Before the meeting starts, he pulls another sheet off the Word of the Day calendar on Wesley's desk. It's February twelfth. Eight days since the ghosts of a dead passion had thrown him and Cordelia into each other's arms. Eight days since her touch had formed the chaos of his emotions into a clear and strong desire. Eight days since Angel's attempt to stammer out what he was feeling to her got interrupted by the triumphant return of that longhaired nitwit with the stupid name. And two days until Valentine's Day.
The word of the day is egregious.
The worst of it is, he doesn't think he's ever seen her look lovelier. All her excited chatter about "Groo this" and "Groo that" is almost bearable if he lets himself focus instead on her happy, relaxed grin, the glow of her eyes, the flush of her skin. He doesn't let himself think about what the Groosalugg could be doing to make her feel so good, or he tries not to. But he finds himself wondering idly if the man's neck would be as difficult to break as it looks.
He snaps back to reality at that, and tries to focus on what Wesley is saying. "...which suggests that the Korvath demon is still squatting somewhere in Santa Monica."
"I told you, we been up and down over there, and there ain't no sign of no Korvath nothing!"
"Very well. Then I'm sure you won't mind visiting Mrs. Abrams in hospital and explaining that she had her kidney removed by animaginary demon."
"Guys," Angel says wearily. Is it his imagination, or are they at each other's throats a lot more these days?
"He's not saying that there's no Korvath at all, Wesley; just that maybe we've been looking in the wrong places for him. Maybe we could, you know, broaden the circumference of the area we're searching in?"
"We should try Venice; it's not like he wouldn't blend in with the freak parade over there." Cordelia has Connor in her arms, and as she finishes speaking, she lifts him over her head and jiggles him slightly. "Isn't that right?" she coos. "Isn't that right? Yes, it is!"
Connor gurgles delightedly back at her, and the bittersweet ache of seeing them so good together actually drowns out for a moment the anxiety that seems to Angel to go hand in hand with being a father. Don't drop him -- watch out for his neck -- holding him up like that makes him an easier target to hit. He settles for "If you get him too worked up, he's going to puke on you."
"And down he goes." She smiles at him -- that huge, radiant smile -- and he is lost again.
In the end, it's decided that Wesley and Angel will go hunting for the Korvath together that night. Fred and Gunn volunteer to stay in the hotel with Connor while Lorne meets with a new group of contractors at Caritas. Cordelia, of course, goes home to the Groosalugg.
"He'll be useful to us," Wesley says.
"Sorry. I meant the Groosalugg." They are in the Plymouth, top down, Wesley behind the wheel. He raises his voice to be better heard over the rush of night air. "He'll be a useful ally." Angel snorts at this, and Wesley's tone turns defensive. "He's quite powerful."
"I beat him."
"Under extraordinary circumstances." Which is, Angel thinks, about the nicest way Wes could put it. "Yes, I think once he's acclimatized himself to our world a bit more -- once he and Cordelia are done with their honeymoon..."
An acid tone creeps into Wesley's voice, and Angel looks over at him warily. Cordelia had told him about their ill-fated Sunnydale romance; surely the man's not still jealous? He looks tired, and tense, and pained. He looks a lot like Angel feels.
"Yes," Wesley repeats. "He'll do excellent work."
"So, uh, Mrs. Abrams," Angel says, desperate to change the subject, "she's doing OK?"
Wesley shrugs. "As well as any middle-aged woman who's had one of her kidneys ripped out by a large Korvath demon could be said to be doing, at least. She was quite anxious to be released from hospital when we were there this morning. Apparently, she and Mr. Abrams have a tradition of dining at the restaurant where he proposed on Valentine's Day: she's determined not to miss that, no matter what her doctors say."
Valentine's Day. The year after Angel was turned, he'd brought Darla a necklace he'd taken from one of his victims as a valentine. It was a string of blood-red rubies linked on a fine gold chain, and he thought it would be perfect for her. She let him put it around her neck, let him kiss her where her skull met her spine, but when he moved to unlace her dress, she'd pulled away.
"Did you not like your gift, then?"
She'd smiled indulgently at him. "Darling boy. Do you really think I want you to bring me trinkets?"
"It's lovely. But I can have its like or better anytime I choose. So can you. You're thinking like a human, Angelus. Remember what you are."
So he'd gone out and killed three girls and their guardian who he'd found traveling together in a carriage on the main road out of town. He plundered the old man's corpse for its valuables and left him looking like he was sleeping off a debauch against a tree trunk. The girls' bodies he kept in the carriage, which he took to the isolated house where he and Darla were staying. There, he stripped them of their clothes and arranged their white, still forms into a crude heart shape on the snow-covered ground. As the last of their heart's blood trickled down on to the ground, he went inside and led Darla to the window to see his handiwork. Her smile this time was hardly patronizing: as she pulled his breeches off, she bit into his neck for the first time since she'd turned him, and he felt like he would explode from the pleasure of it.
After that, Valentine's had become their day. Not for some ridiculous protestations of undying love, but to outdo one another in imaginative cruelties. It was best when they had a victim they'd been toying with: Drusilla, still human, had opened her door on Valentine's Day to find the boy who'd walked her home from a church festival two nights before dead on the front doorstep, his eyes run through with stiletto knives, his chest cut open and still steaming. Darla claimed that she'd climaxed just from the sound of the girl's scream.
"Valentine's Day," Angel says now. "Some people... they take it very seriously."
Wesley looks alarmed, and Angel figures he must be remembering some Watcher's Diary reference to Angel and Darla's crimes. But instead he says "Of course. In Sunnydale. Angel, I..."
Of course. Another Valentine's Day he wishes he could forget. Darla was dead, but there was Dru to play with, and Buffy, the most delicious victim of all: the girl who had loved his soul. How the demon within had wanted to make her suffer. He remembered the heady metallic scent of her fear when she opened the box of roses he'd sent -- so strong he could smell it from the backyard bushes he'd hidden in to watch. He remembered the sound of the Gypsy woman's neck breaking, her body hitting the floor, and the inspiration that had struck a moment later. If Darla were here, she'd fuck me through the floor for this one, he'd thought as he dropped the record player needle onto Giles's copy of La Bohème. He'd considered, later, sending the Englishman a copy of the Victoria de los Angeles recording, so he could hear what the opera was really supposed to sound like, but decided that the greatest artists always knew when to leave something out.
"I didn't intend to stir up bad memories," Wes finishes. "Not that I'd want to belittle the gravity of your crimes there, of course, but we need to focus on our case right now. The Abramses need our help."
"Don't worry about it, Wes."
He knows, though, that Wesley will worry, that he berates himself for every perceived faux pas long after the rest of them have forgotten it. And he knows that he should worry too. I've been possessed by the spirits of old lovers before, he'd told Cordelia eight days ago, it never goes well. He knows that's not the only thing that doesn't go well for him.
He remembers what it felt like to love Buffy before it all went wrong; how his heart leapt every time he walked out the door, knowing he'd see her that night. How after a quarter-millennium, the world had seemed new again. What he feels for Cordelia is different: not discovering something new, but understanding what's been there all along. Connor can stare raptly at the mobile over his crib for long stretches of time, the simplest shapes all new to him, and Angel finds himself staring as well, marveling at the symmetry of a star, the deep purple shade of a circle. It's like that with Cordelia; her beauty all the more astonishing because he took it for granted before. He knows that even if there were no Groosalugg, he couldn't act on his feelings. Still, he remembers what it felt like to love Buffy, and to have her love him back, and he wishes he could have the chance to feel something like that again.
But then he thinks of Buffy crying as she drove her sword through his gut and sent him to Hell. Buffy crying when he told her he had to leave. Buffy, and something inside her too broken to cry after she came back to life and they parted one more time. He can't even begin to count the number of times the one woman he most wanted to make happy has cried over him, and he hates himself for it. He's never seen Cordelia cry; after Doyle died, she walked around with red-rimmed eyes for days, but he never once saw her crying. He never wants to see it. And the idea of hurting her, endangering them all, hurting Connor -- it makes him sick to even think of it.
So it's best this way: her with her big stupid Groosalugg, if he can make her happy, and him just keeping vigil over his miraculous son. No more company for those late-night feedings, and no more sweaty training sessions in the basement, either. He'll just keep a safe distance until the memory of her kiss, her touch, the taste of cinnamon on her skin is a little less vivid, and then he'll be able to handle it.
Wesley pulls the car on to Pacific Avenue and Angel pulls himself back to the search for the Korvath, trying to find the demon's dark smell in the salt of the ocean breeze. Of course Cordelia's hunch for where they'd find the beast was right: he's sleeping rough on the beach in Venice. There's a sort of unspoken agreement among the rest of them that they don't talk about how accurate Cordy's hunches have gotten even when there's no vision at hand, so Wes and Angel just shoot each other a shoulda-known look when the creature spots them first and attacks.
The Korvath has the element of surprise, but they've come prepared, and between Angel's sheer strength and Wesley's skill with a sword, they've taken it down within ten minutes flat.
"Rather anticlimactic after all that searching," Wesley says.
"At least we caught him before he got hungry again. Mrs. Abrams would be way too easy a target right now, and she really does need at least one kidney."
"There is that." Wesley's face relaxes into what's almost a smile, and Angel is heartened by the sight.
"Come on. The night is young. What do you say we go get a drink to celebrate our great victory?"
"Yeah. The guy had talons this long." Angel spreads his hands in front of his chest. "Am I right?"
"I thought one only told fish tales like that about the one that got away."
The one that got away? he thinks. That's a different story. "If we're not taking any trophies home -- and, in case you're wondering, we're not -- it's kind of the same thing." The Englishman still looks skeptical, and Angel shakes his head. "Work with me here, Wesley; I could really use a drink."
Wesley laughs, and for just a moment, his smile is a real one. "We'll need to dispose of the body first. Then we'll see if we can find an appropriately seedy bar."
"That sounds like a good plan."
And it is one; Wesley's the brains of the outfit, no doubt. Angel knows that once they've hacked up the Korvath's corpse and made a bonfire to destroy it, they'll find themselves some seaside dive that's open late and drink whiskey together. They won't talk about what's wrong, because that would just make it worse, but sit there quietly together, or speak of the demons they've fought on other nights. Angel thinks that will help them both. But still, later that night, after he's dropped Wesley off at his apartment, he'll stop at an all-night grocery and pay far too much for a bouquet, just so that when he returns to the Hyperion, before he goes upstairs to check on his son, shower, and sleep, he can drop one perfect white rose into the usually empty bud vase on Cordelia's desk, so it will be there for her when she comes in, on the day before Valentine's Day.