The Gentle Art Of Compromise by Dazzle
Summary: I really should have tried harder at the acting thing, you know? Because, when I set my mind to it, I'm way good.
Spoilers: Loyalty / Sleep Tight, Season Three.
Part 1: Angel
My relationship with Cordelia is a compromise.
My relationship with her -- it's a lot of things, really. Every time I try to step back and look at it, it's different to me; the slightest change of mood or reflections makes everything change. Kaleidoscopic shifts.
Sometimes it looks like a detour, something almost bizarre, a path I could never have foreseen in a thousand years.
Sometimes it seems necessary, inevitable, destined.
Sometimes it seems like one more part of my punishment.
Sometimes it seems like the all-but-perfect fulfillment of a reward I could never have deserved.
But whatever it is -- and I think it's all these things and more -- however it appears at any given moment, it's always a balancing act. A compromise struck between all the things we can have, and all the things we can't.
Fred still insists that Cordelia and I were destined to be together, but when I look at Cordelia, I know that can't be true. Even the Powers couldn't have been that cruel to her. Her body -- shaped and shaded as perfectly as any woman's I've ever known, in 250 years -- was destined to be with somebody else, some guy who could satisfy her in ways that I can't.
She's so good, so kind. "It doesn't matter," she insists. "Angel, what matters between us isn't physical. It wouldn't be what mattered anyway." And she almost convinces me, every time.
But I see the moments she thinks I don't see -- the flashes of impatience, the frustration. Sometimes it's when we're working out together, bodies moving in unison, discovering how well we can sense and match each other. I see her refusing to meet my eyes, the steadfast way she concentrates on her blade, her steps. On the pattern we must not break.
I try and deal with my own frustration on my own time. The punching bag in the workout room is beginning to show seams in the canvas; I've knocked it off its chain a few times, and it's only a matter of time before the ceiling joist gives way. I've started my t'ai chi again, after a couple years off. A few mornings, before dawn, I've even tried running -- not jogging, like the panting middle-class workers I pass on the dark sidewalks -- but running, as hard and as fast as I can.
Exhaustion dampens down the fire, but it never puts it out.
Of course, Cordelia's right, on some levels. I didn't fall in love with Cordelia because I desired her -- I began desiring her because I loved her, and I loved her first as a friend. And all the things that made me love her are still a part of our existence. She still has her sharp tongue, her quick wit, her honesty, her temper and her fire. She makes me laugh at the strangest things, usually at the most inopportune moments. She finds ways to make our lives beautiful, whether that means something as elegant as a concert (Mozart at the Hollywood Bowl, night sky above us, music flowing around us like water) or as simple as an earthenware bowl (set on my bookshelf without a word, just left for me to discover). She gives me comfort, now more than ever, now that I need it most.
We still have all of that. I don't think we'll ever lose it -- even if the day comes when our compromise isn't enough for her anymore, I know her friendship is mine eternally. That was something I didn't have with Buffy; I didn't think about it much at the time, the idea of friendship as the substance of love. I think about it a lot, now.
And if that day comes, if Cordelia finally says that she wants to find someone else, I'll handle it, somehow. But as much as being her friend means to me, I don't want to go back to being just a friend, not now and not ever.
It was hard enough to bear before I knew what I was missing.
That, of course, is the hell of it. We do know what we're missing.
It was the night after Connor was lost. That night, when all my thoughts should have been for my son. Sometimes, when I remember that, I feel lower and more dirty than I ever have in all my years, and I don't say that lightly. My son had been taken from me, taken by a man I trusted as much as anyone in the world, and I should have been incapable of anything but mourning.
At the time, it felt as though I were incapable of doing anything at all. I hurt so much that I thought, if I had been a human, a living parent, I would have died from the pain of it alone. I wondered if it could kill me anyway, splinter through my heart like a stake, turn me to dust. I almost hoped that it would.
I lay on my floor, unable to get in the bed where I'd held him and fed him, unable to turn my head toward the door that led to his room.
What had been his room. Oh, God --
I didn't even hear Cordelia come in. Just felt her arms sliding around me as she sat by my side, lay her head on my arm. Even though I didn't turn, had no idea she'd come back from her time with Groo, I knew it was her; it seemed like the only thing I could be sure of. For a long time, neither of us said anything, did anything. But Cordelia's heart beating against my back, the warmth of her skin --
She was life itself. So near to me, and still so far.
I tried to choke back a sob; apparently I didn't do very well, because Cordelia began stroking my back, murmuring wordless comfort. After a few moments, she pulled on my hands, towed me into a sitting position. As I sat there, weak with misery, she embraced me tightly, buried her face in my neck.
I put my arms around her, too -- it was an embrace between someone hoping to give comfort and someone trying to accept it, no more. But as our bodies touched, everything changed. The warmth of her skin sank into me, and the beating of her heart was so loud and so real, and suddenly every moment of desire I'd ever had for her was like black fire in my mind, heating my body, blessedly clouding my mind.
The sad thing is, I can't even pretend I didn't understand what was happening. I did, because it almost happened to us once before -- not long after Doyle died, only a day or two after Wesley joined us. Cordelia had worked late, and I had her down for tea, and we had embraced as we parted. But we didn't let go. For a few long minutes, we had stood there, wrapped around each other, caressing each other's backs, arms, faces. It would only have been comfort, then. Because we understood that, we didn't act. Just let go of each other, never mentioned it again.
But all these years later, I wanted so much more than comfort. And as I brought my hands up to her face, looked into her eyes, I was suddenly certain she wanted more, too. I was such a fool that I'd never seen it before.
Damn us both. For not daring to talk to each other about it before, for not even fully accepting it within our own minds, for using my son's abduction as an excuse.
But when else could it have happened? When else could we have been completely sure that we couldn't find perfect happiness?
Cordelia leaned forward, brushed her lips softly against mine, offering me the chance to say no, to turn away. To respect my son's memory. Instead I kissed her again, brushing my lips with her tongue. Opening her mouth with my own. Feeling the warmth of her as our tongues met. When I brought my hands up to her breasts -- tentatively, uncertainly, like the schoolboy I haven't been for centuries -- she moaned into my mouth, and whatever chance we had of turning back was lost.
My hands were shaking as I undressed her; I was clumsy, too fast, and I would have apologized if I'd been able to stop kissing her long enough to speak. But I was so overpowered by the need to touch her, to feel something besides the pain. And it was her -- Cordelia, my Cordy, the woman I'd wanted and loved for so long. Her love was the only comfort imaginable, and I was grateful and overwhelmed and half- crazy with wanting her.
I say all that, and it sounds like I'm making excuses. Claiming that I couldn't think from wanting Cordy so bad. And that's just not true. I could still think, was still aware of myself. And I knew what I was doing -- because, once again, I'd done this before, without knowing it.
One night. Two lovers have only one night for all the lovemaking they'll ever have. And then they have to go on after that night, knowing what they've lost and can never have again. It almost killed me the first time, tore Buffy apart, and I knew what it would do to Cordelia, I knew how it would hurt her, and I didn't stop. I still didn't stop.
I didn't think about what I was doing to her life; I thought about the wreckage of my own. I knew I wasn't going to get a whole life. That was gone for good, gone with Connor. But I thought we could give each other comfort, give each other one memory to carry with us on the long, hard road ahead.
And so we made love, for the first and last time.
The images from that night are burned in my mind, phosphorescent in the darkness of memory. Cordelia's breasts, bared to my eyes and my hands and my mouth. Her voice, crying out as I held her hips to the bed and made love to her with my tongue. Her lips, closing over my cock, drawing me in so deep.
And finally, her straddling me, lowering herself onto me, sinking me into heat and pressure that blotted out everything in the world but her.
I whispered, "Cordelia, I love you."
And I'll never forget the look on her face -- the tenderness, the tears in her eyes -- as she whispered, "I love you too, Angel." In that moment, it seemed as though there weren't any pain I couldn't bear, as long as I had this woman and her love.
So far that's been true, I guess. I still hurt for Connor every day; I know that if I live another millennium -- get old and strange, feel my face and hands and feet shift into the animal I will surely become -- that will still be with me. As long as there's anything in me that isn't wholly demon, I will still love my son. Losing him is the one thing I'll never get over; as much as it hurts, I wouldn't really want to get over him.
But Cordelia gives me strength. She gives me reasons to go on, even to be happy. Some of the attention and care and love I would have given Connor has someplace to go, now; Cordelia's someone I can take care of. I guess I've always needed someone to take care of.
What we have -- is it enough for her? It is for me, but then again, it has to be. Cordelia has other choices, and someday, maybe, she'll choose something else.
But I know that for now -- when we lie in bed together, curled against one another, sheltering each other from whatever may come -- it's enough.
What we have together is enough.
Part 2: Cordelia
My relationship with Angel is a compromise.
Like, what isn't? Nobody gets everything they want, and if my own life history isn't enough to convince you, then you're just not facing reality.
After all, who had a better shot at having it all than me? Queen C herself, rich and pretty and popular. And I wasn't one of those lame- brains who got by on her highlights and hemlines, either -- I knew how to work my power at good ol' Sunnydale High. Three years ago, I was waiting on the rest of my life to arrive, with trumpets and fanfare and confetti. Acceptance letters from schools were about to begin rolling in, schools from places that were not on Hellmouths. I would go to Duke or Northwestern or William & Mary, have a private dorm room done by a decorator, choose just the right fashion stance between collegiate classic and youthful bohemian, and start building a brand-new empire for Cordelia Chase. I figured 2002 would be part of my junior year abroad; I was thinking maybe the University of Malta, for the Mediterranean tan.
Instead, right now, I'm cleaning demon slime out of a sweatshirt I bought at Target. Why, yes, I AM the person the Powers thought would make a great psychic. You have to wonder about the decision-making process with those guys.
Don't get me wrong. Between a Mediterranean tan and the life I've got now, there's no contest. Being Angel's Seer is the most meaningful thing I've ever done in my life. There was a time when I thought the cost would actually be my life; if all I lost turned out to be a college education and a few more years of immaturity, then I don't think I really paid too much.
But for all my newfound purpose in life, sometimes I do wonder. What would it be like? Sorority houses, honor roll, boyfriends who are actually boys.
Instead, the romance in my life is provided by a vampire.
Now, this has its charms too. Being a vampire is part of who and what Angel is; I used to pretend that it wasn't, but I guess his misadventures with Darla taught me that much at least. Angel is obsessive. Angel is intense. Angel is focused. These things can work for good or for bad, but they're not going anywhere, and I've just had to learn to deal. When you're spending time with a vampire, a certain level of single-mindedness is going to be part of the package.
But I'd only seen the dark side of that before. I never realized how that intensity could be helpful, even beautiful, when he's motivated by love.
He remembers everything I say, everything I like or don't like. When I mentioned a Chekov story I'd liked in honors English, he brought home a book of plays for me, told me about seeing some famous actors performing "The Cherry Orchard" back in the 1940s. When I complained about how my feet hurt after running in heels -- and the bad guys always seem to pick the days when I've worn heels -- he bought all this froo-froo stuff, foot scrub and a massager and a pedicure set, and pampered me all night.
My favorite, though? The new sheets. We sleep together a lot of nights -- just sleep -- and I had some troubles at first. The Hyperion is a drafty old barn, and cold hotel plus cold sheets plus cold dead vampire equals one really, really cold bed.
When I told Angel I was going to have to start sleeping at home, he went out and bought flannel sheets -- ridiculous things, left over from the holidays, because they were the only ones Mr. Cheapskate could find on sale. Patterns like reindeer leaping over rooftops, or presents with gaudy bows, or dancing snowflakes. In other words, NOT the Angel scene at all, you'd think.
But he thought they'd keep me warm, and they do. They're the snuggliest sheets imaginable, and not only do they keep me toasty, eventually my body heat warms up Angel as well. After a half-hour under those sheets, Angel feels like he's alive too, and I never saw anybody smile the way he did when I told him that.
So -- flannel sheets, pajamas and no sex. I tell myself it's like we skipped the courtship and went straight to marriage.
We didn't, though. We ended up here because we were hurting, a lot. Hurting so much that we didn't act the way we should have acted. So much that I didn't see the stuff I should have seen, not until it was too late.
That horrible night, when I got back and found out about Connor -- I didn't know I could hurt like that. I'd felt pain in my life, sure. Doyle's death. The IRS foreclosing. Xander Harris betraying me with that skank Willow. (I like Willow now, most days, but that's because most days I don't think about Xandergate.) That day, not long after I moved to L.A., that I realized I didn't have enough money to buy food.
But none of it even came close to the way I hurt for Connor, for Wesley's betrayal, for the way our family had been lost forever. And never before I had been in pain like that and still known that I was hurting less than someone else, someone that I cared about.
And when I pulled Angel into my arms, I felt his body go tense against mine -- felt my own body begin to respond --
I knew what it was, of course. I mean, it happened to us once before. Right after Doyle -- I hugged him and he hugged me, and the hug just kept on going, and basically the only reason we didn't do it then was that we didn't need the comfort badly enough.
But that night we did.
I kissed Angel, nice and soft. I guess I was kind of asking permission. I understood what I was feeling -- this overpowering, animal need to be with Angel, to give him life through my body.
And when he kissed me back, kissed me so hard, I thought he had to be feeling the same thing. What else could make him react like that? Make his hands shake as he pulled the clothes from my body? Make him whisper my name as I lowered myself onto him, and he was inside me for the first and only time?
But then -- after I came, just before he did -- he whispered, "Cordelia, I love you."
He meant it. Not like a friend, either. Angel loved me, was looking up at me with love more devoted and desperate and heartfelt than anything I'd ever seen or imagined.
Angel loved me, and I didn't love him back. Not like that. And he was hurting so much, and he was inside me, and he had lost everything else in the world that would ever matter to him, and I could feel my eyes filling with tears as I lied to him.
"I love you too, Angel."
After he'd fallen asleep in my arms, I kept holding on to him, trying to think of what to do. I didn't feel bad for not telling him the truth in that moment -- I still don't. How could I have hurt him again, like that, right then?
But the fact remains -- I didn't have to lie. But I did. I did it to give him comfort, just like everything else. And as I lay beside him that night, I had to ask myself how much more I was willing to give.
Groo had gone back to Pylea, already fed up with our crazy dimension and a princess who'd proved to be all too mortal. I already knew he was pretty much my last chance at anything resembling a normal relationship. I was still reeling from finding out about Wesley, wondering just what kind of guy I'd been friends with all this time. I knew that I was a better person as Angel's partner and friend than I'd ever been before or ever would be again.
I wasn't going to get a whole life. But I could make the best of what I did have -- and maybe give Angel some happiness, some kind of reason to go on.
So when Angel woke up the next morning, he woke up beside a woman who told him she loved him, that she always would, that she'd help him through his pain and loss, and that the limitations didn't matter.
I really should have tried harder at the acting thing, you know? Because, when I set my mind to it, I'm way good.
And so we go on. The curse gives me the space I need; Angel and I don't really behave that much differently than we did before. We sleep side-by-side, and yeah, sometimes we kiss, but our lives are as unchanged as they could have been, all things considered. We don't talk about what we don't have -- about everything we've lost, everything we're not gonna get.
Sometimes, yeah, it's tense. When we're working out, for instance -- I guess the hot-and-sweaty exercise action gets to him, and I can tell he's getting turned on, and I try not to let him see how uncomfortable it makes me. Or at night, sometimes, when we're lying next to each other, talking or just resting, he looks over at me, and there's so much love there, so much wanting, that I want to shake him, or scream, or run away.
And, if I'm gonna be totally honest about it, yeah, sometimes I get turned on too. Angel's so good to me, and it's his body next to mine all the time, and he's a perfect ten on the hunkometer. I'm only human. Well, mostly.
Nights like those -- when I want him just as a guy, just from wanting someone -- those are the dangerous ones. Because those are the nights I want to tell him the truth.
After all, if I told him that I don't love him like that, never did, never will -- that it was a lie, all a lie I told to spare his feelings on the worst night of his life -- no chance of perfect happiness then. And after the heartbreak, after he pulled himself together, we could be lovers, and he could have the comfort of my body. And maybe that wouldn't be as good as the comfort of my pretend love, but dammit, at least it would be real --
And then I think about the heartbreak, about what that would do to a guy who's had too much done to him already. And I stay quiet.
We end up the same way, night after night, wrapped up in bed together, my body heat making him feel a little bit alive, warmth wrapped inside dancing snowflakes. We don't have sex, and we don't have the truth. But I tell myself it's enough.
Whatever we have, it's enough.