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The P R I S M   S E R I E S : B L U E (story eight of nine)

Author: Dazzle (RhinestoneDazzle@aol.com)
Rating: PG13
Archive: Wherever you want
Spoilers: Through the ATS third-season episode "Double or Nothing"
Warnings: None
Summary: After her return to Los Angeles, Cordelia tries to help Angel with his grief, as well as handle her own inner turmoil. Eighth in the Prism Series, which follows Cordy and Angel's developing feelings throughout the previous year.
Thanks: To Inamorata for the great beta-read and encouragement
The symbolism of blue: Sadness, cold, suppression, loyalty, unity, trust, peace

*****

I go down the darkened hallways toward Angel's room. I gave him a good hour to take apart the crib --

(-- Connor's crib, he won't be in the crib anymore --)

-- but that's about enough. He shouldn't be left alone for too long. I know Fred and Lorne are going to be here, and they must have done okay, support-system-wise, just to keep Angel from offing himself. But they don't know him like I do. They don't know what he needs.

(They don't know him like I do, and they didn't realize what was happening when he drank the blood, and they didn't realize what Wesley was doing, and I would have known but I wasn't here wasn't here wasn't here --)

I push those thoughts aside and get to Angel's doorway; taking a deep breath, I knock for what I expect will be the first of many tries. But instead, right away, I hear him say, "Come in."

As I enter, I see that the room is basically unchanged. The walls are still sooty and cracked, and the remnants of the stove are lying in a crumpled heap in what had been the kitchen. But the crib is piled up against one wall in its component parts. I picked out the crib with Fred, and for a moment the memory of us, giggling and buoyant in a K-Mart, picking out things we thought Angel would like, nearly makes me crack.

Angel's sitting on the foot of his ruined bed. He doesn't turn toward me, just keeps looking at the crib. "I was thinking," he says hesitantly, "we ought to give this stuff away. Not everything. I want -- one or two things, I could -- I mean, somebody could use this crib. Maybe somebody who can't afford one."

"There's always the Goodwill," I say as I go to his side. He still doesn't look at me, but when I put my hand on his shoulder, he covers it with his own. "We could box some stuff up, maybe. And then Gunn could run it over there in his truck."

Angel's silent for a bit, then says, "Will you help me go through his things?"

"Of course." Part of me quails from that -- it's going to hurt, maybe worse than any other single moment since I found out what happened to Connor --

(When I came in from vacation, with my stupid hat and my stupid haircut and a really gorgeous tan, because I was out on vacation, having fun, having sex and I wasn't here --)

-- but Angel needs me, and so I'm going to do it. "Maybe we can pick you out a new room, too," I suggest. "There's at least twenty usable ones in the hotel. We could get you something on a higher floor, if you wanted. Give you a little more privacy."

Angel looks at me at last, his face confused. "Why would I move?"

"I thought -- the memories," I say.

He exhales -- not a laugh, not a sigh, but something in between. "That's why I want to stay here."

I nod, because I can't speak with this lump in my throat. After a good, hard swallow, I manage to say, "Well, you're not staying in here tonight. This room's like a charcoal briquette, Angel. You need another place to sleep just until we can -- we can clean this up."

He doesn't argue. We pack him up together, working in unspoken unison to gather up the clothes and soaps and stuff he needs, then head down the hallway, our arms full. I settle his things in while he goes downstairs for linens. I never snooped around Angel's closets and bathroom, but it seems like I just know how he wants it all. The shaving cream goes in the shower, not on the counter. The shoes point toward the closet wall, not the closet door. This one act is so small, so meaningless that it should feel stupid. But it doesn't. It's the first thing I've been able to do to help. I mean, I know listening to him helped, just being there for him. But this is something I can DO, something with my hands. So I take my time, putting his belts on the hangers with the slacks, laying his watch on his bedside table.

When Angel reappears with the sheets, we make up the bed together wordlessly, like we'd done this a hundred times. Angel makes hospital corners. I plump the pillows as I set them down for him. I think about him lying there tonight, trying to sleep after everything that's happened. So I fluff them again for good measure, like soft pillows could possibly help.

Finally, when we're done, I go to hug him -- but he doesn't really return the embrace, and I let go fast. I know without asking that it's not me; it's just that he's only just gotten himself calmed down, so being all emotional again isn't the best. Still, I know how badly I want to feel loved and comforted, what having someone's arms around me would mean right now. And Angel's got to crave that a thousand times worse than I do. It's just not the time. I ask him, "Are you going to be all right?"

"All right," he repeats. "But -- thanks, Cordy."

"Least I could do," I say, and it's so true I want to cry. He squeezes my hand once before I walk away.

*****

I come through the door, exhausted body and soul, which must be why I forgot Groo was going to be there waiting for me. "Princess!" he says, getting to his feet. The house is nice and tidy -- Groo's neater than I am -- and I can smell something cooking. Everything is warm and full of light, which ought to be more comforting than it is.

"I'm sorry I'm so late," I say. "I just needed to spend a little more time with Angel."

Groo nods. "You are a good friend. It would be well for him not to be isolated in this dark time. I cannot imagine the sorrow of knowing a son to be dead."

"Don't say dead." I snap at him. It's way too harsh, not to mention unfair, but I can't take it. "Don't say it. Okay? We don't know that."

Groo looks at me cautiously, and I can imagine all the things he must want to say. Connor was last seen in the hands of a man who hated Angel more than he hated -- or even loved -- anything else. Connor was sent to a hell dimension. The chances that Connor's still alive are slim to none. And given that Connor's locked away where nobody can ever reach him again, he's lost to Angel forever regardless. All those things are wrapped up in the word "dead," which is why I can't bear to hear it.

But Groo must understand that much, at least. He says only, "Angel is fortunate to have your friendship, my Princess. Come. You must be hungry. Your spirit cohabitant and I have made a fine repast."

Dennis apparently steered Groo toward the Hamburger Helper, which is not really going to get Casa del Cordy four stars from Zagat's, but it's not bad for Groo's first time in a kitchen. Not, however, his first time cooking.

"I have roasted Veertork Beasts over campfires," he explains. "Their innards can be prepared as a sort of stew, as well, if you have a cauldron handy."

"Okay, you are totally sticking to cooking with boxes, mixes or frozen entrees," I say. This Hamburger Helper is a whole lot more appetizing all of a sudden.

"I would not serve you such rough fare," Groo promises. "You deserve far better, my Princess."

I smile at him, and it feels good to smile; I haven't done that in a while now. And for an hour or so, it feels good not to think about Connor. Not to remember that it happened. It's like I can pretend it didn't -- that everything's still wonderful and great, and that I'm still that carefree girl having fun on Catalina Island.

(But I'm not, I'm not, I was off having fun and Angel was here losing his son and he was hurting and I wasn't with him to stop it or help him --)

I listen to all of Groo's stories, and I laugh at all his jokes, and I push everything else away to just concentrate on the here and now.

But then, after the dishes are in the sink, Groo takes my hand and starts to lead me toward the bedroom.

Of course, he wants to make love. Why wouldn't he? And why wouldn't I? Earlier tonight -- when I was with Angel -- I was thinking how good it would feel just to be close to someone. But for some reason, that feeling's all gone now. Instead, it feels wrong. Worse than wrong. Like a perversion. To go to bed with Groo, have sex with Groo, while Connor's lost and Angel's alone --

Then again, I did it already, didn't I? I just didn't know at the time.

"Princess?" Groo's voice is gentle as he embraces me. "I understand your sadness. If you do not wish it --"

"It's okay," I say, and I kiss him. I try to get lost in him, to not be anything but a body, to not feel anything but my skin.

It doesn't work. For the first time ever, the patented Cordy denial system totally and completely fails. We go to bed together, and to judge from his reaction, Groo has a really great time. He wouldn't know any different from my reaction, either. But I'm just going through the motions -- move my hand there, react when he does that -- and it feels cheap.

I guess faking it won't hurt for once, though. Groo's happy as he falls asleep by my side, and at least I'm tired enough to crash.

As I fall asleep, I look at the portrait Angel drew of me. The portrait is wearing an expression I'll never have again. For the nine hundredth time, I wonder how he got the edges of the face so soft, and for the very first time, I realize that he smudged those lines with his fingertips. He brushed along my outline with his hands, gently and carefully, until he made me beautiful and true.

*****

It's torture. It's worse than torture. Torture would only be your body. Cuts in the flesh, burns on the skin -- it couldn't be worse than this.

Angel puts the packages of diapers in the box. "I don't guess they want a package that's already opened," he says quietly.

"Guess not," I say. So the opened package of diapers goes in the trash bag. We're putting some of Connor's stuff in a trash bag. Throwing it out with the garbage.

I can't really look up at Angel, but even with my head bowed, I can see his hands. He's holding baby powder in one hand, a bottle of No-More-Tears in the other. "They won't want anything that's partly used," he says. The trash bag rustles as they drop down.

We kneel together by the dresser and begin going through the clothes, putting them in boxes. When I pick up each little sleeper, I remember how Connor looked when he wore it. What it was like to fasten up the snaps, to try and fit a small squirming arm into the teeny sleeve. Angel's moving slower now; I know he's thinking what I'm thinking, and we don't dare look at each other, don't dare speak.

Angel draws out a tiny onesie -- so small it has to be left over from when Connor was a newborn. Blue for a boy. He holds it for a few long seconds; his hands are so big, and the outfit is so little. Finally, Angel says, "I think I want to keep this."

I nod, like he'd asked my permission or something. Angel folds it very carefully and sets it by his side.

I have to look away, and yet there's nowhere to look but in the drawer. I pull out a little sailor suit -- I bought this for Connor. Angel said it looked ridiculous. I said it looked cute. Really, down deep, I thought it was cute just because it was so ridiculous, and I wanted to see if Angel would buckle under and let him wear it. If so, the Eeyore hat was next on the list.

I'll never know now. I bought it too big for Connor to wear. I was going to wait for him to grow into it. Oh, God, he'll never grow into it. He'll never grow up --

"Cordy?"

I try to answer Angel, to say I'm all right, but all that comes out is a wail. I choke it off, clamp my hand to my mouth, but it's too late. Tears scald my eyes, blind me, and I can't breathe because my body is locked in one long sob. Oh, God. Connor.

Angel pulls me close, and for a moment all I can do is lie against his broad chest, feel his arms around me, cry it out in his embrace. "Shhh," Angel soothes, and he strokes my hair. We rock back and forth, gently, and I feel his lips brush against my forehead.

After the worst of it passes, I realize just what's going on here, and the shame of it makes me sit bolt upright. Angel looks at me, startled. "I'm sorry," I whisper. My throat hurts from crying. "You shouldn't have to take care of me. I'm supposed to be taking care of you."

He takes my hands in his. "Cordy, it's all right," he says. "It helps, seeing that -- that other people miss him too."

And that makes me start crying all over again. Angel hugs me again, pats my back. "We'll take care of each other," he says, and I nod as I hug him in return.

*****

After I pull myself together, Angel and I finish up. He takes the pitifully few things he's chosen to keep to his temporary room, and I start taking the boxes downstairs. Gunn's at the counter, and he smiles at me, until I get close and he sees what I'm holding.

We're quiet together for a while. Finally he says, "It feels wrong, gettin' rid of it, you know? Like we're makin' believe he wasn't ever here."

"It's not like that," I say. "I just think if we keep it all around, it's gonna hurt Angel to see it."

"I know," he says. "Me and Fred, we took the bed and the toys that were down here, dragged 'em back into the kitchens. You might go through those too, maybe." I nod, and Gunn sighs. "I just can't believe that child's dead."

"Don't say that!" Gunn stares at me, and I try to be calm. "We don't really know that for sure, so -- so don't say it, okay?"

"You got it." Gunn is a smart enough man not to argue with an upset woman. He just shrugs and points toward Wesley's office. I mean, the office. "Some more boxes in there, if you need 'em."

I slip inside the office. It's dark and still; I know, without having any way of knowing, that nobody's spent a whole lot of time in here. For some reason, I don't turn on the light; I just blink and squint in the dim light from the lobby.

So much is gone. That thick book of word puzzles isn't on the corner anymore. The mug he used to drink tea from isn't hanging on its hook. He used to keep a necktie around, just in case we had an important client drop in on short notice; he'd hang it on the doorknob. No more. Fred mentioned that she took him his stuff, but I still kinda expected to see these things. When she cleaned him out, she was really -- thorough.

Only one of Wesley's possessions is left; I reach out and take the picture in my trembling hand. Smiling up at me are Fred and Gunn, me and Angel. Connor is a tiny bundle in Angel's arms, only his eyes and nose peeping out from the blue blankets. Wesley took the picture. The frame is bright with beads and glitter I glued on at Christmastime, when Wesley panicked, and didn't know what we might like for gifts, and made cookies for us all.

And all of a sudden I want Wesley back so hard it hurts, and I bite down on my lip, hard. He's been there for me so many times -- even when Angel wasn't -- and he was only trying to help -- so don't I owe him --

No. NO. I look down at the photo again, and I focus on Angel's face, on the transparent joy he had just from holding Connor in his arms. He'll never look like that again, and that's because of Wesley. Of everything we owed each other, we owed loyalty most of all. We trusted each other because there was nothing else in the world to trust.

But Wesley didn't trust Angel when it really counted, and it doesn't matter what his reasons were. I already let Angel down once --

(-- snorkeling off the coast with my lover while Angel's son was being stolen --)

-- and I won't let him down again. I can't give him anything but loyalty now, but I can give him that. Which means Wesley is shit out of luck.

*****

Gunn and I make the drive to the Goodwill together. It's a sunny day -- bright skies without a single cloud. So this is one part we can mercifully spare Angel.

Gunn, who is not big into the naked emotion thing, keeps trying to make small talk. "What's the Groosalugg up to today?" he asks.

It takes me a minute to think of it. "Believe it or not, he's playing tourist. Lorne, God love his scaly hide, took Groo out for the day. Right now, he should be on the Universal Studios tour." I guess Lorne's passing himself off as an extra. He's good at that kind of thing.

"Aw, hell," Gunn says with a half-grin. "Hope he don't try to jump out of the tram and attack King Kong." I laugh with him, and then I think about how plausible that is, and now I know I'm gonna be worried all day.

"I had to find something for him to do," I say, explaining both to Gunn and to myself. "It's not really fair to him, to ask him to hang around us when all we can think about is --"

"I know," Gunn says, cutting off the name. He makes a sharp right turn as he says, "The guy sure is getting broken into the gang the hard way."

Gunn's not getting off that easy. I need to talk about this, and I can't talk about Groo with Angel, not when he's got so much to deal with. "I mean, I know Groo feels sympathetic. He couldn't be nicer or more understanding. But that's all it is, you know? Sympathy. He only even saw Connor once or twice. He doesn't feel what we feel. He can't really miss him."

Gunn doesn't say anything; he just nods. I want to snap at him -- this would be a good time to drop the gangsta attitude and get real -- but then I really see his face. Gunn's jaw is set, and he's blinking kinda quickly, and then I can't look at him any more. We ride the rest of the way in silence.

When he pulls up to the Goodwill, we start unloading the boxes and crib in a hurry -- working fast, trying not to think about it. The Goodwill people ask us if we want a receipt. We don't.

Then Gunn grabs the last box, and without even thinking about it, I put my hand out and stop him. "Wait," I say. "Wait." He stands there, waiting for me to do -- what? I don't know.

I pull open the flaps and grab out the first thing I touch -- a small stuffed bunny with lop ears. I remember Connor pulling on those ears, and I'm glad I have a memory to go with it. Gunn raises an eyebrow at me. "I'm done," I tell him. "Go on." And I tuck the bunny into my bag as he gets rid of the last of Connor's things.

*****

We get back just after sundown. Fred's in the lobby when we walk in -- no surprise there. What is a surprise is the fact that Angel's down there with her. Each of them has their nose in a book. "Uh-oh," Gunn says. "I guess this means we have a case."

"A prospective case," Fred clarifies. She pushes her glasses up with her forefinger. "This lady thinks her pug is possessed."

"Just how broke are we?" I ask, hands on hips. The question makes Angel smile a little, like it was supposed to. Good.

"Let me get this straight," Gunn says. "This lady thinks the devil's in her little bat-faced dog?"

"Not the devil," Angel says. "She thinks it's the ghost of her schnauzer. She thinks he's jealous that she got another dog so soon."

"And so you guys are checking to see if pets ever do get possessed." I shake my head. "Unbelievable, the things we'll do for a buck. The lady's whacked, even by the already-wacky standards of our usual clientele."

"Don't be mean," Fred says with a smile that takes the sting out of the words. "She's just sad because her first dog's dead."

The word lands in the center of the room like a bomb. Nobody says anything, nobody visibly reacts, but the mood in the room goes from okay to darker than night in about two seconds. Dead. She said it, the word we can't say, said it right in front of him, and it doesn't matter if it was just about a dog. This one word has power over us now, and you can see it in Angel's eyes.

Angel stands up slowly and carefully closes the book. "Excuse me," he says, and he goes upstairs without another word.

We watch him go in silence, but the minute he's out of sight, I wheel on Fred. My heart is pounding with fury. "What did you say that for?" I demand.

"I'm sorry!" Poor Fred's shaking, knotting her hands up in her sweater. "I wasn't thinking --"

"You have to think! We have to be careful! Angel -- he can't hear that --"

"Cordy, back the hell off," Gunn says, putting his arm around Fred's shoulders. "Fred didn't mean nothin' by it. Angel knows that."

I know it too, and I feel like the world's biggest jerk for about four seconds. Then I realize that Angel's up there all alone. "Sorry," I say shortly.

"It's okay," Fred whispers. "We're all -- we're not quite right, just yet. I don't guess we will be for a while."

"I'm gonna go to him," I say, and they don't say anything else as I leave. I go up the steps two at a time, and between that and the fact that I'm trying not to cry, I can barely breathe as I reach his door.

I go in without knocking; Angel's sitting on his bed, his back against the headboard. It takes him a minute to look up at me. "Angel? Are you --" Okay? I can't ask him that.

Angel says, slowly, "Cordelia, do you think Connor's dead?"

This is my cue to lie like hell. But the way he's looking at me -- totally open, nothing hidden -- demands the truth. "I'm sorry, Angel. But -- I think he has to be."

He nods, taking that in, and looks up at the ceiling. I can see the faint gleam of unshed tears in his eyes. I sit down on the bed with him, put my arms around his waist, curl up next to him. Whatever he needs, I'll give him.

And then, dammed if he doesn't say, "Buffy --"

His voice trails off, and I feel like someone's dumped acid on me. My mind burns. Buffy. He wants Buffy. I can't help him now. Only Buffy will do.

And then I feel even worse. Didn't I just promise myself to give him anything he needed? If that's Buffy, well, then, that's Buffy. My ego can take a back seat. "Okay," I murmur. "Do -- do you want to call her? Or should I?" Does Buffy even know about Connor? Will I have to tell her the whole story? I run my hands through my hair, gearing up for it. "Or I could just drive you straight to Sunnydale --"

"Cordelia -- no." Angel's looking at me very strangely. "I didn't mean -- I wasn't asking for her."

My ego's not so far in the back seat that I don't feel better when he says it. "What did you mean?" I ask, sliding my arms back around him.

"When I saw Buffy last fall, after she rose again --" He's quiet again for a second, considering. I can't believe he's finally gonna tell me this story now, of all times.

At last, Angel says, "When Buffy was dead -- she was in heaven, Cordelia."

"Really?" All I can think is, If all the vampires and demons turned out to be true, I guess it's only fair heaven's true too.

"She told me what that was like, as best as she could. I -- I got the idea it wasn't something you could put in words, not exactly. But she said it was like -- like a world made out of love. It was all you could see, all you could know. All you could feel. Joy that rose up new every moment. It surrounds you. It's a part of you. All the pain and suffering of life is gone. There's nothing but light. Nothing but love."

What a beautiful idea -- no, it's not an idea. It's real. All the stuff we go through down here, everything we do for the Powers -- there really is a reward at the end, and it's wonderful. For a moment, I forget to breathe as I think about it. This is what heaven's like. And heaven is real.

"If Connor's alive -- then he's in a hell dimension," Angel says. "I got a look at that dimension. It reminded me of the hell I was in. I couldn't go on if I thought he was in there -- suffering like I --"

"Angel --"

"But if he's dead -- Cordy, if Connor's dead, he's in heaven. Then he's a part of all that love." Angel smiles at me a little as he says it, and it's the saddest smile I've ever seen. "I want that for him. Do you see?"

I can't say anything. I kiss him -- once, quickly, on the mouth -- and then hug him as tightly as I can. He doesn't have breath to get knocked out of him. We hang onto each other for the longest time, saying nothing, thinking only of Connor. Wishing him dead.

After a while, I shift a little in his arms, and Angel holds me closer. Our legs are kinda tangled up together. My hands are on his back, so I can feel his muscles move as he embraces me. I snuggle against his chest, and he rests his chin on my forehead.

In that instant, it's like someone struck a match; something inside me ignites, and everything about friendship and heaven and curses seems to fall away. For one second, all I can think is: Man, Woman, Bed.

I take a deep breath, clear my thoughts, and consider this carefully. Horrible but true: This is probably the one time the curse can't possibly kick in. Where's perfect happiness now? One night of pleasure, of intimacy, of release -- I could give him that, and he hasn't had that in so long. Who says making love always has to be romantic love? I could love him with my body, comfort him with all of myself. I could do that. I want to do that.

My heart is beating wildly, and I'm afraid if I move at all, I'll start shaking. How do I ask him if he wants this?

"Angel?" He squeezes my shoulders a little to show he's listening. "Do you want me to stay tonight?" We've crashed in the same bed before, so he'll think that's what I'm talking about. But once we're tucked in together -- lying next to each other --

Heart still thumping, I sit back a little bit to look at his face. He's looking at me strangely, with one of the expressions I haven't learned to read yet. "Stay -- in here? With me?"

"Yeah." I feel so exposed, so nervous. But I smile at him a little, and he takes a deep breath.

"I -- I guess you could --" Angel is studying my face, as if he's trying to guess my expression. Does he understand what I really mean? No, he's too confused. Too surprised. He pushes himself up against the backboard, clearly trying to think. "But what about Groo? Isn't he waiting at your place?"

Groo. GROO. Oh, God, what am I doing?

"You're right," I say. I nod and try to act like I thought of that. "You're right. Groo -- he'd understand, but I really shouldn't bail on him." I force a grin. "So, end of the big sleepover plan." As quickly as I can, without looking awkward, I disentangle myself from Angel and clamber out of the bed. "Gotta go."

"Cordy?" I smile all light and easy as I glance back at Angel, who looks deadly earnest. "I wanted to ask you something. About -- Groo."

Okay, didn't see that coming. What's he going to ask me? I can't imagine. But I know, as I look at him, that I'm going to have to tell him the truth. I try to relax. "You can ask me anything," I say, and I mean it.

"Do you -- are you --" Angel tries to find the words he wants, and I wonder why I feel so dizzy, and then I realize I'm holding my breath. Angel says, "Is Groo good to you?"

I exhale. That's an easy answer. "Yeah, he is," I reply.

Angel nods once. He says, slowly, "Then I'm glad. For both of you."

"Thanks," I say. And I manage to smile as I leave. My heart doesn't stop pounding until I'm halfway home.

*****

"And then a great leviathan rose from the deep," Groo says. "At first I was alarmed, but then I saw the mechanism and realized it was false."

I nod and smile and keep eating my Rice-A-Roni.

Groo and I make love again, and it's better this time; I somehow manage to shut off my brain and get lost in the moment a little bit. He's sweet to me, like always. But still, the best part is when it's all over and he just holds me.

After Groo falls asleep, I slip carefully out of bed and tiptoe to my purse. I put my hand inside until I touch it -- the soft fur of the little stuffed bunny. I sit on the sofa and stroke the fuzzy lop ears with my fingertips.

Tomorrow, maybe, I'll dig out the ex-headache box, currently stowed at the top of my closet. I could put the bunny in there, along with a few pictures and stuff. It'll be the Connor box now, and I can keep it under the bed again. Because it's okay to keep some things secret, and close, and dear.

*****

END

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