding down a job and fighting evil. And of course, his once-true love ... Buffy.
He didn't really know where his relationship with Buffy would be heading after today. Once a upon a time, he had regarded his relationship with her as the forbidden love of all time -- star crossed lovers, the Vampire Slayer and the Vampire with a soul, two people who should never have fallen in love, but did. Against destiny or in spite of it, they loved each other with all their heart and souls.
But the day had come when they had both realised that it was not meant to be. At least, not then. After his move to L.A, Angel had held out the secret hope that one day, somehow, some way, they would find a way to be together. Something along the lines of 'love will conquer all'. And then his dream had come true -- he had Buffy, he had his humanity, and he could at last enjoy life. Life as it should be enjoyed, as a human, in the arms of someone he loved.
But again it was not to be. Angel could think of that brief day with Buffy now without regret, a bright and golden memory that infused his mind with imperfect happiness. Sitting opposite her now, watching her smile and laugh, and looking more like a twenty year old college student than a Vampire Slayer overtaxed with apocalyptic concerns, he realised that it had all been worth it -- the pain, the heartache at leaving his Buffy behind in Sunnydale, all so that she could have a normal life. At college and a living, breathing boyfriend.
His thoughts darkened at the thought of Riley. After Joyce's death he had gone to Buffy at the cemetery, and she had tearfully explained why Riley hadn't been there with her. Comforting her when she really needed to be comforted. It made the demonic part of him growl with anger, straining to be let out. How dare he betray her that way?
Noticing his sudden grouchiness, Cordy gave Angel a questioning look. He smiled back and instantly his anger slid away, replaced by -- calmness. Cordy smiled at him, her deep brown eyes twinkling in the reflected sun light.
She always had that effect on him. Maybe it was the arrival of the Scoobies, but it suddenly struck Angel, really struck him, how much he and Cordelia had changed from their Sunnydale personas, and how much closer they were to each other than to anyone they had ever known from before. Buffy, Giles, Xander and Willow provided a yardstick with which to measure this change by. It was ... quite nice actually, to contrast his Sunnydale existence to this one. With the exception of the periods following Doyle's death, and the Darla-induced craziness, he was much more comfortable about himself than before. And he had more friends ... Cordy being his best friend.
Even he had to laugh at that. Sunnydale High's finest cheerleader and broodiest vampire -- best friends? The Powers That Be really seemed to have a twisted sense of humour.
Cordelia's busy door bell chimed again. "Oh, that must be Wes and Gunn. Dennis, could you?"
The door opened immediately, revealing Wesley, dressed casually in loose fitting cream pants and a light coloured shirt. Gunn was beside him, peering curiously at the assembled personages before stepping confidently past Wesley into her apartment.
"Heard some of Cordy's friends was in town, so I thought I'd drop English by to see y'all. I'm Gunn; spelt two N's." He introduced himself confidently as he looked around, his gaze settling on Buffy.
"And this must be the infamous Buffy, Vampire Slayer. From what these two say about you," he gestured towards Angel and Cordy, "you kick ass. Mind showing me some of them Slayer moves some time? English here ain't bad, but I can kick his ass clear to next week."
"You most certainly can not." Wesley spoke up and defended himself. "I'm not as good as you I'm sure, but I can hold my own. Now that my sides healed a bit better ..."
Giles looked questioningly at Cordy, who informed him matter-of-factly, "He got shot."
"Oh dear Lord." Giles exclaimed. "Are you all right Wesley?"
Wesley smiled at the Watcher, grateful for his obvious concern. "Yes, I'm fine now, thank you Rupert." He turned his attention back onto his comrade again. "And I am not that bad. I didn't hear you complaining when we were fighting that Quinite demon last week."
"What's this?" Giles asked, concern etched over his face.
"Oh it was nothing. We killed it --" Wesley started to explain.
"You guys should've been there! Me and English here ..." Gunn interjected, explaining with an enthusiasm that infected his listeners. Angel listened to it, hardly believing that the Quinite demon had been that tall and that hard to kill. " ... And then you should've seen English here fly outta nowhere, nowhere I tell you, and cut the son of a bitch right down the middle. Slashed him up real good. Then me and Angel here, we took out this demon's bad ass friends, thinking this Quinite dude here was gone, and what d'ya know --"
"Sounds absol-bloody-lutely fascinating." Spike said drolly.
Gunn turned to stare at the vampire, noting in one glance the English accent, the blood in his mug, and this bleached hair.
"Let me guess -- we can't kill this one either."
Cordy shook her head. "He's with Buffy. Long story. Can't hurt people."
Gunn's cool appraising glance lingered on Spike a little longer, intimidating the vampire slightly. "Huh. Anyways, long story short, English here used my bad ass axe and split that demon right down the middle, just as I was about to become demon chow." He slapped Wesley hard on the back. "Dude saved my life more times than I can count."
The Scoobies were suitably shocked at Gunn's honest description of Wesley's fighting prowess.
Gunn and Wesley capped off the incredulity with their trademark secret handshake, prompting Xander to wonder out loud," How come Wesley's suddenly cooler than me?" He asked no one in particular. "I'm still cool, right?"
Willow and Buffy both smiled indulgently at him as Willow reassured him. "Yes Xander, we still think you're cool."
An awkward silence ensued, the silence one that habitually descended upon two different groups of friends meeting for the first time. It was Cordelia who broke the awkward stillness with a cheery uptake.
"Hey, why don't we, you know, get out of here? We could go out, see the sights, maybe see a couple of stars?"
"Oh!" Willow exclaimed. "Go shopping?"
Cordelia nodded, wondering fleetingly how weird a proposal that would have been to her two years before.
Boy, times have changed.
"So, why don't I take the girls and Xander out shopping, see the sights, spend some money. Coming Gunn?"
Gunn shrugged nonchalantly. "Whatever. 'Til I get word of something going down, I'm game for shopping."
"Cool. So Giles and Wesley will be doing their musty book thing ... right?" Wesley looked to the Watcher, and Giles nodded.
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that demon you fought a couple of weeks ago. Was it--?"
"Okay, so Giles and Wes are going to be doing their book thing." Cordy interjected loudly. "Spike, I'm guessing you wouldn't really be doing the shopping in full sun light thing, so -- you could probably do some, you know, skulking thing that vamps do. Or you could go to Caritas if you want to sing karaoke. Don't worry, it's a demon sanctuary, and they serve blood there. And spicy chicken wings. Just tell Lorne you know us."
"I am not even going to ask what a demon karaoke bar is." Xander piped up.
"D'uh. It's a karaoke bar -- for demons." Cordy retorted.
"Yeah okay, so how do you know of it?"
"Well, we have to go there sometimes, for work you know." Giles raised his eyebrows in question as Cordy explained. "We have to hear Angel sing and Lorne can tell us what he can see in his aura."
Buffy and the Scoobies blinked in incomprehension. They all thought they had just heard Cordelia say that Angel sang. Angel singing. In public. In front of people.
"I'm sorry. I thought I heard you say that you go there to hear Angel ... sing?" Buffy asked Cordelia with a wavering voice, feeling sure she would burst out in uncharacteristic laughter any moment.
Angel squirmed in his seat. First the towel incident, and now the singing. Damn, did he even deserve getting embarrassed twice in one morning?
Cordelia smiled, her teeth showing in a broad grin. "Oh yeah. You guys haven't heard singing until you've heard Angel singing. Don't get me wrong --" she paused, as Wesley and Gunn burst out into semi-repressed laughter, "it's for a good cause and all, but ..."
"Bad?" Xander chirped.
"Oh yeah." Angel squirmed again in his chair, but even he was hard pressed to maintain his uncomfortable demeanour. He wasn't deaf, he could appreciate good music like the next guy. And even he knew he didn't really hit the right notes very often.
"I try my best." Was all he said, trying very hard to sound hurt and confused, but failing miserably when he surprised himself by grinning good naturedly.
Cordy gave him a semi-comforting smile, but he could see glints of hidden mirth in her eyes. "Oh you know what we should do tonight?"
Xander and Willow both asked, "What?"
"We should go to Caritas. We could hear Angel sing!"
As the rest of the group broke out in agreement, Cordy said to Angel, "You could sing your old favourite -- Mandy."
Buffy burst out laughing at that, she couldn't help it. It was loud and golden, and was a surprising sound from her given her recent tragedy. Angel smiled at that. "Barry Manilow? Angel ... How ... could ... you?" Buffy's words came between her peals of laughter.
"I think the words are pretty." This induced even more laughter, this time from Willow and Xander, and to a lesser extent, Dawn.
"Okay." Cordelia decided it was time to let Angel off the hook. The poor undead guy had had enough humiliation for one day. "We should get going. We can have lunch at this really cool place I know." She started for the door, bag and jacket in hand. "Ah ... Angel?"
He looked at her questioningly. "Guess you'll be staying here right?" He nodded, wondering why she'd asked him that. She knew that he liked to nap a bit during the day time.
She looked over at Buffy. "What about you Buffy? You coming with?" Buffy looked at Cordelia with newfound respect as she realised that Cordelia had given her just what she needed -- time alone with Angel. She smiled at the brunette gratefully.
"Uh -- no, I think I'd like to rest here. I've been pretty strung out lately. You guys go without me."
Cordelia smiled at the slayer in understanding. "Sure thing. See you guys at dinner then? I'll call and let you guys know where we'll be."
The significance of what Cordy had done wasn't lost on Angel either. He felt nothing but overwhelming pride and appreciation for what his beautiful friend had done for him. He smiled, and as was more often the case when he was around his Seer, years of torture and pain seem to drop from his haunted eyes as he smiled gratefully at her. It seemed absolutely incredible that after all that he had done to her, disappointed her, had thrown her unconditional friendship back into her face, she could still find it in her heart to forgive him. More than that, trust him even more, trust him enough to do something so small yet so significant for him.
He followed the group to the door, and gently touched Cordy's elbow to stop her from leaving. She turned around and looked at him questioningly.
"Thanks Cordy." He whispered in her ear, low enough to be indecipherable to the others milling in the hall way. There was no need to say more, because he knew Cordy would understand. She always had understood more of him than he had understood of himself.
He gave her a light kiss on the forehead, his arms enveloping her in the briefest but most private of hugs. "See you at dinner."
Her luminous eyes spoke volumes as she closed the door, leaving Angel and Buffy alone -- at last.
"So ..." His eyes drifted onto the beautiful slayer. "What's the mature plan here? We talk, right?"
There was silence, broken only by Angel's shuffling feet.
"So." Buffy paused. "Mandy, huh?"
(c) Vivian Ngan May 2001