Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, I didn't create the mess they're in. That credit all goes to Joss Whedon g. I'm just borrowing (in a strictly non-profit sense) to take a shot at putting things back on track. The title and lyrics are from "Outside Looking In," by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Spoilers: Waiting in the Wings Pairing: Looks like Cordy and Angel...but looks can be deceiving. Rating: PG13 Author's Note: This is the pre-quel to "Heal Me," which will be posted under the Buffy fics since that is set in Sunnydale, with predominantly BtVS characters. Summary: Angel tells Cordelia how he feels about her. Then she tells him how he really feels.

The Lonely Season

By Gem

* * * * *

// Everywhere I see signs pointing in one direction No more twists or crooked turns leaving room for doubt Where I used to take the time for quiet and reflection Now I only hear the noise of what I am without //

* * * * *

Lorne sped down the long hallway towards the half-open door at the end, the old carpeting muffling his approach from all but the most sensitive of ears.

"Lorne," Angel sighed, "could you stop hovering in the doorway?" He glanced down at Connor, noting unhappily that his formerly sleepy child was now wide-awake and ready for action. "You're...scaring the baby."

The demon slipped inside the bedroom and firmly pushed the door closed behind him. His mission was of the greatest importance, and its success depended on as few distractions as possible.

"As though the little nipper would ever be scared of Uncle Lorne," he scoffed. "But you're right about the need to keep this chat on the QT." He rubbed his hands together in gleeful anticipation. "It's time to make your move, Angel-cakes."

Angel looked blankly at Lorne, shifting Connor to his other shoulder as he adjusted the burp cloth to protect his silk shirt.


Lorne closed the door to the bedroom and scurried over to perch on the edge of Angel's bed. His red eyes brimmed with untold secrets, some of them about to be told.

"Cordy, you big galoot. Groo is getting ready to follow the yellow brick portal and..." he paused and tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Kind of makes it sound like a porta-pottie, doesn't it?" He shrugged. "Ah well, no matter. As I was saying, Groo is taking off and poor little Cordelia could use a well-muscled shoulder to cry on." He chuckled. "Couldn't we all?"

The vampire threw several furtive glances at the closed door, swallowing nervously each time his eyes collided with the wood. Finally he forced himself to break his gaze, turning his back to Lorne, and the door, and laid Connor in his crib. As he carefully drew the blanket up to cover his wriggling son, he swallowed one last time and steadied his voice.

"He's, umm, really going back? Without...without her?"

"I should say so," Lorne answered sharply. "She's still considered a cow there, you know, princess or not. Prime rib, maybe, or a pretty little filet. A fine rack. Tender loi..."

"All right," Angel snapped, "you don't need to mention her...I get the analogy. Stop beating it to death."

Lorne beamed at him. "It's called tenderizing, lamb chop."

Angel counted to ten. Then he counted to twenty. Slowly he focused his energies, taking away all the useless frustration and leaving one simple question.

"What makes you think she'd want to talk to me now?"

Lorne swiftly rose from the bed and came to stand next to Angel by the crib.

"Angel, my friend, all teasing aside, you got a lot to offer a gal. And she's one heck of a gal. One in a million. I say it's time to stop doing the shuffle and 'shucks' routine around her. Give those oversized feet of yours a rest." He slapped the vampire on the back, leaving his hand resting gently on Angel's shoulder. "Go. Be a man." He leaned forward, peering into Angel's doubtful eyes. "You are one, you know, demon or not. Time to make sure she knows it."

"But if he just left..."

"Then the time is ripe," his friend insisted. "You need to make her see what she could have right here, and why Groo is not the answer."

Angel hesitated for a moment. He wanted to do this; he really did. He'd been waiting so long for the opportunity, and Groo had inadvertently been the beneficiary of his excessive patience. Well no more; now it was Angel's turn. Resolutely he nodded his head; he was going to do this.

"You'll watch Connor for a minute for me?"

"I better be watching him longer than that." Lorne smirked and patted Angel on the back again. "I've heard rumors about you vamps, and from what I understand, slow and steady wins the race."

Angel looked alarmed. "No. There's not going to be any of...that. Not yet. I just...I just want to talk to her. See if maybe we can...start. That's definitely way past just starting."

"Okay," Lorne sighed, "it's your ballgame...so to speak. But you're wasting a beautiful moment of vulnerability. Trust me; I heard her singing Patsy Cline on the way down the hall."

* * * * *

Angel made his way slowly down the hall, growing more anxious with every step. Cordelia was vulnerable now, just as Lorne said. She needed a friend, not a potential...whatever he could potentially be. He was intruding at a time when she needed solitude. She was going to throw him out the minute he walked in the...

"Oh Angel," Cordelia sobbed, flinging herself into his arms in the hallway as he walked past the partially open door. "I'm so glad you came to check on me."

He basked for a moment in the feel of her long arms around him. She didn't hug much, but every time she did he couldn't get over how much longer her arms seemed.

He also could never seem to finish the thought: just whose arms were hers longer than?

"Cordelia," he murmured at last, turning his head to free his mouth from the thick strands of her dark hair. No, not dark anymore, he reminded himself. She was more blonde now; more like...someone who was blonde.

"I was a little...worried about you," he said softly, guiding her back into the empty bedroom from which she had emerged. "Lorne told me that Groo is leaving."

He watched her face closely, looking for signs to indicate the depth of her distress. To his dismay, fresh tears started at his words.

"Yeah, he, uh, he's leaving right about now." She tried to force a small smile. "Catching the first portal back home."

"I'm sorry," he said, at least partially sincerely. He was sorry, because it made her cry. Because it gave her grief. But for himself, he regretted nothing.

"It's just so stupid," she complained, brushing the lingering traces of tears from her cheeks as she sat down on the bed. "He has this weird demon hang-up; who knew? I did one little float in front of him and now he thinks I'm cursed or something." She sniffled. "Well, you know how that one is better than anyone."

Angel only nodded, sensing she needed to vent more than she needed sympathy right now.

"I suppose if I'd given him a little warning, he might have gotten used to it," she grudgingly allowed. "I mean, I kind of forgot to mention it until it happened, so I guess he was entitled to a small freak. But when you add that on to the other thing..." Her voice trailed off into an embarrassed silence.

"What other thing?" he asked cautiously.

Cordelia couldn't look at him; if she found it embarrassing, how on earth would Angel feel?

"He, umm, he has this idea that...well, it's stupid, really, but he has this idea that...that you and I are...something more than friends." She sighed deeply, at last daring to face him. "He claims we have some weird thing called 'kye-rum..."

"Kye-rumption," Angel finished slowly. "It's a Pylean term. I've, umm, heard Lorne mention it before."

"Well it's totally crazy, of course, and I told him so." Her voice rose in her indignation. "But he just won't believe me. He says he can just tell from the way we act around each other, the way we fight together, that sort of thing."

"Would that really be so crazy?" Angel asked softly, not daring to look for the answer in her eyes.

"Well of course." There was no hesitation in her response, and no room for argument. "You're my best friend, Angel, but there is neither kye nor rumption going on here. Not at all."

It wasn't what he wanted to hear, however much he had expected it.

"Sometimes...sometimes it's not always easy to see," he said, forcing himself to gaze straight into her brown eyes. So very dark those eyes were, he mused, without even a flicker of green...not that there should be.

"No," she agreed reluctantly. "I mean I totally misread the Fred situation; I thought for sure she was angling for Wesley. You know, the whole 'geeks unite' principle. But she seems perfectly happy with Gunn; it's like they were made for each other."

Cordelia shrugged her shoulders; there was just no understanding some people. Still, that was hardly her problem.

"But even if Groo was seeing things where they didn't exist," she continued, "he still should have believed me when I said you already had a rumption girl, and her name begins with 'B'." She laid her palm on her chest. "I've always found it easier to spell 'Cordelia' with a 'C'."

"What makes you think...I haven't seen her in months...we haven't been...it's been a long time." He looked down at his hands restlessly smoothing a tiny crease in his trousers. "People change," he finished abruptly.

// I kept waiting on forgiveness to fix the broken places But nothing even like it came my way //

"Yeah." Cordelia sounded unconvinced. "People do. I did. You did. God knows Wesley did...some. But that doesn't mean the feelings just stop like Wile E. Coyote when he hits the bottom of that ravine."

Angel couldn't help his smile; she sounded so much like...Xander. She sounded like Xander.

"See, you still smile when I mention her." Cordelia reached out and brushed his cheek with her fingertip.

"That's not why..."

It wasn't; he swore it wasn't.

"Anyway, I couldn't convince him, and then with the floating..." She sniffed again and impatiently brushed away a stray tear. "I'm better off without him; I really, truly am. Who needs some overly muscled, sweeter than candy," her eyes grew distant, "knight in shining..."


"Leather pants," she continued dreamily.

He took a deep breath and prepared to say the words that would set all their futures on the right course at last.

"Cordelia, I love you."

"Excuse me?"

Angel had been hoping for enthusiasm, and expecting a little token resistance. But nowhere in his imaginings had the phrase 'polite confusion' come into play; it took him a moment to regroup from Cordy's reaction and remember why he was here.

// I see them walking hand in hand and my eyes just want to linger On those golden wedding bands wrapped around their fingers By the time I turn away I feel it once again I'm back in this familiar place, outside looking in //

"I said I love you."

She sighed in relief, a connection snapping into place in her mind.

"That's sweet, Angel. And I love you too. And Wesley loves you and Fred loves you and..."

"That's not what I meant," he interrupted her hastily.

"Yes it is."

He shook his head firmly, willing her to understand.

"No, it's really not."

"Yes it is," she insisted, a fine edge of panic tingeing her voice. "We all love each other. We're just one big happy...slightly demonic and dysfunctional...family."

This was sudden; he understood it would take her a little time to get used to the idea. But if she could just soften up that look of alarm in her eyes, he was sure things would go much more smoothly.

"Cordelia, I know this seems, well, sudden, but I've been trying to tell you for a while now." He tried a small smile on for size. "I just...I couldn't find the right words. Or the right time."

"Well you sure could have done better about the timing," she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest. "I pour my heart out to you about Groo and you think I'll feel better to know that you have a misplaced crush on me as your Buffy-substitute for 2002?"

Angel suddenly felt about twelve-years-old again, and caught flirting with the parlor maid.

"I think I would know if this was a crush, Cordelia," he said stiffly.

She snorted and raised an eyebrow at his declaration. "You mean because of your immense history with successful romantic relationships?"

Cordelia regretted her words almost the instant they were uttered. Angel went very still, as though he was trying not to move even the smallest muscle for fear of what he might do. She wasn't afraid of him, but she knew that stillness and she knew it meant the wound went much deeper than she'd intended.

"Angel, I'm sorry. I just...I didn't mean..."

She scrambled for the right words, wondering why something that used to happen so often now seemed so awkward. But Angel was not her run-of-the- mill unrequited Romeo. He was a friend, her best friend, and she knew just how vulnerable he truly was.

"I know what you meant, and you're right." His voice was soft, but determined, as he slowly regained his equilibrium. "But so am I."

"Is this still about that whole ballet thing? I mean the little...well, not little...problem that, umm, shot up between us? Because you so don't need to feel embarrassed about that." She smiled brightly, perhaps just a little too brightly to be convincing. "I know it wasn't personal...much."

"But it was," he said softly, leaning forward to look into her eyes. "Stefan might have been inside of me, but...it was you on the other side of me that..."


He knew she saw the truth of his words; she just didn't want to acknowledge them as such. It was, at least, a start.

"It was me, Cordy," he insisted. "My feelings. My...desires."

Her eyes grew wide as she took in the deepening tone of his voice; he was actually serious, and getting more so by the minute. It was Angel-serious too, which was twice as bad as anyone else's kind of serious.

"No, it was a ghost wearing your body like a suit," she countered in desperation. "A suit that only gets steam cleaned once or twice a century, if you know what I mean. Color me flattered."

Angel's relief was fading fast in the face of her frantic denials. It was as though she didn't want his feelings to be real, as though they diminished her somehow. He thought they had gotten beyond all the differences between them a long time ago, certainly far before he realized his feelings for her had changed.

"So you think I couldn't possibly want you as you? Gee, and I thought I was the one with the self-esteem issues."

"Angel, it's just that we're best friends, and I don't want to mess that up." She tried to remove the plaintive tone from her voice, but did not have much success. He was ruining everything, and for no good reason. "I've never had a best friend before; at least not one who actually liked me."

"And you think romance would ruin the friendship?" He reached out and gently took her hands in his own. "It wouldn't, Cordelia; it would only make it better. Stronger."

"Faster," she said with a gulp, "Not exactly a big selling point to a girl, by the way." She paused as an unaccustomed blush stained her cheeks. "I mean...whoa, now having to actually sweat the double entendres."

Angel smiled softly. "I think they're kind of cute."

"Oh god," Cordelia moaned, "will you please get a hold of yourself? I'm Cordy." She pulled her hands free and laid them on either side of his face, speaking very slowly and clearly. "Cor-dy. Not Buffy."

He jerked away from her gentle restraint as he snapped, "This has nothing to do with Buffy."

Cordelia felt a quick, strange surge of relief wash over her; his sharp reaction reinforced her opinion, but she suddenly felt like she'd lost a chance at something that might have been quite special.

Or, knowing Angel as she did, something quite heartbreaking.

* * * * *

"Everything you do has to do with Buffy," Cordelia insisted, focusing on what was and not what might have been. "She's the reason you got into the demon-busting biz; she's the reason you went to Sunnydale and got involved in hellmouth hijinks; she's the reason you came to LA." She looked at him closely. "She's even the reason you hired Wesley and I."

"What are you talking about?"

"And you think I don't know why you started teaching me tai chi?" she continued breathlessly. "I mean I know I asked to learn how to fight, but I think that stirred up a lot of old memories. You were the one who suggested the katra to focus my energies. Did you teach her that too?"

He nodded his head, not daring to answer with something as easily manipulated as words.

"I kind of thought so," she said slowly. "Angel, look, even if I thought you were serious, I...couldn't be. Anymore than Fred could be. Remember, we talked about this when she had a crush on you. The 'c-u-r..."

"I know how to spell it, Cordy," he sighed. If anyone knew how to spell it, he did.

"Then think about it, for pete's sake," she begged him. "Best case scenario, we get snuggly, you lose your soul and I'm a type-O juice box."

"I wouldn't..."

She didn't understand; he had to make her understand her fears were groundless. Maybe then she would listen to the rest of his carefully rehearsed speech, rendered momentarily moot by her blind, panicked denial.

"Worst case scenario," she rushed on, "we get snuggly and...Mr. Soul stays front and center." She had never imagined Angel could make her feel embarrassed, but darned if he didn't surprise her yet again. Somehow, though, she had to make him understand. "How do you think that would make me feel, knowing she could make you happy enough to lose your soul and I couldn't?"

"That's not a problem anymore," he managed to interject.

"Yeah, right," she scoffed, not realizing he was serious. One glimpse into his steadfast dark eyes, however, gave her cause to wonder. "What are you talking about? How could you know that?" Her own eyes grew wide as one awful possibility slithered into her mind. "How do you know that, Angel?"

He was silent, struggling between his need to keep certain things private, and his desire to convince her he was safe.

"How do you know that?" she repeated, her voice growing sharp. "I know Darla couldn't reach the 'off' switch, and...oh, so not wanting the visual there." She rubbed her forehead as she whined, but the image stubbornly refused to disappear.


She pulled herself together and reapplied herself to the mystery. "The only one I know that could test the...Buffy. You slept with Buffy," she said, snapping her fingers. "When did you sleep with Buffy?"

He stood up and began to pace, keeping his face carefully turned away from her. Obviously the only way out of this was with the truth, at least some of it.

"The last time I saw her," he answered quietly. "After Willow brought her back."

"When you went shooting out of here like a cannon and...god!" She smacked her palm against her forehead. "Just loving the sexual tension you've created here, Angel. Now I actually have to watch what I say."


"Sure, for that," she said, glaring at him. "But how about for putting all of us in danger of death by happy stick?"

"We didn't plan it," he protested, turning to make his plea for mercy face- to-face. "It just...happened."

Cordelia's jaw dropped. "Two-hundred-and-fifty years on earth and that's the best excuse you could come up with? How could you be so stupid?"

He didn't want to do this; he couldn't go back there, to all those crazy, out-of-control emotions. It had been so hard to get them into anything like perspective; he had wrestled alone with them night after night, with not even the baby as his confidant.

The baby. Connor. He had to do this for Connor as much as himself. The truth, the whole truth, was the only way to convince Cordelia that Buffy wasn't an issue anymore and that he and Connor were free to be with her.

"When Willow called to say that Buffy was alive," he began slowly, "I couldn't believe it." Angel resumed his restless pacing, hoping to escape the anger in Cordelia's eyes. "Everything I'd spent the last four months...the last three years...regretting, was over. And when she agreed to see me...I decided I wasn't going to let her go this time." His steps slowed, the memories pulling at him, drawing him back to the life that once was his. "No matter what: curse, distance, responsibilities...I didn't care. I wasn't going to lose her again."

Cordelia sank back against the headboard, her anger momentarily pushed aside by the image of Angel speeding down the dark highway, his mind and heart consumed by the thought of reunion with his one true...long- lost...presumed dead...love.

Whom he proceeded to boff without any form of soul-control, the big jerk.

She sat up again quickly, snapped out of her romantic illusions by the subsequent image of what might have happened. Death...pain...death...those were a few of Angelus' favorite things.

"When I saw her," he was saying softly as Cordelia came back to earth, "I can't even explain the feelings. Everything was so...intense...and we just...got carried away."

He shook his head, trying to force the memories back into the corner of his mind where he'd hidden them so many months ago. The feel of her in his arms, the warmth of her body against his, the desperate need to be one with her...even if he could have found the words to describe his emotions that night, he would not have used them. Far better to wall away the details behind the clich├ęs Cordelia scorned, than to subject himself once more to their power.

"Really, really, carried away," he finished lamely.

She held up her hand. "I don't need a blow-by-blow...dammit, Angel!"

"Afterward we thought about it...the curse, I mean...but by then it should have already kicked in. Except it hadn't. I thought...I thought I was free." For just a moment an expression of indescribable peace crossed his face. "I didn't know why...but I thought maybe somehow the Powers knew I wasn't going to walk away this time and they...fixed things." Angel's voice dropped still lower as he shared a more fragile hope. "Maybe that they even forgave me...a little."

Cordelia's longing to strangle him for putting them all in danger was at war with her desire to hug away the wounded look in his eyes. The latter urge became even stronger when she suddenly noticed whose opinions were missing from Angel's recital.

"Why am I thinking Buffy didn't share your strangely un-Angelish optimism?"

The smile was wiped from his face as though it had never existed. "She thought...she thought it was her. That she didn't make me...happy. Not happy enough, anyway. She thought there was something wrong with her." He clenched his jaw and focused on the present, trying to submerge the memory of the pain he put on Buffy's face.


"No matter what I said, I couldn't convince I was every bit as happy as...well..."

"As the first time," Cordelia finished for him.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"And that's the not-fun feeling I was talking about," she said gently. "Of course for Buffy, with all those well-deserved insecurities...I'm sorry," she said hastily, seeing his jaw tighten again. "It's a reflex thing, I swear."

He took a deep breath. It was done. Finished. He'd made his confession, faced his past and he was ready to move on.

"That's when I knew it was over," he told Cordelia. "I was ready to offer her everything I had to give, even before I knew we could really be together...and then we could be together...and she still didn't want it." His aimless footsteps led him to the window, the cool glass a welcome place to rest his aching head as he stared down at the lights of the city below. "She didn't want me."

She didn't want him. He'd always known it was going to happen; that was why he'd left Sunnydale in the first place. Sooner or later, he knew that she too would realize he had no place in her life and she'd want him to leave, so he saved them both the pain of that realization and left before things got that bad.

But then he foolishly kept going back until they got beyond that bad.

// I heard the sound a heart must make when a memory's caving in Oh baby what a hungry place, outside looking in //

"So you, of course, being the champion of non-body non-word language, didn't explain to her how rejected you felt. And even if you'd tried, she has those sixteen layers of protective sarcasm you'd need to penetrate..." She growled at him when she heard herself speak. "And again with the entendre that keeps on giving."

"You don't have to..."

"Anyway, she probably felt all rejected too," Cordelia continued through gritted teeth. "You know, since she couldn't even happy the soul out of you. But of course she'd die again before she admitted it...god, do you even know how perfect you two are for each other? Other than the fact you torment the hell out of each other, that is." She shook her head and smiled in grudging admiration. "I mean who else on earth would ever put up with one go-around like you two have had, let alone keep coming back for more?"

"But I'm not anymore," he said swiftly, returning to her side. "I'm moving on. I want to move on. With you."

Cordelia reached out to lay one soft hand on Angel's cheek, much the same way she had done to Connor before she kissed him goodnight.

"No you don't," she corrected Connor's father, her tone soft and sweetly reasonable. "You want a nice safe place to hide from mean old Buffy who hurt your feelings." She shuddered as she withdrew her hand from Angel's face. "I don't even want to think about what she's been doing to avoid the four-letter-word that is 'deal'."

"This is not about Buffy," he insisted yet again. "It's about you, and me, and Connor. About having a real life. Maybe not a normal one...but I don't think that really bothers you anymore." He gazed searchingly into her eyes. "Am I wrong?"

"No," she sighed, "but don't take it personally. It's just that I got to choose most of this non-normal stuff. Not getting the visions in the first place, but I got to choose to keep them, and to get a demony part to help me keep them. And I could have said no when you offered me the job..."

"I never offered you the job," he teased. "You told me you were taking it."

She eyed him warily; he was sounding more relaxed, possibly verging on content. Even after the past few months of exposure, Happy Angel still made her a little wiggy. Something about all those exposed teeth, she guessed.

"Well you needed help," she said, inching backwards on the bed towards the safety of the headboard. "And whether you admit it or not, you needed a connection to Buffy."

Angel's smile slipped at the mention of old times best forgotten. "That was a long time ago," he said softly, staring down at his folded hands now resting quietly in his lap. "I have a new life now. I have a son I want to raise in a loving home. And I want...just a little bit of peace."

// It's the hardest kind of need that never knows a reason Are we such a lonely breed or just born in a lonely season? //

Cordelia's forehead wrinkled as she looked at Angel's down-turned head. He looked so tired...almost human in his weariness. She'd stopped thinking of him as a demon a long time ago, but she'd never really thought of him as human either. He was just...Angel.

Except now he wasn't.

"Hey, I get it; I really do." She laid her hand gently on his arm, squeezing it to reinforce the fact that she was right there beside him. "And maybe Buffy isn't the right girl for you; I know I always thought she was kind of a walking plague. But you can't just give up on her without telling her how you really feel." She drew back, leery of giving mixed signals. "And I don't mean the stuff you think you feel for me. I mean the stuff you felt the last time you saw her. The stuff about wanting to always be together, whether you were supposed to be or not."

"I tried."

The voice was harsh, the pain obvious. But at least it sounded like Angel to her, not the shell that had been here just a few minutes ago.

"Then try harder," she said, rolling her eyes. "If anyone knows how stubborn you can be...well, it's probably Buffy, but I come in a close second. You just have to use that stubborn for good and not...nothingness."

"She doesn't want the kind of life I can offer her," he said, despair once again threatening to pull him under. "When we were together, all she asked for was a normal life, and I wanted more than anything to give it to her. But look at me; I can't even give my own son that." His voice hardened, anger mixing uncomfortably with guilt. "I'm never going to be a 9-to-5 guy with a dog and a pension plan."

"And hey, thanks for not wanting to burden me with those things," Cordelia snapped. The nerve of the man! "I mean I know you think Buffy was too good for you, but I'm just so glad you don't have the same hang-up about me."

"You know that's not it. You're...different."

"I'm safe," she said flatly. "Good old Cordy. That's not a compliment, Angel. I don't want to be your net, and that's exactly what I would be. That's all I would be."

"Why are you so sure I still love Buffy?"

She smiled, a real smile for the first time in many long minutes. "Because whenever you say her name you still get just a little bit of 'Buffy-face' going. I want that look, Angel, but I want it to be Cordelia-face. I want to know that the guy I'm with only gets that 'upside-the-head-with-a-brick' look when he's thinking of me. And with you, I'll always know I'm getting half a brick at best."

"How can I convince you that this is what I want? You're wonderful with Connor; he adores you. And the feelings that have always been between us have only gotten stronger since he came into our lives. We belong together, all three of us." He leaned over and grabbed her by the shoulders, provoking a startled gasp. "How do I make you see how right this is?"

Cordelia quickly pulled her arms up to her chest and forced them outwards. It wouldn't have been enough to break Angel's grasp, but he took the hint and let her go.

"I can tell you the caveman approach sure isn't going to get the job done," she said sharply. "If you really think that we belong together, go see Buffy. Go tell her everything you felt the last time you saw her, including how you felt when she called you a liar."

"I don't see the point." Angel stood up and began pacing again; somehow the mention of Buffy made him too restless to sit still.

"The point is you're still not over her, and the only reason you can pretend you are is because you don't have to do it face-to-face." Cordelia got off the bed and followed Angel, catching his arm as he turned at the far wall. "She doesn't even know about Connor, does she? All this talk about how great I am with him...which I am...but she's never had the chance to show she could do as well." She considered her words for a moment before adding, "Almost as well."

"I don't get it, Cordy; you've never been one to cheer for Buffy, especially Buffy and me together." He searched her brown eyes intently, trying to understand. "Where is all this coming from?"

"Darned if I know." She released his arm and shrugged her shoulders, palms turning upwards to empty them of responsibility. "You're right; I'm not one of the groupies. But I guess I need to believe that love exists even after the 'oh my god, we're all going to die' is over and you're, guess what, not dead."

A tiny smile tugged at her unwilling mouth; she was feeling curiously sad to nip this unrequited romance in the bud.

"Because if it doesn't...if it's all about exploding buildings and psycho killer demons...then what chance does Joe Schmoe on the street, who'll never even get to face a nice romantic apocalypse, have for love?"

He made one last attempt at reason, even though he well knew her stubbornness outweighed his own, no matter what she said.

"That's what I want now too, Cordy. A life that exists in spite of the drama, not because of it."

"So you mean one girl got the midnight 'patrols,' and the other moves straight to the two o'clock feedings?" She shook her head. "In what dimension of time and space would that be fair?"

Angel resigned himself to the inevitable. Cordelia would never allow their relationship to progress if she had the least suspicion his past with Buffy wasn't actually a thing of the past. If he wanted his future, and Connor's, to include her, he would have to go back to Sunnydale and face his demons.

Face Buffy.

// It's where we linger like a sigh; it's where we long to be pulled in It's where we learn to say goodbye without saying anything Just standing on the borderlines, outside looking in. //

"Fine," he snarled, sounding not at all the tender lover. "It's already past sunset; I can go right now and be back before dawn. Then maybe you'll believe me."

"You know what I really believe? I believe you'll forget all about what I believe, or why you would care about what I believe, before you're halfway to Sunnydale."

Her regretful smile turned teasing as she silently closed the door on this opportunity and moved on.

"And considering what else you've been known to forget, let me remind you right now to stop at the store on the way and pick up a spare Orb of Thesala...just in case you're wrong about the soul thing. Oh, and some condoms, too, now that we know you don't always shoot blanks."

Angel growled as he turned on his heel, stalking out of the bedroom without indulging in any of the dozen sharp comments that tumbled around his head. He couldn't have spoken if he tried; he was too busy suppressing the little voice that said she was right.

For some strange reason, the voice sounded like Lorne's.

* * * * *

Lorne patted Connor's cheek when he heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming down the hallway.

"Soon, my little man," he whispered. "Very soon Daddy will get his act together, courtesy of Uncle Lorne; Doctor to the Star-Crossed."

The footsteps got closer, prompting Lorne to move to safer ground behind Connor's crib.

"She wants me to go to Sunnydale," Angel growled as he walked into his bedroom, "then fine; I'll go to Sunnydale." Two long strides took him to the bureau, where he continued muttering as he started loading up the diaper bag. "I'll go to Sunnydale even if it's completely unnecessary because she wants me to go to Sunnydale."

"Going someplace?" Lorne asked brightly.

Angel's head snapped around, suddenly remembering the demon's presence in his room and why. Not that it would matter much longer, he admitted, since he was going to take the 'why' with him.

"I'm going back to Sunnydale," Angel grumbled, "because Cordy thinks I have to. Because somebody," he glared at Lorne, "convinced me to talk to her too soon and I spooked her."

Lorne held up his hands. "Hey, you built the rep, big guy. Don't blame me if having the Scourge of Europe panting at your heels is a little on the spooky side."

"She wants me to go to Sunnydale," Angel continued, tossing a handful of diapers into the bag. "She thinks I'm still secretly in love with Buffy, and she won't even consider a relationship with me until I can 'put our past to rest'...or something like that."

There was a moment of silence before Lorne carefully asked, "She did say she would consider a relationship, though?"

Angel crammed a packet of baby wipes into the front pocket of the diaper bag and zipped it up, frowning as he tried to recall Cordelia's exact words.

"Well..." he said uneasily, "she didn't exactly say that...not in so many words. But the bottom line is that if I don't go, she won't. Period, end of story, good-bye Angel, have a nice immortality without me."

Lorne quickly turned his sigh of relief into a cough.

"So, umm, what's with packin' up the old kit bag? Afraid there won't be a rest stop on the highway?"

"I'm taking Connor with me," Angel said shortly.

"Do you really think that's wise?" Lorne saw Angel's sudden, suspicious frown and quickly changed tactics. "I mean, traveling with a baby can be a real drag, and you know, the little tyke just drifted off just a minute ago." He glanced at the squirming child in the crib. "Well, he will be drifting off in just a..."

"I'm taking him with me," Angel slowly reiterated, "He can sleep in the car. Cordelia wants me to tell Buffy about Connor, so fine, I'll tell her. I'll even show her." He smiled grimly as he leaned over the crib and scooped up the baby. "And when she goes completely ballistic at the idea of me having a child with Darla and stakes me...well, I hope it will make Cordy very happy."

"Oh yeah, that'll show her," Lorne muttered. He balled his hand into a fist and made a stabbing gesture. "Right to the heart. Good plan."

"Have you seen his...oh there it is." Angel grabbed Connor's traveling blanket from the chair by the door and wrapped it securely around his son before he put him in the car seat. The diaper bag went over Angel's shoulder, the car seat was in his other hand, and he was ready for action.

"We'll be back before sunrise, so don't get any ideas about wild parties or road trips to alternate dimensions."

"Sure thing, Dad. We'll be good."

Lorne waved Angel off, though he was only half-listening to the vampire's parting instructions. This was either going to work really well, or...Lorne was going to have to find a new set of friends. Therefore it would work well, because he'd put a lot of time into breaking these friends in, and he wasn't about to let it go to waste.

* * * * * "Lorne? Lorne?"

Lorne was pulled from his reverie by the sound of a female voice calling his name.

Make that, shrieking his name. Over and over and over again.

He put one hand over his ear and the other over Fred's mouth. "Sunshine, I'm right here." He smiled painfully as he tapped her lower lip. "No need to scream."

"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "You just seemed...gone. And I know that there are ways of traveling to other dimensions that don't involve anything so cumbersome as corporeal form, so I thought maybe you actually were gone. And then I thought maybe if I yelled loudly enough...and on the correct frequency...that maybe I could send a signal through your physical being to your metaphysical being...but I guess I didn't need to after all."

"Uh, no."

"I'm sorry," she repeated. "I just wanted to know where Angel was going with Connor. Is he sick? Connor, I mean, because of course Angel can't get sick since sickness requires cell interaction and once you're dead the interaction is pretty much at a standstill, but I know that..."

"He's not sick," Lorne said loudly, trying to be heard over the torrent of words flowing out of Fred's mouth.

"Who's not sick?"

He rolled his red eyes as he pulled her over to the bed and pushed down on her shoulders to make her sit down.

"Angel's not sick," he explained, summoning as much patience as one very tired demon could muster. "Connor isn't either. They're going to Sunnydale to see his little slayer gal. And about damn time too; I have never met anyone so resistant to doing what's best for him."

"So it worked?" Fred breathed. "The whole kye-rumption thing...he bought it? I mean they did?"

"You bet your sweet Aunt Moira they did," the Host murmured, rubbing his hands together as pride began to overwhelm his concern for the future.

"But I don't have an Aunt...oh, moira; I'd almost forgotten that part." Fred's puzzled frown disappeared as the memory slipped into place. "You were right; Angel seemed to respond much better to the destiny idea than physical attraction."

"Mmm, can't imagine why. Mention a guy once or twice in ancient scrolls and he starts to think there's some sort of plan going on." Lorne cocked his head to the side, looking curiously at Fred. "Where did you come up with such a name anyway? Kye-rumption? It sounds like Ben & Jerry's new flavor of the month."

"Well you didn't tell me what to call it," she said defensively. "I tried to think of something that sounded romantic, like...Berkelium." A soft dreamy smile flitted across her face. "But then I thought, we don't want it too sound romantic, not really. And of course everyone knows that Berkelium is the 97th element in the periodic table, so that would have sounded suspicious."

"Oh yeah, dead giveaway."

"The 'kye' sounded like a karate chop from one of Charles' kung fu movies; you know, 'hiya!" She slashed at the air with the side of her hand, forcing Lorne to back up a pace. "There's nothing romantic about violence, of course, so that seemed safe. And then the 'rumption'..." her cheeks turned pink, "I'd, umm, seen Charles walking down the hallway just a minute before I talked to Angel...walking away from me, and..."

Lorne held up one hand. "Enough said, sweetcheeks. Lucky for us your mind runs to the PG or we'd have some serious splainin' to do, Lucy." He shook his head in amazement. "Berkelium?"

"You don't think that sounds romantic?"

He sighed as he sat down beside her on the bed. "What I think is that you and I, with a little belated help from Groo, just saved three...no, Connor makes at least four...people from a very unhappy future."

"You really think we did the right thing?" She didn't want to have to ask; she wanted to know for herself, for sure. Still, the doubt remained. "Maybe Cordy and Angel would have been happy together. It's not like either of us have visions to tell the future."

"Fred, sweetie, you forget; I've seen into their souls. And believe me, it makes for a safer bet than a migraine-inducing vision or even a crystal ball. I know how badly Angel misses that girl of his, no matter how much he tries to deny it; he was a rebound waiting to strike. And Cordy was lonely too; only before Groo she didn't realize how lonely."

"But do you really think they would have thought of each other if we hadn't suggested it?"

"Who else does he meet around here? Or her, for that matter?" Lorne waved aside her question with the ease of one who has answered it many times before.

"Well there's Groo." Fred's face fell, a small sigh escaping despite her best effort to contain it. "He really loves her."

Lorne gently patted her knee. "I know; I feel bad about asking him to help too. But even without the little demon issue, Groo knew he and Cordy would never work. He can't stay here or he'll lose the innocence Cordelia finds so attractive. And if she went back to Pylea she'd lose the head that Groo finds so attractive."

"Which leaves Angel."

"Which leaves Angel," he agreed with a nod. "Lonely Angel, who started depending a lot on his best friend Cordy when it came time to build a life without his one and only...and with his son." Lorne laughed, though it came out as more of a snort. "And it's not like either he or Cordy is an old hand at friendship...or romance, for that matter. After a few tequila shooters they can start to look an awful lot alike."

"Angel doesn't drink tequila."

"Angel was drifting into dangerous waters," Lorne said loudly, frowning at Fred's attempt to spoil his eloquent speech with facts, "and Cordelia wasn't far behind. We just," he clapped his hands together, "slammed them into that iceberg a little ahead of schedule and they jumped ship...or...okay, so Cordy jumped and Angel was pushed." He shrugged off the technicality. "At least he's heading for the right shore now."

Fred smiled contentedly, now thoroughly in the moment. "I love water metaphors."

"And look." He waved his hands at the bedroom, empty except for the two of them. "It all worked out for the best, didn't it?"

"I suppose." Fred's tone indicated a conscience yet to be appeased.

"Sweetie, Angel has drifted...I know, water metaphor...most of his life. He drifted into becoming a vampire, he let Darla lead him around by the...fangs...for a hundred and fifty years, and then when his soul was restored he just sat back and felt guilty for another hundred years. There are only two people in this little old world that stir him into action: Buffy and Connor. And he's a man who needs to be stirred...and occasionally shaken."

Fred glanced at the partially open door, looking out into the unusually quiet hallway. Normally at this time of the evening Angel would be trying to get Connor to sleep while everyone else wandered in and out with bottles and blankets and toys and any other excuse they could find to see the baby. What would this hallway, this hotel, be like without Connor? Without Angel?

"If they do work things out," she asked Lorne, "do you think he'll come back? Won't he want to stay there, with her?"

"Destiny's child? I don't think so." The demon slipped his arm around Fred's shoulders and gave her a reassuring squeeze. "Until the Powers give the on-high sign, Angel's still got things to do here. And the little woman has a few responsibilities of her own back in sunny Sunnydale."

"But that's so sad," she complained.

"Sweet child, sad is what Angel is going to be if his lady love doesn't beat that Cordy-nonsense of his head." He pulled his sheltering arm away from Fred, shuddering as an unpleasant thought crawled into his brain. "I'm also thinking we're not exactly going to be doing the Dance of Joy if he finds out we accidentally sabotaged two romances for the price of one."

"I guess all we can do is wait." She held up her hands, fingers tightly crossed. "And hope."

Lorne glanced uneasily at the small hands standing guard between them and an enraged, lovesick vampire. "Yeah...and make friends with some six- handed demons real fast."

* * * * *

Angel's GTX sped down the highway through the chill winter's night. He glanced at the backseat occasionally to check on Connor, but the baby remained fast asleep, lulled by the rhythm of the moving car and the sounds of an oldies rock station playing softly on the radio.

Angel could only wish for the serenity of spirit his small son radiated. Words tumbled ceaselessly through his brain: what he should have said to Cordelia to prevent this journey, what he would say to Buffy at the journey's end. He tried to think of ways to explain Connor's existence that didn't make him sound like a mistake or an accident, because he never wanted his son to feel like anything but a miracle. He searched for the words to tell Buffy of his pain at her rejection, without causing her still more pain. He played out scenes in his head of her responses to his words, and how he would, in turn, reciprocate.

As the miles melted away and conjecture approached reality, he reached a state of near calm. He had imagined every possible scenario, pictured every expression that might grace Buffy's face, found answers to every conceivable question; he was as ready as he would ever be to face her.

And as he passed the sign that said, "Welcome to Sunnydale," he had yet to notice the one scene missing from his fantasies: his welcome home from Cordelia when he returned to LA.

* * * * *

The End

(or rather: TO BE CONTINUED...in the Buffy archive, with "Heal Me")