Welcome Back


AUTHOR: HELEN
SUMMARY: Cordy gets an offer and makes a choice to try and gain back her life.
RATING: R/NC17
POSTED: 5 Feb 2004
CATEGORY: AU, Post-You’re Welcome
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A
WARNINGS: None Listed
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
AUTHOR NOTES: I had to do this. Hope it doesn’t suck cos I’m flying by the seat of my pants here and I rushed it over an hour or two.


PROLOGUE

“What the- where the hell am I now”? Cordy’s frustrated voice echoed back to her as she slowly turned in a circle. For crying’ out loud this is just a frickin’ joke.

Hazel eyes searched the cloud like gloom while a sensation of unreality crept in, Trying not to freak out and needing to get her bearings Cordy stamped her feet, feeling reassured when she felt solid ground underneath, even if she couldn’t actually see it.

“Well that’s something” she muttered then raised her voice. “Hello is anybody here. I think I musta taken a wrong turn somewhere”. She called out only a little nervously. She was dead wasn’t she! How much worse could it get? Ugh, don’t even go there Cor. Just ..don’t okay

“Is there somewhere you’d rather be”?

The voice seemed to come out of nowhere and startled, Cordy did another quick spin to see if she could locate the mystery speaker. Nothing- annoyed she planted her hands on her hips and opened her mouth to voice her irritation, loudly.

Before she could get a word out a glimmer appeared in front of her, not close enough to be in her face but close enough to have her blinking in case she was seeing things. Slowly but surely the glimmer got bigger, then finally solidified into a glowy man-shape.

and the weirdness just keeps on comin’ . Shaking her head, Cordy decided to play the game for now, so answered the apparition’s question. “Like I have a choice”. She replied shortly, a frown pulling at her brows.

“So who are you and where is this place. Ya know I’m getting kinda tired about never ending up where I expect” she warned darkly.

“That’s life for you, haven’t you learned that yet”? Cordy gaped at it. She was getting life lessons from a Casper wannabe? She didn’t think so.

Her eyes narrowed as another shot of annoyance flared to the surface. “Well Duh! Who doesn’t know that? She retorted, “but being dead kind of makes that redundant don’t you think”? Cordy finished sarcastically then folded her arms defensively as a dull ache settled under her heart.

She’d done what she had too to make sure Angel got back on his proper path and known the consequences. So useless regrets about what she’d lost would get her nothing but a whole lot of pain, she reminded herself sharply.

“Not necessarily” was the dry and short response.

Cryptic much! Enough is enough! “Look I’ve had a really bad day what with dying and all. Not to mention saying goodbye to people I loved and- look I’m filling up here which is gonna wreck my mascara. Just get with the explanations already”.

“Certainly, you are in a small pocket of reality created by me. As for who I am well that’s more complicated”. The man-shape paused.

Cordy jumped in, just wanting some answers. “So make it simple”.

“My name is useless since none of your kind know it. I suppose the best analogy I can give is that I am like a near relation to your ‘Powers’ only not- since I opted out of that from the start. Not exactly my scene”.

“I have to tell you this isn’t exactly the reassurance I was looking for. You do know about my previous experience with an ex-power, right. If you think that’s gonna get me trusting you, you’d better think again”? Interrupted Cordelia coldly, a matching frozen expression crossing her usually expressive face.

“Understandable but I’m hoping to change your mind and we don’t have much time” the apparition warned and sighed heavily. “All I’m trying to do is fix a problem before it gets to the point of being unrecoverable”. It said in a reasonable voice.

“And that involves me how”? Asked Cordy refusing to soften, “Don’t you think I’ve done enough, sacrificed enough? What else do I have to offer”? She asked bitterly.

“Life, Cordelia. I want you to live” was the shocking answer. Speechless Cordelia swallowed a lump in her throat. It took a second for her to push any words past the sudden constriction.

“Wow, you guys really know how to go for the jugular don’t you”? She whispered accusingly, then heat flashed in her eyes and a flush rose to colour her stricken cheeks. “News flash Pal, you’re already too damn late”. She hadn’t actually planned it but now she was almost nose to nose with it.

“Actually you’re wrong” the apparition seemed to lose some patience of its own. “What’s the saying, ‘It ain’t over until the fat lady sings’- do you see any fat ladies”?

“Oh don’t try and be funny, cos ya know- with the whole nearly transparent thing.. it just doesn’t work”, she shot back then rubbed a hand over her face.

“Whatever! I don’t give a damn anymore ya know. I’m tired of this crap. I was told I was going to die and that’s it”. Her voice broke a little and suddenly it was all too much. Too much of everything.

“Forget this. I’m outta here” she whirled to stalk off and then stopped short. “Where’s the frickin’ door”! She yelled in frustration and throwing up her hands in helpless anger, spun back to pin her host with a furious glare.

“Cordelia listen to me please, hear me out. If after I’m done you still want to leave, then I’ll send you onto your original destination, and all this will be is a little stopover. Please”

Cordelia stood looking at for a long moment, trying to weigh up everything so it would make some kind of sense but was simply too tired to get anywhere with it. She scrubbed the wetness of her cheeks and shook her head wearily. “Say what you’ve got to say and then let me get the hell out of here”.

“The Powers would tell you that, and mostly they were telling you the truth- but from their own perspective not mine. Think of it this way, they have their counterparts just like everyone else and maintaining the balance between good and evil is a difficult and complicated thing”.

“You know for some reason I just can’t seem to feel much sympathy right now. Get to the point already”. Cordelia interrupted again, patience slipping.

“I will if you’ll stop interrupting” the apparition snapped back. “It’s like a big chess game. One side makes a move then the other counteracts it, but sometimes concessions have to be made.”

“You mean like today, me waking up I mean”? This time it was reluctant curiosity that had her interrupting.

“Exactly right; you chose to intercede on Angel’s behalf and the price was your ultimate death. Jasmine wasn’t a concession because she was working outside the loop so to speak, so neither side took responsibility; just like they won’t for me”.

That was the pivotal point and Cordelia went still as the ramifications sank home. “So what you’re saying is that the ‘Powers’ can’t save me because of a deal they made with the devil’s flunkies, but since you weren’t a part of that- you can”?

“Yes that’s it exactly” The glow and shimmer seemed to go brighter for a moment forcing Cordelia to shut her eyes as the light stung them.

She held up a hand to shield her face until it faded again then went back on the attack. “Why? I don’t get why you care. I mean c’mon you said it yourself. Not your scene, remember”?

“That was eons ago but my feelings haven’t really changed. They can keep their endless machinations I just want to …” it stopped as if searching for a way to express itself properly.

“Spit it out or is honesty asking too much”? Snarked Cordy snidely, and tossed it an unrepentant look of pure distrust. “What? You thought I was swallowing the Good Samaritan act- get real”

“I want to stop the world from losing someone with incredible potential to make a difference-“

“Oh purlease stop with the sucking up. You think I haven’t heard that before? And guess what?” Cordy said fiercely “I was being played then, just like I am now”.

“I’m not playing you. Yes I do have another agenda and which is proving to the ‘Powers’ that their refusal to intercede was the *wrong* choice. Do you think the Senior Partner types play by the rules? Of course they don’t; the ‘powers’ are constantly scrambling to keep up with them”.

“Still not caring” said Cordy flatly. “Have you even considered that this might be what I want? Huh, have you?” The weariness pulled at her, dragging her down into a vast greyness that felt unending to her beleaguered mind.

“I gave it my best shot, almost enslaved the world and ended up a cabbage, only let out to save the champion. I’ve paid my dues and-“ She sighed and looked at it beseechingly. “I don’t think I have it in me anymore to carry on the fight. I don’t think I even want too”.

“Let me show you something to help you decide” it cajoled softly. “Don’t give up yet. Whatever you might think now, you still have a place in this world. You belong here, Cordelia Chase”.

Cordy sighed and straightened her shoulders, wishing this were over. As if dying and leaving everything I care about behind wasn’t bad enough. “Show me then”.

She jerked when instead of a screen or floating pictures the images flashed straight into her minds eye.

It was her body, lying so peaceful. Hair brushed and spread out and her hands folded neatly over her sheet covered chest. Then the sheet was gently lifted from under her hands and lifted, about to be laid over her face.

“Stop that” commanded a harsh voice. “Leave her be and get out”.

(Angel! God he looks so.. heartbroken).

“I said, get OUT” Angel stared down at her peaceful face, his paler and stricken with eyes like dark pools of pure pain. “Leave me alone with her” he whispered in a raw rasp.

They filed out, scurrying in their haste to do his bidding but sparing a pitying look for his obvious grief.

He didn’t wait for the door to shut, had closed them out of his mind to focus on her. Tears shimmered but refused to drop, hazing his usually penetrating stare with an anguished gloss. He sat down next to her hip and sucked in a breath only to have it choke him, so he did it again.

“I’m so sorry, Cordy. I was too late to save you. I was always too late with you wasn’t I”? There was rattle in his hoarse voice and he cleared his throat and picked up her hand.

His lips grazed her skin, brushing softly over the cold slender digits of her fingers. “Too late figuring out who was important in my life and nearly lost you. Too late in realising and I was in love with you” his dark head shook from side to side and then he lowered it to rest his brow next to her cheek.

“When you were here; I convinced myself you were just sleeping, resting maybe and getting better. I knew somehow you’d come back to me and you did-“ His voice was muffled but she heard every word and saw his wide shoulders shaking with the force of his grief.

He sat up and brushed his knuckles over the cold curve of one cheek. “You woke up and everything was all right again. I thought I’d have the time to work up the courage to tell you I love you, and see if maybe you could love me back the same way. Only now I’m too late again”.

His eyes turned inward and a brief watery smile flirted with his full lips. “I think maybe you did” he admitted softly” his gaze turned adoring, then fell back into despairing depth. “Only now I can’t show you how much I loved you back” He whispered in anguished guilt.

“I know it’s too late but I love you, Cordelia Chase; with all of my heart and soul, for the rest of my days”. He laid his lips to hers and the tears finally fell, swooping down his sculpted cheeks to fall on hers. “Goodbye, my Love”. He whispered brokenly.

Cordelia came back to herself to find her face dripping with tears and she almost fell to her knees at the pain in her chest and the rawness constricting her throat.

“Oh God! Oh God! That was so unfair. How could you let me feel that? I could feel his pain. Damn you!” She ranted and flung it a stark look.

“Do you want another chance? Will you risk it”?

“You are one evil sonovabitch you know that”? Cordelia snarled and straightened back up with her face flushed with energy. Hazel eyes sparkled with temper and she felt like smashing things.

“Cordelia-“

“Alright” she howled, yelling over him. “So you were right. I hated giving up and leaving him behind. Leaving them behind to face this constant never ending crappy world without me” she sucked in a breath and closed her eyes.

“How’s this gonna work. I’m already dead”? Cordy asked shortly, pulling herself back together.

“Death is only irreversible if the host soul goes through the death experience or if the body rots”.

“Ewww! this is me were talking about here. Have a bit of consideration will you”. She complained and shuddered.

“Sorry. Anyway, you weren’t in your body when it died so that’s the first out of the way”.

“And the second”? Asked Cordy impatiently.

“I’m getting to that. Your body is- unknown to anyone, frozen at the exact moment of death and before a single atom could deteriorate. When you’re ready and if we’re successful, it will be ready to host you again”.

“If we’re successful and what’s with this ‘host’ stuff I’m not a frickin’ flea” Cordy snapped pacing in agitation.

“With things like this there is always an element of risk, but if we fail you lose nothing except carry on to we’re you were going in the first place”.

“So you’re saying I have nothing to lose”? Cordy clarified and puffed out a breath. “Fine let’s do it but there’s just one thing-“

“What’s that”?

“If you and I are gonna be seeing much more of each other than you have to do something abut this.. being all ‘seethru guy’, okay”?

“I have no body” the apparition explained. “I did think of appearing to you as someone you know but finally decided that would be scarier. So you pick how I look. If it makes things easier for you”. If it could shrug it would have done.

“Me- I get to pick how you look” Cordelia was instantly intrigued. “Wow you like to just throw out those choices don’t you? Okay, lemme think-”

She walked around it, her head tilted consideringly to one side then snapped her fingers when it came to her. “Ooh I know. Robert de Niro”.

“Robert de Niro, the actor”? It asked incredulously.

“Yup- you got a problem with actors” Cordy asked archly and tapped her fingers on her hips. “I like ‘em with a bit of mean and since we’re going to be-“

“No, no I just- Never mind as you wish. Hold on this may take a few seconds”.

When those few seconds were over Cordy’s eyes widened. “Cool”
CORDELIA & BOB

“First things first; we need to make sure they don’t bury or cremate you. Though cremations worse” Bob finished bluntly.

“Well you’ll get no argument from me on that one and thanks for the visual” retorted Cordelia looking around her with a perplexed frown on her face. She faltered and finally stopped, staring at the people passing by on the sidewalk.

“This isn’t right” she muttered and gave a young man with a briefcase a piercing look, he didn’t notice. She shook her head and automatically checked out her outfit. Yup, still hot, she thought and looked back up to find Bob had stopped too and was eyeing her curiously.

“Is there a problem”? He asked in that abrupt yet gravely voice the actor was famous for.

“Yeah there’s a problem” Cordy exclaimed heatedly, throwing a hand out to indicate the people walking around them and still looking confused.

“No-one’s looking at me, which by the way is highly frickin’ unusual. Don’t get me wrong I’m not being vain or anything- its just..“, her face scrunched up, “..weird is all” she finished then gave him a wry smile and an embarrassed shrug.

“No-ones looking at you because they can’t see you” he explained patiently and indicated they should keep walking.

Cordy’s face cleared and she lightly smacked her own forehead with the heel of her hand. “Right! Got it, ignore me I just haven’t gotten used to this whole me being a phantom business yet” she assured him and shrugged depreciatingly.

“So where is it we’re going again”? She asked to the change the subject.

Not that it was a particularly great diversary tactic since she’d already found that out before they’d left his little cloud. Not surprising since anyone who knew her, also knew that being left in the dark was not her favourite places to be. Like Coffins maybe, a little voice popped in her head, making her focus back on the problem at hand- fast.

“So how are we gonna stop me getting .. ya know” She grimaced in distaste and didn’t finish.

Bob gave her a sympathetic sideways look and hailed a passing cab. “Leave that to me” he hissed as he ducked inside the yellow vehicle, and then waited for her to clamber in before shutting it.

Cordy waited until he’d given the driver instructions for a motel before asking tongue in cheek. “So does the cab driver think you’re alone”? A small grin twitched her full lips as a few more fun possibilities ran through her mind. Hey even ghost girls deserve a little fun don’t they?

“Yes” Bob muttered out of the side of his mouth and shot her dark look that screamed for her to cut it out. Making him look like an idiot wouldn’t help their cause at all.

“Shall I call you Bob or will Mr De Niro do? Hey we could get a table anywhere in a snap. Wanna try it- could be fun”?

ANGEL – APARTMENT

Angel woke up; not with a manly yell or hoarse shout but a full on scream that rent the air and set his own ears ringing like church bells. He didn’t care but simply wrenched back the dampened sheet and stalked naked and sheened with panic induced sweat over to the nearest phone.

Snatching it up he wasn’t surprised to realise he was shaking like a leaf and gripping the receiver tighter, Angel roughly punched out the numbers he wanted and dropped into the chair next to him.

While Angel waited for the phone at the other end to be picked up he rubbed a hand over his face, then did it again as if to try and scrub the horrible images from his head. The ringing stopped and an efficient voice answered.

“Where’s Harmony”? He barked annoyed and frustrated. The voice on the other end told him it was too early and he winced in silent acknowledgement of it still being daytime.

“Right. Okay it doesn’t matter, you’ll do. I want a complete hold put on anything being done with… Cordelia’s body until I give explicit instructions otherwise is that clear?” He waited tensely for a reply. “Good make sure everyone knows that- no exceptions” he added curtly for good measure and dropped the phone back on the receiver.

He was still shaking with a deep inner chill borne of dream induced terror. A dream that would stay with him for a long, long time; Cordelia alive and buried, desperate to get out and slowly suffocating; he almost threw up with the recollection of the sheer vivid horror of it, and that had been the better of the two.

Angel looked at the bed with his dark eyes almost black with the weight of a grief trebled by what he’d seen. It was just a dream- just a dream. He told himself trying to calm the quaking terror, and closing his eyes he roughly ran his fingers through the short dark hair, sucking in a breath and releasing it slowly through pursed lips.

“Doesn’t matter, can’t risk it- won’t” Swallowing hard to try and get rid of the lump that over the last twenty four hours seemed permanently lodged Angel got up and stumbled towards the shower. His day was starting early today.

ANGEL – OFFICE

“What’s this I hear about …Cordelia”? Wesley struggled to a stop after barging his way into the vampire’s office. He stayed by the door after shutting it, with a highly suspicious look on his face and a body stiff with tension.

Angel could sympathise with that struggle and so didn’t bother berating the Englishman for his entrance. Dropping his pen he motioned him further inside and sat back with a thoughtful frown on his handsome face.

“I don’t want Cordelia buried” he answered keeping it short and simple, then waited for the expected argument.

“Why ever not?” demanded Wesley in a clipped voice. “She deserves a proper burial, Angel. With every honour and … with everything we can give her” again he struggled but then the grief was still too fresh and raw. As if losing her wasn’t bad enough, he wanted to howl. He hadn’t been expecting this and it was just too much on top of everything else.

“We will” Angel said shortly and leaned forward on his desk, tapping his fingers impatiently as he caught and held the stare of the former watcher. “Just not by burying her in the earth” he suppressed a shudder and dropped his eyes.

Wesley was about to ask how, when a sharp rap interrupted the exchange. Both man and vampire looked to up to see a pale faced blonde walk in, leather document wallet firmly tucked in her arms and a supercilious expression on her face.

“I’ve just heard the news” she announced crossing the room with swift strides despite the rather tight business like skirl suit she was wearing. “Are we into dead bodies for real now”? She asked with soft smirk and tossed her scowling boss an enquiring look, not even flinching when it got blacker at her callousness.

“There’s tactlessness, which I’m kind of fond of- and then there’s you, Eve. What do you want”? Asked Angel, with a cold narrowed look of disgust.

Angel had never really warmed to her; there was a coldness about her that’d set off every early warning signal in his supernatural armoury the moment he’d met her, rightly so they’d since found out. He’d had little time for her at the best of times and with recent happenings, now even less.

“I’m here to take your instructions on what to do with Cordelia” she answered being more careful with her phrasing this time. Eve wasn’t dumb, she just liked to needle the do-gooder vampire and since his weakest spot was the dead girl, she shrugged mentally and decided to sheath her claws for now.

Without being asked she took the second chair in front of his huge polished desk and crossed her legs, deliberately letting him see a flash of her upper thighs, smirking when he uncomfortably jerked his eyes away.

Who’d have guessed what a prude he was, she wondered idly, especially with his history. He’d freaked after their little pelvic encounter during the party and every time afterwards he’d looked like he wanted to bolt the moment she turned up. Until he’d found out about-, shut that line of thought down Eve forced herself to tune back into the conversation mid-flow.

She caught enough to get the gist. “Isn’t that a bit Sleeping Beauty”? She asked, jumping into a break, bringing both unfriendly eyes back to her face. She was used to it by now and shrugged, entirely at ease. “I’m having trouble picturing you as a prince”.

CORDELIA

“He got the message” asked Cordelia the moment Bob came into the motel room, stopping her pacing to catch his reply.

“Loud and clear” assured Bob and shrugged out of his tan jacket. “That’s one more load off anyway. You’re shrouded body is to be placed in a glass gasket, fitted with alarms and all kinds of high-tec equipment which escapes me” he sat down on the edge of one of the beds and flopped back.

Pushing the heels of his hands into his eyes he heaved a sigh. “I’d forgotten how tiring it is to maintain a physical form” he complained in a disgruntled mutter.

“Wow that musta been some message” murmured a relieved Cordelia. “At least now we don’t need to worry about my body being barbequed”.

“Wait it gets better. The hotel is to be all done up nice and pretty with you inside it and a relocated ghost to guard you”.

It to a few seconds for that to sink and then ignoring the warm fluffy feeling filling her belly she focussed on the last part. “Relocated ghost?” Her eyes went wide and lit up as understanding dawned. “You mean Dennis don’t you. What did you do, lay a whammy on him”? She asked meaning Angel.

“There’s to be a ceremony the day after tomorrow for friends to attend at the hotel”. Bob added then sat up to give her a quelling look. “We’ll be going too”.

Cordy rolled her eyes at the thought of attending her own funeral but said nothing. She had more important things to worry about. “My hand passed right through a door before”. She announced then gnawed worryingly at her bottom lip.

Bob sat up and looked at her carefully, with all of his attention on what she was saying.

“Which was creepy enough but then I sat down and sank though the cushion. Is that what you meant by me not having much time? What’s happening to me”?

Bob sighed and looked at his palms, his brows pulled together in a thoughtful frown over pale blue eyes. Looking back up to catch her anxious gaze he answered truthfully. “Yes it is. What’s happening is your soul is losing touch with the physical plane. We need to get you into a suitable host as soon as possible or-“

“Or-“? Cordelia prompted impatiently.

“Or you won’t be able to function even if we did get you back in your own body. You’ll be too far gone and that would be that” He spread his hands helplessly and shrugged. “It starts with the little things then gets bigger. Soon you won’t be able to hold two thoughts together without forgetting the first before the second forms. This place just wasn’t designed to keep loose souls sane”.

“Great, that’s just great. I knew there’d be a catch there always is” Cordy paced again and this time it was her thumbnail took the brunt of her worry. After about thirty seconds of silent striding back and forth she latched onto the hard part.

“So how do we find me a host”? Her face twisted in mild disgust but squaring her shoulders she pushed any squiggly feeling aside. This wasn’t a movie about exorcists and she wasn’t out to hurt anybody, she assured herself.

Bob surprised her. “That’s easy. I already have one in mind. The big plus is- he’s used to sharing”.
THE HYPERION

Guests had already begun arriving when Faith walked into the lobby, twitching uncomfortably in the knee length plain black skirt she wore, hating the way it seemed to wrap around and constrict her legs like a living thing.

“Faith” She heard the familiar call and turned to smile with relief at the red head in the corner. She went to join her, hiding a wince to see the whole gang was here.

Giles, standing straight and tall and sombre in his black suit; and Xander too, looking butch in his almost identical one with his broader frame. Buffy looked good she admitted to herself, if nervous as hell in her dinky little navy suit with a black wide brimmed hat clutched in her tight white knuckled hands.

“Hey, Wills. Lookin’ good” She declared with her usual flamboyance, that indefinable energy of hers undiminished even with the unusual sombre clothing.

Willow smiled her thanks and then looked to Xander for some kind of acknowledgement of the other slayers arrival, but he was too busy goggling at the smart suit and- his jaw dropped, was that hose on the brunette slayers legs?

His eyes came up to catch Faith’s knowing look and grinned sheepishly. Giles thrust out a hand and then surprised the once rogue slayer by pulling her in for a quick hug when she placed her hand in his. She let him, more moved than she was willing to admit by the gesture.

Next it was Buffy and the silence stretched for a moment before Faith broke it by copying Giles and holding out her hand, a small smile teasing at the edges of her lips; daring almost.

“You’re looking good yourself, Faith” admitted the blonde slayer with a guileless smile that nevertheless still held a hint of strain that had nothing to do with Faith’s arrival. Their hands clasped and both went in for a quick hug that ended almost before it began.

“So when does this shindig kick off”? Faith asked, tugging at the jacket’s front and rolling her shoulders, God how could women wear this stuff everyday, she wondered in disbelief?

Giles rolled his eyes at the disrespectful description of today’s event but knew she meant none so kept his automatic rebuke between his teeth. Willow ever the one to be helpful dug out her programme and handed it over. “It’s lovely to see you, but how did you know about…Cordelia’s erm-“?

“I keep in touch with the big guy” answered Faith absently scanning the pages, “and Wesley too. We have a history together”.

To her it was all the explanation that was needed, she might be a loner and prefer roaming to setting down roots but she knew where to find the people that counted in her life. “They’re all gutted, really-“ she paused, “hurting down to the bone ya know”.

“Not surprising really, working together as they did for years. A strong bond is bound to form”. Agreed Giles, a strong thread of sympathy lacing his clipped tones.

Giles felt Buffy shift beside him and caught the flash of unease that crossed her sometimes too expressive face. Mild impatience surged though the ex-watcher and almost gratefully he noticed the arrival of another familiar face to act as a distraction, then groaned to see who was with her.

At least the place was filling up, although some of the guests were shockingly colourful in their demon heritage. Maybe they would avoid a scene if he- Spike wasn’t co-operating and he literally dragged Harmony in his wake as he made a beeline for them. Giles gave another groan and gripped Buffy’s elbow warningly.

Blue eyes under upswept blonde hair looked questioningly at him before widening at hearing her name called. “Buffy” said Spike, his almost identical blue eyes glued to her face.

Swinging round to catch his eyes she froze when his cool lips pressed to her cheek. Spike felt her go as stiff as a board and the resulting stab of pain in his still heart. Some things never change he admitted to himself roughly and hid behind a smirking face.

“Good to see you’re glad to see me. Don’t run me over with all that enthusiasm now will you, Love?” he muttered sarcastically and, pulling Harmony closer gave her an affectionate squeeze, his eyes never leaving the blonde slayer’s.

Harmony gave him a look of surprise then visibly decided not to worry about it as she greeted the others like long lost buddies. “Wow isn’t this just like a reunion or something. I just love these things, so nice to see old friends. Not that we were ever really friends what with you being-“

“That’ll do, Pet. Before you put both feet any further down your neck” warned Spike still smiling but a harder look in his now icy eyes. “Cordelia’s funeral and all that” he reminded pointedly.

“Oh right. Silly me, It’s not that I don’t feel sad- I do, its just unlike some, I’m still evil. But I’m sure wherever my soul is its weeping” she pulled her smile downwards into a comical look of despair just to emphasise the point.

*Yeah, right! Ugh, what are we doing here again?* Cordelia hissed, keeping her voice low, forgetting that she couldn’t be heard anyway.

“Opportunities remember”? Hissed Bob under his breath, mingling carefully between guests and trying not to be seen or more accurately semi recognised. That was the problem with going in disguise as a celebrity, such a bad idea.

They needed Angel alone and away from Wolfram and Hart and today was very likely the best opportunity they’d have; assuming he’d do what they expected and send everyone away afterwards to brood in the hotel alone.

*Oh wow, look; there’s David Nabbit. Poor guy, he looks awful*

“He was half in love with you” rumbled Bob, giving the short little man a darting look from under bushy salt and pepper brows. “So looking bad’s a given”.

True. Hey I didn’t realise I knew so many people; what with the whole underworld connection and lack of social life and all. Cordelia quipped sounding impressed and more than a little pleased by the turn-out.

Very soon after the pair found a corner to hide in, since Bob had been the recipient of one or two very pointed glances; the ceremony took off. The glass casket, elaborately engraved and frosted so that the shrouded figure inside was only a burgundy shadow, was carried in on the shoulders of the four males in her life.

Angel and Wesley at the front two corners and Gunn and Lorne at the back two, while behind carrying flowers was the delicate figure of Winnifred Burkle, tears dripping down her drawn face, which she ignored and simply let fall.

Instantly choked up, Cordelia fell silent and stopped her nervous, guilty chattering. Her family were going through a hell of grief for her and she was just standing here watching them. She felt like a voyeur and hated it.

It didn’t get any better while she was forced to listen to her friends get up and talk about her, voices scratchy with pain and emotion while they shared with the assembled guests just how much she’d meant to them. There was a reason why you shouldn’t be at your own funeral and know she knew what it was- guilt.

This wasn’t going to fail, after today they’d know she was still here for them, Cordy resolved, blinking back a deluge of her own tears. In the coma, separated from them by more than simply being unable to talk, it was easy to forget the bonds she’d had in this world and just remember that last awful year.

After seeming to float in an endless abyss of nothingness they’d called her, telling her how she was needed for one last mission before she could finally leave her body behind and move on. At the time she’d grabbed it with both hands, thinking that was how it was meant to be. She’d help the people she loved and at the same time make up for the pain she’d unwittingly caused, say goodbye and leave.

Not anymore though, the PTB’s could forget whatever else they’d had planned for her. She liked the path she was on before, thanks very much. Just because she’d been hauled off on someone else’s didn’t mean she couldn’t find her way back. I love you too guys. See you soon.

ANGEL

He was keeping it together, and just about managing to hide how desperately he wanted to ask everyone to leave so he could sit in peace and just think about her.

He kept thinking he could get rid of the pain and the awful constant pressure in his head if he could sit quietly and remember it all, piece everything together from when he’d first come across her in LA.

If he could just understand how this had come about, it might make the difference and help him accept how a bright effervescent and slightly spoiled young woman had come to die- to save him.

“Angel” A light, hesitant voice intruded and blinking he surfaced to find himself alone with Buffy.

Dammit! He’d come in here to be alone for a minute before facing them all again, hiding his irritation he blanked his face and turned to face her. “Buffy” he said simply, then saw her eyes widen at the lack of feeling in his voice. Guilt at that added another edge to his irritation.

“I um, just wanted to say… how sorry I am about Cordelia. I know you guys had gotten close” she meant it, even if she still struggled to visualise the Cordelia these guys talked about. Maybe she had changed, but then haven’t they all.

“Thanks; I appreciate it” Angel searched for something to say and so did Buffy neither really sure how to break the unease they felt suffocating the room.

Awkwardly they both started to speak, then laughing Buffy was the first to say “You first” and Angel not wanting to get into a polite debate carried on.

“So how was the travelling”? He asked, forgetting where it was he’d heard she’d been. His eyes get kept darting towards the entrance to his old office, desperately looking for an excuse to go and be useful.

Seeing no such excuse forthcoming he jammed his hands in his pockets and applied himself to looking interested.

“It was good, very good. I saw a lot and learned a lot” her eyes latched onto his, refusing to acknowledge the disinterest he was trying and failing to hide. Wow, he really is grieving for Spordelia. This is not like my Angel. She stopped speaking in the hope that he’d leap in and ask if she’d learned enough to know if she was ready to settle down yet.

Angel didn’t even realise he’d missed his cue. “That’s good, really good” his voice trailed off and this time his eyes checked the lobby through the window.

This was such a waste of time, he knew there was something she wanted from him, could feel the expectation of it pushing at him and he simply wasn’t up to dealing with it- not now. “Buffy, can we catch up later? I kinda need to be outside-“

Buffy blinked and caught his arm as he went to go past her. “Angel I know this probably isn’t the right time” she offered as a sop politeness and thinking he was just being modest, “but I didn’t just come here to say goodbye to an old school friend”.

Buffy nearly choked on the last little lie, but it was only a small one so she didn’t cross her fingers. Cordelia hadn’t been all that bad, she’d had her moments but all in all, she’d been okay, Buffy conceded. “I came to see you”. She finished softly, face softening as her eyes trailed over his drawn yet still handsome face.

Expecting to be taken into a pair of strong arms and cradled against his hard body, Buffy was shocked when he wrenched his arm out of her hand and whirled away before swinging back to face her, keeping his distance.

“Wrong time? You got that right” Angel exclaimed in a savage tone, then groaned at her flabbergasted face. She didn’t deserve him being so harsh and he knew it. This was just the fall out from another one of his mistakes. He softened his tone and forcefully relaxed his tightly wound body.

“Look, Buffy. I’m sorry okay. It is a bad time, the worst and-“

Feeling frustrated at his inability to frame what he wanted to say, Angel threw up his hands in a gesture so reminiscent of his dead friend it was creepy to the blonde who recognised it.

“Things have changed, Buffy. In fact-“ he ducked his head and Buffy’s heart squeezed. “I shouldn’t have said what I did when I came back to Sunnydale that time. There’s no excuse I know, but I wasn’t myself that day. I’d been going through a really rough time and-“

“What are you saying, Angel”? Buffy interrupted sharply, wounded and anxiously needing reassurance that he wasn’t headed where she thought he was.

Angel sighed and leaned back against the wall, head pressed to the newly papered surface. He could feel her trembling rebuke from across the office and yet another surge of guilt stabbed at him. He forced himself to look at her squarely.

“I used that trip back as an escape from what was happening here in LA”. He admitted gruffly.

Buffy flinched but otherwise stayed still, silent and waiting. The forgotten hat still dangling from nerveless fingers while the black gauzy scarf round her neck seemed to get tighter and tighter. “Are you telling me you used me, Angel”?

“Yeah” He whispered, hurting for her and hating himself. “There where things I didn’t tell you. Lots of things, including how I felt about Cordelia-“

“Don’t, just don’t” It was Buffy who whirled away this time, holding tightly to her own arms as a fine trembling overwhelmed her. How could he do this to her? Was it only his goddamn conscience making him choose Cordelia over her? Or was she fooling herself again.

“I should have told you” Angel admitted hoarsely, dark eyes shadowed in his sculpted face.

“Yes you should” Buffy hissed and whipped back round. “You knew about Spike. I didn’t deny it did I”? Her voice broke in the middle, cracking under the illusion falling under her feet.

“No”

“You led me on. Let me believe there was a chance that you’d wait. When all along you loved… her” an arm was flung wildly towards the lobby and its casket encased figure.

“Is it guilt making you act like this”? Buffy waved a hand at him as if his behaviour was somehow a physical thing she could point out and fix. “So you loved her, that doesn’t mean you have to *stay* alone in some kind of tribute to her dying. I loved Spike too in my own way”. She added deliberately pushing the issue to make herself feel better.

She didn’t feel better, in fact she felt worse as the pull of the blonde vampire tugged inside her. Spike was so much simpler and always had been, which was one of the reasons why she’d never taken him seriously. She’d always had to fight for Angel, even if it was against him.

“Why do you always have to make things difficult”? She accused tearfully, blaming him with every fibre of her being. “Why do you always push me away”?

“Because that’s the way it is” he shocked them both with that harsh reply but steeled himself not to back down in the face of her pained condemnation. “You never accepted me and we both know it. How could you when I couldn’t even accept myself back then?” He saw the denial on her face and he jumped back into the fray, determined to head her off.

“Don’t deny it, Buffy. We both know it’s true. I’m sorry if that hurts you, but I can’t fix that, I never could. You deserve more than I can give you”.

“You’ve said that before” she lashed out scathingly.

“I meant it then and I mean it now”. Angel stated firmly, wanting this confrontation at an end.

The tension was palpable, abruptly splintered when Wesley rapped a knuckle on the partially open doors and stepped inside. “Angel, we need you outside. Guests are getting ready to leave”.

Wesley stayed by the door even when Buffy looked at him meaningfully. He didn’t have to psychic to guess what’d been going on, or that Angel was relieved by the interruption. As much as he admired the blonde slayer, his loyalty was to the vampire; so he did an admirable job of ignoring her silent signals.

“I’m coming now. Buffy-“ Angel motioned towards the doors, hardly able to meet her heated gaze. She shook her head violently.

Just before he cleared the doors, another question stopped him in his tracks. “Did Cordelia accept you”?

“Yeah, I think she did” Angel didn’t turn around as a burning sensation attacked the back of his eyes.

“You mean you don’t know”? Tossed back Buffy bitterly, hurting and needing to hit back.

“I never got a chance to ask her” Angel replied slowly, and tossed the aggravated blonde such a pained look she lowered her gaze in shame.

HALF AN HOUR LATER…

Buffy’s last question haunted Angel as he restlessly roamed the now empty hotel; his thoughts an endless round of to-ing and fro-ing as he prowled from one floor to the next. He’d discarded his jacket in one of the rooms and the pure white of his shirt reflected the stray moonbeams from the occasional window, a pale frame for his wide shoulders and lean waist above the dark suit trousers.

He knew Cordelia had accepted him as a friend and part of an adopted family. He also knew she’d loved him, maybe even as more than a friend. But whether she would have been able to accept him, a vampire as a lover-

Even supposing that would have ever been possible with the curse still in place. It shouldn’t matter and mostly it wouldn’t have if only he could be sure.

“*Angel* Personal bubble! Hello, Hey, *what* is you’re problem? The memory of Cordelia’s highly indignant voice echoed on his head, making him smile even as it stung.

But she’d kissed him the other day, run back to grab him and kiss him like her life depended on it, only he hadn’t known then it was a kiss of goodbye. If he had he wouldn’t have let go.

ANOTHER HOUR GOES BY…

The piano notes were surprisingly smooth and flowed from one to another without any obvious mistakes to the untrained ear. Or more likely it was just not her scene and she wouldn’t recognise the difference if it came up and smacked her upside the head. Still she was impressed; by the music if not the performer.

“Since when do we have a piano in the lobby, and- when did Angel learn to play it? Have I skipped a few years or something”?

“The piano’s new didn’t you notice it during the ceremony”?

Cordelia blushed, no she hadn’t. She’d been too busy listening in on conversations she shouldn’t have been to notice a herd of pink elephants.

“Er no” then moving swiftly on “and the lessons”? She flung a hand towards the vampire currently hanging over the keyboard.

“He’s over two and half centuries old; long enough to learn a few tricks besides blood letting”.

“Tricks including getting roaring drunk”?

“No I think he had that down pat before he got vamped” Bob replied sardonically, looking askance at the swaying figure at the piano, wincing when the bottle got tipped up again. “I think now would be a good time to interrupt before he passes out”.

“Sounds like a plan to me” Sighed Cordelia then grabbed Bobs arm. “Wait that might be a bad idea; I’ve never seen Angel drunk, not for real anyway. We don’t know what kind of drunk he makes”.

“There’s different kind of drunks”?

“Boy you can’t tell you’re from a different dimension. Ever been in a bar? Take you’re pick. -Happy, slobbering, grabbing, mean and then… dangerous. Considering his preference for violence I’m betting he’s the last two”.

“Maybe we should come back”?

Over the fading notes of the last keyed note Angel faintly heard the sound of a voice, annoyance dropped like a cloud over his face and he swung round on the stool, the bottle still dangling from long fingers.

“Whoever the hell you are- get out” The voice was dark, decidedly dangerous, and throbbing with suppressed violence which by itself was enough to send most men running. Add a set of fierce dark eyes boring into your own, not exactly encouraging thought Bob intensely glad he wasn’t mortal.

Silence stretched while Bob considered the best approach, ignoring Cordelia’s tugging on his arm and hissed warning about having his head twisted right off his shoulders. Angel brought up the bottle and took a gulp, his throat working to swallow even as his glowering look remained steadfastly on the intruder.

Bob laid folded hands on his middle and relaxed his body, aiming for calm assurance. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. I need to speak you to you urgently”.

“Not interested” Mumbled Angel, losing interest and immediately swinging morosely back to the ebony and ivory keys. “Now do yourself a favour and leave me alone”.

“It’s about a mutual friend” Bob interrupted the slowly building ping, plong, plink plink of the notes, then raising his voice to be heard, recklessly added. “It’s about Cordelia”.

After about two seconds of silence there came a blur of black and white. Bob blinked and found himself hurled back, crushed to the wall with long fingers squeezing with terrible force around his windpipe, cutting of any air and making speech almost impossible.

There was a deep-throated growl emanating only an inch away from his nose, and Bob stared mesmerised at the display of glistening fangs revealed by drawn back lips under a feral golden gaze. “Cordelia’s dead”. The savagely issued growl was bitten off in his face.

“Doesn’t have to be,” gasped out Bob, finding it novel to have speech made so difficult so easily. The fingers tightened as those shimmering demonic eyes flashed with fury. “She’s here-“ the rest was finally cut off as the throat was closed entirely.

Then Bob was released abruptly dropping to the floor in a heap. “You’re not human; I can smell that now. Don’t tell me! That mean’s I can’t kill you, right?” The vampire in full game face towered over him, the rage muted into pure focused aggression. “How disappointing, but I’m up for giving it my best shot”.

Bob ploughed on, coughing a little to expand the crushed pipes. “Cordelia died to save you”.

“Do I look saved to you”? Snapped the vampire; moving to stand directly over the fallen man and gesturing to the broken bottle lying a few feet away, the fumes from the potent liquor drifted over to the two.

“Maybe not; but it’s only been what? A few days. This is the last night you’ve given yourself to grieve. You wouldn’t let her sacrifice be wasted and we both know it. In a weeks time at most you’ll force yourself to pick up the pieces and carry on like she wanted you to”.

Angel couldn’t deny it but he was damned if he was going to waste time listening to this freak. “Cordelia told me herself that she was leaving. Are you telling me she was lying”? There was something in that lightly voiced question suggesting that an affirmative answer would get another even more violent response.

“She didn’t know herself then. I only intervened after she’d completed her mission here-“

Angel lost all patience as his temper went shooting back into orbit. Grabbing Bob by the front of his dark grey jacket he hauled him up on his feet and started propelling him to the hotel doors. “This is bullshit. Get the hell outta my place before I give in to the urge to tear your arms off and feed them to you”.

A few feet away from them there was a resounding crash as one of the vases containing the numerous bunches of flowers toppled to the floor.

Both pairs of eyes swung towards the splintered crystal and froze. For the first time a tiny dart of uncertainty pierced Angel and for a second he let the possibility of it push back the despair.

Then he shook it off, only further enraged to have his emotions played on. Parlour tricks; that’s all it was and where the hell was Dennis when you need him?

“It’s not a trick” Bob assured him, straightening up and tugging his jacket back into place, annoying the vampire with his seemingly unshakeable calm matter of fact-ness.

“So you read minds too? That’s good, try looking a little a deeper and see what I’m gonna do to you if you don’t leave NOW”. Angel wasn’t joking, he was about a hairs breadth from losing it was it was; just the fact that this Asshole thought to use his grief for Cordy was enough to drive his self-control to the very limits.

“That’s not Cordelia, that’s Dennis. Ask him”

Bob had barely got the words out before the ceiling lights flicked on and off rapidly and just for good measure a cushion was thrown at the vampire almost too fast for him to smack it away from his face.

Angel let the man go to stand confused, uncertain and swaying slightly from the alcohol. “Dennis”, his brows were creased with his utter confusion, a lost look on his face that drove away the clouds and made him look young and poetically abandoned without his anger to sustain him.

The lights went off again, then after a gap came back on. “If Cordelia’s here why can’t she do that herself”? His voice was scratchy even framing the question, as if by voicing it he was admitting the possibility.

“Those skills come with time and only when a spirit loses hope, goes insane and festers with anger. Cordelia is none of those things- yet”!

Angel fell silent as a feeling of numbness came over him setting a buzzing off in his ears. Bob talked him through it. “Cordelia can’t communicate with you or do any of those things they show on the movies. She’s not a lost soul, just a delayed one – or, if I have my way none of the above”.

“Tell me one thing. What does a creature masquerading as a Hollywood Actor want with me or Cordelia”? Angel folded his arms and glared, waiting for an answer.

Bob heaved a sigh and waved a hand at an empty space. “Don’t blame me for the disguise, Cordelia picked it; insisted actually”.

Angel paused shaken and dumbfounded. God! That sounded so like his Cordy it physically hurt.

“Look, Angel. I hate to rush you but I’m running out of time here. If I have a chance of saving Cordelia I need to ask you a favour- a big favour”.

“What favour”? Angel whispered, even more ashen faced than usual.

“I need you to agree to have Cordelia’s soul bunk in with you”.
PART 3

ANGEL

“I need you to agree to have Cordelia’s soul bunk in with you”.

Angel reeled under an avalanche of emotion. Foremost was temptation, the need to grab even the slimmest chance to bring her back, swiftly followed by fear of the likely crushing disappointment that would come from taking it. How could he even consider taking this asshole’s word for anything? He had no idea who or what this creature really was and they were talking about souls.

The one thing left Angel couldn’t afford to lose or have some stranger mess about with.

The sheer magnitude of what he would be risking had his head spinning, imagining the ugliness, death and mayhem his unsouled self could and would wreak at the helm of ‘Hell Incorporated’. The guys would never forgive him if he put everything on the line for something too incredible to be believed. He wouldn’t blame them.

“Do it.”

The words were out and shocked at himself he tensed, but didn’t try and call them back. If this was the only chance for Cordelia to live her life, then he had to take it. With that firmly entrenched in his mind it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. In fact it was one of the easiest he’d made since before her ascension.

“Thank you, Angel. You won’t regret it,” promised Bob sincerely and with a last direct, unreadable stare he steepled his fingers and bowed his head to mutter something unintelligible even to vampire ears.

Despite being braced for anything, the next second found Angel lying flat on his back on the cold tiles of the lobby floor. There was a stabbing pain at the back of skull where he’d hit the hard tiles and he groaned. His whole body felt like he’d been hit by a dump truck. Stunned and disoriented he stayed unmoving, blinking to focus on the ceiling above him and running the vampire equivalent of an internal diagnostics check.

He was still struggling to adjust to his abrupt change of position when a smiling Bob stepped into his direct line of sight and hunkered down. “How are you feeling, Bud?” The older man asked both curious and sympathetic but with a trace of amusement in his dark eyes and raised brows.

It was a good question. Bemused Angel hesitated to reply, still thinking about it. Then his lips opened of their own accord. “How do you think? Geeze you coulda warned me about the whole suckage thing before hand.” Shocked dark eyes widened and Angel clapped a hand over his mouth.

Gingerly he took it away again to ask, “Did I just say that?” He had to ask, but he was damned sure of one thing, if this was what he thought it was. He was going to have to tape his mouth shut.

“No, Cordelia did. Looks like you got yourself another roomie and a mouthy one at that.” Sympathy failed this time and the Bob look-alike winked at the flabbergasted vampire still lying flat out on the floor.

“Cordelia?” Angel asked out loud, searching the room for god knows what, unsure yet how this was supposed to work, or even if it really had.

“*Hey, Angel; guess I wasn’t quite so ready to move on as I thought huh*?” Hearing that much needed familiar voice, Angel sat up so fast his head spun. Holding one hand to his neck, he whipped his head right and left then stopped and forced his recalcitrant mind to focus inside himself.

“Is that really you?” He whispered, forgetting he had an audience, too wrapped up in a spreading pressure in his chest. If he didn’t know it was impossible, he could almost believe his heart was about to start beating.

“*The one and only*,” Cordy replied. “*Wow I can feel your feelings. How freaky is that?*” She wasn’t the only one feeling strange. He couldn’t feel anyone’s emotions but his own. But there was definitely something…

Then it hit him exactly what it was lying beneath his emotions that felt so alien and yet inexplicably familiar too; humour, comfort and an indefinable lightness of spirit that only Cordelia had ever brought him. She was here, with him. Now.

Angel looked up at Bob who was still waiting patiently beside him and didn’t even try and stop the wide, almost giddy smile from dawning on his face. “Cordy’s in here,” he said in wonderment, needing to say it out-loud as if to cement the fact. “I can hear her voice in my head.” He added, lightly pressing his fingers to his brow.

“Yeah I know, big Guy,” replied Bob laconically then stood up, and offering a hand heaved the distracted vampire up off his ass. “I also know I should have warned you about that. But I didn’t want to sour the deal.”

WILLOW & FAITH

The motel room was nothing out of the ordinary, just two beds with a dresser, a tiny bathroom and small TV on a plain wooden stand. She’d been in much worse dives than this, thought Faith then glanced back at the pyjama clad red head sitting cross-legged on the bed, engrossed in looking through an old school yearbook.

“So where did Buffy say she was going?” Faith asked, feeling even more hemmed in here than she had in her room. Edgily she paced the limited space available between the beds and the wall in an effort to release some of her pent up energy, black boots skimming the dark blue pile of the carpet accompanied by the crisp swishing sound of her black jeans.

“She didn’t,” replied Willow looking up with a wry smile, despite her red-rimmed eyes. “She just said she needed some air,” she added and flipped another page.

“Oh look, here’s Cordy again. Wow how many is that now”?

There was no envy or resentment in her tone, just wistfulness. She missed High School, mostly for the simplicity of it which looking back she hadn’t appreciated at the time, apocalypses none withstanding of course.

“The last time I saw the real Cordelia I elbowed her in the face,” admitted Faith with an uncomfortable shrug, giving the astonished witch a twisted and depreciating smile. Guilt was such a bitch, especially when you couldn’t make up for it, she thought.

When Faith was feeling upset about something it didn’t matter how hard she tried to hide it, you could always tell. The fact that she was pacing and nervously playing with her hands, fisting them and then rubbing the fingers nervously together was a dead give away. Willow guessed rightly it was guilt.

“Really? Ouch, but I guess that was when you were still in your psycho slayer girl phase,” excused Willow waving a dismissive hand. “I’m sure she forgot all about it,” she said soothingly with a quicksilver smile that turned her rather plain face into gamine attractiveness.

“The last time I saw the real Cordy was after Buffy died. Not counting the ‘enslave the world rogue PTB’ that is,” Willow disclaimed before admitting softly, “and I was so shocked when she hugged me”.

“The rogue PTB hugged you?” Seriously creeped out at the thought Faith shuddered. “Nasty,” she offered with her typical style of blunt sympathy. Willow responded with a quick shake of her head, causing red strands to whip onto smooth cheeks.

“No Cordy did- the real one. She seemed so upset about Buffy dying.” She said. Then her eyes widened as another thought struck. “Oh, and something else that struck me as funny was how she kept looking at Angel, like she’d catch him if he fainted or something.”

Both girls were instantly distracted by the idea of the slim girl catching the tall, large and surly vampire they all knew in a dead faint. “I’d forgotten about that,” Willow murmured struck by a feeling of nostalgia for a girl she’d never really got to know.

“I gotta tell you, I’d have paid good money to see that.” Joked Faith lightly, pushing her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, and helplessly grinning at the mental picture. “Just think of the razzing opportunities.”

“Yeah,” agreed Willow with a dimpled smile back. “I wondered about them after that,” she murmured feeling an overwhelming sadness creep back in and her eyes welled again. “They were so good for each other ya know?”

Willow felt better for saying it. She’d thought it many times before when she’d talked to Cordy or Angel on the phone, but Buffy hadn’t liked to hear it. So Willow ended up keeping those observations to herself for the sake of her friend and keeping the peace. It hadn’t been hard since they’d all been busy with various catastrophes, making sure the two groups kept out of touch for the most part.

Faith nodded and sat down on the edge of the bed. Why did the good ones always end up dead? She wondered futilely. Then uncomfortable with the unusually philosophical train of her thoughts, she shrugged them off. “Wesley too; you’d hardly recognise them from how they used to be back in good ole Sunny ‘D’.”

BUFFY & SPIKE

The park was thankfully almost completely empty, allowing the whispering wind to do the chattering as it meandered its way lazily through the leaves of the trees. While the moon, not yet full lit the paths but left black as pitch walls of foliage on either side.

Hearing the soft footfalls behind her Buffy cocked her blonde head and sighed. “Look, Spike come and talk to me if you want. Just stop stalking. It’s getting on my nerves.” She said loudly, waiting without turning around for him to catch up.

“Can’t have that now can we, Pet,” retorted Spike facetiously, blonde head gleaming in the moonlight, adding a pale wash to his lean features, a startling contrast to his jewel bright eyes. Seeing them together was like watching two exotic animals circle one another, both lean and impossibly blonde. One dressed in candy pink and the other all black.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come and see you,” whispered Buffy, turning to face him. “I meant too as soon as the funeral was over.” It was lame and she knew it. Slim hands spread wide in helplessness. “You caught me by surprise.” It was no excuse; they both knew it and Spike called her on it.

“So it was the shock of seeing me that sent you after Angel then,” he sneered. “Pull the other one, Luv. It’s got bloody bells on,” he finished roughly, then stalked away two paces before turning back to face her with his head held proudly high.

Buffy flinched at the unvarnished truth. Damn, she could never hide things from Spike. She should have remembered that. “I’m sorr-,“ she started to apologise again but was interrupted.

Spike wasn’t finished after-all. He didn’t want apologies from her. “We both know that’s not what went down” he accused gruffly, and despite himself he desperately wanted to hear her deny it and tell him he was wrong. Blinking back frustrated tears Buffy pursed her lips and shook her head, turning away so he wouldn’t see them.

“I know you won’t believe me but I’m glad you’re here. I wanted you to come, that’s why I came out here alone.” Her voice throbbed with feeling, most of it conflicting as she felt herself pulled into two directions. She’d needed to see him. She returned his sharp gaze with her own filled with a mute appeal for understanding.

Spike wasn’t in the mood for making excuses for her or accepting hers. “Ever heard of picking up the phone,” he snarled, “or was that too much like making a public statement that you might actually want to see me?” Buffy ducked her head unable to hold his hotly accusing gaze any longer, weighted down with guilt and confusion.

“I *died* for you Buffy. You! Not the others or the bleedin’ world.” Spike told her hoarsely catching her gaze again as her head shot up, tears shimmering like a summer lake in those blue depths.

“You told me you loved me,” he accused her, remembering that final moment back at the Hell Mouth. He’d known he was going to die and hid his terror of it for her sake. Why he’d bothered was a bloody mystery, he thought savagely.

“I do,” answered Buffy in a fervent whisper, raising a tender hand to touch his face, loving him in that moment more than ever simply for needing her to love him back. “I meant it then and-“

Spike caught her hand in his and matching tears sparkled in his own eyes. “Too late, Buffy, I don’t think I want it anymore,” he shook his head and threw her hand away from him. He’d thought that would never happen, that he’d never be able to turn her away even if all she could offer was scraps. He’d been wrong.

Buffy gasped and shook her head in mute denial of his rough gesture. Oh God! What was going on here? “What are you saying”? She asked swept by a sudden feeling of déjà vu so strong her lips trembled. Feeling it she clamped them shut to hide the betraying response, and folded her arms defensively across her jacketed chest.

Spike made a show of sniffing back and rolling his shoulders. Then picking a spot in the distance focused on his while he draped his re-awoken pride like a mantle over his shoulders, feeling the reassuring weight of it. “I’m saying you should just leave, Buffy”. When he looked back at her the pained shock on her face almost had him backing off and changing his mind. No, there was no going back only forwards or nowhere.

It was time, time to regain that part of himself he’d been missing for too long. Pride. “I gave you so many chances to believe in me, like I believed in you. Well I’ve had it with waiting for you to wake up and smell the roses,” he said harshly then went in for the kill.

“I’ll tell you something else too. I get why the Wanker made it here in LA. Without you here to drag him down it was bloody bound to happen, and you call me a vampire, when it’s you that sucks the life out of people.”

“That’s not fair,” whispered Buffy aghast. “I don’t do… that,” shivering in sudden cold she hugged her arms around her body and this time she let her lips tremble. “How can you say that?”

“It needed saying,” Spike shot back unrepentant, heading away from her with his blonde head shining like a beacon in the dark. Once he was sure he was out of earshot he finally let his shoulders slump. “I hope this bloody works Fred, or you and me are gonna have a talk.”

The sweet little Texan’s advice still echoed in his head. Take something away and it immediately becomes precious. Everyone knows that, its practically a law of nature or something.

THE FG

Wesley was driving, his hands confident and skilled on the wheel as he navigated a series of turns. The black polo neck he’d changed into from his severely tailored suit was a perfect foil for his stoic good looks, and without realising she was doing it Fred’s eyes kept straying in his direction.

“Do we know why Angel’s called us all back to the hotel?” She asked tiredly, dreading what it could be.

He’d been acting strangely ever since Cordelia’s death, with the most abrupt mood swings she’d ever witnessed from the already notoriously unpredictable vampire. Unpredictable to anyone except Cordelia, she tacked on and winced. You’d think with the coma this would be easier, but somehow it just made it so much worse.

“I have no idea,” replied Wesley without taking his gaze off the light traffic. LA like any City rarely slept and tonight was no exception. He didn’t care to speculate either, not after the argument over Cordelia’s lack of proper burial. It still stung and their interactions afterwards had been strained to say the least.

“Our boy’s grievin’,” piped up Lorne from the back, leaning forward to pat Fred’s shoulder. “Just like all of us,” he added pointedly to Wesley, and gave the delicate looking girl one last comforting pat.

“I know that and I understand… I do,” said Fred shortly, shifting back in the seat and rubbing two fingers between her eyes, wishing the tears induced headache would go away. “I just don’t feel up to this, whatever it is,” she threw up a hand and sighed thickly.

“The hotel holds too many memories. I don’t think I can stand it.” She admitted softly, wincing when the outside lights of the nearing hotel sliced into her sore eyes, hardly able to believe how right then the cold glass façade of Wolfram and Hart seemed like a sanctuary from all the pain.

“We’re here now; so let’s get this over with.” Wesley advised decisively as he turned off the ignition and looked at the other two. “I’m sure it won’t take long and then I’ll get you home again.” He assured Fred softly and brushed the back of his hand against her pale cheek, watching the resulting tide of colour follow in his wake.

The three of them trooped slowly up the stairs to the glass doors they’d once felt such comfort in reaching. Ever the gentleman, Lorne pulled one open and held it that way for the other two to pass through. That being so he was the last of them to catch sight of the grinning vampire waiting for them in the lobby.

Gunn was already there, sitting down on one of the numerous hired chairs, staring at Angel in a mixture of wonder and disbelief, while swigging back left over wine like it was cola. He saw the others arrive and shook his dark head at them. “Grab yourselves some drinks, cos you’re gonna need it,” he warned feelingly.

“Why is this place such a mess?” Fred asked indignantly as her eyes travelled over the landscape now dotted with carnage. She let Wesley lead her over to a chair and sat heavily in it, still wearing her long black tunic style dress and short jacket from the ceremony.

“Oh ignore that,” said Angel with a wave of his hand. “That was just Dennis having a pissy fit when Gunn didn’t believe me.” Angel stopped dead and gave the impeccably suited Gunn a sideways look of confusion. “Did I just say ‘pissy fit’?”

“Yeah, you did… and, Man I gotta tell you. You need to cut that out cos it’s wiggin’ me out.” Gunn half pleaded, half threatened and rubbed a hand over his face.

He didn’t know about anyone else but the whole idea of what was going inside Angel right now was creepy. He shuddered and tossed back another swallow, wishing it was something stronger.

“Would someone please care to explain what is going on here.” Wesley asked, coming forward to pin Angel with a daunting look of disapproval in his now icy blue eyes. “Have you been drinking, Angel”? He spared Gunn a sharp look too and was met with blank indifference and a strong vibe of ‘just you wait’.

Angel didn’t blink or duck his head and he especially didn’t let his eyes flick towards the smashed bottle of whiskey he’d been rather free with earlier on. Briefly he considered lying before dismissing it as a waste of energy. “Yeah, but forget that okay. It’s not important.”

Wesley looked unconvinced and two of them silently faced off until Lorne jumped in, heralded by a shout of laughter.

“Angelcakes, if the vibes I’m getting off you are anywhere near even remotely accurate. I’d say it’s very important; and where the hell can I get *me* some?” Interrupted Lorne, coming closer to stand and stare at the rumpled yet perky looking vampire.

Finished with his inspection the lively green demon cocked his head and gave Wesley a pointed look. “If I were a weatherman I’d say we’ve just come out of a storm front and into the sunshine, shipmates. He’s positively beaming with it.”

Scowling at the inappropriate humour, Wesley nevertheless directed his attention back to Angel. “What’s happened to you, Angel?” Oh God! What was going on now? He wondered in aggravated disbelief. Did they not even get time to grieve for lost ones before the shit hit the fan all over again?

“If you’d all just shut-up a minute, I’d be able to tell you,” growled Angel losing his patience a little and wanting to get the inevitable disbelief over with as soon as possible.

Gunn was thinking the same thing as his nervous dark eyes shot around the room as if looking for evidence of the irate phantom. “Look, Angel you and I both know they ain’t gonna believe you, and since my head is already sore. What say we skip straight to Lorne reading you, and try and avoid another demonstration of the ghost with the most?”

As a plan it had merit. “Good idea, Gunn. Lorne-“ Angel jerked his head and the green demon sighed and reluctantly headed over, stepping carefully over the broken pottery and crystal littering the floor. “Ya know, Angelmuffin, if you’ve got an urge to sing there’s always the shower.” Lorne suggested a mite grumpily for the normally happy go lucky demon.

*”If you sing Mandy I swear I’m gonna regale you with my version of ‘Evita’ for the rest of the night. Ask Dennis; he loves it,”* Cordy hissed warningly in his head. “I’m not gonna sing Mandy,” muttered Angel feeling the others giving him strange looks. If it wasn’t for the fact they all needed convincing he’d insist on a private reading. His friend’s aversion to his singing was a sore point with him.

“*Thank god for small favours. Keep it short, okay. How about ‘twinkle twinkle little star’?”* Cordy suggested seriously, anything for a quick resolution and a swift end to the singing. Then added mischievously, *”and stop pouting. You’re total lack of singing ability is the least of your problems.”*

Gee thanks, he shot back sarcastically. Then taking in a deep breath, launched into the well-known verse, making even Fred smile incredulously on hearing the nursery rhyme coming out of the vampire’s mouth. Lorne goggled at him and within about 10 seconds waved him frantically to silence before stumbling backwards until his ass hit a chair.

Lorne could feel all their eyes on him. Gunn and Angel’s knowing and expectant, while Wes and Fred looked like they were braced for bad news. “I need a drink. Gunn, whatever you’re having is fine. Just make it snappy okay, Stud”.

“What did you see?” Wesley asked, darting a glance at the now relaxed and faintly amused vampire before gazing intently at the anagogic demon.

“Cordelia,” said Lorne cryptically then lunging for the proffered glass, he gulped down a large swallow of the burgundy liquor. “Cordelia’s soul is inside Angel.” He announced into the silence.

Everyone froze, in a tableau not dissimilar to when Lilah had first offered Angel Wolfram & Hart, lock stock and barrel. Only this time the emotional impact was much, much bigger.

“What?” Whispered Fred coming back to life first, “what did you say?” Incredulous disbelief coloured every syllable the second time around, and Gunn gave her a comically scared look. “Don’t say you don’t believe it. Believe me, you don’t wanna to see what happens,” he warned darkly and pointed a finger surreptitiously up at the ceiling.

Fred shut her mouth and scanned the decorated expanse warily.

“Okay, say I believe you. Where’s Angel’s soul?” Wesley asked bluntly, every bit as stunned, only hiding it better while similarly looking around and keeping a sharp look out for flying objects.

“They’re both in there. Snug as a bug in a rug. All soul matey and well… the whole kitankaboodle,” replied Lorne saluting the dark haired vampire with his glass. “It’s getting a bit crowded in there, boss.”

ALONE AT LAST

“That went well I think.” Angel announced, undoing the buttons on his dress shirt, sleeves first as he walked over to the bed. His apartment was shrouded in darkness, the open blinds letting in the only light he needed to see where he was going; or Cordelia for that matter.

*”Hey, you really can see in the dark. Now this is I like. Just think no more stumbling around when you need to use the bathroom.”* Cordelia paused as something occurred to her, *“okay, scratch that, and Eww. You don’t do you?”*

“Bathroom?” Angel stammered then shook his head hard in relief. “No, no bathrooms needed. Except for showers,” he swiftly assured her. That was a whole other thing he realised, as his hand automatically reached for his pants zipper and then froze.

You’re over two and half centuries old; get over it. It’s just a body, he chided himself. As far as reassurance went it didn’t work. This was his body and Cordelia could see everything he did.

*”Angel if we had a circulation we’d be blushing right now. What’s up, feeling insecure? Will it help if I promise not to peek?”* The earlier revulsion was gone, replaced by a dawning delight. He could almost hear the wheels spinning as the possibilities occurred to her. *”This time,”* she felt compelled to add impishly.

That prodded his own demon. He smirked and even though she couldn’t see a single brow rose in sardonic humour, “penis envy, Cordy?” Quickly he undid the snap and pulled down the zipper, keeping his head up and working by feel alone.

“Too bad, since if I don’t look down you don’t get to see”.

*“Spoilsport,”* she huffed in his head. *“So much for loving me.”* She added, going for an all out guilt trip. He was having none of it and sitting down to pull of his boots, answered her with a stern. “I do love you. We talked about this on the way over. Remember?” One boot fell to the floor, quickly followed by the second.

Standing up he shucked his pants and boxers down, kicked them away and then crawled over the bed to clamber under the covers. Comfortable with his head cupped in his hands on the pillow, he stared up at the ceiling, not seeing it but focusing inside. It was all quiet, meaningfully so.

“Not talking to me now?” His lips twitched again, even not seeing her, she was cute when she sulked. He pictured how her bottom lip would push out in a pout and the need to kiss that sullen curve spiked. Soon he promised himself, then tuned back into Cordy as she deigned to speak.

*“Catch ya later, little Guy… and I’m *not* sulking got it?”*

“Little Guy?” He snorted out as the laugh got stuck in the back of his throat. Then coughing to clear it he grinned unabashedly, pleased to be able to feel not a whit of insecurity at her deliberate jib at his masculinity, or supposed lack of.

* “Well a girl’s gotta figure that a guy being so shy has something to hide. So until I find out otherwise-“* she taunted leadingly.

Chuckling, Angel snagged a pillow and turned on his side, tucking the plump plain linen of the pillow under his chest and inside the curve of his arm in an effort to satisfy the need to feel something there. All the while wishing it was a curvaceous brunette with a seemingly determined fascination with his equipment.

*“Hey I’m female, gimme a break. It’s just natural, healthy curiosity. So keep that ego under control, or I’ll start listing how many times I caught you ogling my breasts, ass *and* legs.”*

“You have a great ass and even better breasts”. He admitted shamelessly. It was different when he didn’t have to face her, and despite guessing it would bite him on the ass at some point, he liked being so open with her. “Sometimes how good my day started depended on what shirt you were wearing”.

*“Pfft, like I didn’t already know you’re a closet perv.”*

“You don’t know the half of it. Now go to sleep.” He admonished and closed his eyes; already sinking into the most relaxed slumber he’d had in a long, long time. The deeper he sank the more the anguish of yesterday seeming to fade into obscurity along with his consciousness.

MEANWHILE

“One last thing before you leave us, Hamilton. There are rumours about a soul gone astray, as in not turning up at its destination. Find out what you can, and report back without delay.”

“Is it the soul we’ve discussed previously?” A calm voice asked without a trace of nerves.

“It is,” was the meaningfully short response.

“Interesting,” admitted Hamilton with a faraway look in his cold eyes. “I’ll get right on it, Sir. You can count on my discretion. I already have someone in place.”

 


…TO BE CONTINUED…

THIS IS AN UNFINISHED FANFIC


 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s