Surfacing

Surfacing

He sees the way she looks at him sometimes, her eyes narrowed with anticipation or expectation and he knows what she's thinking, what she masks as concern or friendship. There's a part of him that, if not exactly encouraging it, certainly does nothing to undermine it, either. He misses that look. That trusting upturned face, the gentle voice, a hand placed on his forearm.

Now with her visions and the way she's dedicated herself to learning to fight, Cordelia Chase is more of a partner than Buffy had ever been. No, that's not exactly true: Buffy had been Angel's partner, his equal, better than him, stronger and, in the end, more honest. But Buffy had spent so much time in those early days pushing him away, greeting his very presence with suspicion and fear. He didn't blame her, but it had hurt. Imagine, a thing as old as he, hurt by a sixteen-year-old girl whose idea of revenge is dancing (if you could even call it that) with a sixteen-year-old boy. There's a part of Angel that resents Buffy just a tiny bit for being so young, for being a kid. He'd fallen in love with a kid.

Cordelia has done a better job of hiding her feelings than Fred has but, still, Angel is perfectly aware of them. He isn't interested in Fred any more than he is interested in Gunn or Wesley. They are part of his 'team.' Now there's a funny word. Shows you how much things have changed in the last few years. He has a team, is part of a team, despite Wesley's new status, leads a team. In Sunnydale he had worked alone. Well, that's not exactly true- he had Buffy. He had Buffy. And then he didn't and whose fault is that? Who can he blame for that? Who can he turn to for comfort?

Much as he hates to admit it, being a part of something is important to Angel. As much as they'd depended on his connections to the demon world and his supernatural strength in battle, Angel knew that he'd never really been a part of the Scoobies. Standing in the rubble after graduation, Angel had watched Buffy, waited for the moment he knew would come: when she would sense him and turn and look for him through the haze and confusion. And when their eyes met, he hoped he'd been able to convey to her that she'd be okay. He made himself believe that she'd be okay. Beyond her shoulder he saw Oz and Cordelia and Willow and Xander, her team, waiting for her. Behind him there was no one.

So if he didn't really encourage Cordy, where was the harm? That was what being human was all about, right? Feeling. Choosing to feel. Letting the feelings in. Sometimes, just for a moment, Angel allows himself the luxury of forgetting that he isn't human. That had become increasingly difficult to do around Buffy. He wanted so much to be human, to be hers. She said all the right things, said that when she looked into the future all she saw was him, but Angel had the benefit of understanding far better than Buffy just how long and how short the future could be.

As a mortal he'd never given a second thought to anything he did: drink, mate, sleep, eat. Basic human needs met without a second's thought, a moment's consideration for the comfort or feelings of anyone but himself. A bastard, that's what he'd been. And Angelus wasn't any better, was, in fact, a hundred times worse. But with his newly restored soul (and God only knows where it had been when he was alive) Angel suddenly felt the ironic arrival of his second chance. Now he over analyzed everything. He'd kept out of the way of people, started drinking blood that was not of the human variety and spent long hours ruminating over his purpose in life.

When, hunched down in the blacked out car, he'd seen Buffy for the very first time, he knew. Knew beyond anything his purpose, his heart, his connection to this mortal world. He remembers those early days with Buffy, the fumbling conversations, making out against tombstones, the sweet smell of summer grass. Falling in love with her complicated things, made him long for things that he only barely remembered: the warmth of another human being, the great joy of companionship, the feeling of being accepted, being a part of something. Even if it was only Buffy who offered these things, it was enough.

Angel thought that he might not find the will to go on, when the end came, thought he might retreat to the sewers where he had hidden until Whistler had shown him the light, literally. He'd walked away from her, for her own good, and come to Los Angeles to make a new start. He hadn't intended on forming a team. It was better, he'd thought, to work alone. Then came Doyle. Cordelia. Wesley. Gunn. Like he was a bloody sun and they were planets in his orbit; all a little broken, all a little world-weary, all needing exactly what he needed- somewhere to belong.

Somehow, it worked. Somehow they'd banded together and made the impossible, possible. It wasn't perfect. They'd all made some mistakes, Angel more than anyone, but still they made it work.

But Angel could feel the dynamic changing, could feel Cordy's eyes on him and could feel his own eyes on her. And he wondered: what would it hurt? He was lonely. He missed the smell of a woman, missed the soft hairfingersbreasts. He watched her obvious delight in Connor and he thought why not? She was beautiful. She adored him. She was the kind of woman he liked: strong, smart, fierce. Where was the harm?

So, to say that he hadn't ever thought about it would be a lie. He thought about it all the time because in some ways it was better than thinking about Buffy. To imagine her life moving on, to imagine his life moving on; separate but parallel beings working for the greater good, that thought almost made him happy. But underneath it all was a wound so deep and so wide and so painful that sometimes at night it made him howl into his pillow.

***

Because in his dreams there was no Cordelia. There was only Buffy, there would only ever be Buffy. And in the dreams she was always the same: asleep, peaceful, safe. He never dreamed of her fighting or worried or wounded. In the dream he would be at the window watching her repose, knowing with certainty that her dreams were of him. Every word they'd ever said to each other would filter seamlessly through his mind: all the happy words and all the words that had broken their hearts and all the hopeful words he hoped to one day be able to say to her. When it was time. And in the dream, even though he never left the window, he made love to her. He soothed her limbs with his fingers, forced a ragged gasp from her mouth with his tongue, gentled her slamming heart with the palm of his hand, wound his fingers through hers and pressed her tightly to him. His soul, anchored, soared.

The dream rarely varied. Sometimes she opened her eyes, pinning him to the sill just as he was about to surface from sleep to wakefulness. He'd let the dream pull him under once more, reluctant to leave her. And they'd stay, just as they were, physically apart but joined nonetheless by a bond neither could name nor dismiss.

And when he finally did wake up, the shadows of approaching dusk creeping reproachfully across his bed, Angel felt as though he had betrayed Buffy. More than anything he wanted to protect the memory of her, even if that's all that it ever was.

***

So, when Cordelia breezed into the room while Angel was dressing, to tell him about what was happening downstairs, as she did almost every night, Angel did not meet her eyes.

He said, "You should knock, you know."

"Pardon," she replied.

Angel turned to face her. "You. Should. Knock."

Pushed down for so long, avoided like a boring party guest, his feelings for Buffy surfaced. And almost as if she could suddenly see Buffy tattooed on his skin, Cordy mumbled, "Sorry, Angel. I wasn't thinking."

"Neither was I," Angel whispered to the closing door.

The End

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