I am overcome, beautiful drowning, this beautiful drowning
This holy water, this holy water is in my lungs, and I am overcome
The steam is berry-scented as it wafts around her, warm and fragrant; soothing. Lazy hands drift slowly in the water, careful not to break the surface, and she watches the barely-there ripples with unexpected interest. Her flesh is pinking underneath the distorting layer of liquid, a gradual furnace of her own design, and the colour change is almost as fascinating as the ripples she's trying not to make.
Music curls into the bathroom, mixing with the steam, and she smiles a little at Dennis' choice. It's not quite classical, but not quite vocal either. Probably a movie score of some description. If she were to pay attention, she'd be able to identify it--after all, it's HER music collection--but she can't be bothered and, besides, it's nice to just listen sometimes.
She doesn't hear the knock at the door, but she does hear it open. Angel, she deduces easily, when the bathroom door doesn't close, and she instinctively checks to make sure there's enough bubbles to maintain a sense of proprietary. There is--just--so she closes her eyes and waits for him to find her.
A couple of minutes pass before she senses his presence at the bathroom entrance and she wonders what he and Dennis were talking about. Her eyes drift open and she watches, a little drowsily, as he silently slips into the room, steam swirling around his body. His coat is gone--no doubt in Dennis' care now--and so are his shoes. Socked feet make no noise on the tiles as he nears the side of her tub and then sinks to the ground, turning a little so that his back rests against the porcelain.
He's staring at the opposing wall, still silent, but she's okay with that; patient. She's feeling a little need for quiet herself.
These visits are rare, uncommon, and even though a part of her thinks they're wrong--they're best friends, not bathroom buddies--another part of her cherishes these interludes. Just her, just him... a few words of quiet conversation. No artifice, no distractions, just the reassurance of each other's company. Early morning scrambled eggs have evolved into late night steamy bathrooms and she likes that.
She's staring at him, marvelling a little as a bruise on his cheek seems to fade with every brief blink of her gaze. If he's aware of her look--which she knows he must be--he doesn't show it. Minutes--maybe hours?--pass as they stay there. His back to her tub, her reclined submergence, and the music and steam dances around their heads like insubstantial haloes.
She doesn't ask him how his evening was, how the fight went, because the answer is obvious. He's here. It may not have been a great evening, and the battle might have been oh-so-nasty, but he's here with her now so that means that it all went okay. She's learning to appreciate the 'okay' moments almost as much as the wonderful ones.
The water gradually begins to cool, and though she'd love to replenish the heat, she's disinclined to move. Relaxation isn't easy to come by these days and she's relishing this stolen moment.
"I love you," are the words that finally break the silence and a lazy, pleased, smile drifts across her face.
"I know," she answers simply, and his head turns so that he can meet her eyes.
There's doubt in his gaze, and she wonders at that, is surprised by it; tries to emphasise the knowledge in her eyes. She knows that he loves her, has known for a long time. She knows--and she's just said so, hasn't she?--but that expression on his face reads of something other than belief.
"Angel..." she starts, a little tiredly, because the last thing she wants now is to have to argue a point with him--especially one as redundant as this--but he cuts her off.
"I love you."
She nods this time, the body movement causing the water to ripple. "I KNOW." she repeats firmly.
His head tilts to the side, eyes narrowing, and she frowns a little at the intense scrutiny. Time passes and she's fidgeting now, water churning and bubbles disappearing. Her peaceful submergence is being disrupted--HAS been disrupted--and those sensations of relaxation are now becoming ones of annoyance.
He sighs eventually, shoulders slumping and looking away. "Forget it," he mutters, "you don't understand."
An exasperated noise as annoyance turns into confusion. "Forget it?" she repeats, her frowning intensified. "What don't I understand?"
He shakes his head. "It doesn't matter."
Confusion gives rise to anger. "Angel!"
He shakes his head again, this time accompanying the movement with gestures towards rising. Her hand darts out to grasp his arm, water droplets spraying the tiles and dampening his sleeve.
"You're ruining this," she hisses, "so explain yourself already."
She wants the familiar routine back again. The peace of her and him relaxing. The calmness of them and of their amity. Simple pleasure sprung from quiet companionship, that's what she wants. What she doesn't want is this; this confusion and anger and annoyance. He's corrupting their haven--if a steam filled bathroom can even be called a haven--and she doesn't want that. Not at all. Not ever.
He settles back into his previous position but the tension remains in his body, the muscles in his arm corded beneath her fingers. The CD in the other room skips for a moment and there's a sudden burst of silence--weighted, tangible silence--before music resumes again.
She doesn't speak, doesn't bridge the sudden void between them, because it's not her place to do so. He started this and he'll be the one to fix it. Granted, the ownership of speech-rights has never stopped her before, but this time she feels a need to uphold the division of vocal-responsibility.
"I'm tired," he confesses eventually and she feels a portion of her anger melt into compassion.
The words 'I know' once again cling impatiently to the tip of her tongue and she swallows them down with difficulty. In substitution, her grip on his arm gentles, fingers no longer gripping but resting tenderly.
"I'm tired," he repeats, and his eyes close even as he looks upwards and continues with, "of loving you and..."
Her hand leaves his arm instinctively, body leaning back suddenly as if the words were a physical blow. Water splashes against the side of the tub, even more bubbles dissipating, and the sudden inappropriateness of her visible flesh paints a startling contrast to his words.
Words that she knows shouldn't hurt as much as they suddenly do. Words that she hopes are incomplete... not literal... perhaps mistaken? And it's this sudden hope that now keeps her silent; an incredible desire welling within her for him to be not finished.
Suddenly she's not even sure if she could speak even if she wanted to. Not with that--incomplete?--statement echoing off the damp tiles and steamed mirror.
"I'm tired of..." he pauses, head dropping back down, eyes opening again; staring at what, she doesn't know. "Of your honesty. That unfailing, tactless, bare-bones honesty. You never take the long way, never visit C or D or P, Q and R. It's always A to B, the straightest and most direct line possible. I'm tired of your honesty, Cordy."
The use of her nickname should dull the pain, lessen the hurt, but it doesn't. It's like Xander and the Scoobies all over again; the constant critique and shushing. Different words but the same meaning. Don't say that... show a little tact... and her nickname should make it ache less but it doesn't. It just doesn't.
And tact is just not saying true stuff, so she'll pass on that. For years she had the power--the money, the popularity, the looks--to say whatever she wanted and she'd never seen the point in using that power to lie when the truth could be wielded just as easily. And when that power had gone, she'd stuck with what she already knew, gaining comfort from the familiarity, ignoring the little voice that whispered in her mind that the reason she always called it like it was, was because she couldn't lie. Lie, act--there's a difference?
"I'm tired, Cordy, tired of your intelligence." He turns and looks at her now but she averts her gaze at the last moment. "Of you being so smart... solving Rubik's cubes and reading French fluently and words like 'copasetic' and 'troglodyte' that you spin out as if they're just another form of slang. You should be at university, or college, or something, not... and I'm tired of that; tired of your intelligence."
She stares into the mostly bubble-free water, at the no-longer pinking flesh that's becoming more and more visible as the water loses its heat. She tries to work out how she slipped up, how she let him see that side of her. She remembers how the Scoobies had been so disbelieving when their GPAs arrived when they were finishing high school, and how their reaction had only furthered her belief that she was expected to be pretty and shallow and popular and not smart.
She thought she'd been so careful. Her Vogue magazines were French, yes, but she'd smiled at Wesley when he'd commented on it, pointing out that she was only interested in the fashions she could no longer afford. French, smench--did he realise how good she'd look in that little scarlet number on page fifty-five?
And Gunn's cube had been a mistake, she'd known that at the time, but when the man had finally tossed it aside after a week of frustration, she'd been unable to help herself. Couldn't help but pluck it out of the potted plant near the office door after work one night. Couldn't resist twisting it and turning it until the colours all matched and the toy was no longer a fashion faux pas. 'Blue and green should never be seen, unless there's something in between...' that was the rhyme her designer had told her oh-so-many years ago.
"I'm tired," and it's her turn to close her eyes as he speaks, now wishing she'd never insisted that he stay; that he talk to her; that he fix this, "of you caring so much. Always ready with a band-aid and a pep talk and drink or a flower or smile. You never seem to run dry, Cordelia, never seem to reach that point where you just can't care anymore. You've always got more ready, ready and waiting, just brimming and then falling and smothering me--and everyone else--with your love and your compassion and your caring. I'm tired of you caring so much. So constantly. So unfailingly, even when we--I--don't deserve it. That makes me tired, Cordelia."
She's glad her eyes are closed, pleased that the sting of tears and the pricking moisture are shuttered away and covered tightly by her eyelids and eyelashes.
Her parents had taught her that love was to be rationed, to be frugally sprinkled in public gatherings and parties and dinners where other people could see how perfect a family they were. Her mother and father had shown her, time and time again, that families weren't meant to have Cleaver and Walton moments, not if they were alone. What point, they'd stressed to her, is there in telling someone you care if there's not somebody important there to hear it? They'd shown her and taught her and she'd obviously forgotten it all when they'd left her. No money, no CEO's, no love. That had been the Chase family rule.
And how could she have forgotten that? How could she have been so foolish as to care so deeply, and love so freely, when so often they were just one-on-one? Or a group of nobodies and nothings. Why had she wasted her displays of affection on people who weren't important? Why had she forgotten how families were meant to work?
He sighs. "I'm tired, Cordy." he murmurs and she desperately wants him to not speak anymore, to not say another word. There IS such a thing as saying too much, sharing too much, and she's afraid that if he says anything else, the too much really will be TOO MUCH and that they'll--she'll--never be able to recover. Never be able to return to a place where things are just right... just much.
She wonders if her honesty ever hurt anyone as much as his is splintering her?
"I'm tired of your bravery and fearlessness and courage. The way that nothing ever breaks you, just bends you so far and then lets you spring back with renewed strength and resolve. Nobody ever puts you down, wears you down, keeps you down. You're always standing up for yourself and for what you believe in--nothing ever intimidates you. Not Joe Evil, not me, not the visions, nothing." Another sigh. "That kind of strength? It's tiring. So very tiring."
She wants to tell him that she never asked him to love her. Never demanded affection from him. Tell him that this exhaustion is a damning of his own design, but the words stick in her throat. And she wants to point out that it's not her fault she can't break, not her fault that she cares... she never asked to be smart or honest... and that if these things bother him, well, that's not her fault either. She's silent, however; her esophagus cloyed with lodged sentences and irrational guilt.
She wants to apologise for causing him pain--something she never ever wanted to do--but she can't. She doesn't know how too. She's never apologised for being herself before and she simply doesn't know what words to use to do so now.
His next sentence--and god how she wishes he would stop already--is whispered and her eyes dart open, connecting with his before she can caution the motion. She's not sure she heard him correctly and--thankfully?--he repeats the words.
Sadness still prevalent, she's nonetheless entranced as his eyes drift down over her form as it splays languidly in the tepid water. There's no bubbles left, only clear liquid and her flesh.
"Legs, abdomen," his eyes traverse slowly upwards again as he labels her body, "chest, face... so beautiful. I'm tired of you being beautiful, Cordy," he whispers so very softly, his eyes finally connecting with hers once more. "So tired..."
She sucks in a breath as they stare at each other, inanely remembering that that's a reaction he'd never make. Emotions flicker across his features and shine through his eyes and it's like an insubstantial vamping. Exhaustion, love, sadness, happiness... she suddenly wants to tell him just to make up his mind and decide already. He's either happy or sad; exhausted or loving--hypostatise a feeling already! But the words freeze on her tongue like ice-chips; instantly melting into a trickle that slips down her throat. He's tired of her using words like that, she remembers sadly, and her entrancement is gone.
Gone and replaced with the momentarily forgotten feelings of impropriety. She's naked, and no longer covered with slightly illicit bubbles, and that's just so not an option. Not for her and Angel. They're best friends--not bathroom buddies, she reminds herself harshly. She's swapping sadness for self-recrimination now, as if this situation was completely her fault.
She blinks a little, to break their gazes, and then carefully stands, willing her limbs to work fluidly. The territory is new now, what with Angel still sitting here and her rising up and out of the water. New and wrong, she thinks, wondering why she didn't just throw Angel out--verbally, that is--of her bathroom before ascending. Because Angel isn't moving per se, just continuing to sit there, leaning against the tub. His old-fashioned--occasional--chivalry is apparently on vacation and his gaze follows her movements as she reaches for her bathrobe where it hangs on the back of the door. The air temperature drops sharply. Dennis, she surmises, ignoring the gooseflesh that's sweeping across her skin.
Absently, she wonders why her ghost is only NOW showing his displeasure at the inappropriate situation.
The robe belt half-tied, she halts at the sound of her name, looking down at him and startling just a little as his hand moves. Slipping past the thick folds of material, his palm connects with her flesh, fingers curling around her lower thigh. This cool touch on her right leg, at just above the back of her knee, is unexpected and her eyes widen.
"What sort of lover are you?"
The music in the other room is silenced sharply, Dennis' ire almost tangible as the temperature drops even further and the sudden quiet intensifies.
"I wonder... sometimes..." he murmurs softly, "about what you're like..."
Her heartbeat racing, breathing rapid, she stares down into his eyes, all too conscious of where his hand is. Of the way his thumb is moving; stroking--ever so lightly--the skin near her kneecap.
"... about WHAT you like..."
For the smallest instant, a split-second or less, she imagines taking a step forward. Imagines the half-tied robe spilling open as his other hand mimics the first. Imagines the cool touch of his lips on her skin; his mouth dipping forward to trail soft caresses across her abdomen. Imagines his lips and tongue kissing just a little lower than that; teeth nipping ever-so-gently maybe as he...
"... and I'm tired of wondering that, Cordy. Tired of wanting you."
The fantasy halters to a sudden end as she shudders briefly and her impossibly wide eyes close slowly, shuttering that dark brown gaze of his from her view. Her ragged breathing echoes off the tiles and she realises that she can't do this anymore.
She had promised herself that she wouldn't speak until he was finished, but she can't wait any longer, can't stay silent. Finished, sminished--she can't hear anymore.
She. Just. Can't.
"Angel..." her voice is thick, molasses-like.
He capitulates without prior warning, voice breaking. "I'm so tired..." he mumbles brokenly and there's a deep sadness in those three words, a terrible melancholy.
With shaking fingers she finishes lacing her robe, nodding numbly. Bending slightly, she removes his hand from her leg and grips it firmly, tenderly, as she reaches for the other limb. He's crying, she realises distantly as she helps him to stand, and with their hands linked she guides him to her bedroom.
The bed covers are pulled up even though she knows that Dennis had previously turned them down and she ignores the slamming of a distant door as she helps Angel to remove his pants and shirt. He settles beneath the sheets without protest, pulling her close as she curls up next to him. Her hair is damp but he comments not on it, embracing her tightly and gently, lips against her crown. Her robe is bunching up around them, a thick and cumbersome contrast to the thin cloth of his boxers.
"I'm tired of loving you," he whispers roughly and before her heart can lurch painfully at the repetition, he finally--FINALLY!--finishes the sentence. "And you not knowing how much."
She still refuses to cry and so the emotions flood her silently and without physical release. He's not tired of her, she realises now. He's not tired of her being smart or of her caring. Not tired of her tactlessness or of her being strong. Not tired of her being pretty or of wanting her. Those are just the examples of his exhaustion, the constructs of his affection.
And he's not tired of LOVING her.
He's only tired of doing so and her NOT KNOWING.
His doubt was correct then, his disbelief real. She HADN'T known... not really. She'd always known that he cared, and had known that he loved her, but she'd never known how much, how deeply, how completely he'd loved her.
She does now.
Sharp, shallow breaths leave her aching physically as her body tries to combat the internal maelstrom her emotions are causing, but she eventually manages to press a kiss to his chest. Lips briefly caressing the expanse of cool flesh that covers his heart. The organ makes no sound that she can hear but she's never been more sure of its existence in his body.
"I know," she whispers softly, tilting her head back so that she can look at him. He's stopped crying, and she manages a smile. "I KNOW." she repeats firmly and finally--FINALLY!--he believes her.
She watches the doubt leave his gaze, a peace of sorts filling his eyes, and she can identify--for the first time correctly--the depth of love there as well. He smiles down at her and she keeps the same expression on her own features.
For a long time they maintain the visual connection, the gently raised curves to their lips. Gradually slumber steals across his features, however, eyelashes slipping lower and lower until his eyes close completely and sleep steals him away. He's tired, and she knows that.
When she's sure that he's asleep, she carefully and ever-so-slowly unentangles herself from his embrace, slipping from the bed. Her hair is mostly dry now, bare feet padding lightly on the carpet and then on the tiles as she enters the bathroom.
The tub is still full of water, bubble-less and steamless, and she dips her hand past the soap filmed surface to remove the plug. Water gurgles away down the drain and the sound--thankfully--masks the couple of jagged breaths that she inhales and exhales as her tears finally slip free.
She wonders what will come next. Their bathing sojourns are finished now--they have to be--just like their breakfast meetings were once ended, and she wants to know what new routine will be created. What will she next come to desire as the perfect setting for their amity, only to have it razed by their want for something more illicit than friendship?
She swallows down a sob that he could possibly wake and hear, but continues to allow free reign on her silent weeping as she crouches beside the now bereft bathtub.
She wants it back. The innocence of their friendship in a setting that begs of impropriety. She'd liked that; had cherished it, craved it. And she just wants it back, that's all she wants. Evolution had previously entranced her, pleased her, but she's tired of it now. She wants things to stay the same, stay safe, stay ok, and she just wants it all back.
But it won't be back. It can't come back. THEY can't come back.
Not to here.
Because he loves her... and now she knows.