A fan fiction story by Melpomene based on the characters and backstory of "Angel: the Series" and composed without permission. No copyright infringement is intended and no monies have been earned.
Note: The story takes place post-Billy but pre-Quickening in the AtS universe. Warning: In the US today one quarter of all women have been the victim of assault by the time they reach adulthood, that probability increases the older the woman becomes.
The team at Angel Investigations is highly protective of Cordelia, however when she is most vulnerable she is left more or less to fend for herself. This came of a thought of what would happen if the worst did happen to occur and how would she and the rest of her ‘family’ handle such a crisis. Nothing is explicit herein nor does the actual assault even take place within the story itself, however, the subject matter might be distressing to some so please be warned.
Cordelia would be waiting for them to return from the latest hunt. One blindingly painful vision, three Tahlmar demons and a lot of blood later, Angel, Wesley and Gunn purposefully strode along the sidewalk toward the hulking edifice of the Hyperion. It was curious, or would have been to an unseasoned observer, that the trio went about their business in the darkened streets and alleyways without drawing notice to themselves. They barely attempted to conceal their weapons as they kept up a steady pace, their bloodstains and abrasions would be disregarded until they were back in the hotel where their personal angel of mercy waited to hover over them in condescending glory despite the agony in her own head.
The sounds of their footfalls resounded off the tiled foyer as they crashed through the doors in an unrelenting flood of sweat and testosterone. The thunderous sound of their steps faded finally, followed by the clash of weapons falling into a disorganized pile of wood and steel on the scarred desk that faced the entrance. Three pair of eyes scanned the downstairs quickly, searching for a particular dark head and patronizing eyes to no avail.
“Cordelia,” Angel called into the stillness of the monstrous hotel. His voice echoed slightly but brought no reply. “Cordy?”
A familiar head peeked out over the banister, a shy but bright smile directed at the trio. “Cordelia went home. She said she was tired and wanted to go to bed early.”
Angel smiled in reply. “Thanks, Fred. Was she okay? When she left, I mean.”
Fred’s head bobbed companionably, her smile brightening even more. “Oh, sure. She said she was fine.”
Angel paused a moment, taking in that bit of information. Cordelia telling him, or anyone for that matter, that she was fine was like waving a red cape in front of a charging bull, it didn’t lessen the roiling emotions running through his head but it did give them a target. “So she said that she was alright?” he quizzed.
“Uh huh. She sat on the couch for a while after ya’ll had gone but then she decided she wanted to go home and sleep. You know, it was kind of like when one of the…” Fred looked down to meet the pained expressions of the men below her and shook her head quickly to dispel the abstract thought. “Never mind. She said she would be fine.”
While Wesley moved to his books and Gunn plopped down onto the couch, Angel considered the ramifications of Cordelia’s departure. She might simply have been tired and wanted to sleep in her own bed with Dennis’ pampering presence, or she might not have wanted them to see how badly she was handling the post-vision side-effects. If her appearance when they left her behind that evening were any indication, she was trying to hide how badly the visions were affecting her. His concern egged him to pay her a visit after he cleaned up, but memory stopped him as he got flashes of remembrance filled with an indignant Cordelia who merely wanted to be left alone to her misery. Maybe he’d leave her alone for the rest of the night, he thought, and then check on her in the morning. Mid-morning visits weren’t exactly his forte but he did have a few alternatives.
“Wes, I need you to do something tomorrow morning.”
Looking up with a pleasantly expecting expression, Wesley looked up from the notes he was compiling on the evening’s demonic encounter. “Yes, Angel?”
“It’s Cordelia. Go by her place before work and check on her. If we go over there now…”
Gunn cut off his statement. “If we show up on her doorstep pesterin’ ‘er, we’ll need more backup than when we went after the green scalies. You know how she gets when we keep after her with the worry. Probably she left so we couldn’t keep askin’ her if she was okay. An’ pesterin’ her in the daylight isn’t gonna make it any better.”
“Gunn does have a point, Angel,” Wesley said, idly fingering the gold leafed pages of the book that lay on the table in front of him. He too was concerned but knew all too well what Cordelia’s reaction would be to his appearance at her doorstep the next dawn. “Perhaps a phone call would be more prudent.”
Angel looked from one face to another, even Fred seemed to be in agreement that they shouldn’t bother the woman in question but his concern wouldn’t allow that. If she’d stayed at the hotel, been there when they returned so that he could see for himself that she was still alive and more or less well… Well, that would be a wholly different scenario, the fact was that she wasn’t there and he was too worried about his friend to put her emotional comfort or her pride before his need to assure himself that she was indeed all right. “She’ll get over it.”
Wesley shook his head slightly. Their concern for the seer grew by leaps and bounds with each vision the PTB sent her way, their worry for her safety and health paramount to anything else, even the quest that each vision sent them on. He would do it, go by her apartment, argue with her spectral roommate to allow him entrance, regardless of the anger it was sure to produce in the young woman. He might even pay a visit to her on his way home and relieve a bit of his own building anxiety.
“Alright, Angel, I’ll go.”
“Good.” He strode past them all, heading to the kitchen and the pig’s blood that sat chilling in the refrigerator there. He could relax a bit knowing that Wes would check on Cordelia. Taking one of the tubs of viscous liquid from its shelf, he closed the door with a dull thud and turned toward his living quarters. Sleep would be a welcome relief… after a shower to relieve his skin of the sticky remains of demonic entrails and excretions that it had collected during their fight.
Once he departed the Hyperion for the evening, Wesley approached the apartment building cautiously. He had been on the receiving end of Cordelia’s raucous ire far too many times to remain unwary of it, but obviously not often enough to avert his visitation. She was far too precious to them for any of them to ignore her obvious distress, even if she chose to ignore it herself.
Taking the stairs two at a time, he paused on her landing, lightly knocking on the door to her apartment. He anticipated Dennis’ refusal to let him in and had already prepared a speech for just such an occurrence. What he had not anticipated was the opening of the door by the invisible hand of Cordelia’s ghostly roommate.
The apartment was dim, the curtains pulled shut against the streetlamps and flashing neon of the street, only a single lamp shone dully from one corner of the living room to illuminate his path. Curiously, he searched the shadows for his friend, not finding her in any of the usual places.
“Cordelia? It’s Wesley… We were, well, we were concerned about you,” he called into the deathly quiet of the room. He paused, waiting for an answer, a shriek of indignation, or even just a resigned sigh, but none were forthcoming. “Cordelia?”
Another door opened on the far side of the room. Thanks to his numerous visits to the apartment, Wesley was able to identify the room as Cordelia’s bedroom, obviously the most likely place for the exhausted woman to be. Not giving a second thought to why Dennis was being so helpful for a change, he crossed the room and stepped through the doorway.
The bedroom was even dimmer than the living room had been, shrouded in deep shadows and unclear edges. The bed loomed blackly up from the deep gray of the floor, mounds of pillows and blankets tangled in inky confusion. If there was a person hidden among the cloth and down, Wesley was hard pressed to confirm it. He stepped closer to the bed, trying to make his footsteps as silent as possible so as not to wake or startle the girl who was surely resting among the tangled mess.
In a sudden flash of pale moonlight, the curtains were drawn aside by an unseen hand, leaving the bed awash in cool blue illumination. The full moon brought depth and form to the mysterious shadows, allowing him to spy a hand poking out from beneath the blanket. The rest of her body was hidden from view among the linens and Wesley very nearly turned to go so that he wouldn’t disturb her, when he noticed something distinctly wrong about the visible hand.
Cordelia had gone for a manicure the day before, he remembered because she had presented her hands to them all afterward, explaining that she would have nothing to do with their weapon sharpening session. Her fingernails, lacquered and buffed, had been an extension of her own attempt at perfection. The fingers he saw now were splayed across the sheet, scratched and bloodied, the nails torn and broken. For someone who had gone straight home without taking part in their demonic battle, they were a significant sign of wrongness.
Eyes widening, he edged around the bed, trying to decide where her head might be hidden. Not exactly certain he wanted to survey the rest of her unaccounted injuries nor wanting to surmise how she had come to have them, he gingerly reached for the blanket and gently pulled it away from her face.
“Good God, Cordelia, what happened?” Too shocked to maintain his composure or hide his distress, his voice rang out loudly in the quiet room although it was in reality no louder than a strangled whisper.
He was immediately sorry for his outburst when the sound caused the woman to jerk awake, her eyes fearful and her arms and legs scrambling to put as much distance between herself and whomever had invaded her home.
“Shh…” Wesley purred, kneeling quickly so that she would be better able to see his face. “It’s only me, Cordelia. Wesley.”
Slowly the fear drained from her face leaving her frighteningly pale in the aftermath of her waning distress. Scooting back against the headboard, she drew her legs up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and resting her chin on her knees. She looked up at Wes through the fringe of her dark lashes as he slid onto the edge of the bed, one hand reaching out to brush her ankle through the fleece of the sweat pants she wore. Her jerk in response to his touch caused him to snatch his hand away, not wishing to cause her any more distress.
“Cordelia?” he murmured. “Cordelia, what happened?”
Her eyes slid away from his face, focusing on the dim corner before she could bring herself to speak. When she did at last open her mouth, her voice was raw and harsh, rasping painfully. “I was coming home, or trying to anyway. My head was foggy from before… and my balance was off… I should have stayed at the hotel.”
Wesley watched her closely, waiting for her to say more. “Cordelia…”
“I should never have left, okay, I know it was a stupid thing to do,” she sounded so miserable and alone that it took all the will power Wesley could muster just to keep his hands from reaching out to offer her comfort.
“Whatever happened, you’re not to blame. You know that.”
“Wesley, I knew I should have stayed there and waited until you had all come back, I knew it. I just wanted to come home and sleep it of though, you know? But I… I never even heard him come up behind me, I was using all my concentration just trying to stand up straight.” Suddenly she raised her head, directing the full force of her gaze at Wesley. “God, how stupid could I be? I know what’s out there. I know how dangerous it is to walk around at night alone. How could I be so stupid?”
Torn as how to progress, Wesley dared not drop his eyes lest she think he was in agreement with her self-depreciating statements. “No, you weren’t being stupid, Cordelia. No one should have to worry about being attacked. No one, least of all you.”
She chuckled sardonically, her voice hardening. “Why? Because the PTB sends me these brain-frying private versions of their ‘most wanted’ list? Because I’m Angel’s precious seer? What does that matter to anyone but us? And what will it matter to anyone when Angel gets his humanity back?”
“You’re more than that, you know that you are. Angel told you as much when Billy was causing you so much torment. The visions don’t mean as much to any of us as you do yourself.” He stopped trying to convince her of her own importance to the group when she winced in pain. “What happened, Cordelia? You need to go to the hospital, to let a doctor examine you.”
“No, I’m not going anywhere.”
“No,” she insisted, drawing even further into herself.
“Alright, alright, no hospital,” he agreed, “but we do need to contact Angel.” He watched her closely, not knowing what kind of reaction to expect from her for suggesting they contact Angel. He knew that regardless of her desires, there would be no way to keep her experience from the man whose life she had bodily invaded. She had come to mean far too much to him, with or without her visionary insights.
A sudden panic flooded through her mind. She hadn’t thought about having to tell Angel. Surely there was some way to get around it, some important but heretofore unmentioned errand that would take her out of LA for a while. If she knew where her parents were… No, they wouldn’t be any help; after all they’d left her to fend for herself after the IRS fiasco. And she had no one else to turn to but Angel. Surely there was someone…
“You know, I need to drive down to Sunnydale for a few days… There’s this thing…”
Wesley stopped her before she could finish formulating her plan. “You can’t run away from it, Cordelia. It will follow you where ever you do go.”
She closed her eyes, relishing the pounding headache that throbbed at her temples. At least she knew how to deal with that particular pain, even if the pain medication she bought with such regularity didn’t help. Drawing in a trembling breath, she tried to steady her racing heart. Angel had to be told, so did Gunn and even Fred. She understood that on an intellectual level, it was her emotions that weren’t cooperating.
Wesley took her silence and shuddering breath as a sign that he could call the office and summon the one man who he thought might be able to talk some sense into the young woman. That was, if the vampire didn’t first hunt down who ever had done this to her and feast off of them, disregarding the impact the action would have to his redemption. Wary but determined, he reached for the phone only to discover its cord had been yanked from the wall.
“Dennis wanted to call the office, I didn’t want him to.”
Nodding in understanding, Wesley moved to the living room and the phone that was there, all the while trying to fabricate in his head the words he needed to relay to Angel. When it came down to it, there were no right words; there would be no easy way to break the news that in their quest to help the group of strangers that the Tahlmer demons had been attacking, they had let down the one person who, quite possibly, meant the most to them. *
Stepping out of the steam filled bathroom, Angel neared his bed, his thoughts still focused on Cordelia but determined to give the woman the room she demanded… at least for the evening. After all, how much trouble could she possibly get into in a single night?
Drawing the sheets back from the bed, his motions were stilled by the clamoring of the telephone. Even the most determined telemarketer wouldn’t call so late at night. He picked up the receiver after listening the trilling noise for several minutes and finally deciding to answer it. Cordelia must have disconnected the answering machine before she left or else it would have taken the call without his assistance.
“Angel,” Wesley said even before the man in question had the opportunity to say hello.
“Wes? What’s wrong?” There was something in the ex-watcher’s voice that set Angel’s senses on full alert. The normally calm tones had elevated to an almost frantic quality, very un-Wesley-like.
“Angel, you need to come to Cordelia’s.” After running several possible scenarios through his mind, Wesley had decided that waiting was the best alternative. Although the vague summons was sure to cause the man distress, it was more reasonable than explaining over the phone why his presence was required. There was no telling how Cordelia’s predicament would affect Angel and Wesley preferred to be near by when the time came that he found out.
“What happened? Let me talk to Cordelia.” Angel’s grip on the receiver threatened to crush the rigid plastic.
“I’m afraid she’s indisposed at the moment…”
“Wes,” Angel warned.
“Angel, please, just come. I’ll explain once you arrive.”
Staring at the far wall, his thoughts in whirling turmoil, Angel at last agreed and returned the receiver to its cradle. Dressing quickly, he breezed down the sidewalk to his hulking convertible, cranking the engine and tearing down the street toward Cordelia’s apartment building.
The drive that normally took fifteen minutes was shortened to five as he drug the car around corners and through traffic lights in an attempt to arrive quickly and have the mystery of Wes’ phone call cleared up. He wanted Wesley to have exaggerated the seriousness of the situation, to walk in to the sight of Cordelia happy and well and yelling at Wesley to leave her alone for a few minutes before she resorted to drastic measures.
Up the stairs of the Pearson building in a flash of black, he came to a stop in front of the door and softly knocked, calming himself lest he bang the door off its hinges and spend the next evening shopping for a new one to replace it.
The door swung open noiselessly, answered by the spectral Dennis, and Angel strode purposefully into the darkness that waited behind it. The lack of lights was unusual. Cordelia spent most of her time at the Hyperion opening draperies and turning on lights so that the dreary interior would be exposed to some amount of light. It wasn’t like her to leave her home in shadows.
She wasn’t in the living room or kitchen, he knew, she was still in her bedroom. She was in her bedroom and something was horribly wrong, he could sense it, smell it on the wafting air. It raised the hairs on the back of his neck, and sent prickly fear charging through his heart. Had his heart been beating, it would have stopped out of sheer fright of what might be behind the door to Cordelia’s room.
Then he heard it. That faint, barely there, voice from the room he didn’t want to enter. It was unmistakably Cordelia’s voice although it sounded as if she’d managed to contract a pretty bad cold in the short time since he had last seen her. Scratchy and hoarse, he could hear her telling Wesley she would be fine. She was trying to convince him to leave, to leave and let her be alone.
No. Angel didn’t know yet what was going on or why Wesley had relayed such a cryptic message but he did know that Cordelia had no business being alone. His resolve settled, he strode toward the door, unsurprised when it opened before his hand reached the knob. Inside the room, the scent of fear and shame intensified. Cordelia sat huddled on her bed while Wesley perched on the edge, his attention riveted on the young woman. The opening door drew the young seer’s attention and Angel gasped at the condition of her face. He’d never seen her so bruised and battered, not after any of the battles she’d been drug into, not even when the fakir had sent her all the violent visionary side effects in the Wolfram and Hart’s quest to get Billy out of hell. Wesley turned when Cordelia raised her head, nodding silently to Angel and reaching out to Cordelia, his hand stopping just before it touched her knee.
“I’ll return in a moment, Cordelia. Would you like something to drink?”
“No,” she whispered, ducking her head from Angel’s view.
Wesley rose, motioning for Angel to follow him into the living room. Angel was torn. He wanted to talk to Wes and discover what had happened, but he didn’t want to leave Cordelia’s room.
“Angel.” Wesley’s voice was rife with concern and he knew the inner battle his friend was fighting, he felt the same way but knew that Cordelia would never be able to listen to the conversation they were about to have.
Turning on his heel, Angel looked back at his friend where she crouched on the bed. “We’re going to be in the living room. I’ll be back.” He waited for her to slowly nod her head in understanding before he stepped out of the room.
“Angel,” Wesley repeated once they were in the dark interior of the outer room. “I don’t know exactly what happened. When I came by this evening Dennis opened the door and led me to her. She’s obviously in shock but refuses to go to the hospital or speak to the police. I suppose we can suspect the worst-case scenario and proceed from there. She’ll speak about it when she feels able to do so.” He paused and looked up at his friend, seeing the anguish on the man’s face. “She didn’t want to tell any of us, Angel, but there are some things even Cordelia Chase needs help with. I need for you to convince her to go to the hospital. She needs a doctor to make sure she hasn’t sustained any internal injuries.”
“When she tried to walk home,” Angel said, his voice whisper-soft, “this happened after we left and she tried to walk home.”
“Yes, it would make sense…”
“We left her.”
Angel turned and left the room, returning to the bedroom and Cordelia. He needed to assure himself that she was in fact all right, that she wasn’t in imminent danger of dying due to her sustained injuries. He also needed to convince her to go with him to the hospital so that someone could have a look at her injuries and assure him that she would be okay.
She knew when he walked back into the room. She could hear his soft footsteps against the pile of the carpet. She could feel the tension in her own body increase with every step closer he came to her bed. Her fear of her friends, of her own family, was ridiculous. These were the men who stood up against demons for her, who battled heartless lawyers and creepy producers. They would never hurt her, would do anything in their power to see to it that she never got hurt.
Part of her head told her to get a grip and let them comfort her. Allow herself to be wrapped in strong arms and cry on their shoulder. But one lone voice cried out that they hadn’t saved her this time, that when she needed them to protect her the most, they hadn’t been there; that she would never be as important to them as the quest for Angel’s redemption was, and that she wasn’t more important, not even to herself. It was that one voice that was loudest and rang out above all the sensible thoughts that ran rampant through her mind.
They had told her to wait for them at the hotel, had asked her to stay with Fred and make sure she was okay. Cordelia had chosen to leave, had given Fred her phone number and walked out the door just as soon as her feet would support her. Anything that occurred once she set foot outside the hotel was her own fault. They had tried to tell her to stay in the Hyperion where she would be safe.
Angel neared the bed, dropping down slowly to sit on the opposite edge Wesley had occupied when he had arrived. He watched Cordelia’s muscles tense beneath her skin; he saw her slide a fraction of an inch away from where he had chosen to sit. This wasn’t Cordelia, at least it wasn’t his Cordelia. His Cordelia didn’t let fear rule her actions; she stood up to the demons that filled the city’s sewers and alleys, fought for the betterment of others…
But this was his Cordelia.
He stared at the hair that cascaded across her cheek, obscuring his view of her bruised face. Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to back track, go back in time a few hours and make different decisions. How he could have disregarded Cordelia’s safety as readily as he had done, he didn’t know… nor could he forgive himself.
“Cordelia,” he whispered, his hand aching to reach out and brush aside the curtain of glossy hair and he full extent of her battered face. “Cordelia?”
“It’s not your fault, Cordy.”
She chuckled at his words, her anxiety clearing for a split second as she mulled over the fact that he was so sure he knew what she was thinking. Generally he could easily read her thoughts, it was almost freaky how well he knew her. But this time he had missed the mark. “What I was going to say,” she said softly, drawing a deep breath and taking in the familiar scent of his leather coat, “was that I didn’t want you to find out. None of you.”
Angel nodded and finally gave into the base need to touch her. His hand gently brushed aside the silken strands of hair that hid her face from him.
At his touch, she tensed, then forced her body to relax. This was Angel after all, her very own dark avenger, not some human scum that lurked among the shadows waiting for an easy target. “I guess it just couldn’t work that way, huh”
“No,” he murmured. His hand touched her chin lightly, tilting her face up so that the pale moonlight could throw illumination across her pale skin. The bruises were darkening, casting angry red blotches across the expanse of normally flawless skin. The knowledge of what those marks signified made Angel’s borrowed blood boil.
At the sight of her widened eyes, he realized what had happened and relaxed his own muscles, slipping back out of ‘vamp mode’ as Cordelia would say. The last thing he wanted to do was cause her any more distress than he already had.
“Is it that bad?”
He looked at her with shocked eyes. How could she not know how he felt; that any time she as much as got a splinter in her finger, he felt wholly responsible. She had definitely not spent any time in front of a mirror since her arrival home. He hoped she didn’t have any auditions lined up, but then he couldn’t remember her mentioning any since they had returned from Pylea.
“Oh, I was kind of hoping… I don’t know what I was hoping.”
He leaned forward, forcing her to make eye contact. “Cordelia, you know you have to go to the hospital.”
She shook her head savagely from side to side. “No… no, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do, and you know it.” He sighed needlessly. “I mean, you need to be sure you don’t have any internal injuries. And you need to talk to the police…”
“But nothing. This guy… what if he goes after another girl, Cordelia? What then?” Angel hated what he was forcing her to do. He knew that privacy and pride above all else were important to the woman who had become his closest friend. But she had to be reasonable and let others help her.
Perhaps he could get Kate to come talk to her, she could write up the report. Kate and Cordelia had never been friends, or even friendly to one another, but he felt that Kate would be better than a total stranger. “Come on, Cordy, please come with me to the hospital. I won’t leave you alone, I’ll be there with you the whole time if you want me to.”
Sagging back into the headboard she looked up at him slowly. She hated the idea of leaving her apartment now that she had finally gotten there, and she was terrified by the notion of having to talk to someone about what had happened and being examined in a brightly lit room. But she knew too well the look of determination on Angel’s face; he wanted her to go because he was worried about her and that wouldn’t change until she had been checked out by someone in a white coat and cold hands.
“I don’t want to,” she said, a single tear tracing a wet path down her cheek.
Angel didn’t dare brush it away lest he hurt her by doing so. “I know.”
The emergency room was blessedly sparsely populated when Angel pulled the convertible up to the entrance. He glanced quickly at Wesley, telling him wordlessly to help Cordelia into the building so he could find a parking place in the garage. He flinched when she jumped at Wesley’s touch, tamping down the need to rip something, or someone, apart.
“Wes, call Fred, let her know I’ll be out until later. Maybe find Gunn and see if he’ll go back to the hotel until this is over.”
Wesley glanced back over his shoulder. “I’ll go, once you park the car. I’ll return to the hotel and explain things to Winifred.”
Angel nodded, pulling away from the curb as the pair entered the sliding glass doors. He’d already placed a call to Kate and she had begrudgingly agreed to meet them there although she was still uninformed as to the circumstances… but then again, Angel himself wasn’t exactly sure what the circumstances were. He just hoped she could manage to get Cordy to tell her what had occurred.
He found them in the triage room, Wesley and Cordelia, while a nurse silently took Cordy’s blood pressure. She was nearly unresponsive as the graying nurse gently unwrapped the cuff from her upper arm. The nurse turned to Angel as he approached.
“Your friend said you’d be staying here with Miss Chase while he saw to some matters. We’ll have you in an exam room just as soon as I can find an empty one. In the mean time, you’re welcome to remain here.” She ducked out of the tiny room with its quiet occupants and over abundance of medical equipment as soon as she had finished writing down her notes in Cordelia’s file.
Wesley knelt down next to Cordelia, gently touching her knee. “I need to make sure Fred is all right, but I’ll return if you would like me to.”
“No, go home and get some sleep. I’ll be okay,” she murmured to the speckled tiles of the floor.
Mouthing to Angel that he would return, Wesley placed a soft, chaste kiss against the top of her head and departed for the Hyperion, finding himself once again in the position of relaying delicate information, and again not knowing how he was going to proceed.
As soon as he was gone, Angel pulled the rolling stool across the cramped space to rest directly in front of her. The harsh lighting of the room provided no comforting shadows for the bruises and abrasions to be hidden by, nor did the capped sleeves or scooped neckline of Cordelia’s shirt. Bruises the shape and size of fingers stained her arms and neck, her head was ducked at such an angle it was impossible to tell how severely her face had been marred. His thoughts ran back to what he had seen in the paleness of her bedroom and he was suddenly unsure he wanted to know the truth of it all.
She didn’t give him the chance to decide when she finally raised her head, her eyes seeking out his in the foreign landscape of the triage room. “I wanna go home,” her voice croaked, breaking from exhaustion and fear.
“When this is over I’ll take you back to the hotel. You can stay there for a while, just until you’re able to get along on your own.”
She shook her head at Angel’s suggestion. “That’s not home, Angel.”
“I remember one time that you liked staying there.” Angel tried to keep his voice light, attempting to alleviate some of the heaviness that rested so securely on her head.
“That’s only because it had fewer cockroaches. I’ve got Dennis now, he’ll take care of me,” she insisted.
“We’ll talk about it later, Cordy.” Angel looked toward the door before the nurse opened it, watching as her concerned face appeared in the doorway.
“Miss Chase? We’ve got a private examination room for you now. Do you need any help getting there?”
She shook her head, allowing Angel to help her stand with a minimum of panic flooding through her. She followed the nurse down the hallway, Angel trailing after her.
“I just received a call from the LAPD, a detective Kate Lockley said to let you know she would be here soon.” The nurse glanced up at the brooding man who hovered over her patient. “She was unclear as to what was being reported and asked for a brief background. She then said to tell you she was sorry for being difficult before and that you should said something.”
Angel nodded in response, holding the door to the exam room open for Cordelia to enter and listening to the instructions the soft-spoken nurse relayed. This would be the worst part of the entire ordeal Cordelia was being put through and he was left completely clueless as to how to respond.
In the end, he needn’t have worried. Between the nurse’s directions and Cordelia’s own wishes, he was deprived of his own free will, though not reluctantly. When Cordelia changed into the hospital gown, he turned his back because she asked him to stay. When the doctor arrived, Angel held Cordelia’s hand because the nurse mentioned it might make her a bit more at ease. When Kate showed up, he stood in a corner of the room, quietly listening to the hushed tones of the women’s conversation but maintaining a calming and secure presence.
When Cordelia was at last given permission to leave the hospital, he was pleased to see that not only Wesley was waiting for them but also Gunn and even Fred. He wondered briefly how Fred had handled the foray to the hospital but that thought was crushed aside when Cordelia came to a dead stop in the middle of the waiting room when she too saw them.
Cordelia’s breath caught at the sight of the three of them sitting in the uncomfortable chairs, worry lining their faces as they waited for her. This was not happening, this was all wrong. She was supposed to hide out at her apartment for a few days, at least long enough for the bruises to fade, claiming to have the flu and letting Dennis pamper her a bit. Then maybe she would be able to return to work with no one the wiser. None of them were supposed to find out what had happened.
So far only Angel knew the specifics, well Angel and Kate. But Kate was a police detective; it was her job to keep secrets. Angel, she was relatively sure, would keep quiet about what she had said. But ‘relatively sure’ wasn’t much of a comfort when she was standing in front of the only four people she could claim as friends or family.
“So, you’re cleared to leave then?” Wesley asked, rising from the hard plastic of the chair. “I was able to obtain a parking slot near the entrance.”
Angel nodded, maintaining his grip on Cordelia’s elbow when he felt her pull away from the group. They needed to get out of the hospital and clear all their minds of the scent of antiseptic and illness. “Let’s go.”
Cordelia allowed Angel to gently pull her along to the car, noting that the sky was still pitch black as they stepped out into the cool night air. It was still night, less than a day had passed and yet she felt as if she had aged years in the time since the last vision.
She felt numb, absolutely numb. The air was cool but it didn’t register with her brain, nor did the drastic change in lighting from the bright emergency entrance to the shadowed garage. She stumbled across the asphalt, half pulled, half guided. Nothing registered with her senses, not since she had lain on the cold examination bench allowing the doctor to perform his job. She had blocked it all out, shut down all extraneous emotions and senses. Even talking to Kate hadn’t changed that.
Kate. How long had it been since she’d last seen the police officer? Before Angel fired them… after? She couldn’t remember. The change in the other woman’s expression, in the depths of her eyes, disturbed Cordelia. She didn’t want sympathy, she didn’t even want compassion and understanding; what she did want was to be left alone in her own apartment surrounded by no one. She definitely didn’t want people who barely tolerated her presence before to start worrying about her. She got enough of that with Angel.
She didn’t know where that thought came from. Angel was her friend, was her best friend…
But her relationship with him had changed from what it had been in Sunnydale, sure it had. When she had been in high school, she’d lusted after him… from a safe distance once she discovered he was a vampire, but lusted after him all the same. And he had categorized her in with the group of Buffy’s friends who he didn’t need or want to waste his time with.
When they had run into each other at the party in LA, things had been no different. Sure, he ended up saving her from becoming steak tartar, but he hadn’t done it because of any devotion to her specifically. He had just been going after the vampire of the week. She had forced herself into his life, invaded his home and office, ordered him about and had not taken no for an answer. He was no different than the Scoobies back in Sunnydale. He only tolerated her now because she gave him no choice.
Angel looked across the car at Wesley as the man unlocked the doors and allowed them all entrance. Opening the door, he released Cordelia’s arm for a second before ushering her into the backseat and claiming a place next to her, letting the remaining three to sit in the front. He was growing more and more concerned with his friend’s behavior. Cordelia had been becoming progressively more withdrawn ever since they had arrived at the hospital. He only hoped that once she was back at the Hyperion, she would be able to overcome some of that emotional wall and let him help her.
No one said a word during the short drive home; even Fred was gratefully silent as they maneuvered through the night-filled streets.
Once Angel had settled Cordelia in his own bed, and watched as she had drifted into a fitful sleep, he silently left the room, allowing her the privacy of her slumber as he fought to come to terms with all that he now knew.
Fred sat in the kitchen, uncharacteristically silent as she scooped up lo mein from a take-out box she’d fished out of the refrigerator. Wesley sat next to her at the table, sipping tea and staring blankly at a book that rested in front of him on the tabletop. Only Gunn paced restlessly, unable to sit quietly in the aftermath of the evening.
Not wanting company, Angel ascended the stairs, taking the steps two at a time in his haste to avoid his friends. An open balcony door allowed him entrance to the hushed night as his thoughts roiled tumultuously through his head. In all the time he had been in LA with Cordelia’s constant presence in his life, he had never had to consider the true darker side of humanity.
All of those they worked to defeat were evil through demonic influence of some kind, even the lawyers at Wolfram and Hart had their finger dabbling in the demon realms, with the singular exception of Ryan Anderson but he had only been a child. But this… this thing that had attacked Cordy… It wasn’t a demon, it wasn’t even possessed, it was just one of humanity’s own special brand of scum. This thing is what he worked every day to protect, among all the multitudes of innocent humans.
All of a sudden, his impending redemption meant nothing if it meant that he had to sacrifice the welfare of those he loved to the dregs of human society. Cordelia’s visions left her vulnerable to attack. He was the reason she got the visions in the first place, and he had to leave her alone in the wake of the mind-shattering revelations… leave her to be prey for anyone who might be wandering by. He wouldn’t abandon her like that again, he couldn’t.
The PTB be damned. He refused to sacrifice an innocent girl just to please them.
His fist slammed into the stonewall, sending a shower of crumbling rock and mortar to the street below and radiating pain through his arm. Pain was good, it was real and controllable, not just a game played by mystical powers who didn’t seem to care who was injured in the process of their playing.
A sharp cry from within the hotel brought his thoughts away from his own torment and he dashed back inside, his need to reach Cordelia’s side outweighing his desire to be alone. He guessed they would both have to make adjustments. Neither one of them, neither he nor Cordy, wanted to be among others after what had happened, and yet they were presented with no other option.
Nightmares were nothing new to him. He’d experienced more than he could remember after he’d been cursed with his soul and knew the agony they could produce. There was no telling however, what it was like to be the victim of an attack. He had always been the victimizer.
Jerking awake from the icy grip of her nightmare, Cordelia threw herself facedown on the pillows, trying to stifle her sobs with the downy cushions. She didn’t want to alert the others, but since her own scream woke her she was relatively sure it was sufficiently loud enough to bring the notice of everyone in the hotel… possibly everyone within a five-block radius. It was a good thing their neighbors had long ago grown used to the strange goings on at the Hyperion, otherwise they might have a police investigation to contend with on top of everything else.
Trying to push down the swelling fear and self-pity that rose in her breast, she gasped hiccupping, wracking sobs against the pillow, cramming its softness against her mouth and eyes. Maybe if she could just get herself under control before any of her knights in shining armor came to try to save her…
That thought was abandoned when she heard the door crash open and rushing feet near the bed on which she lay. There would be no avoiding their concern and anxiety now, no hiding from it in the superficial comfort and warmth of Angel’s bed.
She struggled to shrug off the feeling of foreign hands pressed against her bare flesh, reminding herself in silent determination that any touch she might feel would be at the hands of those she loved and was loved by, not the stranger who had loomed up evilly from the shadows of the night.
Angel dropped to his knees next to her, his anguish clearly palpable in the dark stillness of the room. Wesley, Gunn, and Fred hovered at the doorway backlit by the rosy glow of the lamps in the far room, watching the scene but unsure of how to proceed or what they might be able to do to ease her distress. This battle she fought against her dream’s tormentors, against the ghosts of whomever had attacked her was beyond their ability to fight. They could only be a constant presence, hoping that by the sheer presence of their numbers, she would be able to draw strength from them.
Cordelia curled further around the pillow, knowing her was there but not wanting to raise her head and see the self-loathing in Angel’s eyes, not wanting to admit that she was yet again the cause for his self-flagellation. She was the reason for far too much of his guilt in the years since she had become a member of Angel Investigations. Stylized angels that looked more like lobsters, Angphel Investigations, heroic self-sacrifices… so much had happened in such a short time; a lifetime of experiences and regrets to mull over in the painful silences that made up her solitary nights.
Slowly extending his hand to smooth her hair, Angel cleared his throat to gain the attention of the seer who was trying to disappear among the sheets and pillows of his bed. He wanted to see her eyes, to assure himself that she was awake and no longer locked in the horror of her nightmare. Although her actions seemed to relay the fact that she was indeed awake, he refused to go by faith alone. His faith once told him that the powers would somehow spare Cordelia… not only had they not spared her the violence of the ever-worsening visions, but they had left her open to attack from outsiders without so much as a warning. Faith was a thing for children and the elderly.
Her whimpers seemed to quiet as he ran his fingers through the silken strands of her hair, soothing the locks into place against her scalp. Twisting around so that he could sit on the edge of the bed, he motioned for Wesley to close the door and leave them in the darkened room. Perhaps if he could get her to talk about the dream she would be able to get some more sleep.
She remained curled up on the bed, her face still hidden by the pillow as he tried to get her to talk. The trembles that shook her body were diminishing, giving way to over-tense muscles and sheer exhaustion. Her shoulders sagged back against the bed as she finally sighed deeply, raising her head from the pillow and rolling over to cast a glance up at her friend, Cordelia drew the blanket back up to cover her legs. In her restless sleep she had discarded all of the bedclothes to the edges of the mattress. At home Dennis would have kept her tucked in, at home she wouldn’t have had to worry about disturbing her friends, at home she could try to forget that anything had ever happened.
“Cordy? You okay?”
Angel’s soft voice was so tender, so filled with concern that she very nearly gave into the little niggling need to throw herself against his solid chest and nestle there in the safety of his arms until all the bad people left her memory. But even that fantasy was a laugh, nothing more than a cruel joke played out by her struggling psyche. Bad guys and demons were a constant force in her head ever since she was hit with the first vision; they were her constant companions, even more so than the leather-clad vampire who sat watching her so closely. They didn’t need to leave her to race off and fight the evildoers; they just had to stick around until she was left alone with her screaming mind. Besides, she was Cordelia Chase and Cordelia Chase didn’t run to others people to solve her problems, she dealt with them on her own… unless they incorporated demon spawn and then the only problem was the mind control bit.
Drawing her knees up she rolled back onto her side facing Angel and wrapped one long arm around her legs tangling the blanket in her grip. She needed to find the words that would convince him that she was okay, that she would be fine just like every other day since her arrival in Los Angeles. Those words escaped her, her mind drawing a blank. She simply stared at him.
“No, you’re not. Dumb question.” Brushing a lock of hair back from her eyes, he was pleased to note that she didn’t shy away from his touch. “You don’t have to do this alone, Cordelia. We’re all here. We’re not going anywhere.”
Cordelia continued to stare, her thoughts swirling through a dozen similar promises. A dozen broken promises. She knew his intentions were noble, he wanted to save her from any and all harm, but the fact of the matter was that he couldn’t and he never would be able to.
Wesley took a deep breath, releasing it slowly through clenched teeth. There were times that he wished he were still playing the role of rogue demon hunter. In that persona, he had no time for friendships, he hadn’t yet remade the acquaintance of the starry eyed Cordelia or the morose Angel and, most importantly, he didn’t care. Not caring kept his emotions in firm check; it didn’t send him on a mental roller coaster ride every time a demon hurled a weapon past him to strike down one of his comrades, it didn’t give him nightmares and cold sweats when he considered the lengths Wolfram and Hart was willing to go to in order to control Angel.
How many times had Cordelia paid the price of carrying the title of seer? How often had he and Gunn been patched up after a battle and a lucky strike? How many times had he nearly been killed? But this… he didn’t know how to even begin dealing with what had occurred to Cordelia. There were no lawyers or monsters to blame, just a man without moral standing, a human.
Sinking down onto a chair at the table, he rested his elbows on the tabletop, wearily rubbing his hands across his face in an attempt to clear his thoughts of their building confusion. Why this atrocity had to happen to Cordelia he didn’t know. The young woman had endured so much at the hands of others, when would it all end? He was loathe to imagine what the consequences of another vision would be falling so quickly on the heels of such a violent attack, all he could do was hope the PTB would hold back their messages until she had been given a chance to recover first.
He stared down at the book, the words blurring on the page as he watched them. His aching body cried out for him to flee to his apartment and the bed that awaited him there. His mind refused to allow him to leave the Hyperion until he had been given the chance to check on Cordelia, regardless of the fact that Angel was with her and was more capable than any of the rest of them to protect her.
Thinking about the way things had been twisted by fate’s own hand since his arrival in LA, Wesley was struck by the notion that they were all without family… all except Fred at any rate. Angel’s parents, his sister, were long ago food for worms; Cordelia’s parents had spoken very rarely to their daughter in the two years he had worked with her, a single phone call was all he could recall; and Gunn’s family was also gone. He himself had parents living in England but only spoke to them when courtesy absolutely demanded it. In one way or another, they had found one another and incorporated their own version of family regardless of racial differences or even life status.
How was it that women dealt with such horrific intrusions? How could anyone be expected to handle such blatant disregard for another’s well-being? He closed his eyes against the torrent of questions that wouldn’t stop pouring through his thoughts; a wealth of horrors parading across his memory and imagination. He still was unsure he wished to learn the full extent of the harm done to the beautiful woman in the next room. Some things should never need be explored.
Crouched in a corner of the couch, Fred watched Wesley as he fluctuated between anger and despair. Still unsure of what might be the ‘right thing’ to do, she chose to stay where she was, watching and waiting for some clue as to how to react.
All the years she had spent in Pylea she had never had to deal with anything close to what Cordelia was going through. Sure she had nearly been beheaded, considered a cow, starved… but at least she’d been left more or less alone to the solitude of her cave. Already unstable with the normal goings on of the world around her, she decided that being quiet, listening, watching… that was how she could be helpful. At least she hoped so. Watching Wesley continue his foray into guilt and despair, she wondered briefly how Cordelia managed to not only become a princess in Pylea after just one day, but also gain such devoted friends in LA. How was it that all these people were willing to see past the attitude and wry commentary to befriend her? What made her so different?
The night drug by with the pace of a tortoise, each second extending into an eon filled with uncertainty and guilt. Wesley had watched Angel as he boomeranged between the bedroom and the basement, alternately comforting Cordelia and releasing pent up aggression in the basement below. He was still amazed to watch Angel emerge from the basement door just fractions of a second before Cordelia cried out in her sleep. Whether he was detecting something unnoticeable to the rest of them, or was just in possession of remarkably good luck, Wesley couldn’t be sure.
None of them slept with the exception of Cordelia, but her rest was no better than their wakefulness. The phone rang intermittently with calls from Kate who had promised to keep them informed. Those calls were nothing more than attempts to calm the rough waters she knew were churning in the wake of Cordelia’s attack. The last thing she needed was vigilante justice mucking up her investigation.
Kate was also concerned about the group she had thought were at last out of her life, worried about the girl who had endured the actuality of the assault more so than those who felt responsible for it, but knowing that they were all suffering. She was also determined to pay a visit to Cordelia; while they had rarely associated before, she was fairly certain the other woman would be unable to turn to the men in her life to help her through the tumultuous emotions she would surely be experiencing. If Cordelia talked to Wesley or Angel, they would just become angry and while their anger wouldn’t be directed at Cordelia, she wasn’t sure the girl would understand that in her current state.
In the Hyperion, silence hung heavily in the chilly rooms. Cold and lonely, the hulking hotel hunched over its inhabitants in grey company to their heavy moods; only the soft jangling of the phone and startled cries of Cordelia in her sleep disturbed the otherwise thick stillness.
Slowly Angel retraced his steps from the basement stairs to the bedroom door. Cordelia would be waking up again soon; he could feel the almost electric charge that hung in the air, preceding her awakening from her latest nightmare. Just as his hand brushed against the icy metal of the knob, he heard the first strains of her distress and hurried his movements, gently easing the door closed behind him.
She lay, wide-eyed in the middle of the bed, staring unseeing at the ceiling as she struggled to control her breathing. Taking great gulping breaths, she wondered how the dreams could have such a monstrous effect on her since she knew she was safe in the hotel. Even during the attack she had never lost her head, never panicked or lost control of her thoughts. Sure she had been scared, but fear and panic were two wholly different things.
She turned her head to the whispered call for her attention. Angel. Her dark protector who just missed the mark every time. Her best friend.
She met his gaze, seeing the concern he had for her, seeing the guilt that gilded his eyes and lined his brow, seeing it without wanting to acknowledge that she was the cause of it all.
He knelt down next to the bed, waiting for her to allow him a place on the mattress. When she shifted slightly to the side, he eased down onto the mattress, sinking into the softness there.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Cordelia shifted her gaze to focus on the far wall.
“You can talk to me, you know? If you want to. It might help.”
She remained silent for a long time, just studying the cracks on the wall with detached interest.
Finally she spoke, “I don’t know, Angel.”
“What?” He kept his tone light, his voice barely more than a whisper.
“Anything, I guess. I must have been a horrible person, worse that I thought. I mean, I know that I was terrible when I was in high school, but recently I thought… I…” sighing, she let her voice trail off.
“You’re not a terrible person, Cordelia. You don’t deserve this, you didn’t do anything to deserve anything like this.”
“No, Cordelia. You didn’t do anything, even back when you were in high school.”
She watched him, thoroughly unconvinced but not wanting to squelch his rising hope that he was getting somewhere with his pleas. Her mouth creased into a frown as she tried to put some semblance of reason to her life. “I was pretty petty… back before I knew Sunnydale was on top of a hellmouth. Even after I found out… I wasn’t a very nice person. And the fiasco with Xander and Willow, and…” her voice hitched as she fought to control her emotions. “There’s a lot of stuff I’m not proud of, a lot of stuff I’ve done that I wish I hadn’t…”
Angel watched her. “We all have regrets, Cordelia, but that doesn’t mean we deserve to have bad things happen to us. Well, at least for most people it doesn’t.”
“I just want to know how much more is going to happen before I’ve paid for everything I did. Haven’t I paid for it all already? I was impregnated with demon spawn, I have these scratch and sniff visions that’re gonna end up killing me, I have no money, no family… everyone I love dies or leaves me…”
Angel placed his hands on either side of Cordelia’s face, forcing her head up so that he could see her eyes. “No. I won’t leave you.”
Her eyes darkened, an unreadable expression falling across her bruised and battered face. “You leave me all the time, Angel,” she replied, a sob catching in her voice.
Gunn walked across the polished tiles toward the entrance. “I’ll be back, Wes. Jus’ gotta get the 411 on that Hacklar demon who was trashin’ the old ‘hood last week.”
Wesley nodded absently. “Yes, yes, of course. Do keep us informed. And if you require assistance…”
“You’re the first one I’ll call, man. And, English, give me a ring if anything happens with vision-girl in there.” Gunn grinned grimly, his extended finger indicating the concerned Englishman.
Wesley agreed silently and watched Gunn disappear through the doors, turning quickly away when a movement on the far side of the room startled him. He turned the rest of the way to observe Fred rise from the couch and approach his seat at the table. “Fred, are you alright?”
“Better ‘n Cordy, huh?”
“Yes,” Wesley replied, watching the woman take a seat near his chair, “I suppose that could be said for us all. Are you hungry at all? We could dash out for a spot to eat if you are.”
Fred’s face crumpled into bafflement. “Not really, maybe later though. It’s hard isn’t it? Not knowing exactly what to say… I mean, I never seem to say the right thing anyway, but now it’s worse.”
“Yes, it is,” Wesley commiserated. “But perhaps that will change soon. All we need worry about now is helping Cordelia come to terms with her current state.”
“That would be easier if she let us in the room.”
Wesley nodded in agreement. It was difficult indeed to be supportive through the solidity of a closed door. “I’m sure it’s only temporary, Fred. She merely needs a bit of time to recuperate before we begin to beleaguer her with our offers of assistance.”
He cocked his head at Fred’s seemingly out-of-the-blue comment. “What’s funny?”
“Well, not laugh out loud funny, more of a sick to your stomach kind of funny, like when you first found out there wasn’t a Santa Claus.” She shook her head rapidly and forcibly returned her strain of conversation back to the proper place. “I mean of all the people who you would think were safe from danger… Wouldn’t you think Cordelia was the safest? She works for Angel and she’s his best friend; she has you and Gunn around her all the time with all those weapons… it just seems like she’d be safer than anyone else in the city but she still got hurt anyway.”
“Yes, she did. It would seem that we aren’t as good at protecting her as one would have thought.”
“But it still isn’t your fault.”
Wesley returned his gaze to peer into Fred’s guileless eyes. She believed what she said, why couldn’t he?
Gunn walked slowly down the sidewalk toward the Hyperion. He’d spent four hours in his old neck of the woods, getting all the information he could on who might be responsible for Cordelia’s condition. The leads all petered out without anything useful to go by and he quickly determined that there were just too many human bad guys to differentiate between on any given night of the week. None of his old informants had seen or heard anything that could be directly attributed to the man who had gone after Cordelia.
While his questioning sessions with the seedy characters had allowed him an outlet for some of his building anxiety, it hadn’t completely alleviated it. Still on edge and wary about returning to the hotel that was sure to still be thick with worry and foreboding, he drug his steps along the crumbling cement sidewalk.
He’d been staking vamps and hunting demons for so long that he had almost forgotten about humanity’s own bad guys. Sure rapists, drug dealers, and thieves were a dime a dozen in a big city like LA, but when you spent your nights chasing down nasty monsters and your days researching how to kill ‘em, you tended to automatically lump all humans into the ‘nice’ category. It was a little hard to change gears so quick without getting whiplash.
He slowed his steps as a tacqueria’s neon sign flashed brightly at him, reminding him that not only had they not eaten all day that he knew of, but Fred might appreciate a bag of tacos after a few solid nights of take-away Chinese. Glancing into the shop, he recognized the girl at the counter and smiled in greeting, grateful for some amount of normalcy in his day.
“Charles Gunn! The sky must be falling!”
“Hey, Marissa-girl, it hasn’t been that long, has it?”
The attractive woman smiled broadly. “Long enough. So tell me, how are things for you and all those demon hunters you work with?”
Gunn shook his head slightly. “Things could be a lot better, Marissa, a lot better.”
Wesley gazed out the window, the brilliantly painted sunset lost to his unseeing eyes. He couldn’t seem to bend his thoughts around their current predicament. Rather, he couldn’t think about it without his thoughts introducing all too personal Billy-influenced flashes to the mix.
He had despised himself for attacking Fred, regardless of the supernatural influence that had brought about such an action. Truth be told, he despised himself for it still. But even with the experience Billy had left him with, he couldn’t bring himself to understand why some men felt compelled to hurt women. Or why anyone would lay a finger on Cordelia.
Wesley continued to stand at the window even as dusk blanketed the city and hung heavy shadows throughout the lobby, drawing Fred from her upstairs room to seek less solitary accommodations. She descended the stairs slowly, casting shy glances around the seemingly empty room. She paused once she saw Wesley, not wanting to disturb him.
He looked incredibly sad and lonely standing so still in the darkened room. He reminded her of statues she had once seen on a school field trip. The children had all been bustled into the museum and out of the statuary garden when the skies opened and began pelting them with icy rain. Fred remembered looking back at the statues as she was ushered into the dry auditorium and feeling sad that they too couldn’t come in out of the rain. Wesley reminded her of those statues, cold and alone and utterly helpless.
Not wanting to disturb him, but unwilling to leave him alone, Fred eased herself down onto the bottom step, her hands folded on her knees and supporting her chin as she waited for Wesley to notice her. She suddenly wished she had brought one of her markers downstairs with her but brushed the thought aside. It was bad enough that she had covered the walls in her bedroom with writing; Angel didn’t need her brand of decorative touches in the Hyperion’s lobby as well her own private quarters.
Angel saw Wesley and Fred as soon as he stepped out of the basement. Taking in their sloped shoulders and heavy expressions, he paused long enough to note the difficultly they were all having with Cordelia’s attack. Then he mentally berated himself for not realizing the toll it would take beforehand. They were a family of sorts, at least they had formed the closest thing most of them had to a family. Of course it would be difficult for them all, not only Cordelia, to deal with.
Quietly, he continued toward the door behind which Cordelia was hiding. She had refused to leave the room ever since he had bundled her into it after leaving the hospital. Her refusal to leave hadn't bothered him nearly as much as her adamance when it came to allowing people to enter her sanctuary. She wouldn't grant anyone entrance save for Angel, not even Wesley who had been the one to discover her situation in the first place. It had to have been difficult for the ex-watcher to stand outside the door, knowing the full extent of the lovely girl's injuries but unable to see her again to assure himself of her health and well-being.
Two days time had seen little change.
Cordelia hadn’t so much as poked her nose out of the room, nor had she willingly allowed any of those concerned to enter. Everyone but Angel was left to their own fears as to her situation. Even when Kate had stopped by, the detective was left staring at the solid wooden door.
"Cordelia." Angel's voice hung gently in the air of the dark bedroom as he slipped past the door in the early twilight. She hadn't turned on the lamps but he knew she was awake. He could hear her quickened heartbeat, her sudden indrawn breath. "It's just me, Angel," he assured her.
There was a movement in the dark shade that was the bed, the rustling of sheets and a slight sniffle. No other sound or motion occurred as Angel stood near the door, debating how to broach the delicate issue that warred in his head.
He was quickly becoming even more worried than he had been to begin with. If Cordelia didn't start at least letting her friends in to see her soon, he would have to resort to drastic measures. He'd already called Lorne into their realm of concern by asking him to see if Cordelia would at least talk to him. The restaurateur was distressed to hear of Cordy's predicament even without being told the specifics and had agreed to see what he might be able to do with the seer.
Angel was growing even more concerned about the possible repercussions of Cordelia receiving a vision while she was still under so much distress. The visions were painful and taxing enough with their suffering innocents and feelings of hopelessness, she didn't need anything else to distress her own personal suffering. The longer her recovery took, the more likely it was that she would get a vision.
"Are you just going to stand there and brood?"
The sound of her voice startled him. He could almost see the half smile he knew would be on her lips after such a statement. "I thought I might."
"Well," her voice was slightly hesitant as she spoke, "I thought I might go into the lobby for a little while, you know, make sure my desk is still in one piece."
Her voice was harsh and raspy by Angel jumped at the consideration that she was making an effort to ease back into anything having to do with their insane lifestyle. "That's great! Um, Wes and Fred are out there..."
"Sheesh, Angel, slave driver much?" Cordelia slowly crossed into the pool of light cast by the drawn blinds, intentionally trying to regain some of her old attitude. "You know, it's common office procedure to occasionally allow your co-workers to go home when business hours are over," she paused in both speaking and walking. "But then again, you're not the boss anymore, are you?" She took a deep cleansing breath and motioned to her clothes. "How do I look?" she asked hesitantly, not fully wanting to hear his response.
Angel studied her from her lusterless hair to her bare toes that curled against the cool floor. The clothes must have been among some she often left at the hotel for emergencies or just to get the smell of demon entrails off her body after a night of seek and destroy: jeans and a blouse, modest in the extreme but comfortable. He smiled broadly. "You look terrific."
"Uh huh. You wouldn't just be saying because you want me to go out there, would you?"
"Would I ever lie to you, Cordy?" Angel winced as soon as the words left his mouth. He had lied to her plenty of times.
"Not when it really matters. At least not any more. Right?" She looked up into his face, seeing the emotions that danced in his eyes.
The movement at the door drew Fred's attention and she nearly toppled off the desk she was perched on when she realized who it was. "Cordelia, wow, you look great."
Wesley spun from the papers he was reading at Fred's exclamation, seeing with his own eyes the woman who stood next to Angel. "Cordelia, how are you feeling?"
She smiled in thanks to Fred and turned her attention to Wesley. "Like I was run over by a whole heard of Drokken, or possibly spent some time in one of the hell dimensions... but it's getting better."
“Is there anything you require? Anything you need at all?” He stepped away from the desk and slowly approached his friend.
Cordelia looked into his face, seeing the guilt and worry that was eating away at his conscience. “Yeah, there is something.”
“What is it?”
“I need you and Angel and Fred,” she turned her head slightly to glance at the other woman, “and Gunn, where ever he is…”
“Right behind you,” Gunn said, his entrance having gone unnoticed.
“I need you, all of you,” she concluded simply. “That’s it.” She flashed a small smile, a mere shadow of her ordinary radiance but a sure sign of the beginnings of recovery.
"Always," Angel murmured softly, his voice barely more than a purr in the frozen atmosphere of the lobby.
"I mean," Cordelia hurried to add, "I may still go hide in the bedroom for a while every now and again, but I'll always come back out eventually."
Fred watched her, listening closely to her words. Hide in the bedroom. Wasn't that what she had done when they'd brought her back from Pylea? She’d hidden away in there for months before Angel had been able to entice her to venture out. But even under the current circumstances, she couldn’t picture Cordelia as a hider. Cordy faced things head on, she tackled anything in her path… Maybe that’s how things had gone wrong that night she had slipped out of the hotel to return to her own home. Maybe it wasn’t always such a good idea to tackle the opposition without backup.
“Well, you know I’ve got your back, girl,” Gunn grinned.
Cordelia offered him a small smile. “It’s just going to take me a little while to get back in the swing of-” Her words were cut short as she grabbed her head and crumpled into Angel’s ready arms.
Unable to do anything, they just stood and watched Angel clutch Cordelia as she rode out the worst of the vision. He held her steady, offering a stable foundation for her to cling to in the torrential wash of her experience.
Fred edged a step or two back from the spectacle, muttering, “So much for taking it slow…”
Catching her comment, Angel spared the worried woman a quick glance before returning his full concern to the seer who writhed in his arms. He waited for the worst of it to pass, watching her closely.
Cordelia forced her paralyzed lungs to drag in great draughts of air, the very realness of the vision still swimming furiously in her foremost thoughts. She pushed it back enough that she might be able to control her trembles, desperately trying to convince herself that she had survived visions before, it was just like riding a bike-once you’d learned how to do it, you never forgot how.
“There’s… there’s a demon,” she gasped, “big, fuzzy, blue…” She paused trying to understand the images that had sped through her brain. “Attacking tourists under the Santa Monica pier… Japanese tourists, lots of cameras.”
Wesley and Gunn started toward the weapons closet, pausing when Angel didn’t join them.
Angel didn’t want to leave Cordelia again. Leaving her had been their mistake the last time. He looked down at her face as she brushed the tears from her eyes with the backs of her hands. “Cordelia?” His voice was more of a sigh than a vocalization.
“G…go,” she stammered at last, pushing the demand out of her throat with every ounce of energy she had left. “I have Fred… stay here ‘til you come back.” Her head was throbbing in time with the racing pulse in her neck. She would stay at the Hyperion, tucked into the farthest corner of her current room, as far from the outside world as possible.
Angel, Wesley, and Gunn all turned to look at Fred who looked no more ready to handle a crisis than Cordelia. She stood against the bottom step of the stairway, looking as if she were about to bolt upstairs to the safety of her own room. Caught very like a deer in headlights.
“Fred?” Wesley called, “are you alright?”
Shaking herself from her stupor, Fred nodded and moved away from the stairs. “Yes, we’ll be okay. I’ll stay downstairs with Cordelia.”
“Angel,” Cordelia said, her mind refusing to let go of the image of mauled and bloody tourists spread out in the pounding surf, “go. They’ll be under the Ferris wheel.”
The men turned and walked through the lobby, their steps solid against the tile although each one cast a fleeting glance back over his shoulder at the pair of women huddled on the floor.
The streets were dark when the trio of demon hunters turned toward the Hyperion, each harboring their own silent concern for Cordelia, not to mention a few straggling worries for Fred as well. The sooner they could return, the faster their worries could be abated.
It had been three weeks since Wesley had made that first frantic call to Angel, summoning him to Cordelia’s apartment. In those intervening weeks, they had seen Cordelia vacillate between steely determination and lingering fear and the men had continued their individual bouts of worry. The most distressing aspect of their focus was the lack of an arrest in conjunction with the seer’s ordeal.
When Kate finally called to say that there simply wasn’t enough evidence to go on to keep the case on the front burner of the LAPD sex crimes unit, they had surprised her by not arguing. She had been quick to add that they were not closing the case, just pulling it out of the forefront of the current on-going investigations. She had also promised to follow it up personally.
As much as all three men would have liked to tear out the throat of the person responsible for Cordelia’s ordeal, reason had won out over revenge. Cordelia didn’t need them to rush off and very probably get arrested for attacking anyone who might look like the type of person who would do such a thing. They instead stood back and wallowed in their inability to act on their impulses. There was a first time for everything, Cordelia mused.
Cordelia had been adamant about refusing to be involved in the women’s support group Kate had mentioned to Angel after her interview in the hospital. At first, her refusal had concerned them all, but when they took the time to think it over it just made sense. Cordelia hated to admit to anyone that she might possibly need help, of course she wouldn’t want to admit it to a whole group of women, even if they were in the same position she found herself to be in. She was determined to see herself healed on her own terms and without outside help and no one dared argue with her.
She had surprised them all with her ability to work through the worst of her distress with only minimal visits to Lorne. Determination alone seemed enough to keep her going most days, even on the bad days when she would jump at the slightest noise and flinch away from shadows. And when that determination wavered and threatened to crash, taking her teetering accomplishments with it, she had all of them to support her and make sure she had a solid place to land. And land she did, every time… feet first.
The hotel sprung up from the surrounding buildings as the trio drew ever nearer to the front door. There were few lights on in the grand old building, only the windows in the lobby were illuminated, creating a comforting and welcoming glow for the demon hunters. But even though the hotel was sparsely lit, it still symbolized the two women who were waiting within.
With a dull thud that reverberated through the anteroom, the front door swung open and landed solidly against the wall. Three sets of footfalls followed as well as the clink of weaponry. They had returned.
From the far table, Cordelia glanced up and smiled in greeting. She was inordinately pleased that she hadn’t jumped at their entry. Things were improving, slowly but they were definitely on the right path. “Did you get ‘em?”
“Yes, they’ve been adequately dispatched,” Wesley said as he lay his fighting axe down on top of the neatly stacked files that were perched on Cordelia’s desk.
“Not to mention, dismembered,” Gunn added, following suit and adding his own axe to the desk’s mix of paper and metal. “When are we gonna go back to getting the nasties that you don’ have to chop up into little bits?”
Only Angel passed the desk without setting his weapon down before crossing the floor to be nearer Cordelia’s position at the table.
Throwing her hands up in the air, she said, “Not on weapon duty, thank you very much. The nails! Notice the manicure?”
Angel smiled at the outrage that Cordelia emoted. She was back. He tossed the sword over his shoulder as he continued to the table, hearing it clatter on the tiles somewhere behind him.
“So who needs to be patched because I’m tellin’ ya’ I want to get this over with so you can drive me home and I can go to bed.” Cordelia glanced up the stairwell at Fred who stood poised to descend, a grin lighting her features. “But first things first… where are the tacos? I’m starving.”
From the pocket of his duster, Angel produced a brown paper bag, his eyes brightening at Cordelia’s delighted reaction.
“And the salsa?” Fred asked as she stepped onto the bottom step.
“Got ya’ covered,” Gunn assured her, pulling a similar bag from his own jacket.
Angel studied Cordelia in the pale lamplight as she waited for him to distribute the requested refreshments. There would still be bad days, he accepted that, but Cordelia—his Cordelia—was back to stay.
lengthy author’s note: I feel compelled to say a few things now that this has drawn to a conclusion. First let me say that although I began it of my own accord, “None Goes His Way Alone” has been the hardest story I’ve ever tried to write. I’ve alternately hated it and liked it and had been determined to finish it as a birthday present to myself so that I could put it behind me and write something a bit lighter. Well, since my birthday was almost two weeks ago now… that obviously didn’t happen.
I left out the specifics of the attack/assault because they weren’t really important to the story. I was hoping to focus on the reactions of the “fang gang” to such a predicament rather than on the event itself. I am less than pleased with my ability to do that and feel that I focused on Cordelia and Angel too much and left out the others, especially Fred who would experience different emotions than our guys. It also seems to draw to a close prematurely much against my best efforts to the contrary. Oh well, at least I tried I suppose. I also didn’t feel it was necessary to say whether Cordelia was just mugged or if she was raped or anything in between those two polarities. You, the reader, can decide for yourself what she suffered through.
Thank you all for the reviews. I never would have even tried to get the second chapter up without your kind words of encouragement.
Now in reference to this chapter: I’m expecting a bit of backlash from my determination that Cordelia would not seek therapy. I personally have no problems with therapy of any kind, there are many good therapists and groups out there, however, counseling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I have some insider information, so to speak, about how women who have personalities similar to Cordelia’s deal with personal traumas. For some people, just admitting that they were victimized is far worse than whatever it was they survived. It’s not easy, but healing is possible for these people without any more help than that of their families and friends.
If you’ve read this far, I’m impressed… either you’re very dedicated or you’re exceptionally bored. Thank you for reading the story and I hope you’ll take a moment to tell me your thoughts, even if you hated it—I don’t mind criticism at all, flames though are a whole other kettle of fish…
* a line taken from the poem “A Creed” by Edwin Markham