Time To Go Home


AUTHOR: CHELLE
SUMMARY: When Cordy awakes she finds the world she left and her family in shambles.The spell to forget Connor has worked on Cordy too.
RATING: NC17
POSTED:
CATEGORY: Angst
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A
WARNINGS: None Listed
FICPIC CREDIT:
AUTHOR NOTES: I want to credit califi and DamnSkippy for putting the bug in my ear to write this. It isn’t exactly the story their challenges asked for, but the idea for it definitely sprung in my mind from their posts.


Part 1

Angel stood pacing behind the head of the conference table, his black Armani suit jacket slung over the back of his chair. “I don’t expect you to fail me on this one again and I can assure you that I won’t handle it well if you do. Am I making myself clear enough for you?”

“Yes Mr. Angel,” the nervous voice on the speaker phone answered back just before Angel switched off the connection.

Fred looked at Gunn who sat to her left at the massive table. “Is it just me,” she whispered. “..or has Angel started actin’ all…”

“Wolfram and Hartish?” Gunn finished.

“Yeah. I mean, I kinda thought taking over Wolfram and Hart meant…”

“Destroying it and using its resources for the purpose of good as opposed to helping it get back on its feet,” came Wesley’s answer from the seat to her right.

“Well, yeah.”

Angel, his attention turning back to his fragmented family members, now his partners in sin, placed his hands on the table and leaned forward, clearing his throat to signal that he was ready for their undivided attention. “Wesley, how’s the information the Senator requested coming along?”

“Well, we’ve been meaning to talk to you about that Angel.”

“About what?” he asked coolly.

There was a pause before Fred decided to be the brave one, or the dead one, “It’s just that, well, he’s….he was Billy’s uncle.”

“And?” Angel’s voice was eerily cold.

“You do remember Billy?” Gunn chimed in. “Badass rage mojo against women and the uncle who hired Wolfram and Hart to set him free?”

Angel just stared at his betrayers. Even if they couldn’t remember Connor, they had to understand the other reason he was doing all of this, the reason that kept him awake most nights at a vigil by her side, watching her sleep her beautiful, young life away. He had had to make the deal with Wolfram and Hart to save Connor, he had had to keep it to save Cordy. He had signed away his already damned soul for the chance to find a way to give her her life back. It had been a bargain actually, his life for hers. Curing Cordy from her endless sleep was worth a hell of a lot more than his useless soul.

Angel clenched his jaw at his supposed friends. This was the third attempt in the last month since he had taken over Wolfram and Hart that they had tried this little intervention talk. It was going to stop. Now. “How’s that serum to cure cancer coming along Fred? Or how about the inner city youth center you’re building downtown Gunn? Or better yet, your thorough and extremely expensive documentation of the genealogy of every known species of demon Wes?”

The three partners looked down, an expression of guilt and self loathing crossing each of their faces.

“All of these things cost money,” Angel continued. “Lots of money. Wolfram and Hart type money, and it just so happens that the Senator is one of the company’s top paying clients. It’s just business,” he looked between the three who now stared back at him. “So get over it and stop trying to play some moral high card with me. You all knew what this company was about before you signed on for this.”

Wesley stood, meeting Angel’s accusing glare with one of his own. “I don’t believe any of us had much of a choice in the matter.”

Both men continued staring at each other even as the door to the room creaked open. “Mr. Angel,” the middle aged woman requested his attention.

“What is it?” he asked, prompting her to enter, his eyes never leaving Wesley’s.

She approached her employer and spoke to him in a hushed tone, handing him a note before leaving the room.

Angel turned and stared at the note, his eyes growing unfocused. He looked up and opened his mouth but found his voice trapped underneath a torrent of emotions.

“Angel, what is it?” Wesley asked, his angry tone replaced with one of concern.

“It’s Cordy.”

***

Well, Skip had promised to take her to a higher plane of existence, but she had never expected anything like this. The room was lavishly beautiful. The bed that she awoke in was tremendously huge, larger than any king size bed she had ever seen, and the linens were all made of a washed silk and alternated in cream and white colors. Besides the bed, there were only two other pieces of furniture in the room, an armoire that matched the massive size of the bed and a round antique table with a large crystal vase, grossly overstuffed with fresh white orchids that made the room smell like heaven. Maybe it was. Cordelia scooted herself off of the bed and walked to the table, leaning in to inhale the intoxicating sent.

“Oh my,” a short, stocky woman exclaimed as she walked through the door carrying a tray that held a bowl of soup, toast, and a bottle of water. “You really shouldn’t be up my dear,” she scolded sweetly, smiling at Cordy as she laid the tray on the bed.

Cordelia turned, somewhat startled by the intruder, but relaxed as soon as she saw the woman’s round, comforting face. She looked to be just over middle age, with salt and pepper hair that was expertly placed in an old fashioned bun that gave off a ‘grandmotherish’ air. Cordy smiled back at the woman and sat down on the bed by the tray, she was really hungry.

“Slow down dear. You’ve been out of it for quite a while.”

“God, It feels like I’ve been asleep for a year, I’m starving,” Cordelia spoke through a mouth full of toast before guzzling down the bottle of water. She swallowed and tried to regain a little grace before asking any of the million questions that were running through her head. “So, where’s Skip? Off on another mission for the higher ups?”

The woman looked slightly confused, “I don’t believe I understand dear. Skip who?”

“Skip, you know. Big guy that brought me here.”

“Oh,” the woman’s face relaxed in understanding. “I’m sorry. I’m not used to referring to my boss by his first name.”

“Your boss huh?” Cordy looked impressed. “Guess good ol’ Skip’s got more pull than he let on,” she said, finishing off her soup.

The woman smiled proudly at the empty dishes and pushed a button next to the bed. Immediately a younger woman entered the room, grinning excitedly at Cordelia and wordlessly left with the tray in hand.

“So, what now…” Cordelia looked at the woman questioningly.

“Abigail, dear.”

“So, what now Abigail? Do I wait here until Skip comes back or will I be handed over to someone else?”

“Oh no. No one else is allowed to come here. It’s strictly forbidden. He would have our heads if we permitted such a thing.” For the first time Abigail’s face frightened Cordelia. The smile and twinkle were gone and her voice took on a militant tone, mixed with a shade of fear.

“Okay,” Cordy reasoned. “So Skip’s the only one allowed in here besides you and….”

“Janice? Oh no, I guess I didn’t make myself quite clear dear,” Abigail’s soft and soothing tone returned. “In the four months you have slept here, there has been a staff of seventeen women taking care of you night and day. We have been completely devoted to your every comfort. It’s been a privilege and an honor to have been on duty the day of your awakening,” she beamed.

“Four months?” Cordy was shocked.

Abigail nodded her head.

“And Skip, your boss, has he been here since he placed me in your care?”

“Oh yes. He comes in every night and sits with you until dawn. It’s been a distressing time for him I’m afraid, but he never gave up hope that you would awake.”

“So this isn’t normal then?”

“Normal dear?”

“Ya know, this kind of transition, the sleeping for four months thing,” Cordelia was trying to be polite, but the ‘dear’ thing was starting to get on her nerves.

“Well, no dear,” Abigail was beginning to wonder if she should have insisted that the girl stay in bed. She may have looked like the picture of beauty and heath upon waking but her strange questions were beginning to indicate otherwise. Well, she wasn’t about to risk her job, or her bargained soul for that matter, by giving the girl an answer that he wouldn’t like.

The door to the bedroom opened partially and Janice stuck her head into the room. “He’s on his way ma’am.”

“Thank you Janice,” she smiled before the younger woman shut the door. “Why don’t we get you out of that nightgown and into something more presentable,” Abigail took Cordelia by the hand and led her to the armoire.

Cordelia’s mouth began to water as soon as she opened the mirrored door. Versacci, Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, she WAS in heaven. She turned to Abigail. “These are mine?” she asked with enthusiasm.

“Oh yes dear. Mr. Angel is a very generous man. Nothing but the finest. Especially when it comes to you my dear.”

Cordelia’s mind began to spin and the room seemed to close in on her. “Mr. Angel?” she whispered.

“Yes,” Abigail smiled.

“Tall, dark, brooding, cruelly handsome Angel?”

“He is quite attractive. Of course you won’t tell him I said that, will you? I mean how would it look, a woman of my age and position saying such a thing about the president and CEO of Wolfram and Hart,” she laughed at herself.

“Wolfram and Hart?” Cordy’s voice sounded weak and vulnerable in her own ears.

“Yes dear, the benefactor of this marvelous facility.” Abigail motioned with one hand.

Cordelia swallowed hard, the word dear echoed around her brain and made her nauseous as she walked quickly to the window and opened the heavy drapes. The city streets below were filled with the remnants of L.A.’s rush hour traffic. She felt dizzy but couldn’t tell if it was from looking down out of the twenty-ninth story window or the fact that she was still in L.A., in the clutches of Wolfram and Hart, a Wolfram and Hart that according to this mad woman was run by Angel. Stumbling back from the window, she felt Abigail’s cold hands reach out, steadying her.

“Oh dear, here sit down for a moment while I find you something to wear.”

Cordelia stared blankly, pushed over the edge by the bizarre world she had awoken to. It was a test. That’s it. It had to be. Skip and the Powers were always giving her tests to see if she was ready. This was some kind of Matrix virtual world and she was being tested. That had to be it because the alternative was too frightening, too gut wrenchingly terrible to imagine.

Part 2

The quick bath she had been ‘allowed’ to take before dressing had been refreshing, if not relaxing as Abigail stood over her like some rosy cheeked watch dog. Still, it had given her time to clear her mind for a moment and realize, with a creeping dread, that this was not some higher plane of existence or even a test for that matter. She was actually in Los Angeles, trapped in some kind of malevolent, yet extremely posh spa slash rehabilitation center.

She stared at herself in the armoire mirror and smoothed down the material of the dress Abigail had laid out for her. It wasn’t the one she would have picked but that didn’t really matter. They were all gorgeous. She looked at her face and tried to produce a smile, but failed. She thought about Angel and the claim by Abigail that he ran Wolfram and Hart now. Maybe he finally defeated them, took them over and was now using their resources and obvious wealth to continue the mission. That was possible. Except, why still call it Wolfram and Hart? Why not keep the name Angel Investigations or change it to something else?

She took a deep breath and sat on the edge of the bed. There was a good reason. There had to be, and Angel would be here in a few minutes to clear everything up. Her heart skipped uncontrollably at that thought and she looked at the closed bedroom door. The last time she spoke with him she had been ready to confess her feelings for him, to take the dive off of the cliff of sanity by telling him she loved him and hoped for his love in return. He had seemed excited about their meeting that night, anxious even, but that was at least four months ago. A lot could change in four months. It seemed as if a lot had.

***

Angel swerved into the parking garage, startling a pedestrian as the wheels of the sports car screeched into an unmarked space. Bolting out and across the lot he pushed the elevator button, waited half of a second and bounded toward the stairwell of the building. His mind raced faster than his feet as he flew up the stairs three at a time. Cordy was awake, alive.

For four months he had kept her here, locked away in her twenty-nine story tower as if she were some enchanted princess. That’s what he had turned her into anyway. A fairytale princess, locked away in a tower that only he could enter. It infuriated the others at first, that he kept her from them, never telling them where she was, but he was desperate. He had to keep her all to himself. She was the only thing he had left, the only thing good in his world gone wrong. So he had locked her away, protecting her as if she were too fragile, too beautiful to be touched by the ugly, dark world that lay in wait for her.

He would come every night, sit with her, read to her, talk to her, hold her hand, begging her to wake up, sometimes ordering her to. Those hours spent with her at night became his true life, who he really was, who he really wanted to be. Being near her, alone with her, made the mask he wore for Wolfram and Hart bearable, he could put it on knowing that it was what kept her alive, safely locked away in her tower. A beautiful princess sheltered from an evil world she had so willingly sacrificed herself for.

He tried not to let out a hysterical chuckle at describing Cordelia as a princess, but it wasn’t too ridiculous really, technically she had been a princess once. Right after they had returned from Pylea it had been the office joke for a while, ‘Princess Cordelia’. Until finally she had slapped him on the back of the head and told him to knock it off already. His face cracked a small smile at the memory of that day. Cordy didn’t like being called a princess, and after that day he never did call her that again, not aloud anyway.

He could hear her words shuffling around in his mind, telling him to ‘knock it off’. He argued back at the voice. It was his fantasy damn it. He could call her whatever the hell he wanted to. She was his princess and he was her dark knight, fighting the evils of the world to keep her safe. He closed his eyes in embarrassment at his silly, childlike fantasy. It had seemed so sane the first time his mind pretended that it was true, what an idiot. Oh well, it had kept him alive while he watched in agony as she slept. But now she was awake, there was no need for fantasy any longer. He banished the word ‘princess’ from his mind.

Angel turned the corner of the hallway and passed the plastic smiles of the nurse maids without a word. He paused at the door and gently pushed it open.

The word ‘princess’ was suddenly replaced by the words queen and goddess as Cordelia gracefully rose from the bed, the black designer dress hugging her body.

“Angel?” he wanted to weep at the sound of her voice.

Angel had planned out over the last few months everything he would say to her at this very moment, but it all seemed irrelevant somehow as she stood there with a mixture of hope, uncertainty and fear crossing her face. His body reacted all on its own as he crossed the room, doing what he had wanted it to do ever since the night she had phoned him and asked him to meet her.

Okay, the kiss was a shock. She hadn’t expected it and had flinched just before his lips met hers, but he was too quick, he had captured her with his mouth before she could move away. A bolt of lightening flashed through her face and down to her belly at the feel of his soft cool mouth covering hers. She melted when he tilted his head and urged the slant of her mouth open with his tongue. The kiss was long and sweet yet possessed a hot passion that had obviously been building for what seemed like a lifetime or two. She wrapped her arms around him and tenderly stroked the hair on the back of his head, making him give off a soft groan that vibrated into every cell of her body. Her mind spun as he pulled her even closer to him, kissing her as if the world were ending and beginning all at the same time.

He slowed and pulled his head back slightly, keeping her tight in his arms and looked at her face. Her eyes opened lazily and she grinned up at him.

“Are you okay?” were the first shaky words she heard him speak.

“Mmhm,” she continued to grin.

He didn’t smile back, his face looked desperate and tired and he pulled her closer again, burying his head in the crook between her head and neck. “God Cordy. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” he whispered against her skin.

“Shh,” she soothed as she stroked the back of his neck, unsure of what he was apologizing for or why she was consoling him but unable to endure the sound of pain in his voice. She stood there holding him, letting his hands alternated between hard and gentle caresses on her back as he assured himself over and over that she was really there.

A few moments later, and after the fog of love and lust from the explosive kiss cleared her brain, Cordelia pushed away gently and let loose the torrent of questions that plagued her mind. “Angel, what happened? What am I doing here, how long, and why does that scary little woman keep calling you ‘Mr. Angel’? And what about Fred and Gunn and Wesley and Lorne? Are they okay? Where are they? And why in the hell are you running Wolfram and Hart?”

Angel finally smiled at her. He stroked her face. “Everyone’s fine, they’re waiting for you at home and as for the rest of it, none of that matters now. Not any more. You’re awake and you’re you,” he leaned in to kiss her again but she placed a hand on his chest, firmly stopping him. She needed answers and if he kissed her like that again she’d be too drunk to find them.

“Angel please. I need to know what’s happened. I have a right to know.”

Angel had hoped that as long as they stayed in the room together that the enchantment would last, that the outside world and the evil that it brought couldn’t touch them, couldn’t hurt her. But this wasn’t his fantasy world. Cordy was no longer the sleeping princess, unable to control her part in his state of make-believe. She was alive, awake, and asking for answers. Answers he wasn’t sure he was ready to give.

He dropped his arms down from the embrace he had held her in and took her hand, leading her to sit down beside him on the edge of the massive bed. Cordelia looked expectantly at Angel as he began. “Cordy, what’s the last thing you remember, before waking up?” he prompted her.

“I was going to meet you, at the lookout,” she concentrated. “Then Skip came,” Angel’s jaw clenched at the name of the demon who had betrayed them all. “He said that I had to make a decision, either go to you, tell you that… that I loved you,” she looked down. “Or come with him and save the world. I don’t remember anything after that. It’s like a huge void.”

Angel lifted her chin. “You were in a coma for four months Cordy, but you’ve been gone for over a year. I can’t explain it all to you now, just trust me when I say that everything is going to be alright now. You don’t have to worry about anything, I’ve been taking care of you and I’m going to continue to take care of you. I’m never going to let anything happen to you again.”

“But what about Skip? And this thing with Wolfram and Hart? Please tell me you crushed those bastards, took over their company and are just debating on a new and improved name?” she asked hopefully.

“Skip’s dead. He was evil.”

Cordelia looked shocked and sad. She felt betrayed and stupid and Angel could see it all over her face.

“Hey,” his eyes bore into her as if they could make his point more clear. “You couldn’t have known. What you did, what you tried to do Cordy was so brave. You’re the most courageous, selfless person I know.”

She gave him a tight grin at the complement. It hadn’t made her feel any better but she appreciated him for trying. “And Wolfram and Hart?” he was going to explain that one in detail.

Time to stall. “Well, that is a very long story, one we don’t have time for if I’m going to get you home. Fred, Wes, Gunn, and Lorne are waiting to see you and they’re already pissed at me for not letting them come.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he held up his hand in a plea.

“Cordy, please. I don’t want to talk about Wolfram and Hart or evil demon guides any more tonight. I know you deserve answers and you’ll get them, all of them. It’s just that a lot has happened in the last year, I’ve had to make some difficult decisions and I’m afraid that you might not like me very much after you’ve found out about some of the things I’ve done, I’ve had to do. So, give me tonight okay. I just want to look at you and hear you tell me again what you were going to tell me that night at the beach.”

She looked uncomfortable and fidgeted nervously. She didn’t know if she could say it again.

He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand, trying to coax the words from her mouth. “I want to say it Cordy, but I can’t. Not until you do. Please,” he begged. He wanted her to make the first move, to invite him into her heart so he would know that he hadn’t pushed his way in.

Cordelia wanted answers and she wanted them now, but Angel’s voice was full of vulnerability and his expression made him seem like a condemned man waiting for his pardon. “I was going to tell you that I was in love with you Angel.”

“Was?” he prodded.

“Am,” she smiled sweetly.

He pushed air from his lungs in a long, sensual sigh of relief and reached out for her, kissing her hard and deep. She was lost. She met his hunger with that of her own, only breaking free from the roughness of his lips to allow herself to breath.

Angel nuzzled his face into her neck, kissing and tasting her skin as she panted for air. His arms pressed her gently back and her head fell to the soft bedding. She sighed with pleasure as he worked his way up and down her neck and back to her mouth, consuming her in another bruising kiss. She pushed at him, once and then again, finally he lifted his head and looked down at her with eyes full of dark desire.

“What?” he was puzzled and seemed a little irritated at the interruption.

“Angel,” she breathed, still lacking oxygen. “Your soul.” It was both a question and a statement.

Angel stared at her as if he couldn’t quite comprehend the relevance of such a statement. ‘My soul,’ he mentally repeated to himself, pulling his mind and his body from the seductive scene. He raised up and offered out his hand for her to do the same. “A lot of things have changed in the past year Cordy,” he began in a defeated tone, “Unfortunately my soul is not one of them.” He stood slowly and helped her to her feet. “I’m sorry,” he looked around sentimentally. “This room makes me forget what’s real and what’s not. Come on. Time to go home,” he placed his arm around her protectively. “I’ll have your things sent over to the penthouse.”

“The penthouse?” Cordelia didn’t like the look on Angel’s face or the tone in his voice. His once soft and loving demeanor now seemed cold and commanding, as if leaving the room required some sort of emotional shield to protect him from an awaiting danger. She hesitated and pulled back a little as he tried to walk her to the door. “Angel?” her voice quivered slightly.

He could hear the fear in her voice. He tried to relax, it wouldn‘t do to scare her now, she‘d be pissed and scared enough later. “It’s beautiful Cordelia, you’ll love it,” the soft tone returned as he placed his arm back around her and urged her along. His muscles seemed to tighten around her almost painfully as soon as they had exited the room. The once soothing and protective gesture now seemed possessive and domineering. A strange stillness came over her, like the calm before a storm. The clothes, this prison he seemed to have kept her in, the way he avoided telling her about Wolfram and Hart and that he loved her in return, none of it seemed right. The weak and defenseless feeling Angel had seduced her into inside of the room vanished. Her mind cleared and the once troubling questions stood in an orderly line at the back of her brain, patiently waiting. Waiting for the storm to arrive.

“Good night Mr. Angel. Congratulations Mr. Angel. We’re all so pleased Mr. Angel,” a chorus of voices called out through artificial smiles as they past each woman. They were beginning to make Cordelia’s skin crawl. “Okay,” she said to him in a shivery voice. “The whole Mr. Angel thing’s gotta go.”

***

Angel knew that the answers to her questions about Wolfram and Hart had to come out sooner or later, but he also knew Cordelia. She believed in actions and physical proof of something before she believed in words. ‘People lie,‘ she would always say matter-of-factly ‘Actions don’t’. That was his defense, his reasoning for not answering her. If he had told her about his deal with Wolfram and Hart and what he had to promise in that deal, he knew that she would be furious. So, he would just have to stall until he could show her that the deal wasn’t so bad. Prove to her that this could be a way of life for all of them. His soul was already damned and as for the others, well, he had convinced himself that eventually he’d be able to strike some kind of bargain with the ’Senior Partners’ so that his friends could be set free.

He glanced over at her when they arrived at the apartment building as he handed the valet his keys. She’d been silent during the entire ride. The last words she had spoken were in the parking garage before the trip over. “Where’s the Plymouth?” she’d asked with suspicion, as if testing his answer. He’d told her that he had left it behind, as he opened and closed the door for her. “Along with the rest of me,” he’d said under his breath after her car door was safely shut. After that, nothing, no questions, no more declarations of her feelings, just, nothing. She had stared out of the car window in deep contemplation the entire way. A thought kept nagging at him. She knew him too. She knew that he wasn’t going to answer her questions and had decided to watch, test, and collect all the information she could in order to find those answers herself, and she would too. He knew that, because he knew Cordelia. He knew how she worked and what she thought about the world and him. ‘People lie,” her words sounded in his head again. ‘Actions don’t.’

***

Cordelia was startled from her thoughts when the car door opened. She got out silently and watched Angel give the keys to the valet. He was lying to her. Okay, so he hadn’t told any out right blatant lies, but he had said everything was going to be alright, and all of her instincts told her that that was a lie the minute they had left the room. She knew something terrible must have happened because, hello, four month coma, but it wasn’t just that. She sensed that her coma had been just a side effect of a much more horrific event that he had no intension of telling her about. Her anger flared and she glanced at him heatedly while they waited for the private elevator, but when she saw his face, the lost look in his eyes, her heart broke. He wasn’t just lying to her about something, he was lying to himself too. The comment about the Plymouth should have clued her into that little fact. Angel loved that car, he identified himself with it. It was old, a classic, dark, attractive and virtually indestructible. It was him and he had ‘left it behind’. She swallowed deep and reached out to touch his arm in the quiet elevator, wondering what else of himself he had ‘left behind’.

***

Angel could see Cordelia’s mind working. She was looking at him now in the moving elevator. She was reading him, and reading him right. That was a good thing actually, he guessed that it was what he had wanted all along. If she could work it out on her own, find out the truth by herself, then he would be spared looking into her eyes while he explained just what he had done. She’d be angry of course, but angry was good. He knew anger and had faced hers on more than one occasion. It had always worked out in the end and it would work out this time too. He prepared for her angry rant, for her demanding words ordering him to tell her what was going on, and now.

But her expression changed, her eyes softened and almost looked damp. She reached out and touched his arm gently as if to say ‘I’m so sorry’. It infuriated him. She was supposed to be getting mad at him, they were out of their enchanted room and the big bad world was closing in on them one floor at a time. She knew he was keeping things from her, awful, terrible things. He could tell by the flash of anger he saw cross her face, but then it faded and all that was left was pity.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. He was supposed to stall and avoid for as long as possible until eventually she realized what was going on. She’d be mad, outraged, but then he could be punished, could be forced to atone for the wrongs he had caused her and his failure to protect her. That was the way it had always gone with her anyway, it was what he knew. But now she was screwing up the system, jumping from mad to pity and sorrow in a matter of seconds. It wasn’t right, wasn’t what he had wanted, and it was making him feel weak and that was something he couldn’t afford to be right now.

He took her hand from his arm and placed it back down at her side, never looking over at her. “We’re here,” he said coldly and exited the elevator.

There were two muscular bodyguards flanking each side of the wooden doors and greeted Angel as he ushered her through the entrance. “Good evening sir.”

As soon as the doors pushed open Cordelia heard a loud squeal and was bombarded in a massive group hug.

“Oh my gosh,” Fred exclaimed as everyone backed away to get a good look at their friend. “I can’t believe it. You really are here,” the girl said tearfully, engulfing Cordelia in another strong embrace.

“Cordelia,” Wesley smile was wide but somewhat sad. “We’ve missed you.”

“I’ll second that princess,” Lorne lifted his glass from a nearby table.

Gunn placed a hand on Cordy’s shoulder, “It’s been hell without you here, Barbie.”

“Literally,” Fred’s muffled voice came from Cordelia’s shoulder.

“Fred, air is becoming an issue here.”

“Oh,” she slowly raised her head and backed away with an embarrassed smile. “Sorry.”

Cordelia smiled at her friend’s. “S’okay. I guess I could say I missed you guys but to me it only seems like I’ve been gone a day.” She began to walk around and take in the apartment, the expensive furniture, the art covering the walls.

“Do you like it?” Fred followed her. “Angel had Wolfram and Hart buy it for ya months ago. It’s yours, you don’t even have to work for the company or anything.” Fred’s excitement had gotten the best of her. She fell silent and looked at the others. Everyone’s face dropped, and their eyes searched for something in the room to look at, anything but Cordelia.

There was the truth, cold and hard. She knew she would find it if she waited long enough. Cordy turned and crossed her arms, looking at Angel with disappointment. “One prison for another, huh? I bet there’s a closet full of designer clothes here too, and a staff to wait on me hand and foot.” she reproached.

Angel just looked at her.

“Come on kids,” Lorne motioned. “Let’s all venture into that gourmet kitchen in there. My drinks a little flat.” Everyone but Cordy and Angel slowly left the room.

“You don’t know what happened,” he began quietly. “You weren’t here. It was…”

“A dark time,” she mocked.

“Don’t do that Cordy. The world was ending. I was losing my family left and right. I had no choice!” he shouted.

“So you made a deal with the devil? Why?” her voice shook slightly.

“To save you,” ‘and Connor’ his mind silently uttered the name before he could stop it.

“Don’t do that,” she gritted her teeth. “Don’t use me as an excuse for giving up.”

“…”

“What did you have to promise, you’re soul, the mission, your destiny?” the tears beginning to shine in her eyes.

“All of it,” he whispered, looking at her with eyes full of hopelessness.

“Get out of it,” she ordered.

“I can’t.”

“Try.”

“I have!” he pushed out a frustrated breath.

“I don’t believe you.”

“What?!” he was outraged and let words he didn’t mean slip before he could stop them. “This is YOUR fault.”

“What?” she breathed.

He had said it, there was no stopping now. “You left, let Skip trick you into leaving me. He sent you back a few months later. I was so glad to see you, you looked so beautiful. But I was too wrapped up in my own emotions to realize that YOU weren’t really there. They used you Cordy. The Powers. They sent your body back to us possessed by some demon, here to destroy the world,” he paused and ran a hand through his hair. “The things you said,” he relived the moments in his mind. “The things you did. You destroyed me Cordy,” he sat down on the plush sofa, exhausted by the horrible memories flashing in his mind.

She was quiet, letting everything he had said sink in. It was all so unbelievable, but somehow she knew it must be true.

He looked up at her, waiting for her sympathy, the pity she had shown him earlier in the elevator. He didn’t get it.

“Angel, why didn’t you tell me that you love me?” she was suddenly hurt.

“What?” he said, unsure at the change of subject.

“Back in the room. Why didn’t you say it after I did?”

Didn’t he? No he didn‘t. He’d meant to, but when he had heard her say those words, all he could do was react, show her, not tell her. Cordy believed actions, not words. “Cordy, it’s hard for me…”

“Yeah,” she interrupted. “It’s hard to love someone who makes bad decisions, who inadvertently hurts people while trying to do the right thing. Someone who is possessed by an evil demon who tries to destroy everyone and everything that that person loves. I should know. I love you.” She was ranting know, her voice was breathless and quivered against the sobs that she so desperately held back.

She turned to the stone faces who exited the kitchen. “And what about all of you? Did you all make this brilliant deal too, or are you just along for the ride?”

“Cordelia,” Wesley tried.

“No! I don’t want to hear it. I can’t believe all of you. You could have stopped him.”

Angel stood at her accusing tone. He’d made the deal. They were just as innocent as she was in all of this. “Cordy, they had no choice. It had nothing to do with them.”

“Everyone has a choice Angel,” she condescended.

Rage at her tone, at the thoughts of what her ‘evil’ persona had done to him, their family, took him over. “This isn’t even about them Cordy! It’s about you not being able to forgive me! For not being able to save you this time, for not knowing it wasn’t you!”

“Forgive you?!” she huffed with astonishment. “This,” she motioned with her hand to the room around them. “This is what I can’t forgive Angel. This apartment, the clothes, the money, the car, Wolfram and Hart.”

“There was a time that all of these things would have made you the happiest woman on the planet,” he closed his eyes as soon as he said it. He didn’t mean it. He knew he was just reaching for weapons that would hurt her, like she was hurting him.

She stilled and looked at him for what seemed like an eternity. “Yes Angel,” her voice became as soft as a whisper. “There was a time when I would have loved to have had all of these things, but not at any price, not even then. There is a line that I just can’t cross,” she looked between Angel and her stunned friends, “and right now you’re all so far across that line that I just can’t see you at all.” Tears began to stream from her eyes as she bolted through the front doors of the apartment.

The burly bodyguards started to give chase but Angel stopped their pursuit. “Let her go,” he was shattered.

“Well, that went well,” Lorne downed his drink and headed back to the kitchen.

“Angel?” Fred asked weakly.

Angel didn’t answer. He looked at the four guards. “Make sure she has a car waiting out front for her. You two, tail her. Don’t let her out of your sight.”

“Yo man, I’m goin’ after her,” Gunn announced.

“No,” Angel turned. “I’ll go. She just needs a while to cool off, to let everything sink in. Besides, I know where she’s going.”

“Where?” Wesley asked.

Angel looked back at the open doors. “Home.”
Part 3

She couldn’t quite figure out which angered her more. The fact that she had been followed or that Angel wasn’t the one who had followed her. Cordelia glanced down the road at the dark utility vehicle that had been tailing her the entire route to the hotel. At least they were keeping their distance. She looked back at the black sedan that she had driven over. She had refused the car the first time the valet had insisted on her taking it, but then, realizing that she really had no other options, she had begrudgingly snatched the keys and sped away, grateful for the quick escape the car had afforded her.

She turned back to the hotel and headed up the sidewalk to the entrance and pushed at the dirty glass doors. Damn it. Of course they would be locked. She thought a moment and then walked around the building to the courtyard. She looked at the doors and noticed that some of the glass on one of them had been broken, leaving a hole just large enough for her hand to fit through. She walked across the stone covered ground and slowly, steadily reached in between two hanging shards of glass, scraping her hand just as she tried turning the already unlocked deadbolt. “Ouch.” Cordelia wiped a trickle of blood on the expensive dress and pushed the door open.

The hotel had always had an old smell to it, but now that smell mingled with stale uncirculated air. She gave a small cough and reached her hand out to the wall, flipping one of the light switches only to find that the building’s electricity had been turned off. Cordelia gave an exasperated huff and maneuvered her way into the dark office, opening Wes’ old emergency drawer.

Popping on the flashlight, she began to look around. Everything was still there, pictures, dried up plants, magazines, all of the things she would expect to find if the people she loved still worked here.

She walked from the offices, shining the light on the weapons cabinet as she approached it. It was full. Gunn’s axe, Angel’s broadsword, Fred’s contraptions, they hadn’t taken anything. A sad sickness filled Cordy’s heart. They hadn’t just made some asinine deal with Wolfram and Hart, none of this madness had anything to do with the evil law firm really. Something had happened, something so terrible that they had obviously left, without anything, and without looking back.

A small noise startled her, making her drop the flashlight to the floor. She breathed in a slow rush of air in an effort to slow her racing heart, picked up the light, and headed for the kitchen to investigate. “Ya know, following me over here I took as a sign of your boss’ concern about my safety, a protective gesture,” she called out as she walked. “It almost felt somewhat comforting. So, I let that slide. But sneaking in here,” she continued as she approached the kitchen door. “..scaring the crap out of me. You can tell him that that isn’t going to win him any brownie…” Cordelia’s words trailed off as the yellow glow of her flashlight caught the image of a long leather coat and a bleached blonde head, slumped against the kitchen wall.

Cordelia’s throat constricted in fear. She thought about running or screaming, or both, but he seemed unconscious. She moved the beam of light around the floor. There were bottles, six to be exact, four were tequila and the other two some generic brand of whiskey. He stirred and looked up at her groggily.

“Well, it’s about bloody time one of you showed up,” he slurred. “I’ve been here for..,” he moved his hand, silently counting the bottles on the floor. “..a very long time.”

“What do you want Spike?” her chest pounded as she took a tentative step backwards.

“I need to speak to your boss,” he tried to stand but only got half way up before leaning back on the wall. “Think you could pencil me in?” he tried to smile.

“You’re drunk.”

“I prefer the term medicated, thank you very much. A little cure for the soul that ails you,” he finally stood, swaying back and forth and taking a swig of the half empty bottle she hadn’t noticed hiding in his hand.

“What are you doing here Spike and what does it have to do with Angel‘s soul?” she demanded.

Spike lowered the bottle and looked at her shocked and fearful expression. He hadn‘t meant to scare her. “Not to worry luv. I’m not here to hurt anyone, not in to that sort of play any longer.” He paused as her words about Angel’s soul registered in his inebriated head, “And just because the old poof had his first, doesn’t mean he holds the patent ya know,” he hiccupped.

Spike’s words weren’t making much sense and Cordelia’s fear of the vampire catapulted when he took a small step closer to her. She stared into his intoxicated eyes and then to the weapons cabinet visible through the doorway.

“You’d never make it,” he dismissed, taking another step closer and setting his bottle on the table beside her. “I might be drunk and have a soul, but I’m still a vampire, pet,” he whispered with a glare.

“You…You have…”

“A soul.”

Cordelia just stared at him, all her fear turning to astonishment as his words tried to sink into her brain.

“Got mine all by myself too,” he bragged, puffing out his chest.

“You did this on purpose?” she was stunned. “You…you wanted to be cursed?”

“Cursed?” he sounded insulted. “Who said anything about being cursed?”

“You said you have a soul, like Angel.”

“No, not like Angel. I asked for mine, fought for it even. I won it fair and square making it mine. No ultimatums, no caged demon,” he paused and raised his eyebrows suggestively, “and no curse.”

Cordelia just rolled her eyes at his last statement.

“Not that that matters to her,” he continued as if finding his true train of thought. He pulled out a chair and clumsily sat down, burying his head in his hands.

Cordelia didn’t move. She really wasn’t sure what to do. She’d been in a coma for four months, possessed before that, awoken to her family gone dark, and now she stood motionless in the Hypernion kitchen where a drunk Spike had just told her that he had a soul. And now, now he seemed to be…crying. She walked over and stiffly placed a hand on his back, unsure why she had felt a compulsion to do so.

Her friendly deed seemed to be the permission he needed to pour out his broken heart and disturbed mind.

“I went and got this stinking thing for HER. I thought that’s what she wanted,” he whined. “I did it for love ya know, to show her that I could be what she wanted, what she needed.”

Cordelia couldn’t begin to guess who HER was, or just exactly why and how Spike had gotten his soul, but suddenly she wasn’t afraid anymore. She thought of Angel and how it must have been for him those first few years with a soul, how lonely and confused he must have felt. Yes, Spike was a vampire, but she had always hated him because he was an EVIL vampire, now he wasn’t. He was just like Angel, or almost. It broke her heart.

Spike’s sobs suddenly ceased and his head shot up, causing Cordy to jump slightly and pull her hand away.

“I saved the world ya know.”

“Yes, I’m sure you did,” she patronized the smashed vamp. He just stared for a minute causing her uneasiness to return. He might have a soul, but he was still Spike, she had to remember that. “Well, I hope the whole soul thing works out for ya and everything,” she smiled, hinting for him to leave.

“Ya know she didn’t even tell me that she loved me until she knew I wouldn’t be around any longer to call her on it,” he ignored her. “She just said her teary goodbye and her and niblet just rode off into the sunset with the lot of ‘em. I don’t even know where they are now,” he gave a little sob and let his head drop to the table, making the metal legs clank slightly against the linoleum floor.

“Well, Angel’s not here and we’re all kind of in the middle of our own little family crisis. So, maybe you should just…” she noticed how still Spike had gotten. “Spike,” she shook the blonde vampire. “Spike,” she shook a little harder. “Great,” she walked from the kitchen and started for the stairs before stopping and turning to pick up the throw that lay discarded on the lobby sofa. She carried it back to the kitchen in her free hand, laying it across the unconscious vamp’s back and tucking it around his shoulders. “I hate my life,” she whined as she left the room.

***

Angel downed another shot and looked at his watch. It had been three hours since she had gotten to the hotel and according to his ‘spies’ she still hadn’t come out. She must be planning on staying. Damn. He had sworn he would never step foot in that place again. It held too many memories, more painful than not. He poured another drink and looked at his watch again before turning up the glass. “Go away,” he said without looking at the bar stool beside him.

“No way corn muffin. We’ve been looking all over town for you.”

“Lorne, I’m going to go and get her, I just need a little more…”

“Encouragement?” Lorne picked up the empty shot glass.

“I was going to say time,” Angel snatched the glass from Lorne’s hand and poured the last few drops from bottle number five. He tilted the glass slightly and stared at the amber liquid as if it were offering him some mystical answer that would solve his mess of an existence. “I didn’t even tell her that I loved her when I had a chance, in our room, before this ugly shit of a world closed it’s big teeth back down on us. I should have just kept her there. She could have been happy,” he tried to convince his friend and himself. “I could have given her everything she wanted, kept her protected and safe, and happy.”

“Like a pampered pet. Yeah, I’m sure Cordy would have LOVED that,” he said sarcastically and motioned for the bartender.

“She wouldn’t be so unhappy now if I had. As soon as we left the room I felt it. This world is too cold and dark for her.”

“I think, crumb cake, that the only thing too cold and dark for her right now is you. Our little Cordy is very perceptive even without the…”

Angel gave him a warning glance, after Cordelia fell into her coma, no one ever said the word ‘vision’ in his presence. He’d never requested or ordered it, it was just understood.

“She’s perceptive Angel,“ Lorne settled. “Especially when it comes to you. She probably knew from the start that something wasn’t right and I’m sure that number you did on her at the penthouse didn’t help matters much either.”

Angel closed his eyes and dropped his face in one hand. “I didn’t mean what I said. Just, seeing her awake, walking around, it brought up all of those things that she did when she was….”

“Evil?”

Angel’s head snapped up, “Cordy was never evil! She was possessed. She couldn’t control what she did or what she said.”

“Hello, preaching to the choir here,” Lorne put his hands up in mock surrender.

Angel looked back at his glass and swallowed the last of his whiskey.

“Look Angel, you might be singing the song, but I don’t think you’re listening to the lyrics.”

Angel threw him a look of confusion.

“Under that luscious thick head of hair you may know that that wasn’t our Cordy, but you’ve got to clue your broken dead heart into that fact too before you talk to her again. Cordelia never hurt you Angel,” he emphasized. “She never would. And that’s more than I can say for those three standing by the door if you don’t get your perfect ass over to that hotel and make with the apologies.”

He looked in the direction that Lorne had nodded. Fred, Gunn, and Wes stood by the door of the bar, condemning scowls on each of their faces. Angel stood and stumbled just a bit before gaining his bearings.

“Whoa Angelcakes. Maybe you need to sober up a little before you go.”

“Tell everyone to go home and get some rest. I’m going to get Cordy,” he turned and passed his friends at the door without a word.

***

Cordelia leaned against the balcony doors and looked out at the city, the soft glow of the few candles she could scrounge up flickering in the suite behind her. She wiped away a stray tear as she thought about her family and the horrible mess they had gotten themselves into. She had to save them, had to find a way to get them out of their deal with Wolfram and Hart. But how? How do you save people that don’t act like they want to be rescued? How horrible had the mission and their lives here at the hotel become to make an offer from Wolfram and Hart seem attractive?

She searched her mind and her heart, trying to find an answer, a way to give them their lives back, as imperfectly happy as those lives had been. But she had nothing, no visions, no mission, no contact to the Powers, nothing but blind hope that things could go back to the way they were. Cordelia took in a deep breath as a thought flooded her mind. Hope. That’s what she could give them. That’s what she would give them. She would show them that things hadn’t changed as much as they had thought, that no matter how bad the world had treated them that they could still go on. Still have a mission.

She tried to push down her excitement. It might not work. She was all alone. Or was she? Her plan began to take shape in her mind and her heart leapt at the possibility of succeeding. It could work. It had too.

She stretched and gave a small soundless yawn, bewildered that she could be tired after four months of sleep. She walked to the bed, pulled down the covers and snuffed two of the candles on the nightstand, leaving the room barely lit by one small flame on the dresser. Crossing the floor back to the balcony doors, she reached for the handle.

“Leave it open,” came Angel’s voice from beyond the door, startling Cordelia.

“God Angel. You scared me half to death,” she could only make out his shadow in the corner of the balcony outside. “How long have you been there?”

“For awhile now,” he sounded defeated.

Cordelia remained paused at the door.

“I’m sorry,” he could sense what she was waiting for. “I can’t come in.”

“Oh,” she sounded disappointed. That was a good sign. “You don’t own the hotel anymore?” she questioned.

“No, I still own it. I just…can’t.”

“Oh,” she stood still in the entrance to the room.

“Will you come out here? I want to talk to you. Please.”

She hesitated. She wanted to be near him so badly, but she wasn’t sure if she could handle anymore of his hurtful outbursts.

“I’m sorry about earlier Cordy. I was just… when you were….I’m just sorry. There’s no excuse. I’m so sorry.”

Cordelia took a couple of steps outside and looked toward the shadow.

“I love you Cordelia,” came his confession out of the darkness. “I’m sorry I didn’t say it before. Seems like I’m sorry for a lot of things tonight,” his voice dropped so low that she almost didn’t hear the last part.

“Angel…”

“Let me finish,” he took a few unsteady steps toward her, making the features of his face slightly visible and the whiskey on his breath noticeable.

Cordelia gave an exasperated sigh. Two drunk vamps in one night, fabulous. “Angel come inside and sit down.”

“No, please. Let me finish. When you said you loved me I just reacted. I guess I had sat in that room so long, whispering it to you in your sleep, that I forgot you never heard me. I’m sorry. And as for the way I acted at your apartment…”

“That’s not my apartment,” she bristled.

He sucked in a breath at his mistake, “The way I acted at the penthouse was…was terrible.”

“I agree,” she crossed her arms. The hurt of his words washing over her again.

“When you were possessed, you… no,” he corrected himself. “The demon, said things, did things specifically to hurt us, but especially me. It wasn’t your fault. I know that. If anything it was mine, for not noticing that it wasn’t you, for not protecting you from it.”

“I’ve never blamed you for anything that Angelus has ever done Angel, because I know the diff….”

“And so do I Cordy. It was stupid of me. I’m a hypocritical, possessive, evil bastard. Please forgive me,” he lifted her hand up and kissed her palm, immediately smelling and tasting blood. His head shot up, “What happened? Who did this?” If he hadn’t been drunk, blood might not have been the only thing he sensed.

“Relax,” she pulled her hand out of his. “I cut it on the glass of the side door.”

Even in the dark she could see his look of suspicion.

“That’s the truth Angel. I was running away so fast, trying to get somewhere familiar that I didn’t even think about the place being locked up.”

Accepting her explanation, he lifted her hand up to his face, the one with the deep scratch, and brushed the back of it across his cheek. “I shouldn’t have let you come here without me. I’m sorry I wasted those first few hours we had together, that I had you back. Please say you forgive me.”

“Angel, it’s not that simple,” her heart screamed at her that it was.

The alcohol started telling him that his apology needed a dramatic touch, so Angel sank down awkwardly to his knees, ready to beg her forgiveness. He pressed his chin against her navel, and gripped her hips, the coolness of his hands and face seeped through the thin fabric of the beautiful dress, causing an uncontrollable shiver to shoot through her body. “I love you so much Cordy, but I know those are just words to you,” his voice vibrated against her, producing a hot, trembling sensation she couldn’t seem to push away. “But if you let me love you,” he continued, “I promise never to waste another minute. I promise to prove to you how much you mean to me, not by what I say, but by what I do.”

Cordelia couldn’t help herself. She closed her eyes and thread her fingers through his hair, stroking the messy spikes, soothing him seemed instinctual to her. He was making her forget. Forget the plan she had. She had to keep it straight. She loved him. God she even forgave him, but she knew that before she could give her love to him completely or accept his in return, she had to save him, had to get her family back. “I forgive you Angel,” she whispered and opened her eyes. Although he looked up at her now, she still couldn’t see him, not completely, just a few shadowed features and a small glint in his eye from the street lights below. But she could feel him, feel his relief at her words. She was glad she could give him that at least. Let him feel that peace before hurting him.

Angel felt her relax, softened by his words. He rose and leaned close to her, his lips feathering across her cheek as he whispered against her skin. “I love you,” this time the words weren’t desperate or pleading, just full of hope. “I’ve lost my way without you here. This night should have started so different Cordy, let me make it up to you. I’ll do anything to show you just how much you mean to me.”

Hot tears filled Cordelia’s eyes. She wanted nothing more in that moment than to leave with him, to go wherever he wanted, heaven or hell, it didn’t matter. But she had a plan, she had to save him, no matter the cost. He said he would do anything, anything to prove his love. She had to use it. She pushed him back slightly and looked into his eyes, partially hidden in shadow. “Come home,” she ordered coolly.

“What?”

“You said you would prove how much I meant to you, that you would do anything. Well, prove it. Come home.”

“Cordy, I can’t. I made a deal with them. I have to keep it to keep you safe, to hold on to my soul.”

“And what about the mission?”

“There is no mission Cordy, there never was.”

“You’re wrong,” she stated quietly. “You believed the lie Angel. The lie that Skip and Wolfram and Hart and all the other long list of enemies we have told you because you wanted to. Because you were tired. Tired of the fight. Evil will always try to pull you from your mission, your purpose, because it fears you, because you’re a champion. At least you were,” she even felt the sting of those words.

Cordelia turned from a speechless Angel and walked back into the suite, stopping once she was several feet inside, never turning back around to look at him. ‘Stick to the plan’, she reminded herself. She closed her eyes tight, forcing the tears away. She couldn’t cry, not until he was gone. “If you’re not going to come in,” she forced her voice to sound cold. “Would you shut the doors? There’s a chill tonight.” Not waiting for an answer and knowing he wouldn’t come in, not yet anyway, she walked to the bed and laid down, holding back her sobs until she heard the doors softly close.

Part 4

He should have just gone in.

That’s what she wanted, what she had needed. She wanted to be somewhere familiar, with him, and what did he do? He just left her there protected only by the bodyguards he had outside. No electricity and no phone. She might need help and she wouldn’t even be able to call for it.

He’d stood there for a while and just watched her after he had shut the balcony doors, and had fully intended on staying there until just before sunrise. But when she finally slipped into a peaceful sleep, he had suddenly been unable to look at her. It was too painful, too familiar, too much like the vision she had been for the last four months. So he had left, stealthily leaping from the balcony’s edge and into the L.A. night, leaving her there, in his bed, alone. What an ass.

He should have just gone in.

Angel stopped and leaned against the streetlamp post. It would be light in about an hour. He ran a hand through his hair as Cordy’s words taunted him. ‘..you’re a champion, at least you were.’ He couldn’t understand it. He was being a champion now, her champion by sacrificing everything for her. His soul, the mission, their family, anything and everything to keep her safe. Isn’t that what women dreamed about, some dark hero that would give up everything to make the woman he loved happy. At least that is what he had thought. But Cordy wasn’t happy and she didn’t see him as some legendary hero either. To her he had just become some sellout in a fancy suit. She wanted him back to what he was, but he wasn’t sure he knew how to get there from here. One thing he did know, was that the sacrifices, the deals, the flirtation with his darker self, none of it was worth it if he didn’t have her. He had to get her back, make her see how much he needed her, how much he loved her, but where did he start?

He should have just gone in.

That’s where he could have started. That’s what she was waiting for. She needed him to help her through this, to comfort her and help her accept the way things were, the way they had to be. He looked up at the sky, he needed to get below ground. He scanned the area and found the closest sewer entrance. He hadn’t used them since making the deal with Wolfram and Hart. He’d traded that particular mode of transportation in for sports cars and limos. Maybe he was a sellout.

Angel jumped down the manhole and headed west. He thought about their lives before Holtz, before the Beast, before Jasmine. He thought about Cordy and all the opportunities he had had to be with her, to love her, before his life turned into a literal hell on earth. He thought about all the time he had wasted. He wondered if it was too late. Angel stopped and looked back. He should have gone in. That’s what she wanted. Cordy was giving him an open, telling him exactly what she needed and wanted, a way to prove to her he hadn’t changed too much for her. She was doing what Cordelia Chase did best, fixing his mess of an existence, showing him how to live.

Something crept into his soul, something almost unrecognizable due to its long absence. Hope. He headed east, his pace increasing with each step. The sun was rising now and he wanted to make it back to the hotel before she woke.

***

Spike’s head throbbed. He promised himself that he would remember the feeling the next time he tried to drink away the torturous emotions his soul caused. He tried to lift his head from the table, or open his eyes, but both felt like lead and the cramp in his neck made it all the worse.

“Rise and shine. Time for all formerly evil now questionably good, hung-over vampires with souls to wakey wakey.”

Bugger, that voice was way too chipper to be one of the many that roamed free in his head. He cracked open an eye and tried to focus on the blurry brunette that stood over him.

Cordelia looked down at the vampire, her eyebrows raised as if she expected him to jump at her command.

“Bloody Hell,” he murmured and closed his eye. He couldn’t see her anymore, but he knew she was still there, hovering over him, waiting. Well, she’d just have to wait. He heard her give a little huff and it made him want to smile. Even with a soul, he still found a little pleasure in tormenting people. He heard another huff and then a sizzle. What the… “Ow!” he jumped from the chair and across the room, noticing the small cross that Cordy held out in her hand.

“Sorry, but I told you to get up. You should have listened. Now, we have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time,” she said matter-of-factly as she turned to the door. When she realized that Spike wasn’t following her she turned back around. “Look, I need my family back, but I can’t do it all on my own, you want to find someone you care about but you don’t know where to look. I think I can help you if you’re willing to stay here and help me for a while. Deal?”

Spike took a cautious step forward. “You don’t know where she is.” It wasn’t a question.

“No, you’re right. I don’t. But I have a lot of contacts in this city, or at least I did. And Wesley’s got a whole rolodex in there full of contacts. We’ll find her, it just may take some time, and in the mean while, you can help me get my family back.”

Spike didn’t know what to do. The prospect of finding Buffy filled him with hope, but he knew it couldn’t be as easy and as straight forward as she had put it. And even if they could find her, she may not even want him now, if she ever really did. Well, one thing was for sure. He had no where else to go. “Alright, tell me your plan, but first put down that thing.”

“The cross?” Cordy eyed the religious symbol in her hand. “Oh it stays,” she said as she clasped it around her neck.

“But I’m different now. I told you that last night. Didn’t I?” his memory was a little fuzzy.

“Yeah, you told me.”

“So you know that I’m good, just like Angel. I have a soul, so I won’t hurt you. I can’t,” he said with almost childlike innocence.

Cordelia’s face lost all of it’s forced carefree appearance while the words ’good’ and ’soul’ and ’just like Angel’ played in her mind. She looked at him with a bewildered expression. “You really believe that, don’t you,” she stated as she turned to the door. “You really are new at this redemption thing then.”

***

Fred walked into Angel’s office, where Gunn, Lorne and Wes were already waiting. “He didn’t come back last night, did he?” she asked.

Gunn stared off in thought and shook his head no.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” she looked at each man.

“Puddin’, I’m not so sure any of us are ready. Besides, we know all isn’t too wrong over at the old homestead because Angelcakes called this morning and had the company turn on the phone at the hotel.”

“It has been a long time since we left,” Wes looked up at her with gentle eyes. “I’m not sure any of us can go back there.”

“Yeah, and if the big guys found out about it man. We could get into a shit load of trouble,” Gunn’s eyes seemed to finally join the room.

“I don’t believe you!” Fred shrieked, causing all three men to jump. “I’m sick of doin’ what Wolfram and Hart says and I’m sick of bein’ afraid all the time!” Fred took a cleansing breath as each man in the room stared at her in amazement. “Now, I’m goin’ to get my friend, or at least talk to her or at least find out what happened to her and Angel last night because they could have gotten into trouble or they could have just decided to stay there but none of us will know if one of us doesn‘t get off of his or her … ya‘ know … and go over there and find out. And if you guys want to come along then that’s just fine and if you don’t well that’s just fine too, but I’m goin’ so … bye,” she gave a little wave and walked out the door.

Gunn, Wes, and Lorne looked at each other for less than a second before rushing after her.

***

Spike stared at the folders littering the office floor, trying to soak up Cordelia‘s hurried explanation of how they had experienced their own ‘apocalypse‘ leaving her in a coma for four months and her friends in the clutches of some evil, demonic law firm. “So, I help you run this business, be your muscle so to speak, and you’ll help me find Buffy?”

Buffy. That was the SHE he was talking about. Well, made since in a sort of twisted and perverted way. “So do we have a deal or not?” she was all business.

“Where do you want me to start?” he asked.

“Well, first we have to get in touch with some of our old clients. I’ve started organizing the files, you wouldn’t believe what a mess they were in. You can help me finish that before we start calling anyone.”

Spike picked up the Adams’ file that lay on top of the stack and looked around, finding a spot on the floor with a sticky note that had the letter ‘A’ written on it. He laid the folder down and reached for another.

“What are you doing?” Cordelia looked at him and blinked her eyes in confusion.

“Helping you. Adams, A,” he pointed to the sticky note above the folder he had just laid down.

“The Adams go in the ‘U’ pile,” she explained as if it were common knowledge.

“Oh,” Spike looked at her as if waiting for more. “Why?” he prompted.

“They were the couple we helped with the big ugly house,” she opened the front of the folder and showed him the ‘U’ and the words ‘Ugly House’, both written in red marker across the top of the first page. “See.”

The witty comment that lay on the tip of Spike’s tongue was forgotten when the phone startled them both.

“I didn’t think anything in this place worked.”

“It didn’t, but this morning, when I came in the office to start on the files the phone rang. Scared the crap out of me. It was a Wolfram and Hart secretary making sure the phone company had turned on the line. Per orders of ‘Mr. Angel’”, she finished with contempt at the title. “So I put in a few calls before I woke you up.” She stood and answered the phone on the third ring. “Angel In… I mean …hello. Can I help you?….Yes….Yes we are….No, we’re not operating under that name any longer. We’re under new ownership….it has….Again?….of course. We’ll meet you tonight…..eight o’clock. Thank you Mrs. Sherrill.” Cordelia hung up the phone and smiled at Spike. “Well partner. We have got our first case and it isn’t even seven-thirty yet. I’d say this is going to work.”

“Well that’s just grand and all but you’re forgetting that I’m recovering from a demon of a hangover, pet. I’m not sure I’ll be ready for a fight, if that’s what it’s about.”

“Oh, I forgot about you’re little booze fest last night. Tell ya’ what. You stay here in case we get anymore calls. Write down all the information and tell them I’ll call them back within the hour,” she instructed.

“And just where do you think you’re goin’,” he held out a hand to stop her exit.

“To Frank’s. It’s a butcher shop a couple of miles away. You need some blood, you look like hell.”

“You’re going to go out, in the daytime, and buy blood. Just like that.”

“Don’t tell me you were paying black market prices in Sunnydale. That’s just dumb. Butcher shops practically give it away. No questions asked,” she walked out of the room and shut the office door just as the door to the basement opened. Cordelia was shocked. She knew he would come back, eventually, to either beg or bully her into leaving. She just didn’t expect it to be this soon. She walked toward the basement door, stopping a few feet away from Angel.

He stood in the doorway, too nervous and focused on Cordelia to sense the other vampire. He could do this. He could do this for Cordy. He took a tentative step inside the room.

“Hi,” Cordelia’s heart raced and her stomach filled with thousands of butterflies.

“Hi,” Angel rocked back and forth on his heels. “I came back.”

“So I see,” she had to remain calm. Stick to the plan. He’s got to do it on his own.

“I came home, just like you wanted,” he offered hopefully. Ready for her to fling her arms around him in praise for his attempt.

“So, you don’t work for Wolfram and Hart anymore?” she cocked a questioning brow.

“Well, yes but…”

“Then you’re not home,” she stated coldly.

“Neither are you Cordy. This isn’t home anymore,” he would convince her to leave. If the penthouse was too much they could get her her old apartment back. He could do that.

“Maybe not to you, but for me it is. Don’t worry. I know that you own the hotel and I’m going to pay you rent. That is as long as it’s reasonable. Meaning very, very low.”

“You’re going to pay me rent,” he wanted to laugh. “With what?”

“The income we earn with our paying clients, that’s what,” she said defiantly.

“You’re going to try and run Angel Investigations all alone?” she was just trying to be impossible now.

“No, I’m going to run The Chase and William Agency.”

Just as Cordy had announced the name of her new business Spike opened the office door. “Cordelia, Mr. Smith wants to know if we take Visa or MasterCard.”

Cordelia stared at Angel’s shocked expression, “And I’m not alone.”

She turned and left Angel just inside the lobby, and walked back to the office. She had never even heard the phone ring. She picked up the receiver from the desk and spoke in a professional tone despite the raging emotions that consumed her. “Mr. Smith? We take both actually. No, you don’t need to come in. We’ll meet you tomorrow night….”

Spike still stood in the office doorway, enjoying the pain on Angel’s face. He gave him his best smart ass smile and then slowly shut the door.
Part 5

Angel stared at the office unable to move. He watched as Cordelia hung up the phone and started talking to Spike about their new client. He could have easily heard what she was saying, what orders or plans she was making with the other vampire. That is if all of his senses weren’t numb. What the hell was she doing? Spike was with Buffy now. He was supposed to be in Sunnydale, basking in the afterglow of helping her save the world. Being HER champion. Angel’s stomach lurched at that word. Champion. He used to be one, but Cordy had deemed him unworthy of that title now, unfit for the mission or for her. She’d banished him and chosen her new warrior.

His eyes caught Spike casting him another look and a smirk. He turned his head and looked toward the entrance of the hotel. It was a very sunny morning. Sun was good. He could grab the son-of-a-bitch before Cordy could react and fling him outside before the idiot knew what hit him. Of course then he wouldn’t get the satisfaction of beating him to a bloody pulp first and it would probably make things between him and Cordelia even worse. The muscle in his jaw twitched. He felt the ridges of his demonic face begging to reach the surface. He tried to calm himself, reason with his raging anger at Spike and at Cordy’s indifference. Spike could prove to be useful, after all, he had a soul now, he could help her. She didn’t have her powers any longer and she needed protection. He couldn’t be here twenty-four hours a day, not with Wolfram and Hart breathing down his neck and he knew now that he couldn’t take her back there with him. She didn’t belong there, she belonged here, at the hotel.

He closed his eyes and swallowed at the thought of having to rely on Spike to help him keep Cordy safe. But what choice did he have? As he walked toward the office, he tried to convince himself that what he was about to do was in Cordelia’s best interest, that was what was important. What he wanted and needed didn’t count anymore, it hadn’t for a long time. He was tied to Wolfram and Hart now and if he worked against them, they would take his soul. Then she would never be safe. He reached for the office door and scolded himself when he looked down at his hand that shook with fear and anger. What was he so worried about? He should be used to making deals with the devil by now.

***

Cordelia hung up the phone with Mr. Smith, looked at Spike and spoke in a very low tone. “Is he still here?”

Spike looked out of the office window and shot Angel a cool smirk. “Yeah, the poof’s still here. Looks like he’s about to rip my head off.”

Cordelia smiled slightly despite the fact that she hated hurting Angel like this. She knew how he felt about someone trying to replace him in her life, the Groo fiasco had proven that, but she had to do it. She was willing to do anything and everything to wrench Angel away from Wolfram and Hart, to force him to try and find a way back to his old life, even if it meant playing this game of hers, making him think she could survive without him, replace him with someone else. The truth was that she couldn‘t, that‘s why she was playing this ridiculous game in the first place. She needed him here with her, no evil strings attached. “What’s he doing now?”

“He’s heading this way. What do you want me to do, luv?”

“Let me handle it. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Hurt? By him?” he was offended.

“Shh,” Cordelia picked up a folder and tried to act busy. She took a deep, relaxing breath, glad that her plan had worked. Angel hated Spike, he wouldn’t stand for her to be here, alone, with him. This would definitely be the thing that forced him back. Now she just had to make sure that he didn’t kill Spike, or at the least kick him out. She’d made a deal and she still owed it to the platinum head case to find Buffy and her friends.

The door creaked open and she braced for the fury that she knew Angel was about to unleash on both of them.

Angel walked silently into the office and Cordelia looked up, ready to face the violent and angry scene that was sure to follow, but Angel’s eyes weren’t full of rage. He looked at her for a moment, and turned to Spike. “Can you keep her safe?”

Spike was just as bewildered by Angel’s reaction as Cordelia was, “What?”

“When I’m not able to be here, do you think you can keep her safe, dickhead?”

Spike’s face tensed at the insult, “As long as I’m here no one will hurt her,” he announced defensively. “Not even you,” he added in a tone of warning.

“Good,” his voice was tight and all business. He turned to Cordelia and his tone softened. “Take this,” he handed her his cell phone. “The numbers are programmed in. I want to know where you are at all times. Got it? You don’t go on a case, to meet a client, or even out to the garbage bin without checking in with me first. Spike stays, only because I’m letting him stay,” he pointed out. “He can guard you when I can’t. But you are not, I repeat, not to go out on any case until you get in touch with me first. You don’t go without me. I can’t risk it. Do we understand each other?” his look hardened.

She nodded her head, so thrown by his reaction to Spike and his authoritative tone, that she couldn’t find her voice, or courage for that matter.

Angel turned back to the other vampire. “If you touch her..”

“Yeah, yeah. You’ll kill me,” he mocked.

“No Spike, it’ll be much worse than that. Much worse.” With that last threat, Angel turned and left the office without looking back.

“Who the hell is that?” Gunn pointed to the office window as he and his three friends entered the hotel lobby.

“It’s Spike,” Wes answered with surprise.

All four walked to meet Angel as he exited the office.

“Angel?” Wes questioned.

He looked back at the two stunned figures in the office and then back to his friends, “It’s alright. He has a soul. Seems I’m not as ‘special’ as I thought,” he murmured in a childish tone.

“Okay, so Billy Idol in there’s got a soul, but what the hell is he doing here, with Cordy?” It was all Gunn could do to keep himself from barging into the office and taking out the vampire himself.

“Believe me, I like it less than you, but Cordy’s determined to stay here. I think she’s trying to prove something. I’ve got to keep her safe, but if she’s here I can’t be around to protect her every minute of the day. Not without Wolfram and Hart finding out and I can’t let any of you take the risk of coming here either. I’ve already forced you to risk too much by making this deal in the first place. I’m sorry,” he ended in a ragged whisper.

They knew by the look on his face and the sound of his voice that the apology wasn’t just for their situation with Cordy. He was sorry, for all of it. They all shared a silent, knowing look.

“We need to go,” he interrupted the quiet moment. “If the Senior Partners know that we’re all here together, they’ll get suspicious. I can’t risk any of you being punished. Wesley,” he began. “Cordy will probably be calling some of your old contacts. Make sure they all are extremely cooperative with her. Make sure they know that if she doesn’t find out everything she needs to know, that I’ll be paying them a visit. Fred,” he turned his attention. “I’ve programmed your number in her cell phone. If she calls you for anything, lab work, weapons, anything, make sure she gets it ASAP. Gunn, same goes for you as for Wesley. Cordy will probably go to some of your old gang for information or help, make sure they’re useful. And Lorne, I want you to keep an ear open for any demon talk about Cordy or what she’s doing. If anyone even says her name in the demon community, I want to know. Now, get going. I’ll meet you back at the office.” His orders finished, Angel turned and left through the basement.

Lorne, Wesley and Gunn turned slowly and headed for the lobby doors. Fred looked at the office door where Cordy now stood, mouth still gaping after listening to Angel’s plans.

“Hi,” Fred gave Cordelia a weak wave.

“Hi,” Cordy smiled timidly back.

Fred couldn’t stand it, she wanted to stay. She hated Wolfram and Hart, she hated her new life, and most of all she hated the sea of testosterone she had been swimming in ever since Cordelia had left. She walked over to her friend and gave her a tight hug, whispering in her ear, “Don’t worry. It’s all gonna work out. You’ll see.” When she pulled back, both women had tears in their eyes.

“I hope you’re right,” Cordy tried a grin.

“Fred,” Wes’ voice called from the door.

Fred hesitantly stepped away and walked toward the others. The three men gave Cordelia a sad wave and left when Fred reached the door.

“Didn’t go quite the way you planned. Did it, pet?” Spike observed from behind.

Cordelia couldn’t turn around. Spike would never take her for a strong leader if he saw the tears in her eyes. She shook her head in answer to his question.

“Must have been some deal he made, to leave you here with me. I know how much the gelled poof hates me, especially after finding out about me and Buffy.”

Cordelia wiped at her eyes, making sure no tears could be seen before she turned around. “How did he find out about you and Buffy?” she asked.

“When he came to the Hellmouth,” he looked at her as if she should have known then remembered her coma. “While you were playing sleeping beauty,” he added. “Guess you could say that you have Sunnydale to blame for all of this.”

Cordelia was confused. “What does Sunnydale have to do with any of this?”

“That’s why he made the deal, luv, to save his precious Buffy. Except that he found that she wasn’t HIS precious Buffy anymore,” he smiled wryly. “Turned him down flat, she did. Sent him back to L.A. with his tail between his legs.” He gave a little chuckle and then froze when he saw the look on her face. “What is it? What did I say?”

Cordelia’s hurt look burned a whole through him. Realization sunk in, he hadn’t known. He had just thought this was about her friends. Trying to get the people she cared about and her life back together. He didn’t know that she was in love with Angel until that moment. The moment he had fucked it all up. “Cordelia, he only came because….”

She held up her hand. “Please don’t tell me anymore. I don’t want to know. I don’t think I could stomach another word. I’m going to get some rest,” she raised an eyebrow when he opened his mouth. “We have the Sherrill case tonight, so I suggest you do the same.” She walked to the stairs and up to the suite, leaving Spike to mull over his hurtful words. When the bedroom door was securely shut, she broke into tears.

He had done all of this for Buffy. It made sense now, his desperate confession of love to her last night. He’d never told her that he felt anything for her before the coma. It had taken a final visit to Sunnydale to make him choose her, only after Buffy had turned him down for Spike. Except Spike was here, he wasn‘t with Buffy. Now she knew why he didn’t go ballistic when he found Spike there with her. He probably thought that he still had a chance with Buffy if Spike was out of the picture. Keep Spike away from Buffy by keeping him around to guard Cordelia. It was a brilliant plan.

She sat down hard on the edge of the bed and buried her head in her hands. She tried to will away the tears to no avail. It was making her sick at how weak she had gotten. Loving Angel was making her weak and scared. She was playing games and conniving and crying way too much for her own tastes. It had to stop. So what. He loved Buffy best. Hadn’t he always? Wasn’t that common knowledge? She straightened herself and forced away the tears. It didn’t matter who Angel loved, he was part of her family and she would still get them back, all of them.

***

Spike and Cordelia packed their weapons in silence. She could feel his eyes on her between each toss of an item into his bag.

“What?” she turned to face him.

“Nothing,” he raised his hands. “I was just wondering if you called him, that’s all.”

“No, I’m not going to and neither are you. It would defeat the whole purpose.”

“Really, and it has nothing to do with you trying to punish him for the little kitty that I let out of the bag earlier today.”

“NO!” she took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. “If I called Angel, he’d just race to our rescue in some over priced car, probably with some of his company’s muscle in tow. We’ve got to do this alone. He’s got to be convinced that there’s still a mission, a good fight that can be fought and won without the kind of power that Wolfram and Hart money or their evil contacts can give him. It’s the only way he can reach his Shanshu.”

“His what?’

“Shanshu. It’s a long story, but basically it’s his reward. If he fights for good and does enough for the world he’ll get to live. Be human.”

Spike stared at her like a child, his mouth agape. A creeping sense of jealousy spread throughout his soul.

“Then he can do whatever and with whomever he wants,” she finished in a murmur as she threw the last weapon in her cloth bag.

Spike could sense the hurt in her voice. “Cordelia, what I said earlier…”

“Was the truth,” she looked him in the eye. “It’s about time I started recognizing it again.”

He didn’t know what to say to make it better. He had his own insecurities about Buffy’s feelings for him as well. “It’s getting dark,” he changed the subject.

“Yeah, we’d better go. Mrs. Sherrill said the vamps were gathering in the playground across the street from her house, 332 Poplar. I can get us there but it’s going to take a while on foot.”

“We could just use that nice new set of wheels you drove over last night.”

She answered him with a threatening look and grabbed her bag, heading for the door.

“It was just a suggestion,” he complained as he followed close behind.

***

The playground was pitch dark. All of the streetlight bulbs up and down the block had been broken out and the sky was full of clouds, she didn’t even have moonlight to guide her. She took a deep, calming breath, trying to slow down her racing heart and the over abundance of adrenaline that raced through her veins.

Spike sensed her fear. “Look pet, why don’t you go back over there to the nice lady’s house and let me handle this?”

“Are you kidding? I can’t leave you out here. We don’t even know how many vamps…” her words trailed off as she looked over Spikes shoulder.

“How many?” he asked, sensing the approaching vampires.

“Seven,” she swallowed as they appeared out of the shadows.

Spike reached down and pulled two stakes out of his bag and turned to the encroaching menace. “Well now, what are you children doing out so late?” he taunted. Banter always helped him in a fight. He started to lunge for the seven when his senses picked up the others coming from behind Cordy. Seven maybe, but ten was going to be impossible. “Grab a weapon,” he yelled over his shoulder. “And then run Cordy, as fast as you can.” It was his only hope of protecting her.

Cordelia grabbed a crossbow and turned, spotting the other three closing in and for the first time in a long while did exactly as she was told.

***

He was going to kill her. If she wasn’t already dead, he was going to kill her. Angel raced toward the other side of town, heading for the address that Spike had whispered on his voice mail. The message had been recorded just after lunch so he knew that she had known about the case at least that long and hadn’t called him. He was going to kill her.

***

Cordelia felt like some ‘B’ movie actress as she raced blindly through the park to the other side of the block. She knew they had to be right behind her, but she couldn’t see, so she clutched the crossbow in a death grip, hoping that she could at least get one clean shot if they jumped her. Her breath jerked when she felt a cold arm grab her from behind and twist her around, knocking the bow from her hands. It was one of the vamps, his two friends standing on either side of him with huge, pointy grins.

“Looks like we’re in for a treat tonight boys. Which one of you wants first dibs?”

“Oh, you go ahead Ronnie. You caught her, it’s only fair that you get the first taste.”

He smiled at his friend and then turned to Cordelia, grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked her neck to the side.

Cordelia squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the bite. It never came. She froze, heard two muffled grunts and then fell to the ground as her captor’s arms turned to dust. Propping herself up with one hand she opened her eyes and tried to focus on the dark figure that loomed over her. She couldn’t see anything, but somehow she knew who had saved her.

“What. The. Hell. Were. You. Thinking?” Angel could barely control his anger. He reached down and pulled her roughly to her feet and began hauling her to his car.

“Angel! Wait a minute. Spike.”

“Can find his own way home,” he said through gritted teeth as he pushed her in the driver’s side of the Plymouth and scooted in after, forcing her to move over quickly. Slamming the door, he gunned the engine and sped from the park.

“This is the Plymouth,” she finally noticed.

Ignoring her observation, he slammed his fist against the steering wheel as he drove. “Damn it Cordy! You were supposed to call me! I specifically told you not to go out without me! You could have been killed!” The fear of what his words meant visibly shook him.

She couldn’t believe it. HE was mad at HER? That was a laugh. She was the one who should be mad. “Well, I just figured you’d be really busy chasing down Buffy now that Spike’s out of the picture.” God she sounded pathetic and bitter in her own ears. He did this to her, made her act like this, reduced her to this state. The thought of it made her anger grow.

“What the hell are you talking about?!” he genuinely looked clueless.

“You can drop the act. Spike told me everything. How you made the deal with Wolfram and Hart in order to save Buffy. How you raced to her side, begging her back,” okay he hadn’t said begging but that’s how she had pictured the scene in her mind. “Must have been a real ego buster to be turned down for Spike,” she crossed her arms and waited for his stuttering reply.

“I’m going to kill that bastard,” he whispered to himself.

“Why Angel? For telling the truth? At least he knows what that is. He may lack tactfulness, but hey, never been a fan of buttering up the truth myself. At least he’s honest. He knows what’s blatantly obvious to everyone but you.”

“And what’s that?” he tried to keep his rage and the car under control as he sped down the busy L.A. freeway.

“That you love Buffy. That she comes first in your life and she always will, Angel. You were right to help her, I would have thought less of you if you hadn’t, but you never should have told me that you love me. I don’t deserve to be treated as the consolation prize.”

“I knew it was a mistake to let that dickhead stay there with you. I knew he’d try and screw things up for me, damn it. He’s got you all worked up over nothing Cordy,” he made a dangerous u-turn.

Cordelia looked panicked, “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere I can keep an eye on you, keep you safe.”

“No, I’m not going anywhere with you. I won’t be locked up in some tower by you or Wolfram and Hart again!” she opened her door on the speeding road causing him to slam on the brakes. She was out of the car before it had even completely stopped.

“Cordy!” he yelled at her as she slammed the door and darted through the surging traffic. She crossed the median and flagged down a car in the opposite lanes. She was gone before he could follow her.

***

Dragging her tired body up the hotel stairs, Cordelia thought about how grateful she was that the man that had picked her up and given her a ride hadn’t been a mass murderer. Her face flinched at the thought of the scene she had made, jumping out of Angel’s car. She had to do it, she couldn’t let him lock her away somewhere, she’d never get him away from Wolfram and Hart then.

She opened and closed the suite door and was immediately pushed against the wall by two strong arms. “Angel! You scared me!”

“I scared you?” he let out a desperate laugh. “Well, you scared me too Cordy. Don’t ever do that again,” his voice was soft but deadly serious.

Cordelia pushed at his chest, but he wouldn’t budge. “No Cordy, no more pushing me away, no more games or manipulations to try and prove to me that there’s still a mission. We’re going to have this out, here and now. Starting with my visit to Sunnydale.”

His hands were pressing her too hard, cutting off the circulation in her arms, “You’re hurting me,” she offered quietly.

He eased his grip but kept her position secure. “What I said to you last night I meant. I love you Cordelia. Only you,” his voice was stern but full of emotion.

“But Spike..”

“Spike saw me kiss Buffy,” he had to get it all out in the open, no matter how painful. “I knew he was there, that’s why I did it,” he admitted. “I’m sorry. It’s a stupid vampire thing, like a dog pissing on a tree. It had more to do with me and Spike then it did me and Buffy.”

“So you didn’t go there to get her back?”

“No, and I didn’t take the deal with Wolfram and Hart for her either. They tried to use that at first but I said no, until I saw you and C…you in your coma,” he corrected. Connor was one thing he wasn’t ready to bring out in the open. “I was willing to do anything then, and they knew it.”

“Oh,” she answered weakly.

“So we’re clear now? You believe that what I said last night is true?”

She nodded her head, still pinned to the wall.

He looked at her wide eyes, his tone came out in a rough plea, “No more games Cordy. No more pushing me away or putting yourself in danger just to prove to me that there are still good Powers in the world and that they need me. I don’t care about that anymore. All I care about is you. So no more tricks. You want something from me you tell me, straight out. Got it?”

“I told you what I want,” her words were shaky. “I want you to come home. I want my life and my family back. I want things to be the way they were before. I want you back the way you were before all of this chaos.”

“Well news flash Cordy, things aren’t the way they were and I’m not what I used to be. We’ve all been through hell while you were gone and its changed us, probably for the worse. But to be honest, even if I could leave Wolfram and Hart to come back here, to my old life, I still wouldn’t want to be that Angel anymore. He was too afraid to tell you how he felt, he stood by and let his family get hurt, he let you go because he was too blind to see what was right in front of him, and the old Angel would have never done this.”

Angel crushed himself against her and captured her mouth in a starving, ravenous kiss. His hands left her arms and ran greedily over her ribs, the deep curve of her waist and locked themselves tightly around her hips.

It was too much, too strong and angry for her. Her brain ordered her to push away and she started to, but her mind went blank as her body melded into his touch and his kiss, meeting the devouring motion of his mouth with that of her own.

His hands trailed back up, under her shirt and around her waist, almost spanning it with his large hands. He slid them up higher to her ribs and tenderly stroked the soft underside of her satin covered breasts with feather light touches from his fingertips.

She was in a daze. His kiss was like a drug that made her incapable of a rational or decent thought. All she could think about or feel was his body, hard against hers. She backed her head away from the kiss, struggling to catch her breath, only to be quickly stripped of her shirt and bra before she was aware of what was happening. “Angel,” she panted.

He answered her by taking her mouth again with his, this time not in anger but in hungry need. His hands found their way back to her breasts and caressed and molded and fondled them.

Cordelia pulled her head back and breathlessly tried for her voice again. “Angel, we can’t.”

“Don’t you think I know that,” he leaned in and kissed her neck and whispered in her ear. “That’s all I’ve thought about, all I’ve fantasized and dreamed about for the past three years. I’ve lost a lot of sleep Cordy, thinking about all of the things we can’t do. But tonight..,” he gave her another kiss behind her ear, causing a shiver to run through her body. “…tonight, I want to concentrate on the things we can.”

Erotic images filled her mind at his seductive words. She was lost. He backed away, finally releasing her arms, looking into her eyes for permission. He took her hands and slowly pulled her away from the wall, waiting for her to break away or tell him it wasn’t what she wanted. She didn’t do either. Instead she followed him eagerly to the bed.

She stood silent and motionless, the back of her knees touching the mattress, and watched as he started shedding his own clothes with sharp, inhuman speed, keeping his eyes fixed to hers as if waiting for her to stop him, to say that this was a mistake and bolt for the door. Instead she followed his lead and stepped awkwardly out of her pants and shoes. She was bare in front of him, stark naked, except for the little bit of lace covering up her scent of arousal that teased his senses.

He looked at her for a moment, drinking in her beauty and then closed the distance between them. He brushed his hand against her cheek, “Are you sure?” he whispered.

Was he kidding? He wasn’t the only one who had fantasized about this moment. “Yes,” her voice didn’t come out as strong as she would have liked.

Angel circled his arms around her and lifted her to the bed and laying her out, he covered her body with his own. Her scrap of underwear the only thing separating their shaking bodies.

She cradled his face in her hands and slid her fingers up and through the silky spikes of his hair and gently pulled his face down to hers, gracing him with a tender, loving kiss. She’d meant it as a soothing gesture, to relax the obvious sexual tension that had been building between them for years and that seemed at the moment ready to explode. It had the opposite effect on him.

His mouth slanted across hers again in another bruising kiss, his tongue thrust in her mouth and she felt him swell painfully hard against her thigh. His lips left hers and blazed a trail of icy kisses down her neck, settling between her breasts, as his hands cupped them, pressing them together. He licked the deep valley of her cleavage and then took one nipple tenderly into his mouth, suckling it and swirling it with his cool tongue, while his fingers gently teased the other one. When he was finished giving them the attention they deserved he kissed his way back up and leaned slightly back, his gaze locked with hers, watching her face as his hand slid further down her body, tracing the edge of her panties.

She closed her eyes and let out a sigh of pleasure when his hand found its way inside the lacy cloth. He teased her, circled her with his hand before carefully parting her soft pink folds and slowly sliding his finger into her tight, scolding sheath, causing them both to quake with a shuddering pleasure at the contact. Their mouths touched, gently at first, then deepened, matching the deepening rhythm of his stokes. When he was sure that she was ready, he added another finger, stretching her slightly. He felt her gasp in his mouth at the first stroke and lifted his head, “Are you alright?”

“God, yes,” she breathed.

“I’m not hurting you?”

Her hand wrapped around the back of his neck, pulling him back down and giving him his answer. His hand resumed its rhythmic motion, increasing her moans with each deep, penetrating thrust. “Move against me,” he whispered against her lips. “Pretend it’s me Cordy, moving inside you.”

A tingling sensation swept through her at his suggestion, filling her mind with images of him filling her, sliding in and out, pushing her over the edge. She began to rock her hips, matching his motions as she let out a shuddering breath. “Oh God, Angel,” she gasped as he added his thumb to the mix, circling and brushing her swollen, pink bud with it.

He watched her, head thrown back and tilted to the side, eyes closed, a look of pleasure etched on her face. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He felt the first wave of her orgasm and captured her scream with his mouth, joining her in her release as much as he could.

When the waves finally subsided, she opened her eyes, almost shyly, embarrassed by her shuddering orgasm. He was looking down at her, a soft smile on his face. He reached up and pushed a lock of hair from her face, “I love you.”

She smiled back and tried to get control of her voice, “I love you too,” she whispered shakily.

His smile grew even wider and he slid down between her legs, pressing them apart.

“Angel!” she pushed herself up on her elbows, unsure if her body could take much more.

“Please, Cordy,” he was insistent, his face hovering over her most sensitive flesh, breathing in her excitement. “This is as close as I can get, let me have what I can,” the breath that came out with his words tickled her skin and she grabbed the top of his head, intending on nudging him away, but then his tongue lashed out tenderly across her damp, quivering center. She let go of his head and all of her self-control as her head fell back against the pillow, her body succumbing to helpless pleasure.

He lapped at her tender flesh with gentle hunger, as if only her essence could fill him, nourish him. She writhed against his mouth and hands, her voice whispering incoherent pleas. Angel took her swollen bud in his mouth, she tasted like some exotic fruit, sweet and tangy and he reveled in her ripe juices. He felt the first ripple pass through her body and drank her in as she cried out his name, her body pulsing uncontrollably.

When her last quaking shudder slipped away, he left the spot that he had lavished so much love and attention to, kissing his way back up her body. He stopped when he reached her face, studying it intently. Her eyes were closed and her breath came out in short ragged pants. Her cheeks were flushed and a smile slowly spread across her face just before she opened her eyes.

“Hi,” he smiled down.

“Hi,” she blushed. “That was..”

“Yeah,” he continued to smile.

“I feel so guilty.”

“Why?” he let out a bewildered chuckle.

She looked pointedly down his body and then back up with her eyebrows raised.

“Oh,” he understood. “Cordy, touching you, feeling your body under mine, hearing you call out my name,” she blushed again and it made him smile. “That pleases me, it takes me right to the edge as it is. I won’t lie and say that I don’t want to bury myself deep inside you, let myself explode while you’re in my arms, but that just can’t happen right now. I’d probably lose my soul the minute I felt you surrounding me.” He laid down beside her and pulled her body close to him, closing his eyes when her warm cheek finally rested against his bare chest.

A fearful question started to flutter around in Cordy’s mind, “Are you going back?” she asked so softly that even he almost couldn’t hear her.

“Yes.”

She raised up and he silenced her before she could start. “I have to if I’m going to find a way out of my deal with Wolfram and Hart.”

She smiled and tears stung her eyes. “We’ll find a way Angel, you’ll see. It will all work out,” she laid her head back down and hugged his chest as tight as she could.

Angel’s fingers brushed through her hair as he stared at the ceiling, his mind working, really working, since before her coma. He’d find a way, he had a reason to now.
Part 6

“We are very disturbed by this report Ms. Morgan.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We went to great lengths to ensure that Ms. Chase would remain in her coma indefinitely, and now we find that she has miraculously recovered, no side effects what so ever. She will ruin our plans, you do know that Ms. Morgan. She has already planted the seed in his mind to leave us and we all are aware of the consequences if that happens. If he finds a way, everything we have worked for over the past few years will be lost.”

“I understand that, sir.”

“We must find a way to separate them, without her presence and influence he was malleable, easy to control and manipulate. Our profilers are hard at work, considering our options. We were able to force him to abandon her once, surely the Darla incident is not the only thing that would push him to turn away from her, embrace his darker side.”

“Sir, maybe the answer doesn’t lie with Angel.”

Lilah’s faceless boss was silent for a moment, he leaned forward in the skin covered chair and placed his cloaked elbows on the stone table. “You’re suggesting another coma or some mystical interference. I suppose we could just kill the girl and be done with it.”

“No, sir. We tried the coma. She obviously has someone watching out for her on the other side, most likely the Powers, and any mystical harm would just make his attention even more focused on her. Not to mention the fact that he would probably suspect us immediately. As for killing her, that could bring him to a point of darkness that we’re not ready for yet.”

“You’re suggesting?”

“That we introduce an element that will make her turn away from him. If it’s her decision to leave, he’ll have no choice in the matter, no one to blame but himself. We’ll have him right back where we had him when all of this began, broken and alone, full of moral indifference.”

“Ah, very interesting strategy. And the element? The thing that will turn her affections from him?”

Lilah looked at her boss, an evil grin spreading across her face. She knew it was a simple plan, but it sure as hell was a brilliant one.

***

Angel slid his arms in his shirt sleeves as quietly as he could. He stared down at Cordelia’s sleeping frame as he began to work on the buttons. The last few hours, watching her sleep peacefully in his arms, had been almost too much, filling him with so much love and hope that he knew he had to leave the warmth of the bed before he forgot about Wolfram and Hart, about the problems that they faced, and let his happiness consume him.

Fastening the last button, he leaned down and sat on the side of the bed, brushing a few strands of hair from Cordy’s forehead and cheek, causing her to stir, her eyes opening sleepily.

“Hey,” he whispered and dropped a kiss to the top of her head.

She blinked once, twice, and pushed herself up on her elbows. “Hey,” she whispered back.

“I’ve got to go,” he continued to whisper, stoking her cheek with the back of his hand, not wanting to leave but knowing it was the only hope they had of him coming home for good.

“Already? Can’t you stay a little longer?”

“If I stay any longer I’ll never go back.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

He smiled at her and pulled her to him in a gentle embrace. “Thank you,” he closed his eyes.

“For what,” she squeezed him tight and smiled against his shoulder.

“For coming out of your coma, for loving me, for pissing me off bad enough that I saw the truth, for saving me.”

“Well, you’re welcome…I think, except I haven’t saved you, at least not yet. We still haven’t found a way to get you away from Wolfram and Hart.”

Angel pulled back just enough to look in her eyes. “I didn’t mean from them, I meant from myself. I’m the asshole that took the deal in the first place. If you haven’t noticed by now, I tend to make very bad choices when you’re not around,” he shot her a small, boyish smile.

Cordelia reached up and brushed her fingers across his strong jaw making him close his eyes and lean against her caress, “You’ve got to quit doing that Angel, losing hope every time life plays a dirty trick on you. You’ve got to remember who you are and what you stand for in the good times and in the bad. You‘ll never become human if you don‘t. You‘ve got to learn to fight for what you want even if I‘m not by your side.”

He took in a deep breath and let it out, a calming effect that had never left him. Reaching up, he took her hand from his face and held it between both of his and stared intently at her. “Cordy, are you okay about last night? Are we okay? I feel like…I don’t know….I didn’t mean to push, to come on too strong. It’s just that all of this time I’ve dreamt about touching you, loving you. I just hope I didn’t force you into something you weren’t ready for, make you uncomfortable or mad.”

“Oh, I’m furious,” she said in a teasing tone.

“Cordelia..”

“It was simply awful, the mind blowing orgasms, the way you knew just where and how to touch me, it was just horrible I tell you, horrible,” she shot him one of the first brilliant smiles he’d seen since she came out of her coma.

“Cordy, I’m trying to be serious here. I’m trying to apologize for being so aggressive, for practically throwing myself on you.”

“Angel,” she tried to turn her tone into a more serious one. “If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m not a child. I could have turned you away, could have said no. If I remember correctly, I not only didn’t say no, I screamed yes several times throughout the evening,” she gave him her best seductress smile.

God, he wanted to climb back in bed with her and never leave. “You’re gonna have to quit doing that.”

“What?” she faked innocence.

“Putting images in my mind. I’ll never leave if you keep that up,” he reluctantly stood, breaking the very short moment they allowed themselves to forget just what a mess they were in still.

Cordelia sat up, covering herself with the sheet, and looked up at him with worry and fear in her eyes.

“Don’t worry,” he leaned down and gave her a slow, tender kiss and then raised back up, his hand lingering on the side of her face. “I’ll be back tonight, if not earlier. I’m going to get Wes to pull our contract. Maybe he can find a loophole,” he tried to sound positive despite remembering Wesley’s attempts at breaking Lilah free. “Spike’s here. I sensed him come in a couple of hours ago.”

“Oh my god. Is he okay? Did he get hurt?”

Angel couldn’t help his jealousy that seemed to flare at her words. Spike could stay here with her while he couldn’t, and the way she seemed to accept him so easily, caring about his comfort and well being, it made his dead heart ache and his demon stir. “He’s fine,” he tried not to sound too snappy.

“But..” she started to get out of bed.

“I’ll check on him on my way out. I’ve got a couple of things to talk to him about anyway. Like how I’m going to rip his head off if he puts you in danger again.”

“Angel, that wasn’t his fault. I make my own decisions. Remember?”

He really wish she wouldn’t defend him. It wasn’t helping his irrational jealousy. “Don’t worry, I’ll try to be nice,” ‘nice and scary’.

She seemed to except his words as true and sat back down on the bed.

Angel leaned down and gave her one last kiss, “Get some rest. I’ll see you no later than sunset. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“And Cordy,” he said as he backed up a few steps to the door, “All of those rules I gave you,” his voice was soft, almost regretful.

She nodded her head, waiting for his sweet apology.

“They haven’t changed. Don’t go anywhere without calling me first.”

She opened her mouth in protest but he cut her off.

“I mean it. Not even a trip to the newsstand across the street without contacting me first.”

She huffed loudly.

“Are we clear?”

“Yes,” she spat out.

“And Cordy.”

“What?” she folded her arms.

“I love you,” he smiled and reached for the doorknob.

Dread suddenly filled her at the realization that he was actually leaving, going back to the place that held his soul like some collateral on a loan he’d never be able to pay. She raced from the bed, flinging her arms around his neck, burying her head in his shoulder. “Don’t go,” her words were muffled.

“I’ve got to,” he hugged her back tightly.

She squeezed him as hard as she could, as if she could physically make him stay.

“Hey,” he pushed her back slightly. “I’m coming back. I promise.”

“But what if something happens…what if…?”

“Cordy, trust me. There is nothing that will keep me from coming back here tonight. Nothing.” He stroked her face.

“I love you,” she closed her eyes and laid her head on his chest.

“I love you too,” he stroked her back and then reluctantly untangled himself from their embrace and slowly turned the knob. His eyes locked with hers until the door shut between them.

Cordelia leaned her head against the door, trying to push away some fearful warning that sounded in the distant recessed of her heart and mind.

***

“Well, well, well,” Spike sat on the hotel counter and shot Angel a sly grin before taking another gulp of the blood he had gotten at the butcher shop Cordy suggested.

Angel just glared at the other vamp as he descended the stairs.

Spike placed the container on the counter and continued, ready to have a little fun, “A night of fun with the gorgeous Cordelia and you’re still you. By the sounds of things last night, I would have thought that I’d be facing the great Angelus today. She’s a screamer that one. Must have….umf,” Spike’s next sentenced was cut off by Angel’s hand pressing against his throat, knocking him and his meal to the marble floor.

Angel’s face shifted, his eyes emitting an amber glow. “If you ever put her in that kind of danger again I’ll kill you Spike.”

Laughter tried to escape from Spike’s crushed windpipe.

“I mean it! If I didn’t need you here right now, I would have killed you already.” He lifted up slowly and stood, watching Spike sit up and rub his neck, a smile on his face.

“So now you’re in love with the Queen of Sunnydale, you are a very fickle bloke,” he stood, picking up the spilled container from the floor.

“Drop it Spike,” he warned.

“I mean, wasn’t it just a few months that you crawled back to Buffy? It didn’t take long after your little cheerleader up there was out of the picture for you to go rushing back to Sunnydale, did it?”

“Spike, you and I both know that what happened between me and Buffy in Sunnydale meant nothing.”

“Didn’t look like nothing to me,” Spike’s smile finally dropped from his face and he stared down his old cohort. “Felt like the bloody world was ending.”

“Well, technically it was.”

“I won’t let you near her again.”

“Spike, get the fuck over it. You know damn well that I don’t want Buffy any more than she wants me.”

“Then why the disgusting display back at the Hellmouth?” his voice raised almost to a yell.

“The kiss? Just to piss you off. I could smell you all over her the minute I showed up. I knew you were there too, I could sense your sorry ass a mile away. Then when she told me you had a soul, I decided to milk the moment for all that it was worth. I knew she didn’t want me back or I wouldn’t have done that to her. I may not be in love with her anymore, but I still care about her. I wouldn’t play with her feelings like that.”

“If you ever touch her like that again….”

“I won’t. It was a dumbass move in the first place. Thanks for telling Cordy by the way,” his voiced dripped with sarcasm.

“Your welcome,” Spike smiled.

They stared at each other for a moment as if striking some kind of silent bargain.

“So you’ll watch out for her, keep her safe for me?”

“No.”

Angel’s face tensed in hard lines of anger and he opened his mouth, his words catching in his throat as Spike spoke again.

“I’ll keep her safe because that’s what she needs, what she deserves. She took me in, no questions asked. She’s different than the others. They treated me like some leper even after the soul, after they knew I was willing to do anything to help them. Cordelia didn’t know what I was here for really. I told her I had a soul and she believed me, asked me to stay. Sure, she burned me with a cross and threatened to kill me several times, but who doesn’t like a woman that’s willing to slap a guy in the ass every now and then. Figuratively speaking,” he added at Angel’s look. “No, I’ll help Cordelia because I want to, because she needs me, not because you’ve threatened me into it. She’s special and I think she’s the closest thing to a friend that I’ll ever get. So I’ll be here, as long as she’ll have me.”

“Don’t get too comfortable Spike. I’ll be back tonight and with any luck I’ll be staying. Then you can leave, immediately.” Angel turned and headed for the basement, he’d waited too long to take the Plymouth, the sun would be rising in minutes.

Black boots squished in the grime as he entered the sewer, his long strides increasing with every step until he was racing through the tunnels at full speed. He had to get back and find a way out of this, for Cordy, for himself, and because the way Spike had called Cordelia special and a friend made his insides twist. He didn’t like the look in the other vampire’s eyes when he spoke about her, it reminded him too much of himself, the way he felt about her when they first met in L.A…

***

“Well, don’t you look….different,” Lilah greeted Angel as he entered the basement of Wolfram and Hart.

He looked down at his dirty boots, remembering that the last time he had worn them, or any of the clothes he wore now, was when he had originally taken the deal. After that moment it had been all suits and ties, until now. “What do you want Lilah, I’ve got a busy day ahead of me,” he brushed past her and headed for the elevator.

She stepped in with a smile and clasped her hands behind her back as the elevator doors closed. “Yes, you do have a busy day. In fact, your next assignment is waiting in your office as we speak. Would you like to change first or are you going for the dirty, sleep deprived private eye look today? I mean, it works for me,” her eyes roved over him. “but I’m not sure it screams professionalism.”

“No new assignments today. I’ve got work to catch up on,” he dismissed her words.

“A little reminder Angel. If you refuse any assignments given to you by the Senior Partners, you could face termination, of the soulless kind.”

Angel raked a hand through his messy hair. He didn’t have time for this but he had to play along, just until he found a way out. He only hoped that the assignment would be something he could pass on to someone else. “Alright, what is it?” he asked as the elevator doors opened across from the double doors of his office.

Lilah grinned and walked to the doors, opening them wide and ushering him in. Angel stopped just inside the door, his body frozen in shock.

“Angel?” came Buffy’s soft question as she rose from the leather couch.

Lilah took a step closer to Angel from behind and leaned in, whispering close to his ear, “Meet your next assignment.”
Part 7

Angel stared at Buffy who looked at him with confusion from across the room. “What is she doing here Lilah?” his eyes never leaving the stunned Slayer.

“What do you mean ‘What is she doing here?’?” Buffy mimicked his tone. “Dawn and I were finishing a visit with my Dad. We were just about to leave, catch up with the others when this,” she pointed toward Lilah, “woman shows up on the doorstep and said that you were in trouble, said that you sent for me. She said that if I didn’t come and help you that you could lose your soul.” Buffy’s arms were crossed over her chest defensively, suddenly getting the realization that she had just entered a game to which she didn’t understand the rules.

Angel took a deep, exasperated breath and gave Lilah an evil glare, “Everything’s fine here Buffy. I’ve got things under control. Go home,” he realized that his anger and hatred for Lilah were making his voice tight and harsh. He softened himself a bit and turned his eyes toward the Slayer again. “Please,” was his gentler plea.

“Ah,” Lilah smiled and sauntered to Angel’s desk, leaning back against the edge, “but you do need her, and your soul is in jeopardy,” she smiled. “Like I said, she’s your new assignment.”

Buffy, unable to stand the smug grin or the taunting tone of the other woman, began to advance toward Lilah. “I don’t know who the hell you are and I don’t really care for that matter, but I’m the Slayer and this is Angel. He doesn’t take orders and neither do I.“ Angel’s outstretched hand stopped her before she could reach the dead lawyer. “Angel,” she said with annoyance and frustration but let his touch stop her movement.

Angel closed his eyes, reigning in his own anger. He tried to think of Cordy, he had to play along for her, just until he could find a way out of this mess. Opening his eyes he looked at Lilah, ignoring Buffy’s growing irritation and fury at being thrown into a situation that she knew nothing about. Before he could beat Lilah at her own game, he had to know the rules. “What do I have to do?” he asked, defeated.

“The Senior Partners have been pleased with your work over the last couple of months. You and your little team have really gotten us back on our feet, but our organization is being threatened by a new presence and we need the kind of help that we believe only the Slayer can provide. Your assignment is to get her to work for us, help us, and you, with a little project.”

“No deal, Lilah,” he answered decisively. “I’ve already brought too many innocent people into this. I’m not going to add her to the list.”

“Oh no? You do realize that if you fail any assignment given to you by the Senior Partners that that line in your contract…how does it go?” she looked off as if reciting a classic poem. “Oh yes, I remember now. If you fail any assignment, direct command, or breach your contract with Wolfram and Hart in any way, you owe us one soul extraction. Not word for word, but that’s the gist of it anyway,” her smile widened as she enjoyed the barely restrained fury evident on the vampires face.

“What are we negotiating here, Lilah?” Angel became all business.

“Wait a minute. I don’t work for anyone, and since when do you?” Buffy turned to face Angel.

“It’s a long story. Short version, this law firm is evil. They gave me the amulet I brought to you and offered me some things I felt I couldn’t turn down at the time. In return, I had to make a deal with them.”

“What kind of a deal?” Buffy asked, horrified at just what Angel had done.

“Takes her a minute to catch on, doesn‘t it?” Lilah interrupted. “His soul, dear. He signed over his soul to us as a condition of employment,” she explained as if Buffy was mentally impaired.

“You gave up the right to your soul to come and help me?” Buffy knew she shouldn’t be touched by such a thing, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Signed it right away when he knew you were in trouble.”

“That’s not exactly true Lilah.”

“Isn’t it?” she looked at Angel as if daring him to tell Buffy the real reason. “Anyway, we want you to come and work for us,” she began her sales pitch again. “The two of you have worked together before, it shouldn’t be that difficult to do it again.”

“I told you,” Buffy matched Lilah’s earlier condescending tone, “I don’t work for anyone. Not now, not ever. The answer’s no. I have a responsibility to fight evil, not join with it,” she turned and started for the door.

“If you walk out that door, Angel loses his soul.”

Buffy paused, some distant and long ago feeling told her she should turn around and help him, but she thought of Dawn, of Giles and the others, and of Spike’s sacrifice. She closed her eyes, fighting back tears at the memory of Spike’s face before she left him there, in the mouth of Hell. She loved him so much and had never told him until it was too late to save him and too late for him to really believe. She couldn’t betray him and the others, what they expected of her. They had all just battle hell on earth together, they were a family, one that held no place for Angel. The truth was that it never had. She had to take care of them, even if it meant abandoning her ex-love. Her hand reached for the office door and she paused, “Angel can take care of himself,” she stated quietly, hoping he would understand.

“And if he turns?” Lilah asked innocently.

“Then I’ll do what I was born to do,” she turned the knob.

“Like you did before, when he turned?” Lilah’s taunt made Buffy’s hand drop away from the door. She stood still, frozen with the memories of her failure to stop him before he could terrorize and kill. “How long did it take you to kill him last time?” Lilah continued. “Three, four weeks? Oh well, we are talking about Angelus here, the Scourge of Europe. I guess I’ve gotta hand it to you, at least you managed to get him in the end, after he had killed, tortured, and terrorized members of your little group of do-gooders that is. Who do you think it will be this time? Xander? Willow? Giles?” she paused for effect, before delivering the real blow, “Dawn?”

Buffy swallowed and finally turned, her eyes blazing in anger and fear. “I won’t do it. I can’t.”

“What do you think Angel?” the dead lawyer turned her antagonizing words toward the silent vampire. “What would a big bad demon do to a little girl like that? I bet he wouldn’t kill her, at least not right away.”

“That’s enough Lilah,” Angel growled a warning.

“Of course you wouldn’t visit the sweet little Jr. Miss Summers alone now, would you? Because she wouldn’t be your first stop.”

“I said, that’s enough,” Angel crossed the room at inhuman speed, his hand clutching Lilah’s scarf covered neck.

“Come on Angel. You can’t tell me you’ve never wondered what kind of vampire Cordelia would make. It’s in your profile, you’d turn her in an instant if you lost your soul.”

Angel wanted to deny what she said, but deep inside he knew that every strangled word was true. Reluctantly he let go of his hold on her and took a tentative step back, ashamed that his enemy knew him so well. She knew his weakness, just where and how to strike at him to bring him to his knees in defeat. Cordelia would never be safe from Angelus. She would be his first victim, turned out of need, want, and lust. “Why bring her into this?” he motioned his head toward Buffy, who stood quietly near the door, trying to process all the information that was unfolding before her.

“Because she’s in love with your understudy. Or I guess we could call him your replacement now that you’ve switched teams.”

“My replacement?” Angel’s strong brow furrowed, then relaxed. “The Powers. They called a new champion,” his questioning face was now etched with realization. Spike’s soul, the amulet, his return, it all made sense now. Suddenly a thought began to take shape, a question to which he feared he already knew the answer. “You said ‘understudy’”, he began to reason out the unasked question himself. “He wasn’t sent here to replace me, he was sent here to learn from me. Wasn’t he? He was going to take my place when I….” he couldn’t say the word, not now, not after he had ruined everything. “How close was I?” his voice was just a whisper of sound.

“Closer than you think,” Lilah’s eyes were bright at the hint of pain in Angel’s words. “A couple more years and you could’ve been picnicking at noon with the lovely Cordelia in the bright California sun. She had such faith in you, thought that you were so good, so strong. Of course we know the truth, don’t we? Without her you’re nothing, just some demon that borrowed her goodness and light, pretending that a little bit of it existed inside of you. But that’s all it was, Angel, just pretend. You could never be that good. The way you abandoned ship as soon as she was out of the picture is proof of that.”

“I did that for her, to keep her safe,” he argued.

“Really? Are you sure you weren’t just falling back into your natural behavior? It’s tough to pretend your something you’re not, isn’t it? Without her to lean on, to believe in you, it hardly seemed worth it, did it?”

Angel stared off as Lilah’s words twisted painfully around his still heart.

“Don’t worry about her, Angel,” Lilah’s voice dripped with sarcastic concern. “She’s in good hands now. I’m sure Spike will take good care of her.”

“Spike?” Buffy barely breathed the name. She had stood silently in the room, working through the realization of Angel’s feelings for someone she had thought of as only an old snobby classmate and friend and coworker to her ex-boyfriend. For some reason it bothered her that it HADN’T bothered her. It should. Cordelia and Angel just didn’t fit somehow. She’d been lost in the process of piecing together just how and why something like that could happen, when she heard his name. “Spike’s alive?” she held her breath for the answer.

“Yes, well, maybe not alive, alive, but he‘s here,” Lilah provided. “Seems he’s been deemed worthy of a soul and a mission himself. That’s why we need you.”

“I won’t hurt him,” Buffy’s emotions began to get the best of her at the thought of Spike surviving the battle in Sunnydale. She swallowed down the lump in her throat and fought the tears swimming in her eyes. “No matter what you say or do, I can’t hurt him. I won’t.”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Lilah slowly rounded the desk and gracefully sat in the black, leather chair. “We don’t want you to hurt him. We want you, both of you, to run them out of town. Spike and Cordelia are tilting the scales. We want the balance back in our favor, but if we kill them or turn them over to our side, the Powers will just replace them with a new warrior and his connection to life. If you think about it rationally, it’s really a win, win situation. You get what you want, them safely away from us, and we get what we want, their influence out of this town.”

“I’ll go to him. He’ll leave with me and you won’t have to worry about him again,” Buffy hated the desperate words that left her mouth, but that was what she was, desperate to save Spike from anymore pain.

“No, he won’t. He’s bonded with Cordelia, feels a certain loyalty to her,” Lilah leaned forward and rested her elbows on Angel’s desk. “He’s vowed to protect her and he won’t leave her if he thinks she’s in danger.”

“I won’t work for you,” Buffy raised her chin defiantly.

“Think about the worst thing you can imagine happening to that little sister of yours,” Lilah rested her chin gently on top of her hands. “Now multiply that times a hundred and you will come just short of what Angelus has actually done to countless young girls in the past, without the motive of revenge to spur him on.”

Buffy trembled slightly, unable to control the fear for her sister, or the anger at the decision she was being forced to make. “If I do this, help drive him out of town, will I be free? Can I go after him?”

“You’ll be free as a bird,” Lilah’s saccharine smile made the Slayer’s stomach turn. “You can chase him to the ends of the earth for all we care, as long as he is far away from us.”

“If Cordelia leaves, I want out,” Angel tried at striking a similar deal.

“Umm, sorry,” Lilah faked an expression of pity. “You, I’m afraid, are locked in an ironclad contract. We have too many important plans for you in the future. You’ll just have to rest assured in the knowledge that the person you love is far away from us and the type of pain we can cause her.”

Buffy and Angel looked at each other, both ready to surrender to their mutual fate in order to protect the ones they loved. They looked back to Lilah and her expression of triumphant arrogance. Both knew that they would fight, try their best to battle their way out of the deal they were about to make, but ready to step across the line in order to stave the unknown ‘plan B’ that Wolfram and Hart was sure to have.

Angel’s jaw clenched and for the second time in just a few short months, struck a deal that Cordelia would hate him for to save her life. “What do you want us to do?”

Part 8

The smell of bacon permeated the air making Cordelia’s stomach growl as she rubbed her sleepy eyes and scooted across the bed to peer at the clock. “Noon!” she scolded herself and thought it almost funny that someone just out of a coma could sleep so late. Of course she had a valid excuse. Angel had kept her up most of the night. She blushed at the thought of their night together, of the things he had done and said. She was no virgin. She’d had sex before. Maybe not as many times as most people that knew her probably thought but still, she knew what it was and how it felt. And it never felt like last night. And last night wasn’t even sex, sex.

“Oh God,” she whispered to herself. Just what would real sex with Angel feel like? If last night was any indication she wasn’t so sure she could handle it. That is if she ever got to ‘handle’ it at all. She swallowed and twisted the sheet in her fist as her mind switched gears from afterglow to reality check. She thought about the curse, about Angel and his deal with Wolfram and Hart and his promise to leave the firm and come back to her. What if it didn’t work? Had she been too hard on him? Demanded too much, too soon?

Cordelia sat up straight in the bed, squared her shoulders and took a deep calming breath. Everything would turn out fine. She wouldn’t, couldn’t let her doubts defeat her. Not after last night. She had to believe. If she didn’t, the others, especially Angel, never would.

Dressed and ready to face whatever disasters awaited her and her family today, Cordelia hurried down the stairs to the small kitchen off the lobby. When she entered the kitchen she spied the plate of freshly cooked bacon on the stove and smiled. Well, it wasn’t his special scrambled eggs but it was a sweet thought all the same. She just hoped his endearing gesture of cooking her breakfast hadn’t made him too late. Although she certainly didn’t relish the thought of him going in today at all, she was a realist, she knew that it was necessary to find a way out, and the sooner he did that the sooner he’d be home.

Trying to keep a positive attitude, Cordelia picked up the plate loaded down with meat and sat at the small table, crunching on the first crispy strip.

“What the blazes are you doing!?”

Cordelia looked down at the plate and then back to Spike who stood in the doorway, a towel around his waist and an angry scowl on his face. “I thought…” she began.

“Oh what? Now not only am I your office boy and flunky sidekick, but your bloody personal chef as well?“ he barked as he crossed the floor and snatched the plate from the table.

“No,” she said in a slightly sarcastic and extremely embarrassed voice. “I thought it was for me. Angel used to cook me breakfast after every mission. I just thought …..”

“That I would automatically provide the same service. Well, if you haven’t noticed I’m not the great and powerful poof,” he dropped the plate down in front of him, making sure it hit the table with a dramatic thud before sitting in the seat opposite Cordelia.

Cordelia stared, mouth agape at the nearly naked vampire as he began to pick up each piece and crumble it back onto the plate. “What do you think your doing?”

“Getting ready to eat my breakfast,” he continued his task without even a glance in her direction.

“You don’t eat,” Cordelia stated simply, her face flushing out of frustration for the obstinate and rude vampire and over her embarrassment of thinking it had been Angel who had left her breakfast. And because every time Spike shifted in the vinyl seat she could swear she got a little peek of …. “Shouldn’t you get dressed or something?”

That finally got his attention. He laid the second piece he was working on down and looked up and gave a little wicked grin. So, his state of undress bothered her did it? He could work with that. Making people uncomfortable was what he did best and the way that little pink blush was creeping up Cordelia’s neck and into her cheeks was just too adorable and tempting to resist. Stretching his arms over and behind his head, he gave her a generous view. He would see just how far he could push before her true colors started to show.

Cordelia bolted up out of the chair so fast that it nearly fell over. “I’m…ah…going to the diner down the street to get a bite to eat,” her voice echoed in the small room.

“Relax,” Spike couldn’t help but smile. He suddenly felt as if he had uncovered a secret, found out who Cordelia Chase really was. Sure, she had a sharp wit and quick tongue, and most of the people who had crossed her path in life may have labeled her a bitch, a slut, a snob. But he knew the truth. Truth was the one thing that always came sharp and clear for Spike.

The truth was that all those people who thought they knew her had mistaken her upfront, honest attitude as bitchiness. Her way of carrying herself, of knowing who she was, seemed to the unobservant as snobbery instead of pride, self-discipline, and confidence. As for a slut. He shook his head and smiled again. No slut would blush at the sight of a little skin. Standing up and making sure that he was fully covered, he gestured to the table. “I’ve got plenty to share,” he grinned and raised his eyebrows, turning his comment into a double meaning.

“You’re a pig, Spike,” Cordelia looked at him a little calmer, realizing he had baited her.

“Come on, luv. I know you need the nourishment. I mean, you must have worked up quite an appetite after last night. I know the sounds coming out of your room kept me … up… most of the night,” he teased as she sat back down at the table.

“Spike, one standard rule around this place is that all vampires keep the private things they hear with their supernatural ears to themselves,” she advised and took a piece of bacon from the plate he had pushed in the middle of the table.

“Hate to embarrass you, pet. Actually, that’s not true, it’s kind of fun and adorable, but there was no supernatural power involved.”

“Spike, I think I don’t want to talk about this. Especially with you.”

“Can I help it if you screamed like a banshee half the night.”

“Spike,” she warned.

“Alright, alright. Just warn me next time. That could have been Angelus who walked down those stairs this morning.”

“But we didn’t…”

“Hey, you almost brought the demon out in me with all of that delicious noise you made.”

Cordelia answered him by biting into her breakfast and looking at anything in the room but his frank and blunt face. She was beginning to understand something about Spike. He was a lot like her. He liked the truth. He liked to find it, dissect it, study it, and shove it right back in your face so you couldn’t run from it. Wow, for the first time in her life she understood why some people couldn’t handle her frankness.

“Hey,” he caught her attention and surprised her with the deep sincerity in his voice. Reaching across the table he laid his hand on hers. “Just be careful.”

“Don’t worry. Angel knows his limits. He’s lived with them long enough,” she answered back quietly.

“It’s not Angel I’m worried about, luv.”

They both sat in silence for a moment. A bond of friendship forming and strengthening between them in the moments that passed.

Spike, ashamed of revealing so much of his true self to her, was the first to break the spell. He stood sharply and sauntered to the microwave, dawning a cup of blood that had obviously been cooling there. He walked back to the table and sat down, dropping the pieces of bacon he had crumbled earlier into his cup.

“What are you doing?”

“I told you, eating breakfast. The bacon gives it a little texture and surprisingly really brings out the flavor in this disgusting swine juice.”

“How did you figure it out, Spike?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Just tried it one day. Saw this commercial on the tele for ….”

“I don’t mean your little concoction there.”

“Oh,” realization hit him and he sat down the cup. “You mean the soul. How did I get a permanent soul.”

“Yeah,” she breathed and couldn’t keep the look of hope for what his answer might mean for Angel out of her eyes.

“Well, I saw a man. More specifically, a Shaman. He told me what to do and I did it.”

“So, Angel could go. See this man I mean,” she could feel her heart racing.

Spike couldn’t stand to hear the hope in her voice. He wished Angel wasn’t such a selfish bastard. “It’s not as simple as it sounds. There is a test. A challenge of sorts.”

“Like a test of strength? Bravery? He could do that. He’s done it before.”

“Well, there is that. A test of strength and bravery. Three in fact. But simply defeating those three challenges is not how you get the permanent soul.”

“Then how, Spike? How exactly did you get your soul?”

“When I left Sunnydale, I wanted a soul so bad I could taste it. I was willing to go to the ends of the earth to get one. For her,” he took a sip from his cup before continuing. “Turns out I only had to go to Africa. When I got there, they put me through three trials of strength. At first I thought that that was how I would get it. Complete the challenges and earn the soul. But after it was over, and after I’d been beaten to a bloody pulp, the Shaman looked at me. I don’t know what he did or how, but I felt the bugger poking around, up here,” he pointed to his head. “When he was done, that’s when I got what I came for. After the pain had eased a little, he told me. The challenges, the tests, they were just a deterrent. Something to scare off the ‘unworthy’ he called them. He said what won me my soul was because I didn’t want it, not for me anyway. That I wasn’t only willing to fight for it, but to give the possibility of it and my existence up if it would be the best thing for the people I cared about. An unselfish sacrifice. I tried to laugh at the crazy bloke but it hurt too much. I told him that he was a bloody fool. That I might not have wanted the soul, but I got it to get something in return. The love of a woman who I knew could never really love me. If that isn’t selfish, I don’t know what is.”

“What did he say?”

“He just smiled. Said he’d seen me. The real me. ‘The only fool here, is the one who does not see his own path, my friend,’ he said. ‘The one who does not recognize his own heart when it speaks to him. You did these things not only for her, but for the other ones as well. You care for them. You have walked beside them, done good when it was against your nature.’”

“Then what?”

“Then,” he took another sip. “I gave him two chickens and what amounted to thirty-two dollars and I left.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“So Angel could…”

“No. Angel wants a permanent soul, but only to end his own suffering, to be free of the worry and guilt that the danger of turning into Angelus causes in him, and after last night I‘m sure he wants one because…”

“Spike.”

“All selfish reasons.”

“He’s not like that. He’s not the same Angel you knew in Sunnydale.”

“No? He just completely quits fighting when the person he wants is gone, turns over his friends to a hell based law firm to suit his dark mood.”

“That’s not fair, Spike.”

“It may not be fair, luv. But it’s the truth.”

***

“Damn it!” Angel threw the desk chair, shattering it against the closed door that had just served as Lilah’s exit.

“Angel, what are we going to do?”

Angel paced back and forth like a caged lion ready to pounce. He seemed oblivious to Buffy’s presence in the room. “I‘ve got to find a way out of this. I can‘t do this to her.”

“Her? What about Spike? If he finds out I’m here with you, working with you…. I tried to tell him that I loved him but he didn’t believe me. He sure as hell won’t now.”

Angel continued his pacing, working on the unsolvable problem in his mind. Everything was so horribly wrong. He wished none of this had ever happened. That he had never given up on the mission, that he had never lured his friends down into the murky depths of his depression when Cordy lay in her coma. It had all been so horrible, so selfish. What had happened to him? He used to protect the people he loved, his family. He used to do anything and everything to keep them out of harms way. Even when it pissed them off. He stopped pacing. “What did you say?”

“When?”

“Just now. You said something.”

“I said Spike would never believe…”

“No, before that.”

Buffy thought a moment. “I asked you what we were going to do.”

“No,” he tried not to be impatient. “Somewhere in the middle there you said something about working ‘with’ me.”

“Yeah, well, I’m certainly not working ‘for’ you.”

“No,” a light bulb seemed to go off. “You’re not,” he began to walk purposely to the office door.

“Angel, where are you going?”

He paused at the door, “To start taking care of the people I love again.” He left before the next question could cross her lips.

***

Cordelia and Spike spent the largest part of the day chatting about nonsense, deciding that it was the best way to stay clear of the subject of Angel and his worthiness of a permanent soul. Spike tried to keep the atmosphere light. Teasing her, getting a rise out of her over certain subjects and his views on them, but he could sense the change in her as the morning turned to afternoon. She was worried and afraid. And it was tearing him up. He walked over to the sofa where she had planted herself about a half hour ago, trying not to look as if she were staring across the lobby to the basement door.

“He said he’d come back and he will,” he offered gently as he sat beside her.

“Oh really? You weren’t so supportive of his character earlier today,” she bit out, taking out her worry, frustration, and anger on the closest person possible.

“Hey,” he raised his hands in mock surrender. “I didn’t mean the poof didn’t deserve a soul. I just meant he wasn’t ready for what it took to get one yet. That’s all.”

Cordelia sighed and crossed her arms, her waves of depression and hopelessness crashing into him.

“Tell ya what. Why don’t I go and see what’s keeping him?” he stood, helping in the only way he knew how.

“You’d do that?” she looked up at him and he had to shake himself out of the trance her look of trust put him in.

“Well, I can’t bloody well stay here with you all day talkin’ about the weather now can I? I’m a man of action,” he emphasized and puffed his chest out with a grin.

“What am I going to do with two of you?”

“Two of who?”

“Two of you souled idiots walking around here without a clue,” she smiled back. “I’m not sending you over there. I’m worried sick about Angel as it is. I don’t need you thrown into the mix as well.”

Cordelia’s comment touched Spike. He couldn’t remember the last person in his life that had actually worried for him. “Well, there’s no need to worry, pet. I’ll simply say I have an appointment,” he explained lightly as he walked toward the basement door.

She stood but she didn’t argue. Yes, she should badger him into staying and yes, she would worry about him. But she couldn’t help the tiny part of her that wanted him to go. Wanted to know that Angel would have someone there with him. An ally. She watched him walk to the door before stopping but not turning.

“The only souled idiot around this place is the one that left you in that bed this morning,” he admitted before leaving the room.

Cordelia just stared at the closed door, letting the comment sink in.

A few seconds later the basement door flung open, “Where the bloody hell is this place anyway,” Spike asked.

***

Cordelia paced the lobby. When Spike had left, she convinced herself that everything would be alright, but that had been an hour and two chewed nails ago. She had been a little annoyed at some of Spike’s nonstop banter and endless teasing earlier in the day, but now, without it, she realized he had just been trying to keep her mind off of everything. And it had worked in a way. She had still worried and prayed silently in her mind for Angel, but there was no desperation, no frantic and chaotic thoughts. Like now.

She paced to the office and sat down at the desk, staring at the phone. She wished she had thought to give him her cell. Maybe something happened to him. Worse, maybe something had happened to Angel and …. Crap, she had to quit thinking this way.

The slam of a door roused her from her thoughts and instantly her seat as she raced to the lobby and turned her eyes to the basement door only to find no one there.

“Hey Sugarplum,” Cordelia heard Lorne’s voice from behind, causing her to turn toward the front doors.

“What happened?” she asked the group of four who stood in front of her, boxes in tow.

“He fired us,” Fred whined.

“Again,” Wes and Gunn said in unison.
Part 9

Spike didn’t need to go by the description Cordelia had given him of the sewer or the bend in the tunnel ahead to know that he was getting close to the secret entrance of Wolfram and Hart. He could smell the evil, hear it calling to him, tempting him the closer he got.

He wondered at that fact. He had thought that by gaining a soul that that temptation, that underlying longing for a darker existence would be banished from him forever. It had seemed so simple at the time. As a soulless vampire he had chosen evil. So it only made sense to him that as a souled being he would always do good. It would be, should be his nature now he had thought. After all, when he had been human he was decent, obedient, had felt great love and affection for people and had always chosen the safe and right road. Well, except for that one fateful night.

That night Dru had offered him something that he had been searching for, writing about, obsessing over all of his human life. Love. Little did he know the cost he would have to pay for it. He had been so terrified of her at first and the time he spent with her had been so different than he thought it would have been. Each passing night, trying to prove himself to her, fight for her attention by performing one kill after another, each one more gruesome and creative than the one before. It had taken him years to grab the first clue, the first hint that what she had offered him that night had nothing to do with love and everything to do with simple companionship. Dru had needed someone to take care of her, someone she could take care of in return, someone who needed someone, anyone. And that night she had found her perfect victim.

And it had taken a Slayer, The Slayer, to open his eyes, to show him that that ‘so called’ love wasn’t real, wasnt rig’ht. Buffy. He closed his eyes for a moment as he pictured her there in the hell mouth, tears in her eyes, words of love on her lips. He wished so deeply that she had really meant the words of pity she had given him as the hell mouth closed around them. But he knew the truth. Knew the truth and didn’t care. He would always love her, always fight with her, for her, no matter where or with whom her heart lay.

Bloody hell. He was channeling William again. Spike shook himself at the soft and emotional path his mind seemed to be taking. Sure he loved the Slayer, had loved her even before the soul, if you could believe it, but that was the second time since he had returned from hell that the sodding poet had tried rattling around in his head.

The first had been the moments he had spent with Cordelia at the hotel. The way she had treated him had made him feel something he had only felt once before. Words he once spoke to Buffy came clear in his mind, “You treat me like a man, he h”ad said to her. He had been so grateful for that grain of respect that the Slayer had thrown him that until he had come to L.A. he didn’t realize there was anyone else that would see him that way. And Cordelia had even gone one step further, she had treated him not only as a man, but as an equal, as someone she trusted, as a friend. She knew who he was, what he was capable of, and still she accepted him, and wasn’t embarrassed by that fact. In a matter of hours his growing affection for her had started to develop into a blind sense of loyalty. He loved Buffy, and would do anything for her, but he was gradually beginning to realize that she wasn’t the only woman he would risk his life for.

He shivered at that thought.

Must be the soul.

The entrance ahead looked suspiciously clean and well used. Even so, Spike readied himself for the battle. Cordelia had warned him that in the past Wolfram and Hart had used special detection devices for vampires, enabling them to send teams of combat demons to rid them of the nuisance.

Touching the entrance, he tensed his muscles and pushed the heavy, metal door, opening it with ease. He sensed another being then, human but not, and with his great speed and strength he ran blindly into the room, hitting his would be attacker hard and pinning the delicate frame beneath his own.

“Impressive” the pretty woman breathed heavily beneath him.

“What the…sorry” Spike rose and offered the attractive woman his hand. “Expected to meet some big uglies at the door”;

“How do you know you didn’t?” Lilah grasped his hand, hanging on to it long after she was on her feet. She looked him up and down, admiring his lean frame and the way it had felt pressed hard against hers. “So, you’re William.”

“Name’s Spike, luv.”

“Is it?” she answered with a taunting and somewhat knowing laugh. “Alright then, have it your way, SPIKE. I wouldn’t want to inadvertently insult you right off the bat” she teased. “After all, I’m a real big fan of your work.”

Spike had been close enough to hell to spot someone or something who was intimately connected to it. But there was something charming about the woman in front of him. Something that made you want to save her in one moment and twist her neck until it popped the next. “A fan ay?” he cocked a scarred brow. “Pre-soul or post?” his curiosity pushed him to ask.

“Both actually” her voice rang with a seductive note.

“And you are?”

“You mean you don’t know?” she feigned a hurt expression.

“Well, I know you’re evil. That much I got, pet. Just need a name to go with that pretty disguise you wear.”

“Lilah Morgan” she answered with another smile, feeling a bit reminiscent of her days of sarcastic banter with Lindsey. “I’m here to take you to see Angel.”

“How did you know…..?”

“Please don’t ruin my image of you with a silly question like that, Spike. I mean, you obviously have some kind of idea of just who and what we are. My heads-up that you were on your way to see Angel can’t be a huge surprise to you. Can it?”

“Guess not” he eyed her suspiciously. “So” he waited for her reply. “Where is the big poof?”

Lilah hesitated for another moment before answering, “Right this way” she smiled, eager to see how much damage two souled vampires could or would do to each other in the name of a Slayer.

***

“I will, Dawn. I promise. You just stay with Dad until I can come back. Deal?…….Alright. Tell the others I said….” Buffy sighed, what should she tell the others. That Angel was in danger of losing his soul, that Spike was alive. Buffy fought the lump in her throat and the butterflies in her stomach at the thought of him. “Just tell them I’ll be there as soon as I can…..I love you too. Bye” Buffy placed the receiver down and leaned against the massive, wooden desk, her face full of fatigue and hopelessness, the worry in Dawn’s voice making her ache to protect the young girl. She hated being away from her now and since Sunnydale had been sucked into hell, she had hovered over the teenager like a mother hen. Dawn had tried, in vein, to express to her how embarrassing it was for Buffy to shadow her every move, that it wasn’t normal sisterly behavior. But Buffy was no normal sister. Dawn was her responsibility, she couldn’t trust anyone else with that. No one else understood how important that responsibility was.

No one except for Spike.

He had a way of understanding everything about her. The good and the bad. And loving and excepting both in her. She had fought her feelings for him for so long, thought that it would be wrong to love someone who could look at the world and see ugliness, the weaknesses of it and everyone in it. But what she realized much too late about Spike was that it wasn’t the imperfections of the world he concentrated on, just the truth of what it was, what it could do to you if you let it. He was the only being she knew that wasn’t afraid of that little word, truth. Not only was he not afraid of it, he relished the way others were. The way they squirmed and denied what was right in front of their face. The way they refused to admit how they felt for one another, playing stupid and petty games when all they had to do was say what they meant. He had always done that. Said what he meant, even if she never did. At least she could face that truth now. She closed her eyes and pictured Spike, his body trembling as they said their goodbyes at the hell mouth. She had told the truth then, meant it more than she had ever meant anything in her life. She only hoped that when all of this mess was done, that she could convince him of that.

“How is she?” Angel looked up from the mound of legal documents he had been studying.”

“Okay, and not. I guess the best answer I can give is that she’s used to it.” Buffy took a deep breath and headed back around the desk, peering over Angel’s shoulder. They had to find a way out of this, a way that lead her back to Spike. “Anything?” her voice was flat but desperate.

“Nothing” Angel threw the document in his hand down onto the desk and buried his face in his hands, frustration and an ominous sense of defeat creeping over him. Lifting his head, he looked up at her, “I can’t find a way out of this.

“I don’t understand, Angel. You said you convinced the others to leave. If they could leave, then why can’t you?

“They couldn’t leave.”

“Well, if they couldn’t quit their jobs here, then how….”

“I fired them.”

Her brow crinkled in confusion.

“When I signed with Wolfram and Hart it was as CEO and president. I work for Wolfram and Hart. The others just worked for me. They stayed because of me. And I just couldn’t let them do that any longer. So, I sent them home. I should have done it a long time ago. I just got so far off track that I didn’t care what it was doing to them. Besides, if we can’t find a way out of this and I…..” Angel stopped and thought of the unthinkable. “Cordy’s gonna need them.”

“Have you called her?”

Angel shook his head.

“She’ll be pissed.”

“I can’t call her. Not without good news.”

“Why do you do that?”

“What?”

“You think keeping people away, in the dark about what’s going on protects them?”

Angel didn’t answer.

“Why do you think I let Xander and Willow not only know about who I was, but help me with my mission?”

“You needed bait?” he almost seemed serious.

“I needed friends. People to ground me. I’m the Slayer. I have this power, this huge responsibility. It would be real easy for me to get lost in it. Play the dark, lonely hero. But I’ve seen what that can do to people. Faith tried to play that part, thought she had to embrace it because it was forced on her. And you seem to want to force it on yourself. The thing is, if you push away or run from the few good things that come along, you’ll forget why you fight, why you care.”

Angel stared at Buffy for a moment as if expecting her to continue. “Been giving a lot of team lectures?” he finally said looking up at her. “I’m not pushing Cordy away or leaving her out of anything. I just….I have to find a way out of this. I promised her and I’ve broken so many….” Angel trailed off, not wanting to think about the pain he’d caused Cordelia in the last few years.

Buffy watched as Angel seemed to drift in thought, realizing for the first time that she didn’t know him anymore, or his reasons for keeping away the people he cared about the most. He’d changed so much. Or had he? Maybe he’d just found his place, himself.

She might be the Slayer, the Chosen One, but this was his world. A world she didn’t control, didn’t really understand. And he was right. He didn’t need some team speech from the Slayer. He wasn’t some novice warrior that needed her direction or advice. He needed an ally to help get him out of the mess he’d created for himself….and for her. She swallowed hard at that thought. The reminder that she was in the same sinking boat with him. “Well find a w’ay, Angel” she tried at comforting him, but knew that it was a selfish statement, meant more to help her own desperate mind than his. “There’s got to be something” her voice began to shake with panic, the fear in Dawns voic’e and her own ever present thoughts of Spike crowding together in her mind. What if this never ended? What if she was doomed to stay in Angel’s hell of a life while her own “life” waited out there for her. With Cordelia.

Angel noticed the way her hands were trembling as she reached frantically for some of the papers on his desk. He truly realized then that she had just as much invested in the outcome of his problem as he did.

“We’ve got to find a way, Angel. I can’t stay here. Not like this. He’s out there and I’m here” her eyes began to tear. “What if something happens and I never get to tell him?” Her movements were fast and desperate now as she blindly searched through the papers, the occasional tear dropping down, splashing a wild pattern on the evil records.

Angel stood and reached down, grasping her wrist and forcing her to stop.

She stared at the wet paper in her hand before letting it float down to the top of the desk. Looking up at him, she confessed, “Real big help, aren’t I? It’s just….I waited so long because I was afraid. And when I finally realized what he meant to me, that I didn’t have to be afraid, that I wanted him in my life, I kept thinking the moment would come when it would seem right to tell him” she gave a small sob. “I waited, I waited until it was too late and he was gone. And I couldn’t make him see. Couldn’t make him believe. Now he’s back and I don’t know what to do. Part of me wants to run to him, tell him everything. But the other part of me wants to keep him away, keep him safe” finally she quit fighting the tears, crying into her hands.

“Shhhh” Angel soothed and placed his arms around her, unable to stand her tears, feeling responsible for them. “It’s alright. It’s all going to be alright. I promise” he smoothed her hair as she wept into his chest freely. “I felt the same way. I loved Cordy for so long. But I waited. So afraid that she wouldn’t love me back that I couldn’t tell her how I really felt. Then it was too late. She was gone, or as good as. And when she woke up part of me wanted to jump back into our life and begin loving her the way I couldn’t before. But the other half of me wanted to keep her locked away, safe from all of this” he looked around at the room.

Buffy, her sobs subsiding, pulled slightly away from Angel, wiping at her cheeks and eyes. “I’m sorry” she tried to smile through the embarrassment of her outburst, a hysterical little chuckle escaping her mouth. “It’s been a really hard year.”

“Tell me about it.”

“You know” she began, “five years ago, when you left Sunnydale, I dreamed of this. You and me, standing in front of each other in some distant future. In love. Except you were a lot less talkative and didn’t mention Cordelia Chase at all” she smiled a little more.

“And you think I pictured you confessing how much you loved Spike?” he raised his brow in bewilderment.

“What happened to us?” she breathed the question softly.

“We grew up” he wiped a stray tear from her cheek.

“BLOODY HELL!” was all that either of them heard before crashing to the floor.

***

“Sweet Pea, the speed limit’s forty-five” Lorne complained with a greener than usual face.

“I can’t believe you guys,” Cordelia stared at the racing road ahead. “He fires you and you just leave him there. Alone” she griped as she gripped the wheel in another turn, tossing the other four bodies from one side to the next.

“He told us to leave” Fred whined and looked at Wesley for support. “He even growled.”

“Pfft. Old trick. Don’t you know him by now? He’s protecting you.”

“I find it hard to believe after months of encouraging us to work for Wolfram and Hart that Angel has now suddenly decided to protect us from them” Wesley added.

“He’s not. He’s protecting you from himself. Or more specifically something he’s about to do.”

“What’s he gonna do?” Fred’s eyes were wide with fear.

“Something really, really stupid” she gunned the engine and ran the next light.

“Stupid as killin’ us all in a head on collision?” Gunn mumbled as they passed the truck in front of them over a blinding hill.

Cordelia swerved the car in front of the truck, nearly missing the oncoming traffic. “Well, at least Spike’s with him now. Spike I can trust” she emphasized sharply.


…TO BE CONTINUED…

THIS FIC APPEARS TO BE UNFINISHED


 

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