Notes: No spoilers; a standalone. 'Windmills of Your Mind' (Legrand/Bergman) isn't actually featured in this... it just came to mind as I finished writing it as being strangely relevant. A coincidence, I assure you :) The lyrics are at the end, so you'll be able to see what I mean. They're good as a companion piece. Dedicated to The Nutters.The Windmills of Your Mind
"Yes! Yes, just there... no, no, to the right... what are you doing?!"
"Cordelia, I'm doing the best I can... you know, your arm is kind of in the way just there, if you could..."
"Mmm... yes, much... there?"
"... I think we've lost it. I suppose we could try again later..."
"No, we're doing this now. If I could just..."
"Oh! Ohh! That was it... don't move, just don't... you moved!"
"This isn't a very easy position to hold for that long, you know... why don't you try it?"
"Urgh, like I could, even if I wanted to."
"Well, don't criticise my methods, then."
"There's a method here? Fine, glare at me, make me feel all guilty with the weepy brown eyes, Mr I'm-so-the-expert!"
"Two hundred and forty eight years does give a man some experience, Cordy. If you would just stop interfering, and just relax...
"Look, Angel, I totally understand that you're finding it difficult to get it up, and there's no point our continuing in..."
"I can do it, just give me some time..."
"God, I knew I should have asked Wesley. He always did seem more practical in this area - I know, I know, if looks could kill, I'd have my own little plot in the neighbourhood cemetery... Joke, Angel, joke! Geez, go back to the other statement, this one is way worse."
"Cordy... it's going to be a long time, before-"
"Alright, Hamlet, let's not start with the melodrama. You know you're not getting rid of me that easily... and I think we have more pressing issues to deal with at this very moment than my non-death. Mmm, just turn a little to the left... no, back again... yes, that's - no, not like that!"
"That's it! Perfect!" Angel backed away from the wall, and Cordy walked over. "Completely straight. See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" She rolled her eyes when all she received was a sullen glance. Walking up to the frame, she blew at a spot of imaginery dust. "I think that was some pretty nice teamwork!"
"Depending on your definition of a 'team'..." Angel was suddenly very much aware that the tables had turned, and that he was the one receiving the evil eye. "Uhm, so, what inspired this?"
"This place needs colour," she simply said. Sitting at her desk, she swivelled the chair so that she had a direct view of the painting. "You know, everything we do is so... dark. It'd be so easy to wallow in that, you know? Just... get lost in it."
"I won't let you," he said quietly. She smiled.
"Since when have you been able to stop me from doing anything?" she teased. "Don't think I'm going to let you get away with too much gloom, either! I mean, a little broodiness, fine, because that's who you are. But if I'm going to be cheerful, I'm taking you all with me!"
"So today, flowers and paintings, tomorrow...?"
"Singalongs and interpretive dance?" She frowned. "Uh, actually, forget the first part. And I think you already do the second..."
"It's not dancing, it's meditation."
"Pfft, Tai schmai, let's face it, it doesn't look all that manly, does it?" More glowering. "You know what, I'm really making an effort here, and all you're doing is... bringing down the whole positive vibe with your, your dark world view!"
Angel suddenly felt overwhelmingly guilty. He had no idea why; Cordelia knew better than most - better than any - that that was just who he was. Creature of the night. Of darkness. A depressive presence tended to go along with it- and yet, he was surprised to feel hurt that he still appeared that way. Maybe it was time for a change... "I'm sorry, Cordy. I don't mean to... to ruin the ambiance."
Cordy smiled. "Aww, you know I'd tell you straight up if you did. Oh, oh, I feel a hug coming on... just to warn you, so that you can run away now rather than spoil your reputation..." Angel smiled, and allowed her to embrace him. It was only when he caught himself smelling her hair that he broke the hug off. With a cough, he moved quickly away from her, and turned back to look at the painting. A frown made its way onto his face.
"Cordy, where'd you find that?"
"Hmm? Oh, the painting? Urgh, in that creepy old box room. Did you even realise we had a box room? Let me tell you, I was surprised. It's like a vacuum cleaner's death wish, all that dust... well, anyway, I was just... uhm... exploring the upstairs rooms, and I stumbled on that one."
She'd quite literally stumbled on it - more like fallen through the door. The truth of the matter was that she'd stupidly gotten lost on the upstairs levels, having misjudged the amount of sunlight left; none of the lights seemed to work, so she'd been feeling her way back along the corridor to the stairs when she'd leant too hard against one door in particular. Subconsciously, she rubbed the elbow she'd used to break her fall. The strangest thing about the room was that some of the dust seemed to have been disturbed... she'd quickly put it down to rats, and just as quickly forgotten that detail. The glow from the streetlamps was lighting up the room as clear as day - quite the phenomenon, come to think of it, given that the lights weren't even bright enough to help you find your hand in front of your face when actually walking directly beneath them.
"Anyway, there was a whole mess of crap in there, so I, well, I was... I decided to rummage. And was I lucky or what, huh? Found a pile of fabulous paintings!" She proudly gestured to the work mounted on the wall.
The painting was in very good condition, given the conditions it had been kept in for the last fifty years. It seemed to have been consistently protected from both the moths and the sunlight, and as a result, was neither tattered nor faded. That wasn't the first thing that caught your attention.
It was a truly beautiful painting, a work of such merit that it wouldn't be outside the stretches of the imagination to believe the painter was one of the Masters. However, it was certainly more recent than that. Cordelia wasn't sure what specifically had drawn her to the work... she just knew that she loved it. Loved it since she first glanced it over.
It featured a woman. A simple study, transformed into a work of many complexities. It was difficult to determine the period the woman had lived in - rather than taking away from the image, it gave it a mysterious, timeless air. She wore a simple white dress - nothing too fancy or frilly, not quite a gown, not quite a slip. It was a garment without age. Nonetheless, it was exquisite, but not so detailed that it would detract from the woman herself. She was a brunette, that much you could tell, but her face was somehow obscured. She seemed to be gazing into space, and her face held many emotions - love... irritation... amusement... seriousness... self-possession... bashfulness... but above all else, sadness. There was a sadness about her; it was incredibly a work of much colour and life, but the woman looked so unbearably sad. Otherwise, her features were less well defined - a simple mouth, simple nose... but pointedly clear eyes. The painting had a poignancy to it, and there was something missing... as you saw the woman lounge on the couch, you got a vague sense of something wrong, something strange, something familiar.
Cordelia was baffled. She never knew that one picture could evoke such a response in her. It was like a puzzle, a puzzle waiting to be solved... a jigsaw puzzle, complete but for one piece that has no doubt slipped down the back of the couch, but you can't for the life of you find it. Looking up at Angel, she saw an even stranger still statement on his face.
"Angel? What is it? Do you know something about it? Do you not like it?" she anxiously asked.
"No, I... I..."
A floodgate seemed to will itself open in his mind. Fifty years ago. Was it so long? All recollection of it had slipped his mind, up to this point... and there it was. The painting. That painting of a mysterious woman, who appeared only in dreams... the woman who would laugh at him, drive him half insane, until he could control himself no longer, and for the first time in yet another fifty years, had taken up a paintbrush, and begun to record every detail of her.
The dreams were, as the painting was now, blurred at the edges. Rose tinted. He had never quite seen her face. In all those dreams, he had only been granted slight glimpses. It was always the same. She would be moving about his room, carrying a bouquet of bright flowers, and carefully placing each on in a tiny vase, as he sat, unable to move, on the edge of his bed.
When she'd completed her task, the ethereal white cotton dress floating her as she moved, she would sit down next to him, and sadly smile. She was so familiar, and yet so strange - he would think for hours, trying to place the face, trying to work out the missing details, wondering if he had ever met this woman. And yet, somehow he knew he had not.
She would sit next to him, gazing lovingly at his face. He would try to reach out and touch her, to find that his hands were bound by ghostly knots. He tried to control the dream, tried to change it, but never could. She would lean towards him, the perfume of the flowers filling the air - they were always posies of country flowers, forgetmenots and sweetpeas, that he remembered - and gently kissed him. The kiss would grow more passionate, and she would be gone, across the room, out the door, stopping only to turn around and bestow upon him the ghost of a smile.
And he would wake up, the kiss lingering on his lips, and paint her, again and again. She had been a mystery, a vision of beauty amidst the dreariness of his world, and she would come and go as she pleased.
The thing most shocking to him was that the identity of the woman was no longer a mystery to him.
The woman was Cordelia.
Angel shuddered as a chill ran down his spine. In all his years as a supernatural being, he had experienced nothing stranger and more frightening than this sudden realisation. He had been dreaming about her. Before he had met her; before she had even been born. All of a sudden the picture, in which he'd strived for perfection, but could never quite achieve it, made sense. It was complete. And he was dumbfounded.
Cordelia looked on with increasing confusion and worry. "Uhm.. Angel... deer in headlights much?" He snapped out of it, and turned to look at her. The look on his face was so intense that it horrified her. "Oh God, what's happened? You didn't... you didn't eat the person who painted this, did you?!"
He shook his head, trying to clear it. "Uh... no, no, I..."
"Good, because that's just the kind of coincidence I need. I'm telling you, one more creepy thing like that happens, I'm actually going to jump out of my skin and stay out. And that really isn't a pretty picture, I mean, can you imagine mmf-" She was cut off abruptly as Angel grabbed her by the small of the back, pulled her towards him, and... kissed her.
His subconscious rejoicing, and his conscious not aware of very much at all, Angel held Cordelia to him. He'd finally broken the loop, he'd taken control, he'd managed to stop the spectre's games, just as he had always wanted to. He hadn't had the dream in a good forty-five years, but his memories of it were as vivid as the painting itself. He had kept them buried for all of these years, and they had all at once reemerged with a vengeance. Deepening the kiss, it wasn't until Cordelia moaned that he was wrenched out of the fantasy, and faced with the distinct, though very, very pleasant, reality.
Cordy nearly fell over as Angel pushed her away. They stared at each other for a second. "Wh... what was, I..." she didn't get a chance to articulate anything further before he turned on his heel and almost ran out of the room. Sinking down into her chair, she touched a hand to her lips. What just happened? Her emotions were in turmoil. Irritation... amusement... seriousness... bashfulness... and there was something in the pit of her stomach which, for the moment, she categorised as lust. That was all.
Yet again, she gazed at the painting, perfectly straight, perfectly framed, but somehow slightly imperfect. And in that moment, Cordy realised what it was. There should be another person sitting next to the woman. There was a definite outline, and the space left blank, but for the exquisite detail of the room wreathed with garland upon garland of flowers. She was not gazing into space. She was lovingly looking at another person.
It was a shame that this person's identity would always remain an enigma, Cordy thought, pleased to have solved part of the riddle. Pondering the painting temporarily took her mind off Angel, and that kiss... which was wrong... not wrong, but.. it was wonderful, but he was... she turned her attention back to the painting.
She felt a pang of jealousy. This woman loved someone with all her heart. Cordy wanted to know how the story would end, and her ignorance was incredibly frustrating. She sighed. "I hope you realise how lucky you are," she told the woman, fully aware how ridiculous her talking to a painting was, but feeling a strange kinship with the stranger. "I'm never going to find a man like yours. Hell, I'm never even going to a man like yours on the street! God, life is unfair."
It may have been a trick of the light, but Cordelia was sure that there was suddenly a glint in the woman's eyes, a smugness that hadn't been there before. As if she knew something Cordy didn't.
"How far am I going to have to look for a guy like that? For how long? God, I must be desperate, talking to a wall," she muttered to herself. Hearing a clattering coming from the general direction of the foyer, she realised that Angel must have gotten over his little episode. With one last glance at the painting, she left the room.
If only she had looked closer, she may have found the answer to all her questions. For around the woman's neck, there was a tiny locket. Almost, but not quite, too small to make out, there was a tiny engraving on it. A single letter, tiny, but unmistakable.
Etched onto the locket was the letter 'A'.
"The Windmills of Your Mind"
Like a tunnel that you follow
Keys that jingle in your pocket
Like a circle in a spiral