Two Breathe by Ebonbird
Summary: Cordelia and Wes are back from the hospital.
Spoilers: To Shanshu In LA, Season One.
Notes: Thanks to BeckyD, evan como, MaybeA, beaucoup d'baisers.
On the second Saturday
Cordelia and Wesley came back from the hospital, they and Angel took a day of
Wesley was watching football when Cordelia put the footbath on the floor beside the empty side of the couch.
Unconscious of the horrible things he was doing to his posture, Wesley sat with his legs stretched onto the coffee table, the television remote control held between his hands level with his lap, his shoulders hunched and rolled. He looked uncomfortable.
Cordelia got in front of him.
"Pillow?" Cordelia asked.
"No," Wesley said, trying to look past the curve of her hip. Cordy eased to his left, further obscuring his view of the television screen.
Wesley craned his neck and sat a little higher.
"Need to keep your energy up." She moved a little further left. "Knit up all those bones."
"Perhaps," he squinted and touched his index finger to the side frame of his glasses, minutely adjusting them. "Later."
From the television screen, a crowd roared. His mouth opened as he lifted his chin. This time Cordelia deliberately stepped further to his left. Wesley finally realized what she was doing.
"Cordelia!" He grabbed her by the wrist. "You make a much better door than a window. Sit down or get me some lunch but do stop bothering me."
Angel, who'd been standing in the doorway to the bathroom, smiled a little at that.
"Lunch coming right up," he said, his head bowed as he headed towards the kitchen.
Cordelia's mouth partially opened and she turned to look at him.
"I got it," Angel said in passing, touching her shoulder. "Dennis!" he called, but a pillow was floating out of Cordelia's bedroom and into the living room.
"But your --" she directed at Angel, hands planted on her hips as she followed him with her eyes, still blocking Wesley's view.
"Cordelia, really!" Wesley hissed, still starring at the football game on the television. He grabbed her hand and shook it.
With curled lips and furrowed brow Cordelia plunked onto the couch, her hair fliffing up and then down around her shoulders as she sat. She took the pillow from the air and leaned it against Wesley. Pulling the coffee table towards her while lifting her legs up on the couch, she began setting up for her pedicure. She'd gotten to winding tissue between her toes when her nail kit was brought to the table by the invisible Dennis.
"Thanks!" she said brightly.
"Shhhh!" said Wesley.
Cordelia shrugged and opened up the red and aqua trimmed plastic box. The plastic wrap around her new orange sticks rustled pleasantly and soon the smell of apricot scrub foot lotion wafted in the air.
The sound of running water and chopping could be heard while Angel did what he did in the kitchen. When Cordy was shivering on the second coat of L'oreal Fast Finish burgundy-to-green on her littlest toe nail she spoke again: "Wesley? How's your leg?"
"Much better -"
"Thank--"before he completed his 'you' she deposited her heel on his thigh.
* * *
Sunday evening, Wesley was asleep in the spare, having slumpfed off to bed after a hard afternoon of snarling at the internationally embarrassing Mancusians grunting in the football stadium stands and munching through half the the colorful penne, peppers, and kielbasa pasta Angel had mounded in a salad bowl.
Evening softness silted through the partially drawn shades, lozenges of amber street light lingering on the buffed wooden floor. The windows were open to the night air.
Angel had done it. Anyone looking in would see that Cordelia did indeed have a man of the house.
"So then," Cordelia continued, ignoring that Angel had a book open in front of him and was trying to read. "So then, they asked me to read with this other guy, and well, I don't know what you're thinking of when someone says 'devil dog hound of hell kennel master', but Robbie-Van Winkle-wannabe so wasn't it,"
Angel looked over at her. A towel wrapped around her head, she stood in her bare feet and pinstriped, drawstring knit pants and tiny tank-top as she folded towels.
Lots and lots of towels. Corners uneven, lain in a tipping stack.
"He kept trying to get me to stick my hand in his shirt. I don't know why. It's not like he was ugly enough to have a history of call-backs auditioning pornos. Or maybe he was."
Angel turned a page.
She picked up another stack of unfolded laundry and brought it over to the couch.
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
"Would you rather read to me?"
Angel's hand hung over the top of the book. His index finger partially covering the title, 'Swann's Way.' Proust. He looked over at her. With any luck she'd go right to sleep. "Sure."
To his surprise, she put aside her still warm laundry, got on the couch, folded her hands together, put them between her head and his thigh, and wriggled her toes. Her cheek and shoulders were so warm.
"From the beginning," she yawned.
With a broad, swerving nod, he turned to the first prologue, then reconsidering, paged over to the first chapter.
To his amusement, she understood French enough to scoff at his pronunciations, but eventually it proved too much for her and she fell asleep.
He noticed, as he carried her to her bedroom that she was rigid, and that she ground her teeth.
"No," she moaned as he lay her down on the cool sheets. She turned onto her stomach and immediately took up most of the bed. He brushed her hair away from her neck. Fast, she slapped his hand away, inching away from him.
Sunnydale instincts, he thought to himself. One eyebrow raised and lowered, and was mimicked by the other.
The book he propped against his thigh couldn't hold his attention. He folded the rest of Cordelia's laundry. Found a lavender hair ribbon swirled in the bottom of the laundry basket. Slid the lavender hair ribbon between the page he'd been unable to read and the page he kept trying to read without reading the previous one, looked at the towels and decided they needed ironing.
Morning, the living room was completely neat, the towels Cordelia had been folding last night put away.
Cheeks tense with concentration she marched through her apartment. She wore a purple string-top and pale cotton draw-string pants. A wet line darkened her top, right below her breasts, and it ran a little. Her wrists, too, were soaked and her hair had been forced into an onion knot at the top of her neck.
"Candle, candle, candle," Cordelia was muttering, walking loud from the kitchen to the living room to her bathroom. She stood in front of the closed spare bedroom door, her hand massaging her neck.
"Angel," she whined, "have you seen my candles?"
Splashing from her bathroom, followed by Wesley's voice. "It's really okay, Cordelia. Drawing my bath was quite enough."
"Angel!" she frowned, switched hands and shivered. "Ooh, cold," she said under her breath. She lifted her fist to the door, paused before knocking.
The bathroom door opened audibly.
Cordelia's head spun in that direction.
Wesley stood in it, holding a towel around his skinny hips.
"Uh!" Cordelia said.
"He's trying to sleep, Cordelia. Let the man, er, I'm quite comfortable."
"Are you really that skinny?" Massaging her neck, Cordelia advanced on him. He blinked and stood a little straighter, then hunched, then frowned and blinked. "What've you been doing with all that food I've been feeding you?!"
He looked where she was looking.
She poked him.
He huffed, stepped back and shut the door in her face.
"Those were ribs. Wesley, I saw ribs! And get in that tub, you'll tense up again!
"And don't lock the door!"
From the locking mechanism of the bathroom door came a click.
Looking around the room, she scratched behind her ear with one finger. Inspired, she bent at the knees and looked under the couch. There were her relax and refresh candles. "Aha!" she said.
"Wes-ley, I found the candles!"
She pressed her ear against the door. Smiled, "Come on, open up, lavender and sweet orange aromatherapy..." she sang, "just what the doctor ordered."
"What doctor?" Angel asked.
Cordelia's manic-beguiling expression flicked invisible, and she cast an irate glance at Angel. "What are you doing up?
At his mild look she said, "You're supposed to sleep like the -- waiow!!" she yelled, and fell through the suddenly open bathroom doorway. Dressed, Wesley stepped around Cordelia, buttoning his left shirtsleeve.
"But what about aromatherapy?" Cordelia asked, clambering to her feet.
"Wes." Angel said.
"Good morning, Angel. Rather early for you isn't it?"
Angel facial shrugged.
Within minutes of their departure - breakfast, Wesley said; office-hunting, Angel corrected - Dennis had turned on the tap to refill Cordelia's bathtub and she was deep-conditioning her hair while lavender and neroli essential oils perfumed the air.
* * *
Okay, life without visions was great, especially when auditioning, but auditioning without a car . . . This is how it went, you either had a car in L.A. or you did the public transit thing, and the public transit, huh, she didn't have time to even THINK about that.
Cordelia, no-middle-name-to-mention-thank you very much, stood at the street corner, trying to ignore how LATE Wesley was and just how disgusting, and grody, and sick-making it was getting in her pants.
Nylon, nylon was so not a girl's best friend. Not in Summer, most definitely not in July, and if Wesley wasn't such a bumblef - There he was! Cutting across from the left lane towards her corner.
"WESLEY!" Cordelia shouted, leaning off the street corner on her toes and waving to get his attention.
He pulled in front of the curb. Flipped open his visor. "Cordelia," he said breathlessly. "I'm sorry I'm late."
She hit his arm with her folded 'Variety'. "Your back!"
"You can't be making with the easy rider, your PT told you to take it easy."
He took the spare helmet in hand, held it to his lap.
"No motorcycle, it's bad for your back."
"Ah. Yes." He narrowed his eyes at her. "I couldn't find the keys to Angel's car."
"Never mind," Cordelia said climbing onto the back of the motorcycle. "Let's get us home."
The traffic light was red.
He looked over his left shoulder as she settled behind him.
She leaned against his back. His black leather jacket was actually pleasant against her jaw and she could smell the expensive leather layers of it. There really wasn't ANYthing to hold onto as she linked her arms around his tiny waist.
"Famine poster-boy, Wesley. You really have to take better care of yourself."
"Mmm. Angel said much the same thing."
The light turned green.
"Speaking of which!" Cordelia yelled as he engaged the clutch. "What do you think he does in the bathroom!"
"What?" Wesley yelled back, but his words were snatched away by the wind.
Wesley lay on his back, feet slightly spread apart, his mouth white as he bit back groans and whimpers. The room was dark, the floor hard, but it didn't matter. He ached.
He heard Cordelia walking, on her heels it sounded like, and she came into the spare bedroom he and Angel had been sharing in shifts.
His eyes were closed but he felt her plunk herself down beside him. Then there was another plunk - harder and somehow metallic. Something hard and moist and sharpish nudged his mouth. He opened an eye.
She was holding a can of strawberry Ensure to the ground and poking at his mouth with a straw that had been fitted into another.
"How's the back? Miserable, obviously, but, have you considered yoga?"
Wesley closed his eyes and opened his mouth, and sucked on Ensure.
"You can moan and whimper and make girly-man noises if you want to, Wesley," Cordelia offered. "It's not like there's anyone here to impress. Right, Dennis?
"Hey! What was that for?" she sounded amused.
Cordelia's hair brushed the side of Wesley's face as she whispered in his ear, "I think he's starting to like you. I didn't mean it. It's way impressive how you move around all physically impaired and all. Go Wes."
And she stopped whispering and blessedly went away, leaving him with his can of Ensure and the ache of his horrid back.
In the small hours Dennis let Angel in, rolling tumblers silently but Cordelia woke anyway.
"Wes is still sleeping," Cordelia told him, she was on her couch, reclining on her side. Her eyes were still closed and her cheek was creased from the open book near her head.
Angel stopped in his tracks, his coat billowing across his ankles.
Moonlight slashed her in parts, street lights in others, and framing that was darkness.
"Aren't you cold?" Angel asked of her, taking up the blanket she'd kicked at the bottom of her feet and shaking it wide. He tucked it around her. She wore pajama pants - several sizes just right, material rucking around her slim legs, catching shadow and hiding light - and a flimsy top - pleated cotton, held by three thin straps at each shoulder.
"Did you find a place?" she asked, squinting at him.
Angel settled on the ground beside her couch, folding his arms behind his head. "I wasn't really looking for a place."
Angel measured her breaths. She drifted into sleep. Then out.
"Angel," Cordelia murmured.
He opened his expression, but in the dark, and him on the floor she shouldn't see so he added, "Yeah?"
"We're safe now," she lied. "Me and Wesley."
* * *
Visions came and went. Demons slayed and slain. The art supplies that Cordelia had bought for Angel went unused. Week the sixth and a half after returning from the hospital, Angel, Cordelia, Wesley (and Dennis) were in the place called home - Silverlake.
The closed bathroom door muffled the steady patter of the shower running. Day's heat had settled in the open spaces, seductive, dry, and complete. The abandoned laundry basket spilled some of its blue tinted contents onto the couch. Crumpled sheets of newsprint littered the floor, but not too many. The scritching sound of Wesley - seated at the dining room table - translating from The Scroll cut into the ambient noise. The low sun, admitted by the windows, touched his hair . . . cognac-y.
Cordelia reached for sunburst yellow pastel, then went for the dark gold.
Wesley stood, removing his glasses and placed them on the open book nearest him.
"Mmm?" he said, looking up from that open book.
Maybe not cognac-y, Cordelia decided. Lipton's sugar-free ice-tea? Cognac-y was more her hair color thing.
"I'm going out." Wesley announced, rubbing his slim fingers on the sides of his forehead and onto his eyes.
"'Kay. Bring back dinner?" Cordelia asked.
"Yes. I imagine I shall. You don't think I should -"
"We're 'banked," Cordelia said shaking her head elaborately. "Pig. Goat. Cow." She pursed her lips and drew a purple animal; sketched around it in black.
"Ah. Philly steaks?"
"You taking your bike?"
"Thought I'd walk, actually."
Cordelia, rubbing lilac zags over the cow, noted the fading, early-evening light.
Placing his hands in the pockets of his stone, twill trousers, Wesley stepped before her. His indifferently pressed shirt, blue, white and grey madras, was light on his torso. He stood straighter and stronger than in the beginning of summer - but not by much.
"They get soggy if you don't eat them right there," Cordelia said. "Surprise me?"
Wesley walked around the table and looked over her shoulder, at the failed sunrises and daylight shopping scenes she'd tried to draw and the intrusive, brilliant cow. He touched the top of her head with three fingers. Cordelia reached up and squeezed them, briefly, marking him with the oily, secondary pigments dirtying her hands.
Accompanying Wesley to the door, Cordelia exclaimed that she was starving. He promised to hurry. Cordelia closed the door.
Walking on the balls of her feet, she made the rounds of her apartment, a wide smile on her face until she passed the closed bathroom door.
She tapped on it with her knuckle. "Angel?"
"One of these days, Angel, you are going to tell me what you do in that - ew. Bad thought."
Inside the bathroom, Angel entered silence. When the sound of Cordelia's beating heart and focused breathing passed further away he turned to the mirror. The blank mirror. The mirror that reflected the bare wall behind him.
Gathering breath he leaned towards it and b r e a t h e d.
For a few seconds, a very few seconds, something on the glass remained.