AUTHOR: FICBITCH82 (aka Christie)
SUMMARY: What if Angel had made another choice at the end of S4?
POSTED: 10 Jun 2004
CATEGORY: None listed
WARNINGS: None Listed
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
1) This is what comes of watching See Jane Date (again), wishing things had been different on Angel, listening to Jackson Browne and putting the three together. In this fic I abuse the right to twist things because I’m not Joss and therefore crap. There is NO Nina, whatsoever. Sorry, but nuh. There is no fur-flying or full moon-loving. Just… No. *shudders*
2) This was just one of those things where I just kept writing. It’s not beta-ed, so any mistakes are mine.
Yeah and I’ll never stop looking for you
In the sunlight and the shadows
And the faces on the avenue
That’s the way love is
Sky Blue and Black – Jackson Browne
‘You made your manpire bed, you can just go ahead and lie in it.’
It was a nightmare, he reminds himself, flexing his fingers against the expensive wood of his desk. It’s over. Three weeks of a demon that visited every sort of hell it could on Angel and he’s back here in his high rise office, thanking his lucky stars he’s got friends (not including Spike) that care about him as much as they do.
They could have let him stay longer, if Wesley hadn’t come up with a way to get him out of there, if Fred hadn’t used every resource at her fingertips to analyze that blood and Gunn hadn’t pulled that oh-so-spectacular move in demon court that meant Angel was free.
He could be crazy now, a shell of his former self – which in itself is a crazy thought because Angel’s already that shell. A shell of a shell. He thinks with a measure of amusement, watching his knuckles turn white against the desk. Whiter than white, because Angel, being a vampire and all, doesn’t really tan.
His eyes narrow slightly at the dark thoughts threatening to enter his mind. He’s had six months of telling himself that he’s done the right thing, flogging himself for choices made and paths took and decisions that have cost him everything he’s ever loved. He’s had six months but it’s his conscience that decides when that’s enough.
Right now? It’s not.
Right now his conscience seems hell-bent on taking him back to that nightmare where, at first, everything seemed so blissful.
He’s aware of the irony. Bliss, at least perfect bliss, anyway, could cost him his soul, everything he’s worked for. He should have known right from the start that it was too good to be true, that Wesley’s assurances that he could at least try to be marginally happy were false.
For a while, he was happy.
Not blissfully happy, because y’know, she would have killed him for that alone. But he was happy.
Until the questions had started.
They weren’t his questions. (And he could still hear her voice in his head, telling him that that was just his problem, that he never asked questions.) No, the questions belonged to her.
He didn’t blame her really. If it were him, he’d have wanted to know why too and slowly but surely he’d told her. He’d told her everything she wanted to know.
She’d ranted, but hadn’t cried. Threw things at him, but hadn’t broke down.
It was when she fell silent that Angel was most worried. She was right, he hadn’t asked questions. He didn’t know why she’d walked back into his life the way she had, or how she even knew the things she did – he was just content. He’d just missed her. And that had brought him to that point, watching her body start to shake with barely suppressed anger as she contemplated what he’d done, what he’d took away from her.
“How could you do that to me?” She’d asked quietly, unnaturally quiet, for her. “How could you take away my life like that and make it as though none of it had happened?”
“I’m sorry,” He’d told her softly, gently. “I just wanted… I tried to… I made a mistake.”
“Well, you’re not totally brain-dead.” She’d said, “That’s a start.”
He’d waited for almost a full moment before speaking again, looking at the fall of her dark hair against her shoulders, the hollow of her throat, the determined look in her eyes. He’d memorised this moment as if it were his last and when Angel spoke again, he wished he could take the words back. “I don’t know what to do to make this right again.”
“Join the club,” She looked up at him, “Because I don’t either.”
That comment had brought shock. Cordelia always knew what to do, what to say to make things right. It was like a thing with them, he screwed up and she brought him back to the right path, back to the land of the living. His mouth worked open and closed for a moment, his jaw tensing. “But…”
“No buts, Angel.” She held up a hand, “You made your manpire bed, you can just go ahead and lie in it.”
It was a nightmare, Angel reminded himself again, another version of Hell, something he was at least marginally used to. The demon that he’d signed his life over to had given him the one thing he wanted, Cordelia, in the way that he wanted. With everything in between them and the ability to work through it. It had been perfect at first.
And then, his deal wasn’t so much perfect as it was… Draining. His deal wasn’t so much heaven as it was hell, and that was when Angel realised he’d signed himself over to his own version of hell. Cordelia, in his life, with everything in between them and unable to work it out.
His friends had pulled him out. It had just been a nightmare… A hellish, very real nightmare…
“Okay, I moved your appointment with the Krellner demons back to 3.30,” Said Harmony, interrupting his thoughts, “Mr. Franklin cancelled your 4.15 appointment and I’ve managed to reschedule with the Drakeson twins, though I had to promise, like, a years supply of blood free of charge and– Are you okay, bossy?” Harmony stopped in her rambling, dropping her clipboard to her side.
She had an annoying way of reminding him of Cordelia when she did that, so Angel looked away. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine,” Said Harmony, blustering forward without a second thought to what she was actually saying, “You look like Hell, which, considering you were there less than a week ago is really, like, no surprise!”
Angel gritted his teeth. He seemed to do that a lot when Harmony was around, she just had this way of making him want to hit things. Hard. “I told you, I’m fine,” He ground out, “Was that all?”
She huffed (and even reminded him of Cordelia at her most pissed when she did that, too), “That’s all, Bossy. Can I knock off early? I’m almost 99.9% sure that that hot lawyer guy from purchasing is gonna ask me out and I need to make myself look even more beautiful.”
“Whatever,” Angel said, turning to look out the window and over the buildings at that view he was supposed to want to see. Somehow, the sunset just didn’t seem to matter without the people that mattered most here to share it with him. “Just… Close the door on your way out?”
“Sure thing,” Said Harmony, her sigh even more deepset than Angel’s. He knew she was trying. Knew that, even at the expense of pissing some important people off, she’d rescheduled his meetings with minimal question. She knew better to ask him outright what had happened in that hell dimension and for that, Angel was marginally grateful. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Where else would I be?” He asked, darkly, watching the sun slip between the buildings. A moment later, when the door closed behind Harmony and all was silent, Angel closed his eyes.
Truth was? He didn’t want to watch the sunset.
Strong, masculine hands kneaded at her flesh, working out knots and balls of tension that had been building for weeks. Michelle felt boneless, her body limp as a noodle on one of those fold-away bed things that home-visiting masseurs carried with them everywhere.
The massage had been paid for by her colleages at the Beverly Hills Hotel, along with the assurances that Paulo (and she was sure that wasn’t his real name) was the best masseuse in town.
“So, you’re getting married in two weeks?”
That’s the point of the massage, dumbass, thought Michelle, officially broken away from her fluffy cloud state of mind with his voice. I’m supposed to forget.
It wasn’t that she was supposed to forget the marriage. It was the whole planning thing that her mother had been insisting on since Jaydn Hunter had popped the question. You’ve got to worry about the little things, Michelle, then the big things will all just fall into place.
She was marrying a man on the verge of discovering his millions, for God’s sake, who needed to worry about the little things?
It was something Michelle had suspected of her mother all along. She liked Jaydn, made a big show of how nice a guy he was and how generous he was with ‘all that money’ (three words she never tired of saying) but… Behind his back, her mother’s demeanour was a little more sour. Was she happy? She kept asking Michelle. Was Jaydn really the right man for her? Wasn’t he a little… Well, too into his work?
Every time the conversation came up, Michelle snarled at her mother. Jaydn did spend a lot of time at the office, had even let her do much of the planning for their wedding alone (or as alone as one annoyed girl could be with Clara Grant hanging over her at, like, EVERY opportunity) but… He loved her, of that Michelle was sure.
And she loved him right back, from the way he used to smile when he thought no one was watching to the crooked way he used to fasten his tie every morning, just so she’d straighten it before he headed off to work.
Realising she hadn’t answered for almost a full moment, Michelle forced her mouth to form words in light of the oh-so-wonderful floaty feeling that was threatening to send her to sleep right now. “Yup,” She answered, her head moving just a little in the head-rest, “Two weeks.”
“You got everything sorted?”
“Pffft,” Michelle almost laughed, “Why do you think they sent me to you?”
“This great honking ball of tension right,” He placed his fingers in between her shoulder blades and pressed firmly, until she felt like she was going to slide off the table, “here?”
“Yup, that one.” Michelle agreed with him, sighing. She’d have agreed with anything right then. Minions from hell asking for an invite to her wedding? Sure! Why not! Bring a date! Bring two, if that’s what floats your boat and– “Ohhhh, God…” Was there such a thing as being too relaxed? She wondered, belatedly, Paulo’s hands feeling wickedly soft against her skin.
She swore right there and then that if she didn’t love Jaydn so much that it made her throat hurt sometimes? She’d have considered propositioning this hunk of manly masseuse person. Damn, what he can do with his hands… It should be illegal! Thought Michelle, smiling to herself as she started to doze happily, right there on his table.
This is so the life…
I’m losing, thought Angel sourly, as he sat in that same spot he had three weeks ago, looking out the window at the sunset through the magically enhanced glass that meant he wasn’t bursting into flames. I started this fight thinking I could win and now, I’m starting to lose everything that matters.
There was no ‘starting to’ about it. It had begun with Doyle, back four years ago, when the Irish half-demon that Angel had called his friend had sacrificed his life for the mission. Then, there’d been Connor – way back when he was just a baby – being shunted through that portal with Holtz and forced to grow up in the darkest, most oppressive way Angel had ever known.
Then, there was Connor all over again. Older, this time. More cynical. And following him, Cordelia.
It had been Angel’s choice to change their lives, make right all the wrongs he’d committed to them both. It had been Angel’s choice to send them away with no recollection of what had happened, no memory of the things that had been done to them, to get them where they were.
It had been his choice.
And sitting, weeks later, when another of his choices had brought so much death and pain to his world was hard to take.
Fred had been dead a week.
In that week, they’d tried everything, every cure they could think of, every Shaman, every Warlock, desperate to bring back the once crazy yet completely loveable scientist that had tried so hard since they’d started at Wolfram and Hart to bring them all together, to make them be a family again.
Angel had tried, really he had. He’d called in a thousand favours, offered to sell his soul if that’s what it would take but… Fred was gone.
Wesley was a shell of a man, forced to sit there with Illyria, honor a promise he’d made of showing her this world. Whether he clung to the ideal that one day Fred would come back, Angel didn’t know, but it was something he allowed the watcher to have, believing that if they studied Illyria, they might one day understand why Fred had been taken.
Gunn hadn’t said much about it all. He was quiet, which was to be expected, subdued into silence, most of the time. Even Spike had noticed the guarded expression he carried around Wolfram and Hart moreso than normal these days.
And Lorne. Lorne who’d said repeatedly this week that he was starting to question why they fought when everything they were fighting for seemed to slip through their fingers like sand.
Angel was starting to think he was right.
On the eighth day after Fred had gone and they’d exhausted more avenues trying to find a way to bring her back, Angel began to notice a change. The most surprising source of all, perhaps – one he looked at every day but never really saw – was even more subdued than all the others. She was quiet where usually, even at the most inopportune moments, she’d be bouncing through the door with a bright smile.
(The eighth day and nobody had asked her how she felt. Nobody had asked her, and Harmony hadn’t been reluctant to divulge the information, how much she missed Fred. How much she wanted to bring her back.)
Her voice lacked the same lust for life (or unlife, whichever way you wanted to paint that picture) she’d had every day in this office for eight months. Her step lacked its bounce, her eyes lacked their usual vigour. She looked up at Angel from her desk, eyebrows raised, ready for the telling off of a lifetime for not sending those files out last week.
“Are you okay?”
His question startled her, caught her off guard. Harmony looked at him and all of a sudden, big fat tears with the ability to make her Lush-Lash mascara run were welling up in her eyes. She shook her head and bit down so hard on her lip that she drew blood. “No,” She said, quietly, letting her perfectly manicured hands fall to her sides, “I’m totally not okay. All week, everyone’s been all, ‘Harmony, find this file, Harmony find that file’ and… I miss her too and nobody gets that…” She paused, her breath hitching slightly, “And, like, I tried to cheer myself up with pictures from the socialite pages and I ended up getting more bummed…”
Trust Harmony to turn every crisis into another one, thought Angel, dourly, though he was still surprised that she’d shown so much emotion over Fred. “Why?” He didn’t care, not really. Harmony’s crises over the hack magazines she read came thick and fast, no longer a novelty to Angel.
“Remember Jaydn Hunter?” Harmony frowned, folding her arms across her ample chest.
She looked pissed off, Angel noted, before shaking his head. The name sounded somewhat familiar, though he couldn’t place from where.
“You’re so out of the loop sometimes,” She told him, rolling her eyes skyward, “Jaydn Hunter?”
Saying it twice seemed to make it sink in more and Angel nodded, feeling like a lightbulb had gone on over his head all of a sudden. “The guy who almost took a restraining order out on you?”
“That was like a total misunderstanding!” Harmony gasped, indignantly,flicking her hair out behind her, “I apologised to his girlfriend about the spaghetti thing and everything!”
“What about him?” Asked Angel, through gritted teeth.
“He’s getting married.” She sighed, “To a totally different girl. She seems nice enough, pretty… But she’s only with him for his money. And I’m way prettier. Look.” She held up the magazine for Angel to see, jabbing one perfectly manicured fingernail into the face of someone Angel knew only too well.
Suddenly struck by a cold dead weight in the pit of his stomach, Angel stared at the magazine. Harmony started talking again, but Angel paid no attention. He stood there for what felt like a lifetime, an icy fist closing its grip around his heart.
With every moment, she seemed to get further away, seemed to slip further out of his grasp. Cordelia, his Cordelia, was getting married. And that thought startled him, because Cordelia had never really been his, not really. Not even when Angel had agreed to change her life had he thought of her as his.
He’d made a decision. The best he could, with what he had. They’d taken them both and given them a new life, a normal life. One without vampires and demons and heartbreaks.
“Angel? Are you okay? You look kinda… Pale.”
Angel glared at her. “I’m fine.” And as quickly as his concern for Harmony had begun it was over, because he was striding into the office, slamming the door behind him.
Out in the reception, Harmony just sighed. Sometimes, she thought Angel just needed to get a good… Well, boning. Maybe then he’d be a little happier.
“Mom, for the last time,” Michelle groaned, “I don’t care what color plates we get. I don’t care if the green doesn’t match the fondue, I don’t care if the blues don’t match the tuna, just… Just *pick* one.”
Michelle was officially at the end of her tether. She’d been shopping with her mother all week, hadn’t had time to get anything else done like bridesmaid fittings or whatever, and so far, her mother was only serving to annoy her even more. She didn’t care what colour the patterns on the plates were. She didn’t care if the napkins were folded into swans.
All she wanted was to get married to the guy she loved. Was that too much to ask?
“But Michelle,” Her mother whined, drawing out the end of her name in that way that she hated, “If things don’t match then–”
“Then it’s not the end of the world!” She snapped, placing back a rather expensive gold napkin holder, “It’s just a wedding.”
Her mother looked like she’d been slapped. Michelle gritted her teeth, waiting for the explosion to begin. To her mother, this was not just a wedding. To her mother, this was the most important day of her baby’s life and if she didn’t realise the important of that, then…
“…then maybe I just didn’t raise you the way I ought have.” Her mother continued her rant, not caring that the nervous coughs and wary eyes cast her way were actually for her and not her daughter. “Really, Michelle, look at all these other couples. Happy. Together. Picking out their wedding things because it’s important…” And, she just couldn’t stress this point enough, “Perhaps if Jaydn cared about this wedding he’d be here too.”
Michelle looked at the other couples, her mood darkening by the second. Jaydn had promised he’d be here this afternoon, rescue her from her mother. Was he here? Was he hell. He’d called with another crisis at work, saying that he was sorry but he really couldn’t leave. Michelle had told him it was fine, even found herself defending him to her mother… And then cursing him, inwardly, when she realised she’d have to spend the day alone with said mother.
“I see them, Mom,” Said Michelle, biting her lip to not scream in frustration, “Look, can we just…” Michelle stopped as a wave of nausea washed over her, reaching out a hand to steady herself. It had happened more and more lately, a wave of nausea here, bout of dizziness there… Weird dreams, every single night. Whether they were connected or not, Michelle didn’t know, they’d started months ago – ever since Jaydn had proposed, ironically.
(“Too bad we’ll never know… If this is a face you could learn to love…”)
“What?” Michelle looked up sharply, her gaze pinning her mother’s. Crystal glasses and trinkets refracted a thousand different colours off the walls. Michelle, leaning heavily against a table with cutlery sets, took a moment to regain her breath, aware that the looks shot towards her mother had shifted towards her. “I’m fine.” She muttered, looking down at her hands to see she was shaking.
“Well you don’t look fine…”
If she’d had the strength to glare at her mother, Michelle would have. Not that there was anything new about the way her mother was behaving (of course not) it was just… This week, her mother seemed to be worse than usual. Michelle knew that it was mostly her wedding but… God, did she have to be so… So… Mother-like?
“Can we just go?” Asked Michelle, feeling bone-weary. She didn’t know what the hell was going on. Who was that Irish guy? And why did she feel all of a sudden like she should know that? That there was more to this life than she knew?
Her mother sighed, about to remind her that they only had a few days left before her wedding until Michelle glared again. She needed to go home. And find some Tylenol. Preferably now.
“We are more than just memories.”
Wesley blinked, staring down at the small box in his hand. In the other room, he could hear Angel’s shouts, directed towards Connor as he indulged in the biggest fight of his life, presumably.
He hadn’t understood Angel’s offhandedness at first. Had simply thought his friend was uncomfortable with taking on a case as seemingly small as that of the Reilly family, especially when they had bigger concerns.
It had run deeper than that.
All too suddenly Angel had seemed hellbent on stopping Vail, despite the fact that they couldn’t trust him one little bit. Alarm bells had started ringing in Wesley’s head. Huge alarm bells that didn’t seem to quieten when he asked for information on Vail.
Wesley had researched, looked up dates and timeframes and files that should have been hidden from view.
When he’d found out what Angel had done, Wesley had been shocked… Appalled. He’d taken away their memories, memories of God only knew what, for what Wesley could only assume was thirty pieces of silver and now?
Now, he stood behind Angel in Vail’s stately-like home, holding in his hand a box.
As boxes went, it was pretty normal. A glass cube with pretty colors that glowed – nothing remotely special about it. In it, held a world of memories that Wesley wasn’t sure were good or bad… He just knew that whatever Angel had took from them, he was getting back.
In front of him, Angel was practically chomping at the bit to get through the mystical barrier that prevented him from reaching his son. Wesley could feel the disgust rolling from Illyria in waves. He’d trusted Angel, would have given up his life… And this was how he repaid him?
“Open it now–” Angel turned towards Vail, a snarl on his lips. He didn’t get much more of the sentence out, stunned into shock by Wesley’s appearance.
“You changed the world.” Said Wesley, frowning, daring Angel to just argue back. He felt justified on this – more than he had with a lot of things since starting work for Wolfram and Hart.
“Wes,” Angel sounded uncertain, “What are you doing?”
“You sold us out to Wolfram and Hart.” He never thought he’d be standing here saying those words, not to Angel, not after everything they’d been through together.
“Be careful…” Angel warned, still concerned with the sounds of the fight behind him, but more concentrated on the glowing yellow box in Wesley’s hand.
Wesley tilted his head, staring first at the box and then at Angel, feeling a rush of anger. “Is this your thirty pieces of silver?” Or was it the cushy apartment, the expensive decoration in the office? Honestly, Wesley wasn’t sure, but he was determined to find out.
“Wes, give me that…” Said Angel, moving towards him.
Wesley watched, not even having to give the signal, as Illyria backhanded his friend across the room.
“He doesn’t follow you any longer.” She said in that halting yet certain way of hers, watching as the vampire hit the wall.
Angel was on his feet again in seconds, his gaze torn between the glowing box in Wesley’s hand and the ex-watcher himself. “Wesley…”
“You changed the world.” Wesley repeated, wondering when he was going to get some answers. Angel could no longer stand there and offer the moral high ground, not over this.
“He’s my son, Wesley. Connor’s my son.”
He couldn’t have been lying. The look on his face told Wesley that that, at least, was the truth. “Did you trade her?” Wesley’s voice almost broke on that question alone. Even contemplating the thought that Angel would do such a thing was almost too much to bear, “Did you trade Fred for your son?”
For a moment, all was still.
Wesley took a breath and met Angel’s eyes, “Everything that’s happened since we took over Wolfram & Hart, everything that’s happened to—” He looked at Illyria, once, then looked down. “–her… Did you know? Was Fred the price?”
The idea was almost too much to contemplate. Wesley could feel his chest tightening, his throat constricting to the point where it was hard to breathe. What would he do if Angel’s answer was yes? What would he do if this, possibly his worst nightmare other than losing Fred, came true?
“No, Wes,” Said Angel, obviously desperate to make this right again, “I can explain… Just put that down.”
“Why are you so afraid of this?” Wesley asked, regarding Angel curiously, “He said it would bring back the past. Will it undo what you’ve done?” And oh Lord, how he hoped. He hoped that if that were the case, he could go back to being with Fred, even looking at her from afar and wishing. How he hoped that this would all be over, this grief and suffering, this missing her.
“No.” Said Angel, softly, so soft Wesley wasn’t sure he’d spoken at all. “It won’t bring her back.”
Wesley’s face hardened slightly. “Let’s find out.” He lifted his arm, raising his hand above his head as if to smash the box.
Angel rushed forward, panic instantly recognisable in his eyes. “No! Please, you have to trust me.”
Not once in his whole time of working with Angel had Wesley thought he’d say these words to him. He cocked his head slightly, letting out an inaudible sigh. “I can’t. Not any more.”
For a few weeks, her mind was fractured, broken, warped. There were thoughts and feelings, memories that kept her awake at night. Whispers, so soft that some of the time, she wasn’t sure they were there.
Michelle was crazy.
Cordelia was crazier.
They all tried to help. Her mother kept a vigil by her bedside on the days she was in hospital, holding her daughter’s limp hand in her own, listening to the beep of a machine or the soft breathing of her daughter as she lay in that bed.
On those days, Cordelia was heavily sedated. On those days, Michelle remembered nothing.
She couldn’t remember what sparked it off. A memory, an event… She remembered pulling on her jacket, calling out to Jaydn that she was going for her run. That, she remembered.
She didn’t remember running down her drive. (That was when the memories started.)
She didn’t remember crossing the street. (She was training with Angel, down in the basement of the Hyperion.)
She didn’t remember jogging past the Beverly Center (she was holding Connor, telling him everything was going to be okay) or running into a friend and waving a friendly ‘hey’ (she was too busy hugging Angel when he came back from that retreat after Buffy had died).
She didn’t remember running in front of the car. (She was too busy telling Angel that she’d be by his side, always… And that was when her chest had started to get tight.)
The doctor’s all said she was lucky, more than lucky. They all said that Michelle should have died in that accident.
Little did they know, she had.
For weeks, Cordelia had been coping with two sets of memories, questioning whether she was crazy. For weeks she’d lay there in her hospital bed, being visited from friends and knowing they were the wrong ones. Where was Angel? Wesley? Fred? Why had they left her?
Slowly but surely, Cordelia had begun gathering snippets of information. She’d called by the hotel to find it closed for business. She’d even called by Caritas, to find it an office block. None of her friends were there. For Cordelia, the most surprising moment of all came when she was flipping through the business section, sitting drinking her morning coffee with Jaydn.
She’d kept up the pretenses, simply because she didn’t know how to start putting her life back together. Was she Michelle now? Or Cordelia? No visions– Was she still visiongal? No demony powers– Unless you counted the practical bouncing off that car without a scratch on her.
Who was she?
And then, after reading the article in the business section, Cordelia was beginning to ask herself… Who was Angel? CEO of Hell Incorporated? Didn’t sound like him.
That wasn’t her Angel, was it? He didn’t sell out to Wolfram and Hart unless he had a good reason. He didn’t abandon her, unless he had a good reason.
And that’s just the thing, thought Cordelia, looking up at Jaydn with a measure of sadness in her eyes, I need to find out that reason. And to find out that reason? I need to let the part of my life that’s not real die…
“So this is it, huh?”
Spike reeked of Scotch. 12 year old Malt, if Angel wasn’t mistaken. He could smell him from the other side of the room.
Angel had been standing here ever since he’d gone to meet Connor, watching the sunset. It was the first one he’d watched in weeks. He figured that if this was his last day, then he could afford to look – a one last time type of deal, just like he’d done with Doyle up on that roof before destroying the Ring of Amarrha.
“I guess so.” Said Angel, quietly. “You ever miss it?”
“Miss what?” He stunk of Scotch but Spike wasn’t drunk, not yet anyway. He palmed the back of his head, stepping forward into the room. “Sunset?”
“Yeah.” Angel nodded, “Sunset. Life. It goes on all around us, every day… It’s not like we get to stop and miss it, is it?”
“Been a long time since I had a heartbeat,” Spike shrugged, downing another mouthful of his bottle of scotch, “To be honest? Kinda hoped that Shanshu thing of yours was gonna happen to me. Quite liked the idea of a little Spike running around.”
Angel frowned, watching as the sun slipped between the buildings across the horizon, the world a golden glow. “I don’t have a Shanshu, Spike. I signed it away this morning.”
He could hear the shock in Spike before he even spoke. “But… You wanted that. That was your redemption. You gave it up?”
“I had no choice.” Angel shook his head, thrusting his hands deeper into his pockets. When he spoke, his voice was heavy, tired. “I don’t want to become human.”
“Well that sucks,” Said a voice from behind him, “‘Cause I got a bottle of factor 15 right here in my bag that has your name on it.”
If Angel had a heart he felt sure it would have stopped beating. Standing behind him was a girl. She sounded like Cordelia, she smelled like Cordelia… Could have been Cordelia if Angel didn’t think he’d lost her forever once she hadn’t come to see him once her memories had been restored.
Angel didn’t turn.
It was Spike who spoke first, moving towards the brunette with a half-leer-half-smile on his face. “Cordelia! You look–”
“Tell me I’ve lost weight and I’ll kick your ass.” She grinned, shouldering her purse a little higher. “I hear you’re on the side of good now.”
She’s taking this too well, thought Angel, any minute now and she’s going to–
“Is he dead over there?”
The comment was enough to bring a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
“‘Cause really,” She continued, “As great as remembering his ass is? I kinda wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of him.”
Spike grinned and looked over at Angel. “Peaches? You in the land of the living?”
I am, thought Angel, trouble is I’ve had this dream too many times to want to turn around and risk losing her again.
When he didn’t, Cordelia took it upon herself to walk towards him, placing her hand gently on his arm. “You really didn’t think you were going into this fight without me, did you? ‘Cause I have this problem.”
He turned to look at her, his heart lurching in his chest at the sight of her. She looked amazing, hair tumbling in curls around her shoulders, make up done to perfect, like always. It was Cordelia, his Cordelia, standing right there in front of him and smiling. That smile that he never thought he’d see again. “Problem?” He asked, softly.
“Yeah,” Cordelia nodded, “I promised I’d be with you ’til the end. I intend on keeping that promise.”
An hour later and they were alone. Spike had gone to ‘let the lovebirds do…whatever’ (that said with appropriate leer), Wesley had called in for just a moment to see if what Spike had said was true and Cordelia had had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting Illyria.
She sighed, again, resting her head on the ball of her fist. “I can’t believe how much has happened since I…” She faltered. She couldn’t apologise for what had happened. She’d been body-jacked and nobody seemed keen on talking about the whole thing anyway, least of all Angel. “I mean… Fred.” She said quietly, trying not to cry again, “And God, Harmony, Angel…” Her voice trailed off into that stunted silence that Cordelia had been able to perfect since the moment he’d met her.
He’d made the wrong choices, he knew he had. But now… She was back. Didn’t that mean that things could be good? That maybe things could be better?
“I’m not here by chance, y’know.” She said after a moment, wringing her fingers together gently. “I’d have worked it out eventually.” She’d told him about the dreams. Dreams about him, Wesley, Fred, Gunn, Doyle… Connor. She’d told him everything that had happened these past weeks, ever since her memories had been returned.
“I think maybe the Powers have been sending me visions all along but… I thought they were just dreams.”
She closed her eyes at this and Angel could see how much that thought hurt. Cordelia had always blamed herself for the ones she couldn’t save. A year of visions that she’d been unable to do anything about seemed to be catching up on her.
“I’m sorry.” He told her softly, “I just wanted… I tried to… I made a mistake.”
“Well, you’re not totally brain-dead,” She frowned, “There’s a start.”
De-ja-vu slammed into him like a fist to the stomach. He could almost say her next words for her, because he knew what was going to be said. He looked at her, dumbly, mouth working over words he knew he had to say. “I don’t know what to do to make this right again.”
“Join the club,” She looked up at him, “Because I don’t either.”
Angel swallowed, hard. This had been his nightmare for weeks on end and now, she was sitting in front of him. This was no nightmare. “But…”
“No buts, Angel…” She said, looking at him as he closed his eyes, “This isn’t okay…”
Angel’s eyes flew open. He’d been waiting for her to tell him that he’d made his bed, he could lie in it. When she didn’t, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“It’s not okay by a long shot,” She continued, “But we’ll get through it. I think we’ve had enough time of being apart. Don’t you?”
He moved towards her tentatively, about to wrap his arms around her and just… Just breathe in her scent for five minutes, that was all the comfort he needed.
Cordelia held up a hand, “Wait a minute, Bucko. We’re going to talk about this, okay? We’re going to talk about your sucktacular choices and the things that’ve been happening this past year… But, before that? Just so we’re straight? You ever do that to me again, you ever take away my life like that because you think it’s what’s right? I swear to God, I’ll go glowy on your ass. I’m not messing around.”
From the look in her eyes, he’d say she wasn’t. “We’re straight.” He said softly.
“Now, do I get a hug? Or do I have to beg?”
It feels weird, standing here, thought Cordelia, glancing around her. Wolfram and Hart had started to fall apart at the seams, both she and Angel had been getting their asses kicked by that Hamilton guy and then… Connor had jumped in.
She’d felt her stomach clenching the moment she looked at him, her heart doing that pound thing in her chest like it had yesterday when she’d seen Angel. This time, she wasn’t so much feeling elation as she was feeling nausea. Angel said he remembered everything about the last year, everything she did.
When he looked at her, recognition flashed in his eyes before he extended a hand, “I’m Connor.”
He seemed content to forget everything that was behind them and for a moment, Cordelia was more than a little stunned. Then, in front of Angel, right where he’d dropped Hamilton’s body, Cordelia had smiled. “It’s nice to meet you.”
It was the easiest moment of the last day by a long shot. She and Angel had talked and talked and talked some more. She’d helped Wesley for a while, still majorly creeped out by Illyria who declared her as the sister Fred had never had. Had even managed to squeeze in some reminiscing with Gunn and a brief and extremely yucky drink of Scotch from Spike.
Which left Harmony. Traitorous Harmony who’d sold everyone of Angel’s secrets to Hamilton who she’d just happened to be screwing on the side.
Harmony always had been a little tramp. And where Angel had seen fit to let her go and give her a reference, Cordelia had jammed a stake through her heart, which was apparently, like, total betrayal.
“No shit,” She’d told Harmony, in the brief second it had taken for her to turn to dust, “I told you you’d want to be as far away from me as possible.”
Angel hadn’t questioned her judgement. When the building had started to collapse, he’d ordered Connor home and gone to get Lilah Jr. the hell out of his office, though really, Cordelia would have been happy if she’d stayed there. Building falling and all.
Now, they were here, in the alley just up from the Hyperion where Cordelia had stood not two weeks ago, wondering where the hell Angel and the others had gone.
“This is it, isn’t it?” Asked Cordelia, shivering slightly as rain beat against her skin. Above their heads thunder cracked, lightning shooting across the sky.
It felt like the end.
She looked up at Angel, blood smeared at the corner of his lip, his right eye swollen shut and for a second her heart tugged in her chest.
“I guess so.” He looked down at her, slipping his hand inside hers and giving it a tight squeeze. “Cordy…”
“I know, Angel.” She could feel a lump rising up in her throat. He’d told her hours ago that she should be out, doing something, living. Spending what could be her last hours the way she wanted to. He hadn’t figured that she’d want to spend her last hours in the place she’d declared as the root of all evil the minute she’d walked through the door.
“Listen to me,” She turned towards him, poking a finger in his chest, “We haven’t had ‘The Talk’ yet. We haven’t done much more than leave your bed for the past six hours but… That’s beside the point,” She said, mentally shaking herself from those images, “You die on me and we’ll have a serious problem, Buster. No getting splinters or being decapitated from the big sucking evil or whatever. I want you alive and well when we have ‘The Talk’ and not lying in my arms dying like some dumbass movie that wouldn’t know an ending if it bit it in the ass. Got me?”
Angel couldn’t help but smile. “Got you.”
“Good,” Cordelia nodded, firmly, “And now that’s out the way…” She reached up on her tiptoes and kissed him, the hand that had been in his coming round to cup the back of his head, pulling him down to her. He tasted like hope. He was her reason for fighting, for standing here at the end of it all. He was the reason she’d come back, the reason she’d took a good long look at her other, normal life and realised that that wasn’t her place.
Her place was here, by his side. The other stuff didn’t matter. Everything from last year, everything that could have happened between them, the fact that he’d signed away his Shanshu – it just wasn’t important. Angel had said that he didn’t want his Shanshu in a way that had chilled Cordelia to the bone. He didn’t want to live, he’d decided.
Well that was just too bad, because Cordelia intended on making him, starting with this kiss.
Her mouth opened to his, tongue flicking softly against his. It was a perfect kiss, as far as Cordelia was concerned. It wasn’t brought about by possession or her trying to give away the visions. It wasn’t a goodbye kiss, or the last they’d ever share. It was a kiss – one of many, she hoped – one that would keep her going through this fight.
When they broke apart, Cordelia’s eyes were still closed, her forehead resting against his.
Her smile was like sunrise to Angel. He didn’t need the cushy office at Wolfram and Hart with the special tinted windows that meant he didn’t burst into flames. He had Cordelia and that was enough.
“I’m fine.” She told him, pulling gently away from him as a noise sounded behind them in the alley.
“Didn’t want to interrupt the moment,” Said Spike with a grim smile, looking about as rough as Angel did. “Anyone else get here?”
Angel shook his head, grimly, his hand closing back around Cordelia’s again. “Not yet.”
“You feel the heat?” Asked Spike, glancing skywards as thunder pealed across their heads.
“It’s coming.” Said Cordelia, softly. She could feel it too, power thrumming beneath their feet, all around them.
Spike grinned, “Finally got ourselves a decent brawl.”
Ahead of them, something moved, a shadow separating itself from the others. It ran towards them, home-made battle axe in hand, though its steps were slightly unsure. A flash of lightning lit up the alley and Cordelia grinned, moving forwards with the others.
“Damn! How’d I know the fang boys would pull through?” Asked Gunn, his steps slowing, becoming less sure. From where she stood, Cordelia could see the blood seeping through his shirt, even as Angel and Spike helped him onto one of the crates in the alley, getting him to sit. “You’re lucky we’re on the same side, dogs,” He grinned, “Cause I was on fire tonight. My game was tight!”
“You’re supposed to wear the red stuff on the inside, Charlie boy…” Said Spike, glancing worried at Angel. If this was it, they weren’t gonna pull through it.
Cordelia glared at Spike, wondering why he had to be state-the-obvious boy. Gunn was fading quick, his eyes glazed over somewhat. She could feel the tears prick the back of her eyelids and had to bite her lip to stop them from welling up. We’re gonna get through this. He’ll be fine.
“Any word on Wes?” He asked, hopefully.
The chain link fence rattled behind them, Smurf Girl dropping to the floor beside them. “Wesley’s dead.”
Cordelia didn’t stop the tears this time. She clutched her sword so tight she thought she was going to draw blood, tears intermingling with the rain washing down her face. She didn’t dare look up. She could feel the grief washing from the others in waves, even when Illyria stopped to be state-the-obvious girl.
“I’m feeling grief for him. I can’t seem to control it.” And then, a comment that under other circumstances would have made Cordelia laugh. “I wish to do more violence.”
So do I, Cordelia realised, biting her lip. For Wesley, for Doyle, for everyone who gave up their life just so we could be here.
Beyond the chain link fence, demons gathered by the thousands, moving towards them slowly. Cordelia realised that the thunder they’d heard earlier wasn’t actually thunder. It was the 60 foot dragon, wandering towards them and looking like they were its next meal ticket.
“Okay, you take the 30,000 on the left…” Said Gunn, hauling his ass off the crate he’d been sitting on and brandishing his axe like he always did, like he was going to cause serious pain.
“You’re fading,” Illyria told him, “You’ll last ten minutes at best.”
Gunn nodded, “Then let’s make ’em memorable.”
They were a team. Missing a couple of members, sore, beaten up and bruised… But they were a team, nonetheless, and they were here to fight.
“In terms of a plan?” Spike looked at Angel, standing on his left. To his right was Cordelia, next to her Illyria. Behind Spike was Gunn, tired, dying, but determined to fight. Determined to help for as long as he could.
“We fight.” Said Angel.
“Bit more specific?”
“Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon.” Said Angel, stepping forward.
“I’m with him.” Cordelia nodded, raising her sword as the demon horde began their attack…
And the heavens were rolling
Like a wheel on a track
And our sky was unfolding
And it’ll never fold back
Sky blue and black
Six days later, the darkness had started to recede.
Gunn had lasted half a day before slamming his home made fighting axe into the back of a foe intending on taking Cordelia down. When she’d turned to thank him, Gunn had nodded and told her that he’d made his moments memorable.
He’d died moments later.
Three times, Spike thought he’d been done for. Three times, Illyria had come to his rescue. He was finding a new respect for the God who wouldn’t leave his sodding clipboard alone a month ago.
When the sky started to turn blue, instead of the oppressive black it had been for almost a week, Cordelia had been faltering. She was tired, rightly so, sure that the next reach of her arm wouldn’t be enough and she’d die.
She hadn’t seen Angel in what felt like forever.
When the sky began changing color, it gave Cordelia a new sense of hope.
They were winning.
She didn’t doubt the reach of her arm, the strike of her sword. She didn’t doubt her ability to survive or that of her friends.
When the demons started dissipating, going in different directions, Cordelia knew it wasn’t over, but the sky was beginning to change color and she was back, full circle, to that alley where they’d started.
LA was in ruins. People had died, good, innocent people. Some had fought, some had run. Some, it hadn’t made a difference – the demons had been intent on taking over.
They hadn’t let them.
A day later, one week to the day Wesley had died and their fight had begun, Cordelia found Angel.
“I know you’re dead and all,” She told him, holding one arm limply by her side, “But would it kill you to breathe? Let me know you’re alive?”
He didn’t move.
Cordelia touched his face, softly, a lump rising up in her throat. “You promised me.” She said quietly, hearing Spike and Illyria still driving away demons behind her. She was starting to think they were like the inhuman versions of the Energizer bunny. “You promised.”
Still, he didn’t move.
After a while, the sky started to get lighter. After a while, Spike and Illyria started to run out of things to hit. When they walked towards her, Cordelia turned, tears leaving streaks on her dirty face.
“You grieve for him.” Said Illyria, puzzled.
“Yeah. It’s kind of a human thing.” Cordelia answered, looking back towards Angel.
“He lives,” Illyria tilted her head to one side. “You grieve for someone who is not yet dead.”
Cordelia’s heart lurched upwards and into her throat. “I’ve been sitting here for two hours. You couldn’t tell me that sooner?” From the floor came a groan. Soft, barely audible.
Angel twitched and Cordelia leaned over, thwapping him on the arm with a punch that made his eyes flee open.
“You couldn’t have done that sooner?!”
Angel looked at her, weakly. “Did I get the dragon?”
Fighting the urge to either stake him herself or burst into tears, Cordelia wrapped her arms around him, hugging him for all she was worth. “You die on me and that’s all you can say?”
Angel coughed, blood filling his mouth. His ribs were broken, bruised, his sides sore from stab wounds that had gone straight through his torso. But he was alive. That was what mattered. “I’m already dead, Cordy…”
“Don’t use logic on me! You know what I mean…”
And it was the kind of voice that made Angel smile. It was her pissed off, ‘you-know-I’m-right’ voice. Angel paused, glancing up at the sky before looking back at Cordelia, “We about due for that talk yet?”
… THE END …