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...not another blond sequel...

My eyes darted between Faith and Angel then back to Faith who was still holding the dagger I'd just given her as a gift in her hands. This cannot be a good thing. All of a sudden things went from calm and almost nervous but feeling right, to uneasily painful and tense as all hell. First the 'almost visions', then the really weird and funky vibes from the manicurist lady, the disappearing little store and the demon attack on the way out to the car. Well this was shipping up to be a fantastic day. I rolled my eyes and muttered.

'Not likely.'

I figured it'd be best if I put myself between Faith and Angel, judging from the caught with her hand in the cookie jar look that was emanating from a mixed up but slightly frustrated Faith and a more broody than usual half-angry bitter Angel still standing in my doorway letting the flies and who knows what other various bugs into my apartment. Even Phantom Dennis saw fit to make his presence be gone, poof! Just like that.

And I still had no idea what to do. I mean I knew he was coming over, but he was early. He was like a half an hour earlier than he normally was. Glancing out the window, I noticed that the sun had just barely gone down. Maybe he had hit the underground sewer tunnels. I just didn't understand this. This whole day has been one active blur to me and just seemed totally out of the un-natural for even our line of duty.

I knew from the looks on all three of our faces that one of us was going to have to say something soon and whoever that person dared to be, better have a good enough explanation as to the what they had just walked in on. And I admit that maybe this wasn't exactly the thing that Angel needed to walk in on, but damnit the guy has got to learn how to knock for once in his life instead of just lurk around in really dark places and skulk when he doesn't get everything he thinks he wants.

I looked everywhere but his eyes because I knew if I looked there I would break down completely. He still had this power over me, this hold that I just couldn't explain. I loved him in every way. He was my best friend but he was more than that. He was my family. I mean when I looked at him I was completely reminded of a time when everything seemed like it was going to be all right and I had learned that I had two people in my life that I could totally trust my life with. Sometimes I wanted to go back to those days, when that part was new and still fresh in my life.

But I know now that a person can't live in the past and that's why I was doing what I was doing, because of that. Neither one of us could change the events of the past year, so there was no use in sitting around dwelling on the fact when there was a demon that was vying for Faith's blood. Let's face it we had the possible death of another Slayer on our hands if we didn't straighten ourselves up and focus on the obvious.

And I guess it was up to me to finally make him understand just exactly what I had been trying to tell him these last few days. I had no intentions of wanting to hurt him, if anything I would do everything in my power to see that he was happy, but not at Faith's expense. I wasn't going to be left standing with Slayer blood on my hands because a certain broody vampire with a soul was all mopey because he didn't get exactly what he wanted. And what the hell was it he wanted anyway?

I mean I don't know what he expects from me. I was there that night. I know exactly what happened. I mean you would think that he's acting like it all happened to him, when hello I was the one who got taken up to the Powers That Be. I'm the one who got stuck in some white-lighted orb of gleaming purification and forced to watch the whole time without being able to actually reach out and touch, all the horrible things that my friends had to face. I mean we are talking about people that I love and trust with my life more than anything.

My thoughts were distracted when I noticed Faith's figure retreating from the living room and heard the door to her room close quietly behind her. She was never one to stick around for tense situations if there wasn't a little demon slaying involved. Drama wasn't her style unless she was stirring up some of her own hardcore tension to get her frustrations out.

My voice was soft and as calm as I could make it to soften the blow of my next words.

'Well, maybe that's something you should consider now. I mean you know, with the…and the.'

I decided to risk it and sneak a glance up at his face as I saw the hurt and the confusion pass over his brow as he furrowed it. The crinkle in his forehead told me that he didn't like the idea of what I had proposed. But hey, I can't help it. Maybe this was for the best. I was just trying to make this as easy on all of us as I could. The less tension that stood between us the better chance we had of getting down to business and finding out what this big nasty thing wanted to do with the Slayer.

'Um, yeah maybe you're right. Maybe I should consider that. I'll think about it next time.'

His voice was guarded and low and I noticed that he was trying to control his temper, but the throbbing vein in his forehead told me otherwise. He didn't feel as if she should have to start knocking, when he hadn't had to before. And maybe he was right, maybe some things shouldn't have to change, but this maybe this was for the best. I kept telling myself that.

'Maybe you should.'

What else could I say? I mean I had said everything else there was left to say already once before, why wasn't he getting it? I mean did he think he was going to brood his way back into that private part of my life when I had already explained to him that he would still get to be a part of it, just maybe not in the way that he would have been if the later hadn't of happened. I can't help it because I can't push back time. And even now I don't know if I would because there is bound to be repercussions to it.

I mean come on it was a common known fact that for everything you do there is a consequence for it. And almost always there is a price and that price can be so high sometimes. It was the price that lost Doyle. It was the price that cost Angel his son and the cost of Wolfram and Hart trying to kill him for the last three years and nearly almost succeeding. It was even the cost of him turning his back on one of his best friends and losing another one that he didn't count on.

'Maybe I will.'

His voice was steel. He wouldn't look at me. He just brushed passed me and stood in the middle of my living room looking out the window, a set look of stone on his face. It was the first time in a long time that I could read his emotions. He was masking them well. Maybe he was even bracing himself from the brunt of his emotions, doing a really good job at cutting himself off again.

'Don't do this. You always do this, Angel. It's not fair.'

There wasn't anything else I could but the truth as I saw it. I thought it would get easier but it hadn't. And the truth probably was that it wouldn't be. That as long as I was around in close distance to him that maybe he would never move past. That was the reason he had come to L.A. in the first place, to distance himself. I mean not from me, but from Buffy, the only other person that he had loved that way.

'I'm standing here watching the woman I love about to kiss someone that once upon a time she would rather die than be this close to and you're talking to me about not being fair?'

I could feel the pain in his voice as he spoke the words out loud. It almost sounded crazy now that I had time to stand here and think about it. Had I been about to kiss Faith? Or had she been about to kiss me? I think it might have been the other way around and would I have welcomed the kiss? Was all it just in a moment?

You know one of those moments where you feel so lonely and it just seemed so right at the time but then when it's all over maybe it really wasn't the right thing to do and you find yourself regretting it. And you know maybe just maybe I would have liked it. Maybe I would have enjoyed it and wanted to kiss her back. But I don't know the truth is right now between the two of them I'm so confused. I don't even think I know what I want anymore.

I know that I needed time away from Angel so that I could figure out all of these layers and layers of deep issues and emotions that I have been dealing with since I came back from the Powers That Be. But this is all just a touch too ridiculous. This feeling of guilt, like I was cheating when there shouldn't even be cheating involved at all because we're not even together and also when we've never really even been together except those few moments and that was just because of a spell and a damn ballet and birthday kiss that happened because I felt sorry for him and couldn't stand to see him in so much pain and insane in his mind like that. I mean not after everything that he had done for me.

'I mean the guilt whammy that you just hit me over the head with, you ass.'

And why shouldn't be a little perturbed with the way he was trying to make me feel. He was acting as if he was the only person this was happening to. Newsflash, the last time I checked one and one make two and there's usually more than one party involved in this thing you know. But we've done this dance before and tonight I'm just not really in the mood for it, not with the day that I've experienced. And it's pretty much a touch evident in my voice too and I can sense that he knows it.

I point and kind of nod to the book that he still is holding in his hands, hoping that it would provide a way for me to kind of steer clear of the obvious.

'Is that the book that you were talking about on the phone earlier?'

Through clenched teeth I watched him nod his answer back to me as he spoke in a flat tone.

'Yeah. That would be the one.'

'Good then.'

I nodded back to him and motioned for him to take a seat next to me on the sofa. But noticed when he shook his head slightly.

'No, I'm good right here.'

Annoyed with his attitude I shrugged as I sat down quietly and waved one of my hands at him in total disgust of his display of immature behavior.

'Suit yourself, but you're going to get awfully tired just standing there half of the night. Besides if we are planning on doing the whole research mode thing, it would be much easier if I could actually see what we're looking up. And you know I don't bite. So I don't know why you just want to stand there and act like an immature child who's just been told no they can't have the toy they begged so hard for.'

And again with the clenched teeth and the guarded tones.

'Cordelia, I am not acting like a spoiled child.'

My eyebrows raised slightly and I sighed half in frustration and half in pure disgust. It seems I had forgotten just how annoying and frustrating Angel could be sometimes.

'Then what do you think you're acting like?'

I asked pointedly, almost afraid of the answer I would receive.

'I'm not acting anyway. It's not about-'

He stopped mid-sentence and lifted one hand to thread his fingers through his hair. I could tell he was trying hard to keep his emotions in check, but he was fighting a losing battle. And for the first time this evening I noticed just how unbearably hard this all was for him. And I weakened a little in my stance as my words became softer.

'Angel. I'm sor-'

And before I was able to finish my apology to him his voice was harsh, cruel and it cut me off cold.

'Cordelia do not say you're sorry to me one more time. Do you know? Do you have any idea how sick and tired I am of hearing that same old tired like, 'I'm sorry.' Come out of your mouth these days? Because really that seems to be the only thing that you know how to say these last few days. And you're starting to sound like a broken record I'd like to just break in half.'

I could tell he was just as shocked as I was at the last few words that had just come out of his mouth, that I could hardly stand to be in the same room with him, let alone look at him. Tears pulled at the corners of my eyes and an anger formed in the pit of my stomach. The knot that had been there since the moment he'd walked in on the almost kiss that Faith and I had been about to share had spiraled into something much bigger than it had been.

He had somehow managed to take a small little situation that he should have had the decency to easily avoid by knocking on the door instead of walking in and make something more out of it than it should have been to begin with and I was quite angry and frustrated with him to say the least. In all of ours years of working together, working out the kinks in our friendship and discovering that we might have somewhat of a relationship beyond that friendship he had never talked to me that way before and never in that tone.

'Then what the hell else do you expect me to say, Angel? Because I mean really. I don't know what you want to hear that would make this any better for you. It's not like it's only happening to you. And it doesn't help much when you're acting like a spoiled brat who's pissed off because someone didn't get what they wanted. I'm sorry, Angel but sometimes life isn't always fair. It's harsh and it's cruel. Isn't that what you said?'

So okay maybe throwing his own words back at him wasn't necessarily the right thing to do but I really wasn't concerned with what the right thing to do was right now. All that I know was I wanted out of this conversation before either of the two of us said something that neither one could take back. And the last thing I wanted to destroy was what little that was left of our friendship. But I was pissed off and right now I didn't seem to care. Or maybe I did but I was doing everything in my power to ignore it.

'You know, you're just like her.'

He smirked. His eyes were dark and I'd only ever seen him look this way on two other occasions and that's when she blew into town and turned his whole world upside down. That's when she laid the whammy of all guilt whammies on him and then waltzed out of town in the same manner that she had breezed in taking with her what little progress he had seemed to make and turning it to rubble and dust.

Well I'll be damned if I'll stand here in my own apartment and be accused of being another knock-off Buffy. He was going entirely too far and before things escalated and I said something that the both of us would regret I looked over his shoulder in time to notice the door opened and I nodded.

'If you think that little of me, then maybe you don't need to be here. Because I have had enough of babying you through this whole ordeal. I've had it up to here taking special care of your feelings because you've been through so much shit in your life and lost so much that I thought I would try and spare you any more pain than you necessarily deserved. But this time, you've gone entirely too far. You don't get to do that, Angel.'

I could tell that he was almost ashamed with what he had had to say as much as I was ashamed for letting him stand in the middle of my living room and rail off at me for nothing in particular. I wasn't going to be his punching bag when he decided he was going to shut down from the world because poor Angel he always loses everything that he loves and no one ever gives him a chance at perfect happiness. The last time I remembered what that perfect happiness had done to him, had turned him into now that I think about it maybe it was a good idea that I broke things off between the two of us before they progressed any further than they should have.

'You don't get to stand there and talk and treat me like I'm some knock-off blond little Slayer that you once shared perfect bliss with and then turned all mean and growly. I mean I have had it up to here and I am not going to stand here and listen to any more of your guilt whammies. It isn't my fault that you get the warm fuzzy shivers and you turn all fangy and make with the I'm going to torture you until you've gone mad and then kill everyone around you that you ever cared about. You forgot who you were talking to, didn't you?'

I paused for a moment in an effort to contain my anger and to catch my breath from my little tirade. I noticed how small and ashamed he seemed to look underneath my wrath. But this is exactly what he gets. It serves him right for storming in here and acting so righteous like he was the one hurting and I was the one staking him good and proper in the heart. If he knew me for one minute like he has always said he did then he would know that this wasn't some great plan that I set into motion in order to cause him more pain and discomfort.

I almost missed his low muttered.

'No, I haven't.'

And I knew that was his defeat voice. That it was his I walk alone and hide in dark corners because that's where I belong voice. It was a voice filled with much pain and great despair that he had felt the brunt of over the years. But I ignored it, partially because I really wanted to finish what I had to say and also because he needed to hear me out good and proper for once. And it seemed like he was in need of a simple reminder that no one could give him a good swift kick in the ass like Cordelia Chase could.

I just wanted him to remember and oh he would. You better believe that. When I'm through with him that wouldn't be much left for anyone left to chew on.

'Oh, I think you have. I think you need a reminder just who Cordelia Chase really is. It's time someone gave you a good swift kick in the ass. You might walk alone Angel, but just remember if you do then you do it because you chose to do it and not because everyone else made you feel like you have to. You should know that if you need help then all you have to do is ask one of us, you don't have to come over here and dole out guilt whammies and you don't have to act like a spoiled brat every chance you get because something didn't go your way.'

'I'm not acting like a spoiled brat, Cordelia.'

His voice was a little softer, less harsh than it had been earlier. More important it was less accusatory. It had hurt him to say the words he had said not more than ten minutes ago almost as much as it had hurt to hear him say them.

'You know,' I rolled my eyes and sighed exasperatingly, 'you keep saying that. But your actions and your words say otherwise.'

'Well,' he licked his lips shifted his eyes down to the floor glancing down at his feet as he shuffled on them before glancing back up at me, 'I'm sorry it's just seeing you, I mean…walking in on you and Faith…seeing that, it just. I don't know. It just hurt you know.'

I waved my hand and listened as the door closed softly after a moment. Phantom Dennis could be a touch overprotective sometimes, but he really meant well. My voice softened somewhat as did my eyes, I could feel them getting misty.

'Angel, I know you're tired of this. But, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this to happen. It's not like I asked for it. But we can't change the past, that's all I've been trying to say. And no matter how much we wish it had turned out differently the truth is that it's not going to. Maybe we're better off this way, you know. Just as friends and stuff you know. It used to work for us before.'

'But things are different now, Cordelia.'

He sounded so pitiful trying to hold onto something that he knows he's lost. And it hurts me like hell to have to do this to him again, but there's just no way around it. I'm going to have to do it again and maybe for good this time. Or just until I can figure out whatever emotional crap I'm wading through this time.

'Yeah,' my voice is soft as I cross the room and placed my hand on the side of his face caressing it softly as I look up into his eyes, 'they are, Angel. They're different in the fact that you and I, we're not going to work now. We might have then, but now it's just not going to happen. And to be honest I don't know if it ever will. I'm sorry, really I hate to say that but I am.'

He never cried. When I think about it, I've never seen him cry. I've seen him brood. I've seen him sulk. I've even seen him angry to the point of breaking things, killing demons for the sheer feeling of their blood oozing through his fingers, but I've never seen him cry. He didn't even cry when we got the news from Willow that Buffy had died. I thought that of all things would break him, but it hadn't. And now when I think about it, later that night when he had come to my apartment he told me the reason it hadn't broken him was because I had been there.

I'm sorry I couldn't be there now. It hurt more than I could imagine but this was the only way that I knew how to deal with this painful situation. I knew that I shouldn't have involved him in what had gone on today. But then again, how could I not? This was Angel Investigations and this is what they did. This is what he did and it wouldn't be fair to take his territory away from him. I couldn't take his mission away from him. And plus even I had to admit we needed him and the research. I started to think maybe it would have been better if Wesley would have shown up instead. Next time I think I'll request him specifically either that or Fred and maybe even Gunn or Lorne. I miss those guys now that I think about it.

I felt his hand on top of mine, his fingertips moving over the top of my hand. I had to admit that it felt nice to be this close to him. I closed my eyes for a moment and pretended to be lost in the moment, but then reality set in and before I let him think there might still be a chance I pulled back away from him slightly and just stood there with a small look of I'm sorry but I have to do this on my face.

'I know. I'm starting to think maybe this was a bad idea. So I'm just going to leave the book here so you can do your research and when you're finished with it, you know where to find Wesley.'

I nodded slightly at him blinking my eyes rapidly in an effort to keep the tears from falling.

'Okay.'

My voice was soft as I reached out and took the book from him setting it down on the coffee table. I wondered if I should risk a hug or not. And then chastised myself from even contemplating it. Closing the space between us I wrapped my arms around his waist and hugged him. I turned my brightest Cordelia Chase smile up at him and let my eyes sparkle one last time for his benefit. I hoped he picked up on what I was trying to broadcast.

I felt him squeeze me one last time before he let go and watched as he let himself out quietly. He didn't even say good-bye. But then I'm not even sure if I wanted to actually hear him say the words. I knew that it was going to be a long while before I saw or talked with him again. I stood there in the middle of my living room as tears spilled down my cheeks. It wasn't until a few moments later that I laughed softly as I felt a soft tissue being pressed into my hand.

'Thank-you, Phantom Dennis. You always know how to take care of me.'

With the argument between Angel and I, I had almost forgotten about Faith. She was still in her room. God, I hoped she hadn't heard everything Angel and I had to say to one another but it was probably a lost cause. The walls were about thin as thing could get. I figured I'd better check on her to see if she was all right. She didn't look like she was enjoying the tenseness that was Angel and I earlier. In fact the look on her face had read uh-oh look out because another Buffy and Angel sequel was hitting a theatre near you.

After composing myself a few minutes later and wiping all traces of tears away from my cheeks, I made my way down the hallway after switching out the lights in the living room. I wasn't even sure if I could face her after the almost kiss that we had almost shared earlier. The kiss that Angel walked in on and had set off the entire nights events. Lifting my hand I figured there was no batter time than now to deal with it. Angel. Just the mere thought of him made me whimper slightly and before I let my hand make contact with the wooden door, I backed away and decided that I'd see her in the morning.

Maybe it would be best and less awkward for the two of us if I waited until morning to have this talk with her. And what was it I was going to say to her. How was I going to bring up the kiss that had almost happened? I was too busy still trying to figure out what had changed between the two of us.

'Good night, Faith.'

I managed as another small whimper followed but I did my best to choke it off.

'I'm glad you enjoyed your gift.'

I meant that sincerely as I made my way down the hall to my room, watching as the light was turned on and the bed was being turned down.

'Thanks, Phantom Dennis. I think I can take it from here now.'

I smiled genuinely for the first this evening. Some things never changed. Once the door closed behind him, and I had changed out of my clothes and into my pajama's and had crawled into bed, it was there I finally let myself break down.

Heavy teardrops fell from my eyes as I tried to figure out just why it was that the Powers That Be seemed so hell bent on seeing me unhappy after everything I had been through and suffered for them.

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