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.
“So, you are the young man who has been asking about the ‘vampire with a soul’?”
He nodded mutely. When his classified ad had only turned up only a handful of people in two months of postings who claimed to have known the individual in question, he had almost pulled it and saved himself the expense of having it listed every week. Those who had responded hadn’t been overly helpful and he sensed they were much more interested in the money he had promised than in sticking to the actual facts of the vampire’s existence. Then, two days ago, he had received a strange phone call from a young woman who said that there was someone who wished to speak with him concerning his proposed project. He had never expected the ‘someone’ to be an elderly woman who looked to already have one foot in the grave.
The aged lady regarded him carefully. “You may leave us, Mary. Tea would be lovely, if you wouldn’t mind.” She waved one frail, blue veined hand in dismissal. The sardonic grin on the older woman’s face at her own mention of tea was almost lost to the winkles of her advanced years. Tea instead of coffee--wouldn’t they be surprised if they could see her now?
“Yes, ma’am, I’ll bring it up as soon as it’s steeped.” The woman’s hired companion slipped silently out of the room, pulling shut the door.
“He did have a name, you know,” the older woman intoned, shifting slightly against the multitude of pillows that served to support her slight and withered frame. The sharpness in her eyes belied the frailty of her figure and the young man wondered how so seemingly genteel a lady could have any knowledge of such a dark topic.
The building itself had awed him when he had first entered it. Priceless antiques and soft supple leather filled the lower rooms, giving way to an elegant stairway lined with thick Persian carpets and beautifully rendered artwork and a bedroom filled with even more beauty and expense; his surroundings spoke of wealth and success, not of a life touched by the undead, even the soul-ed undead.
Realizing she had asked him a question and was waiting for his response, he snapped his attention back to the task at hand. “His name… yes, I’ve been told that he was called Angelus.”
“No,” the strength of her tone commanded his attention. The lady was much more than she appeared to be, despite her appearance. “Angelus he was not, at least not when I knew him. Angelus was a soulless demon bent on the destruction of all he saw, of all that were loved by the one you wish to learn about. No, the vampire with the soul was known as Angel.”
“Angel? Are you quite sure?” Scribbling furiously in his notebook, the young man paused to look up at the lady before him, there was no question that she was certain of her statement. “Angel. That’s an interesting name for a vampire,” he replied cautiously.
“And Angelus isn't? He… is a very interesting vampire…” Closing her eyes, she smiled slightly. “Tell me, Mr. Bruin, before I begin my tale, why is it that after so many years you are interested in finding out about Angel? I haven’t heard the barest whisper of a mention of him in more than half a century. What has caused your sudden interest I wonder.”
“The end of days is said to be approaching.”
“The end of days.” She chuckled softly, a knowing smile lighting her eyes. “Ah, but isn’t that honestly the case even if it is not to occur for another millennia? Each day that passes draws us ever closer.” She patted the soft down of the comforter, crushing its airy weight beneath her gnarled hands while she watched the man finish his writing and glance up at the bedside table. "And who is to know if it hasn't in fact already come and gone? Angel was prophesied to prevent it, to play a key part in the apocalypse, was he not? Perhaps he lived up to the scroll's legend."
A picture in a silver frame caught his notice and he leaned closer to study the small cluster of people enclosed by the gleaming metal and glass. Four young people stood in old-fashioned clothing, three men and a beautiful woman. Throwbacks of a time when demons and vampires were common things in the world, if you knew where to look for them.
“Who…” he hadn’t finished his question before the lady in the bed chuckled, her eyes bright with the fondness of memory.
“Ah, that was the team at Angel Investigations. You, young man, are looking at the only photograph still in existence of the four of them. There never were all that many pictures anyway, but what few there were have all been lost or destroyed now. All but this one.”
“I’ve heard stories of Angel Investigations, I thought it was just a myth, a fairy story if you will. Just something made up by mothers who wanted to allay their children’s fears of the creatures of the night. A company that set about ridding the city of its more despicable demonic population; purely a fairy tale device.”
“Is it?” She chuckled softly at the man’s obvious conviction. “No, Angel Investigations did indeed exist and the tales about it have amazingly few inconsistencies. It would seem that the truth was already fantastic enough that it didn’t warrant alteration. Is it so hard to believe that three humans and a vampire worked to rid the world they lived in of evil?" She looked toward the window, watching the last coral streaks of sunset paint the heavy clouds.
“Humans? No, of course not. But a vampire…”
"The man on the left." She pointed at the picture, recollections of a time long past filling her mind. "The one who’s wearing the strange combination of tweed and leather? That was Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, a transplant from England and late of the Council of Watchers. He fancied himself a rogue demon hunter until he began working with Angel. He helped with research and translating ancient scrolls and texts and he fought hand to hand against evil, sometimes even with great proficiency. He was a very brave man and was quite devoted to his friends. He saved them many times over. When he passed away he was sorely missed."
"The man next to him was Charles Gunn. Gunn was just trying to make the streets a safer place to be when he and Angel crossed paths. When he joined the team, he added his valuable fighting ability as well as his unerring loyalty.” She smiled fondly at the picture, reaching out to retrieve it from its permanent position on the bedside table. Brushing her fingers across the glistening glass, she handed it to the young man.
Accepting the picture, he studied it closely, a grin lightening his tone, “And the woman who appears to be strangling the third man, who was she?”
“She was Angel’s seer, his all-too human connection to the PTB, a very vain woman who learned much too quickly the wisdom that generally only comes with age. She worked to help them all. She was their medic, their secretary, even their confessor at times.”
“The powers that be, it was a term they learned from Angel’s first seer, a half demon who was sent to him to help and guide him on the road to his redemption.” She smiled again at the memory of the scruffy Irishman. “Doyle entered Angel’s life and made him understand things he did not want to understand. Angel did eventually see the truth in the man’s words and they worked together for a very short time.”
“Why short? Surely if he was to help Angel gain his redemption, he would have stayed with him.”
She nodded, the smile faded from her eyes and mouth. “Doyle was lost to them ‘fighting the good fight’. Amazing actually since he rarely became involved in the actual combat. But rather than let Angel sacrifice himself, Doyle took his place." She stared blankly at a spot on the wall, her voice trailing off to silence.
After a moment, Mr. Bruin reasoned, "The man that this Cordelia looks to be choking... it's Angel, isn't it? It's him, the vampire with a soul."
"Yes," she offered no further explanation.
"Did you know them well?"
"Oh yes, I knew them as well as I knew myself, better even."
"Where's Angel?" Wesley rushed into the Hyperion, looking around at the empty desks that were cloaked in darkness. The curtains were pulled open to let in the cool glow of the full moon that hung low in the sky, its chill illumination sliding across the glossy tiles and creeping toward the sofa.
From the far end of the room, Cordelia gingerly looked up from the paperwork she’d been filling out ever since her arrival that morning, the small lamp next to her cast a pool of milky light across her drawn features. "Hello to you too, Wes. I'm just fine, thanks for asking, even though I've been here since ten o'clock this morning filling in forms you said you'd help with and downing painkillers like they were candy." The rushed words were testament to both her irritation and her discomfort.
“Was there another vision?” Concern for the young woman cut through his quest to locate his elusive coworker… employee… undead savior of Los Angeles’ millions of human and demon citizens alike…
“I’ll say. Bayer and Aleve have become my best buds.” She paused a moment before taking a deep breath and continuing, “Angel and Gunn are on it though. They should be back soon.” She tried a small smile but it resembled more of a grimace in the low light.
“Where did they go?”
Cordelia snorted and twisted the top off a bottle of aspirin, scattering its contents across the tabletop before scooping up several of the small tablets and popping then into her mouth. Her bottle of water followed soon there after, the cold liquid washing away the bitter taste of the medication her throbbing head craved. She often wondered just how much good Doyle’s painkiller of choice would do her, it couldn’t be any more useless that the pills she bought at the corner drug store, and it might be cheaper.
“Cordelia?” Wesley’s concern grew as he watched the indescribable emotions wash over her features.
“Monrovia,” she muttered, trying to concentrate on the forms she had been struggling to fill out all day.
Taking the chair next to her, he placed a hand on hers, noticing for the first time the trembles that shook her body.
“Monrovia, they went to Monrovia. There was this… this thing… going after some workers at the sewage treatment plant there. All claws and hair and, well, you know, demony…” She stared down toward her hand and Wesley’s, her eyes unfocused and unseeing. “What is it with demons and sewage anyway? There’s no way they got there in time. Why do the PTB send me messages that don’t do any good?”
Wesley sighed deeply, choosing to answer the last question she had voiced since he often found himself wondering the same thing himself. “I only wish I knew. Perhaps you should try to lie down?” he suggested.
“Remember back when I would ‘throw up in my head’ after a vision?” At Wesley’s nod, she continued, “Let’s just say it’s not confined to my head any more.”
“Then perhaps sitting is a better option.”
“I think Angel’s carpet would agree with ya’ on that call.” She glanced at Wesley’s face as he watched her closely. “I’ll be fine. As soon as they get the big bad nasty, it’ll go away.”
Wesley had looked away before Cordelia whispered her final thought, “I hope.”
An hour later, Wesley was still seated at the desk, having taken over Cordelia’s paperwork task. In the seat next to him, Cordelia was slumped forward, her right cheek pressed against the cool surface of the tabletop and her hair spilling across her pained features. She had refused to be ushered off to one of the guest rooms, she wouldn’t even use Angel’s own room, a common enough resting place for her when the visions became too much and she needed total darkness. Finishing the last of the forms, Wesley glanced back to his slumbering companion.
He was struck by the changes that had occurred in the girl in the time he had known her. She had changed so much, been forced to do so under the heavy weight of responsibility brought on by the visions. He often found himself wondering what had become of the narcissistic girl who had fled Sunnydale for a glamorous life in Los Angeles, or worse yet, he wondered how much better off she could have been had she never crossed paths with Angel again. If only she had never had the visions given to her, she might have stood a better chance of normalcy.
When the hotel door swung open noisily, he was both startled and angered. Cordelia had only just fallen to sleep and Angel and Gunn were stomping into the lobby, making enough noise to wake the truly dead and throwing their weapons down in a clattering pile on the desk with little heed to the noise or trail of blood and muck they were creating.
“Man o’ man, English! You sure can pick the days to turn up missin’ right at slice and dice time.”
“Shh!” Quickly rising from his chair, Wesley crossed the foyer and motioned for the two men to lower their voices.
“How is she?” Angel’s voice was tight with worry as he glanced across the room at the girl asleep at the table.
“Sleeping… finally. Any lose ends with the Monrovia problem?”
“No, we got ‘em, man, all five of ‘em. What’s the sitch with Cordy? I mean, the big bad is in bits and pieces, shouldn’t she be feeling better now?” Gunn sat down heavily in a chair, rubbing his face with his hands.
“She cleaned out the refrigerator… and mopped the floor…” Angel’s voice carried softly from the kitchen where he had ended up in a search for something to ease Cordelia’s discomfort. She might be sleeping at the moment, but if he’d learned anything in the time he’d worked with her in Los Angeles, it was that she never stayed asleep for long once he got back from a job. He had at one time believed that he woke her up by being too loud, but she’d quickly allayed his concern saying that she felt better knowing when he came back, all safe and more or less sound and in one piece.
“It was… ucky. There were green… things.”
Making a hasty retreat from the kitchen, Angel appeared at her side, the back of his hand pressed against her flushed cheek and his eyes searching her own. “How do you feel?”
“In need of a long hot shower and a week in bed, but I’ll settle for a plate of eggs.” A sleepy smile lit her expression as she struggled to keep her eyes open.
“Okay, you go lay down and I’ll wake you when it’s ready.”
“Uh uh. Oh no you don’t. The last time you said that I woke up the next morning and all the food was gone.” She raised one hand to push her hair back from her face and turned her gaze fully on Angel. “Did you and Gunn…”
“What about, you know…”
He looked down briefly before meeting her eyes again, a simple shake of his head her only answer.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
The young Mr. Bruin glanced up from his notes. “You mean to tell me that the visions this Cordelia would have were sometimes too late to help the human victims?”
Nodding her head almost imperceptibly, the elderly lady sighed. “Yes, sometimes. More often than not, Angel would arrive just in the nick of time to rescue the people who were in danger, but there were times when the distance was just too great and the warning was simply given too late, or its meaning was misunderstood.”
“That must have been a difficult burden to carry for such a young woman.”
“It was. Thankfully she had her friends to lean on when the weight became too much, but it was difficult nonetheless.” She stopped her reply at the silent opening of the door. “Ah, Mary, my tea. Thank you, dear. No, no,” she chided with a smile and a wave of her hand as the other woman prepared to pour a cup. “Mr. Bruin can pour out for me, you go ahead and take your leave. I know you’re anxious to make the evening shuttle.”
Mary smiled and abandoned the tea tray to the bedside table. “Yes, Ma’am. Janice is in the kitchen if you need anything at all. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Of course, dear. Have a good night.”
Mr. Bruin reached out and lifted the cozy from the teapot, carefully pouring the tea into the pair of delicate china cups. “Milk or sugar?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow at his informant.
“No, thank you. Now where were we… Ah, yes. Angel’s concern for his seer…”
The elderly lady slowly sipped the tea the reporter handed her, trying to decide how best to continue her tale.
“Did he love her? This Cordelia?” Mr. Bruin prompted. “Did the vampire with a soul fall in love with a human?”
She smiled sadly. “Of course he loved her, they were dependant upon one another. She provided him with the fuel to overcome his curse and he gave her a home and family when she had nothing. They were very dear friends, and like friends, they often hurt each other more than they did anyone else. But was he in love with his seer? That’s a question best left for later. He did love a vampire slayer once though…”
“Excuse me, Madam, but did I hear you correctly? He loved a vampire slayer?”
She sighed and looked again toward the window and the faded sunset beyond the frosty panes of age-rippled glass. How long it had been since she had last heard Buffy’s name spoken aloud? More than thirty years if it had been a day. There had never been any love loss between the two of them, but it didn’t seem to make any difference when it came to memories and the feeling of loss. She missed them all: the Angel Investigations team, the Scoobies, even the more frequently met demons, every last one of them. She was the sole survivor, the last possessor of the truth.
“Yes. She died young, as slayers tend to do, although not as young as she might have… She was unusual; she maintained her personality and railed against the Watcher’s Council as every turn. In the end, she prevailed, more or less, we lost her to a drunk driver, not a demon or vampire, just one of humanity’s own special breed of monster. But Angel loved her, without a doubt.”
She was silent for a long moment, her thoughts returning to another time and place where shocked and grief stricken friends had gathered to mourn Buffy’s loss. No one had quite known how to react to such a drastic and wholly unexpected turn of events. How do you accept that someone who saved the world from demons and vampires was dead because one fool decided he was sober enough to drive himself home from the bar?
Shaking the morose thoughts from her head, she stretched a hand up to pat a snowy white lock of hair back into place. “The vampire slayer, however, is an altogether different story. You wanted to hear about Angel. Cordelia’s visions brought with them progressively worse side effects, probably due to her fully human state…”
The pale glow of the moon still poured across the gleaming tile of the floor when Angel set a dish of eggs in front of Cordelia and shoved his own microwaved mug of nourishment across the table to the facing chair. Circling the table and claiming the chair, he rested his arms on the surface and leaned against them, studying Cordelia closely. “Better?”
Smiling at the wafting scent of her midnight snack, she nodded. “I’m fine.”
“You’ve stopped complaining.”
“Huh?” Angel’s comment stopped Cordelia’s first fork-full of food from reaching her mouth, and she turned a questioning eye on her friend. “I don’t follow.”
“When Doyle first passed the visions on to you… you used to complain about how bad they were.”
“Yeah?” She eased the steaming eggs into her mouth, trying to savor the first food she’d eaten since the gritty bran muffin she’d scarfed down early that morning.
“You don’t complain anymore.” Angel took a sip from his mug, running his tongue across his upper lip thoughtfully. “They’re getting worse, and you don’t have a demon half to protect you.”
“Well, not technically… but I do have a vampire to protect me,” she beamed at him, choosing to devour as much of the food as she could before either another vision accosted her with its full spectrum of experiences for the senses or Angel’s decidedly morose topic of conversation managed to make her even more ill with the worry of what the future might hold for her.
“You know what I mean…”
“I know, but right now I just wanna eat. I know it’s not the smart thing to do, I should be trying to find out what the PTB are up to with all these intense scratch and sniff visions, but I’m starving. I’ll worry about it after.” Expressive brown eyes gazed at him in a silent plea to let her have that much of a respite, as her fork speared another cluster of cooked egg. “Please? Besides, Wesley wanted you for something earlier. That’s why he came in while you and Gunn were out taking care of the bad guys.”
Looking across the lobby to where Gunn and Wesley were sitting, talking softly, Angel sighed. “He should have been here earlier, I don’t like leaving you alone like that.”
“Uh huh, look, Mister Broody, I am a grown-up you know. I can cross the street by myself and everything…” She watched the dark shadow that slowly eased its way across her friend’s expression. “Even when I’m dealing with vision backlash. Besides, if he’d been here, you know as well as I do that he would have gone with you and Gunn.”
Knowing full well that Cordelia was right, Angel let the supposed transgression slide. He gave her another long hard look before rising and crossing to the opposite corner of the room.
The relief that washed over her with Angel’s departure from the table, allowed Cordelia to drop the fork she’d been clutching in a white-knuckled fist and she sagged back against her chair. Her head still pounded from the daylong headache and all she wanted to do was drill a few holes in her skull to relieve the pressure that had been building there ever since the onset of the vision. If she wanted to keep up the pretense that she was fine, she needed to keep up the inane chatter, and that was getting progressively more difficult to do. A few more bites of food and she could beg off and flee to the relative safety of her apartment and the pampering nature of Dennis. She could do that… not a problem.
From across the lobby, Angel kept his eyes rained on Cordelia even as Wesley explained why he had missed being at the hotel at the time of Cordelia’s vision. Something wasn’t quite right about how she was sitting, she was too stiff and awkward for someone who was no longer in imminent pain, then again, she was exhausted, perhaps that was the cause of her odd position.
“So as I was saying,” Wesley continued, unaware that he had never entirely claimed the vampire’s attention, “they had some very interesting alternate translations of several ancient scrolls at the shop, and I became quite friendly with the storekeeper. He has a lead on a scroll of Transientranl that he’s quite anxious to procure…”
“English! Man, can’t we have the Reader’s Digest version, I’m beat.”
“It’s another version of the Prophecy of Aberjian,” Wesley stated, complying with the younger man’s request and turning his full attention to Angel, noting the man’s apparent lack of interest.
“You lost me, man,” Gunn stated simply, stretching his legs out in front of him.
“The Prophecy of Aberjian tells about the vampire with a soul,” Wesley explained, following Angel’s gaze to the distant table.
“Oh! That one.”
“Cordelia?” Angel was standing and across the room before Cordelia slid the rest of the way to the floor. “Cordy!” He caught her limp body in his arms, confusion radiating from his eyes. Gently patting her cheek with one hand, he tried to rouse her to no effect. It was then that he noticed her elevated temperature and ashen complexion.
“Surely if her life were so endangered by these visions, she would have found a way to remove the curse, or at the very least been honest with Angel about their effects.” Mr. Bruin insisted, leaning forward to catch another glimpse of the framed photograph.
“That just goes to show how little you understand about her yet, about any of them. Cordelia was, as I’ve already noted, a vain girl, often petty and shortsighted, but what she wasn’t was a complainer, not really. She had a tendency to carry on about Angel’s sullen moods and the dark and dreary interior of the hotel, but when it came down to it, she preferred to suffer through the indignity of her uncontrollable pain in silence. And the curse, as you call it, gave her a reason to go on even when her life seemed hopeless, it was her permanent tie to Angel, with it she was never alone. At least she was rarely alone.”
Retrieving her teacup, the aged lady frowned for a moment. “No, Cordelia would never have asked for the visions to be taken from her, the others on the other hand never stopped searching for a way to rid her of them. They feared for her health and safety every bit as much as they worried for Angel’s pivotal role in the end of days. That concern was the very reason she never revealed to any of them how severe the side effects had become, they were already so very concerned, she didn’t want to add to their worry. But we’re getting sidetracked. Your story is about Angel, not Cordelia.”
Mr Bruin glanced up again from his notes. “No, no, please continue. Anyone who worked with him is of just as much interest to my research as Angel himself. I must wonder though what kind of people would willingly work day in and day out with someone who had once been known as the Scourge of Europe. Angel had quite a bloody past behind him.”
“Yes he did, bloodier even than Spike’s,” a brittle laugh broke off her comment. “A bloodier past than Spike’s indeed, and yet both of them, regardless of all that spilt blood and violent death, became much more than anyone could have ever imagined. Angel because of his Gypsy curse and the soul it thrust on him, and Spike because of the Initiative and the microchip they planted in his brain. Neither one of them wanted the future they found, but both of them made up their minds to accept them, more or less.”
“Spike? Was he another member of Angel Investigations?”
The elderly lady’s face crinkled into a broad smile. “Spike? A part of the team? Oh goodness, no.” She chuckled at the mere thought of such an arrangement. “Angel was Spike’s sire but their relationship had soured by the time Angel came to LA. After Spike was given the chip that prevented him from injuring humans, he turned over a new leaf and started helping the vampire slayer and her crew of assistants. He even fell in love with her, miraculously enough. The last I heard of him, Spike was still trying to find a doctor who could remove the chip, but that was a good twenty years ago.”
“And his name was Spike?” Wanting to be sure of his accuracy, Mr Bruin’s pen hovered over the notebook in anticipation of her reply.
“Spike, yes, as in railroad spike, or so I’ve been told. He was also known as William the Bloody. At the time of Angel Investigations he had taken to bleaching his hair peroxide blonde and smoking like a chimney. He too was very interesting, in his own way of course.”
“But Angel had very little to do with Spike once he’d come to Los Angeles, they were obviously on extremely different paths by that time and Angel’s road to redemption was a difficult enough path to travel without the influence of his vicious childe. Not to mention the fact that Angel had created his own family of sorts and felt that he needed to remain on constant guard to keep them safe from harm. It didn’t always work out well, and he often made mistakes, but he tried nonetheless.”
“Watch her head, Angel!” Rushing through the foyer to his room, Angel ignored the shouted warning, already cradling Cordelia’s head against his shoulder with his hand to protect it from the hard wooden doorjamb. Once in his bedroom, he discovered that his arms had developed a mind all their own and didn’t want to relinquish their hold on the unconscious woman.
“It would be easier, Angel…” Wesley hesitantly began.
“I know, Wes, I just…” He tried again to put her down on the bed, this time managing to surrender his claim on her to the rumpled sheets of his bed. “There!” he stated, an air of triumph shading his tone as he took a small step back from the bed and its pale occupant.
Wesley hid a small smile at the man’s actions, focusing his attention on the young woman. Taking her wrist in his hand, he remained silent, intently watching the second hand on his wristwatch. “Her heart rate is quite fast, and her color isn’t improving.” He turned his attention to the nervous man standing next to the bed
“That’s from the fever, right?” Anxious with concern for Cordelia, Angel settled down onto the opposite side of the bed, holding her hand in his and stroking the back of it absently, unconsciously needing to reassure himself of her presence there.
Leaning back, Wes wearily looked up at Angel and shrugged his shoulders in uncertainty. “I suppose it could be, but there could be other reasons at work here. We don’t know if she’s in any pain or not and pain can also increase the pulse, as can many other factors. The truth is that there’s nothing any of us can do for her. She needs to be taken to the hospital.”
“And risk being locked up in the neuro ward when a vision his her. Hmm, bet those med students will love that. Pain and unknown electrical surges through her brain… How long you think it’ll take ‘em to cut ‘er open to see what’s goin’ on inside?”
Angel’s eyes widened at the implications of Gunn’s comment. Exploratory surgery wasn’t the answer to Cordelia’s current problem; he wouldn’t let anyone lay a hand on her if that was what the result would be. He continued to stroke her hand, breathing in the scent of her body as he fought to decide on a course of action. The almost tangible sweet and spicy scent filled his thoughts, clouding all reason. “We can’t do that. When she had the mark and was given the unending visions they couldn’t help her. They won’t be able to help her now.”
Wesley held up a hand. “Now wait just a moment. You’re right that the doctors couldn’t help her when the Vocah demon unleashed that continuous onslaught of visions on her, but we don’t know that this is demonic in nature and not simply a human physiological reaction to some kind of an infection.”
“Okay, Wes, so what was she doin’ that would make her pass out cold like this?” Gunn remained standing in the doorway, leaning his shoulder against the wall and carefully watching the woman who had in one second drawn their undivided and unwavering attention.
“She had been talking to Angel…”
The vampire tore his eyes away from his seer and came face to face with suspicion, intrigue, and silent accusation. “What? I didn’t do anything. All I did was make her a plate of eggs and ask how she felt.” He shook his head as he was flooded with guilt. “She said she was fine, but I knew she was lying. I knew something was wrong even if she wanted to pretend it wasn’t. She was acting strange, different, like she was… I don’t know. Didn’t you sense it?”
Wesley shook his head. “I knew she was in a great deal of pain earlier this evening but I’m afraid that once you and Gunn returned, I turned my attention away from her. I never even thought to ask her if her head was feeling better,” he lamented, mentally kicking himself for the unintended slight.
“Don’t sweat it, man. You know you’ll catch hell from her if she hears that you’re concerned about not pesterin’ her more than you already do. It’s my fault too if that’s the reason. I know how tired she gets when we all hang on her and ask how she is so I just left her alone.”
“No, it’s my fault,” Angel sighed.
“How do you figure that?” All eyes turned to gaze down at the dull brown eyes that stared straight up at Angel. “How is this your fault too?” Her voice was rough and strained but she refused to remain silent in the face of so much self-deprecation. “I do have a say in my own life, you know.”
“Yeah, but if you didn’t have the visions…”
Pushing herself up to a half sitting position, she looked Angel straight in the eye. “Then you would be wandering around in doom and gloom mode and Wes would be out of work and starving to death trying to make it as a rogue demon hunter.”
“Hey now,” Wesley, who had risen from the bed to stand near his friend, began to complain but was stopped by Gunn who nodded toward the pair on the bed.
“Alright then, if you hadn’t seen me at that party…”
“I’d have ended up on a cold slab in the morgue with a lot less color in my cheeks. And even if you had never gone to Sunnydale it wouldn’t have worked because we’d all be dead several times over and there’d be a big gaping hellmouth right where good old Sunnydale High is now.”
He looked at her a moment, confusion clouding his features. “I didn’t help fight the mayor’s Ascension, that was strictly a Scooby job, and I didn’t do anything but get in your way and kill Ms. Calendar while I was in Sunnydale.”
Aside from the bed, Gunn nudged Wesley. “What’s Scooby Doo got to do with vampires and hellmouths?”
Smiling and glancing at the pair of friends who had a great deal to talk through, he motioned for Gunn to follow him back out of the bedroom so he could explain the strange nickname and its origins as he understood them to be.
“You didn’t kill Jenny Calendar; Angelus did. Face it, Angel, you’re not the omen of bad tidings that you think you are.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
Cordelia smiled and looked down at the hand that he still held in his, his hand still stroking it gently. She reached out to still his movement, and curled her fingers over his hand. “I would, and I believe I just did. Now, let me get out of your bed. You need to get some rest if you’re going to be ready for the next vision the PTB send me.”
Angel returned the pressure as she squeezed his hand, but he wouldn’t allow her to rise from the bed. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“Oh yes I am, I’m going home. If I don’t Dennis will worry,” she stated, hoping the weak ruse would work long enough for her to leave the hotel. The expression in Angel’s eyes told her that those hopes were nowhere near reality.
“You can call your apartment and leave Dennis a message on the machine. You just passed out, Cordelia, you’re not going home where you’ll essentially be alone. What would happen if you passed out again and hit your head on something?” His concern waged against the need to keep her calm, and his voice raised a notch in volume as the possibilities of what might happen occurred to him.
“Okay, okay, sheesh, I’ll stay.” Raising her arms in surrender, she winced slightly.
Worried again by the obvious discomfort, Angel quickly asked, “What is it?”
“Nothing, really I’m fine.”
“Cordelia,” he warned, a barely concealed growl underlining her name as he spoke it aloud.
“When we came back tonight, you were still feeling the pain from the vision, weren’t you?”
He refused to allow her to back out of his question. There were some things that simply needed to be answered, and knowing that she was safe and well was too high on his list of priorities to let the line of questioning slide. “Delia?”
All the bluster went out of her and she sank back against the pillows out of sheer exhaustion. “I didn’t mean to lie to you, to any of you, I just didn’t want you to worry about something you couldn’t do anything about.”
“How long, Delia? How long have the visions been this bad?”
She shook her head slowly. “Not that long really, a month or so, maybe a little longer.”
Angel was floored by the news. How had she been able to hide it from him for so long? His eyes, heavy with concern, grazed over her body again. When he’d entered the hotel that evening, he thought that she had looked a bit different but he couldn’t narrow it down at the time. Now though, he was able to detect a thousand tiny changes in his friend. “You’ve lost weight.”
“Just a little, and hey, it doesn’t hurt to be a few pounds lighter when you’re acting anyway,” she countered.
“And your complexion is too pale, waxy even.”
“Gee, thanks a lot,” she sputtered, “I’ll have you remember that I just passed out. I’m sure my color will come back as soon as I get up and start moving around. There are some files that need to be put away before they end up in a heap on the floor.” As she moved to slide her legs over the edge of the bed, Angel stopped her, his reflexes too quick for her to counter.
“You’re staying put, right here. If you need anything, Gunn, Wesley, or I will get it for you.”
She scoffed at the determination in his voice. “Do I get to go the bathroom by myself?”
“Only if you tell us first,” he teased, understanding the feelings of helplessness Cordelia would be having to deal with, and understanding too how hard it would be for her to handle them.
“Ugh!” She tossed a pillow at his head as he slipped out the doorway, just missing her intended victim. Falling back on the rumpled sheets, she turned her head slightly and smiled at the comfort that the sheets gave her as they released what she could only name as Angel’s scent. Closing her eyes against the dim light and relishing the cool sheet pressed against her cheek, she allowed sleep to drag her away from the consciousness of her pain once more.
“You’re wrong. There has to be a way. You’re just not looking hard enough.”
“Angel…” Wesley looked up from the stacks of books and scrolls that littered the tabletop. All research into the prophecies concerning Angel had been put on indefinite hold until a solution could be found to help Cordelia’s vision side effects, and possibly rid her of the visions entirely. After pouring through the texts they had at the office in the Hyperion, he was still just as directionless as he had been to begin with.
“Yo, lookin’ is all Wes-man’s been doin’. Unless you know of some dusty ol’ scrolls he hadn’t looked at already, I suggest you listen to the man.” Gunn was seated again, not pleased to be suddenly refereeing between Angel and Wesley. Refereeing was Cordelia’s job and the very fact that he was doing it instead of her only served to drive home the fact that their friend and co-worker was in some serious trouble. He was surprised that she hadn’t poked her head out of Angel’s bedroom to berate them for all the noise, but that again was only testimony to her weakened state. Ordinarily, she would have been out of the room in an instant, insisting that only the vampire in a funk could ignore so much noise, and ordering them around like one of the nuns on a tear at a Catholic school.
Lowering his voice, his tone still filled with both worry and urgency, Angel continued, “Think, Wesley. There’s got to be somewhere you haven’t looked yet.”
“Well, I was just about to ring up Rupert and ask if he didn’t have anything on the subject of transference spells or…”
“Don’t explain it,” Angel cut him off, “just do it.” He turned on his heel and strode back across the sleek tile to draw some small amount of comfort from the sight of Cordelia’s sleeping form nestled in his bed. He eased the door open, watching from the distance so as not to awaken her.
Dust motes danced through the slash of light that fell into the room from the opened door, hanging weightless in the thick air and swirling on the tide of eddies caused by the sudden movement. If he’d been inclined to flights of fancy, Angel supposed, he might have likened the tiny sparkles and flecks to stardust, falling across his seer’s face in the dimness of the room. But he wasn’t prone to such fanciful musings and he merely gazed at Cordelia’s steadily moving chest, fruitlessly wracking his thoughts and memory for a way to help her.
The next evening brought with it the herald of a more or less pain free day for Cordelia. She didn’t know if her sudden euphoria was due to a recession of pain or an increase in endorphins, but whichever it was, she was pleased with the results.
Stretching luxuriously in the warm and cozy bed, she smiled at the ceiling in pleasure. The throbbing in her temples was gone, as were the blurry edges to her vision and ringing in her ears. All in all, she was back to her old pre-LA self, except for the rising with the moon aspect of her day. Rolling over among the crumpled linens, she felt the cool floor meet her bare feet and send chills up her legs. One more day spent at the Hyperion, free of charge. She wondered how common that was, considering the strange slew of guests the hotel had claimed over the years.
Shrugging at her own thoughts, she padded softly to the door that stood slightly ajar. There were voices in the foyer, masculine voices that could only mean that all of her guys were there. She paused a moment before pushing the door open, her hand laying flat against the wood as she eavesdropped on the conversation. She wondered when they had become “her guys” and stopped just being Angel, Wes and Gunn. She couldn’t quite make out their hushed words, and curiosity got the better if her, directing her hand to push the door slowly open.
“Yes, yes, Cordelia does seem to be improving at the moment. No, she’s resting still, but the pain does appear to be diminishing. Hmm? How can we tell? She looks to be resting more easily now than she was before, one would assume it is due to a reduction in her misery. Angel, he’s managing, as we all are. Cordelia has been a preoccupation in all of our thoughts as of late. Yes, thank you again, Rupert, we would appreciate any light you might shed on the situation. We hope to hear from you soon,” Wesley related into the receiver, hanging the phone up when Giles had promised to do all he could to help the woman who had once been among his own group of children to protect.
She turned to look across the room at Angel whose head had snapped up at the imperceptible sound of the opening door. He looked awful, she noticed immediately, knowing that she was the cause of his furrowed brow and haunted eyes. To allay some of his worry, she beamed at him and walked further in into the room.
“Cordy! How ya’ feelin’?”
“Great, Gunn. What are all of you doing here? Isn’t it a little late for a research session? We didn’t get a client while I was sleeping, did we?” She continued moving toward Angel, but glanced over at the desk where Gunn and Wesley both watched her closely. “Hey, I’m fine. No need to watch me like a hawk.”
“No new client, Cordelia, just something that came up and needed looking into.”
She cut her eyes at Wesley, telling him without words that she knew exactly what they had been researching. “Sure. Did anyone think to call my apartment and let Dennis know what was going on?”
Gunn reached down to retrieve an overnight bag from behind the desk. “We did even better. Thought you’d like some clean clothes. Your ghost helped.”
Cordelia laughed at the mental image of Dennis refusing to let anyone pack the bag until he knew what had happened and turned her attention back to Angel. He still looked worried. “Stop it.”
Startled, Angel glanced around the room quickly before looking back to Cordelia. “Stop what?”
“That!” She gestured at him with a flamboyant wave of her hands. “It’s bad enough that you already brood over Darla and Buffy, don’t do it over me.” She stopped short of reaching him, standing a few feet in front to his slumped form. “I feel great. There’s nothing to brood about.”
“Cordelia nothing. Like I said, nothing to get all moody and broody about, so don’t even think about doing it.” She grinned and turned around to face Wesley. “So what did Giles have to say about the visions?”
Mr. Bruin scribbled his notes down as the lady he was interviewing paused to take a breath. He cast a sidelong look at her, examining her face more closely. How could she know these things she was telling him? It was almost as if she had experienced it first-hand, but that was impossible, or at least highly improbable.
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
“Yes?” She shifted again against the silks and satins that surrounded her, an air of expectation hanging in the expression.
“I was wondering, would it be possible for you to explain exactly how you knew these people? I don’t doubt the veracity of your story in the least, but it would make it a more believable tale if I had a name to attribute it to.”
She smiled at his hedging question. He wanted her name. It was an honest question and a reasonable request, but he would have to be disappointed. “I understand your concern, Mr. Bruin, after all, I know your name don’t I? Let me first finish my story and we can approach your questions then. Maybe you’ll even decide that some questions simply aren’t important any longer.”
He paused for a moment, understanding that he would never learn her identity first-hand and already planning how to broach the subject with her hired help on his way out after his interview, before he nodded and smiled. He would accept anything he could get when it came to his pet project, even mystery interviews.
After changing into fresh clothes and listening to Wesley relate, in more words than were actually necessary, that Giles was as stumped as they were, Cordelia turned around to face Angel again, a teasing smile on her lips. “Come buy me a cup of coffee, it’s a beautiful night and you owe me one.”
They walked out of the hotel and headed down the block to the all-night coffee shop on the corner, passing darkened windows and barred doors along their way. The night was filled with noises: the hum of electric streetlights, blaring radios, distantly screeching tires on the oily pavement… It was a long call from Sunnydale and Cordelia, for one, was glad of it. She’d had enough of falsely quiet hellmouths to last her a lifetime, at least LA didn’t try to pretend it was something it wasn’t.
“You sure you’re alright?”
She’d been waiting for the question ever since she’d walked out of his bedroom. She wouldn’t be able to fool him so easily again now that she’d admitted to the severity of the visions and he wouldn’t simply take her word for it that she was fine. She’d done that to herself by lying to him to begin with.
“I feel great, Angel.” She caught the vague disbelief in his eyes. “I really do, I feel fantastic in fact. If this is what runner’s high feels like, sign me up for the next marathon.” Her joke slowly broke through his shell of concern and he smiled at her.
“What is it, Cordelia?”
“This new quest… trying to find a way to make the visions go away… I just…” stammering over the words, she sighed and tried again. “I don’t want them to go away,” she blurted out finally.
“Cordelia, what are you talking about? They’re getting worse. Doyle had a hard time with them and he was half demon. Humans aren’t equipped to deal with them.” Angel stopped walking and snagged her arm lightly in his, pulling her around to face him. “They will eventually kill you.”
“Well, duh!” she exaggerated, rolling her eyes and flipping one hand in the air. “Of course they’re getting worse, I told you that last night. And yeah, I’m fully human, we already know that. If there had been any question about that, it would have been found out on Pylea with all the tests and sharp poking things. I’m just saying that maybe we could find a way to help make the side effects ease up a little. You know, make them more bearable but not make the visions go away. Kind of like some kind of demonic Prozac.”
“Please, Angel. At least say you’ll talk to Wesley about it.” She looked up at him, her eyes filled with fear and longing, and waited for him to respond in some way.
Angel never got the chance to tell her that he would talk it over with Wesley. The vision hit before he could voice his thought, knocking Cordelia off her feet and into his expectant arms. Grateful for the heavy shadows and lack of pedestrians on the section of sidewalk where they had paused, Angel clutched the woman to his chest while she screamed out in pain. Carefully wiping the tears from her cheeks as they fell, he waited for it to pass so he could rush her back to the hotel. Less than forty-eight hours between this vision and the last one… she couldn’t possibly live like this. She couldn’t want to live like this.
The room was so dark she could barely make out the silhouette of her hand even when she held it directly in front of her face. Light was a bad thing, an intensifier to all the little specks and sparks of agony that were chasing around her skull. She’d already had her quota of over the counter pain meds for the month, much less the day, and although she thought she remembered a bottle of scotch nestled in the back of one of Angel’s kitchen cabinets, retrieving it would mean that she would have to face the artificial lighting of the exterior room. She rolled over onto her side, hands clutching mindlessly at her throbbing head. Movement was a bad thing too…
If only she could alleviate the pressure that had grown within her skull, she would be able to breathe again, maybe then she could even form a single coherent thought. She tore at her hair to no avail, the pressure wouldn’t let up and the vision flashbacks wouldn’t stop their infernal reruns through her mind’s eye. Blood and terror and pain and anguish… all repeated in endless detail over and over and over again until Cordelia thought she might very possibly go insane from the mere repetition of it all. She couldn’t take it any more, she just couldn’t handle the ever-blossoming pain behind her temples.
Angel raised his head in silent question at the dull thud that resounded across the foyer. It seemed to have come from his darkened bedroom where he’d settled Cordelia but he couldn’t be sure, old buildings were notorious for having their own repertoire of creaks and groans. He’d decided that he would cheerfully relinquish his private quarters for the rest of his existence if it gave Cordelia some small sense of peace. He heard the thud again; rising from his chair to assure himself all was well and she hadn’t fallen out of bed or been attacked in secret by one of the more despicable demons they often hunted down, he slowly began to stride closer to the room. At the third thud he quickened his pace, worry clouding all reasonable thought. He opened the door to another low thump and peered into the near pitch black of the room.
Cordelia sat on the floor close to the wall, blankets and linens trailing behind her to puddle at the side of the bed, her back was to the door and she made no attempt to let him know she was aware of his presence.
Angel stood rooted to the spot as he watched her lean forward and bang her head into the wall in front of her, slowly and deliberately. His eyes wide, he watched as she repeated her actions once more.
“Cordelia!” He crossed the distance between them in an instant, his cry alerting Wesley and Gunn and bringing them into the room as well. He dropped down to his knees just as her head made contact with the plaster wall once more; grabbing her shoulders, he hauled her around to face him, taking in her obvious pain and distress in one glance. “Come on, Cordelia. Don’t do this.”
“I’d say that’s the understatement of the millennia…” Gunn muttered to Wesley, gaining the other man’s full agreement.
“Cordelia,” Angel murmured.
“No!” She tore herself out of his gentle embrace and threw herself against the wall again. “I can’t… it… nothing will… I…” Incoherent and exhausted, she slumped against the plaster, her bruised forehead resting against the cool edge of the draperies, tears coursing down her cheeks unabated.
“Oh, Cordelia,” Wesley breathed in sympathy. He looked at Gunn who appeared to be in the same state of helplessness as he was. There wasn’t anything they could to help and they both knew it, all they could do was intensify their search for a way to rid her of the visions that were devastating her mind and body.
“Delia? Cordelia…” Angel adjusted his position so that he was crouched in front of the whimpering woman. He wanted to reach out and gather her into his arms but didn’t know if that would help her or cause even more distress. Unsure, he watched her face closely, reaching out with a delicate hand to brush away her tears.
After a few minutes of silence, she pressed her cheek into his palm giving Angel all the opening he needed to reach out and engulf her in a loose hug. She sank into the embrace, burying her face against the softness of his shirt and relishing the hard solidity of his shoulder beneath the material, a rock of stability to cling to in the face of the swirling tides of agony that crested in her head.
The ringing of the phone startled Wesley and Gunn from their position just inside the room. After one final glance at the pair who were huddled on the floor, Wesley hurried to stop the jangling noise the second time it sounded, ringing through the nearly empty hotel lobby, with Gunn following close behind.
Quickly snatching the phone from its hook, Wesley answered. “Angphel Investigations,” slurring the words in his haste.
Gunn did a double take at the slip. How long had it been that Cordelia had run through her list of alternate names for the agency when they had been on their own? It seemed a lifetime. His eyes met Wesley’s with the sudden sharp pain that the error had opened splashed across his face as the Englishman turned his attention back to their caller.
“Rupert? Oh yes, no, no, I assure you. Just a slip of the tongue. Yes, she had recovered quite well, but she suffered another vision this evening… Yes, we were able to take care of the problem she foretold but Cordelia’s condition has only worsened. No, Angel’s with her now. No, I don’t think it wise to disturb him at the moment. Did you? Oh. Well, I do thank you for your help, we all do. Yes, I will call if there is any change.” Wesley slowly set the receiver back on its hook.
“So did English-two find anything?”
“No, he is empty-handed. He assured me that he would continue to search for anything that may be of use to us. He says they are all looking through the collection of texts he has accumulated at the shop.” Wesley sank down onto the sofa as the utter desperation of Cordelia’s situation ate away at his own resolve to help her in any way he could. If there was nothing to be done, he couldn’t do anything more than watch her die a slow and increasingly painful death. So far, none of their queries had turned up the barest hint of an acceptable resolution.
“Who’s ‘they’?” Gunn asked, pulling a chair across the floor and flipping it around backward so that he could straddle the seat, his arms resting across the ladder-back.
“Buffy, Xander, Willow, Anya… a few others. They all attended Sunnydale High School together, now they help Buffy in her duties as slayer.”
Gunn snorted as a grin spread across his face. “Cordy sure knows how to pick ‘em, doesn’t she? First she goes to high school with vampire slayers and demon hunters…”
“Anya was a demon at the time,” Wesley interjected tonelessly.
“…and demons, then she comes to LA to work for a vampire and go out stalkin’ the nasties like lady-Rambo. The girl needs to get away from all the big bads for a while, take a vacation somewhere there aren’t any killer demons to ruin it for her.”
Gunn’s grin was contagious and Wesley found himself smiling despite himself. “I suppose we could send her to the moon. I don’t recall hearing of any demonic activity occurring there as of late.” Cordelia certainly did seem destined to deal with an interesting group of living, and un-living, creatures. And those same groups of creatures, human and otherwise, had left their fair share of scars on her. First the rebar through her abdomen, then the brain trauma brought on by the visions, then Darla’s bite, not to mention nails impaling themselves in her arm, lucky swipes of monsters’ claws… the list was interminable. She had endured far too many traumas for someone of her tender age.
“Now you’re talkin’.”
She paused her tale, her gaze sliding back to the photograph. So long ago and yet she could see them still, just as clearly as she had then. She could hear their voices in her head, just as they had sounded then, whether they were involved in an argument or laughing over something one of them had said. Occasionally as she padded through the lower rooms of her home, she would almost expect to see one of them striding purposefully through the front doors, weapons in hand and determination in their eye; almost, but then the sunlight would change and she would be reminded that they wouldn’t be walking off to fight the demons ever again. It was too late for them, they had fought ‘the good fight’ and were able to finally rest: the rest of the deserving few.
“Ma’am? Are you alright?”
She raised her eyes to meet those of her invited guest. He was so very young, quite like they had been, all of them except for Angel, but even Angel seemed young at times. And what was this intelligent young man doing? He was whiling away his youth chasing after vampires and demons… how very familiar.
“Yes, Mr. Bruin, I was simply drawn into my memories, it happens to you once in a while when you get to be as old as I am,” she chuckled. Closing her eyes for a moment, she drew in a deep breath. She was growing tired, but the story needed to be passed on.
“If it’s too late, I can always come back…”
“Nonsense, you came to hear the story and hear it you will.” She leaned forward in her bed and gestured toward a small table behind the reporter. “If you would, Mr. Bruin, there is a leather portfolio in the drawer of that table. Please get it for me.”
The reporter rose and fumbled with the drawer pull, finally opening it and extracting a cracking zippered bag and handing it to the lady who waited for it. Once it was in her possession, she opened it, slowly, easing the zipper pull up over the little used teeth of the slide closure.
“I saved these,” she said simply, pulling out a handful of papers and pages, all covered with hand-penned notes. “They were notations about Angel’s future and Cordelia’s dilemma both. I believe there are no fewer than six different translations of the Prophecies of Aberjian, as well as several other important sounding documents Wesley stumbled across in his search. There are also the notes they made concerning their quest to find a cure for Cordelia’s progressively worsening condition. Perhaps they can help in your story, Mr. Bruin, as well as lend a bit of accreditation to my own tale.” Seeing the concern in his eyes, she was quick to add, “I know that you believe me, I am only concerned about others.”
“How long have you kept these…” He took the pages she offered him, sorting through them quickly before tucking them securely into his briefcase.
“Oh, it must be close to seventy years, perhaps closer to eighty even.”
She closed her eyes briefly before she answered him. “Because I knew that one day their story would need to be told and that those who knew it best would be few and far between, I was merely waiting for you to come along and look for the truth of it all. Truth can be a fleeting thing, Mr. Bruin, and the mind can play tricks on you, altering that truth to fit its own needs, but their story actually happened and the world needs to be aware of that.”
Papers littered the tabletop and surrounding floor, along with crumpled scrolls and bookmarked tomes. Amidst it all, Wesley fumbled through yet another translation of one of the ancient Scythian texts of paranormal abilities. He’d already searched through all the other available data and nothing had given them even a hint of resolution.
The ringing of the phone startled him, causing another of the stacks of papers to fall to the ground in a flurry of confusion.
Angel raised his head when the door slowly opened. He had heard the telephone and Wesley’s half of the conversation but nothing was to be gained from listening to the monosyllabic replies the ex-watcher had made. Wesley stood in the opening, backlit by the dim light from the lobby.
“What is it?”
“Angel? There’s something I think you should hear,” Wesley began, “but please, come out to the lobby. I don’t want to…” He gestured to Cordelia where she slept on the bed next to Angel.
He eased up from the bed, careful not to disturb the woman who was again at rest, if only momentarily. Striding from the room, he approached Wesley on the far side of the room. “What?” He was silenced by the man’s indication that he should follow him.
Once again at the desk, Wesley leaned heavily against the thick wood, careless of the increased chaos his movement added to the muddle of books and papers. “It was Giles on the phone. Angel, short of going to the powers that be themselves and demanding they remove the visions themselves… there just isn’t anything to be done. The only cures I have been able to locate tend to cure the possessor of their life as well as the visions, and none of those who have been helping to research in Sunnydale has found anything different. There is no cure, Angel. We are powerless to prevent this from…”
“No,” the harshness of Angel’s tone fairly rattled the windowpanes. “No.”
“Angel, yes. If the visions had been given from anyone but the PTB, things might be different, but…”
“But Cordelia got the visions from Doyle, not the PTB.”
“Yes,” Wesley agreed, “but he got them from the PTB. Even though he transferred them to another host, it still…”
“She’s going to die because of me.”
Wesley closed his eyes at the intensity of pain that suffused those few words. “Not at all. It’s the visions and their side affects, they simply weren’t meant to be experienced by a human host.”
“Doyle was given the visions in order to help me on the road to redemption and he died because he was protecting me. Whether he meant to or not, he transferred those visions to Cordelia, and now she’s going to die too. All because of my road to redemption.”
Wesley remained silent; there wasn’t anything he could say that Angel would listen to, regardless of his own thoughts on the matter of blame.
“I’m killing Cordelia.”
Angel roughly pulled his car up to the curb in front of a row of vintage storefronts. The door directly to his right was lit and propped open, regardless of the fact that the owner had been killed more than a year before. Perhaps it had been bought by some entrepreneurializing bookworm or demon hobbyist… it didn’t matter, if anyone in the city had anything of use to the benefit of their cause right now, it would be that book shop. With any luck the new owners wouldn’t have cleared out the old stock, they might even prove to have some useful information.
A gratingly harsh buzzer sounded as he crossed the threshold, alerting the clerk to his presence. A young man poked his head up from behind a teetering stack of boxes, smiling in response to his prospective customer; he abandoned his attempt to catalogue the new stock and called out to the man who now stood at the counter. “Can I help you?”
“This store used to be owned by a man named Denver, he had… an interest in certain things…”
“Yep, Uncle Denver was really into the demons that ran around town, they say that’s how he ended up on the wrong end of a sword and how I ended up with the store.” The young man shrugged. “What d’ya’ need?”
Angel looked closely at the man, there was a vague familiarity about him that could be explained away with a familial resemblance. “Do you have anything on visions?”
“What about ‘em?”
“Removing them from the host.” Remembering Wesley’s comment on the spells he had found, he clarified, “relieving the host of the visions without killing the host.”
“Hmm, that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? I guess it would depend on how the host came to get the visions. I mean, if it’s a psychic thing then it’s easy, you just block a few brain waves here, realign their Qi and voila—no more visions. But if they got the visions because they asked for them from one of the higher ups, well, they usually have to go through this whole big rig-a-ma-role and then they may or may not be taken back…”
“What if they were given by the powers that be?”
The young man stopped his litany and turned his head to look Angel full in the face. “The powers that be don’t go around doling out visions.”
“They did to one person. That person passed them on before he died.” Angel shifted, keeping one eye on the door and the other on the man who faced him.
“The prophecies say…”
“I don’t care about prophecies. I care about helping my friend.”
“Must be some kind of a friend,” he murmured, then snapped his head up from the manifest he had glanced down at. “You’re him. You’re the one Uncle Denver talked about, the vampire with a soul. You know, you really had a big influence on him, made him change all those preconceived ideas he had about demons and vampires…”
“Yeah, so he could be stabbed in the back by a vampire. Preconceived ideas aren’t always wrong.”
The young man chuckled. “You’re right on that one.” He turned his back on his customer, scanning a bookcase behind the counter. Shaking his head and tapping the spines of the books, he made his way around the corner before crying out in success, “aha, I knew ol’ Uncle Denver had a copy here somewhere.”
Angel watched as the man emerged again with a thick and dusty volume in his hands.
Brushing the dust from the cracked leather cover, he handed it to Angel. “If anything’ll help your friend, this will. It’s kind of the exhaustive concordance of all things visionary. If it’s not here, it ain’t possible.”
He took the book that was offered to him, tucking it beneath his arm. “What do I owe you?”
The man looked confused. “Owe me? I should be paying you, dude.
Angel was taken aback, stammering, “I don’t…”
“Man, without you, Uncle Denver never would have delved into this line of research so thoroughly, and he sure never would have left it to me when he died. So it killed ‘im in the end, but he was a happy guy at least.” The young man shrugged again, a chagrinned expression blossoming in his eyes. “If he were still alive today I never would have met Landry.”
Angel turned at the appearance of another figure in the store, resplendent with blue and green spine-like hair and a bony ridge rising up from her nose to the top of her head. She smiled, stepping around the counter and into the waiting arms of the bookshop’s newest owner.
Cocking his head, Angel guessed, “Landry?”
She smiled. “The one and only.”
Nodding toward the couple, Angel backed up a step. “Thanks for the book.”
“Don’t mention it, I hope it’s useful in helping your friend.” He waved goodbye as Angel ducked out of the store and returned to his car on the curb.
Landry watched the car pull into the light traffic of the side street. “What are odds of that book helping him?”
Denver’s nephew shook his head slowly, the negative motion his only response.
“This book, did it have a name?” Mr. Bruin continued with his scribbling as he asked the question.
“Of course it had a name, all books do.” She nodded to a bookcase that stood behind the chair in which he sat. “It’s there, the second one from the far right on the top shelf.”
Rising from his chair, Mr. Bruin trailed his finger across the book spines, finally coming to rest on the thickest book on the shelf. He tilted his head slightly to read the gold-filigreed title. “I can’t…”
“Nor can I. You would have to ask Wesley what it says, he was the one who could translate demonic languages with such proficiency. But you would have had to ask him quite a while back, before he was taken from us.”
“Do you mind…” he asked, pausing before he pulled the book down from its place.
“Not at all. The notes Wesley took are still tucked into the pages of the entry that was thought to be the answer to alleviating Cordelia’s misery.”
“So what you’re sayin’ is that it mentions a cure but it might not work?” Gunn scoffed and looked back at the entry Wes pointed out.
“What I am saying is that we won’t know for sure until we try it, but some of these items we will need for the spell we simply don’t have. Not only do we not have them, I’m not sure where we might be able to locate them. I’ve already placed a call to the Magic Box but according to Anya they don’t carry them nor is she certain of when they might be able to locate a supplier.” Wesley rubbed his forehead trying to lessen some of the tension he felt so heavily. “Our own suppliers are lacking them as well.”
Angel paced the foyer, casting worried glances toward the room where Cordelia still slept. “What do we need?”
“Placticarion for one but the only place it grows is in one of the lower hell dimensions. Anya promised to contact the few demons she is still in touch with to see if they might be willing to find us some. But even if she’s successful, there’s still Bruitrselph as well as something I’ve never heard of called Janus-Triumphliante. The Bruitrselph can be gotten from a supply house in Moravia, but I don’t even know how to go about finding out about the other, it isn’t in any of the books and no one in Sunnydale has heard of it either. It is possible that Janus-Triumphliante has another more commonly known name, but I can’t be sure…” Wesley allowed his explanation to trail off as he observed Angel cross the room again and quietly open the door to the bedroom.
“Wes-man, things just keep getting’ worse ‘n worse.”
“Yes, they do seem to be.”
Angel knelt by the bed, his hand gently brushing damp tendrils of hair back from Cordelia’s face. She seemed to be resting a little easier at any rate, but as soon as the next vision struck, she’d be right back in her own personal version of hell.
At the cool and soft touch, her eyes fluttered open. A small smile curved her mouth as her eyes slowly focused. “Hey,” she whispered.
“I didn’t mean to…” Angel’s hand dropped down to his side as he leaned back from the bed slightly.
“You didn’t. Don’t stop,” she murmured, smiling again as his had returned to the caress. “I must look a mess. What did I miss?”
“You look beautiful. Wes thinks he found a way to stop your visions…”
“Angel, I told you I didn’t want to lose them.” She scooted over in the bed so that Angel could ease onto the edge of the mattress.
“We tried but there’s no other way.”
She stared off into a dark corner of the room. “Oh.”
“I just wanted to tell you goodbye before I left.”
The statement caught her by surprise and her whole body stiffened in reaction. “What do you mean: goodbye?” Her voice quavered at the implication of his simple sentence.
“No, no, I’m going to go talk to Lorne and then I have to go away for a little while but I’ll be back, very soon,” his tone seethed reassurance and pleaded with her to not ask any more questions.
“You mean you’re going to go sing for Lorne.”
“Something like that.” He smiled at her before standing up and walking across the room to the door.
“Angel?” Cordelia’s voice called out harshly in the quiet of the room.
He turned to face her again just as his hand was turning the knob. “What is it, Cordy?”
Angel nodded. “I’ll be back.”
Mr. Bruin leaned back against the cushioned chair, glancing quickly through his notes and fumbling with his recorder so he wouldn’t miss a single word, not one intonation of the story he was hearing. “Umm, this Lorne fellow? Who was he?”
“An anagogic demon who had a penchant for karaoke and bright colors.” Another grin softened her face. “Lorne is still around somewhere, singing and reading like he always did. With the mass exodus of demons from this dimension, it did make him a bit more wary about wandering around in the open, but he chose to remain behind. You see, even with the new legislation, his home world was still less favorable.”
“And where was his home?”
A deep, dark shadow fell across the woman’s generally cheerful features. “Pylea, a place where singing was unheard of and humans were regarded as cows.”
“Cows, you say?”
“Yes, cows to be used for labor and then eaten.”
Mr. Bruin watched the woman’s steady gaze for a moment. Whoever she was, she obviously believed what she was saying; he could hear it in the very tone of her voice. “Oh.”
“Angel went to Pylea once; he, Wesley and Gunn traveled there to save Cordelia and they ended up saving even more.” The solemnity faded a fraction as she watched the deepening night that fell beyond her vast expanse of windows. “But Pylea isn’t so important to Angel’s own tale as it is to Cordelia and Wesley’s.”
“Why would that be?”
“Because it was there that Cordelia was a princess and Wesley was a commander. It was there that they were able to see in themselves that which was already visible to those who were around them and through their experiences they gained a certain amount of confidence in their own abilities and even their worth to the group. What Angel found there was only the shadow of his own feelings, what he felt himself to be. But now we need to discuss Angel’s visit with Lorne.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he murmured, returning his eyes to his notepad and poised pen.
“No, no, no, you’re throwing off the whole schema here, sugar. What I need is a bartender, not a comedian, capisce? And what I need more than that, is a bartender who knows how to make a decent seabreeze. So whad’ya say, go ahead ‘n give it a whirl.”
Angel walked into Caritas just as Lorne turned his back to the bartender who had answered the ‘help wanted’ ad, to observe the restoration still in process in the cavernous room. There were times when he actually was glad that Angel’s clunky convertible took out so much of the interior, the place needed a makeover like that little Charlotte Church needed to sing.
“I need your help.”
Turning to face his guest, Lorne looked the vampire up and down. “Angel-cakes… and the leather, nice touch, although the hair… Well, no reflection will get ya’ a pardon on the hair.”
“And if your aura’s anything to go by, it ain’t good.” He gestured toward a back room away from the clatter of carpentry. “But with all the pips and squeaks in here, I’ll never get through to ‘ya.”
Angel followed the green host of Caritas through a doorway and into a private apartment attached to the bar. He waited for Lorne to say something more but the demon simply leaned against the doorframe and closed his eyes briefly in relief to be away from the commotion of hammers and saws.
“Yeah, yeah, Mr. Broody, I know what you came for, your aura’s screamin’ like a banshee. The problem is, you see, I’m not so keen on tellin’ you what you want to know. I have this thing for friends, yeah, I know, your touched… But the thing is…” He paused and sighed before trying to continue, “I don’t like what I’m seein’ here.”
“What do you see, Lorne?” Angel’s patience was wearing dangerously thin and maintaining a level tone was becoming exceedingly difficult.
“Here’s the scoop, things don’t look good…”
“Woah there, cowboy. All I’m sayin’ is that from what I can see, two go in… but only one comes out.”
Angel lowered his brows in confusion. “Go in where? Two what? What are you talking about?”
“Not sure, that’s the curse of these things; you see things, hear things, whatever… but you don’t always understand what you get. But I can see that it doesn’t look good.”
“Hey, Wes, I’m goin’ for take-out. Want anything?”
Wesley looked up from his books and noticed, for the first time, that Gunn was standing directly in front of him. “Umm, yes, well, yes.”
“What’ll it be?”
Gunn nodded. Cordy’s condition had them all in a turmoil too deep to escape even for an occasional meal. For the first time since joining the team, he wished he had some connections to the seedier demonic world that ran beneath LA’s sleek exterior, at least that way he would have someone to go to for some information. As it was, he was less than content to play delivery boy but needed something to occupy his time.
“There’s that taco stand around the corner. Back in a flash.”
Wesley nodded, staring unseeing at the words that danced and spun across the pages in front of him. None of them had been resting well since the revelation of the intensity of Cordelia’s pain had come to light. His research was nearly at a standstill, or rather was merely leading him round in circles and even with the help of Rupert and the others in Sunnydale it didn’t look good for finding a cure. Anya had called to say that she had located her contacts and had bullied one of them into getting the Placticarion they required, but she had no further leads on the other two missing ingredients.
A muffled cry from behind him caught Wesley’s attention some minutes after Gunn’s departure. The sound came from the bedroom where Cordelia had been ensconced until a remedy could be found for her deteriorating condition and brought the former watcher to his feet in a rush of falling books and papers. Dashing past the heavy door, he came to a crashing halt at the bedside, suddenly at a loss.
The young woman on the bed thrashed against the linens in the throes of yet another vision; the third one in less than three days and far too reminiscent of the meddling tendencies of Wolfram and Hart for his taste. If only they had been able to pin the blame on the law group, they would have a more directed quest to fulfill. As it was, they were still searching blindly for anything at all that might be of any use.
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he grasped her shoulders, holding her secure against the overwhelming waves of pain and terror. Tears suddenly welled in his eyes unbidden as he fought against the sudden sure terror that clutched at his own heart and soul. Cordelia wouldn’t survive another week if the visions didn’t space themselves further apart, and he wasn’t sure what any of them would do without her.
“So you’re saying that someone’s going to die.”
“I’m saying that two go in and one comes out. I don’t explain it, I just relay it.” Lorne leaned back and sipped at the slightly watered down seabreeze he held. Some bartenders just couldn’t mix a decent drink to save their hides.
“Cordelia’s life is in danger. I need more information and I need it now.”
“Look, hotpants, I know all about Cordelia, and believe me when I say that there isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do to help the pretty little thing, but the reality is that I’m not getting anything other than what I already told you. Maybe I’ll stop by and pay a visit to the princess, bring her some flowers.”
“She’s at the hotel.” Angel turned on his heel and stalked from the apartment.
“I’ll go by there today,” Lorne promised, already deciding on flowers for the beleaguered starlet and searching his thoughts for any of his abilities that might help. “Angel?”
He stopped just before he had fully exited the room, turning expectant eyes on Lorne.
“Holtz and Seventh Streets. There’s a doorway, I don’t know where it goes but you’re supposed to go through it.
“Holtz and Seventh.”
Wesley looked up from the desk. After sitting with Cordelia as she recovered from the initial phase of her latest vision, he had returned to his research more dedicated than ever before. Angel’s reappearance so soon after he had left was a surprise however.
“Holtz and Seventh. There’s a portal, a doorway. I need to know where it leads.”
“Alright then, let me just…”
Wesley, alarmed by the new emotion in his friend’s voice, paused in his actions. “Yes, Angel?”
“I need you to take care of Cordy. This place… I may not be able to…” Angel stopped trying to put to words the inexplicable. “Don’t let her feel guilty, you know, if I don’t… Tell her that she’s worth whatever it takes… even if that means… you know.”
“Yes, yes, I do. And I’ll try to convince her of it as well, but Angel, don’t give up on your own survival. I agree that we must find a way to help Cordelia, and I agree that there is no price too high, but remember that she will never forgive you if you foolishly allow yourself to be killed because of something having to do with her. Perhaps more importantly, she will never be able to forgive herself, regardless of what platitudes I may provide her with.”
Sighing, Wesley gave up his discussion and returned to the newest research demand, rapidly finding the requested information. “Here we are. Holtz and Seventh Streets seem to intersect with an inter-dimensional portal that appears to lead to… oh.”
The younger man looked up from his books, concern palpable in his expression. “Well…”
“Cordelia’s life is in danger, Wesley. Where will the portal take me?”
“Sometimes these old texts are severely outdated, it may be completely off when it comes to pinpointing locations and portals.” He looked into Angel’s eyes, clearly reading the warning that was there. “It will lead you back to hell.”
“That’s what I thought.” Angel turned to the weapons cabinet and removed an axe, a sword, and one of the more despicable looking fighting clubs before striding to the door. He stepped out of the hotel and into the moonlight that pooled across the sidewalk, never even pausing as he marched toward his doom.
“Angel played the part of the hero quite well,” Mr. Bruin commented.
“That will happen when one is a hero,” his interviewee suggested. “Angel did what he thought needed to be done, he didn’t consider it to be remotely heroic. There was a time when his actions may have held a more selfish tinge but that faded with the growing fondness he had for those he worked with. He would have done anything to help Cordelia, Mr. Bruin, even sacrifice his own existence. He had been to hell once before, sent there at the end of the slayer’s sword, and he came back an animal thanks to his experiences while there, so he was well aware of the possibilities and was more than willing to risk the same.”
Thinking for a moment, she added, “Cordelia would have pitched a fit had she known what he was doing that night. Oh, she never would have agreed to his possible sacrifice. Never.”
A knowing smile on his lips, Mr. Bruin nodded amicably. “I’m sure she read him the riot act when she next saw him.”
“No, she was never given the chance.”
Spinning. Everything was spinning out of control, threatening to take her back down into the blank recess of unconsciousness. Fighting the urge to give in to the swirling vortex that pulled so strongly at her, Cordelia slowly pried her eyelids open, shutting them again quickly when the room spun more wildly. Waiting for the roller coaster ride her head seemed to be on to pull into the station, she pressed the heels of her hands hard against her eyes.
She needed to get up, to find Angel and warn him about the vision. If she didn’t… well, she refused to consider the consequences if she stayed in bed and gave into the weakness the vision backlash had thrust upon her. She was Queen C, at least she had been at one time, she was the original Sunnydale bitch, no one got between her and what she wanted. And what she wanted most was to get to Angel and keep him alive, or at least keep him from becoming any more dead than he already was.
Struggling to free her limbs from the tangled confines of Angel’s sheets, she tugged and pulled until cool air at last chilled her bare legs. Knowing that if she paused even for a minute she’d never manage to rise from the bed, she willed her legs to slide off the mattress, her soles making contact once again with the frigid floor.
Looking down at herself with bleary eyes, the question of where her clothes might be flitted across her thoughts only to be displaced by her anxiety over Angel’s safety. Whoever had put her into one of Angel’s shirts would be reamed out later, when she could garner enough emotion to care, at present she was grateful for the longer hemline as it brushed against her mid thigh once she finally pushed herself into a somewhat standing position.
The distance between the bed and the door stretched into a mile as she painstakingly shuffled across the gleaming floor, her toes growing thoroughly icy on the chilly tiles. Her head still spun about madly but her determination was enough to push aside any amount of vertigo.
An odd thought danced through her thoughts, it was as if someone had pulled aside a curtain and she was able to see things clearly for the first time in a very long time.
She would miss him.
Lorne straightened his jacket lapel and sniffed at the pleasant floral arrangement he carried. Only the most exotic flowers would do for the former Pylean princess. Following the stairs up to the front entrance of the Hyperion, he glanced through the glass of the door before opening it. He could see Wesley and Gunn seated at the table, but there was no sign of Cordelia.
He pushed open the door, clearing his throat to alert the pair of demon hunters to his presence. Friend or not, he wasn’t going to sneak up on two men who were as worried and preoccupied as those two were… especially given the large number of weapons they had so close to hand.
“Lorne,” Wesley greeted. “How can we help…”
“No Drokken tonight, but I thought I’d swing by, pay my respects to the little lady and see how that head of hers is.” He held up the flowers, gesturing toward the bedroom.
“Ah yes, Cordelia’s resting at the moment. Here, I’ll put the flowers in some water for her.” Wesley rose and approached Lorne, retrieving the bouquet. “I’m sure she will find them to be quite lovely.”
Lorne watched as Wesley retreated into the kitchen area with the arrangement. Although Gunn had at first appeared to be hard at work, he could now tell that the young man had fallen asleep at the table. “Long research session, I see.”
“We’re trying to locate something to assist Cordelia,” was Wesley’s reply from the far end of the room.
“No luck, I take it. The auras in this room alone could put a few dozen Haxil beasts out of their misery in a flash.”
“Not as of yet, but we do hold out hope.”
“Yeah, Angel-cakes stopped by earlier. I suppose he’s gone off to be the lone crusader again?” Lorne ran his hand across one of the books on the table. “I tried to warn him.”
The sound of Cordelia’s voice woke Gunn from his slumber and brought Wesley back into the foyer. Her voice was raw and drawn and she stood unsteadily with one hand fixed against the wall.
“Sugar, you need to get back in that bed of his and try to sleep some of this off.”
She waved away Lorne’s suggestion, repeating her demand. “Warn him about what?”
“You know how the readings go, honey. If I start breaking the rules and tell you things about Angel-cakes’ reading, then I’ll have to bend the rules for everyone,” Lorne offered.
“Nuh uh,” she mumbled, stumbling further into the room. “Tell me or I’ll go find him myself.”
“Like you were planning to sit around here anyway? Come on now, sugar, you know you can’t do him any good like you are now. Why don’t you be a good girl and go lie down?” His red-eyed gaze did nothing to convince her to listen to his suggestion, nor did he expect it to.
“I have to tell him…”
Seeing her begin to crumple to the floor, all three men ran to her side, preventing her from hurting herself anymore than she had already.
She ignored Lorne’s raised brow and inferred ‘I told you so’ demeanor. “I have to find him. It’s important.”
“Cordelia,” Wesley pleaded, “please, you really must rest.”
“No!” She pushed herself away from the men, standing up again on her own. “I need a pair of jeans and a ride to wherever it is Angel went. I can’t let him… I have to warn him, Wesley. Please, help me.”
Wesley watched her, aware that everyone else in the room was waiting for his expected denial. But what he witnessed in her eyes wouldn’t let the words he knew he needed to say come forth. “Alright,” he whispered, “alright.”
Gunn, his eyes round with disbelief, looked from Cordelia to Wesley and back again. She was in no condition to make a trek to the bathroom, much less to wherever Angel had gone. “Wes-man…”
“It’s Cordelia’s decision, Gunn.” Wesley answered, cutting off any comment the darker man might have offered. Wesley’s own unease about the situation was egging him on to move Cordelia back to the relative safety of the bed, bodily if need be, but something wouldn’t let him follow through with that base instinct. Something in his head told him that Cordelia was right, that she needed to do this herself.
Snorting, Gunn shook his head and watched Wes retrieve the overnight bag they had brought back from her apartment. On some level, he understood Wesley’s actions even if he didn’t condone them.
Sighing, the aged lady sagged heavily against her cushions. Memory was a funny thing; it colored your perceptions and softened the edges of the past. The fear, the terror and concern, they were all still present in her remembrances but somehow they didn’t seem as sharp and cutting as they had then, they weren’t nearly as desperate. Of course she knew what the outcome was to be so perhaps that took away that jagged edge of desperation and pain.
How was it that any of them had endured that night? Looking back on it, none of them ought to have been able to walk away in one piece.
She was so tired, so terribly exhausted. She had waited nearly a lifetime to pas along this tale, and the telling of it had almost come too late.
Wesley and Lorne assisted Cordelia to Angel’s car, Gunn trailing behind, still not pleased with the turn of events. As they tried to make Cordelia as comfortable as possible, Wesley tried one last time to convince her to find another way to relay her vision to Angel.
“Cordelia, what if you were to tell us what you saw? Then we could locate Angel and relate…”
“No, it has to come from me. I have to be the one to tell him. He won’t listen to you or Gunn. He didn’t even listen to Lorne…” her voice faded as her eyes fluttered closed.
“This has bad vibes written all over it,” Lorne groaned, climbing in next to the unconscious seer.
“I agree, but we must try to help her do what she thinks is best.”
Gunn looked Wesley in the eye. “Even if it means Cordelia getting’ hurt worse than she is now?”
Closing his eyes briefly, Wesley replied, “Yes, even then.”
The drive was short, the streets nearly deserted so late at night. The intersection of Holtz and Seventh streets arose from the darkness like a bad omen, chilling them to the core. As the car pulled up to the curb, Cordelia roused, her slitted eyes taking in their location.
“Can you see him?”
Wesley glanced around the barren streets. “No. Perhaps he has already…”
“No, not yet. He’ll be here soon though.”
“I can’t believe we’re doin’ this,” Gunn stated, staring into the inky darkness.
“Why are we doing this?” Lorne asked. “I mean, I’m all for warm fuzzies from fulfilling destiny and following the good aura jibe, but this can’t be good,” he glanced down at Cordelia’s pale face, “or healthy. Princess, you look like a walking, well, an almost walking advertisement for death. Maybe a nap would…”
“There he is,” she whispered.
A dark form emerged from the deep shadows of the far buildings, his coat billowing behind him in the strengthening wind, his face set in serious planes and lines. The one thing he hadn’t expected to find when he reached the corner of Holtz and Seventh was his own car waiting for him.
“Cordelia,” Angel’s voice radiated both surprise and alarm at the sight of his friend. “Wesley, what are you doing here? And why is Cordelia here?”
Flinching at the blatant blame that flavored his words, Wesley turned to look again at the girl who was slumped against the back seat. “Angel,” he murmured, “Cordelia…” There were no words to explain what had occurred. He wasn’t even sure himself why he had agreed to the woman’s demands, except that she seemed so determined that she was right. Who was to question the seer?
“Angel, don’t. I made them bring me here.”
“Cordelia, you can’t even sit up, how could you make them do anything?” he demanded.
“Hey, Sunnydale’s queen bitch here; I’m the girl who gets the job done regardless of the obstacles.” She took a deep breath. “I’m going in with you.”
The chorus of no’s rang in her ears and she allowed a small smile to brighten her face. Her guys… How was it that she had found a family all of her own in the dark and crime-filled streets of inner city Los Angeles? They were her family and she would never be able to explain to any of them how she felt, even if she had the rest of the new millennia to try.
“That was the vision, Angel. I have to go with you, we have to go in together or it won’t work.”
“Two go in…” Lorne warned.
Angel allowed his stare to leave Cordelia long enough to meet the demon’s ruby gaze. The implications were immense and he knew that whatever the consequences, he wouldn’t allow himself to be the one to walk back out of that doorway.
“No,” he insisted again. “I won’t let you do it. Look at what happened the last time you fell through a portal…”
Big brown eyes full of longing looked up at him. “Exactly. Look at what happened, what could have happened. I chose to keep the visions, Angel. I decided not to com shuck with Groo because I didn’t want to lose these mind-splitting insights from the PTB. And now I’m choosing to go with you because, like it or not, you can’t protect me from my own head.”
She raised her hand before he could muster the words to reply. “I know. Really, I do. I know how you feel, what you want to do. But don’t you see? It doesn’t matter anymore, now of this does. It’s like Doyle said, we have to fight the good fight.”
“Doyle was saving a warehouse full of Lister demons at the time, Cordy. This is just you and me, you don’t have to save anyone; you have a choice.”
Cordelia looked around at all those who surrounded her. None of them understood except maybe Lorne and even he didn’t look thrilled. But it wasn’t about them understanding, it was about doing the right thing. “You’re forgetting something.”
Stifling a sudden chuckle at her irreverent thoughts, Cordelia recovered enough to suggest, “my sparkling personality? No demon could stand a chance against that, even whatever it is that’s beyond that door.”
Sobering, she amended, “no, seriously now, I’m the one who has all the insider info, right? I’m the one who got the vision. I have to go.”
“Princess does have a point,” Lorne offered, quickly quieting when he saw the looks thrown his way.
“I’m going with you.” Cordelia pushed herself out of the seat, struggling to get out of the car as gracefully as possible. “So help me up and let’s do it.”
Angel wasn’t happy with Cordelia’s revelation. Unsure that he could protect her from whatever lay beyond the portal, he hesitated. “I don’t like this.”
She smiled and finally managed to stand up away from the car, three pair of hands helping to steady her as her closest friend fought his inner demons, the ones that told him he was going to fail her the minute they entered the doorway and were gone from sight.
A dim light slowly filled the silent intersection, its source a pair of scarred doors no more than twenty yards from the assembled group. Light seeped out from the edges of the wooded doors, foreboding and electric in its implication.
Begrudgingly allowing Cordelia to have things her way, Angel reached out to take her hand in his. “Cordy…”
She smiled again, ignoring the rushing fire that spread through her head and down her spine. “Like I said, dead-boy, I know.”
“Don’t call me that,” he warned, his old self emerging if but for a moment.
They slowly approached the doors. Not a sound filled the night as their friends watched their advance. It seemed too quiet, too still, a warning of impending doom, but neither Angel nor Cordelia paused in their quest. At the slightest touch of Angel’s hand on the door handle, both doors burst open in a blaze of light and roiling electricity, pulling the pair into its vortex just as it exploded out, sending shockwaves of energy crashing into the street.
The rush of energy charged light fled as quickly as it had appeared, leaving the intersection quiet and still once again. Those left behind picked themselves up off the street and stared in shocked horror at the now ordinary doorway. Angel and Cordelia were gone, snatched up by the flash of light.
“Now what? Do we wait here, or…” Gunn’s question died on his lips as he turned to face the slightly rumpled Caritas host.
“I’ll make an exception this time… but don’t expect it to happen again,” Lorne said, his own eyes still focused on the doors. “When Angel-cakes came by today I told him the only thing I could see: ‘two go in but only one comes out’, that and the name of this intersection. He had an idea what it meant, so did I. I have a felling that’s why he was so worked up about Cordy being here at flash and clash time.”
“Two go in but only one comes out?” Wesley reeled at the implications of that simple statement. “What would have occurred had only one gone in?”
“Couldn’t say. They knew what they were up to though, both of them.” Lorne shook his shoulders, dusting off the lapel of his jacket and turning away from the object of their astonishment. “The only other thing I do know about this is that there’s nothing to be done standing around out here in the damp night air. I’ve got a bar to finish.”
“Lorne?” Wesley asked, his thoughts in whirling turmoil.
“Go home, get in out of this damp air it’s definitely not good for the pipes,” Lorne suggested. “They’ll be back when they’re done in there and not a second sooner. Oh, almost forgot, Caritas’ grand re-opening is in two weeks. Come by and have a drink on the house.”
Mr. Bruin stared at the elderly lady, waiting for her to complete her tale, to explain what had occurred when Angel and Cordelia re-emerged from the portal. He sat and waited for her to say anything else, finally ending the silence with his own torrid curiosity.
“What happened to them?”
She glanced up from the photograph that had somehow returned to her hands. “Oh, Caritas re-opened for business and was quite popular once again among the demonic population. Gunn and Wesley carried on as well as they could before they were finally forced to take alternate jobs. Gunn became one of the most respected spokespersons for a reformed society in LA, he was able to make a great many changes that bettered life here for everyone, not only humans. Wesley was asked back to the Council of Watchers and accepted a position as their liaison here in California.”
“Gunn… you don’t mean Councilman Charles Gunn…”
“Yes,” she smiled, “So they do still study his accomplishments in school these days. I’m pleased to hear it although I imagine they have tried to exclude any references there may be to demons. He would have done a great deal more had it not been for his assassination. His death and the subsequent reversal of many of his ideals is what instigated the exodus of demons from LA. Martial law ruled the streets anytime it came to dealing with demons for a number of years thereafter.
He nodded, remembering his mother’s stories of watching the last of the demon debates on television when she had been a very young child. For the entirety of his life however, demons were nothing better than figments of an overactive imagination. “I remember hearing about that… but I meant, what happened to Cordelia and Angel.”
Taking a deep breath, she admitted, “I don’t know. I never saw them again after that night at the corner of Holtz and Seventh. The building is still there even now, the same doors hang on it, but as far as I know, neither of them has ever re-emerged.”
She brushed another lock of hair away from her forehead. “Wesley would drive past it everyday. He never gave up searching for a way to get them back. When Wesley finally returned to the Hyperion that night, he gathered up all the notes and books they had used for trying to help Cordelia’s visions and hid them away in the back of one of the closets, beginning a new search for a means of reopening the portal. He looked through every book and scroll he had, searched the entire planet for anything that might be of use, but he was never successful. When he passed away, he was still hopeful though. He kept saying in his delirium that Angel would never let Cordelia come to harm because he loved her… whether he admitted it or not.”
“In truth, they all loved her.”
There was a soft knock on the bedroom door, startling both Mr. Bruin and the lady who sat propped on the bed.
“Yes?” She leaned slightly forward, wondering at the reason for the interruption.
“Ma’am? You’ve another visitor,” the voice called through the wooden door.
“Do I now? Well, send them in, Janice, and thank you for informing me.” The lady straightened again. There was only one person who paid her visits so late at night, and she looked forward to his visits.
“Should I leave?” the young reporter asked.
“Not at all, as a matter of fact, this visitor is one that you can appreciate,” she suggested, watching the door slowly swing open.
“I know I’ve told you before, sugar, but I just love what you’ve done with the place! I mean, the drapes, the leather, the art… just gorgeous!” A man resplendent with bright colored clothing entered the room with a flourish.
The young man sat in stunned wonder. It wasn’t the incredible intermingling of colors that stole his voice so much as it was the visitors green skin, ruby eyes, and horns. In all his research he had heard hundreds of stories about demons, had seen drawings, but nothing prepared him for the sight that stood before him.
“Shame on you, little lady,” Lorne scolded, wagging a finger at her “Caritas is doing booming business and you don’t even come by for a look see. What is this, you can’t tell me your getting too old to have your aura read. I haven’t heard a good rendition of ‘Row, row, row your boat’ in absolutely ages.”
“Lorne,” she greeted, her smile widening into a full smile. “It’s so good to see you. It’s been far too long.” She held her hands out to him and beckoned him closer to the bed.
Turning to acknowledge the reporter, Lorne approached the bed, perching on the edge of it and clasping her hands in his. “Yes, it has been too long. Especially if you’ve been entertaining young handsome men in your bedroom at all hours of the night ever since my last social call.”
Chuckling and shaking her head she returned her attention to Mr. Bruin. “This is a very old friend of mine, and of Angel’s at one time. Mr. Bruin, I’d like you to meet Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan.”
The young man simply stared, unable to form any words in reply.
“Yeah,” Lorne sympathized, “I had that problem myself back when I was still Mama’s ‘little green boo’, that’s why I shortened it to Lorne. My pleasure.” He extended his hand to the man, waiting patiently for him to respond.
When Mr. Bruin was finally able to comply, his interviewee cleared her throat. “Lorne, this is Mr. Michael Bruin. He’s a reporter who’s researching Angel.”
Lorne’s brow rose. “So you’re looking into Angel-cakes, are you? Let me tell ya’, you couldn’t have found a better subject if you’d tried. The hair, the leather, the demeanor… mmmm… Very tasty indeed.”
Mr. Bruin sat mesmerized as Lorne and his hostess exchanged pleasantries and caught up on one another’s lives. He left his tape recorder on, allowing it to capture the conversation. How he would ever incorporate it all into the story he was planning on writing, he wasn’t sure, but he knew that he had to try.
A long time later, Lorne stood again, patting the back of the lady’s hand affectionately. “Well, Caritas beckons, my dear. There’s no rest for the wicked, as they say. I’ll be looking for you to darken our doorstep again soon.” He motioned toward the silent reporter. “And why don’t you bring your friend? Give him a thrill.”
Lorne stopped at the threshold, turning back to the pair. “Better yet, why don’t you come along with me, Mr. Bruin? I’ll tell you what I know about ‘tall, dark and handsome’ on the way. I believe our girl here needs her rest.”
She looked curiously at Lorne, wanting to argue that she was quite fit but knowing all too well that Lorne rarely did anything without reason. And she had to admit that she was terribly tired, it had been a long day.
She smiled at the man who was so obviously torn. “Go ahead, Mr. Bruin. You can return tomorrow if you wish although I assure you, I’ve related all that I know.”
Exiting the room, she heard Lorne’s voice as it trailed after them, “So, can you sing? I’ve got a fabulous new karaoke machine that I’ve been wanting to try out for a while now.”
A soft sound from the corner drew her attention. She hadn’t ventured into that particular area of the room for ages but remembered quite well the stairway entrance it provided to the sewers two floors below.
“So… you did come back.”
The darkly dressed man who had stood hidden deep in the shadows cast by the velvet draperies approached the canopied bed. “I promised I would, didn’t I?”
The elderly woman chuckled. “Yes, you did, some seventy years ago.” She sighed deeply and shifted her arms against the soft blankets that were draped across her lap, still caressing the framed picture.
“How much did you overhear, Angel?”
“Most of it. But why did you leave out so much?”
The elderly lady closed her eyes briefly. “I told him what he wanted to know. I believe he will be true to the story I related and he will try to tell it as factually as he is able. I didn’t leave out anything important.”
“You left yourself out, Fred, how important you were to everyone.”
“I wasn’t important. He didn’t come here to hear about Winifred, he came to hear about you, Cordelia, Angel Investigations…” She glanced back down at the picture that rested atop the blankets. “You know, I was only with you a few months, but once Cordelia and you were gone, I started trying to fit in a little more. Cordelia became the mold by which I was able to rejoin society.”
“I’m glad.” Angel shifted in the chair. “How are you, Fred?”
She smiled brightly. “Old, I’m quite old, thank you for asking. Ninety-eight on my last birthday. I never thought I’d live so long, not when I was in Pylea or when you and Cordelia disappeared or when Wes and Gunn got taken away in the line of duty, so to speak.” Her smile faded slightly. “I’m glad you finally came back, Angel. I didn’t want to miss getting to tell you goodbye.” Sighing deeply, she let her eyes drink in the sight of her old savior. “I’ve waited for you for so long. I’d almost forgot why I was waiting.”
“I know.” He reached out and clasped both of Fred’s hands in his, comparing the differences in their age.
He had never dared to hope that any of them would live such a long life although he was glad that at least Fred had been given the chance. Even in the twilight of her earthbound days, she was still just as pretty as she had been when she had invaded his life in Pylea and demanded he was her savior. Age did not destroy her beauty, it only altered it, improved it beyond anything he could have imagined. When he raised his eyes to meet hers again, he saw the sudden look of awe that filled her face.
“Your hands… they’re warm.” She gently tugged on them until he was pulled to his feet and standing against the edge of the bed. Raising one of her own hands from his grip, she placed it firmly on his chest, a smile tugging again at the corners of her mouth. “It’s beating.”
“Cordelia’s shoe-shine,” he murmured fondly.
“Shanshu,” Fred corrected, then explained, “I studied Wesley’s notes after you disappeared but I never actually thought I would live to see the day… I hoped, but I never believed I would.”
“It’s here, I guess.”
“Angel? What happened? After you and Cordelia went through the portal we waited for hours for something to happen. Then we kept waiting, driving by and hoping to see something that would say the doors had been opened again, but we never saw any sign, none at all.”
Angel remained quiet for a moment before he began to speak. “I didn’t want Cordelia there. Lorne had said that two would go in but only one would come back out. I knew that if Cordelia went with me, she wouldn’t come back. But I also knew that Wesley said that the doorway led to hell and that wasn’t anywhere I wanted Cordelia to be, especially if she would be living out the rest of her life there. I don’t know what happened at first. One second we were standing in front of the door, the next we were in a cavern.” He took a deep breath and slowly blew it out again.
“I thought Wes had been wrong about the portal leading to hell, I would have been glad for him to have been wrong. He wasn’t. Hell dimensions are all different but they all mean the same thing. The only uniqueness about this one was that there was a war, a battle that would determine the outcome of the world. We ended up fighting to keep this world safe, even if it meant we wouldn’t ever see it again.”
He looked at the photograph Fred held, reaching out to take it from her. “We were only there a short time before another vision came. With the fighting and how sick she already was, her body just couldn’t handle it anymore and she went into a coma. The war didn’t take long to end though and the gates were firmly held shut, no one would be able to reopen them onto the world for a long time. I knew that I wanted to bring her home, coma or not, hoping she could be at peace at last. When I stepped back through the portal, we came straight back here.”
“It’s been a long time since the Hyperion was a hotel,” Fred said, stating the obvious and looking around her bedroom. “Wes and I invested a little money and managed to earn enough to buy and renovate it, then when Wolfram and Hart were chased out of town we never had anymore building problems. We didn’t want to give it up. If you ever made it back, we wanted you to be able to find us.”
A sudden thought struck her. “Wait, when did you get back? What ever happened to Cordelia?”
“We just got back today.”
Fred looked back to the heavy drapes where Angel had been hiding previously, a figure stood just outside her field of vision, framed by the secret passage; a tall willowy form she had come to recognize as the epitome of ‘fitting in’.
“Cordelia?” Pressing a hand to her mouth, she watched the young woman take form as she stepped into the light.
“Time differential,” she explained with a toss of her head. “Hey, who would’a thought the end of days wouldn’t happen here on Earth, huh? Oh, and that coma Angel mentioned? Not a coma, just a catnap.”
“A catnap that lasted a week?” Angel egged.
“Hey, I was tired. You try having demons stomping around in your head for a while and see how you feel.” Cordelia walked closer to the bed, a smile brightening her dark eyes. “It’s good to see you again, Fred. But I guess you’ve been missing us a little longer than we missed you.”
She smiled. “Just a little. Wesley and Gunn would be so pleased to know you are both safe. All of your friends were quite distressed when we related what happened. Buffy and Giles even came themselves to see if there was anything they might be able to do.” She grinned. “I don’t think I made a very good impression on the slayer though, or on Spike who followed her here.”
“I’m so sorry we weren’t…”
“But you’re here now. I can’t believe it’s actually happening.” Fred raised her hand to her chest, taking a deep breath.
“Great, Angel! I told you we should have used the front door. All this sneaky stuff is going to give her a heart attack.”
“What about the visions?” Fred asked, suddenly fearful of losing Cordelia again so soon after recovering her.
“Angel’s human, no visions,” she chirped. “And let me tell ‘ya, couldn’t have happened at a better time. So, how’s the film industry these days, huh? I mean, with no demons around to hunt down, I’ve got to find a job.”
Fred grinned at the entourage of thoughts that escaped Cordelia’s mouth, watching Angel shake his head in exasperation. Heaving a deep breath she moved her legs slowly off the bed and slowly rose. “There’s a very astounded young man who would like very much to meet you both. Shall we go to Caritas?”