A Night on the Town
~*~* Part Three *~*~
Stephen gingerly picked up the phone, his greasy hands leaving finger marks on the receiver. He held a slice of peperoni-laden pizza with one hand as he tried speaking into the phone.
Although he had been resident in this dimension for over a year, it still took him several seconds to remember what exactly he was supposed to say.
"Hi. Um ... Angel Investigations." He paused, searching his mind for what Cordy had told him to say. "We may help you." He added hopefully.
The voice on the other end of the line was soft and feminine, yet strongly insistent. "Hi .. is Cordelia there please?"
Stephen looked around the deserted Hyperion foyer, briefly wondering whether his voice would reach up to Angel's suite of rooms located on the third floor. He debated whether he wanted to actually put the phone down and run up to the room, or just hang up and go back to eating his pizza.
"Oh, ah, sorry." Stephen sighed and put the slice of peperoni down. "I ... can get her for you?"
"Okay." He put the phone down and raced up the stairs, two at a time. At the top of his voice, he hollered, "Cordy! Phone!"
Cordelia's head popped out from Angel's room. "Oh, okay." She quickly threw a shawl around her bare shoulders and gave him a wide smile. "Thanks Stephen."
He smiled back, his eyes lighting up for an instant before dimming again. Cordelia was the only one he could respond to in this way. "S'okay." He said, before running off to finish the rest of his pizza.
Cordelia quietly slid the office door closed behind her before picking up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Hey Cordelia. It's me. Buffy." The Slayer sounded hesitant, and Cordelia worked silently to recover from the surprise.
"Buffy." She exclaimed, her voice at a slightly higher pitch than usual. "How are you?"
"Oh, me? I'm good. It's all good."
"Great. Great ..." Cordelia bit her lip, wondering what to say next. It wasn't often that she was caught speechless by surprise. "So, no apocalypse then? No demon uprisings we should know about?"
"No, no ... Actually," Cordelia could hear Buffy's audible intake of breath, "I just wanted to talk."
"Oh ... really? Okay." Cordelia paused. "About what?"
"Well ..." The Slayer sounded equally unsure. "Actually ... Dawn showed me this magazine today, and you know, you were in it. You and Angel."
"Yeah. Ah ... so I guess, it kinda made me realise just how ... out of touch we've been with each other. I mean ... it was just a shock, that's all." Buffy added quietly.
"Oh." Cordelia said softly. What was she supposed to say to that?
"I mean," Buffy rambled on, "I'm not, you know, upset or anything like that. Not that I would have a right to be or anything -"
"Oh no Buffy, you ... you would have a right, I mean you guys were, you know -"
"I know, but it wouldn't, it wouldn't give me ... Anyway, I didn't want to talk about that, not really."
Cordelia let out a surprised breath. "Really?"
"No." Buffy seemed surprised too. "No actually I ... as I said, it made me realise how we haven't kept in touch, not me and Angel, or ... you and me. You know, we were kinda friends, of the weird variety."
Cordelia smiled. "Yeah, the you saving my life a bunch of times and me being a bitch to you variety."
Buffy laughed. "I guess you could say it was ... unique." She paused. "So ... how have you been?"
"Good." Cordelia paused as she seated herself down onto her office chair. "At least I'm not on the Hellmouth any more."
"You should be glad, believe me." Buffy paused. "How's ... life with Angel treating you?"
Cordelia remained guarded. "It's ... good. It has its ups and downs. I mean ... do you know about his son?"
Buffy's ears perked up. "I was meaning to ask you about that. Except it would have sounded more like," she raised her voice in disbelief, "Angel has a son?! Instead of," she lowered her voice again, "yeah, I heard about him."
Cordelia's voice softened. "Well, here's the saga. Angel boned Darla about two years ago -"
"Exactly. Anyway, for some as yet unknown reason, they had Connor."
"They named him Connor?"
"Actually, Angel named him. Darla kinda sacrificed herself. I think it's Irish or something."
"Yeah I thought so too. Anyway, he was born - oh he was the cutest, sweetest little thing."
"Yeah? I mean, all babies are cute right?"
"No, he was extra cute. You know those babies on TV with those big round eyes and extra chubby faces? That was Connor. He had the cutest smile and," Cordelia's voice softened, "the most perfect little hands and feet."
"Wow. I'll have to see pictures sometime."
"Yeah, we've got plenty." Cordelia bit her lip, keeping the flood of painful memories hemmed in.
"So ... he'd be about two now?"
Cordelia smiled wryly. "Actually he's seventeen."
"Huh?" Buffy's dumbfounded voice echoed through the phone line. "My math's pretty sucky these days, but I can't seem to get the seventeen part."
"Basically ... he got kidnapped into a demon dimension and by the time we saw him again ... sixteen years had passed." She swallowed painfully. "Sorry, it's still kinda hard to talk about."
"I kinda get that." Buffy said quietly, and Cordelia knew she was probably talking to the only person beside Angel and herself who really did know. After all, she had had to send Angel to Hell in order to save the world. "So ... what are things like now? With Connor I mean?"
"Well ..." Cordelia tried to imbue her voice with cheeriness she didn't feel, "his psycho time-travelling kidnapper changed his name and basically raised Connor to hate Angel, so there were issues." She sighed. "Still getting worked out. There was a lot of bad stuff that happened ... but at least they aren't trying to kill each other any more."
"Oh." Surprise and shock punctuated Buffy's voice, but she wisely let the subject go. Better than most, she understood the pain in Cordelia's voice.
After a while, Cordelia found her voice again. Eager to divert her less than cheery emotions, she asked quietly, "What about you? How's life?"
"Life is good." Buffy hesitated, before explaining, "Life sucked for a long time ... I went through a lot of things. With Spike."
"Spike was giving you a hard time?"
Buffy silently thanked her lucky stars that Cordelia couldn't see the rising colour on her face. "Yeah, you could say that." She paused. "Actually, we had a thing."
"Oh." Now it was Cordelia's turn to be surprised. "Wow."
"Yeah. But it wasn't healthy, it just made me feel, at a time when I really couldn't."
"So then ... maybe it wasn't all bad?"
"No, I guess not." Buffy gave a wry smile. "Not ... all of it. But I was dealing with that for a long time, and trying to find something to live for. And just ... Willow went through a really rough time."
Buffy told Cordelia Willow's struggle with her magical addiction.
"Oh God ... is she okay?"
"She's ... let's just say it's been rough. It's been over a year, but ... I guess magic's something she'll always have to fight."
"Well, if she ever needs a change of scenery ... she's more than welcome to come. Here. Angel's got like, a dozen rooms that's almost fit to walk in."
"You guys are doing that great, huh?" Buffy chuckled.
"Yeah, we're rolling in ... pretty much nothing." Cordelia laughed. "So how's Xander? I haven't heard anything from him since he and Anya broke up."
"He's been good actually. His job's going really well, and he actually likes what he's doing." She sighed. "He made me this really beautiful chest of drawers last month, and they were ... so beautiful. It must've taken him so long to finish it."
Cordelia heard the strange lilt in Buffy's voice. "You guys are good friends."
"Yeah ... you know we've always been."
Cordelia took a deep breath. "You know he'll die for you."
Buffy sounded slightly taken aback. "I ... I know."
"That kind of friendship's hard to come by." Cordelia paused, wondering if she should say more, but then decided to plunge in anyway. "I know me and Angel are best friends first, lovers second."
"Yeah ..." Buffy said slowly, thoroughly confused at the turn in conversation.
"So ... I'm just saying is all. Just ... keep it in mind."
"What?" Silence hung in the air as Buffy digested Cordelia's meaning. "Oh. Oh ... I don't know about that. Me and Xand ... we've been friends too long to try anything like that."
"You know he's always been crazy for you."
"Oh ..." Buffy was at a loss as to what to say.
Cordelia rushed on. "All I'm saying is - you never know." She paused, deciding it was time to change the conversation towards a lighter tone. "So, how's Mr. Tweed librarian doing anyway? Still wearing the tweed and drinking the tea? And maybe reading the stinky books?"
Buffy laughter rang clearly through the phone. This was what she had missed most from her life these past few years. A simple chat with a friend over the phone, a simple conversation about everything and anything. For those few moments, she was just a girl again. It was the little details in life, Buffy reflected, that really made life worth living.
Buffy was smiling as she put down the phone. Talking with Cordelia had been ... interesting. Refreshing and interesting. There had been so many changes to the former cheerleader's life that Buffy hadn't known about. The visions, her pain and her life with Angel. It felt good, to discover a connection that she hadn't known had existed before.
Far from just talking about Angel, they had talked about a great deal of things that she hadn't realised she craved until that very instant. Small, insignificant little details that coloured the rich tableau of their current lives. And of course, it felt great to catch up on the latest gossip with a surprisingly like-minded person.
Buffy yawned and stretched out her lithe frame. Things had been quiet in Sunnydale for the last couple weeks, which inevitably meant that a new big bad was about to rise, or a new cataclysm was about to happen. But Buffy somehow couldn't get worked up about it. That one phone conversation with Cordelia had somehow jolted in her the realisation that her life no longer brought her the pain it did a year ago. That maybe, just maybe, she had healed from her resurrection and her descent from heaven.
She walked up the stairs and quietly opened the door to Dawn's room. A breeze ruffled the dainty curtains, making them billow inwards into the stillness of the room.
Buffy smiled gently as her eyes landed on Dawn's slumbering form. Her breathing was even and restful, a slight smile etched on her face. She quietly took the books that lay by her sister's side and deposited them onto her desk, and taking one last look at Dawn, she switched off the light, retreating from the room.
The silence of the night pervaded the air. Knowing that she should get some rest in order to get up early for work tomorrow, she hesitated as she spied the phone. Should she?
She shook her head, then quickly dialled. Cordelia was just imagining things, Buffy told herself quietly.
A male voice picked up, gruff from tiredness. "Hello?"
Buffy swallowed, annoyed at herself for evening feeling nervous. What was the matter with her? It was only Xander. "Xander?"
Immediately his voice became more animated. "Buffy? Is everything okay?"
"Oh - yeah." She hesitated, before plunging on. "Listen, I was just ... I feel like doing something. Do you think you want to ... do something? I mean, with me?"
Xander's voice was thick with surprise, but Buffy noticed that he didn't seem displeased. "Sure. We haven't had a girl's night out in a while. What do you want to do? Should we Bronze it?"
"Sure. I just ... I feel like being with a friend tonight."
Xander seemed pleasantly confused, in that way only Xander could be. "Okay. How about you pack some of your wicked slayer gear, and we could make a night of it?"
"I thought you had to get up early for work? I wouldn't want to-"
"It's patrol. That's different. Besides," Buffy could sense his hesitation, "You're one of my best friends Buff. You know I'll do anything for you."
"Me too." She blurted out quietly. "Anyway, see you a bit later?"
"You got it."
Cordelia's voice rang in her ears as Buffy put down the phone. "I know me and Angel are best friends first, lovers second."
Best friends, huh? Buffy thought. Maybe she could give this best friend thing a work out, see what happens. Surely stranger things have happened. After all, life could be a little funny that way.
By the time Cordelia had finished her conversation with Buffy, she found herself grinning from ear to ear. It had been a definite surprise that the petite Slayer had suddenly called L.A, and what had been more surprising was that she had wanted to talk to her and not Angel.
She shook her head in still mild disbelief as she made her way out of the office, wringing her aching neck muscles with her hands.
Suddenly Stephen jumped out from behind the work bench, a serious look on his youthful face. Cordelia had to stifle a scream that would have brought Angel scurrying down with all the vampiric speed he possessed.
She clutched a hand to her chest. "Oh God, Stephen ... you scared me."
"Sorry." He mumbled, genuinely apologetic. His eyes searched hers, and Cordelia became uncomfortable under his intense gaze.
"Was ..." she cleared her throat, "was there anything you wanted?"
He shifted his weight, a gesture that reminded her uncomfortably of Angel. "I heard some of your talking."
"Oh - uh huh." There was obviously something he wanted to say, and Cordelia had developed enough intuition over the years to sense that she should just let him say whatever he needed to say.
A long silence hung between them as he searched for the right words. "Was I really cute? I mean, the baby me. Connor."
His naked yearning and innocence caught Cordelia completely by surprise, and she had to take a moment to recollect herself. "Oh Connor, you were ... gorgeous." Emotional enough to call him by his first name, she continued, "You were the sweetest, cutest, most perfect little guy that ever was. You were ... you *are* perfect." She whispered.
His eyes seared with emotion as he looked straight into her. "Connor was ... I'm not." He said with a trace of untouchable anger.
"Hey ..." Cordelia resisted the maternal urge to engulf him in a hug. She settled for placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You're both Stephen and Connor. Angel and I love you no matter what you're called. I mean, we'd still love you even if you decided you wanted to change your name to something *really* hideous like ... Horaldo." She gave him a radiant smile. "It's kinda what parents are supposed to do."
He seemed confused, but Cordelia could tell that the sentiment was at least understood by the young man standing before her. He nodded, trying to digest the information. "You said you had pictures."
Cordelia's heart leaped. This was the first time that Stephen had expressed any interest in the life he had had with Angel, before Holtz had taken him away. It was the first time he had shown anything that didn't resemble hostility towards the baby that had been Connor.
"Oh yeah ... we have a lot." She chuckled as she thought of the mountains of film tucked away in the dark recesses of the Hyperion basement. "Angel was a very enthusiastic dad. He has a lot of sketches too ... if you'd like to see them."
Stephen nodded slowly. "I'd like that ... to see them sometime." He paused. "I have to sleep now. Gunn promised that we'd kill something tomorrow."
"Oh, okay." Cordelia mentally shook off the imagery. In many ways, Stephen was a typical, human teenager. But in certain other very obvious ways, he was absolutely atypical, and would probably always be.
She smiled at him. "Good night then. Sleep well." He nodded briefly at her before he ambled up to his room.
Cordelia stared silently at his retreating figure until he was out of sight. Then suddenly feeling fatigue creep through the sinews of her body, she sighed and ascended the stairs to Angel's room.
"Hey." Angel's soft voice greeted her as she opened the door. "That took a long time. Who was it?"
Cordelia smiled as she tucked herself under the blankets, and beneath the crook of his arm, nuzzling into his chest. She stared at the copy of Byron he held in his hands, and said simply, "Buffy."
"Really?" Tangible surprise coloured Angel's voice. "Did she want to talk to me?"
Cordelia closed her eyes, allowing herself to relax and melt into his embrace. "Nope. Just me."
"Just you?" He asked with faint amusement. His hand stroked her hair, running down over the contours of her face before sweeping up again.
"Just me." She smiled, feeling his curious eyes on her.
"What did you guys talk about then?"
Cordelia yawned, pressing herself deeper into his arms. "Girl talk." She yawned again, feeling sleep creep up on her consciousness. "Tell you about it later ... tomorrow ... we need more milk ..."
Angel smiled as he kissed her forehead gently. He switched off the light by his night stand and settled back into bed, cradling her sleeping form in the darkness. Her breathing was soft and even, lulling him to sleep with its tranquil rhythm.
So Angel closed his eyes and slept.
(c) June 2002