HEARTSTRUNG

Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.

Historical Note: The action in this story takes place after "To Shanshu in L.A".

Author's note: Installment number four of my series "This Week at Angel's Investigations". Assumes events described in my story, "Aurora".

HEARTSTRUNG

By Evan Como

"How long have you known about this?

Angel's temper peaked while he glared at Wesley unmercifully. The ex-Watcher, for his part, kept his sight lowered and his tongue held.

Cordelia smacked Angel across the arm. "What're you getting all mad at Wesley for, Angel? It's *my* apartment. *My* party."

Trying to maintain his furious face after being reminded he was still Cordelia's guest was difficult. "Well, I won't be at *your* party," Angel complained, sounding way more whiney than outraged.

"Whatever, Angel." She grasped the ringing cordless phone from midair, finishing, "but before you leave, you're gonna make all the snacks. Right?"

-0-

Another cube of ham and miniature slice of Swiss cheese magically dotted a Ritz cracker.

Angel watched the proceedings, disgusted. "Who's going to eat that?"

The silence responded by continuing to assemble canapé after canapé until the cookie sheet was completely filled.

After setting them in the oven, Angel returned to his tray in time to thwart a sprig of parsley. "That's not the right garnish for these, Dennis!" he hissed.

Wesley caught the leafy green spray mid-flight. "I'm telling you, Angel," he began, his British accent jovial, "Dennis' bad side is not one you want to get to know. Especially with you still living here."

"Where's Cordelia?"

Mirroring where Angel indicated a piece of green had wedged, Wesley pinkied his tooth. "Interesting you should ask, because I haven't seen her for the past couple hours." He frowned. "She wouldn't ditch her own party would she? Because it's going rather swell--even better than her last, I'd dare venture. Perhaps she just popped to the store for additional beverages."

Skepticism coated Angel's demeanor. "You know she would have sent you for more drinks."

"Yes, well. I guess we both have our purposes in her life, don't we, Angel?"

Angel studied Wesley's retreating back and tried to remember having ever enjoyed a party.

-0-

"I'm the one who's supposed to be pooping out. Not you."

Taking a seat on the stairwell next to Cordelia, Angel leaned forward on his knees and glanced over at her. His optimistic grin went kinda negative. "I'm still working on the humor thing. I thought, for sure, that was going to work on you."

Cordy sighed.

"Seriously, Cordelia. I've really have been trying to find a place so you can have your apartment back. I can certainly appreciate what it's like to lose all your privacy. But, I've been trying to remember to give you lots of space--"

"Don't apologize, Angel. I'm cool. Take as much time as you need." Her reassuring hazel eyes regarded him briefly before settling towards the distance.

His brows knit in frustration. "You're not pregnant again, are you?" he asked fearfully.

"Guy, Angel!" She socked him in the bicep. "That sounds like something *I* would come up with! No. I'm not pregnant. AGAIN!"

It sounded more to Angel they were negatively influencing one another but his thoughts were interrupted by the bleating smoke alarm and finding Cordelia suddenly flailing in his arms.

"Looks like Wesley forgot to take those ham dealies out of the oven," he consoled despite knowing, that deep in the throes of a Vision, Cordelia couldn't understand him.

-0-

Angel peered into his deeply wounded thigh. "Is that bone? Am I seeing my femur? Because that's really gross!" Jerking as the pain finally registered in his brain, Angel sucked at the air. "OW!" he gasped.

Expertly, Wesley dressed the horrid gape, trying to ignore the redundancy of his ministrations. He knew there was no real reason to treat Angel; it was just personally comforting to imagine there was. Most of the time, Angel was an awful patient--belligerent, impatient. But, examining the worst laceration he'd ever attended, Wesley wondered if Cordelia's absence didn't have more to do with Angel's uncharacteristic tolerance.

Dennis wound the sterile gauze around Angel's leg while Wesley pinched the gash tightly closed. He had to admit to himself that Dennis could be handy, at times. Aloud, he admitted his gratitude to the apparition in hopes the offered pleasantry would improve their often-contentious relationship.

He hobbled the vampire to Cordelia's room and eased him onto the mattress. "That's not going away anytime soon, Angel," he remarked, concerned about the exclamation of red striping the formerly pristine bandage. "So, just lay low, alright?"

Dennis propped a pillow beneath Angel's knee.

Examining the contents of the paper bag carefully before leaving, Wesley tried to erase the look on Angel's face from his memory. There had been immense pain inscribed on the agonized features. Wesley could only imagine Angel's misery, made even more torturous by the unasked question regarding Cordelia's whereabouts.

"Her root beer, Dennis," Wesley chided gently. *Very gently.*

The brown aluminum can raced from the kitchen and into Wesley's waiting palm. "And make sure Angel stays down, alright?"

Wesley also tried to forget the constricted feeling that surrounded his shoulders shortly before the door nestled gently behind him.

-0-

Cordelia's eyes rolled to the top of her head as the side door yawned open and only partially re-closed.

"How'd you know where to find me?" She took the paper sack from Wesley's hand.

Pulling a chair from under the charred table, Wesley's first thought was to dust the seat until he noticed there wasn't much of a seat to dust. That, and the fact his pants were filthy with Angel's blood anyway.

"Well. Doyle's monument doesn't possess half the amount of charm in the daylight. So, this was the only other logical choice." When she squinted, he presented a dimple and a shrug.

Cordelia handed Wesley a napkin.

"I have no idea what we've got. Dennis had it already packed." An offered wedge of sandwich indicated party leftovers, pleasing him immensely. He had barely eaten before accompanying Angel to the PTB assignment and was famished.

The two ate in wordless silence as the automotive street traffic passed by the condemned building in spurts. Muted light barely shone into the ravaged basement apartment through the sooty street-level windows, flickered by the few pedestrians who scuffed by. Something overhead creaked for far too long.

"Kinda like Pirates of the Caribbean, huh?" Cordelia slurped her diet beverage.

Wesley nodded at the analogy and sipped in agreement. He watched a line of dust stream onto the framing of Angel's former club chair, wincing as that something creaked again before thudding onto the floor of what used to be Angel's office.

The elevator shaft rattled.

"I don't know how you could even come back here," Cordelia mentioned between bites. "You know, after nearly getting blowed up."

Wesley pushed his glasses with the back of his wrist. "It's not something I remember, per se. One second I was fleeing up the steps, the next I was lying in a hospital bed staring at Angel. Anything in-between is a void." He sighed, looking up at the ceiling to study the embered patterns. "Even though it's completely gutted, I can't get over how remarkably homey it still feels down here. I don't think I'll even forget this place."

"You know what I remember the most?" Cordelia handed Wesley another napkin. "Riding the elevator down with Harry and Whistler after Angel went all coo-coo on you. That look on your face-- Totally like 'what did I get myself into?'" Her smile was as fond as the nudge against his forearm. "Don't get all wigged, Wesley. No one does a bigger, bolder space cadet than Angel."

"How can you even joke like that? My God! The thoughts that go on in his mind! I dare say I'd rather face Angelus again--"

"Trust me. You don't."

Sometimes it was so easy to believe her.

"Cordelia? Do you ever think about 'what if?'"

"What if Angel hadn't rescued me? Doyle hadn't died? You never showed up? I still had all those screaming Mimi's inside my head?"

"What if Angel hadn't survived the necromongracy?" Wesley leaned back in the chair, testing to make sure the back would hold his weight before applying all of it. "Last night, for instance, out of the blue that demon just reined down on Angel. There was no time to warn him and he barely had time to react. Within a fraction of a second, he could have been destroyed right before my eyes."

"And I would have never seen you again, huh?"

Glancing over the rim of his glasses, Wesley considered her truth. "You don't think I'd actually show my face to you again if-- You know."

Munching on a couple of tortilla strips, she concluded, "nah. You'd be on the first flight outa here. Although that'd be pretty messed up, Wesley. Angel all dusted somewhere and you just blowing town."

"Well, suffice it to say, all that occurred is he nearly lost his leg."

"Only that? Oh, that's no big. If *that* 'what if' ever happens, just pick it up, slap it back in place and it'll reattach. Good as new."

"I'd have to imagine the process is a little more complicated that that. And you're missing the point I'm trying to make."

"That Angel's not going anywhere any time soon? You gave him my bed, right?"

Wesley's exasperation swelled. "You realize he's been getting the feeling you want him gone."

"He actually tell you that or you been channeling him again?" She bit her celery stick in two. "Sorry. That was an attack of the McNasty. See? I noticed. I like Angel with me but I think I might be hard to live with. You know. Me and Dennis--we're all loud. We're set in our ways and Angel's trying to be all tippy-toe quiet, secret broody guy. Believe me, if I wanted him out of the apartment, he wouldn't have to guess about that. 'New and improved' doesn't include speechless."

"Doesn't it? I'm taking that call yesterday-- Your call-back fell through?"

"Puh! That was *so* wrong, Wesley. My agent *swore* I got that commercial. A national spokesperson. With three call-backs! Three!"

"You don't have to go into all the details with him. Just let Angel know you auditioned and it didn't work out."

"I can't."

"Why? It's not like you haven't lost parts before."

"Because I didn't just audition for it."

Wesley was pretty sure the building had caved in on him and that's why he wasn't breathing. He was immobile. Numb. And definitely not breathing.

"I guess that means I'm not just a bad actress, huh? So I can't tell Angel. And you can't tell him, either."

"That's a terrible burden you've placed within my confidence, Cordelia. What would possess you to do such a thing?"

Ignoring his abhorred disapproval, Cordy collected their litter and swept it back into the bag. "Look, Wesley. 'New and improved girl' even cleans up, now, too!"

-0-

It had taken most of the week for Angel's leg to mend sufficiently to where he could limp without tearing the scar. That didn't mean he should have tried taking the stairs.

"Déjà vu."

Cordy looked back, dismayed when he plopped two stairs behind her. She scooted up one to meet him. "Stairs bad, Angel. And you shouldn't be out here in your boxers. This is a respectable apartment building."

He winced when Buttons jumped into his lap, further irritating his leg. However, after the cat settled down, the warm purr-ball actually diverted his attention from the pain. The feline drooled from being scrubbed ferociously under its jaw.

He bashfully smiled at Cordelia.

"Hey, Angel. Do you ever think about what if Augustine hadn't cured you?"

"I thought when we went roller coastering, that subject was closed."

"That *was* you screaming, wasn't it? I couldn't figure out if it was Wesley, but now I'm pretty sure it was you."

Angel leaned his elbows on the step behind him. "I think more like 'what if Augustine hadn't brought you back. Or what if I had killed Wesley?' Things like that. Once you've been hellsent, you already know what to expect. But I'm glad I survived. Alot of the stuff that's been happening since is kinda new to me. Take this cat, for instance. I always thought of 'em as vittles. But she's kinda neat. When she's happy, she purrs. When she's annoyed? I think she purrs for that, too. Right after she does that gurgly noise. Still, it's nice to hear that gurgle every once in a while. At least she's letting me know what's on her mind."

"You are *really* bad at this, Angel."

"Wait. Was that a gurgle? Shhhhhh! Lemme listen." He closed his eyes, tipping his ear towards the sleeping cat.

"Oh, move that stupid thing, already!" Cordy scooped the little beast up and out of Angel's lap and leaned back into his legs, pillowing her head on his stomach. "Almost like Bobsleds," she commented after shooshing the gurgling cat away.

Angel straightened his aching extremity. "One day we're going to have to talk," he cautioned, silently reminding himself communication was a two-way enterprise; and that scared him more than having Cordelia's life press against his knees.

-0-

Angel's Journal

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