Cordelia glanced up from the PC as Angel came out of the elevator. She swept her eyes over him and took in his appearance. "Oh my God."
His brows drew together as he checked himself out. "What?"
"Look at you -- the poster boy for drab," she told him derisively. "Would it kill you to add a little color to your wardrobe?" Before Angel could defend his choice of clothing, Cordelia continued her review, circling her face with a finger. "Oh, no, that's right, it wouldn't go with that miserable, broody face."
"Don't even. After all the monster stuff I've seen, one growly vampire is nothing," she informed him matter-of-factly. "You're not still having those dreams, right?"
"No," Angel answered shortly.
"So, what's with the dire? It's been almost a week since Penn went poof. Get over it. Move on."
Angel just gaped at Cordelia for a moment, then shook it off. "Let's just do some work. You remember how that goes, right? Phone rings, you answer it. Mail comes, you open it."
"Just what I need -- a comedian for a boss," she complained under her breath.
Cordelia released a heavy sigh, but Angel studiously ignored her and she took the hint. There actually was a lot to do, and soon she looked at least as busy as Angel.
The door opening was just another sound blending into the background noises of typing and paper shuffling, as Cordelia and Angel paid bills and printed invoices. The sound melted away but the scent slammed into the vampire's senses. He turned abruptly to face the door. Kate stood there uncertainly, caught in indecision, backlit by a corona of late morning sun. Her hand clutched the doorknob in a white knuckled grip. Her outward appearance was a forced calm, her cop mask firmly in place, yet Angel could hear the trip-hammer beat of her heart.
"Angel." Her voice was disturbingly small, with none of its usual strength. "Hi."
Angel took a couple of steps towards her and she stiffened further, ready to bolt. He stopped abruptly, changing direction in mid-step, and came to stand behind Cordelia's chair. Fear permeated Kate's fresh scent, an appetizing and appalling combination that disgusted Angel the moment the thought bloomed in his mind. Smell is the strongest sense memory a creature has, but this was one that Angel wanted no part of any longer.
Cordelia had been quiet, a miracle in itself, but she couldn't remain unmoved by the uncomfortable tension building in the room. She was so often selfish or just clueless that Angel was always doubly surprised when she showed compassion or startling insight.
"Kate, comon in. We're open for business," Cordelia told the detective. "Angel, take a look at this." Cordelia tapped the monitor with a finger and he leaned over her shoulder to view the screen. Nothing of particular interest was displayed, only the picture of a Caribbean sunset Cordelia used as her wallpaper. His face hidden by the monitor, Angel mouthed "thanks." Cordelia gripped his arm lightly and it was enough.
Whether shamed by her own apprehension or assured by Cordelia's apparent ease around her vampire boss, Kate unclenched by inches and stepped into the offices. The door remained open at her back, a mute testimony of her need for a quick escape, a fact not lost on Angel. A yellow pool of light spilled in around her, making her hair seem to catch fire.
Her hair reminded him of Buffy, and he realized with a start that that was part of his growing fondness for the detective. He felt empty inside; a vestigial ache gripped the muscles of his stomach -- and also his heart. Angel straightened but remained behind the desk, afraid Kate would lose her resolve if he approached her again.
"So, what can we do for the police today, Kate?"
Kate's eyes were only for Angel, as if Cordelia had not spoken. "I -- I have two things to say."
Cordelia took a quick glance between the two of them and nodded to herself. She wisely decided they didn't need an audience for this, as much as she wanted to poke her nose into their business. Angel was becoming a very close friend, someone on whom she could utterly rely, and she didn't want to see him hurt or worse, more gloomy. Gathering up a stack of papers, she rose from her desk. "I suddenly feel the need to make enough copies to file everything in triplicate," she announced drily. "I'll be awhile."
They both watched her enter Angel's office with differing levels of unease. Angel cleared his throat, breaking the silence first. "So, two things?" he prompted.
Kate jumped at the sound of his voice. "Yeah. Can we --" She flicked her eyes to Cordelia and back. "--talk someplace in private?"
Angel nodded. "Sure. Of course."
Knowing instinctively she wasn't ready to have him at her back, he moved slowly towards the stairway and started down. When Angel reached the bottom of the stairway, he flicked on a few small lamps, allowing Kate to step into a space that wasn't filled with darkness. He also took several long strides away from the base of the staircase, giving Kate the margin of safety he believed she needed.
She followed nearly a minute later, footfalls hesitant as she emerged from the stairwell and into the basement. Kate's arms snaked around her stomach and she hugged herself. Her voice was still a shadow of itself, but she was gaining confidence, rebuilding herself, as she stood there at the foot of the stairs.
"I don't like being afraid," she said without preamble. Angel was so still that Kate had to look up to be sure he was standing nearby.
"I don't like being the one making you feel that way but I don't know what to do to stop," he admitted sadly. "I didn't think I'd see you again."
"I didn't know if I could -- I didn't know...." she trailed off uncertainly.
"Why are you here, Kate?" Angel asked gently.
She looked away, pretending great interest in a series of black and white photos of Ireland. "I wanted to thank you - - for saving my life."
"It's a life worth saving."
His voice sounded closer, and she glanced nervously over her shoulder to check his position. Angel had moved deeper into the apartment, towards the kitchen, and he was half-hidden by shadow.
"Do you do that on purpose?"
The question startled him. "Do what?"
"I guess not," she mumbled to herself. "I need to see you."
"Sure. Sorry." Angel flipped up the master switch, and the overhead lights flared to life. "Better?"
Kate nodded gratefully and her posture relaxed, unfolding as if she were a flower opening to the light.
"When we first met I told you I had issues trusting -- especially men. Every time I let myself trust, something like this happens. Nothing on this level, but bad." She took a deep breath before continuing. "I just can't process this. There's two sides to how I'm feeling. I look at you and see the attractive outer shell and I think: he's my friend, I trust him, he's saved my life. And then I remember. I see Penn's face, your face -- in my nightmares -- and I just want to run and keep on running. I don't know how to reconcile the two. I don't know if I can. I don't even know if I want to. But I couldn't leave things unfinished between us."
Angel's silence seemed unnatural, but Kate had planned carefully what to say and she had to keep going. Actually, apart from his eerie stillness, his reaction to this whole confrontation was so typically male that Kate began to relax. She moved towards him without fear, and that one step felt like a major victory.
"The things I said to you at my door were harsh. I said them in anger and fear. I won't apologize for the truth, but I wanted you to know where I was coming from." She wouldn't let herself look away, even though the expression on his face was like an open wound. The pain she saw there stopped her prepared speech.
When Angel realized Kate had run out of words, he took his turn. "You're right. Every word was the truth -- but it's an old truth. There's nothing I can say that will change the past. I can't erase what's happened. I know that. But I'm not that monster anymore, Kate. That's not me anymore," he told her pointedly. "That'd be easy, wouldn't it, Kate, to just believe I'm evil. It would be so easy to hide from the real truth." He mirrored her movement, closing the gap between them by another small step. "Part of you must still trust me, or you'd never have come here, unfinished business or not. I know you don't believe this now, but I won't hurt you."
The doubt on her face spurred him to try to explain further, to try to reach that part of her that still believed. He needed to justify himself to her. "I'm not like Penn, Kate," he repeated evenly, "not anymore, not for a long time. In fact, I'm not like other vampires at all. I have--"
Her hand slashed the air as she cut him off abruptly. "I don't want to hear it. I didn't come to listen."
Angel flinched back, as if she had slapped him. "So I'm just supposed to stand here and take it? Is that fair?"
"What does fair have to do with this?"
If anyone had come into the room, they would have seen two people locked like combatants in a motionless, yet emotional, battle. Kate had closed down again, and Angel couldn't bear the hardness that tightened her eyes. He turned away, but pride forced him to turn back after only a moment.
"You know me so well," he mused bitterly.
"Know you?" Kate shook her head. "No. I don't know you at all."
"I'm the same person, Kate."
She released a humorless laugh. "What other secrets are you hiding?"
"You've read about all my secrets, my list of sins. And if that's all you want to believe about me -- what you read and not what you feel -- then we're just going through the motions here."
Listening to him, watching the tightness of his movements, made Kate realize something about him, something she'd been denying. He was not a mere entry on a page in a book, but a three-dimensional person, with emotions, as easy to hurt as she herself. And for just a moment, she needed to hurt him.
"You betrayed my trust," she accused. "You lied to me."
"Kate, what did you want me to say -- 'Hi, I'm Angel, I'm a vampire' -- like it's a sign of the zodiac or some exotic religion. What should I do? Wear a scarlet V on my chest and announce to the world what I am. What gives the world the right to know?"
"What about me? Didn't I have the right to know?" Her eyes were wide to keep the tears of frustration from spilling.
"We're discussing it, aren't we?" he bit off. "I could've left you in the dark. Penn would've won." A need to make her understand, to accept him, ran through him and he closed the distance between them, but he stopped himself an arm's length away. His gaze captured her eyes and he willed her to hear the truth. "I couldn't let you be hurt."
"Please, spare me the hearts and flowers. You kept your dirty little secret to protect yourself and your own feelings." Kate was afraid again, not of what he was, but of what he could become to her. She couldn't be vulnerable before him, and this need to be brave kept her angry. "You didn't give a damn about me and mine," she blurted out unthinkingly.
Raw emotion, akin to anger but laced with an old pain, imbued his features, darkened his eyes. "Fine. I didn't give a damn. That's why you're standing here now in one piece, not dead in that sewer with your throat ripped out and your Dad come to identify you."
Kate was taken aback, subdued by the intensity of his display. "God, that's not what I meant," she quietly apologized. "Men -- the species doesn't matter at all."
He could have kept up his end of the argument, but this was a chance to derail it, end it. He didn't like the anger, the bitterness, he had heard creep into his voice. He made a conscious effort to calm down, backing away a few steps to put an end to the confrontation. "Why is it woman can say 'Men' in that tone and expect to get away with it, but if a man says 'Woman' in the same way, he gets jumped on?"
"You're changing the subject," she told him, accepting the sudden truce.
"Just trying to make you comfortable."
"I don't know if I'll ever be comfortable around you again," she admitted truthfully.
His eyes flicked away, but she caught the fleeting second of regret. "Will you try?"
Her first response was to reply flippantly, but she forced herself to give the question serious consideration. Searching the face before her, ignoring the one from her worst dreams, was difficult, but anything less than honesty would be poor repayment for her life. After all, he had risked exposure, her censure, to save her life. "Yes, I'll try."
Hope flared briefly in his eyes as he focussed squarely on her face. "Still friends?"
A small smile graced her lips as she reminded him, "I didn't miss."
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