Anywhere


AUTHOR: VISION GIRL (aka CHRISSY)
SUMMARY: Sequel to Covetous. Imagine knowing that the person you love and are insanely attracted to feels the same way and neither of you can do anything about it. One has a soul that can be lost with perfect happiness, one has three months to live before dying painfull from VisionPains. Both are stupid and in love, keeping secrets from each other. Imagine the sexual tension between then, not to mention Wolfram and Hart putting their hands into the situation, making it all even more worse.
RATING: R/NC17
POSTED: 17 Mar 2004
CATEGORY: ANGST / ROMANCE / AU (just a tad)
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A, F/W, C/W-friendship, F/G-friendship
WARNINGS: None listed
AUTHOR NOTES: Thanks Kat(rina) for Beta’ing this story, turning it from a peice o’ crap to a wonderful fic. Thanks again, and i hope you aren’t annoyed by me yet.
STATUS: Complete


The crack of the whip brought a wave of devastating terror to Cordelia’s heart as she slumped to the ground in one defeated motion, the pain of the whip adding to the paralyzing throbbing of the sharp spear buried deep in her side. As the blood flowed freely from that wound, the cuts all over her wounded face were gushing blood that caked her eyes and stained her perfect skin a dark crimson.

“Do it!” the terrifying voice urged, cracking the whip again.

Cordelia couldn’t help but consider the incredible irony of the situation she found herself lying in, the blood spilling and dripping all over the floor in her wake as she attempted to crawl to safety. The one person she trusted transformed into a monster and torturing her so simply, as if merely another day in the life of Angelus.

Stepping into the firelight view, Angelus sported a sadistic grin on his pale skin. “Remove your clothes…now.”

His foot stepped on top of her hand, forcing her to cry out in pain as the weight of his foot dug the shards of glass deeper into her hand. It had been several minutes since he’d ruthlessly broken a pane of glass and forced shards into her skin, the smile on his face never faltering once during the occurrence.

His voice was low and seductively provocative, slipping into Cordelia’s heart and tearing it apart.

“Can’t screw the living daylight’s out of you if you have your clothes on…well, I could if I tried. But you’ve exhausted me quite enough, I admit.”

Angelus was enjoying what he saw, the pain clear across her face, the physical torment she was so plainly going through and it became evident to Cordelia in the way she saw him looking at her, forcing her eyes to discern the expression on his face through the coated blood smeared all over her eyes. Cordelia’s mind tumbled through the numerous possibilities available to her in the situation she found herself stuck in.

I could run, was the first thought that drifted into her clouded, weak mind; and it was the first to be immediately dismissed as the searing agony in her side from the spear amplified to an extent she almost couldn’t bear. She noted the sparkle of enjoyment…of pure bliss, in the Vampire’s eyes. Though she’d seen a smile on his face, a glimmer of joy, never before had she seen such flawless bliss in his eyes; it was a frightening reminder that he was no longer the Angel she knew and loved.

It was a look that had broken her heart a thousand times in the past few moments; moments that she had spent in the chamber with him, and it was a look that she knew would continue to kill her deep inside for the rest of her life. Which shouldn’t be much longer.

Knowing it would not be too much longer, Cordelia closed her eyes, visibly giving up as her shaking arms gave in and her entire body crashed onto the cold, stone floor, her own blood splashing in her wake. Breathing sharply, her eyes bloodshot and barely usable, Cordelia Chase knew it was coming. Either she was going to die and go to heaven, or the torment was just beginning. What was to come was simply the answer to that question. Either way she wanted it to arrive; to arrive sooner rather than later.

And as she saw the whip lash into the air in slow motion, moving to strike her face, she knew that once it hit her it would be the last thing she would ever feel.

Two Months Ago…

Cordelia Chase stepped out of her room into the brilliant morning light that was streaking into her kitchen. The sun reached down through the thin material of her curtains, which were really no more than cheap cloths sown together by a flea-market customer. Bright flashes dotted the wooden floors and furniture, as the shining thread hidden in the depths and the glass table caught the rays and echoed them back into the air with liveliness.

The Seer walked over to the waist-high kitchen counter and leaned against it, her stomach aching for food she did not have.

Angel Investigations had spent many weeks clientless, with no cases to keep them busy, and no money coming in to support them. Angel had been slightly panicked when the finances slimmed and he had to start cutting shopping sprees. Conner, as a baby, needed more things and when the Vampire was forced to spend his pay on the baby, it restricted him from buying larger quantities of blood; Cordelia offered some of her pay, not letting on that she was already in a big hole with financial problems that she could not get herself out of.

In three months, my worries will cease to exist. It was a light hearted outlook on her impending death that she had taken up three months previously when Angel practically forced her on a vacation in the Bahamas with Fred, who had desperately needed an escape from L.A. Seeing the picture of her and Fred, lounging on the beach, hanging on the wall off to the side, Cordelia could easily remember how boring their time had been.

Angel’s intentions for sending Fred along with her were tied to Gunn’s departure, a departure that had affected Fred the most out of everyone.

Gunn had left them without notice, without forewarning and they were all still pining for his return, hoping he would make more calls to them than once a week, lasting barely ten minutes at the most. Every time they tried to contact him on the number he gave them, they either had to leave a message, or he was in a desperate hurry to get somewhere and ‘couldn’t talk’.

Cordelia thought back to the days when all of them had been together, enjoying themselves with no worries of the future, just…acting like a family.

Lorne was gone, Gunn was gone, Angel hadn’t been extremely sociable, reverting to his former self in a way that was not entirely welcomed by Cordelia or any of the others, and Fred had been extremely distant the past few months.

Wesley remained a mystery to everyone, smiling some days, brooding others. His smiling days were spent in the company of Fred, who appeared to be momentarily pleased by his company.

“Love,” Cordelia scoffed, grabbing a nutrition bar from the empty, barren cabinet above her stove, welcoming the sight of food that she hadn’t seen in days. Who needs it? She thought to herself as she took a large bite of the bar, embracing the taste. Her gaze drifted to the picture frame, the sole one, propped on her dining room table.

Her, Wesley and Angel stood, illuminated by the camera’s flash, smiling big smiles and looking perfectly blissful. Cordelia didn’t even remember when the picture had been taken and it pained her to think of all the moments she took for granted.

It mattered now.

Moving quickly, Cordelia grabbed the picture frame and slipped the photograph from the frame. Gripping it as if her life depended on it, the woman turned on her heel and made her way back into her bedroom to get ready.

Time to go to work.

* * *

“The common sense approach when dispensing of a Khlarka Demon is to cut its neck in an angular direction so that it’s difficult for them to replace the head upon their shoulders, giving you the time to obliterate the rest of its torso.” Wesley laughed, “What you did was quite-”

“I know…I know,” Angel sighed, rolling his eyes as he wiped the annoying amount of slime off of his forehead as the pair entered the Lobby, the door swinging violently as Angel too forcibly pushed it open. “Next time forewarn me.”

“It’s quite hard to speak over the howling wind when we’re racing to the rescue of some poor person on your little scooter,” Wesley teased, placing the small axe in the weapons cabinet before moving to remove his jacket.

Angel followed suit and shrugged out of his jacket, embarrassed. “It’s not my fault I stink at Jenga.”

Wesley looked around curiously, “Where’s Fred? She was here when we left…”

Angel rolled his eyes as Wesley turned his attention to the absent physicist who was never far from his thoughts. “How’re things going between the two of you these days?” Angel wondered what types of bills were in the mail as he noticed the pile on the counter.

“Hello Cordelia,” Wesley greeted when a change in the atmosphere heralded the opening of the lobby doors.

Angel turned and offered a smile, his attention still on the bills. Finally, moving to business, he placed the mail on the counter and turned and cleared his throat. “Hey, Cordy. Did you file the Lawson folder yet, I thought I’d check out a discrepancy in his description of the-”

Before the Vampire even finished, Cordelia grabbed the folder from where it was kept and held it out for him, her eyes moving to the pile of bills on the counter. “God, why can’t they hold back a bit? This is a small business; you think they’d give us a break.”

Cordelia hoped that, once she died, Angel would be smart enough to find the money she was secretly saving, one of the many reasons why she was practically starving herself. The envelope was in a metal box under her bed, with a note accompanying it to explain everything.

“Thanks…” Angel quietly expressed gratitude, seating himself on a stool and letting out a sigh. When the woman turned and made her way to her desk, his eyes returned to her, watching her movements with attention.

Cordelia filled her steps with a bounce that seemed to continuously make her movements more of a dance than a walk. It was something that Angel admired about her and it became an addiction of sorts to the Vampire to record her movements and burn images in the back of his mind to keep in a special place for the rest of his long life.

When the phone rang and she picked it up, Angel swallowed hard and returned back to his work, focusing his mind on the task at hand. “Wes…didn’t you say that the Khlarka demon only has territory by water?”

“Yes, their habitat requires various amounts of water for them to survive through the beginning of winter.”

“L.A. has no winter,” Angel teased. “Still…Mr. Lawson clearly noted that he saw it in an alley by the movie theatres. And the Cineplex is miles from the nearest coast.” Angel couldn’t complain, remembering the generosity the man had displayed when paying them in advance.

Before he even ended his observation, Cordelia handed him a worn tome pulled from the shelves. “Khlarka sprites transgressed and eschew to outer wetlands, cross-referenced with its derivation, Khlark, it clearly states that liquids hypnotize them and draw them closer.”

Angel stood there speechless, his mouth agape. Cordelia blushed and shrugged it off. “I’ve had a lot of time to read…” It wasn’t hard to believe that Cordelia Chase might know quite a few things about demons after all the time she spent with them. Once Angel stopped to think about it, it made perfect sense, and he was shocked that he had never taken notice of it before.

Instead of questioning her knowledge any further, the Vampire moved away from the counter and towards her, a rare smile sneaking onto his chiselled features. Staring at Cordelia, he was glad that she was not aware of him at that moment; or of her own sweet dance that was the way she walked, the way she moved. Fluid movements intermingling with classically beautiful facial expressions, Cordelia Chase was a walking example of pure and seamless beauty.

Only when she turned back to him, strapping her rough gloves on, did he remember it was a Tuesday. “You ready?”

* * *

Angel stood there, key in hand as he prepared to unlock the captured Vampire from his bindings. “You sure…?”

Cordelia merely nodded, not once taking her eyes off of the Vampire, her position proving she was more than ready, more than willing to get to her training session.

Once the key went into the slot of the chain-lock, the imprisoned Vampire took the opportunity to make his way to the door, but Cordelia caught him off guard, her feet quickly moving in mirror to the opponent, moving to block its path.

As it all happened, Angel felt his world slow down, his eyes doing most of the work as his insides were twisting and turning at the sight of the beautiful motions of Cordelia fighting against the Vampire. Rising to the ball of one foot, she lifted her arms gracefully while extending her other leg as a method to send her in a fast-paced turn that seemed only to slow down when Angel watched her. Coming around, her left arm swept across, colliding with the Vampire’s neck. Yet even the collision didn’t ruin her motions as her balance shifted and she smoothly landed on her other foot. A series of shoulder twists pursued, each arm coming forward in turn, delivering solid blows.

She went down into a crouching position seamlessly and swiftly, her feet turning and then she rotated to her right, the left sweeping to the shins of the enemy and dislodging him from his feet to the cold stone floor.

It looked like a dance to Angel, crossing his arms and leaning against the wooden pillar as he observed the scene before him. Though it was clear it was much more than that to the woman, her movements and the flicker in her eye giving away too much of her emotions, of her intentions. She was appreciating the entire combat in a way that he never saw anyone do, not him, not even Buffy.

Even if it wasn’t a dance to her, it was a dance to Angel as he let out a shaky sigh, blinking slowly at the sight of such simple and graceful beauty.

He couldn’t deny the beauty of the dancer, whom he loved beyond anyone he had ever known. And once the stake on the ground was noticed and picked up, placed into the Vampire’s chest with accuracy and swift motions, he felt relieved that the woman came out of the situation unscratched; not that he had any doubts.

Cordelia ended the exercise, standing perfectly upright and still, her breathing becoming steadied. After moments of silence, she lifted her arm and wiped at the sweat that had formed on her brow, letting out a laugh. “This isn’t getting any easier…”

A small smile graced Angel’s lips, “It’s not supposed to.”

Cordy shook her head, dismissing the argument before it even occurred as she moved to the wall where a selection of swords were displayed, waiting for her to choose one. Grabbing her broad sword and moving to a position in one graceful movement, she arched her eyebrows at the Vampire before her, a sly grin playing at the corner of her lips. “C’mon, old man. Loser buys.”

“No way am I going to watch you get drunk again, especially since none of us has the money to pay for all-night Tequila shots,” Angel teased, sauntering from his corner over to his own sword already out and waiting for him by the stairs. Swinging it towards the woman, he added a sly grin to his own features, his eyes daring and inviting. “You sure you want to do this? Lose, I mean.”

Cordelia scoffed. It was the part both most enjoyed, bragging and mock-intimidating each other, delaying the actual sword fighting for as long as they could manage. Tuesday mornings were Cordelia’s favourite times and she cherished the time she spent with Angel for all she had.

The tips of their swords inches from sparring, the two didn’t move as they each challenged the other to make the first move.

* * *

Fresh from her morning shower, Fred moved to close the drapes, but paused, catching a small glimmer of angled morning sunlight streaming in to illuminate the various colors of the vehicles parked on the street below. Finally, closing the long curtains, the physicist let out a relaxing sigh as she moved to her desk, searching for the pad she wrote on the night before of things she had to do.

But what pained her beyond limits in such a subtle, profound way was the letter that stuck out of a locked drawer she had absently forgotten to tend to the night before.

It was the letter she’d received nine months earlier, a letter that changed her outlook on a man she thought she knew, a man she hadn’t spoken to in so long.

“What makes you think I’ll want to speak with you after you act so freaking cowardly?”

Charles Gunn didn’t do what she asked him to do, he didn’t face his fear of saying goodbye; instead he simply turned away from those that trusted him and all he left was a letter for Fred, a letter that clearly stated why he didn’t do what she so wanted him to do.

Fred,

You know I’ll visit right? A phone call every week, a visit every few months…those are the things I can manage. If I’m welcome.

First things first. I did love you, Fred.

I just didn’t have the time to confirm it, you know? To really find out how deep that feeling ran, to really know what things I would sacrifice for you.

No matter how much I loved you, I just didn’t have the time to love you enough. Because even though I love you, I just don’t love you enough to motivate me to face my fears.

I’ve lost too many damn people in my life and waking up every day in Los Angeles was too big of a reminder. I hope the others can understand this, if you decide to explain why I’m not there anymore.

I’m sure one of the phone calls I’ll make will have to deal with explaining shit. It’s a good guess, I’m sure.

Aint got much else to say, except for the fact that I love you. And I hope that the next time I see you, you’ll be in a healthy relationship, with a guy that can really appreciate you and understand the time you need to confirm whatever the fuck you feel about him.

I hope I can find a girl crazy enough for me, too. It’s all hopes and wishes until someone loses an eye, right?

From,

Gunn

P.S.
It’s not goodbye. Remember that. It’s see ya later.

Winifred Burkle didn’t know why she was so angry with the man; all she knew was that she just was. And in times like the ones she found herself in recently, it was all she had to hold onto.

Everyone needed an anchor to hold onto, to keep from falling. And even if what Fred held onto was her ambiguous emotions and opinions, it was something. And something was better than nothing.

Tightening the robe around her thinning body, Fred winced and unsuccessfully tried to rub away the headache forming in her mind as she moved to get dressed, to pretty herself up enough so that no one would notice her rapidly diminishing physique.

* * *

With hands moist and trembling, Cordelia lifted the sword and felt its balance hold her together, keep her stable enough to stand the last remaining minutes in the training session.

Angel equally exhausted and glistening in his own sweat, was mere inches from her, his sword clashingly pressed up against hers.

Assuming a two-handed grip on the hilt in mere seconds, Cordelia stepped further into the embrace and broke the Vampire’s stable balance. With him falling back, the Seer stepped into a fighting bearing and brought the weapon into several graceful thrusts and eluding sways.

Angel knew the time spent with the woman was coming to an end, that once the training session was done, they would return to business, unconsciously ignoring each other for the rest of the day, perhaps even the remaining week, until the next gathering.

Looking into the bottomless, dark eyes of the Vampire before her, Cordelia felt an affinity to him, growing as the seconds passed. Appreciating it, the Seer had paid increasing intensity to her emotions and mental capacities in the past few months, spending every moment appreciating it for all it was, not once regretting every action and path she took.

Death was no longer a fear of hers, it was a conduit that was chosen by her own mind, ruled by her emotions, and it was merely an embodiment to push her to the limits, to show her that every day counted and regrets merely held someone back, rather than teaching them a lesson. Cordelia chose to die, to spend the last days of her life helping the helpless along with her Champion; and it wasn’t something she regretted.

Angel waited patiently as the moments slipped past, as the movements Cordelia displayed were slowing down, exhaustion taking over. Yet through the entirety of their exhaustion, neither of the pair wanted the moment to end, desiring beyond anything that each moment would last longer than an eternity.

“Why don’t we just forget about all of this and just get drunk anyways?” Angel teased, offering her an easy way out in hopes of finding a weakness, and using it against her to get the upper hand.

The sparring, the taunting, it was all a way to get the upper hand over the other; because if one would have the upper hand, they would have the power, the confidence, the superiority. Whenever they sparred together, trained together, they took every moment for all it was. Ever since they had confirmed their love for one another, their lessons became different; neither knew why, it was simply a difference that they both accepted.

And when Cordelia sneered, “You afraid a woman’s going to beat you?” Angel knew that she was longing for the exact same thing as he was. “Poor, poor Angel. Wittle Vampire wis afwaid of getting beat by a giwl!”

It was Angel who made the mistake of making the first move, practically handing over the win to Cordelia. Sword raised, he opened himself up for vulnerability, quite a lot of it.

Cordelia merely kneeled and swept her foot to collide with his ankle, sending the Vampire to the ground. Only the hilt of the Vampire’s sword caught onto hers and yanked her down along with him, pulling her towards the cold, stone floor.

Luckily, the Vampire quickly moved under her to keep the woman from injuring herself on the cold floor. Grunting, Cordelia slumped on top of him, laughing. “I win.”

Angel paused and spent a long while more fully surveying the woman on top of him, his eyes barely open as he swallowed hard, his right hand placed on her lower back, his cold fingertips grazing against her exposed, moist skin.

A shiver shot up Cordelia’s spine as her head remained slumped on Angel’s shoulder. Her eyes closed and she welcomed the feeling with open arms for the longest time. Her body naturally reacting and she knew that the Vampire could feel her nipples pressing against his chest.

Angel’s eyes closed as his nose ably caught the feminine scent of Cordelia’s arousal, his other hand he discovered was conveniently placed between his forming erection and her own sensitive area. Moving his finger the slightest inch had the woman react immediately, a soft moan escaping her closed mouth, quietly buried in Angel’s damp chest.

Cordelia’s hand gripped his wife beater and scrunched the fabric into a ball as his hand continued to stroke circles along the soft, tan skin of her lower back and the other continued to softly move against the fabric of her sweat pants.

And it was then that Cordelia felt, beside his hand, his burgeoning erection; pressed up directly against her moist center. She wanted to move, she knew they were in a position, in a situation, that they couldn’t proceed with any further, but when she did move, she realized that she was just moving her weight against his groin in a way that furthered the embrace. Angel groaned, his eyes shut tightly closed as his hand placed on her back pushed her closer against him.

The groan escaping the Vampires lips seemed to be like a switch turning off Cordelia’s mind and letting her body take over. It didn’t help when Angel, his mouth just below her ear, absently licked the exposed skin below; it was one of her secret erogenous zones and the fact that he found it just like that made the Vampire more of a turn-on.

When his hand disappeared from her sensitive lower half, she nearly lifted herself up and almost asked him what he was up to. But the hand reappeared just beside her ribs on the side of her, lifting her chemise upwards as it explored her soft abdomen and traced circles along her sensitive skin, now forming Goosebumps everywhere.

She didn’t know what she was doing, but she arched her head so that her neck was more exposed to the Vampire’s talented mouth and when his lips pressed against the bare, responsive skin, every inch of her body exploded.

The smell of her arousal and the sharp breathing of Cordelia hit Angel profoundly and his shaft was now pressing deep through the fabric of his pants against hers.

Neither had their eyes open, as if afraid that if they looked each other in the eyes directly, the moment would be stopped by their own forgotten common sense. Angel’s demon churned inside, desiring fully to take the woman then and there, to possess her in ways that would seem a tad overboard to any normal person.

His hand finally reached what it had been searching for and cupped her full breast, his thumb rubbing against her peaked nipple and purposely driving the woman to the brink of the obvious climax that was coming sooner than either expected; especially since they still had their clothes on.

Angel pushed his body into a roll so that in mere seconds he was on top of her, his lips pressed against her neck still, bringing all the blood to that one spot to drive not only the woman crazy, but himself, the pounding of the crimson fluid in her veins throbbing in his ears and pushing him to the brink.

“Angel…” Cordelia moaned, half wanting him to stop and half wanting him to rip her clothes off. Her hands reached up and curled in his spiky, now-damp hair and pulled hard as his weight pressed up against her. Only then did she realize that her top was pressed up to her armpits, her breasts exposed to the Vampire’s hand, and then his mouth as he placed kisses all along her neck until finally he found her breasts waiting. “Oh…god!”

Neither of them had the sense to wonder how they ended up in the position they were now in, their bodies taking complete control and erasing any good sense. One minute they were training and the next they were fast moving to third base.

When the cool trail of kisses moved from her breasts and down her stomach, the Seer knew where her Champion was headed, and she was torn between stopping him and pushing his head faster towards the one place she knew she wanted him most.

He won’t get happy while making me happy will he? Was the only logic she could form in her clouded mind as her sweat pants slowly slid down to her thighs and Angel’s wet lips pressed up against the fabric of her underwear, teasing her to the brink, knowing that she was getting damn close to the edge.

Yet neither knew what kind of power Angel might have had over Cordelia fully because once he had his fingers looped around the line of her underwear, the door opened and Wesley moved down the stairs. “You were right, Angel. Mr. Lawson lied about the—Dear lord!” Covering his eyes immediately, Wesley nearly tripped as he dropped the book and nearly ran like a girl back up the stairs.

Cordelia and Angel’s eyes shot open at the same time, both frantically wide-eyed as they looked to the half-way closed door where Wesley had run out. Then, they shot back to look each other in the eyes.

Cordelia struggled to get out from under the Vampire, sheer embarrassment and horror at the situation she found herself in once her clouded mind became more pathetically clear. “Angel, get off!”

The Vampire followed the order, immediately bringing his hand up to his eyes once he realized that her breasts were still exposed. “Cordy-”

“Don’t,” she immediately shut him off, pulling her top down over her body as she quickly moved up the stairs.

Angel got up and chased after her, “Cordelia…stop.”

By the time Cordelia realized her pants were still down, she was already in the Lobby, with Fred looking at her with confusion. Pulling them up, Cordelia tried to hide her flustered face as she ran into the bathroom, locking the door behind her immediately.

Angel ran through the door into the Lobby to see Fred looking at the bathroom door and back to him. Only then did he realize his erection had yet to dissipate, and the Vampire immediately grabbed a pillow and held it in front of himself. “Where’d Cordy go-”

“What the hell did I miss down there?” She nodded toward Wesley who was pressing his nose inside of a book behind the counter.

When the Englishman saw Angel approaching, he immediately dropped the book and covered his eyes. “My eyes…please, just…”

Angel glanced at Fred, who looked like she was on the verge of bursting out laughing. “Don’t. Say. Anything.”
Cordelia opened the door just a crack, peeking through to see who was there. When she confirmed it was only Fred, she opened the door to let the young woman in. “I’m not in the mood to talk about it…” Cordelia explained quietly, closing the door behind the physicist.

The bathroom was cramped and no matter how tiny both the women were, they were both restricted in space. Cordelia felt overcrowded and Fred felt unwelcome, both women experiencing various levels of discomfort.

Fred had a sparkle of curiosity mingling with amusement that Cordelia couldn’t miss in her large brown eyes. “What happened between the two of you down in the basement?”

Unconsciously playing with the waistband of her sweat pants, Cordelia winced in embarrassment. “We…got a little carried away.”

“Carried away? From what I saw Angel was getting to know you biblically,” Fred held back a snicker. She was trying to hold a serious outlook on the situation, but seeing Cordelia so embarrassed by being caught in a sexual situation with her boss, the man she loved, Angel, was something she had yet to see while working for Angel Investigations. “How did it happen? I mean, I know that the training sessions can get a little…you know.”

“Stop!” Cordelia blushed brightly, covering her mouth as she became even more humiliated. “One minute we were training, then when I was on top of him he starte-”

“Wait, you were on top of him?” Fred blinked slowly at the question she directed towards the woman.

“Yeah…I mean, I won the sword-fighting match and when he fell he brought me down with him,” Cordelia explained, her expression showing utter confusion, proving that she didn’t even have an explanation for how they found themselves in the situation they were in minutes prior. “He started to…I mean. One minute I was just laughing about how I won, how I beat him. And the next he was licking my neck.”

It sounded absurd even to Cordelia. Frustrated, she stomped her foot, bringing her hand up to bite her nails in agitation. “I admit…he wasn’t the only one…” She paused, seeing Fred make a weird expression. “What?”

“You’re so cute, standing there trying to rationalize why you and Angel almost had sex!” her voice was squeaky and the Texan was making ‘Aw, how cute!’ face. It wasn’t something Cordelia welcomed, and she slapped the physicist on the arm defensively.

“Seriously! Stop laughing! This is serious!”

“Why? Nothing happened, it’s not like he lost his soul,” Fred pointed out.

Cordelia sighed, turning away for a moment, discomfited with what she was about to admit. Resignedly, she turned back to face Fred and let out an elongated sigh. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to control myself if I see him…”

“Aw!” Fred blurted out, covering her face slightly as she giggled.

* * *

Angel knocked on the door lightly, “Wes?” His voice was low and masculine, in an attempt to try not to raise several octaves in embarrassment. Fortunately for the Vampire, his pants were no longer bulging and he approached the situation carefully, edging into the Englishman’s office. “About what you saw…”

“I saw nothing!” Wesley quickly, and humiliatingly, lied, struggling to hide himself behind piles of dusty tomes. “I didn’t see your head between…someone’s legs…I didn’t see Cordelia’s…” he paused, shaking it off before he put too much thought into the visual.

Cordelia was an attractive woman, but Wesley Wyndam Pryce wasn’t a man to ogle at her nudity. Her body was a private aspect of herself and he felt intrusive to think that he now knew practically every scar and birthmark on the woman.

“I didn’t see anything!” Wesley bellowed in a final tone, falling into his chair and opening a book before Angel could even speak.

Angel strained a smile, “How about you just knock next time?”

Wesley slumped in defeat, looking up to Angel then, his voice extremely quiet. “You don’t get it, Angel. What you did…what you were about to do…you can’t do those things without suffering consequences!”

“I know!” Angel growled, his hand rubbing his head in defeat, slumping into the chair beside the desk. “I know,” he reiterated again, more softly than before. “It’s been 9 months and three days and a few hours since you guys trapped us in that room…since I found out Cordelia loved me the same way I love her. And we decided to be friends, since the fucking curse prevents me from doing things I want to do with her… And a lot of tension has been building up, Wes.”

The former Watcher groaned, “Please…I don’t need to hear about your sexual tension. I’ve already felt a bit queasy when seeing you prepare to…do something to Cordelia.”

“I’m afraid,” the Vampire admitted his voice barely audible as he looked down at his lap, where his hands played with one another.

“Of losing control?” Wesley inquired his voice just as soft. He knew the situation was a sensitive one for the Vampire; not being able to make love to the woman he so wanted to be with was something that seemed painful just to think about.

“Of losing my soul…” Angel answered back, looking up only for a moment, his eyes doleful as the thought crossed his mind in terrible waves.

* * *

Fred shook her head as she dropped her jacket on the divan beside her bed. Hearing Wesley close the door behind him as they entered her room, she pulled the hair-band out and let her brown hair fall to her shoulders in a graceful, flowing movement. “We should do something about it, you know that right?”

Wesley shrugged out of his jacket, purposely unresponsive to the woman’s comment.

“Wesley?” Fred called his name, not hearing his response sending warning chills up her spine. “You do agree don’t you?”

Wesley’s lack of response was the only thing that confirmed that he did not.

Scoffing, Fred looked at him with an incredulous expression. “You were the one who came up with that spell, potion thing-y. What’s changed?”

“Me remembering that Angel has a curse, that’s what’s changed,” Wesley replied curtly, sitting on the edge of the bed to remove his shoes. “I fear that we were stuck in a catch-22 situation. Either let Angel and Cordelia’s friendship fall apart with her lying about her feelings for him, or have them confirm their feelings for one another and have their friendship be tainted with sexual tension for the rest of their relationship.”

Fred kneeled down and placed her hands on Wesley’s knees, looking up into his boyishly handsome blue eyes. “I guess you’re right…I mean, I just found it kind of interesting that all of a sudden they’re…yearning.”

At that, Wesley laughed, leaning forward and pressing a tender kiss against Fred’s lips. “Some people just think with their bodies instead of their minds, I’m assuming.”

Fred grinned slyly against the kiss, her hands reaching up and slowly unfastening the Englishman’s belt buckle. “Aren’t you glad we aren’t like that?”

“Oh, yes. Extremely,” Wesley teased, his hands sneaking up the small of her back and undoing the small string that held up Fred’s top. “We’re tremendously more mature and…capable,” he paused, pulling his shirt over his head and pulling Fred into a deeper kiss. “Don’t you think so?”

Winifred didn’t need to respond, the sly grin on her face saying it all. She was happy with who she was and whom she was with. The thoughts of the past she had had that morning, the worries…everything, it was all gone as Wesley, the man she had grown to care for in more ways than one in the past nine months, captured her lips.

* * *

Now in his usual attire, a tight sweater emphasizing his muscles and torso and a pair of black cargo pants, Angel crept down the stairs with accuracy and secrecy, not once making a sound even when he moved from the carpet of the stairs to the marble-like floor of the Lobby.

When he saw Cordelia, his groin stirred, but he held control of his instincts and moved towards the counter as casually as he could manage. “I’m sorry,” he said before he was even close to the woman. No surprises, he reminded himself.

And when she turned to him, her cheeks immediately flushed. He knew that her body immediately reacted at the sight of him just as his did at the sight of her. “Me too…” she offered, her voice a ghost of a whisper.

Angel approached her slowly and when she didn’t protest the imposition to her privacy, he moved beside her and leaned against the desk she was at, his hand barely inches from hers. “What the hell happened down there?”

“Angel…” Cordelia warned, looking at him with cautioning eyes.

“We can’t just ignore what happened…what almost happened between us down there!” Angel pointed out in an adamant whisper. “You know that, I know that.”

Cordelia forced an eye roll and tried to move away, but Angel’s hand softly found its way to her exposed shoulder, the sleeveless shirt easily revealing too much skin for the liking of the Vampire or the Seer, both still fighting the urges that flowed through them.

Cordelia blinked slowly, and when the Vampire started to slip his finger all along the line of her flawless arms, she knew something was going on that should be stopped. “Angel… we can’t.”

“Why can’t we?” he asked, his voice suddenly husky in tone as he stepped closer, his warm breath flowing across Cordelia’s supple skin. When his lips grazed against her ears and his strong, broad chest pressed against her back, she knew his control was slipping, and the fear that hers was too amplified several degrees. “I love you, Cordy…I can’t…I can’t go around the office everyday and not watch you move around. Not without wanting to be with you…to do things-”

“Stop,” Cordelia weakly demanded, her voice leaving her throat. “It’s been nine months, Angel. Why all of a sudden-”

“I don’t know,” he answered before she even finished the question. “And I don’t care. I just can’t stand not being able to kiss you…”

Since when did he start being so poetically versed? Cordelia asked herself in her thoughts. Or maybe he’s always been a good talker…and he just hasn’t had someone to use it on. The thought brought warmth to her; to think that she evoked emotions deep within the centuries old Vampire, emotions that opened up pathways she assumed were never taken, leading him to a way of words, giving him the power of saying simple things and forming it so poetically. It made her heart ache at the same time though, knowing nothing could happen. “Your curse…”

Angel paused, the reminder of his curse stopping him cold in his tracks, keeping him from doing what he wanted most. Letting his head drop, he swallowed hard. “I—I don’t know what came over me. I mean, I have the curse on my mind all the time. I’m…I’m sorry, Cordelia.”

Turning around to face him, Cordelia saw the manpire backing away, ashamed of being so foolish. She immediately stepped towards him, “Don’t be sorry. It’s all right; I admit that I was…tempted. I want us to be friends though…it’s just…not as hard.” Forcing a smile, she placed her hands on his chest comfortingly; only when she did so, the muscles and strength of his torso became more noticeable and a lump formed in her throat. “Wow…”

It was Angel’s turn to smirk as he teased her, “You were saying how we should be just friends?”

“Right!” Cordelia shook herself out of it and took a step back herself, her cheeks still flushed pink, the embarrassment piling and piling, raising higher and higher as the moments passed between the two. “I mean…right. It shouldn’t be that hard right? We haven’t kissed yet so it-”

“We haven’t?” Angel’s brow furrowed, looking up immediately. “What about downstairs?”

“Technically, on the lips, we haven’t. Willingly at least,” Cordelia blinked away the lingering remembrance of the night they spent at the Ballet, backstage, alone with each other… “I mean, if we kissed each other, could you imagine how hard it would be for us to…”

“Very hard,” Angel added absently, turning and making his way into Wesley’s office. “Didn’t Wesley mention something about Mr. Lawson?”

Clearing her throat and returning to her desk, Cordelia shook her head. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

“I can’t, him and Fred are…” the Vampire paused, looking up at Cordelia for a moment, his eyes doleful and longing for a moment before returning to the desk in search of information. “Busy.”

* * *

Wesley kissed the side of Fred’s neck, brushing her long brown locks away to expose the sensitive skin. His hand was placed underneath her head, comfortingly supporting it on the bare mattress, the pillows strewn on the floor keeping them from comfortingly lying there. But the Englishman didn’t notice the cramp in his neck as his other hand stroked the bare skin of Fred’s arms tenderly, his eyes never leaving the beautiful sight that was Fred’s face.

I’m falling in love, he thought to himself. It had been nine months since their first date and he remembered it quite well, each fluid movement from the woman beside him on the bed burned into his mind and kept in a special place.

She looked so beautiful that night, as usual, her innocent loveliness shining brilliantly in the moonlight and bringing butterflies to Wesley’s stomach. Fred was thin then, for sure, a cute, healthy thin, but as Wesley’s acute blue eyes caught sight of the emphasized visibility of the young woman’s ribs, his heart fell.

Lifting a finger, he softly traced the outline of her prominent ribs; emotional turmoil spreading throughout as he noticed her arms had become increasingly thin. It wasn’t noticeable before, or at least, it hadn’t been noticeable to Wesley. I should have taken more notice…

Looking back up to Fred’s closed eyes; worry filled his heart. The woman he cared for wasn’t in the healthiest condition and it brought panic easily to him. “Fred…” he whispered, nudging her ever so slightly. She merely responded by groaning and rolling into his arms even further, obviously taking comfort in his embrace while even in deep slumber.

It was enough to keep Wesley on the edge, knowing he had to speak with her about it all, but it was also a reminder that the physicist needed sleep. So, closing his eyes he lowered himself back to the bed and tightened his grip around Fred; not enough to hurt her, but firmly enough to remind her that, even in her deepest sleep, he was still beside her, holding her in his arms.

* * *

“Need any help?” Angel offered suddenly, popping out of the office. Though, his appearance didn’t surprise Cordelia as much as he would have expected, even for her.

She didn’t even turn to acknowledge him, leaning over her desk and attempting unsuccessfully to organize folders. “Just trying to organize all this shit, maybe it’ll help us try and find that Lawson folder.”

“Let me help,” Angel dismissed her tidbit of profanity and stepped up to her side, his hand absently moving to the small of her back, keeping it there to help the woman hold her balance.

It was only when Cordelia noticed his hand pressed softly against her lower back that she seemed to lose her balance, obviously distracted by the contact between them. Angel caught her before she fell too far, his strong arms immediately moving to catch her, saving her from falling onto the floor.

“You okay?” he asked through a small chuckle, amused at her clumsiness.

“Yeah…” Cordelia shrugged it off, offering him a strained smile before returning her attention to the folders spread out over her desk. “Thank god you’re here to save me,” she joked, but her tone sounded much more serious, especially when she acknowledged Angel’s hand still against her back, a finger or two absently slipped into the edge of her pants, sending chills up her spines.

The Vampire smirked and leaned in, “Glad I could be of help to you, Miss Chase.” What was supposed to be teasing had turned a bit too serious, both the Seer and the Vampire’s tone more eager than amused.

Then, out of the blue, Cordelia’s hand shot to her back, grasping Angel’s hand. It seemed at first she was planning on pulling the hand away, but after a motionless moment, she slid his hand further into her pants, looking at him from the corner of her eyes the whole time.

Angel took the invitation openly, even letting a full-blown grin appear on his chiseled features. His hand didn’t go further into her pants; instead, it moved to the side, along with Angel edging up to her, his chest pressed fully against her back as his hand finally stopped at its destination. “Nice jeans…” he whispered, his finger playing with the hem of Cordelia’s thong, the front of her pants bulging where his hand was placed.

When Cordelia gasped slightly, Angel took it as a sign not to stop, that he wasn’t crossing a line. “Did I see you wearing them last week?”

A sly grin played at the corner of Cordelia’s lips at the remark, “Shut. Up.” The last word was caught in her throat when Angel’s fingers started to make magic in her pants.

Unfortunately, for Cordelia’s desires more than anything else, the Lobby doors opened, signaling an entrance by a stout, middle-aged woman with thick glasses.

Angel immediately pushed away from Cordelia turning around to face the woman, his hands shoved in his pockets to distract from his now bulging pants. “Hello, may I help you?”

Cordelia brushed the hair out of her eyes and took a deep breath, her hands shaking slightly after the moment just shared between her and Angel before they were interrupted. Finally, she turned around, her russet eyes immediately recognizing the woman; the face familiar from the photograph in Mr. Lawson’s file; Cordelia had looked it over and remembered the face easily; not many women looked like she did in L.A., the woman coming off a sweet, yet ‘pleasantly plump’ woman. “Mrs. Lawson?”

“Yes,” she greeted curtly, gripping her small purse tightly. “A man came to you a day or two ago, asking for you to take care of a-”

“Khlarka demon? Yes, he was your husband,” Angel interrupted as politely as he could manage, pointedly placing himself behind the counter.

“No, he wasn’t,” she pointed out, looking down at her feet and blinking away a tear or two. “A few days ago, something happened, we were out, coming from the Cineplex after seeing a quaint movie, not like the action-filled, disgusting ‘teen-flicks’ you find in theatres these days…”

“And?” Angel pried, trying to get to the point, aggravation over being interrupted with Cordelia reaching a boiling point.

“And something happened, a demon attacked us and when it scratched my husband, he turned into an exact replica of the demon. And the demon that was attacking us…it turned into my husband.”

Cordelia winced, “So the demon we killed was-”

“The real Mr. Lawson,” Angel finished under his breath, looking down at his feet, ashamed of making such a mistake. “That’s probably why he wasn’t anywhere near where usual Khlarka demons are. He was trying to-”

“Find me…” Mrs. Lawson somberly finished.

* * *

Lilah Morgan downed the last of her Vodka easily, not once wincing or taking her eyes off of the screen as a devilish smirk appeared on her usual impassive façade. “This is good…very good.”

Gavin Park gave a heavy sigh, pushing himself out of the seat he was lounging in and moved towards the display screen Lilah had so diligently glared at for the past hour. “I still don’t get the point of all this. This entire game you’re playing.”

The hard-ass Lawyer seemed pleased by that. “Good,” she said in a snappy feminine tone. “You’re not supposed to. And it only adds to my ego that you willingly admit it.”

“Cordelia Chase dies in three months, so what?” Gavin rolled his eyes. “She’s a fucking Seer, there are millions of those on Earth, not counting alternate dimensions, different realms…”

“Gavin, Gavin…” Lilah tisked, placing her glass on the table and finally turning away from the display screen to look the pompous annoying Lawyer in the eyes. “We want her to die. She means everything to Angel, and nothing more than watching her die can set him off, can make him snap.”

“Why not take his son?” Gavin asked, crossing his arms. It was plain to see he was curious, and Lilah was more than happy to go along with it, all of her information already secured and incorruptible by the curious Gavin Park standing before her. Ever since he was turned down to be Head-Junior Partner and Liaison to the Senior Partners, he’d been snooping around her projects, not to steal her ideas, but to point out her mistakes and inform others, in hopes of her being dispelled. “That’d be more of a punishment, don’t you think so? The one thing he can never have, no matter how long he lives…”

Shaking her head, Lilah sauntered over to Gavin, “Holtz is already full-blown into his own scheming. No need to go that route, the damn psychopath can handle it on his own. We’ll let that occur, then Miss Chase’s death added to it will make Angel go psycho for sure.”

“But why with the whole Empath demon?” Gavin pushed further, nodding towards the Demon in the corner, his legs crossed as he was raised several feet in the air, his eyes closed as he concentrated.

“Nothing hurts more than to have small tastes of the thing you want most but can’t have, only to have it taken away at the last moment,” Lilah explained. “And besides, if they do get out of control, maybe he’ll lose his soul and Angelus will kill Cordelia himself.”

Gavin shook his head, “There’s got to be a flaw…” Uncrossing his arms, he pointed to the woman on the screen, talking to Angel and Cordelia. “What’s with that?”

“Distractions, dumbass.”

“Distractions?”

“Yes, to distract, like most do,” Lilah scoffed, turning and walking towards her door. Opening it, she turned to face Gavin, motioning for him to leave. “I have a meeting with Linwood, and it’ll take a while to get your stink out of the carpet. So please, get the fuck out of my office.”
“Where are you going?” came a voice from the bed, where Fred lay under the covers, her big brown eyes peeking over them to catch Wesley attempting to sneak out of the room.

Shrugging into his robe, Wesley forced a nonchalant smirk before turning to the door. “I keep having something pester me, it just won’t leave me alone. I might as bloody well do something to get rid of it, am I right?”

Unsure of whether Wesley was lying, or if he was just in a ‘mood’, Fred nodded slowly, replying to him at length: “Don’t be gone too long; it gets pretty boring up here without you.” Trying to keep things light, she ignored the signs and put on a more optimistic outlook.

At that, Wesley had to smile, an unconscious reaction to the woman’s sly comment. The thought of her losing so much weight, not being able to nourish herself with food, no money, it disturbed him. Almost as much as the reminder that he hadn’t noticed in all the time she had gone through it, and by the looks of her, it was an easy guess to have been months.

“Come downstairs if you get lonely,” Wesley grabbed the doorknob and twisted it, opening the door in a swift movement. He wanted to be alone; to figure things out and to contemplate the direction he’d planned on taking whenever he could confront his girlfriend about what was going on.

“Wesley!” Fred called to him, a loud whisper as she giggled, hopping out of the bed and moving towards him, unashamed of her nudity as she crossed the room, ignoring the opened blinds and focusing her whole mind on the man before her. Placing a soft, affectionate kiss on Wesley’s lips, Fred grinned brighter than she had ever grinned before, welcoming the warmth of his touch openly, glad that someone cared for her in a way she could deal with, a way she could reciprocate with him.

Pulling away, she was surprised to see that, behind the aftermath of their brief kiss, doubt and confusion lingered in Wesley’s boyishly blue eyes as he looked at her, his eyes showing something in their depths, a negative feeling that he knew would disturb her. To return her gesture, he kissed her atop the forehead softly and briefly before pulling away and leaving.

Leaving Fred more than confused by the single flicker of something that had looked more like uncertainty than anything else.

* * *

Though Conner’s eyes were still open, it was plain to see the child was close to falling into a deep slumber beside his father on the bed. Absently playing with the toy Angel had given him, the infant looked perfectly innocent.

There Angel sat on his bed with his eyes never leaving his only child, his precious son. Angel looked the part of not a detective, but a confused man looking for an answer, looking for something to make him feel better.

And when he felt the wind shift and the slight creak of the door, he knew it was coming. He welcomed the presence of Cordelia Chase. “His first birthday is in two weeks…”

Cordelia closed the door behind her quietly, her mind registering no surprise at the Vampire’s acute hearing. Seeing him in a new outfit, khaki pants and a darker, button-up shirt, she knew it’d be hard to speak with him and not think about what was underneath.

I guess I’ll have to try. “Angel…about earlier-”

“I should have known,” Angel remarked quietly, tidying up the blanket around his son who was obviously taking comfort in the softness of the pillows, since the boy’s eyes were sliding shut ever so slightly as the seconds passed. “I’m a Vampire and I should have noticed that the demon wasn’t really a-”

“You couldn’t have known, Angel,” Cordelia assured him, moving to seat herself beside her friend on the bed, never once taking her eyes off of him.

It wasn’t a new thing to sit there and watch the Vampire tear himself apart emotionally, feeling guilty over something that wasn’t his fault, that couldn’t be avoided. “Wesley didn’t even know!”

“But I should have,” Angel pointed out defiantly, his eyesight falling to the floor, trying to focus on something so he wouldn’t have to look his friend in the eyes. “You don’t get it, Cordelia.”

Scoffing, Cordelia brought her hand up to Angel’s chin and forced him to look her in the eyes. “Don’t give me that crap, Mr. ‘I’m-oh-so-tortured.’ Not every single thing you do is bad, big guy. You don’t always have to seek redemption.”

Angel allowed a brief smile to fleetingly cross his features, nodding. It didn’t matter what the situation was, he knew that Cordelia was always going to be there for him, to remind him of the things that he sometimes overlooked.

“I guess…” he gave in with a sigh. “Still…”

“Don’t…” Cordelia stopped him with a soft whisper in his ear, before placing her lips against his temple in a soft, tender kiss that she hoped would soothe him. Only then her hand moved to his shirt, unbuttoning the top few buttons gradually. She kissed him again, but lower, just beside his left eye, sending a small shiver up the manpire’s spine.

Angel tried to resist, attempting to lift his hand and push hers away, but at that moment, the woman was placing tender, warm kisses down the side of his face, and all of his limbs felt heavy, as if not even the exertion of a strong force could move them.

Cordelia reached his neck, her lips grazing his pale, cold skin in such a way that Angel was sure, in his delusions, he felt a slight heartbeat inside of his chest; the same chest that Cordelia’s hand so relentlessly moved across, driving him crazy.

“Cordy…” he forced out, his voice weak once he felt the softness of Cordelia’s lips brushing lightly across his neckline. His groin stirred and it was obvious that the woman now caressing his exposed, washboard stomach noticed. Especially when he felt her free hand playing with his belt-buckle, trying to unfasten it without removing the other from his abdomen.

She responded to the quiet plea of her name by moving from her place beside the Vampire to the floor, seating herself on her knees and bringing both hands to the belt keeping Angel’s budding erection from her sight. Angel groaned and let his head fall back, his eyes closing.

Finally, once she unfastened his pants and slipped them down further, he gave up and grabbed her head with his large hand, bunching up her hair and pushing her closer to him. “Don’t…stop.”

Cordelia grinned at his words and the strength of his hand on her head, pushing her closer.

But it was the soft murmur from Conner, who stirred slightly in his sleep that stopped the two from going any further. Forgotten just moments ago, the child slipped back into both the Seer’s and the Vampire’s thoughts.

Angel brought his pants back up and zipped them to a close while Cordelia pushed herself to her feet and backed up several feet. While tending to the sleeping boy to make sure he remained undisturbed, Angel embarrassedly tried to avoid eye contact with Cordelia, who was doing the same as him; her cheeks flushed bright red.

* * *

Moving down the stairs, Fred tried hard to remain focused, to try and not dwell on what was bothering her so much. The look Wesley gave her before leaving their room, a look of doubt and uncertainty, had been burned into her mind and it was adamant that it stay there in her thoughts, pestering her for the hour she lay on the bed alone with her thoughts and pushing her downstairs, to where she was now, about to do something she wasn’t entirely prepared for.

Rapping on the open door leading into Wesley’s office, Fred croaked his name:

“Wesley?”

Not looking up, the man merely murmured something unintelligible.

“What are you up to?” Fred asked curiously, edging closer to the desk. When in sight of the papers Wesley was scribbling on, she came to the realization that he was doing math, adding numbers and figures together. “What’s that?”

Wesley responded by yanking the papers away, throwing them in a drawer and putting on a casual facade, all in one graceless movement. “I was doing a little…. research.”

“Research of what?”

“I thought I told you I was down here researching when I left,” Wesley thought out loud, remembering his brisk, non-casual way of pushing her to a distance, holding back a wince at the recent memory. “Is that not enough?”

Fred took a step back, hurt by his tone. “What’s going on, Wes?” Her thoughts spun around and around, thousands of possibilities and fears bubbling just beneath the surface, trying to break free desperately. When Wesley let his head drop, taking a deep, shaky sigh, she knew something was wrong, something was up.

Wesley somberly looked up, gripping the edge of his desk as he stood, hoping to remain stable, that his knees wouldn’t buckle beneath the overbearing weight of silence, the silence that filled the room completely and unnerved not only him, but also Fred.

“Why haven’t you informed me of your eating…problem?”

Fred immediately defended herself, “I don’t have a problem, Wesley!” She didn’t have an eating problem that was for sure. It was the diminishing amount of spending money that was her, and practically everyone else’s problem. Not enough money to buy food, to buy new clothes, to pay for gas, for anything…it was all becoming too much and the added factor of Wesley looking down upon her as if she were some child who wouldn’t stop eating playdo wasn’t something she could easily digest.

“Then why do you keep getting thinner and thinner?” He asked justly, swallowing hard, struggling to keep his emotions in check. He was falling in love with Fred and besides the fact that he doubted she felt the same way, now the woman was keeping secrets from him. “All I want is to help and I can’t do that if you don’t tell me what the bloody hell is going on!”

“Maybe I don’t want you to help me, Wesley.” Fred’s voice chilled the room, breaking the silence with loudness and destroying the comfort that usually stood with them in tone.

“Did you ever think of that? No, because your oversized ego-”

“Oversized ego?” The former Watcher rolled his eyes purposely, groaning as he slammed his fist on the desk, frustration bubbling just beneath the surface. “You’re making this about me, Fred, when it’s really about you. You and your problem with asking for help!”

“I don’t need help, stop talking to me like I’m some mental patient or bulimic, ghastly model. I’m not Wesley, so stop condescending to me.” It was a simple demand, really, and Fred would’ve been more than happy to oblige and talk about it if the man would stop patronizing her with his words.

Wesley, stubborn now, his frustration breaking through the surface and taking full form in his words. “You think I’m condescending you when really, all I’m trying to do is help you. And I want to help you because I care for you and I don’t want you to suffer.”

“I’m not suffering, just leave it alone.”

Wesley’s voice cracked as he lowered his voice, pleading for her to answer with his intense blue eyes. “Then why…why are you so thin?”

“Do you even care? It seems as if your little analysis of my ‘problem’ has already been made,” she was being defensive and it was the only tactic she had left to throw at the man before her, trying desperately to push him away. He was too busy trying to save her and be the hero that it annoyed her greatly, the woman tired of being a victim, a girl to save.

The Englishman looked extremely insulted by her comment, “I’ve been sitting here for the past hour trying to come up with possibilities of why you’re losing so much weight, why you look so pale…” he walked around his desk, moving to Fred as slowly as he could without frightening her. Bringing his worn hands up to cup the physicist’s small head, he looked her in the eyes. “Is it because of the money problems? I know we haven’t had that many cases, so money has been quite limited…”

Fred avoided his gaze, ashamed of herself. His now quiet, comforting tone reminding her of the seriousness of the situation she found herself in. Her diminishing weight which she had just denied moments ago, was now being grasped fully and made frighteningly clear. Yet it was simply another thing to place on her long list of reasons why she was a victim every day of her life. It was a tiresome reminder to wake up to every single day, and she was tired of being the victim, being the poor girl that had to be rescued by some white knight.

Though she greatly appreciated Wesley’s concern, she couldn’t handle it, not at the moment, standing there, her face in his hands, her heart, her dignity, and her reputation lay out before them, waiting to be inevitably demolished by the reality they found themselves stuck in. “I can’t do this…Wesley. I need…I need to be alone.” She was afraid, afraid of admitting that she needed help, that she was without food; it was time she needed to grasp it herself, before she could ask Wesley for the help she knew she needed.

Pushing away from him, Winifred Burkle moved as fast as her weak legs could manage, putting as much space between her and Wesley as possible.

“Fred, wait!” He called after her, a look of mystification on his face, shining in his mesmerizing azure eyes, and it was a sight that hurt Fred more than anything. Faced with the fear of her condition, finding herself in such a large hole of financial, physical, and emotional problems that she just couldn’t dig herself out of; it was a frightening thing.

“Don’t…I just need to be alone, I can’t…I can’t be around you, okay?” She didn’t mean to sound so rude, turning away and hurriedly moving up the stairs. Fred couldn’t bear to speak with anyone, but it was Wesley that she was afraid to be around, the one person she unconsciously lived to impress.

The one person she desperately needed.

* * *

Angel dragged his feet up the last of the stairs, the overbearing weight of the silence surrounding him and Cordelia as they moved to her apartment door. Trying desperately to ignore the lingering scent of Cordelia’s own arousal from earlier when she had started to please him, Angel cleared his throat, stuffed his hands in the pockets of his duster, and leaned against the frame of the doorway, his eyes lingering longer than expected on Cordelia’s neckline.

“Goodnight,” he forced out in a whisper that was barely audible even for him.

Turning to face him, Cordelia Chase wore a somber expression, obviously displeased with saying goodbye to him for the night, her desires, if only for a moment, taking over and pushing her to want him to stay over. But it didn’t happen, her own senses regaining control long enough for her to return his departing gesture, “Goodnight.”

Leaning in, she placed a soft, tender kiss on Angel’s pale, cold cheek, welcoming the fresh coldness of his skin. Yet her lips lingered on his face a lot longer than she had planned on, her own cheek pressing up against his, her eyes fluttering to a close as she felt the soft graze of his hand on her lower back.

Finally, she found the strength to pull away, only to have Angel mimic her and kiss her on the cheek, his nose rubbing just below her eyes in a way that sent chills up her spine.

Her body reacted, which caused his body to react in a way that seemed entirely inappropriate coming from just a simple goodbye kiss. But once he finally pulled away, just far enough that their mouths were a breath apart, she knew that the intensity was growing, the attraction becoming unstoppable, and it didn’t frighten her. In fact, she surprised herself by wanting it more and more as the moments passed.

Just when she expected his lips to graze upon hers, he didn’t, letting out a soft exhale, quieter than a mouse at night, he let his lips every so often brush along her cheekbone, and finally, he placed an enticingly delicate kiss on her closed eyelid.

Her barriers dropping slightly, Cordelia let a soft moan escape through her closed lips, Goosebumps spreading all over her arms. The keys that were in her hand dropped to the floor, making a loud clatter that seemed to be lost on the Seer’s and the Vampire’s ears. Using her free hands to wrap around Angel’s neck, Cordelia pulled him closer to her, his mouth colliding with her temple, placing a wet, provoking kiss just beside her hairline.

“I love you so much…” he groaned, moving to her neck. His own eyes closed shut tightly when the woman in his arms pulled herself up and wrapped her legs around his waist, his erection full and craving to be inside of Cordelia, knowing somehow that it would be a perfect union, that she would fit him like a glove.

Noticing his own reaction pressed firmly in between her legs, Cordelia couldn’t help but moan out loud, arching her neck and bringing herself more fully into his waiting mouth, desiring much more than the touch of his lips and the soft graze of his hands. She wanted him inside of her, right then. But her keys were on the ground and she couldn’t help but outwardly pout at the realization, her passion-filled eyes searching the hallway for them.

Angel seemed to be reading her thoughts; and responded by lifting a leg and kicking open her door in one strong movement.

Moving inside, Cordelia never took her eyes off Angel, and neither did he, as if one glance either way, looking at something that wasn’t the person they loved, the person that they were holding or the person that was holding them, could ruin the moment, could break the two apart.

And as Cordelia brought her mouth to his, her lips grazing against his own in a tender, slow kiss that seemed to last an eternity, it was plain to see that neither wanted the night to end.

* * *

Gavin Park skulked into the dark office; the only light provided was the streaming moonlight slipping through the half-closed curtains. His curiosity as to what Lilah Morgan’s true agenda was had brought him into her office late at night. He tricked the keycard scanner to think that it was her instead of him, and silently entered the room, the soft sole’s of his polished shoes padding across the carpeted floor, bringing him to her desk.

Conveniently, there were several files and folders strewn across the oak, professionally refined desk, and a cocky grin found its way onto Gavin’s face. Disorganization is a weakness, Miss Morgan. “I expected better of you,” he said out loud in a distinct whisper, his own ego inflating beyond former limits.

Licking his thumb and bringing it to the corner of the manila folder, he flipped it open adeptly in one swift motion, strewing out Lilah Morgan’s elegant handwriting before him on pieces of parchment, printed reports… It was a gold mine for the self-seeking notary.

“Annapurna Sanctuary?” he breathed, recognizing the name yet becoming so confused by the randomness of the specified location.

Nevertheless, no time was given to him to ponder the implications and the underlying agendas behind the location, because a click of a gun behind him nearly caused the usually smug lawyer to piss in his pants. Dropping the folder to the desk, he slowly but surely turned around muttering a small prayer as to what was waiting for him.

Though when he caught sight of Lilah, casually leaning against her bookcase, a USP Raider Two-Tone grasped firmly in her hands, he relaxed a tad, used to seeing Lilah attempt to look powerful. It didn’t work on him. “Nice USP, did you just buy that? Looks pretty damn new.”

“I only use it to get rid of maddening bugs…you’re the first one to slime into my office,” she explained it all quite casually, a biting ominous tone in her rich feminine voice. Pulling back the slide, she aimed the gun at Gavin’s leg, taking a well-aimed shot. “This USP was customized by Jacob Malkoly over at Euro Arms… nice guy, he owed me so I asked for a silencer.”

Gavin fell to the ground, clutching his knee where the bullet had hit.

“I hear there’s this part of your kneecap, that if damaged, it can’t grow back…” Lilah pursed her lips, mockingly tapping her chin in thought. “Well…It’d be unfair to only have one of them not usable,” she spat, a malicious grin crossing her face as she shot Gavin in the other knee.

“What…are…you doing?” he choked, his face red with pain.

“Hun…this is all part of the plan,” Lilah chuckled, shooting once more, this time point blank in Gavin’s forehead, killing him on the spot.
Angel pressed Cordelia against the now closed door, growling against her neck as his lips nibbled against her reddened, succulent skin. “You taste so good…”

His fervent mumble affected Cordelia profoundly and brought a stifled moan to her closed lips, her eyes fluttering to a close once more, fervor filling her core. Bringing her hands up to Angel’s head, she gripped his spiky hair tighter than intended when one of his hands moved to the edge of her belt, pushing the jeans down with ease, the belt buckle holding no resistance to his fanatical, skillful hands.

Moving into the living room, Angel placed Cordelia onto the couch gently, his hand never leaving the soft skin of her neck and the other the enticingly gentle and supple exposed skin of her lower back.

Pulling his head back, Angel teased the woman for a moment, leading her to believe he was going to capture her lips with his, when he tantalizingly bit her lower lip instead.

“Don’t stop…” she moaned, her hands moving to his and entangling their fingers together, holding them out above the both of them as Angel finally moved atop her. Cordelia’s arousal was now evident in the air permeating into Angel’s acute nose, its unique and exclusive scent augmenting his erection, which ground against the material of his pants and the fabric of Cordelia’s underwear.

Relieved once her pants were finally removed from her legs, the Seer brought her hands the lapel of Angel’s dark button-up shirt and yanked him closer, becoming more and more addicted to the feel of the Vampire’s erection pressed firmly between her legs, only the soft fabric of her cotton underwear and the rough textile of his pants keeping it from entering her, from pleasing her in ways that she had desired for so long.

“I love you, Angel.” Cordelia said softly, her voice a ghost of a whisper. Angel paused, looking down at her for the longest time, the three words that so poignantly affected him resonating in his heart, in his soul…

In my soul… Angel somberly reiterated in his thoughts, comprehension of the seriousness of their situation finally hitting him.

“You make me so happy,” she continued, bringing a hand to the side of his face and stroking his pale, yet striking skin, his dark eyes enchanting her so easily. It was only when he pulled away, pushing himself to the other end of the couch with an uneasy expression crossing his face, did Cordelia snap out of her lust-filled addiction to the manpire.

“That’s why this has to stop,” Angel muttered painfully, struggle evident on his chiseled features, illuminated by the moonlight, the only source of luminosity in the living room. Grabbing Cordelia’s pants from the floor, he tossed them to the woman, pointedly avoiding looking at her partial exposure.

“What?” Cordelia was flabbergasted and it became clear in her soft yet hurt tone. Pulling a blanket from the couch, she immediately covered her spread legs.

Sighing, Angel buried his face in his hands, torn between what he so craved to do and what he knew was right, what he knew he had to do. “We just…we can’t, Cor. The curse.”

“You mean that you might…” she was disbelieving of it at first. No matter how much she loved Angel and he loved her, there was still hesitation whenever she considered the possibility that Angel would lose his soul with her. Buffy was his first love and he lost his soul with her, and it was a constant reminder every time the name Angelus was mentioned.

“Are you kidding? If a demon like me could make you so happy, then how do you think you make me feel?” Angel replied to her whispered, unfinished incredulity. “We can’t…we can’t do this anymore. I don’t know why we keep losing control, but we have to do something to stop it.”

* * *

Crossing and uncrossing her legs, Lilah’s upper lip twitched repeatedly, the pen in her hand swaying from side to side as impatience captured her body easily, the silence filling her room annoying her greatly.

Holding back the urge to bite her nails, she leaned back in her comfortable, plush office chair and emitted a lengthened sigh. From time to time checking the time on her expensive five grand diamond embedded watch, Lilah Morgan didn’t look the part of her normally calm self; one that exuded confidence and callousness when dealing with otherworldly clients and normally womanizing men. Men that had thought to destroy the world and had failed; now needing protection from the devastating conclusions of their inaccurate plans.

Then and there, alone in her office with only the dead body of Gavin Park as her companion, she displayed no such manner, impatience painted across her femininely chiseled features.

A grunt resonated throughout the dimly lit, well-furnished office and the formerly lifeless physique of Gavin Park stirred, not at all surprising the woman sitting in her chair. In fact, a smile played at the corner of her pursed lips, her impatience sated. “Finally,” she growled under her breath, pushing herself from her seat and standing.

Crossing her arms, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other and continued an impassive façade. “Wake up, dear,” she greeted, her tone dripping with sarcasm.

Groaning indiscernibly and mumbling incomplete words, the undead man lifted himself to his wobbly feet, his knees weak. “Where…?” Not able to finish his own question, his voice feeble.

“Why are Zombie’s so fucking incoherent?” she asked herself with a chuckle, fingering the blade on her desk, shining in the dim light from the lamp that was beside it, illuminating it in a flattering way, the knife becoming more and more irresistible as the moments passed.

Finally, grabbing the blade and slicing her palm, hardly flinching, Lilah strode closer to Gavin, forcing open his mouth and letting small drops of blood trickle down his throat. A few moments later, after muttering a spell in Latin, she let go, leaving the Zombie to force the blood down his esophagus. “I need you to do something for me.”

Immediately, Gavin looked up, his eyes red as he obediently replied: “Anything you wish.”

* * *

The stillness was far from welcome in the bathroom as Cordelia sat on the toilet, head in her hands, sighing in frustration.

The Vampire outside of the locked bathroom door wanted what she too desired. Yet it was the inexorable confusion and bewilderment of what to do, what was right and what was wrong battling with the ethically correct decision they both knew they had to make.

Cordelia knew that loving Angel came with boundaries, came with burdens, and came with consequences, and it was frustrating to spend nine months around him, fantasizing of the magical things he could do to her…that they could do to each other…

A knock at the door sounded and startled Cordelia. “You okay?” came Angel’s husky yet comforting voice.

Not knowing the right answer to his question, Cordelia bit her lip, looking up at the locked entrance. “Why do you ask?”

His voice perfectly vulnerable, the Vampire responded. “I need to know if you’re alright…”

Blinking away a tear, Cordelia swallowed hard and tried desperately to keep her hands from trembling as she rose and went to the door, opening it slowly but surely, revealing the naïve Vampire, whose doleful eyes shone with yearning and concern mingled with confusion and just plain emotional torment. “Hi…” he whispered his voice breaking.

Though Angel was the one who stopped the entire ordeal, the closeness they had just shared was still on his mind and his groin stirred at the sight of Cordelia. Yet it was more emotionally difficult for him to stand barely feet from her and not do anything to her body. Regardless of the difficult and forced argument he had made just an hour previously, just before Cordelia departed to the bathroom leaving him alone with his thoughts, he wanted to reach out and comfort her, touch her.

“Hi…” she greeted somberly, a bittersweet, polite grin fleetingly passing across her tired yet still alluring features.

“I still love you,” Angel blurted out, his hands nervously playing with one another, his own eyes dropping for a moment. “You know that, right?”

Cordelia responded by gently lifting her hand to his cheek, her warm touch sending sensations throughout his body. “I know that, Angel. And I’ll know it till the day that I die…” She wanted him so badly, not only inside of her, but just him. She wanted to be able to prove how much she loved him, to be with him, to wake up beside him in the morning, to laugh, to be a mother to his child.

“Do you still love me?” he asked weakly, looking up, profound fear in his eyes as he awaited her answer. “Because I don’t think I could go on living if you didn-”

The Seer stopped him by bringing her other hand up to his lips, her thumb preventing him from further expressing his doubt, his fear of losing her. Cordelia knew she could not bear to hear the man she loved say he couldn’t go on living if she didn’t love him. How is he ever going to go on living after I die? “Of course I do Angel. I love you so much.”

Visibly relieved, Angel’s shoulders relaxed and he nodded, blinking slowly and kissing her thumb, his own hand coming up and holding it there, as if her touch was all that kept him living. “I just wish…I just wish I could be the kind of man you want.”

“Angel…you are the kind of guy I want, the kind of guy I need,” Cordelia pointed out softly, stepping closer and looking him in his eyes deeply.

“I just love you so much and I hate not being able to…to please you,” Angel admitted, and even though his voice was a ghost of a whisper, Cordelia heard every word, his voice passionately quiet. “I hate not being able to prove how much I love you.”

“If you do that then we’d have to deal with the consequences,” Cordelia reminded him, placing a soft kiss atop the tip of Angel’s nose, a tear escaping her eyes and streaking ever so slowly down her cheek. “And god, no matter how much I love you, I don’t think I can go on living and remember that I was the reason Angelus came back.”

Angel forced a laugh, his own eyes becoming watery, his emotions coming to the surface immediately. “At least I can sleep easily tonight, knowing that you finally know you make me happier than anyone else.”

Cordelia didn’t respond, her heart breaking and soul aching, wanting Angel more than ever, yet also knowing more so than ever before that it just wasn’t possible for them, that no matter how much they loved each other, they just couldn’t be together.

Taking notice of the tears, Angel leaned in and kissed one away, just below her eyes, his lips grazing against her soft skin and bringing comfort and calmness to her. And as a gesture of his love for her, he gently pressed his lips against hers in a tender, loving kiss. A kiss that wasn’t filled with lust and tantalizing desire, just love, a spark shared between two larger-than-life souls.

And it was enough for both of them.

* * *

Fred sighed, falling onto her bed in utter frustration. Closing her eyes and lying spread-eagle on the comfortable bed, the Texan tried hard to relax, trying desperately to take comfort in the softness of her comforters.

Yet all she could manage was drifting thoughts and memories she had preferred to leave unremembered.

There were no street lamps illuminating the long, dirt road; only the setting sun off in the distance provided a small amount of light for Winifred Burkle as she strolled towards her home.

A rock hit her in the head hard and sent her crashing to the ground onto her weak, scrawny knees, dirt spattering onto her skirt and all over her innocent features. Bringing a shaking hand to her glasses, she smudged the mud in a poor attempt to clean them, to give her some insight as to where the rock had been thrown from.

But the foot to her back, shoving her even further into the large puddle of mud, stopped her curiosity short, confirming what soon became obvious. Bobby Roberts cackled under his breath, gritting his teeth. “Why’d you have to go tell Ms. Ayers that I cheated off your test, huh? You scrawny little bitch.”

“You cheated, what’d you expect me to do?” she snapped, a tinge of confidence she dug up from deep down becoming enough for her to risk her safety. Bobby wasn’t a boy to mess with, standing at 5 feet 11 inches and being only fourteen years old, he was a domineering and menacing teenage boy, who used his fists to get through life.

Stereotypical bully, Fred thought to herself, wincing as a headache overtook her head and she felt a bump forming with her hand at the back of her head.

Bobby responded with a kick to her shins, “Bitch. I’m going to get suspended cuz’ of this.”

Fred didn’t respond, too afraid to be kicked again, even harder than before. Fear flooded her thoughts and every inch of her very being, threatening to take over so that there would be nothing left to feel but fear. And for Winifred Burkle, physical pain came second only to paralyzing fear.

Suddenly, she was yanked up to her weak feet by her hair, Bobby’s large, rough hand barely showing mercy. “If I get this suspension, I won’t be able to play basketball no more.”

“Not my fault,” she regretted saying back to the teenager holding her roughly.

“Why don’t you go eat a fucking burger, you scrawny-ass little freak,” he spat into her ear before throwing her back to the ground, his attention-span not long enough to focus on Fred for more than five minutes.

Moments later, Bobby Roberts departed, leaving Fred all alone in the mud puddle, as the darkness took over the dirt road quickly, sobs escaped her lips and embarrassment for herself broke through the surface.

Pissed off at herself, for letting such a distant memory still haunt her, still provoke her enough to cause her to push away Wesley when all he was trying to do was confirm that their money problems were causing Fred’s weight loss.

Being called skinny, scrawny, bulimic and anorexic her entire childhood hadn’t done much for her self-esteem and it haunted her daily. Fred remembered eating all she could on the farm she shared with her parents, hamburgers, entire pizzas and nothing would change her figure.

And she hadn’t told Angel or anyone else that her childhood memories still haunted her dreams. Not every night, but sometimes, randomly, they would catch up to her, and it wasn’t a pleasant way to sleep at night.

With Wesley speaking to her as if she were a child, referring to her loss of weight, how thin she was, it wasn’t something she could handle at the moment it had been brought up, her own insecurity breaking to the surface and taking over her rationality. She had no reason to be upset with Wesley, and she was extremely sorry for taking past painful memories out on him.

* * *

Angel’s eyes blinked open slowly, the cool night air spilling through the open window waking him. Immediately, his eyes darted to Cordelia, beside him on her bed in his arms, her eyes closed and her soft features delicately untouched. Letting a sigh of relief escape his lips, the Vampire then surveyed the room, corroborating the safety of the space easily with his acute sight.

Placing a soft kiss on Cordelia’s forehead, Angel brought a hand to stroke her cheek, to feel the warmth of her coffee skin. When she stirred against his touch, bringing herself further into his embracing arms, he swore that if his heart could beat, it would have stopped the very moment her leg, placed casually between his, rubbed against his groin.

The Vampire closed his eyes and inhaled extendedly, taking in the arousing scent of her hair, the natural aromatic tang saturating his nostrils. He wanted so much not to be inside of her, but to prove his love, to prove that he can please her, that it was only the curse keeping him from entering her, from unifying their love.

One hand placed under her neck, supporting her head as he shifted his weight to one side, Angel slowly but surely moved his hand down her neck, the side of her frame, and finally hooked his fingers on the ring of her pajama pants.

When he started to pull down, Cordelia’s stirred in her slumberous position, her eyes daintily opening just the slightest inch. “Angel…?”

“Shh…” he whispered, his dark eyes locking with hers, never leaving once as he continued to pull her pants down until they hung loosely at her lower thighs. “Just let it happen…” he pleaded to her in a weak, barely-there whisper.

She nodded, her breath caught in her throat in subtle eagerness of what the manpire beside her was about to do, knowing his hands could work magic with the slightest of movements.

A small grin tugged at the corner of Angel’s lips when he noticed the woman start to tremble in anticipation and when she swallowed hard, obviously already overwhelmed. His fingers teased the woman’s already moist center through the fabric of her underwear; his gestures affective.

But something tugged at his acute senses, something dangerous, something that threatened Cordelia. Yet even this subtle forewarning wasn’t enough to anticipate what happened next.

* * *

Fred sat on the couch in the lobby. Alone. As usual, in the past few hours, she’d delved into her own thoughts, every so often mumbling indiscernible words aloud and acting as if there were another person in the room to hold up the other end of the conversation. But there wasn’t and the physicist was starting to slowly realize she was a tad crazy.

Crazier than Angel, Fred thought with a small smile appearing fleetingly across her young features. The lobby was dark, barely lit and she liked it that way. A crazy person hiding in the dark mumbling to herself, great.

Looking at her watch, she let out a deep sigh, her foot tapping impatiently on the hard floor as she now and then glanced up at the entrance doors, hoping more than anything to see the refreshing image of Wesley, his striking blue eyes, the sound of his appealing accent. Anything really. Anything to get rid of the unwelcome feeling Fred had in the pit of her stomach.

She’d counted the change and filed the files, yet there was something still nagging her, in the back of her mind, unable to be pushed away, to be ignored; it was quite infuriating for the lonesome Texan, with no one to take her aggravation out on.

And it wasn’t even just that. Apologies needed to be given and accepted, and forgiveness needed to be rightfully earned. But it isn’t possible if the person I need to apologize to isn’t here.

Not able to afford a cell phone and with his pager on the counter, Wesley was pretty much unobtainable, shortening Fred’s patience for his arrival all the more; her curiosity of where the former Watcher was diminishing all self-control.

“Where are you, Wesley?” Fred growled in frustration, her voice edgier than ever, and she was glad that no one was around to hear it.

As if on cue, the doors swung open, heralding a gust of warm wind from outside, the night air not cooling down a tad since afternoon. Immediately, at the sight of Wesley, Fred stood up. “Where were you?”

“Out,” he responded curtly, brushing her presence off as he made his way behind the counter, obviously searching for something. But even his pointed distraction wasn’t enough to keep him from adding a biting remark: “Didn’t think I had to tell you everything.”

Ignoring the comment, Fred cleared her throat, preparing to give an impassioned apology. But it seemed as if even after hours of being away, of clearing his head out on a walk, Wesley was still quite incensed. “Why do you make this so bloody hard, Fred?”

“What?”

“Why? I care for you a great deal and all I wanted was to help you,” he explained sarcastically slowly, kicking the underside of the counter with his foot. “We have money problems and it’s affecting all of us. The underlying intention was my concern for you, Fred: I just wanted to bloody help you.”

Never before had she seen him like this, so infuriated with someone, with her, that he seemed like an entirely different person. Not that she was afraid of him or anything, just shocked and pretty damn confused.

“I’m sorry,” was all she could manage, her throat closing in on the last word, cutting it off and making her voice seem hoarse and forced. Yet the emotion wasn’t lost in her eyes, her big doleful brown eyes, never once breaking the gaze she held with Wesley, the man she cared so much for, the man she was so sorry for being irrational to. Even if she’d said it just moments ago, she needed to say it again, her heart pushing the words out of her mouth: “I’m…I’m sorry.”

Wesley’s shoulders slumped and his head fell in what looked like defeat, an emotion she couldn’t read into to determine whether he was giving in to her apology, or if it was something else…something not good.

“You know that right? That I’m sorry?” Fred asked, her voice raising several octaves, bringing on the guise of an insecure teenage girl, emotions painted clearly across her face.

“Of course I do,” he muttered, his voice husky as his eyes remained low, pointedly focusing on some insignificant item. “I just…Fred, I was afraid that I was losing you. I didn’t need you to push me awa-”

Fred nodded, stepping closer, and it was when Wesley finally looked up, his eyes watering with deep emotion, that she felt her knees buckle beneath her. “If you need an explanation, I’ll give you one. Anything, just…just tell me what I can say so you’ll stop being mad at me.”

“Fred…” Wesley smiled, a small one that passed over his features quickly, yet it was still welcomed by Fred. “I just hated myself, thinking that I said something wrong, that I inadvertently pushed the woman I loved away-”

Fred’s heart stopped as the last words uttered out of the man’s mouth echoed in her mind profoundly. “What did you just say?”

“I said I was worried I was pushing you away,” he reiterated almost word for word what he had just said, obviously not catching on to what he unconsciously admitted.

“No, that’s not what you said.”

It took only moments for Wesley to realize what he had let slip, the grasping of it painted all over his face as it dawned on him.

Fred didn’t panic though, which he would’ve anticipated had he given this situation more thought, she simply stood there, shell-shocked in her place, not able to move.

“Fred…” Wesley began, but the doors leading into the Lobby opened and in came a ghastly Gavin Park, walking like he had a stick shoved up his- “Mr. Park? You’re not welcome here.”

“Like I care,” he sniped, his red eyes locking onto Fred as he pushed past Wesley with ease. Before anyone could anticipate what happened next, Fred’s right arm was sliced by a sharp hunting knife, Gavin’s hand tightly holding it, as if his entire life depended on it.

Wesley grabbed Gavin on the shoulders and yanked him away from Fred, throwing him into the weapons cabinet. “Fred, there’s a broad sword behind my desk. Go get it.”

Before too long, he had the sword in hand, ready to defend as Gavin struggled to his feet, wiping away the glass. “You alright, Fred?” he threw back a quick glance to the woman, holding her injured arm, before returning his attention to the now fast approaching opponent.

“Wesley…he’s not human!” Fred realized a moment too late, the former Watcher bringing his sword to the man’s chest only to have no blood come out, no affect whatsoever occur. It was then plain to see for Wesley, his face barely inches from Gavin’s, that the man’s skin was pale and dry, his eyes crimson and his teeth yellow. Not breathing, Gavin pushed Wesley away and watched the man fall to the ground easily, leaving the sword lodged into his chest.

“I came here to do one thing, and one thing only.” Finally, he removed the sword from his chest and sidled over to Wesley, still lying on the floor.

* * *

“Mr. Lawson?” Angel immediately called out, recognizing the figure standing in the doorway, his face only barely visible in the darkness that enveloped the room and the hallway outside. Though he knew it wasn’t the real Mr. Lawson, the Vampire was not surprised that he referred to him, the being who had slammed the door to Cordelia’s bedroom off of its hinges just moments ago, by that name.

Cordelia elbowed him, “That’s not Mr. Lawson, dumbass.” Without hesitation, she moved off of the bed and her hand took hold of the small dagger beside her bedside lamp, immediately gripping it in the fashion Angel had trained her to use in past training sessions.

Matching her movements, Angel got off of the bed, though remained unarmed.

Though it was when he approached, and was immediately pushed away with such force, that he realized the conflict was going to be difficult to bring to an end. Thrown into the wall opposite of the demon, Angel grunted as his head collided abruptly with the hard wall. And even with his blurry vision he could see the form of Mr. Lawson disappearing and the true form of the demon appearing; an ugly sight that neither he nor Cordelia welcomed in her apartment.

Taking the opportunity, seeing the demon’s attention on Angel, Cordelia slipped behind the beast and waited to make her move, hoping it would lessen the space between itself and Angel, making more leeway for her.

Scarcely nodding to acknowledge that he was aware of Cordelia’s plan, Angel feigned struggle and attempted poorly to get to his feet, making it seem as if he was dazed and confused, when really he was simply stuck with a throbbing headache.

Not once, but twice, Cordelia thrust the sharp blade into the strong, yet penetrable hide of the demon, the knife sliding into the disgusting, slimy innards like butter. Obviously troubled by the wounding, the beast violently gesticulated its arms about and turned to face Cordelia, its green eyes flashing threateningly at her, focused on her so intently, as if it were looking at a Big Mac after weeks of starvation.

The mere suggestion that the demon might hurt Cordelia was enough to set off Angel, the ensouled Vampire immediately jumping to his feet and charging into the beast, slamming it into the wall.

Slumped to the ground, the impact of its head colliding with the wall enough to temporarily knock it unconscious, the demon looked less threatening when not awake and thrashing about.

Angel on the other hand, in Cordelia’s opinion, looked all kinds of sexy. His shirt ripped, revealing his chiseled chest, his toned muscles and a few scratches to add to the ‘dangerous factor.’ Gesturing to Cordelia for the knife, he remained silent as he took it and sliced the demon’s throat, finally and conclusively killing it.

“You should seriously sleep on the couch,” Cordelia immediately said to Angel once he rose to his feet and walked to her, his hands grabbing her arms softly and holding her at elbow’s length.

His expression changing from exhaustingly proud to flummoxed, Angel furrowed his brow and his voice dripped with confusion. “What? Why?”

Cordelia blushed, “Because you looked extremely sexy doing that.”

Angel smiled a toothy smile in response; a broad one he reserved only for her, one that he knew lifted her spirits.

Purposely pouting, Cordelia brought her hand up to the collar of his shredded shirt and played with a loose thread, enjoying the sight of his skin glistening with a thin layer of sweat formed when fighting the demon. “And if I spend any more ‘alone time’ with you, then I know I won’t be able to stop myself from…”

Her voice trailed off, the Seer’s other hand pointedly yet fleetingly brushed up against Angel’s groin, enticing the Vampire with a simple, barely-there touch.

Tightening his grip on her arms just the slightest bit, Angel firmed his jaw and his dark eyes burned into her, as if glued to the addicting sight of her skin, her beautiful features. “God, you’re driving me crazy.”

At that, Cordelia simply smiled. Even if it had just been hours since Angel had told her they had to stop losing control, she knew it would soon be forgotten in his mind, making it all the more difficult for herself to remember what they needed to avoid.

Thankfully, the phone rang, keeping both the Seer’s and the Vampire’s self-control from being shot into oblivion, to be ever forgotten. “I’ll get it,” Angel offered, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips, sending comforting waves throughout Cordelia’s body.

Letting her self-discipline slip a little, Cordelia’s eyes trailed after Angel, her own head tilting a bit as she noticed his cute little butt in perfect view. Holding back a small little giggle, she looked back up to his face, watching him speak on the phone.

Only when he finally made eye contact, his expression was something she didn’t expect.

He let the hand with the phone drop to his side, his shoulders slumping as his face was etched with pain and shock.

“What is it?” Cordelia asked, edging into the hallway, closer to Angel, whose eyes were full of such…such alarm, such numbing confusion that it scared her.

Clearing his throat, Angel explained to her, his voice shaking a little with doubt. “It’s…it’s Wesley.”
Breathing hard as she relentlessly ran up the stairs, too impatient to wait for the elevator, Cordelia Chase didn’t stop to catch her breath; worry for her friend keeping her from doing anything but getting to him.

Angel, following closely behind her, was in the same position, his pale skin illuminated in the inadequately-lit stairway of the hospital, his strong hands clenched into fists to keep himself from pushing Cordelia, making her go faster than she already was.

Fred’s frantic voice on the other end of the line was something neither the Vampire nor the Seer had ever wished to hear. A startling reminder that there was a world around them, troubles to be confronted, problems to be solved; both knew, as they finally reached the floor Wesley was located on, that their unyielding sexual attraction to one another was the least of their tribulations.

Once Angel had told her there was something wrong, that something had happened to Wesley, Cordelia immediately moved to the door, not bothering to put shoes on, or even to grab her jacket.

Moving as fast as she could through the hallway of the hospital, Cordelia’s thoughts remained on Wesley. The former Watcher was the only person besides Angel that she had a history with, going back as far as her Sunnydale days when she was a snobby fashion-know-it-all bitch, Angel was Buffy’s vampire lapdog and Wesley was a stuffy, bothersome Watcher.

He was like a brother to her, his opinions so different from hers that they bitched and complained everyday. And the mere thought of not doing that with him had Cordelia’s knees go weak, compelling Angel to quickly wrap his arms around her to keep her from falling, to keep her moving.

“Come on,” he whispered in her ear, pulling her down the hallway to the waiting room where they both saw Fred, who was clearly distraught.

Once she caught sight of the approaching pair, she broke down, her already moist cheeks being drowned in new, bigger tears.

“What’s wrong with him?” Angel asked, allowing Cordelia to move freely while he placed his strong hands on Fred’s trembling shoulders. When she didn’t respond, he lost his cool and shook her, more roughly then intended. “What the fuck happened?”

“Oh god…” came Cordelia’s pained voice, and even though she barely whispered it, both Fred and Angel heard clearly. “Angel…”

His eyes moved from Cordelia to where she was looking, and he noticed what she saw, what was causing her so much pain. Through a small window in the door leading to a hospital room, Wesley was plainly visible, lying on a bed, his eyes closed and his body severely beaten.

“The doctors sedated him, and he’s alive,” Fred explained, but something was still bothering her. Finally, when she spoke, her voice breaking apart, it was revealed: “He’s slipped into a coma.”

Angel let his head fall slightly, his fingers entwining with Cordelia’s and squeezing tightly, hoping some form of comfort would come not only to him, but to her also. Cordelia accepted the gesture, squeezing his hand back, ignoring the throbbing soreness of her bare feet as she remained standing close to Angel, pointedly avoiding looking at either Fred’s tear-stained face nor Wesley, one glance at either enough to fuel a lifetime of nightmares.

“The longer…the longer he stays in it, the harder it’ll be to get out of it,” she explained, her breath catching in her throat, her emotions getting the better of her. It wasn’t about being weak, standing there, falling apart; she just wanted Wesley back, she didn’t want him to be in that bed when it should have been her, when it was her that he was protecting.

Managing to get some strength into his voice, Angel turned his attention to Fred, his dark eyes scanning her bruised face, blood still dripping from her lips. “Are you okay?”

I have to be the strong one here, Angel reminded himself. Angel knew that it was okay to worry, since a close friend was in bad shape, but he worried deeply over knowing that the two women, no matter how strong they were, would eventually break down and not be able to cope with the situation.

He accepted that he had to be there to comfort them, even if neither wanted it, even if he didn’t want to fully believe that he had let something happen to his friend while he was off risking everyone’s safety by being around Cordelia.

* * *

“Are you a family member?” the nurse asked softly, tilting her head as her comforting blue eyes scanned Angel for some sign of life. When he finally looked up, his doleful eyes catching hers, she offered a reassuring smile. “Mr. Pryce is going to be okay…”

Nodding slightly, Angel shifted in his seat and leaned forward. He hadn’t taken notice of the nurse approaching, but it became clear that it was time for her to ask him about insurance and other such matters. Not even turning to see if Cordelia and Fred were still asleep, Angel simply remained looking at the middle-aged, seemingly friendly nurse. “Do I need to sign something?”

The nurse nodded, “Insurance papers mostly. Preliminary agreements to Mr. Pryce’ stay here while he’s in a comatose state.”

Angel shrugged out of the seat and moved alongside the nurse towards the counter where a stack of papers was waiting for him. His focus was lost as his thoughts drifted, the closed door leading to Wesley visible in the corner of his eye. Scribbling his signature along the several dotted lines with barely a glance thrown to the fine print, Angel let out a sigh once he was done, the pen falling from his numb fingers onto the counter.

Turning around, he immediately caught sight of a police officer and made his way over to him. “Excuse me, but were you one of the officer’s who came to the Hyperion Hotel a few hours ago?”

Nodding, the squat officer removed his cap and focused his eyes on Angel. “Yep. Pretty nasty scene. Poor girl, must’ve been scared shitless.” The man’s southern accent became obvious as the words spilled out of his tight-lipped mouth. For a moment, a flicker of uncertainty flickered in his eyes. “You family?”

“Yeah, a good friend of mine…she was at the scene,” Angel explained, nodding over to where Fred lay in the armless hospital chairs, her sleeping head rested on Cordelia’s lap. “She needs rest and I didn’t see much point bothering her about it but…what exactly was the crime scene like?”

“You mean, was the perpetrator there?” The officer caught on to where Angel was leading, and with past experience with such, he knew that a man in Angel’s position would just love to strangle whoever hurt his friend. Perfectly understandable, “He ran out too fast. We chased, but he…he disappeared.”

“What’d he look like?”

* * *

Cordelia let out a frustrated sigh as her head fell back in exhaustion, hitting the hard and plain hospital wall. Remembering back to previous months as she shifted ever so slightly in the uncomfortable, plastic hospital chair, she recounted the feeling of absolute shock and fear she had felt when learning of her impending death. Yet as she sat there in the hospital waiting room, confusion flooding her, the fear that gripped her was far greater than her fear for her own death.

He doesn’t deserve this… Cordelia continued to absently stroke Fred’s dirty cheek, hoping the calmness that was absent in her own body would be in the young Texan’s.

Practically dazed, Cordelia forced herself to glance at the clock on the wall; she had been sitting there for only an hour, yet already she felt as if she lost days out of her life.

A telephone was ringing in the insignificance of her surroundings, everything was blurry and it didn’t matter; all that mattered was that her friend would make it out of the situation okay.

She hadn’t yet looked at Wesley more fully, with the exception of that stolen glance into his room when she and Angel arrived, and she wasn’t planning, any time soon, to visit the comatose Englishman. It’s bad enough that in a matter of months I’ll be…this shouldn’t be happening to Wesley. This shouldn’t be happening at all.

When the feeling that someone was watching her with unwavering attention washed over her, the Seer felt a wave of comfort. She knew it was him when she confirmed it was Angel without needing to even glance his way, knowing his stare. For a moment, she didn’t think of anything, she didn’t feel anything other than comfort, and it was, to her, the perfect remedy for the problem.

* * *

Angel seated himself silently, barely making a noise in hopes of disturbing neither Cordelia or Fred. Nevertheless, it seemed as if Cordelia was restless and, even with her eyes closed, couldn’t seem to get some rest, for she immediately opened her eyes at the sound of him sitting. “Hey,” he said through an embarrassed sigh, apologetic for supposedly waking her.

Cordelia in response forced an awkward smile and just looked at him, her russet eyes shining slightly as a sheer layer of tears formed. “Hi.”

The distant ringing of a phone once again broke the silence that followed after their brief greetings. Visiting hours would soon be over and it seemed like the entire floor had emptied.

Needing the comfort of conversation with the person he loved more than any other, Angel sought to say something, anything, to break the overbearing silence, but he hesitated. “You want some coffee?”

“No thanks,” she shook her head slightly before letting it fall on his shoulder, her eyes closing. “Just…don’t go anywhere. Please.”

“I won’t,” Angel assured her, his voice soothingly quiet.

For a few moments, Cordelia didn’t move at all, she didn’t speak and her shallow breathing was becoming difficult to keep track of. Finally, she let out a dire sigh: “Are you ever going to go in and visit him?”

Angel felt a chill as he looked up to the door leading to Wesley, his horror over what had been done to his friend now laced with fear. The scent of blood was still in his nose and was disquieting. With as confident a tone as he could manage, the Vampire merely whispered in Cordelia’s ear. “How about, when we’re both ready…we’ll go in there together.”

Cordelia’s skin tingled at the thought. “Sounds good,” she lied. Fighting a rising trepidation, she simply lifted her head up a few inches and placed a soft yet tender kiss upon Angel’s lips.

Even at such an hour, with an almost sepulchral aura surrounding them, that simple kiss brought a wave of consolation to both the Seer and the Vampire, as if that was all it took for their worries to disappear. Moments later, however, they all seemed to flood back.

“I love you,” she said to him, simple and unadorned. Angel was grateful to hear those words, drowning himself in her deep, russet orbs as he sat there; his hand absently placed upon hers, and just enjoyed the silence for once, sharing it with her.

Conversely, if he had known what she had been thinking earlier, the fear of her own death coinciding with Wesley’s poor condition, he would have taken the gesture as a premature form of ‘Goodbye.’

“I love you too,” he whispered back without hesitation, his heart taking control of his words. “And I’ll never leave your side through this…we’re all in this together.”

The statement, though well intended and sweet, made Cordelia uncomfortable for a moment. Unfortunately, in a short amount of time…I won’t even be alive. “We need to be…for her more than either of us.” Nodding to Fred, whose head was still in Cordelia’s lap, she strained a small smile and brushed a stray piece of hair out of the young Texan’s eyes.

Out of nowhere, the sound of voices echoed down the corridor and into the waiting room, triggering Angel to explain: “Cardiology is just down the hall…Probably a heart attack or-”

He stopped himself when he noticed Cordelia wincing slightly, bringing a hand up to her head and rubbing her temple, trying to soothe the pain away. At first, he assumed she was having a Vision, and he jumped out of his seat and knelt on the ground before her, preparing for impact.

But when nothing came, he looked up at her, bringing his hand to her chin and lightly forced her to look at him. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing…just a little stressed,” she immediately answered, pulling her hand away and putting on a strained smile. “I should just go to the bathroom, freshen up…”

Nodding, Angel rose to his feet and held out his hand.

Taking it, Cordelia gently lifted herself from the seat, being careful not to disturb Fred; gently placing the young woman’s head on the seat. Neither acknowledging Angel nor thanking him, she moved to the bathroom at a swift pace, hoping to get to the bathroom before she barfed everywhere.

Becoming nauseous was one of the side affects that Cordelia had chosen to ignore, chosen to not think about over the past few months. But it was happening.

When she reached the restroom door, she pushed as hard and frantically as she could, bringing one hand to her mouth to hold back the queasiness. The door didn’t budge.

Defeated, she collapsed against the wall, her energy being devoured by the sudden nausea. Letting go of the door, falling to her hands and knees, she finally just let it out; it’s a hospital after all…

It seemed that at the first sign of her struggle, Angel was already approaching, so it came as no surprise, throughout her vomiting, that she felt his presence beside her, his hand placed on her back and holding her still, hoping to help.

“Cordelia…” he whispered her name, rubbing her back and trying to soothe her, but it seemed as if the vomiting that should have been a relief once let out, was more painful than anything. Tears escaped out of the corner of her eyes, and minor amounts of blood trickled from her mouth down her chin…

Wait, he thought, his eyes doubling back to the blood. Blood?

Once she stopped, coughing in the aftermath, he placed both of his hands on either side of her face and forced her to look at him, more roughly than intended. “Cordelia? What the hell is going on with you?”

It was then that she noticed the blood on the ground, intermingling with the vomit on the cheap tile floor. Cordelia stammered, feeling utterly defenseless against the sudden reality the situation took on. “Angel…I…”

The Vampire seemed to immediately blame the Visions, blame himself for being one of the reasons why she had them. “Are the Visions getting worse for you? Are they hurting you more than-?” he started to ramble on, coming up with as many questions as he possibly could, his head clouded and panic rising just below the surface.

It was such unusual behavior for him when dealing with her, his voice laced with fear and anger at the same time. Afraid of what might be happening and angry that she didn’t tell him sooner…
It was all too much for her to take and all she wanted to do was run away. But his hands moved from her face to her arms as he shook her. “What’s going on?”

“Angel, just leave it alone,” she wasn’t going to tell him. Not now, when they should both be worrying over Wesley, should be wondering how to take care of him, how they were going to afford it all…not about something that Angel himself shouldn’t have known at all.

“No,” he replied, as if it were that simple. He wasn’t moving except for the glint of obstinacy in his dark eyes, a look that Cordelia knew wasn’t going anywhere, a look that proved to her she wasn’t going to get out of this situation by lying. “Cordelia, you’re coughing up blood…there’s something going on. Tell me.”

“Angel, I’m…” She paused, bringing a hand up to cover her mouth, tears streaking freely down her cheeks, the taste of blood still in her mouth. “I’m dying.”
“I’m dying.”

Angel’s eyes widened as the words left Cordelia’s mouth. “W-what?” He was certain he had misunderstood, hoping that Cordelia had said something else, something less disturbing.

The nightmare-like quality of the evening settled around both of them again. Mere minutes ago they were sitting in each other’s arms, comforting each other with small words and sharing the silence. Now they were on the floor, the stench of vomit and the stares of curious bystanders drowning both in uneasiness.

Trying to fight her rising trepidation, Cordelia shifted in her position as the tense situation only grew worse.

The presence of Angel was far from welcoming, the exact opposite of his usual demeanor. Cordelia had never wanted to tell him, but there she was, pain etched across her face.

When she took too long to answer, Angel pushed off the ground and took a few steps back rubbing his face with his hand obviously confused and trying to make sense of it all. “So…you’re just going to…die?”

The pointedness of the question made Cordelia uncomfortable, so in response, she merely nodded.

“Fuck…” Angel muttered, covering his mouth as if preventing himself from vomiting. “This isn’t real…you can’t…you’re lying. Tell me that you’re lying!”

Cordelia hesitated, uncertain of exactly how to put it. “I am…I’m going to die, Angel. I’m sorry that you had to find out this way, but it’s tr—it’s true.”

This isn’t happening, Angel thought dazedly, trying to get his bearings.

Unconsciously, an almost oppressive expression crossed his chiseled features as he shook his head and started to walk away.

“Angel, where are you going?” Cordelia called after him, her voice catching in her throat.

He didn’t answer. Instead, he just kept walking, until finally, he turned at the corner and disappeared.

Letting her vision move from where she last saw Angel to somewhere else, anywhere that would take her mind away from what had just occurred, Cordelia’s eyes drifted over to the waiting room, where a familiar set of large brown eyes filled with tears looked back at her.

There, on the uncomfortable plastic hospital seats, Fred locked stares with her, emotion evident just below the surface of her tearful eyes.

* * *

Earlier that evening, within the sanctuary of her own penthouse apartment, Lilah Morgan smugly watched recordings of the past months at the Hyperion Hotel, enjoying the sight of Gavin Park following orders and attacking Wesley Wyndam Pryce.

Now, sitting in her plush leather chair, she gazed out the window across the city of L.A. Soon to be my very own domain, she thought, amazed that merely months ago she had felt so entirely powerless against Angel, feeling as though there was nothing she could do to stop him from continuing to save the helpless.

Enjoying the silence, she sipped the last of the brandy from her glass and reclined further into her seat. Yet, as the moments passed, the silence became unbearable. There wasn’t distant murmuring of ineffective secretaries and personal assistants; there wasn’t a distant droning of fax machines and copiers transferring papers to clients…there was nothing.

Lilah felt confused for a moment, trying to picture what could possibly be going on outside of her office. She straightened, realizing that perhaps someone else was out there…someone that didn’t belong.

And it was only a matter of moments later that her door was smashed off the hinges, and Gavin walked in, his crooked back forcing him to stagger. On his hand was blood, and the stench of burnt flesh and obvious death filtered into the office.

“Fuck,” Lilah growled under her breath, remaining calm now that she saw who it was. “Can’t you enter a room like a normal person?”

“Shut the fuck up, bitch,” he snarled.

Lilah felt confused. “Don’t talk to me like I’m some little whiny crybaby. If you continue to act out, I’ll shove my stilettos so far up your ass-” she couldn’t finish. Gavin’s strong hand immediately moved to her throat, shoving her against the wall with ease.

One minute he was yards from her, standing just inside the room, the next he was pinning her against the wall, his red eyes glowing with bloodlust. “I need food!”

“Pinning me against a wall is a little futile, don’t you think?” Lilah struggled to talk, trying to remain calm, but his grip no her neck tightened and she was starting to feel and inkling of fear sneak into her system. “There’s food in the cabinet. Or, if you’re sensible, you could have killed the cafeteria ladies and stolen their secret stash of top sirloin-”

Again, he cut her off, pushing her further into the wooden cabinet, and the sound of it cracking under pressure echoed throughout the room.

Gavin, smiling, closed his eyes and leaned in, taking in a deep breath of Lilah’s auburn hair, the natural scent of her tresses obviously stirring something within. “You think because you did that spell…you control me?”

“Hell yeah!” Lilah managed to spit out before being thrown across the room, crashing into her glass shelves and breaking several expensive antiques.

But after a few moments of struggling to her knees, she heard crashes and obvious signs of struggle resonate against the walls of her office.

Looking up, her heart pounded as she took in the sight of Gavin Park being thrown out of the glass window, falling to his death. “He’s already dead,” she coughed, forcing herself to her unstable legs, hoping her knees wouldn’t give in.

Only then did she notice it was Angel, standing before her, glowering at her in a way that proved he wasn’t there to help. Moving to her in a brisk pace, he raised his hand in the air.

Lilah winced, preparing herself for a large blow to the head, but instead, she realized as he stopped, inches from her, he was reaching up to the securely fastened cabinet door where she kept the pot of her secret-ritual dust.

Easily and swiftly, he pulled the doors off the hinges and broke the vase against the wall.

Rolling her yes, Lilah spat a little blood onto Angel’s duster. “Thanks.”

In reaction to her sardonic remark, Angel used his strong hands to force her against the wall, both grasping her arms tightly. “You think I came here to listen to your bitchy remarks? Not in a million fucking years.” For a moment, his eyes glowed yellow.

* * *

“So…” Fred quietly muttered under her breath, her hands playing with each other on her lap as she threw a sidelong glance at Cordelia who’d remained silent the entire time they sat there.

After officials at the hospital had asked if she was okay and tested her for any kind of sickness, she’d been allowed to return to the waiting room. Not that it was the place she desired to be at. With Fred waiting for her, it became obvious that Angel wasn’t the only one she had hurt by hiding her secret.

“Don’t, Fred…,” Cordelia warned half-heartedly, trying to protest. Yet even she knew that the conversation was unavoidable.

“You’re dying Cordelia…I’m not going to just ignore that,” Fred informed her with as strong as a voice as she could muster. “I just…God, it’s all a little surprising.”

Finally, Cordelia let out a sigh, letting her head drop. “You’re not mad at me, are you?”

Fred seemed surprised by Cordelia’s question, “Why would I be? You were obviously afraid…and the Cordy I know is a brave person and I guess I can understand.”

“You guess you can understand,” Cordelia shook her head and forced a lighthearted chuckle. “You can’t even begin to understand how all of this is for me.”

“What I meant was, on one hand, I’m kind of mad that you didn’t tell me or anyone else. But on the other, I get that it’s kind of courageous of you to try and face this on your own. It’s not a perfect plan but…”

Cordelia scoffed, “None of this is perfect. Trust me, if I had any choice…well…I did.”

“You did?”

“I made the choice that I thought was right…that I knew I wanted,” Cordelia tried to explain, bordering on complete and utter vagueness, leaving Fred completely in the dark. “This entire situation is something I don’t want, but out of it, I’m getting something that I wouldn’t have been able to get if I—if I made a different choice.”

Fred turned around completely in her seat, facing Cordelia, curiosity evident in her sparkling brown eyes. “And what’s that?” She asked it quietly and gently, not trying to force the conversation too much that either of them wouldn’t be able to handle it.

“A chance to really appreciate what’s around me,” the seer answered at length. “To spend time with those I…those I…” she stopped herself, the words catching in her throat as emotions swelled. Feeling Fred look at her, waiting for an answer, it was too much pressure and she just couldn’t handle it.

Luckily, Fred simply wrapped her thin arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, merely holding her in a friendly hug.

* * *

His movements succinct, never wavering and staying on path, the short man with a devil’s goatee sauntered into the Pediatric Emergency Room where he knew Conner resided.

Hearing the news of Angel’s employer being sent to the hospital for intensive care, Holtz felt a bit smug, knowing that the more pain Angel was in, the more distracted he would become and it would be quite easier to take what he most desired.

Eyeing the boy through the window, recognizing him from memory of a photograph taken a few weeks prior, Holtz felt a complacent grin spread across his aged features for the first time that night.

But when a lady dressed in nurse attire approached him, concern painted across her face, he knew from her look that it seemed his welcome was overstayed for the night and he moved towards the exit.

“Excuse me, are you the father of one of these children?” She inquired.

Holtz felt his teeth clench in rage. He could not imagine why in God’s name some people had to be so curious, so intrusive as to why people were in places, when it was their own private business. Merely smiling and nodding, he just moved out of the room, ignoring the woman while still remaining calm.

Another time, another day, my child. He thought, holding back the urge to glance back at the boy. Angelus will suffer for all he has done.

* * *

Lilah smirked, “Well, aren’t we a little testy.”

He dug his fingernails into her arm in response, ripping holes into her expensive suit.

To her surprise, several guards entered, moving to Angel. “And where were you Rent-A-Cops when I actually needed you?”

“Ms. Morgan, we apologize for the-”

“Took your time to get here, in hopes that I’d be burnt to a crisp, decapitated and/or maimed beyond recognition?” she finished for him, her voice dripping with distaste as they pulled Angel away from her.

She looked the vampire in the eyes, smiling. “It’s a pool that lower-level security guards have going…quite productive.”

It was only a matter of seconds from the time that Angel was in the arms of the security guards and when they were strewn across the floor that Lilah once again, was pinned against the wall.

“Go eat the rest of your hotdogs, buds,” Lilah snarked, ordering them out of the room. “I can handle this.”

When they finally left, she looked back at Angel, who had a dangerous glint in his dark eyes, the demon inside obviously fighting to surface. “You’re a little overconfident.”

“Really?” she asked sarcastically, feigning fear. “Please, don’t hurt me. Go fuck yourself, Angel.” She made it plain and clear that the sole emotion she saw in Angel was one of intense resolve.

Cordelia had unlocked in him a longing he never imagined he could feel, a frightening reminder that sooner or later, she was going to die and wouldn’t be there with him when he woke up, to make him laugh, smile…

As a vampire, Angel expected death, especially when it came to his loved ones, but Cordelia was still young and had a lot of life to live…with him. The mere reality that the time she had to spend with him, with Conner, with herself even, was being cut short, was enough to royally piss him off.

“Why in God’s name have you taken such an interest in hurting the people I care about?” Angel asked, pleading slightly in his rough and dangerously intimidating voice. “If you want to hurt me, then shoot me. Don’t send my friend to the hospital. Don’t kill Cordelia.”

For a moment, a piece of his heart broke, remembering what she told him. And in that moment, his grip on Lilah faltered.

“We’ve always had a special interest in you, Angel,” Lilah replied condescendingly.

“Wesley was a move in the game we’re playing,” she explained, her voice strong as she remained unfazed, pleased even.

“A good move, in fact, if I were to base it on why you are here. But Cordelia’s unfortunate condition has nothing to do with me, sadly. I wish I could claim credit. But you shouldn’t be breaking, entering and threatening lawyers just because your girlfriend has been lying to you this whole time.”

Angel’s anger stalled momentarily, his grip on the woman lessening to the point where his hands were barely there. Finally, he took a step back, his hands falling to his sides and his shoulders slumping.

Straightening her outfit and brushing the dried blood from the corner of her mouth, Lilah sighed. “What is this, Days of Our Undead Lives? Get out of my office and go take your romantic quandaries someplace else.”

Moving to her desk, she didn’t once look at Angel, her calm and collected attitude faltering slightly. She didn’t feel remorse, she didn’t feel sorry, but she did feel afraid. For even after he slumped in defeat, letting go of her, the bruises on her arms still remained and she knew that he was far from letting her leave without a few physical souvenirs to call home about.

“Lilah,” he growled her name with obvious disgust. And when she finally turned to face him, he clenched his fists and firmed his jaw to keep from snapping her neck on the spot. “Stay the hell away from my family.”

Colliding with her cheekbone, Angel’s hard-knuckled fist knocked the woman into unconsciousness.
Moving through the achromatic hallways, her breathing becoming more and more uneasy, Cordelia clenched her hands into fists to keep them from shaking, hoping that the loss of blood in her hands would ease the tension bubbling up inside of her, causing her to uneasily sway every few feet.

Feeling lightheaded, she stopped at the sight of the door that lead to where she knew Wesley Wyndam Pryce was.

After taking several shaky deep breaths, she finally lifted a trembling
hand pushing the heavy door open and illuminating the dark room.

Once she caught sight of her friend, she knew that it would be harder than expected to get through just sitting at his side.

Edging in, she took notice of the several bandages, his closed eyes, and the critical condition he was in based on the physical condition that was practically displayed before her.

“Oh God…” she blurted out in a whisper, her voice leaving at the sight of her friend.

Pulling up a chair beside the bed and seating herself in it, she knew it
wasn’t going to be long before she broke down and sobbed her ass off.

“Wesley…” she whispered, pleaded nearly, her hands reaching up to his bruised and battered face, stroking his forehead for a moment, hoping to feel the warmth that she knew the man held within. “You can’t do this to us, Wes.”

No response came, even if Cordelia sat there, waiting for one. Deep inside, she knew it was near impossible for the man to respond to her in the condition he was in. Then again, she had no idea what to think anymore, what to expect.

When faced with her feelings for Angel, Cordelia Chase hadn’t inkling to the fact that they were just beginning to grow, that with each moment she thought of him, and even each moment she didn’t, her love grew and grew beyond comprehension, as if there were no limits on her heart.

It pained her to think that in a matter of weeks, none of it would exist for her anymore.

Squeezing his hands in hers, the seer blinked a tear; a small, singular tear that streaked down her cheek so slowly that it seemed an eternity had ended when it finally dropped to the floor.

“Everybody needs you, Wes.” It was that simple. Though, when she said it and no response came, she knew nothing anymore was going to be simple.

Not her life, not his, not Fred’s or Angel’s; not even Conner’s.

“If you die like me…they won’t be able to make it,” she explained, hoping he could hear her. Forcing a smile, she half-heartedly joked, “You know they aren’t as tough as me and you.”

“Now listen to me,” she ordered him, finding at least some strength deep down, her hopes rising as each word came out of her mouth. Her voice firm in a way that she only reserved for Wesley, she said as clearly as she could muster: “Wake the hell up and get your ass outta here!”

For a few moments, nothing happened. Her shoulders slumping in defeat, she let her head rest on the side of the bed. Then, out of nowhere, she felt something against her finger, and in the corner of her eye saw something move.

Raising her head just enough, she saw the slightest movement appear from Wesley’s finger as it slid slowly towards her own hand. When it reached her hand, it latched on barely, weakly.

* * *

His hand moving swiftly and relentlessly across the stationary, Angel bit his lower lip in thought, struggling to find the correct information from the dusty tome wide open in front of him. Though he was perusing the volume with as much attention as he could muster, it seemed as if his mind was on other things.

Even if what he was researching could possibly be vital to aiding Cordelia, to keeping her from dying, Angel had the slight inkling that if there were any hope of saving her, Cordelia would have been the one to find it.

Still, he thought, letting the pen fall from his hands as he sighed in exhaustion, slumping into the chair behind Wesley’s desk. I’m not giving up.

Angel knew that not staying with Cordelia, after leaving her so suddenly at the hospital when he found out, was something he shouldn’t have done. Sure, he was doing research to find Cordelia’s cure, but it seemed that the mere thought of not being with her, comforting her, was something he couldn’t bear.

It came to him than, in his thoughts, that perhaps his reasons for finding her cure were more selfish than he thought.

His senses picking it up before it happened, Angel soon realized someone was approaching, someone hurt, someone bleeding…

As the door opened, sunlight spilled across the bloodstained floor and the distant sound of birds chirping and children laughing came in its wake. But none of it seemed to matter as Angel moved cautiously into the Lobby to discover who entered.

It was Lorne, battered and bruised, covered in red and green blood alike.

“Lorne?” Angel called his name, almost unsure as whether or not he was seeing things.

Not answering, Lorne, obviously out of breath, moved to Angel, only to trip and lose his balance on the small set of stairs, forcing Angel to move quickly and grab him. “Was there…always stairs…there?”

Nodding while he helped the injured demon onto the divan placed in the middle of the room, Angel couldn’t help but let his curiosity leak into his voice. “Why the sudden visit?”

He answered Angel’s inquiry with his own question: “Is Cordelia okay?”

“She’s doing…” not wanting to lie, the vampire paused. Ultimately, he allowed a terse ‘okay’ to escape his lips.

“You’re lying!”

“No I’m not,” Angel answered automatically with the half-truth. He wasn’t lying per se; he was more telling all that needed to be known, instead of everything. The demon had just returned from a long span of absence and he wasn’t sure whether or not to disturb him with dire news.

“What about…Wesley?” he asked, coughing until his voice finally found strength. When Angel led him to the divan in the middle of the room, he found relief when the overbearing pressure of his legs was lifted. “You going to lie about him being in the hospital too?”

“Why are you…?” Angel tried to find the words as he gave his friend another once-over, the blood dried on his emerald skin smelling about a day or two old. “What the hell happened?”

Lorne gave a weak scoff, rolling his swollen left eye and reddened right. “It’s called being beat up by a bunch of bullies, sugarcakes.”

Angel shrugged the comment off and kept his eyes locked with Lorne’s, waiting for a justifiable explanation.

“Big bullies,” Lorne elaborated, bringing a bruised hand up to his forehead and rubbing circles on his bloody and dirty skin. He was obviously trying to get rid of a headache. “Big lackeys sent by a biglaw firm, where a big bitch has some sort of big problem with you.”

Angel couldn’t help but feel no surprise at the revelation. First Wesley and Cordy, now Lorne.

“Then again, we already knew you weren’t on the good side of those wonderful lawyers,” Lorne spat, obviously bitter about the entire situation. “I swear, sometimes I wonder why I’m friends with you.”

His face falling in response, Angel’s shoulders slumped at the comment.

“And then you make that face and I remember,” Lorne added, weakly smiling. “No one with a right mind or heart, whether in their chest, arm or ass, can resist that patented puppy-dog look you’ve got going.”

* * *

His blue eyes barely open, Wesley swallowed hard, trying to dispense of the annoying, painful lump in his throat. Never once did his eyes move from Fred as she sat before him, a wide smile spread across her beautiful face.

“I am so sorry,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. Her hands gripped his left hand, the one that wasn’t broken.

At the moment, Wesley knew he couldn’t speak, his body wasn’t strong enough to at the moment, and it was when he wanted to say so much to Fred, how much he loved her and so on, that he wished for his voice the most.

“I shouldn’t have let this happen to you,” she went on. “And now…now that you’re awake. I want you to know that—that I love you.”

His eyes sparkled in response, and a small smile tugged at the corner of his lips. Using all his strength, he lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a soft, tender kiss between her thumb and forefinger.

And that was all it took for Fred to come undone, her emotions spilling out and tears flowing from her beautiful brown eyes, streaking down her cheeks yet not once taking away from her simple exquisiteness.

* * *

Lorne let out a long sigh once Angel finished placing the bandages on his arm, his eyes every so often glancing up to where his half-broken horn hung. “They wanted information about the Hyperion. Stuff they couldn’t get from their supposed endless sources. Facts that only someone who’s been to nearly every part of it would know.”

“To infiltrate it,” Angel thought out loud, leaning back in the chair he was seated in, his head reeling as the pieces came together. “Why didn’t they just take us all as prisoners or kill us?”

A look of guilt passed over Lorne’s face. “I didn’t want to tell them…but they have their ways to getting information. I’m sorry Angel,” he finished with a subtle nod of his head towards the corner of the room.

Angel looked for a moment, not catching onto anything suspicious. Only, after a few minutes passed, he took notice to a black speck on the wall up high on the ceiling. A speck that his vampire sight caught easily, so easily that he wondered why he hadn’t noticed it before.

“Cameras,” Angel growled, only Lorne’s dismissive attitude towards it distracted him.

Muttering a few Latin words under his breath, Lorne rolled his eyes as several small locations around the Lobby sparked. “Technology,” he sighed as the distant sound of more sparking echoed down various hallways and upstairs. “Even Latin can save us from that disaster.”

Angel shook his head, “You never explained how you escaped.”

“I’m getting to that, angelcakes. Be patient. And get me a Sea Breeze.”

The vampire took the comment and threw a daring glare back at Lorne.

“Alright, alright,” the green-skinned gave in, gesticulating his arms half-heartedly in a defensive manner. “They got a phone call and were distracted enough for me to bolt.”

“That’s it? That’s all?”

“What do you want from me? Some untapped power of teleporting great distances?” Lorne pushed himself onto his feet and limped over to the counter. “Too bad, mister. All I have is the greatly under appreciated power of ‘running for one’s life’ and ‘wasting life savings on a taxi from Caesars to the Hyperion’.”

It seemed as if Lorne was done, not finished but simply to weary to continue, Angel took the opening and asked the more urgent question: “So how does this all connect with you knowing about Wesley and Cordy?”

“When a person gets bored, they whistle, hum or tap their toes,” Lorne explained. “It’s human nature. Unavoidable in my eyes; and a great way to read them without asking them to sing some Barry Manilow.”

Angel was not in the mood to waste time, immediately jumping from his seat over to Lorne in a matter of seconds, all in one swift motion. “What did you see?”

* * *

“He’s pleased us all by waking up,” the doctor continued to speak with Cordelia, a warm grin on his handsome features. “He’s a strong man but the physical therapy might be a little tough on him. He’ll be confined to a wheelchair for months.”

Cordelia nodded, too pleased with knowing that Wesley was awake to really consider how difficult it was going to be on everyone, emotionally to deal with Wesley in a wheelchair, struggling to work everyday.

A flicker of something in the doctor’s eyes went unnoticed by Cordelia, a flicker that proved he was being more than polite. Placing his hand on her shoulder comfortingly, he let a casual tone flow through his voice. “I’m sure you’d like to relax, talk about other things…perhaps over dinner?”

Cordelia didn’t hear him though, her eyes drifting over to Angel, who was approaching speedily, obviously in a rush.

Pushing past the doctor, she immediately asked if anything was wrong.

It was plain to see that Angel was uncomfortable, standing around Cordelia, trying to act as if nothing was wrong and he didn’t break down and cry like a baby right before her. Though, the moment of awkwardness soon passed and he explained cryptically: “You have to come with me.”

“Don’t you want to see Wesley?”

“No,” Angel replied too soon, not even glancing at the door, his gaze practically avoiding looking in that direction. Leaning in, he whispered in her ear: “Lorne’s back and we all need to talk.”

* * *

“Color me shocked that Lilah didn’t plan this out too well,” Lorne finished with a swallow of the last of the Sea Breeze. “Or maybe, one small thing messed up and the whole plan is discombobulated.”

“It’s possible,” Angel chimed in, his arms crossed as he leaned against the wall in the darkest corner, obviously reverting back to his broody self for the time being. Every so often, he snuck a glance at Cordelia, checking on whether she looked healthy, whether she looked as if she were tired enough to pass out. Only when she was looking back at him did his eyes nervously dart away. “You getting away could be one of those ‘small things’.”

“Or you going to Wolfram and Hart,” Cordelia added quietly. And when Angel looked startled by the fact that she knew, she explained, her voice still quiet: “Fred told me.”

Angel’s eyes remained on her for a few moments, ones that seemed to last an eternity. It was palpable that she knew he went there mostly because of her, and the look in her eyes was one of gratitude, a look that he found surprisingly comforting for the time being.

“As annoying as my migraine is,” Lorne put in, pointing his finger at Cordelia. “I’m glad this all happened. Because if it didn’t, then I wouldn’t have known what I do.”

“What do you know?”

“Have you ever heard of the Annapurna Sanctuary?” Lorne asked both Cordelia and Angel. “Near it, hidden from naked eye, through a portal, is another sanctuary…a sanctuary only Champions deserve to enter.”

The ‘C’ word rang profoundly in Cordelia’s mind, her annoyance of its constant repetition escalating to new heights for the smallest moment before her attention returned to the serious Lorne before her.

“And since in the modern day, beings, demons and humans alike, have created ways to get past the barrier without having pure goodness in their souls, there are tests and trials that follow the entrance and if a certain champion succeeds…they get what they most desire.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Cordelia asked, her voice sounding vulnerable. She had an idea as to where he was going with the story, and the high hopes that flooded her started to scare her greatly.

Lorne’s hand reached out to her shoulder, squeezing it slightly. His red eyes sparkled as he finally said it: “I believe it’s a way to save you. To keep you from dying.”

* * *

Lilah Morgan took a long, relaxing breath, steadying her nerves and clenching her hands into fists, hoping to keep them from shaking. Her frustration subsiding, she finally began to look at the situation in a new light.

Maybe Linwood ordering me on vacation is a good thing, she thought to herself, nodding to the man before her to grab her suitcase as she sauntered over to the airplane.

The engine was a comforting quiet, like most private airplanes manufactured by a division of Wolfram and Hart. And just like the private airway by the bay, it was a privilege to use.

Reaching the extended stairway leading up to the plane’s entryway, Lilah took one more glance at the city of L.A.

When I come back, this’ll all be mine. It was a confident thought, one that would be far from her mind if she had any idea that her plan was slowly but surely falling apart.

Before taking the first step onto the stairway, she gripped her cell-phone and chugged it off into bay, enjoying the distant sound of it splashing and inevitably sinking to the bottom.

Lilah Morgan was confident that everything was going to be okay.
Moving through the achromatic hallways, her breathing becoming more and more uneasy, Cordelia clenched her hands into fists to keep them from shaking, hoping that the loss of blood in her hands would ease the tension bubbling up inside of her, causing her to uneasily sway every few feet.

Feeling lightheaded, she stopped at the sight of the door that lead to where she knew Wesley Wyndam Pryce was.

After taking several shaky deep breaths, she finally lifted a trembling
hand pushing the heavy door open and illuminating the dark room.

Once she caught sight of her friend, she knew that it would be harder than expected to get through just sitting at his side.

Edging in, she took notice of the several bandages, his closed eyes, and the critical condition he was in based on the physical condition that was practically displayed before her.

“Oh God…” she blurted out in a whisper, her voice leaving at the sight of her friend.

Pulling up a chair beside the bed and seating herself in it, she knew it
wasn’t going to be long before she broke down and sobbed her ass off.

“Wesley…” she whispered, pleaded nearly, her hands reaching up to his bruised and battered face, stroking his forehead for a moment, hoping to feel the warmth that she knew the man held within. “You can’t do this to us, Wes.”

No response came, even if Cordelia sat there, waiting for one. Deep inside, she knew it was near impossible for the man to respond to her in the condition he was in. Then again, she had no idea what to think anymore, what to expect.

When faced with her feelings for Angel, Cordelia Chase hadn’t inkling to the fact that they were just beginning to grow, that with each moment she thought of him, and even each moment she didn’t, her love grew and grew beyond comprehension, as if there were no limits on her heart.

It pained her to think that in a matter of weeks, none of it would exist for her anymore.

Squeezing his hands in hers, the seer blinked a tear; a small, singular tear that streaked down her cheek so slowly that it seemed an eternity had ended when it finally dropped to the floor.

“Everybody needs you, Wes.” It was that simple. Though, when she said it and no response came, she knew nothing anymore was going to be simple.

Not her life, not his, not Fred’s or Angel’s; not even Conner’s.

“If you die like me…they won’t be able to make it,” she explained, hoping he could hear her. Forcing a smile, she half-heartedly joked, “You know they aren’t as tough as me and you.”

“Now listen to me,” she ordered him, finding at least some strength deep down, her hopes rising as each word came out of her mouth. Her voice firm in a way that she only reserved for Wesley, she said as clearly as she could muster: “Wake the hell up and get your ass outta here!”

For a few moments, nothing happened. Her shoulders slumping in defeat, she let her head rest on the side of the bed. Then, out of nowhere, she felt something against her finger, and in the corner of her eye saw something move.

Raising her head just enough, she saw the slightest movement appear from Wesley’s finger as it slid slowly towards her own hand. When it reached her hand, it latched on barely, weakly.

* * *

His hand moving swiftly and relentlessly across the stationary, Angel bit his lower lip in thought, struggling to find the correct information from the dusty tome wide open in front of him. Though he was perusing the volume with as much attention as he could muster, it seemed as if his mind was on other things.

Even if what he was researching could possibly be vital to aiding Cordelia, to keeping her from dying, Angel had the slight inkling that if there were any hope of saving her, Cordelia would have been the one to find it.

Still, he thought, letting the pen fall from his hands as he sighed in exhaustion, slumping into the chair behind Wesley’s desk. I’m not giving up.

Angel knew that not staying with Cordelia, after leaving her so suddenly at the hospital when he found out, was something he shouldn’t have done. Sure, he was doing research to find Cordelia’s cure, but it seemed that the mere thought of not being with her, comforting her, was something he couldn’t bear.

It came to him than, in his thoughts, that perhaps his reasons for finding her cure were more selfish than he thought.

His senses picking it up before it happened, Angel soon realized someone was approaching, someone hurt, someone bleeding…

As the door opened, sunlight spilled across the bloodstained floor and the distant sound of birds chirping and children laughing came in its wake. But none of it seemed to matter as Angel moved cautiously into the Lobby to discover who entered.

It was Lorne, battered and bruised, covered in red and green blood alike.

“Lorne?” Angel called his name, almost unsure as whether or not he was seeing things.

Not answering, Lorne, obviously out of breath, moved to Angel, only to trip and lose his balance on the small set of stairs, forcing Angel to move quickly and grab him. “Was there…always stairs…there?”

Nodding while he helped the injured demon onto the divan placed in the middle of the room, Angel couldn’t help but let his curiosity leak into his voice. “Why the sudden visit?”

He answered Angel’s inquiry with his own question: “Is Cordelia okay?”

“She’s doing…” not wanting to lie, the vampire paused. Ultimately, he allowed a terse ‘okay’ to escape his lips.

“You’re lying!”

“No I’m not,” Angel answered automatically with the half-truth. He wasn’t lying per se; he was more telling all that needed to be known, instead of everything. The demon had just returned from a long span of absence and he wasn’t sure whether or not to disturb him with dire news.

“What about…Wesley?” he asked, coughing until his voice finally found strength. When Angel led him to the divan in the middle of the room, he found relief when the overbearing pressure of his legs was lifted. “You going to lie about him being in the hospital too?”

“Why are you…?” Angel tried to find the words as he gave his friend another once-over, the blood dried on his emerald skin smelling about a day or two old. “What the hell happened?”

Lorne gave a weak scoff, rolling his swollen left eye and reddened right. “It’s called being beat up by a bunch of bullies, sugarcakes.”

Angel shrugged the comment off and kept his eyes locked with Lorne’s, waiting for a justifiable explanation.

“Big bullies,” Lorne elaborated, bringing a bruised hand up to his forehead and rubbing circles on his bloody and dirty skin. He was obviously trying to get rid of a headache. “Big lackeys sent by a biglaw firm, where a big bitch has some sort of big problem with you.”

Angel couldn’t help but feel no surprise at the revelation. First Wesley and Cordy, now Lorne.

“Then again, we already knew you weren’t on the good side of those wonderful lawyers,” Lorne spat, obviously bitter about the entire situation. “I swear, sometimes I wonder why I’m friends with you.”

His face falling in response, Angel’s shoulders slumped at the comment.

“And then you make that face and I remember,” Lorne added, weakly smiling. “No one with a right mind or heart, whether in their chest, arm or ass, can resist that patented puppy-dog look you’ve got going.”

* * *

His blue eyes barely open, Wesley swallowed hard, trying to dispense of the annoying, painful lump in his throat. Never once did his eyes move from Fred as she sat before him, a wide smile spread across her beautiful face.

“I am so sorry,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. Her hands gripped his left hand, the one that wasn’t broken.

At the moment, Wesley knew he couldn’t speak, his body wasn’t strong enough to at the moment, and it was when he wanted to say so much to Fred, how much he loved her and so on, that he wished for his voice the most.

“I shouldn’t have let this happen to you,” she went on. “And now…now that you’re awake. I want you to know that—that I love you.”

His eyes sparkled in response, and a small smile tugged at the corner of his lips. Using all his strength, he lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a soft, tender kiss between her thumb and forefinger.

And that was all it took for Fred to come undone, her emotions spilling out and tears flowing from her beautiful brown eyes, streaking down her cheeks yet not once taking away from her simple exquisiteness.

* * *

Lorne let out a long sigh once Angel finished placing the bandages on his arm, his eyes every so often glancing up to where his half-broken horn hung. “They wanted information about the Hyperion. Stuff they couldn’t get from their supposed endless sources. Facts that only someone who’s been to nearly every part of it would know.”

“To infiltrate it,” Angel thought out loud, leaning back in the chair he was seated in, his head reeling as the pieces came together. “Why didn’t they just take us all as prisoners or kill us?”

A look of guilt passed over Lorne’s face. “I didn’t want to tell them…but they have their ways to getting information. I’m sorry Angel,” he finished with a subtle nod of his head towards the corner of the room.

Angel looked for a moment, not catching onto anything suspicious. Only, after a few minutes passed, he took notice to a black speck on the wall up high on the ceiling. A speck that his vampire sight caught easily, so easily that he wondered why he hadn’t noticed it before.

“Cameras,” Angel growled, only Lorne’s dismissive attitude towards it distracted him.

Muttering a few Latin words under his breath, Lorne rolled his eyes as several small locations around the Lobby sparked. “Technology,” he sighed as the distant sound of more sparking echoed down various hallways and upstairs. “Even Latin can save us from that disaster.”

Angel shook his head, “You never explained how you escaped.”

“I’m getting to that, angelcakes. Be patient. And get me a Sea Breeze.”

The vampire took the comment and threw a daring glare back at Lorne.

“Alright, alright,” the green-skinned gave in, gesticulating his arms half-heartedly in a defensive manner. “They got a phone call and were distracted enough for me to bolt.”

“That’s it? That’s all?”

“What do you want from me? Some untapped power of teleporting great distances?” Lorne pushed himself onto his feet and limped over to the counter. “Too bad, mister. All I have is the greatly under appreciated power of ‘running for one’s life’ and ‘wasting life savings on a taxi from Caesars to the Hyperion’.”

It seemed as if Lorne was done, not finished but simply to weary to continue, Angel took the opening and asked the more urgent question: “So how does this all connect with you knowing about Wesley and Cordy?”

“When a person gets bored, they whistle, hum or tap their toes,” Lorne explained. “It’s human nature. Unavoidable in my eyes; and a great way to read them without asking them to sing some Barry Manilow.”

Angel was not in the mood to waste time, immediately jumping from his seat over to Lorne in a matter of seconds, all in one swift motion. “What did you see?”

* * *

“He’s pleased us all by waking up,” the doctor continued to speak with Cordelia, a warm grin on his handsome features. “He’s a strong man but the physical therapy might be a little tough on him. He’ll be confined to a wheelchair for months.”

Cordelia nodded, too pleased with knowing that Wesley was awake to really consider how difficult it was going to be on everyone, emotionally to deal with Wesley in a wheelchair, struggling to work everyday.

A flicker of something in the doctor’s eyes went unnoticed by Cordelia, a flicker that proved he was being more than polite. Placing his hand on her shoulder comfortingly, he let a casual tone flow through his voice. “I’m sure you’d like to relax, talk about other things…perhaps over dinner?”

Cordelia didn’t hear him though, her eyes drifting over to Angel, who was approaching speedily, obviously in a rush.

Pushing past the doctor, she immediately asked if anything was wrong.

It was plain to see that Angel was uncomfortable, standing around Cordelia, trying to act as if nothing was wrong and he didn’t break down and cry like a baby right before her. Though, the moment of awkwardness soon passed and he explained cryptically: “You have to come with me.”

“Don’t you want to see Wesley?”

“No,” Angel replied too soon, not even glancing at the door, his gaze practically avoiding looking in that direction. Leaning in, he whispered in her ear: “Lorne’s back and we all need to talk.”

* * *

“Color me shocked that Lilah didn’t plan this out too well,” Lorne finished with a swallow of the last of the Sea Breeze. “Or maybe, one small thing messed up and the whole plan is discombobulated.”

“It’s possible,” Angel chimed in, his arms crossed as he leaned against the wall in the darkest corner, obviously reverting back to his broody self for the time being. Every so often, he snuck a glance at Cordelia, checking on whether she looked healthy, whether she looked as if she were tired enough to pass out. Only when she was looking back at him did his eyes nervously dart away. “You getting away could be one of those ‘small things’.”

“Or you going to Wolfram and Hart,” Cordelia added quietly. And when Angel looked startled by the fact that she knew, she explained, her voice still quiet: “Fred told me.”

Angel’s eyes remained on her for a few moments, ones that seemed to last an eternity. It was palpable that she knew he went there mostly because of her, and the look in her eyes was one of gratitude, a look that he found surprisingly comforting for the time being.

“As annoying as my migraine is,” Lorne put in, pointing his finger at Cordelia. “I’m glad this all happened. Because if it didn’t, then I wouldn’t have known what I do.”

“What do you know?”

“Have you ever heard of the Annapurna Sanctuary?” Lorne asked both Cordelia and Angel. “Near it, hidden from naked eye, through a portal, is another sanctuary…a sanctuary only Champions deserve to enter.”

The ‘C’ word rang profoundly in Cordelia’s mind, her annoyance of its constant repetition escalating to new heights for the smallest moment before her attention returned to the serious Lorne before her.

“And since in the modern day, beings, demons and humans alike, have created ways to get past the barrier without having pure goodness in their souls, there are tests and trials that follow the entrance and if a certain champion succeeds…they get what they most desire.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Cordelia asked, her voice sounding vulnerable. She had an idea as to where he was going with the story, and the high hopes that flooded her started to scare her greatly.

Lorne’s hand reached out to her shoulder, squeezing it slightly. His red eyes sparkled as he finally said it: “I believe it’s a way to save you. To keep you from dying.”

* * *

Lilah Morgan took a long, relaxing breath, steadying her nerves and clenching her hands into fists, hoping to keep them from shaking. Her frustration subsiding, she finally began to look at the situation in a new light.

Maybe Linwood ordering me on vacation is a good thing, she thought to herself, nodding to the man before her to grab her suitcase as she sauntered over to the airplane.

The engine was a comforting quiet, like most private airplanes manufactured by a division of Wolfram and Hart. And just like the private airway by the bay, it was a privilege to use.

Reaching the extended stairway leading up to the plane’s entryway, Lilah took one more glance at the city of L.A.

When I come back, this’ll all be mine. It was a confident thought, one that would be far from her mind if she had any idea that her plan was slowly but surely falling apart.

Before taking the first step onto the stairway, she gripped her cell-phone and chugged it off into bay, enjoying the distant sound of it splashing and inevitably sinking to the bottom.

Lilah Morgan was confident that everything was going to be okay.
Pulling the icepack away from her bruised cheekbone, Lilah winced painfully as she cursed Angel, “That jackass.” But it seemed as she stood alone in her damaged office that she was merely acting out her anger to prevent herself from accepting that, for once, she was actually afraid of him.

Unconsciously, her hand moved to the phone pulling it up to her ear. Before she could decide whether or not she was being smart, she had already speed-dialed the number to the Empathic Department. “Hello, it’s Morgan. Call off the demon. Yeah, I know what I said before. Just do it.”

But before the annoying secretary down on the third floor could hang up, Lilah had an added thought: “And contact the Vegas extension…tell them to get rid of the ‘Friend.’”

Give and take, she thought smugly, hanging up. She let off a little, but just threw more at him.

* * *

Finally, Winifred Burkle thought to herself, letting out a sigh of relief when the doctor finally allowed her to see Wesley.

But the relief was short-lived once she realized what she was about to do, what she was about to see… Wesley risked his entire future, his entire life, for her. And though it was selfless and brave, she’d rather have been stuck in the coma than him.

Opening the door with trembling hands, Fred knew that it was something she wanted to do, even through all the fear she felt, she desired so badly to see Wesley. The man I…

The man I care for, was all she could say about him, doubt of how deep her feelings ran being flooded by the shock of seeing Wesley with a machine hooked up to him.

Pulling a chair up beside his hospital bed, she never once took her eyes off of him, hoping that as she took his calloused, injured hand in her own, his boyishly blue eyes would reveal themselves. But nothing happened as she sat there, waiting.

Her eyes dropped in defeat as the silence continued to press her buttons, to push her already fragile emotions to the limit. Her conversation with Cordelia still fresh on her mind.

“Aren’t you coming in?” she asked Cordelia, surprised that she wasn’t planning on following Fred into the room.

“No,” she replied simply, avoiding eye contact.

“Why not?” Fred asked outright, and it seemed as if the question made Cordelia uncomfortable.

Shifting slightly in her seat, she merely sighed. “You ask too many questions. You should go in there alone…spend some time with him. Stop worrying about me.”

“It’s hard to do that when you’re acting weird,” Fred found herself blurting out.

Cordelia didn’t take offense to it, responding to the remark by standing up. “Maybe I’m just not ready for this…”

Wincing at the memory, Fred wished Cordelia hadn’t left. She sure could have used her then, sitting beside her boyfriend, watching him struggle to breathe, apparently in a deep sleep.

* * *

Angel sat on the bus, his eyes drifting out the window, gazing out across the darkness. His scooter confiscated by Wolfram and Hart, the vampire was once again without a form of transportation. But it wasn’t his lack of a vehicle that was on his mind; it wasn’t even his struggling friend lying in a cheap hospital bed.

The mere thought that he hadn’t seen signs of Cordelia’s supposedly impending death hurt him greatly, yet not as much as the fact that she kept it from him, hiding it for God knows how long.

When the bus stopped outside of a convenience store, Angel exhaled, hoping to find some relief. It didn’t come. Trying to clear his mind, he pushed himself from the uncomfortable seat and exited the bus.

* * *

Gripping his hand tighter than before, Fred stopped trying to fight back tears. Lifting her free hand to trace the healing wounds on his arm, she knew that he deserved so much better than what had happened to him. “God, I’m so sorry…”

No answer, not that she expected one greatly. “I shouldn’t have blamed you for all of my problems…and I know that that psycho Gavin did this to you, but I can’t help but feel—I can’t help but feel that this is all my fault.”

She’d been in there an hour and it was finally time for her to take ownership for her unreasonableness when confronted about her weight-loss, for pushing Wesley away at the time she needed him most. She had a lot to apologize for.

“I’ve had problems before we got together and now…but none of them are because of you,” she admitted, teetering on the edge of an emotion she thought she didn’t feel, something she had doubted before but was becoming clear as the moments passed and the words formed in her mouth. “You make everything better, Wesley. You’re…you’re the only reason why I wake up in the morning.”

Then she said it, “I love you.”

Fred didn’t know whether it was a bad thing for her to expect him to wake up at the sound of those words, but she sure felt lost when no response came. Nothing. As she sat there watching him remain in his unmoving state, seemingly not alive at all…she knew that she was in for a long road of pain and heartache if Wesley Wyndam-Pryce never woke up.

* * *

A knock at the door resonated off of the walls and nearly startled Cordelia.

Ambling to the door, she immediately looked through the peephole. To her surprise, it was Angel, an ashen expression on his face. Not expecting him to be visiting her so soon, she opened the door cautiously, almost afraid of him, afraid that he might be angry.

But he wasn’t. Instead, he was chillingly quiet, his doleful eyes barely visible in the darkness of the hallway outside.

He didn’t move forward, keeping his distance from Cordelia for his own reasons. Finally, he pulled something from his pocket and when she adjusted her eyes to the darkness of the hallway, she saw it was a Motrin IB bottle. “It helps with headaches…” he said, his voice weak and achingly quiet.

* * *

Fred stepped into the lobby cautiously, gently rocking Conner back and forth as he continued to sleep in her arms. The sight of blood, of obvious struggle…it was a painful reminder of what she and Wesley went through.

Twelve more hours till visitors are allowed. Sighing, she closed her eyes for a second and tried to calm her nerves before moving further into the Hotel.

* * *

“Why?” Angel blurted out, looking down for a few moments, trying to collect his emotions, his heart falling apart from simply speaking to her. “Why didn’t you tell me you were dying?”

Cordelia didn’t answer; she just stood there, her own eyes giving away the struggle she was experiencing just talking to Angel, just thinking about it all.

“How–?” his voice got caught in his throat, forcing him to stop. A few silent moments later, he tried again. “How long do you have?”

Trying to be open and straightforward, Cordelia formed as much strength as she could and whispered, “About a month…or two.”

‘A month,’ Angel mouthed in reiteration, looking away as his eyes began to swell with tears. He’d never felt so hurt, so afraid…it was a frightening experience standing in front of the woman he loved and discussing how long she had to live.

* * *

Conner safely in his crib, Fred had more free time to organize and clean everything up. But as she shuffled through the scattered papers, noticing the blood smeared on them, she knew it wouldn’t be long before she lost all control

Standing to her feet, she moved to the weapons cabinet, hoping to organize it, to distract herself. But the glass shards surrounding it kept her from moving any closer, and only then did she remember that all the weapons were either broken or untouchable at the moment.

Shaking her head, she moved behind the counter, reminding herself that there were files needing to be organized. Fred didn’t even make it halfway before her legs gave in…the enormity of the situation hitting her.

Wesley was in the hospital, fighting for his life and Cordelia…Cordelia couldn’t even fight to save her own.

The disturbing reality started to settle in, and as the moments passed, Fred became more and more desperate for some company. Company that, at the moment, she didn’t have.

* * *

“I never wanted this, Angel…” Cordelia started to explain, her voice trembling as she continued to watch Angel slowly fall apart while at the same time try and remain strong.

But it seemed after he heard her voice, all that strength fell apart and all that was left was this puddle of fear, of love, of everything that could destroy a man and make him weak.

He blinked and a few tears escaped, streaking down his cheek. “I don’t want to lose you,” he admitted, looking up, his eyes red and shining.

Slowly, he fell into her arms, surprising Cordelia more than anything. Never before had she seen her friend so…scared. He’d been angry, worried, happy, sad but never…never afraid. And as his emotions spilled out, his heart breaking and tears falling from his eyes, she knew that they were way past their normal selves.

That no matter what happened, there was no going back.

“I can’t go on living,” he whispered, pulling away so that his nose rubbed up against hers. Bringing his hands up to cup her face, he looked her deeply in the eyes. “Not without you.”

Finding firmness, she replied to him: “You have to, Angel. You have Conner to love, you have Conner to take care of.”

“Not alone,” he answered back, his voice thick with emotion. “I’m not a good father…Conner needs a mother. He needs you.”

This is why I kept it a secret. Cordelia started to half-heartedly protest, tears streaking down her face now, her heart and soul going out to the friend before her.

But he cut her off, “I need you.” His hands dropped from her face to her hips, holding her there. And when he leaned down, he kissed her on the lips passionately, desperately, trying to hold onto all he could.

For a moment, Cordelia didn’t stop him; she herself getting lost in the kiss, for a second forgetting about everything. But when it came rushing back, she stopped, her lips no longer responded to his pleading kiss.

He pulled away just far enough that they were a breath apart, his dark eyes shining as they looked into hers.

Her voice ambiguous, she lifted her hand to stroke the side of his face as she said: “I guess it’s just not another option left open for us.”

* * *

Commutating from silence to pure noise as the doors leading into the lobby swung open heralding a gust of wind and the blackballed noises of L.A. nightlife. Angel dragged his feet along the carpet as he ambled inside, his mood sour still from the recent conversation he shared with Cordelia.

Fred looked up to see the Angel’s embittered features. Hoisting her bag up to her shoulders, she moved to her obviously disturbed friend, bringing a comforting hand to his chin and gently forcing the manpire to look her in the eyes. “Angel?”

All the trash and bloody glass shards were now in the bag and waiting to be thrown out. It’d taken a while, but she had finally found the strength to face the memory of what happened and she cleaned up the lobby. Now, standing there, her concern for her friend pushed the entire ordeal out of her mind.

Angel merely responded by brushing past her, shrugging out of his jacket and moving towards the damaged weapons cabinet. “Why does life have to be so damn hard?”

His question, directed more at himself than to Fred, was filled with such confusion and loneliness that it frightened him more than what was actually disturbing his thoughts.

The physicist slowly lowered the bag from her shoulders to the floor. “I think that some people find an easy way to live, looking at the pro’s more than the con’s of their jobs, looking forward to seeing their friends and family. People like that have it easy compared to pe-”

“People like us…” Angel finished slowly, his head dropping in slight defeat, his back still facing Fred. For a moment, he lost control, slamming his fist against the cabinet, splitting the wood in half. “None of us deserve this.”

“I know…” Fred agreed sympathetically, moving towards Angel step-by-step, approaching with caution. She wondered if he was thinking about Wesley or Cordelia. Or both. Images of Wesley came flooding into her mind, but her concern for Angel was great enough to push worrying thoughts over Wesley into the back of her mind, if only for a moment

Angel lifted his head and looked at the door of the weapons cabinet, empty with no glass. Otherwise, with the glass there, he would still have not seen himself, still would not have seen his dark, pain-filled eyes. “Then why do these things keep happening?”

He ignored the comforting squeeze of Fred’s small hand on his shoulder as she stood close to him, obviously wanting more than anything to make him feel better, to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel they all found themselves in. “First Wesley and now…now Cordelia.”

“Life pretty much sucks, doesn’t it?” Fred forced a smile, but it soon left her soft features when Angel finally turned to her, his eyes watering with unshed tears and filled with aching emotions.

Not saying anything, Fred wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a strong, comforting hug; desperately hoping that somehow, she’d make him feel a little better.

But as the moments passed, she knew, confirming to herself the obvious, no one had that power to make the broody manpire smile like a certain seer. A certain seer who gave up her entire future for the aforementioned manpire, so selflessly and fearlessly.

“I don’t want her to die,” Angel whispered, his voice breaking as his emotions came to the surface.

Fred herself found tears forming in her eyes, afraid for not herself, but for Angel, wondering deep down what life would be like without Cordelia Chase there to brighten the room up.
The door opened quietly, going almost unnoticed by Wesley, who was barely awake. Chocolate brown eyes peeked through the small crack, as if peeking in and making sure it was okay to enter. After a few moments of silence, no response coming neither from Wesley nor from the door, a deep cough echoed in the room from the doorway, the person behind the door obviously cleared his throat.

Finally, Charles Gunn found enough strength to enter the room, his face sullen and a flash of guilt appearing fleetingly in his eyes as they found Wesley on the bed.

When Wesley himself noticed the arrival of Gunn, his first instinct was to walk over and share a big bear-hug with him, and it was only when the stitches in his side sent a flash of searing pain throughout his body did he remember he couldn’t sit up at the moment.

“Hey,” Gunn croaked, forcing the word out of his dry mouth. He looked taller, rougher around the edges with a small scar along his jaw line, and a small patch of dark hair hid his chin, while his baldhead was also noticeably covered by hair.

Wesley lifted his hand and waved weakly, offering a smile. The doctors had officially told him that morning that words would be difficult to speak, and when he did decided to finally talk, it would require much strength. At the moment, his strength was nowhere to be found, all of it being used to stay awake.

Taking in a deep breath, Gunn prepared himself for a long speech. “I’m sorry, man. I shouldn’t have left you, should’ve been by your side through this. Man’s gotta have backup, right? And I wasn’t there to give it to you. I’m sorry.”

He would have continued, but Wesley’s hand rose and stopped him from going on and on. It was plain to see that what he was about to do was painful as the man struggled to clear his throat. “Don’t…don’t be sorry.”

* * *

When she had arrived outside of Wesley’s door, cup full of ice in hand, Fred was surprised by a nurse informing her that a visitor was with Wesley and it was good to leave them be for now. Five minutes passed and her patience began to run dry, seeping through the cracks, her control slipping as the moments continued passing.

When the door opened, she let out a sigh of relief, but her breath was soon caught in her throat as it closed up tightly in shock at the sight of who was exiting. Standing before her, a guilty flicker in his dark eyes, Charles Gunn looked the part of a toughened war-hero on leave.

“C-Charles?” she stuttered, not near the point where she’d actually believe he was standing right in front of her, barely inches between them.

Looking down at her, he smiled warmly, the guilt going away for a moment at the sight of her. “Did you get shorter, girl?”

Fred blinked in response and cleared her throat, shifting her weight to her other foot uncomfortably.

“Thanks for calling,” he finally offered, the silence becoming too much to bear.

“I didn’t think you’d actually show up,” Fred admitted, looking away. “I’ve left you a lot of messages and you’ve never responded to them before…”

If she had been looking at him, she would have seen that, for a moment, he looked hurt by the remark. But he easily wiped it from his face and nonchalantly stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I’ve been busy…”

“Yeah well, we have been too,” Fred responded, bitterness creeping into her voice.

Gunn surprised her by letting a small smile tug at his lips, his head tilting as he looked at her, his eyes never leaving hers. When she finally looked back, he let out a sigh. “It’s been a long time…”

“Yes, it has.” Fred’s terse agreement was all she could manage, the awkwardness between them growing more intense, even if he was at least trying to be casual about it. This is all far from casual.

She’s still beautiful… “You look thin,” he blurted out, his voice quiet and filled with concern.

Fred broke her stare and blinked away the wetness forming in her eyes. It was all too much to handle at the moment. “I think I’m going to go check on Wesley…”

And before he could even protest, perhaps explain that Wes was doing fine and had fallen asleep like a baby, she had already moved into the room and left him alone in the hallway.

* * *

His combat boots clunked across the hard floor of the hotel lobby and he couldn’t help but smile as the memories flooded back at the sight of everything. With the exception of the weapons cabinet being damaged and several bloodstains all across the floor, everything was the same.

A moment of silence passed as he enjoyed the memories, taking pleasure in remembering how simple things had been then, how easy his life had been compared to how it was up in Seattle. His crew had been decimated to small numbers and those that were left weren’t in the condition to fight. Some had already run away to safer places.

It’s not the best time to be vacationing in California, he reminded himself, though no regrets came. He was where he needed to be at the moment, supporting his friends. And there were no ‘buts’ about it.

Suddenly, out came a worn-looking, yet still gorgeous Cordelia, dark circles under her eyes and her skin looking unnaturally pale at the moment. A big grin immediately spread across his face at the sight of her, her own shocked smile appearing.

“You’re back,” she whispered, moving towards him. But she stopped halfway at the sight of his head, “With hair.”

Gunn let out a warm laugh, “You didn’t think I was born prematurely bald, did you?”

Cordelia didn’t respond, her smile twitching as she thought about it.

“I wasn’t,” he assured her, extending his arms and pulling her into a friendly, tight hug. “I missed you, girl.”

“No surprise there,” she commented back. “What exactly did you miss?”

“Well, I can tell you I missed calling you princess, making fun of how short you are and reminding you who’s the coolest out of all of us,” he teased good-heartedly.

Cordelia played along, “And I missed you acting all macho, being as tall as a tree, and that cute shocked look you got on your face every time you remembered that I was cooler than you.”

Gunn took the moment to take on a more heartfelt, serious tone. “I did miss you though, you know that right?” He had expected Fred to be bitter and a tad resentful with him, and didn’t blame her. It was returning to the Hyperion, seeing everyone else, that scared him shitless.

“Yeah,” Cordy responded, her voice soft and soothing. It was obvious she understood that he had reasons. “I know.”

His intentions to reminisce with her were cut short when she abruptly took his hand and led him into Wesley’s office. Waiting in there were a battered Lorne and a broody Angel. Though it seemed his arrival at least brought at least smiles to their faces.

Offering a handshake, Gunn was surprised yet grateful when Angel pulled him into a warm, friendly man-hug. “It’s good to see you,” Angel said to him, pulling away with a small smile on his pale skin.

Lorne, on the other hand, seemed to be smiling for other reasons and only just then seemed to notice Gunn. “Hey!” he greeted him over-emphatically.

Glancing over to Cordelia, Gunn saw just in time her making a tipping motion, as if she were drinking from an imaginary cup. “You had too many Sea-Breezes, Lorne?”

“Sup, my homie-gee pop tart,” he paused with a big hiccup. “From the other side of the toaster!”

That made Gunn laugh. “Is this just a Thursday night or is something up?”

Angel and Cordelia shared not-so-furtive glances.

“What’s going on?”

* * *

His head reeled as he sat in the chair, his eyes unfocused and his mouth hanging agape. “Wow,” Gunn mumbled.

“We know,” Angel sighed, moving to sit down himself. “We’re all still pretty shocked about all of this, and we’ve known for a while…”

Gunn asked the first of thousands of questions popping into his mind, “Why didn’t you call me?”

Angel shifted in his seat uncomfortably, obviously unprepared to answer the question. “With all that’s been happening, we haven’t had time to stop and think about who to call and who not to call.”

The explanation struck hard at Gunn’s heart, the guilt he had been feeling earlier when he had visited Wesley returning, stronger than ever. A lot of things had changed and it became more and more obvious to him as the moments slipped by, that he wasn’t a part of their group anymore, he wasn’t needed.

Luckily, the phone ringing from the lobby interrupted the silence. When Cordelia moved to go get it, Angel immediately got out of his seat. “I’ll get it,” he offered with a half-hearted smile. Before moving to the phone, he leaned in, his hand absently moving to her waist as he spoke: “Why don’t you sit down?”

Ignoring the look she gave him, one of frustration that he was treating her like a child being clashed with one of gratefulness that he cared enough to be so protective.

Pulling the receiver to his ear, Angel greeted the person on the other side with as much charisma as he could muster: “Angel Investigations, we help the hope–” He paused, the words coming into his ear from the phone stopping the words coming from his mouth. “Y-yes, I’m Angel.”

“…And that amount is the subtotal, the total is…” Angel blocked out the prices, the numbers too high for him to remember as his shoulders slouched in defeat and he leaned against the counter, his face falling. “Mr. Pryce’s care may be expensive, but it is needed for him to recover from this traumatic event.”

“I…I understand,” Angel cleared his throat. “When do I have to have it by?”

“We’re willing to provide a payment plan, our financial counselors offer some help with payment’s these high,” the voice explained. “This call is just to inform you of the amount that is due, good day, sir.”

“I don’t have that kind of mon-” the person hung up before he could even finish. Slowly, he let his hand fall down and place the receiver back on the phone jack.

Financial planners and payment plans? Angel knew he wasn’t the kind of person who’d do well with dealing with money, nor to deal with annoying financial planners. And with all that was going on around him, he knew it would be hard to deal with having to come up with a certain amount of money on top of saving Cordelia.

Shaking his head, he returned to the office, walking straight to his desk and avoiding eye contact with everyone. Only if he hadn’t been distracted, he would have realized avoiding their stares was futile, both Gunn and Cordelia heard the phone call clearly and knew something was up.

* * *

The room was badly lit, even for a hospital room, and Angel, for a moment, felt badly for Wesley, being trapped in a cheap bed made out of recycled plastic. And when he caught sight of his friend, his eyes barely open, bruises and healing wounds all over, he felt even worse.

“Wesley,” he tried to greet him stoically, but his voice got caught in his throat when saying the man’s name. “You look like hell…”

When the man smiled in response, Angel let out a sight of relief, knowing it might be a little easier knowing that his friend was alright, or would be, eventually.

“You don’t look so good yourself,” Wesley shot back at Angel in a teasing tone. Though his voice was scratchy and weak, his accent could still be heard over the persistent beeping of the machine beside his bed. “A little pale, I must say…”

At that, Angel couldn’t help but laugh, easing himself over to the bed at his own pace. He finally managed to sit himself down in the seat placed beside the bed, leaning on his knees and entwining his fingers with one another.

“How’re things?” Wes asked gently.

Angel took in the question slowly. Lying and not telling the whole truth were two entirely different things to Angel, his morals gray in a white and black world. His choices were made not on what was best for him, but what was best for those he cared for. And he knew that it wasn’t the time or place to inform Wesley of Cordelia’s situation. I don’t want to place that burden on another unsuspecting person. Not at the moment, at least.

“Fine.”

“What about things with you and Cordelia?” Wesley asked pointedly, using most of his strength to raise an eyebrow and wink.

Angel merely laughed in response, hoping that a lighthearted, albeit forced, chuckle would help answer the question enough.

“Angel…” Wesley croaked his name. “I have something I need to tell you…”

“What is it, Wes?”

Wesley first decided to attempt to sit up, struggling with his breathing as he used his good arm to try and hoist himself up against the headboard. Angel helped, his hands immediately moving to his friend and aiding him. Finally, exhaling in relief, Wesley closed his eyes for a moment. “I was waiting for Cordelia’s birthday to give it to her…but I fear that more of these types of ‘situations’ are coming.”

Angel furrowed his brow, leaning in to hear every word.

“I discovered something, not long after you and Cordelia decided to be ‘friends’,” he went on to explain, air-quotes implied. “It’s a potion…”

* * *

The hotel was eerily quiet; something that was both welcomed by Gunn as he snuck through the lobby and sent chills up his spine. It was nighttime and Angel was surprisingly hidden up in his room. Ever since he came back from visiting Wesley, he’d been in a weird mood, distracted by something.

Money problems does that to people, Gunn reminded himself as he pulled the large envelope from his pocket and edged into Wesley’s dark office.

Hopefully a few thousand dollars’ll help em’ for a while.

His furtive movements were cut short when he caught heard something shuffle in the corner and yelped. At first, he thought it was a rat, but when he moved to turn on the lamp, he felt someone else’s hand brush up against his, a warm hand, a small hand. It was Cordelia.

“What the hell?” she growled, obviously stressed out and surprised by him. Getting over her initial shock, she noticed the envelope full of cash in his hands. “What’re you going to do with that?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Gunn pointed to the large metal box in her arms. “Money?”

“Money,” Cordelia agreed with him. Letting out a sigh, she bit her lip and shifted her weight uncomfortably, brushing a stray piece of hair behind her ears.

“You didn’t used to do that,” Gunn blurted out, trying to break the silence. When Cordelia gave him a questioning look, obviously lost, he explained: “You used to always scoff and blow the hair out of your eyes, now you do that weird foot shifty thing and brush your hair behind your ears.”

Cordelia blushed, though she wasn’t smiling. “Why are you noticing something like that?”

“I guess being away from all of you guys for so fucking long gives me a little appreciation for the small things,” Gunn explained, bashfully shrugging it off and walking over to the desk and placing the envelope in one of the drawers.

Nodding, Cordelia seemed to wholly understand. “Spending so long in this town, doing what we do, we tend to admire the small things ourselves every now and again…”

Sitting down in one of the chairs before the desk, she moved to place the box under the desk; only Gunn used his foot to keep her from doing it.

“Why don’t you give it to him yourself?”

“Because…” Cordelia wanted to say a reason, but as she sat there, trying to explain herself, she couldn’t find anything. Other than the fact that if she saw Angel right then, right there, she knew she wouldn’t be able to control herself from saying something stupid. So instead, she came up with something off the top of her head that wasn’t entirely a lie. “It’s just a good thing to know that when we’re gone, you back in Washington, me in…wherever dead, former cheerleaders go…there’ll be something for them to remember us by.”

“I get that,” Gunn nodded, sitting in the chair next to Cordelia, looking down at his lap as his hands played with one another. For the longest time it seemed, the two just sat there, sharing the silence as good friends, something they hadn’t done in so long, something that they both regretted forgetting about, something they both wished they’d appreciated more before.

Cordelia’s hand moved to Gunn’s, entwining her fingers with his. She didn’t say anything, she just sat in the chair, holding his hand and looking at no particular spot on the wall opposite of her. But Gunn knew she had things she wanted to say, and knew most of them were, at the moment, directed at him. “You should…you should really go give Angel that money in person. You two obviously have a lot of shit to work through.”

“No kidding,” Cordelia laughed, and when she blinked, he noticed her eyes were teary and it became evident that her emotions were running high.

“I wish I could say everything’s going to be alright but I…” Gunn paused, swallowing hard. “I don’t know the answers to those problems anymore.”

* * *

“Stupid visiting hours,” Fred grumbled as she stormed into the lobby. It was late, nearly midnight and she was far from tired. Both her and Wesley were talking like crazy to each other, enjoying themselves, and all of a sudden, the stupid doctor had to come in and interrupt them. Stupid hospital policies.

But her frustration was short-lived when she, in her distraction, accidentally bumped into Gunn as she made her way across the lobby. “Oh…Hi.”

She hadn’t expected him to go to the Hyperion. Or, at least, if she had, it had been quickly dismissed, just as any other thoughts with him included had been dismissed.

“Hey,” he greeted in a soft, gently voice. The roughness of his skin was lost to Fred as she noticed the familiar flicker of innocence in the darkness of his eyes. “We never got a chance to talk earlier…”

“I know,” she nodded, pushing away from him slowly and casually, moving to the office area. But Gunn’s hand immediately latched onto her arm, not too tightly yet enough to stop her from moving too far.

There were so many things he wanted to say to her, things he wanted her to know, feelings, both old and new. But he knew that he had to take it slow, because if he didn’t do it right, it would be something he would regret for the rest of his life. “A lot’s happened in my life since I left, just like I’m sure stuff’s happened in yours. And I’m sure you’d like to know as much as I want to know what all of that is.”

His words flowed through her mind, his voice soothing and exactly what she needed at the moment. But it was something she wasn’t going to let him know, something she was unwilling to admit. “I would have loved to have been able to speak with you over these past few months, but you’ve been too busy starting a new life.”

To Gunn, the words stung, and it visibly showed as he took a step back, firming in jaw. “So it’s like a betrayal for me to start a new life? Real mature, Fred.”

She immediately backpedaled, not meaning for her words to come out so…bitter. Yet it seemed that as hard as she tried, all she could be around Gunn was just that: bitter. “Look, I’m happy that you moved on. I moved on too, we all did. I’m just a little stressed.”

“We all are, Fred.”

“I’m not in the mood for remembering the past few months, alright?” Fred explained, her voice a ghost of a whisper.

Gunn sighed, “Are you…are you happy? Cause if you aint, I don’t think I could live with that.”

Fred nodded emphatically, “Wesley’s getting better and ever since I got the call from Angel that there’s a way for Cordelia to make it…I’ve been good. Stressed, but good. But the fact is, when it comes down to it all, we still have money problems and I haven’t…I haven’t eaten in days.”

It seemed that’s all it took for Gunn’s face to light up as he took the opportunity to suggest something. “Well then, how about we go fix that and go get some grub at that Pancake place you love.”

Though at first, she did look for an excuse not to do so, Fred eventually gave in. Reminding herself that while Angel was secluded up in his room upstairs, Conner was being watched by Lorne and there was nothing to really do around the office.

“Let’s go.”

* * *

Closing the door without making a sound, Cordelia tiptoed through the dark room and moved towards Angel’s bed, focusing fully on being as quiet as she could possibly be. Placing the metal box on the ground, she slowly slid it under the bed.

Only, as she focused on being quiet, she didn’t hear nor see Angel exiting his private bathroom and moving towards her, a slightly amused expression on his face.

Leaning close to where his mouth was inches from her ear, Angel whispered: “What’re you doing?”

And he wasn’t surprised when she jumped, surprised. “Holy…Angel! You scared me.”

But the moment of shock was short-lived when she saw the adorable smile on his face as he looked at her. In turn, she smiled herself. “You doing okay?”

“I am,” he nodded, looking the exact opposite of stressed. “I should be asking you the same.”

“I’m fine,” she immediately informed him, not at all lying. She hadn’t been queasy in a while, and she was relieved to finally not be lightheaded.

Angel’s next comment wiped the smiles off of both their faces. “Are you lying?”

Before she could act offended by his accusation, he motioned to his bed, “Because I wouldn’t want you to walk home when feeling bad. You can have my bed tonight.”

Cordelia didn’t respond, taking in his offer and contemplating it more than she should have. The offer, though she assumed was out of concern, meant more to her than anything. She loved his bed; it was soft and comfortable, and smelled like him. Though having Angel on her mind was the last thing she wanted. Well, it was the first thing she wanted, but it was something she knew couldn’t be good.

The handsome manpire’s next question broke the silence and tore her thoughts away from the bed. “Are you afraid?”

Taking notice to his voice raising an octave on the last word, Cordelia took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I am…a little.”

“Don’t be,” he said softly, moving towards her, placing his hands on her waist. “We’re going to find this sanctuary and you’re going to be fine.”

“How can you be so sure of that?” Cordelia asked, her vulnerability leaking into her voice. It was a question she couldn’t help but want the answer to.

Angel seemed confident in his answer, “Because I won’t let anything stop me from helping you.”

Cordelia was obviously touched, though still unsure. “I don’t want to get my hopes up, you know?”

“But you can!” Angel replied more firmly, his voice filled with assurance. When he spoke again, his voice was quieter and his eyes shone slightly in the dim light of his room. “I wont let anything happen to you. I will not let the woman I love leave my life. I just…I just won’t.”

He finished by placing a soft, tender kiss on her forehead, and then slowly moved his lips down, grazing against her soft skin until he finally placed another, even softer, kiss on the bridge of her nose. His eyes opened for just a moment, looking into hers, before he kissed her on the lips, slowly at first, and growing more passionate as the moments passed them by. Pulling away to let her breath, he smiled at her.

When Cordelia tried to protest, “If I let you kiss me again, I don’t know what’ll happen. When you kiss me…I come undone. And I’m afraid that once I do, I won’t be rational enough to stop this before…before…”

Angel lifted his hand to Cordelia’s cheek, brushing away the small tear that escaped her eyes. “I love you, you love me, and that’s all we need, Cordelia…” his voice was passionately quiet, every word filled with such unending emotion. His other hand held hers, their fingers entwining with one another. “Just let this happen…”

She didn’t answer at first, swallowing hard and blinking away the tears flooding her eyes, her emotions running high. Then, in response, she lifted herself on her toes and took his lips in her own, the passionate kiss filled with desperation. Such desperation that it became clear that she wasn’t doing this just because she loved him, but because she was searching for courage, courage to face what was going to happen in a matter of weeks.

Angel didn’t stop kissing her, even if he realized it, because he knew she loved him, and he knew he loved her, and it was enough; no matter what other intentions were hidden behind everything, behind the kiss, behind whatever was going on, he was with the woman he wanted to be with, and he was content.

Their fingers still entwined, she brought her other hand to his, still placed on her cheek and held onto it for the longest time, as if giving him permission to continue, to never stop.

And at the sound of a soft moan escaping her lips when they pulled away, Angel’s self-control was shot into oblivion. Pulling one hand out of her grasp, he let a finger trace tantalizing circles in the hollow of her throat, moving ever so slowly down the dip of her shirt’s neckline.

Cordelia’s head was already reeling and her limbs were without sensation; all she could feel was the pounding of her heart against her chest.

Hooking one arm around her waist, Angel brought her closer to him, the feeling of her warm skin becoming achingly addictive. He dropped his head to her neck, devouring the succulent skin with his lips, the pulse point drawing and keeping him there.

The scent of her arousal inundated Angel’s nostrils, and he soon became aware that his erection was full on and pressed up against her most sensitive spot. Cordelia didn’t say anything though, only moans and unintelligible words escaped her mouth.

But when she pulled away, Angel almost asked what was going on…until she lifted her arms up and removed her shirt, revealing her toned, tan body and voluptuous breasts. The lingerie she had on was enough for Angel to explode, but he remained cool and collected when she grabbed his hands and placed them on her hips; her eyes sending the obvious message: Undress me.

And he did so, his movements slow and enticing as he grazed her abdomen with his fingers, moving to ring her pants. In a sudden movement, he yanked his hands toward him, bringing Cordelia closer and breaking the zipper and button of her pants. Letting the jeans slip off of her hips and pool down at her feet on the floor, Angel captured her lips once again with his, not so much adamant as before, the softness of her lips entrancing his as they shared a sweet and slow embrace.

For what seemed like an eternity, the troubles of his mind left, the worries over Conner, Wesley, their money problems…it all disappeared. All that was there was him and Cordelia. And as he pulled away, looking down into her eyes, he knew there was nothing better than what was before him.

When he leaned down to kiss her, she pulled away just slightly, bringing both hands to his face and keeping his eyes locked with her teary ones. “This is what I want more than anything,” she whispered, her voice breaking apart with emotion. “And you can’t even begin to know how it feels to finally have it.”

Standing there, Cordelia in his arms, Angel felt for the first time in what seemed like forever, perfectly happy.
His arm slung over the booth, Gunn took in the sight of Fred practically inhaling the pancakes placed before her. They had been there for hours and it became obvious by the orange-tinted sky that the sun would soon be raising. Finally, he gave in and laughed.

She blushed immediately, covering her mouth. “God, it’s been so long…”

“No one’s offered to take you?”

“Well, Wesley has a few times,” Fred explained, swallowing the last of the pancakes in her mouth and wiping the syrup from her lips. “He’s actually attempted to make his own. That’s when the kitchen got a little burnt.”

Smiling at the image of Wesley panicking at a fire, Gunn shifted in his seat, not once taking his eyes off of Fred. “What about Angel? He never offers to take you out?”

“He was a little preoccupied with Cordelia,” Fred added with a sly smile, the only good memory including those two over the past few months that didn’t involve impending death bringing a sense of nostalgia to her. “Not that I blame him though.”

Gunn continued to smile, “So have they…”

Fred just gave him a look that said it all for him: You don’t see Angelus around now, do you?

“I miss this,” Gunn admitted, taking a bite of his own pancake, only to realize Fred had already eaten half of it without him knowing. When he looked up at her, she giggled.

When she finally stopped laughing, she admitted it to herself more than to Gunn. “So do I.”

It seemed like the conversation was going well, and was in the direction of staying good, until Fred decided it was time to bring up the subject Gunn had pointedly avoided the whole time. “So what are you planning on doing? Staying? Or are you just visiting?”

He said the only reasonable answer that came to mind, “I can’t leave my crew.”

“You left us,” Fred blurted out.

* * *

The sunshine could barely be seen through the closed curtains, and Cordelia surprisingly found comfort in the darkness of the room. Because lying on Angel’s bed, knowing that she would rather be in his arms than watch a stupid sunset, she felt like the happiest, most satisfied woman in the world.

She knew it was a tad shallow, but all she could think of, besides how much she loved Angel, was that mere hours ago, she had had the best sex of her life. It was slow, sensual and Angel seemed to know every aspect of her body, he seemed to know what places were her most sensitive and the ones that he could just touch and she would go crazy.

It was perfect.

After a moment or two of silence, Cordelia took notice of the irony behind the word ‘perfect’ and it flooded into her mind, the possibilities, the consequences. She pushed herself out of Angel’s arms, grabbed the stake from the bedside table and kicked Angel off the bed.

Landing on the floor with a grunt, the Vampire shook his head and looked up at her with dazed eyes. He smiled torpidly and greeted her softly: “Hey.”

Though it was when he noticed the stake gripped firmly in her right hand that he became visibly confused, his brow furrowing and a slightly dense expression crossed his face. “Cordy…?”

“Don’t move or I’ll stake your ass,” Cordelia threatened him, trying to keep her voice strong, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t help but let her emotions show. How could I be so stupid? I let this happen, damnit.

“It’s me, Cordy,” he pleaded, rising to his knees. “It’s not Angelus, it’s me.”

The look in his eyes was not one of sadism; it was of hope that she would recognize him. But as she stood on the bed, holding the stake in her hand, Cordelia Chase was more afraid of admitting it was Angel than Angelus.

“I could stake you right now…” she mumbled, her grip loosening on the stake. “Or believe you and break my heart knowing that I didn’t bring you perfect happiness.”

* * *

Gunn placed his hand on Fred’s, looking into her eyes. His touch seemed to startle her, but she didn’t pull away. “I’ll stay if you give me a reason to stay.”

The look in his eyes said it all and Fred pulled her hand away in response. “I’m in a relationship with Wesley…I love him, Charles.”

He seemed startled, yet he wasn’t angry. Sighing, defeated, he slumped into the booth and nodded. “No surprise there. Any man who’s dumb enough to let you go…well, he shouldn’t get a second chance, right?”

* * *

“A potion?” Cordelia reiterated incredulously.

“Yeah, Wesley made it a while back so it could keep my soul secure and I took it last night before I talked to you,” Angel explained, standing up and moving slowly towards her, his voice quiet and his movements gentle. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he never once took his eyes off her as he continued to explain: “I didn’t have a moment of perfect happiness, Cordy.”

Cordelia’s face fell.

“I had about a million of them,” Angel added, smiling at her.

Cordelia responded by slapping him in the face. “Jackass.”

“Ow!”

“All of that crap you said to me last night, it wasn’t true!” She growled and wrapped the covers around herself, pushing herself from the bed and moving towards the door. Her frustration and anger getting the better of her, she stopped and turned to face him. “If you believed that I was going to survive, then why did you sleep with me? Because to me, thinking back on it, it all seems to be the kind of ‘sleep-with-me-now-before-you-never-have-a-chance-again’ hoopla before I die.”

Angel immediately defended himself, jumping from the bed and storming over towards her. “I did it to prove how much I loved you.”

“I already know how much you love me.”

“I felt so…so awful, so ashamed that I couldn’t please in ways that any other normal guy could,” Angel explained, his voice quiet as each word fell out. “I wanted to prove to you in so many ways how much I loved you. And I also wanted it to be a promise.”

Cordelia tried to remain strong, but the words that were coming out of his mouth were enough to melt her heart. “A promise for what?” she asked, her voice no louder than a whisper.

Angel leaned his forehead against hers as a cute smile crossed his face. “A promise that you’ll make it out of this, that we’ll raise Conner together, that I’ll Shanshu eventually and when I do we’ll grow old together…”

Melting into his arms, Cordelia smiled in response. “Boy, you do have your way with words.”

Her body pressed up against his and it was then that she noticed his erection pressed up against her thigh. She pulled away just far enough to look down, laughing in embarrassment. “And I guess I have a way with you…”

“Yes, you do,” Angel admitted, and Cordelia swore to herself she could see his cheeks blushing. He leaned down and whispered in her ear: “The potion lasts twenty-four hours.”

* * *

Gunn gripped the steering wheel of his truck as he drove down the empty road, taking in deep breaths. “Would it…bother you, if I stayed.”

“In L.A.?” Fred didn’t care if the question was stupid, she just didn’t want to think something and find out it was something else.

The man beside her nodded, “For a few weeks, help you guys out for a while.”

Fred let out a sigh, “It’s your decision.”

“I know, I just…wanted to ask for permission,” he said through a cute smile.

Fred shrugged. “I’ll try and support whatever decision you make. But in the end, it’s up to you.”

“Well, it’s a big decision,” Gunn explained. “And the last time I made one like that, I regretted it for a while.”

“Then you have a lot of thinking to do before you decide anything officially,” Fred said absently, pointedly staring out the window of his truck, feigning interest in the various homeless people on the side of the street.

“I just hope I can make the right decision,” Gunn thought out loud.

Fred cleared her throat, moving to turn on the radio. Before turning it on, she said under her breath: “So do I.”

* * *

“Sweet little baby, don’t you cry…” Lorne’s voice drifted as he watched Conner fall asleep in his playpen. The toddler was looking more and more like his father everyday, a sullen look about him and that big, goofy smile were evidence of that. But what surprised and pleased Lorne was how much he reminded him of Cordelia.

The way he could just look into someone’s eyes and, without knowing it, make them feel better, make them feel safe.

It was a power Lorne had previously thought only Cordelia Chase possessed.

Tussling the boy’s hair, Lorne slowly got out of his seat and made his way to the counter, looking for a nice cup of coffee to keep him up. All day, Cordelia and Angel had been upstairs, locked in the bedroom, doing God knows what.

When he heard the door open, he forced a smile onto his face and turned to greet whoever entered. Only to see it was Holtz, standing with an arrow pointed at Lorne. “Don’t move. And do not make a sound.”

* * *

Cordelia let out a sigh as she exited Angel’s room, Angel right behind her. She turned around and buttoned up his shirt. “Well…we’ve never done that before.”

He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her lips, “I love you. I wish we didn’t have to stop…”

A sly smile tugged at her lips, “God, if we didn’t stop, I’m sure I would have died from bliss.” She kissed Angel again. “I don’t regret one moment with you, but we do…need to focus on other things from now on.”

The manpire nodded, his finger absently latching onto the top part of Cordelia’s pants, his cold finger sending chills throughout her body. He pulled her in close and his lips grazed along her jaw line until he began to nibble at her earlobe.

When he pushed her against the wall, Cordelia couldn’t help but fall into the moment, she couldn’t help but forget, if only for a few moments, that they had more dire things to do, to worry about.

“We have five minutes,” he whispered in her ear.

Cordelia used all her willpower to push him away, yet, paradoxically, it seemed as if it took all of her willpower just to breathe. “Conner’s downstairs with Lorne…we should go…join them.”

“Sounds like a,” Angel stopped speaking long enough to place a kiss on the hollow of Cordelia’s throat. “Plan.”

She laughed, grabbing his hand and dragging him down the hallway behind her. “I think after last night and these past few hours, our self-control is shot to oblivion.”

“I have no problem with that,” Angel admitted with a small chuckle, moving fast enough to catch up with her and walk on her side, his hand never letting go of hers.

Descending the stairs, he immediately noticed the silence. No other sounds besides the soft thud of their feet moving down the stairs could be heard, even by his acute hearing. Something was wrong.

Avoiding the sunlight spilling through the shade-less front doors, Angel found himself speedily walking over behind the counter, where Conner’s empty playpen awaited him. Looking to Cordelia, she seemed to be thinking the same thing. “Where’s Conner?” she asked him.

They both walked out into the lobby, where Angel noticed a small trail of blood leading to the door. The answer to Cordelia’s question came when, out of nowhere, Lorne came crashing through the doors, knocking them off their hinges and letting the sunlight spill into the lobby, directly where Angel stood. He instinctively jumped off to the side, flames engulfing his back.

Cordelia responded appropriately and grabbed a nearby blanket, smothering the flames. His shirt was ruined and his back was badly burnt.

Making sure he was still conscious, she stood up and walked into the middle of the room until she could see outside where Lorne had been thrown from. Off in the distance was a big truck, and in the passenger seat was Holtz, crossbow in one hand and….

“Oh god,” she covered her mouth as she saw Conner sitting on his lap. Though he looked undisturbed, Cordelia knew in a matter of minutes the child would realize that he was not with his father.

Her distraction reached a point to where Cordy was no longer aware of anything but Conner, looking so innocent in the arms of Angel’s worst enemy. The crossbow pointed at her threateningly did not even faze her.

Angel struggled to his feet, wincing as his back still seared in pain. Only his ears could catch the distant and soft click of the crossbow, and only he knew that in a matter of seconds, an arrow aimed at Cordelia would be zipping through the doorway and injuring her greatly. Using all his strength, he jumped through the sunlight and tackled Cordelia into the dark corner.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Angel lifted his head and looked down at Cordelia, who had tears in her eyes; the scent of blood pervaded his nostrils moments later. He rolled off her to reveal the arrow lodged into her right shoulder, going all the way through and sticking out the other side.

“Cordy,” he whispered her name, turning her on her side to relieve the pressure. He cupped the side of her face and put on a smile, hoping she somehow hadn’t taken notice of the arrow lodged in her shoulder.

“Hey…” she smiled back at him, but it was a bittersweet greeting, her russet eyes full of tears and shock at what she had seen. All it took was one word for her to make Angel realize the severity the entire situation had taken on. “Conner.”

Off to the side, Lorne went on going unnoticed as he struggled to sit up.

Angel’s eyes widened as he realized what Cordelia was trying to say. “Holtz?” he asked her disbelievingly, firming his jaw as he applied pressure on the area around the arrow, hoping to stop the blood flow.

Without thinking, Angel pushed himself off the ground and moved to the weapons cabinet, taking all the weapons he could manage.

Cordelia struggled to speak, grunting and groaning as she stood on her wobbly feet, hoping and praying her knees wouldn’t buckle beneath her. “Angel…you can’t just rush in there.”

“Why not?” he growled back at her. “I’m not letting him get away with my son.”

“I understand. I want Holtz dead for even thinking of taking Conner,” Cordelia tried to calm him down, but her breathing was becoming harder to pass and her vision was getting blurry. “You…die.”

Before she knew it, her whole body gave in and she fell to the ground, unconscious.

* * *

Angel brushed the hair out of her eyes as he placed her on the couch softly. Leaning down he placed a tender kiss on her forehead. After that, he returned to the weapons cabinet, throwing orders at Lorne, who was barely able to stand himself. “I need you take care of her for me.”

“She’s bleeding a lot, Angel,” Lorne pointed out, changing the cloth pressed against her wound with a clean one. Luckily she had been unconscious when they removed the arrow, so she wouldn’t be sore till later.

Angel didn’t miss a beat as he packed a big bag full of weapons, “Then take her to the hospital.”

“How am I supposed to do tha-”

“I don’t care! Find a way! Just…just make sure she’s going to be okay.” Genuine concern could be heard in his voice, but what was clearer was the seemingly unending anger at how he allowed his son to be taken from him. But Angel didn’t once stop to contemplate the situation, closing the bag and throwing it over his shoulder as he speedily moved to the basement door.

“Angel!” Lorne called after him, his voice disapproving.

The Vampire stopped in his tracks for a moment, his back facing Lorne. Sighing, he just shook his head: “He’s my son.” And with that, he was gone.

A few moments of silence passed until Gunn and Fred entered through the damaged doors, both with puzzled expressions on their faces.

“What the hell happened?” they asked in unison.

* * *

Her eyes fluttered open. The light shining from the ceiling was dimmed down and she appreciated it at first, glad that her eyes wouldn’t be as sore as they already were. But when Cordelia tried to lift her head, she realized she was in for more pain than she imagined. Her head felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, and only when she tried to shift in her seat, she remembered what happened to her shoulder.

Glancing out of the corner of her eyes, she saw her shoulder was wrapped up in bandages and her arm was in a sling. Groaning, she blinked slowly and swallowed hard. Her slight movements obviously caught the attention of Gunn, Fred and Lorne, because a few moments passed and they were all hovering over her, concerned expressions crossing their faces.

She asked the first question that popped into her head: “Where’s Angel?”

Though, the vague memory of before she passed out answered it just as the question slipped out of her mouth. She rolled her eyes at the glances the three looking at her shared. They obviously didn’t have it in them to answer the question at the moment. “Figures.”

She lifted her other hand and motioned for them to help her up. Reluctantly, they did so, easing her up and turning her so that her back could be placed against the couch. “And you know, I don’t blame him.”

Lorne shook his head, “Neither do any of us, brown eyes.”

Swallowing hard, Cordelia asked another question, her voice raising an octave or two as she spoke. “Do you think he’s found them yet?”

* * *

The light bulb swung from the weak cord as everyone moved swiftly passed it, his or her hasty movements easily swaying it. Holtz didn’t mind the annoying movement of the light; his attention focused more on the toddler in the makeshift playpen before him.

“Conner,” Holtz said the name with obvious disgust, a scowl forming on his aged features. Giving it a moment’s thought, his expression softened. “Stephen. A much better name, I must say. Better than that foul Irish name.”

Turning around for a moment, he took in a comprehensive image of the room before him. Heavy boots moved across cold stone floors as at least three-dozen of his ‘soldiers’ hurriedly tried to pack everything into the truck. Wooden crates and dust piles decorated the large, factory-like space, where their exhaustive training took place.

A shame to leave it now, Holtz thought to himself, pursing his lips as he returned his attention to Stephen, who looked up at him with a curious gaze.

Through all the commotion, he still seemed to be able to know when there was a change in the atmosphere, when there was someone in the room that didn’t belong. And almost as if a shift in the wind, Holtz noticed something, his trained senses picking a soft thud of a boot behind him.

Turning slowly, he couldn’t help but grin at the sight of Angel, standing in the doorway with a fuming air about him.

“Hello,” Holtz greeted him smugly.

“Holtz,” he growled, gripping the blade in his hand tightly.
Soft light stretching across the Hyperion lobby, the faint sound of pencils scratching across paper, sounds of kids laughing and cars passing by outside…it was all lost to Cordelia as she leaned over the table stretching her finger toward a place on the map.

“Perimeter starts here and ends…,” her tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth as she shifted into an even more uncomfortable position directing Lorne’s attention to another spot on the map of Los Angeles, “here.” For a moment, one passing fast enough that Lorne couldn’t even catch it; she winced as her shoulder ached.

Damn arrows…

Placing a pin in both spots Cordelia pointed to, Lorne let out a sigh too soft to be heard from inside the office where Fred was speaking with Wesley on the phone, trying to research any recent purchases of property, but loud enough for Cordelia to hear, to remind her she wasn’t the only one was utterly pissed at having to stay indoors and not go help Angel head-on.

Pushing herself off the table with a grunt, Cordy tried to remain positive, hoping to not dampen the other’s spirits even if hers were in the dumps. “Let’s keep working,” she mumbled to Lorne seeing the demon slow his movements.

“The sooner we do all this…,” her voice trailed off as her eyes caught sight of Gunn, behind the counter mumbling into the phone.

“Hey!” she yelled, motioning for him to get off the phone. “Phone bills are a bitch!”

Gunn shrugged in response, ignoring her as he turned in the opposite direction and continued his conversation with the hospital. “If he’s outta there in the next few days…how much would the cost be? Four thousand?”

The woman on the other end of the conversation smacked her gum into the receiver loudly, obviously aloof to the seriousness of Gunn’s intents. “Yep. Four thousand bucks.”

Ignoring the rudeness, Gunn scratched the back of his head and swallowed his frustration, “Yeah, I think I’ll stop by and pay it. No problem, thanks.”

Exhaling profoundly in relief, he hung up the phone and cleared his throat. Before too long, he moved over to where Cordelia and Lorne were, positioned over a large map of L.A. “Need any help?”

“Lots,” Lorne concealed with a cough, apparently a tad lackadaisical with the arrangements.

But Cordelia caught him and threw a dangerous glare his way, her patience teetering towards complete anger, where, if she were to snap, her hands would grab for the nearest person and strangle them until she felt relieved. And by the looks of her, the strangling would last for a few excruciatingly long hours.

Although Cordelia tried to act as if nothing was bothering her, she failed miserably just moments later, slamming her hand down on the table and growling, “I don’t see why we have to be stuck inside wondering where Holtz is when we should be out there, looking for him. I tell you, it’d be a hell of a lot easier than this damn ‘guessing game’.”

Lorne shook his head and walked off, not in the mood to argue with Cordelia, who he knew was minutes from snapping.

“Angel needs our help,” Cordelia went on, her voice firm and unwavering. Hope filled her for an instant, hope that she would rally the support of her friends to go search for Angel more thoroughly, but the expressions on their faces and the silence that followed her words shattered that hope.

Fred walked out of the office at the sound of raised voices, a curious look on her face as to what set Cordelia off. “We’re doing the best we can,” the young Texan pointed out.

No matter how much any of them wanted to find Angel, to rescue him, to save him and bring him back to them, their desperation wasn’t even close to Cordelia’s. She wanted Angel, needed him, and the fact that Conner was missing too left Fred surprised that Cordelia had remained calm for as long as she had.

Fred’s pathetic attempt at justification wasn’t good enough for Cordelia, “We need to do better!”

“We are!” Gunn bellowed at her, his frustration winning over his patience, which lost control as he listened to Cordelia talk, no, yell at them for not trying when they were doing the best they could to find their friend. He was as impatient to find Angel as anyone and hearing Cordelia be so discouraging wasn’t something he was, or ever would be, in the mood to hear.

She was the one person whom he always saw as the smiling former-cheerleader who could light up a room with a simple gesture. Hearing her being so negative was distant from the memory of her that he cherished, that he had held onto with all the other ones he brought with him to Washington.

“I’m not going to just sit here and allow Angel to get hurt…or worse, staked.” Cordelia’s eyes were set firmly on Gunn as she spoke, “We’re a family. And family doesn’t abandon each other.”

Gunn didn’t respond at first, as if he just swallowed the remark pointed towards him and allowed it to pass without a response. She’s speakin the truth’, he thought to himself.

* * *

Gunn rapped on the door lightly, poking his head inside Wesley’s office to make sure it was all right to enter.

Fred nodded and motioned for him to come in as she hung up the phone with an exasperated sigh. “Nurse Ratchet ordered Wesley off of the phone.”

“Want some coffee?” Gunn offered her politely, walking over to the desk cautiously.

It was plain to see she wasn’t in the best of moods, neither was Cordelia, and the one thing he learned about women was that when they were angry, they were scary.

“No thanks,” she said quietly, her eyes scanning the pages of information she had printed out. Bags were under her eyes and she was clearly on the edge of passing out from exhaustion. It wasn’t a sight that he had ever wanted to see when looking at Fred.

“How about some tea?” Gunn was relentless to please her in some way, to calm her down. She looked helpless and exhausted and his first instinct was to make her feel better, in some way, shape or form. “I hear it’s supposed to be soothing.”

Removing her glasses, Fred offered a weak smile and looked up at Gunn, her brown eyes looking into his. “Thanks for being so polite, but I don’t need anything at the moment.”

Her eyes remained locked with his longer than she expected, and it was when he cleared his throat that she managed to finally look away.

It had been so long since she had seen him, and even if she hadn’t loved him at the time, she still cared for him deeply and never stopped caring for him. Being in his presence, remembering back to the time when they were together…it wasn’t an easy thing, yet she found herself thinking about it more than she would have preferred.

“All you have to do is ask,” he blurted out suddenly, standing in the middle of the room, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet while clapping his hands together, clearly uncomfortable. “No matter what it is. I’ll do it.”

Genuinely appreciative of his offer, Fred smiled up at him. “I know.”

The moment was cut short, though, as the front doors opened suddenly and unexpectedly.

Moving to see what the commotion was, Gunn walked out into the lobby to see Cordelia stumbling down the stairs, laughing.

“The hell?” was all he could put in before Lorne entered, more unstable than giggly.

Only when Cordelia grabbed onto him, did Gunn realize that they were drunk, the stench of alcohol strong on her breath.

“You guys didn’t go scouting around, did you?” Gunn asked, pulling away from Cordelia and walking over to Lorne with a disapproving look crossing his face. His disappointment in Lorne was enough to distract him from the sounds of Cordelia stumbling for stability behind him.

“Oh yes, we did,” Lorne hiccupped. “And we found…”

“We found the thing,” Cordelia finished for him, going cross-eyed for a moment. “A thing, a person! He walked into a…a bar and we…got distracted.”

Lorne laughed as he remembered what happened, but Gunn grabbed him roughly by the lapels of his bright orange overcoat and slammed him against the wall.

“Why the fuck did you let her get drunk?” he asked him through his gritted teeth.

Cordelia continued to stumble across the Lobby, heading towards the counter only to stumble over her own feet and fall into Fred’s arms. “So sorry!” she laughed it off in a singsong voice.

“Cordy…” Fred started to say, but Cordelia pushed herself from Fred’s arms, not wanting any help. Stumbling over to the divan, she could barely stand. She waved her arms about for a moment before starting to talk.

“Don’t worry…I’m fine!” she lied through a drunken smile. “Sex really mellows me out.”

Fred tried to hide her shock when she heard Cordelia’s admission. No matter how much she wanted Angel and Cordelia to be together, the mere thought of them risking everyone’s safety’s, Conner’s more importantly, was something that disappointed her.

As she edged towards Cordelia she found herself almost apprehensive that she would fall on her again. “Cordy, did you…have sex with Angel?”

Gunn turned around and loosened his grip on Lorne as the situation took a sudden turn, catching his attention.

“Oh yeah!” Cordelia breezed past it, spinning around as if tying to decide which direction to go in.

Extremely nonchalant, albeit drunk, about the situation, she couldn’t help but continue to smile as she openly informed the gang of something none of them knew but her. “I never knew Angel could just keep going and going and going…you know, like that-that energizer bunny!”

Fred choked on her own spit as she heard the words come out of Cordelia’s mouth. Too much information. No matter how much she wanted Angel and Cordy to be together, she didn’t need to know about Angel’s…abilities.

“It was fun,” Cordelia burped, losing her balance for a moment and falling on her ass. She looked up at Fred and giggled. “Made me forget all about the fact that I was dying! Yep, it was that good!”

Walking over and helping her up, Gunn tried to not force her to sit down, not wishing to anger her. One of the many things he learned when working with Cordelia over the years was that, although Cordelia was obviously in a ‘giggly’ mood at the moment, it wouldn’t be too long till she got a little…temperamental.

“Why don’t you just sit down?” Fred suggested softly, taking Cordelia’s arm from Gunn and trying to gently move her towards the divan in the middle of the Lobby.

“I’m fine standing up!” Cordelia pushed away from Fred stubbornly, the smile disappearing from her face. Trying to walk away, it didn’t take long for her to stumble and nearly fall face-flat on the floor. “I’m fine with everything! I’m fine with acting like everything’s okay!”

Spinning around, she pointed at Fred. “I’m fine listening to you whine about Wesley, I’m fine with Gunn walking around all guilty and I’m fine listening to other people’s problems when the only real one I have is that in a few weeks, I’m dead! I’m fine trying to hold together what’s left of our lives!”

Gunn edged towards her, but she slapped his hands away. “I’m even okay trying to hold this family together when all I want to do is go in a corner and cry my eyes out.” Tears formed in her eyes and her voice got quieter as the words spilled out. “I’m fine,” she said one more time in a barely-there voice before slowly falling into Gunn’s waiting arms, passing out.

* * *

The sunlight spilled onto the stairs as Cordelia held onto the railing and edged downwards, careful not to let go in fear that she wasn’t able to keep herself standing on her own.

It seemed like her shoulder was bothering her even more in the aftermath of getting drunk, making her drunken escapade even more regrettable.

Hangovers are a bitch.

Groaning when she reached the bottom floor and the sunlight shone directly into her eyes, Cordelia staggered across the room until she was just outside Wesley’s office, where she could barely make Fred out through her still-blurry eyesight.

“Fred?” she called out her name, just to be sure she wasn’t having a drunken delusion.

And at the sound of her voice, the movement inside the office stopped and she could almost see Fred freezing and looking at her with shock. But a few moments passed and it seemed as if she returned to normal, breezing past Cordelia even as she brought a large pile of folders to the file cabinets.

“Yeah?” she mumbled nonchalantly.

“I’m sorr-” Cordelia began to immediately apologize, but Fred, who apparently anticipated the situation they were in, cut her off.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” she said curtly, her voice impassive and barely heard through her tight, pursed lips.

Even through blurry eyesight, it was plain to see that Fred was a tad bitter about the previous night’s events, and it only brought more stomach-churning guilt to Cordelia.

“I just…it’s hard to put on this façade everyday and act like everything’s normal,” Cordy explained, stuttering on a few words as she continued to try and get her bearings. “And it’s especially hard when nothing really is.”

Dropping the files on the counter loudly, Fred looked down for a few moments before finally looking up, her eyes flickering with frustration and teetering annoyance. “Do you think you’re the only one out of all of us that feels that way?”

Cordelia remained silent.

“Because you’re not,” Fred finished before turning around and continuing with her business.

Just when she assumed it was silent and it was her turn to say something, Fred, who obviously needed someone to unload onto, again stopped Cordelia. “Having to go around and act all innocent when I’m practically starving to death, having to try and act like I have no idea we don’t have any more money…It gets hard for me too.”

“I get that, Fred…”

“Do you?” the physicist spat back at her, her voice sour as her emotions continued running rampant. “I know you’re in a situation where you just want to cry and cry till you actually do die. We’re all in our own kind of situations…”

Fred stormed upstairs before Cordelia could even respond to everything she said.

“Wow, that was the best apology I’ve ever given,” Cordelia groaned, slapping her own head in aggravation.

* * *

Lunch was good, Gunn practiced in his mind as he approached Wesley’s office, where Fred predictably was located.

The cool night air wafted throughout the lobby as he remembered the casual chat they shared, no awkwardness at all.

From the end of lunch until the fall of night, they hadn’t spoken a word, but the conversation was still fresh in his mind and he kept reminding himself that he didn’t do anything wrong, nothing inappropriate was said and the fact that they hadn’t spoken was because they were busy.

That’s the only reason, he tried to reassure himself, but still felt quite nervous as he pushed open the door.

“You’re always in here,” Gunn announced his presence with a soft tone, hoping to not surprise Fred as she sat in Wesley’s chair behind his desk. “You know that?”

“Just recently,” Fred explained, avoiding eye contact as she played with the corner of the desk, picking at a stray sliver.

The lamp was the only source of light in the office, and the door closed behind him blocking any light from coming from the lobby, yet Gunn still saw Fred clearly, as if she were surrounded by light.

Walking towards the desk, all he did was pull a chair up and sit down, his eyes drifting across Fred’s beautiful features, taking the silence shared between them as an opportunity to focus more on how much he was missing out on with not being with her.

When she looked up at him, he couldn’t help but blush. “You okay?” he asked, changing the subject before she questioned why his attention was so focused on her.

She nodded, and didn’t say anything. But it was enough of an action, or inaction at least, for Gunn to know that something was up. Moving his chair to the side of the desk, he placed his hand on top of hers. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she replied a little too quickly, her voice too firm. From the look she gave Gunn, it was clear she was avoiding the subject.

“Did you and Cordy talk this morning?” he asked, guessing right. “She was drunk and I’m sure-”

“I know she was drunk,” Fred cut him off, pulling her hand away and pointedly avoiding his gaze once again. “But I can’t help but be pissed off at her…”

Gunn grabbed her hand again, and used his other hand to softly force her to look him in the eyes. “Fred…”

“I’m pissed off at Angel too, Wesley, and god even me,” she feigned a smile. “Everything’s falling apart, and I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Wrapping his strong arm around her, Gunn pulled Fred into a hug, squeezing her tightly. “I feel the same way, we all do.”

“I hate being made the victim, and to feel like such a helpless girl,” she explained, pulling away so that their eyes locked with each other again. As if just looking into his eyes was all she needed at the moment. “But I can’t help feeling this way.”

All Gunn could do was nod his understanding, unable to find words to tell her how he felt the same way, how he was just as afraid and pissed off at the same time.

“I just want things to go back to the way they were,” she whispered.

For a moment, he didn’t do anything, but his heart and mind finally agreed on one thing, something he thought was the right thing to do. Leaning forward, he took her lips with his own in a powerful kiss.

Initially, Fred was shocked; her eyes open wide as Charles Gunn kissed her. But her response seemed to be beyond her control as she just melted into the kiss, her eyes fluttering to a close as it continued, slowing down and growing softer by the minute.

Her mind had no control over the situation and Fred hadn’t even an inkling as to why she was kissing Gunn, allowing him to kiss her so passionately. I love Wesley!

Fortunately, for her, the lamp illuminating the room turned off, giving her the opportunity to pull away without offending him.

Fred took one embarrassed look at Gunn, covered her mouth at the memory of his lips brushing against hers and immediately pushed herself out of her seat and left the room, leaving Gunn awestruck and confused at the same time.

“What’s going on?” she called out, the darkness continuing into the lobby.

Every so often, the headlights of a car passing by the hotel slipped through the shades and illuminated the room just long enough for Fred to burn the image into her memory as she carefully edged out into the middle of the room.

Slowly but surely, her eyes adjusted to the darkness and, squinting her eyes to confirm it, she could make out a female figure moving down the stairs.

Cordelia cursed under her breath as she stomped down the stairs. Limping after stubbing her toe on the post at the bottom of the staircase, she cursed once again, grumbling to herself. “Mother fucking shit…”

“It’s the Power Company, damnit,” she explained out loud, limping behind the counter and leaning down for a few moments. She continued to grumble incoherent words until she reemerged with flashlights in hand. “Gunn?”

“Yep?” he walked out of the office and pointedly avoided Fred’s stare, which he knew was on him, as he walked over to Cordy.

Fred needed time to think things over, apparently, and he was wholly prepared to give her that time.

“I need you to go down to the basement to check if there’s maybe an over-ride-thingy.” She held out the flashlight and looked at him earnestly, obviously hoping he could face his fears.

But Gunn was shaking his head before she even finished, “Nuh-uh. No way!”

Cordelia rolled her eyes, just looking at him as if half-expecting him to be kidding.

“There’s rats down there!” he pointed out in a matter-of-fact tone, as if it were that simple.

“That’s exactly why I’m not going down there,” Cordelia snorted, placing her hands on her hips and looking at Gunn defiantly, obviously not in the particular mood to argue.

* * *

“I can’t believe we both have to come down here,” Cordelia grumbled under her breath as she twisted the doorknob and opened the door leading down into the basement.

Gunn laughed, “Well, bitching about it for so long, I wasn’t surprised when both Lorne and Fred got pissed.”

Smiling hesitantly, Cordelia couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty at the thought of having anything to smile about. Wesley was still in the hospital, they hadn’t located the exact position of the portal leading to the sanctuary, and Angel was still missing.

Slowly descending the stairs, Gunn placed a comforting hand on Cordelia’s waist. “We’ll turn on the power and get back to work. We’ll find him, Cor.”

“I know,” Cordelia let out a long sigh. “I just hope we find him sooner rather than later, you know?”

“I know,” Gunn nodded, turning his head to face her and letting a small smile play at the corner of his lips.

Even though it was dark, Cordelia saw the smile clearly and appreciated it all the more. Still, moving further down the stairs, she remained uneasy. It didn’t help when something in the dark moved, brushing up against a pipeline along the wall and creating a shuffling sound.

Ignoring Gunn nearly jumping out of his skin beside her, she moved her flashlight to point in the direction of the sound. Nothing was there. “Maybe it was just a rat.”

“And that’s a good thing?” Gunn hissed in her ear.

But Cordelia’s hand stopped him from continuing to walk further down the stairs, her movement so sudden that it surprised him.

“Shh…” she whispered, lowering the flashlight onto the ground, letting it point downwards, to where a small infant was crawling around aimlessly. “Conner,” she whispered frantically, moving down the stairs and nearly tripping over her own feet.

For a moment, a small one that vanished into the wrinkles of time faster than it appeared, Cordelia felt better, relieved, as if the world had been removed from her shoulders. Wrapping her arms around the small child and pulling him up with her, tightly hugging him, she hadn’t a thought of anything else.

Until her eyes unconsciously drifted over the little boy, looking for scratches and wounds, hoping he was unharmed. What she discovered was that his entire front and his hands were smeared with blood.

“What…?” She sat down on the steps and placed Conner on her knees as she surveyed him more closely. “It isn’t his blood,” she told Gunn, who remained on the stairs, his own flashlight in hand as he surveyed the room.

The light followed a trail of dark liquid, blood. All the way across the room was a large puddle and in the puddle was – “Cor…”

Gunn’s voice trembled in a way that caught Cordelia off guard and she looked up at him. “What’s wrong?”

He merely nodded in the direction his eyes were looking at.

Almost afraid of seeing where his attention lay, Cordelia slowly shifted in her position, her eyes moving to where the light was.

First she saw shoes, caked with dry blood and shredded in clean-cut pieces, as if a sword of some sort of had been hacking at it.

Torn and shabby pants, once a dark, navy blue, were now dyed a dark crimson, soaked with the blood that was seeping out of the deep abdomen wound that was revealed because of the torn shirt barely concealing the torso of the man that she soon realized, to her worst horror, was Angel.

His left eye was swollen and a large cut above his eyebrow seeped blood into his right. Angel’s lips were paler than usual and his arms were bruised.

Handing Conner to Gunn at the sight of Angel, Cordelia hurriedly moved towards him, ignoring the blood as she fell to her knees. “Angel,” she whispered his name frantically, bringing both hands to cup his face, the blood trickling down from his ears cold against her warm skin.

The only response he had was his eyes glancing her way, glistening in the beam of the flashlight as he locked stares with the woman he loved, the woman he lived for.
The fresh morning breeze and sunlight filtered into the dark, murky room as naturally as a small tidal wave stretching out onto the beach, creating such a subtle beauty that could be missed in the blink of an eye. Fortunately for Cordelia, she caught a small glimpse of that beauty when she glanced out the window from Angel’s bed, where she sat quiet and still, motionless in anticipation of his awakening.

For Angel’s sake, the open window was far from harming him as even the longest rays of sunlight couldn’t reach his bed. The large bed was strategically located in a place where the sunlight could spill into the room and the vampire could enjoy it without being threatened.

A sheer layer of cold sweat formed on the sleeping manpire’s brow and Cordelia brought her hand with a handkerchief to wipe it away. Every so often he’d twitch, murmuring jumbled words and phrases; too many to count and too indiscernible to decipher.

Obviously in a nightmarish slumber, Angel looked completely helpless and Cordelia felt for him more than ever, wanting so much to chant a spell, to give him a potion, or just to hold his hand…anything to make him feel better, to make his wounds disappear as he continued to just lie on the bed.

Whether or not he was infected remained to be unseen as Fred continued to meticulously research any possible virus that Angel might have contracted. But Cordelia knew that in a matter of hours he’d wake up, heal naturally thanks to his vampire powers and return to normal.

Well, Cordelia thought. As normal as he could possibly be, as any one of us could possibly be.

Traumatized or ill, all she knew was that the man she loved wasn’t in a good place, whether it be physically or emotionally, or even psychologically. And nothing was going to stop her from making sure he would make it out fine. All she needed was a place to begin.

The wounds on his face healed leaving visible scars that Cordelia assured herself would go away in time. But the bandages on his chest, arms and legs remained, as if Cordelia Chase were, for the first time in a while, afraid of blood. It soaked through the bandages, turning them an ugly crimson.

I’d think if any girl saw her guy covered in blood-soaked bandages, they’d be a little skeeved too.

Gradually lifting her hand to the bandage placed just inches from his shoulder, she narrowed her eyes and looked for any sign that would indicate he was still actively bleeding. When she peeled the bandage off, being sure to make her movements gentle, the only thing her eyes caught sight of was a scar similar to the ones on his face that would soon heal and disappear.

Her hopes rising, Cordelia moved her hand to the one on his abdomen and let out a sigh of relief when she confirmed the absence of seeping blood. Throwing the bandages into the trashcan, she let a smile play at her lips as she absently traced the scar on Angel’s abdomen, taking comfort in the soft though cool, texture of his skin.

It seemed as if her touch was enough to startle him awake as he stirred, his still-bandaged hand grabbing hers. “That tickles…,” Angel mumbled, his eyes flickering open and immediately locking on Cordelia.

A smile, albeit an exhausted one, appeared on his face at the sight of her. “Hey…”

“Hey,” she whispered back, bringing his hand up to her lips and placing a tender kiss on his thumb.

* * *

Gunn knocking on the door to Wesley’s office seemed to be happening a little too much lately with the same intentions every time. Gunn was starting to become aware of it, but continued to walk into the room, knocking on the door to announce his presence. “Hey, Fred.”

His casual greeting went unnoticed, or ignored if Gunn looked at it differently. Working diligently and obviously not in the mood to be disturbed, Fred pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose and continued to scrutinize the dusty tome opened before her on the desk.

“About earlier…” Gunn began, easing into the topic as casually as he could, as gently as he could. Fred was obviously confused and undecided about the kiss they shared. At least, that’s what he assumed when looking at her, noticing her pointedly avoiding him, her eyes not even scanning the pages of the book any more.

“It was a mistake,” she said curtly and out of nowhere before closing the book with a thud. Standing up, she gathered piles of parchment and moved to the exit.

But Gunn stepped in front of her, using his body as a barrier, keeping her in the room, forcing her to face him, to face what happened. “Do you really think it was a mistake?”

Hesitantly, she bit her lip. “I…I don’t know!” She dropped the papers and growled in frustration, turning around and absently starting to pace. “I love Wesley and I want to spend the rest of my life with him…”

“But?” Gunn guessed, tilting his head and just looking into her eyes, waiting for her to continue as patiently as he could, considering the situation he was in.

His emotions were being placed into every word and if he was going to get rejected, he wanted it to be sooner rather than later. But knowing Fred, she’d take a while and he was willing to sacrifice what he wanted for what she needed.

Sighing, Fred pressed her hand against her forehead and closed her eyes. “But…then you come to town and ev-everything changes.”

Gunn let out a long exhale, “I get that you love Wesley, I mean, you two have spent that last nine months together and…I just need to know. Do you love me too?”

Fred let her head fall for a moment, taking as much time as she could to get the strength she needed. Finally, she answered at length, “I never had the chance to…”

* * *

“Did you kill anyone?” Cordelia asked bluntly. Though her question was out of the blue and quite direct, it seemed as if Angel wasn’t too caught off guard at her inquiry.

His eyes drifting away from hers, he focused on the wrinkles of the comforter covering his still weak body as the thoughts and possible answers flooded his mind.

“I wanted to,” he finally answered, shifting as much as he could in his position and placing the cup of blood in his hand on the bedside table. “There were a lot of them…too many to count. I injured a lot of them…”

“Angel,” Cordelia whispered his name, her voice wavering ever so slightly as she brought her hand up to his cheek and forced him to look into her eyes, to answer her. “Did you kill Holtz?”

“All I could think about when I was trying to get there was that Holtz was going to die for trying to take Conner away from me,” Angel explained huskily, his voice thick with emotion. Struggling to sit up and ignoring Cordelia’s hand trying to keep him lying still, he used the headboard to support himself. “But when I got there I just…couldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I saw Conner,” Angel nodded his head to the playpen where Conner slept, undisturbed and looking perfectly innocent.

“He just looked up at me and smiled. Smiled like he does every time he sees me. He looked so…pure, and I knew I couldn’t become a monster in front of him. I’d become the very thing I’ve been trying to convince Holtz that I’m not and I’d be doing it in front of my son. It just wasn’t something I would be willing to do.”

“It nearly cost me my own life—unlife. And I’d do it again if it meant keeping my son safe,” Angel continued, his voice growing so soft that Cordelia could barely make out what he was saying.

“Just so you know…if you had killed Holtz, I wouldn’t have blamed you.” Cordelia shrugged as she tried to elaborate, “I mean…he tried to take your son and the bastard deserved to die for trying to hurt Conner, trying to take him away from you, from me, from all of us.”

Angel looked into her eyes intently as she spoke, a genuine smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

“But I’m glad you didn’t do something you’d regret,” she finished, brushing a stray hair behind her ears. Her lips twitched as a grin appeared fleetingly on her face, a nervous one as she waited for his response.

Angel just sighed, “The only thing I could regret more than killing Holtz in front of Conner would be breaking my promise.”

“Promise?”

“My promise to keep you safe,” he reminded her. “To make sure you get out of this alive.”

Cordelia nodded, “Oh, that promise. Yep, I’m sure I would have been royally pissed off if you broke that one.”

“We wouldn’t want that, would we?” Angel teased whole-heartedly. “Pissed-off Cordy isn’t much of a friend to the people, is she?”

Responding with a playful slap to Angel’s arm, Cordelia blushed as she spoke. “Dead-Angel isn’t much help either! Well…deader-Angel.”

* * *

Late in the afternoon, Gunn gently guided the wheelchair into the lobby, ignoring the grunts coming from Wesley as he forced it down the stairs.

“Ow,” the Englishman grunted several times, not too loudly to create a disturbance, but loud enough so that Gunn could hear him. “Thank you for that.”

But Gunn chose to ignore him, at least, for the moment he did. Stopping suddenly in the middle of the lobby, he directed his attention to Wesley’s office, where through the small crack of the barely-open door Fred could be seen working hard, that, or trying to distract herself.

“Fred!” he bellowed her name loudly, turning the wheelchair so that Wesley faced the doorway.

A moment of silence passed and finally, Fred poked her head out into the lobby with a perfectly amusing doe-eyed expression. “What do you nee-?”

She stopped herself, freezing on the spot at the sight of Wesley, beaming at her from his wheelchair, looking content at the sight of her. “Oh my God!” she just about squealed, running to him.

Wrapping her arms around Wesley, Fred’s smile reached from ear to ear. “How’d you get out early?”

“Got a little help from a friend,” Wesley nodded up at Gunn before placing a kiss on Fred’s forehead, who responded by kissing him more passionately on the lips.

Flustered, Fred pulled away just far enough so that her nose rubbed up against his, her eyes shining for a moment as a sheer layer of what looked like tears formed in her eyes. Sincerely, she whispered to him, “I’m glad you’re home.”

“Me too,” Wesley whispered back, bringing his hand up to stroke her cheek. “Me too…,” he reiterated with more than a little overwhelming content in his voice.

Gunn uncomfortably shifted his eyes in a different direction as the closeness shared between them remained. They were in love and seeing them arm in arm, their faces barely inches apart, it was a painful reminder that he messed it all up. He left when he could have stayed, he could have fought for Fred, for her love, but he chose not too. My mistake…

Quietly, he turned on his heels and moved to the basement, hoping to find that cleaning Angel’s blood would be a suitable distraction for him. But Fred called after him, her voice urgently quiet, “Gunn, wait.”

Stopping, he took a small intake of breath to sooth his nerves, to calm himself before turning to face her. Approaching him, Fred took his hand in hers. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” Gunn brushed it off as nonchalantly as he could manage.

Yet when he moved to leave, she kept him there, her voice still quiet as she spoke. “I just…you didn’t have to do this and you still did.”

“You don’t always get what you really want but sometimes you get close…” Gunn explained, glancing over to Wesley. “I’m sure I’ll find someone…sooner or later, that’ll be close to what I feel…,” he paused, clearing his throat.

“What is it?” Fred asked, seeing him distressed over the subject.

“I’m not good at expressing shit,” he gruffly mumbled, blinking slowly, his dark eyes for a moment sparkling with emotion. “I’ll never forget how I feel about you. Sure, I’ll get over you, find someone else, but I’ll always remember…”

“Stop,” she ordered him softly, bringing a finger up to his mouth.

“Why?” he asked, confused. His emotions were about to spill out if he continued speaking and for the first time, he wasn’t afraid of that possibility.

“Because you’re telling me all this now because you won’t be able to when you leave,” she explained matter-of-factly. “Which will be soon, I’m guessin’.”

Gunn nodded slowly, never once letting his eyes drift from hers. “And with all the shit that’s been going on, thinking about me leavin’ aint exactly something either one of us should be thinking about, right?”

“Right,” Fred breathed in and let out a long, shaky sigh. “Anyways…thanks, for paying…I’ll pay you back.”

“No worries,” Gunn forced a smile. “I’ll be down in the basement if you need me.”

* * *

We need new light bulbs, Lorne thought to himself as he gripped the flashlight and moved about the hotel. Night had fallen not too long ago and it was something he despised and did not look forward to. Too many bills needed to be paid and he wasn’t surprised that their lack of money had caught up with them and bit their asses. And that damn power switch only worked for an hour, till the damn Power Company turned that one off too.

Frustrated, Lorne realized his hand was now turning a shade of green not usually associated with his skin and he loosened his grip on the flashlight.

Before he could reach Angel’s room, where he was intending to apologize to Cordelia, the door opened and to his surprise and discomfort, Cordelia exited the room.

Hoping to stand in the hallway a few minutes before going in and practicing what he was going to say, Lorne had to admit he was a tad disappointed at Cordelia coming face to face with him all of a sudden.

Though he was nowhere near as close as disappointed as Cordelia was. As selfish as it sounded in her head, she assured herself it was nothing to be ashamed of. She’d gotten Angel and Conner back, they were safe and going to be okay and that’s all she wanted to think about. Talking with others, having conversations and possibly getting detracted from Angel…it wasn’t something she would willingly allow to happen at the moment. But she sucked it up and strained a smile at Lorne.

“Howdy, browneyes.” He smiled a toothy smile at her, but it was plain to see both Cordelia and him were uncomfortable; though neither outwardly pointed it out. “How’re you doing?”

“Fine,” Cordelia responded curtly, coming off ruder than she intended. “Just heading off to get some more blood for Angel…he’s craving it pretty bad.”

“How’d he get away?”

Lorne’s question reminded Cordelia that, in her desperate attempt to never let Angel leave her sight, she had prevented the others from visiting him.

“He avoided a lot of stakes and fought for as long as he could. But when he saw that there was no way he could dispatch everyone, he got Conner and survived long enough to get through the sewers.”

Her answer was to the point and it became clear to Lorne she had already spent too much time away from her manpire and needed to get the blood and get back to him before she snapped.

“I just…I wanted to apologize,” Lorne finally spat it out. “For letting you get drunk which lead to the whole debacle downstairs and the ick-factor of knowing Angel’s…abilities.”

“You don’t have to apologize Lorne,” said Cordelia, her face softening and her adamant desire to be around Angel, to take care of him, faded; just barely. “I have to admit, I got a lot off my shoulder when I said all of that.”

“I can understand why you kept your feelings a secret,” Lorne admitted, shrugging slightly. “I just…I can’t seem to figure out why my mojo isn’t working lately. I’m sure I would have seen it if it were working or if I’d-”

“Been here?” Cordelia finished for him, carefully treading a line she didn’t dare to cross. Unlike Gunn, Lorne had given them a fair warning and made sure everything was okay before leaving. It wasn’t out of the blue and the money he was being offered was a fair amount.

“You were there for us so many times before that. You were with me through a lot and you’re my friend. Friend’s forgive each other. Even if there’s nothing to forgive.” She let a small smile appear on her face as she reached her arm out, offering her hand to his. When he took it, she squeezed it tightly and just looked at him. “I’ve known worse people than you who’ve done more awful things. So don’t sweat it, alright?”

Lorne nodded, thankful. “To go onto more important matters,” he cleared his throat and tried to act as casual as possible, even as his emotions bubbled under the surface in a way that only Cordelia could evoke.

“I have a few contacts over in Nepal and Bangladesh…they’re willing to set up room and board for Angel when he heads over there to, you know. There’s a cargo ship headed to the coast of Bangladesh in a week and there’s more than enough room for him to hide down there.”

“I’m going with him,” Cordelia said out of nowhere.

“W-What?” was Lorne’s expected reaction.

Nonchalantly shifting her weight from one foot to the other, Cordelia shrugged a bit. “I’ve decided to go with him.”

Lorne could feel the stubbornness just below the surface, waiting to go to work on him if he pestered her on her decision. Cordelia Chase was not a woman who changed her opinions just for the benefit of others; and because of Lorne’s knowledge and acceptance of that fact, he’d lived longer. “I could ask them to set up a bigger room for the two of you. Have you talked with Angel yet?”

“I will,” Cordelia brushed it off, averting her eyes. It was obviously something she was avoiding at the moment. She didn’t want Angel to think she couldn’t trust him and telling him she was going along to make sure everything went correctly was something that might make him think that. I can’t exactly tell him why I’m really going…

* * *

“I haven’t been in here in a long while…” Wesley said absently as he wheeled into his office. He nearly snapped from whiplash when he gave the room another look. “It’s…it’s clean!”

Fred laughed, “You’d be surprised at how much free time we all have.”

“Well, I figured. Since Angel’s back and safe, there really isn’t much to worry about now is there,” Wesley said aloud, moving to his desk and admiring the organized piles of folders and tomes. He turned around and looked at Fred, his eyes sincere as he spoke: “God I love you.”

It seemed to make Wesley feel better to say those words, as if he’d wanted to say them a million times before in the past few months. But Fred didn’t take notice; her attention on the fact that she just now realized Wesley hadn’t a clue about Cordelia’s situation.

“I…love you too,” she said, but nearly unconvincingly.

“So…” Wesley placed his hands on his knees and let out a sigh. “Fill me in on what’s been happening around here. It’d be good to be caught up.”

* * *

“Hey!” Fred’s voice called after Cordelia as she moved along the hallway.

Holding back a groan, Cordelia turned to face Fred; not in the mood for another verbal bashing. “What is it?”

Ignoring the practically rude question, Fred slowed down and looked at Cordelia with serious eyes. “Wesley still doesn’t even know about what’s going on with you, does he?”

“I don’t know, have you told him yet?”

“No.”

“Then he doesn’t.”

“What?” Fred practically yelled.

“Shut up, god you’re loud.”

“I’m loud because Wesley is being left out on the situation of your impending death!” Fred’s voice was so loud that it seemed as if, even for Wesley’s benefit, she was far from being convinced to be quiet.

“He doesn’t need to know,” Cordelia tried to explain her reasons convincingly. “Wesley’s had a lot happen to him and this is the last thing he deserves to know.”

“What about the rest of us? Do we deserve to know that it’s quite possible our friend is going to die?” Fred asked with more than a little bitterness in her voice.

Cordelia firmed her jaw, keeping the anger that was churning just below the surface from bursting; knowing the result would involve her choking Fred endlessly. “I had to tell Angel, he wasn’t going to let me go anywhere without telling him what was going on! And you were there when I told him! Lorne already knew and Gunn was asking too many questions!”

Out of breath, Cordelia took a moment to catch it before continuing. “If I had a choice in all of this, none of you would know. Not because I don’t trust you or don’t think you’re strong enough. But because I know that I’m not strong enough. Not enough to deal with bringing that kind of news to the people that I love…the only group of people in the world that love me. You’re all I have, you’re my family and I would give anything for you guys to lead happy lives.”

Fred swallowed hard, trying to hide the emotion from her face. But when she spoke, she found her voice uncontrollably thick with emotion. “Wesley deserves to know the truth.”

Cordelia didn’t miss a beat, “He deserves to be happy, all of you do. That’s why I-” Cordelia stopped herself. It’s not the time…

Luckily, Fred didn’t notice Cordelia’s near-slip. “I get how you feel but Wes…he’s like a brother to you, you’ve said that a million times and I believe it. You were the one who brought him out of his coma, and you should be the one to tell him…”

* * *

Leaning against the pole, Gunn remained as quiet as he could as he contemplated, something he wasn’t known to do much and pretty much preferred it to say that way. When Lorne entered through the front doors, signaling a gust of cool night air, he tried to remain still, hoping to go unnoticed.

Lorne did notice him though, and immediately caught on to the deep thought aura and furrowed his brow. “What’s wrong dark-eyes?”

“Nothing,” Gunn sighed, lying through his teeth.

“Seriously?”

“I just…have you ever had to make a decision and not known which way to take?” Gunn asked. “The one that gives you what you want, or the one that you need to do, that you have to do.”

“Why do you ask?”

“I can’t abandon my crew up there,” Gunn explained, more to himself than to Lorne. “I learned the first time I did that that it’s not a good thing to do. But I…I come down here and I see you guys and I remember the good we did, and how we were a family and I miss that.”

Lorne nodded, catching on. “And you want to stay down here but know you can’t because of your duty to your ‘crew’.”

“Yeah,” Gunn grumbled, pushing himself away from the pillar and frustratingly kicking an insignificant box. “I hate making decisions.”

“We all do…”

* * *

Opening the door as quietly as possible, Fred poked her head inside, checking to make sure Angel was still undisturbed. Closing the door and approaching him with furtiveness, she couldn’t help but grin at the sight of Angel asleep with Conner, also asleep, in his arms.

But even the smallest sound seemed to be caught by the vampire’s acute senses as he stirred when she neared. Opening his eyes and looking perfectly fatigued, he grinned and waved at her cutely. “Hey, Fred.”

“You look better,” she said to him, sitting at the end of the bed and trying to act casual, the image of Gunn carrying a bloody, passed out, weak Angel still fresh in her mind. “How’s Conner?”

“He’s pooped,” Angel let a small smile play at the corner of his lips as he looked down at his napping child. When he looked back up at Fred, a genuine flicker of regret appeared in his handsome dark eyes. “Fred…?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry for not…not being there for you during the whole Wesley situation. I guess I got distracted,” his apology, though out of the blue, was heartfelt and Fred appreciated it all the more, even if the thought of her ever feeling ill emotions towards Angel for not supporting her never crossed her mind. “It’s kinda my fault for having a one-track mind, I guess.”

“Don’t apologize,” Fred said to him softly. “There’s been a lot of apologies around here and a good ninety-percent of them don’t even need to be said. You’re the last person who should be apologizing.”

Angel shrugged modestly.

“And having a one-track mind, being stubborn…those are things that just make you…you know, you.” Fred grinned as she spoke, glad that she was spending time with her friend, the person she’d known the longest out of all of them and was the hero that rescued her from Pylea.

She knew for the first time in a while as she spoke to Angel that, even with their money problems and Cordelia’s situation, things would get better.

* * *

“You shouldn’t be working…” Cordelia said softly as she leaned in the doorway leading into Wesley’s office. Watching him work so diligently, catching himself up, she couldn’t help but smile. “You’re brain will get too big for your head.”

“Can’t help it,” Wesley looked up at her, smiling along with her. “I’d want to be as caught up as possible so that when a problem arises, I’ll be of some help.”

A moment passed, filled with silence, so much of it and so little of anything else that Cordelia nearly screamed just for the sake of making noise. She was visibly relieved when Wesley finally spoke.

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For pulling me out of a coma,” he explained. “No one else could have done it. What I heard before I woke up…it was you. Telling me to…what was it? ‘Get off my ass and wake up?’”

Cordelia laughed and so did Wesley.

“No one could have woken me up…I’m sure it would have been the same if it were Fred or Angel, but what you did,” he paused, swallowing to keep his voice from wavering. “I don’t know what any of us would do without you.”

The last comment struck at Cordelia’s heart hard and she was glad she chose to lean against the doorway or else she would have most likely lost her balance. “Wesley…”

Forcing herself to walk over to him, she put herself in a seat and leaned forward, preparing herself to finally tell him.

Catching on to the dire shift of the situation, Wesley narrowed his eyes. “What is it?”

“We need to talk…”
“What’re you doing?” Cordelia demanded when she opened the door and came upon the sight of Angel out of his bed and leaning against his armoire for support.

For a moment, her attraction to him got the better of her as she took in the image of him, shirtless and healed, standing in all his glory in just his briefs.

Shaking herself out of it, she put on a determined façade and placed her hands on her hips.

Angel shrugged, “Getting dressed. It’s not that enticing to be nearly-naked when there’s not a beautiful woman in the room.”

Cordelia couldn’t help but blush, if only for a second. “You shouldn’t be up yet…what if you haven’t healed all the way?” Placing her hands on his chest absently, she gave him a once over.

“I’m fine,” he laughed it off, his hand reaching up to hers. “Got a little limp, that’s all. And I checked all places of injury. Nothing.”

“Have you checked…?” Cordelia nodded towards his cute little butt.

Embarrassed by the reminded, Angel averted his eyes. “Yeah…there’s a little scar on the left cheek.”

Stifling a laugh, Cordelia tried to keep a straight face. “You should lie down, rest.”

“I wanted to show Conner around the hotel,” Angel admitted without the slightest bit of embarrassment as he motioned to the playpen where the toys distracted his son. “Maybe pick out some possible rooms for him to have when he gets older.”

Cordelia smiled, an almost bittersweet one, as if her thoughts were one something else; something that worried her. “It’s good to look into the future…”

Misreading Cordelia’s mood, Angel let a sly smile creep onto his face. “You thinking about what’s going to happen with us? In the future, I mean?”

Cordelia’s smile faltered, but only for a moment, and when Angel didn’t notice, she was relieved, letting out a shaky sigh and replying at length. “Yeah, I am.”

“I’m tired of making promises,” Angel said to her in an earnest whisper. “I want to prove to you that life will be…great. You know? I just–I want to show you. When I get back from the Sanctuary, I’ll prove it all to you.”

“I’m going with you,” Cordelia finally admitted to him, welcoming the relief at having the pressure eased off. Though even as relieved as she was, something still lingered… Not now, she thought to herself over and over again.

Angel took a step back, caught off guard. “W-what?” It wasn’t something he was expecting; yet at the same time he chastised himself for not thinking that Cordelia would want to come. She was the most stubborn, determined person he’d ever met and it was not a shocker to think that she’d want to tag along to make sure everything was done correctly.

“I am coming with you,” she said more slowly, casually strolling over to Conner’s playpen and looking down at him, acting as if it were no big deal.

But Angel saw clearly, the falter in her flippant attitude, the waver in her graceful movements…she was far from aloof about the seriousness of the situation, of what she just announced. “You’re not coming with me.”

“And why not?” Cordelia asked, finally looking up at him with a strong-willed gaze, daring him to argue.

Angel, again, saw through the façade and knew that behind her resolute, russet eyes, she was drowning in uncertainty. “Because I won’t let you.”

“That’s a strong argument,” she snorted derisively, finding her strong point: sarcasm.

“I won’t let you walk into dan-”

Cordelia stopped him, putting on a confident smile. “You can say and do whatever you like. Nothing, including you, is keeping me from going to that sanctuary. So either you’ll suck up this ‘macho’ ‘tude of yours and help me find the sanctuary, or I’ll go alone and you’ll worry your ‘oh-so-tortured’ ass off the whole time.”

Angel was left speechless at the options given to him. She isn’t one to argue with, Angel. Pick one and pick one fast. Purposely pouting to lighten up the situation, he looked at her with feigned dolefulness. “I wouldn’t want you traveling alone…”

* * *

Placing a soft, tender kiss on Wesley’s forehead, Fred sat herself down beside him on the couch in the lobby, her eyes never leaving his blank visage. “Did you talk with Cordelia?”

Wesley cleared his throat at the mention of Cordelia, the name bringing him out of his deep thoughts. “Yes, I did.”

A moment of silence followed, one not welcomed by Fred, who was without words. She didn’t know whether to ask if he was all right, sad, mad or even relieved that they already found a way to save her. The blankness of his face was enough to set her off balance, to confuse her, to leave her wordless.

“Did you know?” he asked, not once looking at her.

“I did,” Fred sighed, relieved by the breaking of silence. “But only by accident. If Cordelia had it her way, none of us would know…”

Wesley looked down at his lap, where his hands lay, absently playing with one another.

“She thinks it was selfless to hide her pain, but I think it was stupid. She should have told us,” Fred voiced her opinion on the matter with self-assurance, as much of it as she could gather.

“A person as stubborn as Cordelia hates to admit that they are feeling awful,” Wesley informed her quietly. “Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, but Cordelia’s grown up a lot in a world that you either think fast or you die. She’s grown to believe quick decisions will keep you alive. Sure, that may make her stubborn and impatient sometimes…”

“But she’s still alive,” Fred finished, frustrated that there was a rationality for it all. It was much easier for her to just be mad at Cordelia than to delve into deeper emotions such as fear; and having an actual reason for keeping the secret from them made Cordelia harder to be mad at.

Wesley nodded, “She’s not only alive, but she’s still able to be emotional, to be human.”

Fred let her head fall in resignation, “Are you afraid?”

“Of the possibility of her not making it?” Wesley looked up at Fred finally, his eyes full of as much emotion as his voice. “There’s always a possibility of failure. But if Cordelia has any say in this, she’ll get exactly what she knows she needs.”

He cupped Fred’s hand with his and placed a small kiss on her lips, with enough love to remind her that he was there for her to bring comfort.

Resting her head on Wesley’s shoulder, Fred was silent for what seemed like forever. Finally, after much though, she let her emotions spill out as she admitted: “I’m afraid.”

* * *

Ample illumination of unobstructed moonlight streamed through the open windows upon Angel’s bed, the cool night breeze filtering throughout the room and creating a sense of comfort in Angel that he couldn’t find during the day, when sunlight dominated the world.

Though her eyes were open, Cordelia had not moved or shown any reaction for quite some time, obviously delving deeply into her thoughts. The faint sign of her breathing, the rise and fall of her belly, and her heartbeat were the only things reassuring Angel at the moment as they lay on his bed.

His hand absently traced circles along her arm as he became rapt with the natural scent of her hair. Lilies…he thought to himself, breathing in greatly to get a whiff of the enticing aroma.

Angel’s acute vision caught the sight of Goosebumps running up and down Cordelia’s arms almost immediately. They were obviously the product of his continuing caress along her tan, soft arms. A ghost of a smile tugging at the corner of his lips, he moved his head to look down at her, almost looking directly into her eyes.

When Cordelia looked back up at him, he saw nothing but love, deep and meaningful, unending love.

Taking the opportunity he gently arched his head down and kissed her, asking for permission to continue with his lips as they brushed softly against hers.

When she responded to the kiss, he shifted in his position and wrapped his arm around her waist, holding her close to him, as the embrace grew more passionate.

Cordelia responded automatically, as if kissing Angel was just something she could do without thinking, like an impulse or reflex. But a moment passed and her common sense kicked in and forced her to stop.

Angel noticed right away the stiffness and when Cordelia pulled back just slightly, he saw in her eyes that they were close to making a big mistake.

“We can’t,” she whispered to him, the tone of her voice enough to force Angel to remember his curse and the consequences that awaited them if they continued what they were doing.

Angel opened his mouth to say something, even though he had still not decided what to say; he hadn’t decided whether to argue or to accept the restrictions of his curse. To accept the fact that even if they had recently shared a perfect night together, sex wasn’t going to be an option for them anytime soon.

Though, Lorne entering kept him from even trying to speak. “Hey, lovebirds.”

The comment made the situation and silence all the more unbearable; Angel and Cordelia, though, remained cool and collected as they casually pushed away from each other and turned their attention to the green-skinned demon.

“What is it, Lorne?” Cordelia asked him, her tone not without ambiguity.

“I’ve got some news; good or bad, you decide.” Clearing his throat, Lorne put on a more serious expression as he continued. “The cargo ship that’s taking you to Bangladesh…it’s pushed up its departure.”

Angel perked up, “It’s leaving sooner?”

“It’s leaving tomorrow,” said Lorne, steeling himself for the pair’s reactions.

* * *

Folding the clothes meticulously, one corner folded over the opposite corner, Angel licked his lips as he placed his silk, navy blue shirt into his suitcase, hoping not to wrinkle it. Running his hand over the fabric to smooth it out, his lips twitched as the muscles normally used to smile pleaded to form a pleased grin on his pale features.

If Cordelia ever saw me being so prudent with my clothes, her brain would explode with teasing remarks, he mused to himself. Closing the suitcase, he pulled the zipper quietly along the zipper-line so that no noise would come of the action. No need to disturb Conner.

It was well after midnight and he had finally gotten finished with his packing, but Cordelia had yet to arrive, to Angel’s presumption. He wouldn’t even be close to shocked if she showed up with twenty suitcases.

Clearing his throat, he grabbed the handle of his bag and pulled it off of his bed all in one poised movement, not once making even the smallest of sounds.

The soft murmur from Conner’s playpen tugged at Angel’s heart as he walked to the door. Placing the bag on the ground, he turned on his heel and moved to his son, who was stirring in his sleep.

“Hey there…,” he whispered, kneeling down and reaching over into the area where his son lay. Tussling the brown hair on Conner’s head, Angel had the proud look of a father as he watched his son continue to sleep.

For a moment, he felt guilt-ridden for abandoning his son and leaving the country at the last minute. Not only that, but he was taking Conner’s surrogate-mother along with him, with the slight chance that either or both he and Cordelia wouldn’t be returning.

The mere thought of his son growing up without a father, without a mother, to look up to, to be loved by and to love…it wasn’t something Angel wanted to focus his mind on.

A comforting hand squeezed his shoulder and when he looked up, Cordelia’s heartwarming smile greeted him.

Kneeling down beside Angel, Cordelia quietly whispered to him. “He looks so much like you, Angel.”

In her eyes flickered an emotion, a connection that she only reserved for when looking at Conner; the innocent child that she had grown to become like a mother too.

And Angel’s heart melted at the sight of it when he watched her just gaze at his son, as though the mere thought of Conner were all she needed to breathe easily.

“He’s got your nose,” Angel teased, his voice a ghost of a whisper as he placed his chin on the rim of the playpen.

Cordelia wrapped her arm around his and placed her head on his shoulder, both welcoming the silence and his presence at the same time. “He’s pretty darn lucky then…”

Glancing down at Cordelia for only an instant, Angel smiled pleasantly. “He sure is.”

Neither of them wanted to move, to leave; all that was wanted was to stay like they were forever, to be with Conner, to be with each other. No death, no destruction and definitely no Big Bad’s.

But it was Angel who put enough strength together and cleared his throat, “We need to get going…”

It was still pretty early but he knew it’d take a while for them to get to the ship and the amount of time to sneak on without being detected was also playing against them. Besides, Angel thought to himself, the goodbyes aren’t going to be easy.

As he stood up, Cordelia lingered a little longer before raising too, her eyes finally tearing away from Conner. Entwining her fingers in his, she looked up at him with a bittersweet smile on her face. “Here we go…”

When they turned, Angel saw the large pile of suitcases by the doorway and suppressed a fit of laughter. “Cordy.”

“What?” she asked, and even in the darkness Angel could see the faint sign of her cheeks blushing. Walking over to her suitcases, she opened one up to reveal a jacket. “You think it’s cold in the Himalayas?”

Again, Angel suppressed laughter and just nodded. “Yeah, I’m guessing it’s cold there, Cordy.”

Opening the door, Cordelia motioned for him to follow, but when he didn’t, she furrowed her brow and looked at him with question.

All it took was for him to point at the large pile of bags with an amused expression on his face for her to catch on.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be bringing so much stuff…” Cordelia nodded to herself.

Angel just shook his head and wrapped his arm around her shoulder, placing a soft kiss atop her head. “Maybe.”

* * *

“Take good care of him,” Angel informed Lorne quietly, pulling away from the hug. When Lorne seemed to casually agree, the vampire squeezed his shoulder tightly and firmed his jaw. “Take. Care. Of. Him.”

“I will, I will.” Lorne pushed away from Angel, laughing at the seriousness. “You’re son’s in good hands. No worries, Angelcakes. I know his bedtime and the songs he likes sung to him. Manilow, right?”

“Manilow,” Angel nodded in confirmation, offering a smile.

The lobby was full of such gravity that it was almost crushing those that stood and, in Wesley’s case, sat in it. Cordelia and Angel, bags by the door, were preparing to leave for a long trip to the Himalayas where the possibility of one of them not making it was high.

With the exception of concern over his son, Angel was far from strained about the situation. He seemed perfectly content with leaving the gang for a week or two to save Cordelia, his confidence that he would succeed clouding his mind.

Cordelia, on the other hand, was taking the goodbyes more serious and it was plain to see she was on the brink of tears when she hugged Fred tightly, nearly depriving her of air. “Take care of yourself. Don’t eat too many tacos.”

When she pulled away from the hug, she saw that Fred too, was on the verge of crying, a sheer layer of tears forming in her big brown eyes. “Don’t Fred, because you cry, then I cry.”

Fred just forced a laugh and nodded, taking in a deep breath. “We’re going for pancakes when you get back, you know that right?”

Cordelia tried to remain strong, to not show her true emotions, to not reveal why she was really taking the goodbyes so seriously. “Pancakes, sure. When I get back, we’ll go for pancakes.”

“You promise?”

“Fred…,” Cordelia warned, not because she was getting too emotional, but because she couldn’t promise her that, not without breaking it. And Cordelia was not in the mood to break promises.

The Texan just shook her head and moved over to Angel, whom she hugged and shared her own goodbye with.

Gunn stepped over to Cordelia, his jaw firm in an attempt to keep cool. “So…,” he clapped his hands together and avoided looking Cordelia in the eye.

“If something hap- If you’re not here when I get back…”

“I will be,” Gunn assured her in a resolute tone, finally looking her directly in the eyes. “I won’t leave without making sure you’re okay.”

Cordelia just nodded and accepted it, letting her head fall. Don’t let them see you like this.

Clearing her throat, she looked up and opened her arms, waiting for Gunn to hug her. And when she did, her back to everyone else, she let a solitary tear streak down her cheek. When she pulled away, it was wiped off before Gunn, or anyone else for that matter, could notice.

“Try not to change too much while you’re there,” Wesley said to her, wheeling up to her in his wheelchair, his face without expression.

The former Watcher was obviously trying to remain as calm and collected as Angel was, assuring himself that Cordelia was going to be fine, but there was always the lingering thought…the lingering possibility. She’ll make it, he promised himself in his thoughts.

No words needed to be spoken as Cordelia bent down and hugged Wesley tightly, squeezing him to the point where he nearly choked.

One last look was shared between Wesley and Cordelia, both just nodding subtly at each other.

Angel took Cordelia’s hand in his and leaned in to whisper in her ear, “We’ll be back here sooner than you think.”

Cordelia just let out a long sigh and turned to leave; picking up her bag and pushing open the doors.

Angel followed her, bag in hand and embracing the cool night air as he walked through the courtyard where the car was parked.

But when he was throwing his bag into the car, what he didn’t notice was Cordelia’s lingering gaze on Gunn, Fred, Lorne and Wesley in the Lobby, returning to their lives as the doors closed.

* * *

When the ship departed from the harbor, Angel let out a breath of relief that they hadn’t been found amongst the endless amount of crates and such. Opening his suitcase, he pulled out a bag of chips for Cordelia and turned to discover that she was curled up in a little ball, trying to sleep.

His hand immediately grabbed for the blanket beside him and he placed it gently on top of Cordelia, who shivered slightly against the cold air of the enclosed cargo area.

“It’s getting close,” she spoke softly, her voice nearly drowning in the loud clamor of the ships engines. “I can feel it…”

“Pain?” Angel asked with a husky voice, his eyes brimming with concern as he looked down at her. She must be in so much pain, he thought to himself somberly. She doesn’t deserve this.

Cordelia took a minute to take a long, deep breath to calm her nerves. “I’ve been so distracted lately that I haven’t noticed things. My legs getting weaker…I’ve been a little lightheaded.”

Angel brushed a stray piece of hair behind her ear and kissed her tenderly on the temple. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s no biggie,” Cordelia lied.

* * *

Wesley yawned, close to falling asleep as he pulled the covers over himself and Fred, who lay in his arms, as close to slumber as a cat would be to barking.

Her eyes were wide open and filled with worry. “Do you think the ship’s left yet?”

“I would assume that it has,” Wesley mumbled, nuzzling into Fred’s neck and closing his eyes.

“You’d think they would have called, to tell us that they got on safely,” Fred yammered but stopped herself when she felt Wesley smile into her neck.

“I don’t think they have phones in the cargo ship, Fred.” He lifted his head and looked at her with a perfectly calm expression. “They’re fine.”

“I guess you’re right…” Fred gave in, sighing profoundly.

Wesley just shook his head, “I just hope that, after all of this, those two…and all of us, for that matter, have hopeful futures ahead of us.”

“God knows we deserve it,” Fred agreed, looking at him, a ghost of a smile playing at the corner of her lips.

The smile was wiped from Wesley’s face as he took in a deep breath, “In all honesty, I was never more afraid for anything than when I was taken to the hospital. Not for my own life, but for yours.”

Fred turned over and supported herself with her elbows as she looked at Wesley. “Me?”

“I didn’t want to imagine what it would be like not to wake up and see you, to have that feeling of…I’m just glad I made it.”

Lifting his hand to stroke her cheek, Wesley’s boyishly blue eyes overflowed with affection as they locked with Fred’s, who responded with a wry grin. “That makes two of us.”

“I’m going to make sure we live a life full of love and honesty,” Wesley whispered to her, meaning every word.

Fred’s grin faltered at the word ‘honesty’ as the image of her kissing Gunn flashed before her very eyes. When Wesley seemed to notice, a look of concern passing across his face, she knew she had to be honest. “There’s something…something I need to tell you.”

* * *

Angel groaned when Cordelia prodded him insistently, his face scrunching up. Finally, he opened his eyes to look at her, a perfectly cute groggy expression on his face.

Though the sight of Angel’s hair not gelled and quite muddled was a sight to behold with a grin, Cordelia’s face remained poignantly sincere as she spoke in a thick voice filled with emotion. “Angel, I need you to know something.”

Rubbing his eyes, Angel pushed himself up and propped his back up against a crate. “What is it?”

“I want you to know that I love you and that…if this doesn’t work out, if I don’t make it, I’ll always remember that you loved me too and we made each other happy.”

“Stop,” Angel told her suddenly, his voice firm. “I already know all of this and you already know all of this. You’re going to make it.”

Cordelia more than expected him to react that way as she scooted over beside him, placing her hand on top of his and looking at him with her eyes filled with sincere affection. “If it happens, I want you to know that if I had any choice in this matter, I’d give you what you deserve. A happy life and a permanent soul.”

Angel’s expression softened as he nodded slowly, the hand she cupped lifting her hand to his mouth so he could place a soft kiss on her thumb. “And I’d do the same for you.”

When he yawned and closed his eyes, his hand never once letting go of hers, Cordelia let a resigned expression cross her face as she thought to herself. And I’m going to give you that life. Even if it costs me mine.
The slamming of the door signaled a large gust of uncontrollable and freezing cold wind. Angel entered, struggling with both his and Cordelia’s luggage while Cordelia entered behind him, tightening her overcoat to keep herself warm.

“It’s more than cold up here,” Cordelia shivered, taking her bag from Angel as a kind aid approached them and spoke in a language she could not understand.

Angel, though, did seem to understand as he nodded and greeted the aid with a polite smile, mumbling a few phrases here and there.

“She’s going to show us to our room,” Angel interpreted for Cordelia, absently placing his hand on the small of her back and guiding her to their own room.

The teahouse that was located off of one of the trails leading to the Annapurna Sanctuary was luxurious and warm. One that wasn’t visible to the human eye and was used by demon travelers. Angel, for once, was thankful for having demon in his blood.

“This place is gorgeous!” Cordelia whispered as she looked around.

“Uh-huh…” Angel mumbled, distracted by the surroundings himself.

When they finally got to their room, Cordelia led the way dropping her bag at the end of the nice cot-like bed.

But a moment passed and she swayed, apparently dizzy. Luckily for her, Angel’s quick reflexes prevented her from falling onto the ground. Guiding her to the bed, Angel shooed away the aid, claming Cordelia was simply ‘exhausted’.

“Cordy…” he whispered, looking at her with the utmost concern crossing his face.

“I’m alright,” she said truthfully, lifting herself up. “It’s just…it took so long for us to get here.”

“Yeah, travel’s like that,” Angel sardonically commented. “It sure takes a while to get from L.A. to Nepal, who woulda thought.”

“It’s getting close,” Cordelia informed him, looking at him with annoyance at his sarcasm. “A few days maybe, I don’t know. But the day I die is getting pretty damn close, Mr. Bumpy-Face. So cut the sarcastic crap.”

Angel just stroked her cheek, remaining silent while taking in what she said. It was getting extremely close to when she was supposed to die and it was frightening him more so now than ever.

But Cordelia wasn’t to know he was afraid, he was there to comfort her, to make her feel safe; and he couldn’t do that if he allowed himself to show any sign of weakness.

Angel couldn’t allow anything to keep him from making Cordelia feel as good and safe as possible.

* * *

“Gunn? May I speak with you?” Wesley asked, his jaw firm and hands clenched into fists to keep him from doing anything he’d regret.

Gunn didn’t notice as he agreed and followed his wheel-chaired friend into his office. Closing the door, Gunn looked lost when he finally did take notice to the stern expression on Wesley’s face. “What is it, Wes?”

“I spoke with Fred,” Wesley informed him, his eyes burning through Gunn as the anger bubbled just beneath the surface. “She told me about…a kiss.”

Gunn swallowed hard. The eerie silence that followed was enough to send chills up his spine. Wesley was a close friend and to see him looking at him with such…anger, such disappointment. It wasn’t a sight he’d want to behold again. “I…I wasn’t thinking.”

“You weren’t thinking when you kissed my girlfriend? The woman I love?” Wesley snorted derisively, his tone dripping with distaste. “Do you still have feelings for her?”

Seeing no possible way to lie, Gunn straightened himself and confidently answered, “Yes. But I have them under control.”

Wesley shook his head; his grip on the arm rests of his wheelchair tightening. “It sure doesn’t look like it,” Wesley gritted, biting back his fury.

“I have it under control,” Gunn reiterated, his voice not without anger; anger directed more so at himself for making a mistake than at Wesley, who was right in his presumptions that his emotions weren’t completely under control. “Trust me when I say that…”

“Trust?” growled a rightfully indignant Wesley. “I trust Fred, I know she loves me as much as I love her, I don’t doubt that. But I do not trust you. Not after you cowardly ran off when things got rough and didn’t bother to tell the people that cared about you until after you were gone. I can’t trust you now. You have to earn my trust.”

“And I will,” Gunn promised him. “I’ll prove to you that I can be trusted.”

* * *

Murmuring indiscernible words, Angel placed soft kisses along Cordelia’s neckline, suckling the skin and arousing himself when he neared her pulse point. The blood flowed through the veins and he could hear it all, his groin stirring.

What they were about to do was risky, and the potion had a possibility of not working, but Angel knew he was willing to sacrifice himself to be with Cordelia, to prove to her that he was in love with her, that she made him happy.

He threw Cordelia’s shirt off to the side and tried not to lose it all by just seeing her breasts, the perfect shape of her body.

Wrapping his strong arms around her, Angel lifted her up and carried her to the bed. Laying her gently down, he never once broke his gaze with her, as if their lives depended on it.

Unzipping his pants, he let them pool down on the floor before moving to his shirt.

Before too long, Angel was kissing Cordelia softly and tenderly, taking his time.

When his briefs were removed, he opened Cordelia’s legs and entangled her fingers with his on either side of her head.

Angel looked down into Cordelia’s eyes for what seemed like an eternity, whispering his love for her as he waited.

Finally, when Cordelia nodded slowly, her eyes pleading and filled with passion, he slowly entered her. The position he put her in made it all the more erotic and she felt so tight around him. Angel couldn’t help but groan.

Overwhelmed by the sensation of Angel deep inside of her, Cordelia whimpered and raised her hips to take all of him in.

Moving ever so slowly, he methodically left her then thrust back into her, holding her at an intended angle.

It had been only moments and he was already driving her and himself for that matter to the brink of insanity. Angel had specifically targeted her sweet spot and was hitting it with each thrust. And she was having tiny little orgasms as a result of it.

He splayed his hands on her lower back and lifted her slightly to meet his thrusts. Cordelia threw her head to the side, crying out softly. “Oh god…”

She clutched at the sheets, fisting them in her hands each time he slammed into her. She never wanted Angel to stop and she tried to tell him so but wasn’t able to form any words.

Angel moved forward, penetrating her even deeper, to nuzzle her right breast, taking the nipple into his mouth. He laved it with his tongue as he brought one of his hands to cup her other breast, massaging the nipple with his thumb.

He pulled away so that his eyes looked into Cordelia’s, which were filled with unshed tears of bliss. “I love you…”

Cordelia couldn’t respond as the moments passed and she became unglued. She couldn’t stop her climax; it happened before she even realized it was going to occur as she grabbed at Angel’s back and lifted herself up, pressing close against his chest.

It was a shattering orgasm and Cordelia went limp from the wonder of it. She fell back onto the bed in blissful surrender.

Angel could feel her shaking. She had responded so quickly and openly and if he hadn’t been made happy before, he sure as hell was then as he placed a soft kiss on her forehead.

But it seemed as if she was far from spent as she looked at him in a wily manner as she shifted under his weight. Before Angel could even ask what she was doing, he was up against the headboard with Cordelia straddled on top of him.

“I love you too,” she whispered sincerely as she placed his hands on her hips.

Her voice trailed off as Angel slowly lowered her onto him, causing her to gasp and dig her nails into his thighs. “God…” was all she could moan as she used her grip on his thighs as leverage to lift herself up quickly. The feeling of him inside of her was all that she wanted, but she wanted much more to please him as he had just pleased her.

But Angel had other plans, his hold on her waist preventing her from moving.

There was nothing but love was in his eyes as he looked into hers. It was plain to see that he wanted nothing more than to please her, to prove to her in a thousand ways that could be there for her in every possible aspect of their relationship.

Angel slowly lifted her off of his lap until only just the tip of him was inside of her.

“Angel, please!”

Though he was focused on pleasing her, he could feel the sting of her nails digging into his thighs. That and the frustrated growl she let out convinced him to stop torturing her. With one quick movement, he pushed her down, entering her in one quick thrust.

It was his turn to let out his own moan of pleasure.

Cordelia grinned at the sound of Angel moaning. She gained some control and rocked back and forth, lifting herself just slightly sometimes and more so at other times. The response Angel had was enough to convince her that her actions were arousing.

Angel threw his head back against the wall, closing his eyes. The sound of their bodies connecting was nearly drowned out by their muffled cries and moans.

He could feel his orgasm fast approaching. He had wanted to make her second one come first, but it seemed that not even God could have stopped it. He shouted her name when it hit him, but he didn’t stop. It was absurd not to.

The feeling of being inside of her, making her happy along with himself was just as pleasuring. His second orgasm came soon after and it was more powerful than the first. Angel thought he was going to pass out.

“Angel!” Cordelia screamed, her orgasm hitting her just seconds after Angel’s. He pulled her down and kissed her before stopping and letting it wash over.

She was on the brink of sobbing and it was true that, if she had died at the moment, she would have died a happy woman.

“I meant what I said,” she could barely speak as she rolled off of Angel, who never once let her out of his arms. “I do love you.”

“I love you too, Cordy.”

Angel stirred under the covers as the dream faded out and he slowly came to consciousness. His groin stirred at the recollection of the night he shared with Cordelia and the vampire couldn’t help but want to go back to sleep and return to the perfection of that night.

But as his eyes focused he saw that Cordelia was awake too, with an alarmed, albeit flustered, expression on her face.

It only took a moment for him to come to the conclusion that she had just had the exact same dream. The smile that was on his face from the dream faded and he pushed himself into a sitting position.

The cot they were on was fairly comfortable, but it was far from being as cozy as his own bed, the very one he and Cordelia shared intimate moments in.

Cordelia too sat up, her cheeks flustered and what seemed to be a sheer layer of sweat formed on her tan skin. Obviously uncomfortable, she spun around and faced away from him.

Hiding his hurt, Angel just cleared his throat and reached for the bottle of blood he’d placed on the table a few hours prior when he and Cordelia had gone to bed.

* * *

Angel’s hand grazed along the bare skin of her shoulder, caressing her subtly as he pulled the blouse along her arms. She buttoned it herself, but still remained close to him, facing away with her back pressed up against his chest. And when his hands moved to run through her thick tresses, to get the hair out from under her shirt, she prayed that her legs wouldn’t give in.

“I shouldn’t have let you come,” he admitted absently, his voice barely a whisper. “You’re getting weaker.

“I’m not weak,” Cordelia stubbornly argued, taking a step forward and bending over to grab her boots. “I’m just tired. Couldn’t sleep.”

“You’re lying,” Angel immediately accused her, his hand grabbing her arm and forcing her to face him. His intense gaze met her determined one. “You slept like a baby, I watched you all night.”

Shaking her head, Cordelia roughly yanked her arm from his grasp. “I can take care of myself,” she growled, obviously in a grouchy mood.

But Angel didn’t back off, his tendency to be overprotective taking control. “No you can’t. Not as well as I can.”

“Stop being so damn overprotective,” Cordelia brushed it off, grabbing her coat and moving to the door. Angel quickly stepped in front of her, stopping her from moving any further.

“I can’t help it,” he admitted to her helplessly, even as his gaze remained firm and his position impenetrable. “I just want to make sure you’ll be okay. I can’t live without you.”

Cordelia just clenched her hands into fists, holding back the urge to just tell him then and there. “Well, you’re going to have to someday. Because even if I survive this whole thing. I will die eventually.”

“That’s a long ways away.”

“You don’t get it, Angel.” Cordelia signed in resignation, feeling as if she were explaining something to a child. And, looking at Angel’s puppy-dog expression, it wasn’t hard to think that, deep down; he was a child at heart. “I could get hit by a car tomorrow.”

“Stop it,” he whispered, as if the mere suggestion of her dying sooner rather than later would kill him.

“I can get bitten by a vampire!” she exclaimed. “Someone can snap my neck, even decapitate me!”

“God, Cordelia! Just shut the fuck up!” Angel yelled, every word seething. His chest heaved as clenched his fists tightly, his demon side so frustrated that it nearly took control.

For an instant, Cordelia was afraid. Afraid of Angel, of what he might do if she continued to name the ways she could die; afraid that his demon was teetering from just below the surface to complete control over Angel’s actions. But she gained enough confidence to whisper, “We both need to accept a lot. You need to accept that I won’t live forever.”

“And you’ll have to accept that I can’t help but be protective of you,” Angel said at length, his expression melting as the anger subsided.

“Now we need to get going,” Cordelia whispered, placing a hand on his chest and looking at him with a soft expression, hoping that his anger was buried enough so that she could trust him. “Time’s running out.”

* * *

Licking his finger as he leafed through the tome of the book placed on his lap, Wesley occasionally glanced up at Fred, then to Gunn, a look of cautious warning on his face.

Fred, on the other hand, remained oblivious to the tension. Either that or she was pointedly ignoring it to avoid getting involved. She apologized over and over to Wesley and he seemed to believe her when she told him it was a mistake.

There was no doubt that her love for Wesley still remained and the same for his feeling for her, but the lingering looks he gave her proved he was far from ready to forgive Gunn.

Lorne cleared his throat and picked up Conner, who he had allowed to crawl aimlessly around the lobby. The tension was thick and quite disconcerting; causing the green-skinned demon to prefer putting the toddler to sleep than to be surrounded by the serious, tense threesome that occupied the lobby.

The moonlight streamed through the lobby doors and the darkness outside was unsettling. Vampires, demons, enemies and such were lurking around and everyone was far from letting Conner go unprotected.

“I think I’ll take the little guy upstairs,” Lorne informed Gunn, who leaned forward from his stool as he read his magazine. “Don’t worry, the spell I put on the room won’t allow anyone but us to get in there.”

Gunn cleared his throat and spun around in his stool, “Wasn’t a client supposed to stop by and drop off a check?”

“Yes, they did a few hours ago, you were down in the basement,” Wesley gruffly informed him. “Doing god knows what,” he muttered under his breath, but Gunn caught every word.

Before Gunn could say anything in response to Wesley’s last comment, Lorne strolled downstairs. “Didn’t take you long to put Conner to sleep…”

“Nah, the little munchkin went out like a light,” Lorne laughed it off.

The doors swung open then, a gust of cool night air gusting into the lobby as a short, middle-aged man with a devil’s goatee and a painfully large gash across his left cheek entered with three strong, burly men in his wake.

“Then you should all be quite considerate and try not to be too loud when I kill you,” Daniel Holtz remorselessly snarled, a wickedly pleased grin tugging at the corner of his lips.

* * *

The cold wind blew forcefully against Cordelia and Angel as they struggled through the 3-feet deep snow, trying to avoid slippery patches of rock and ice hidden from their view. It seemed as if the blizzard was purposely working against them, to keep them from where they were approaching.

But it wasn’t enough to dampen the resolve in Angel and Cordelia’s hearts. When they noticed the faint sign of a portal, the rocks wavering slightly in their view and discolored in a way to imply a portal was located there, they stopped.

Looking at the map, Angel nodded. “This is it.”

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a burly-looking demon materialized, his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes glowing red. Suited in what looked like impenetrable bronze armor, the demon wasn’t one to be messed with. “Which one of you champions are to enter through the portal?”

I am no champion, but oh well. Cordelia gripped Angel’s arm and pulled him off to the side before he could answer.

He looked at her with confusion, his brow furrowing and eyes narrowed.

Cupping his face with her hands, she kissed him tenderly, her lips brushing against his in desperate sign of love. Pulling away just slightly to reveal a tear streaking down her face, Cordelia locked her eyes with Angel’s.

Angel looked flustered and caught off guard as he amusingly stuttered for words, “W-what was that for?”

“Consider it a makeshift thank you and a goodbye,” Cordelia tearfully explained, her voice barely audible over the howling winds.

“Cor…” Angel looked at her with reassuring eyes. “I’m a vampire, I can’t die.”

“I know,” she whispered, leaning in and pressing a kiss to his cheek. “But I can.” And before he could even begin to fathom what she was implying, her knee met his groin and Angel fell to his knees as a result, clutching himself in pain.

Cordelia turned and ran to the demon, nodding to him to acknowledge it was she to enter. The portal appeared clearly then, and she stepped inside.

Angel stood up and ran as fast as he could to catch her, but gave up when he saw her go through the portal. As it closed, she gave him one last tearful look as she waved goodbye to him.
The wind howled relentlessly forcing Angel to struggle as he crawled to his feet. The shock of Cordelia entering the portal and choosing to do the Trials herself still hadn’t reduced and his mind was still reeling from the image of her waving goodbye.

“Let me in!” Angel demanded trying to sound threatening but merely coming off as helpless. His worry for Cordelia was clouding his judgment and, if he were tested, he’d do something regrettable costing him his own neck, but more importantly, the chance of preventing Cordelia from getting hurt.

The Trials were obviously dangerous and Angel was far from accepting Cordelia doing them herself.

Smirking, the demon remained unaffected. “Can’t do that.” It was as if he was enjoying the sight of Angel falling apart, letting his emotions get the better of him.

“No matter how strong she thinks she is…she isn’t ready,” Angel informed the guard. “I’m not ready,” he added, his voice breaking.

The guard just shook his head and tried to turn away.

“Let me in now!” Angel growled, grabbing the demon roughly, forcing him to turn back around. “I need to take the Trials to save her.”

“A Champion is already taking the Trials,” the guard explained in a condescending tone as if speaking to a child.

“I already know she’s in there!” Angel was on the verge of snapping, his patience slipping with every moment that passed. “Don’t fucking keep me out here while she’s in there!”

Though he still did not care, the demon relented and grunted. Slamming his fist into the wall-like rock, he muttered a few words in Latin through his clenched teeth. He was obviously not pleased with Angel’s presence and letting him inside seemed like a possible way of being rid of him.

“Go in and do nothing but watch. That is all you are permitted to do.”

* * *

His jaw firm, Wesley tried to sound threatening as he spoke. “What are you doing here?”

The sight of Holtz standing so confidently in the lobby of the Hyperion wasn’t a sight Wesley desired to behold. If he had assumed correctly, what he had been told pointed to the fact that Angel had taken care of the Holtz problem. But it became evident that ‘taking care of it’ didn’t include killing the vengeful bastard.

“Thanks to your employer finally showing a little mercy, I was able to survive,” Holtz explained, his voice seething. “He ruined my plan, so I’m here to ruin his life.”

“We won’t let you take Conner,” Fred announced firmly, stepping forward and locking stares with the short, albeit threatening, man.

Holtz just smirked, “I don’t care for the child anymore. I’m far more interested in damaging Angelus’ ‘prized companions’.”

The silence that followed was broken when Wesley let out an amused chuckle, his eyes burning into Holtz with enormous amounts of disgust. “So this is what you’ve become…a bully, a murderer? You’re so wrapped up in making Angel pay for an act he’s already atoned for that you’ve become blind and can’t see you’re becoming just as much of a monster as Angelus once was.”

Not too pleased by Wesley’s accurate remark, Holtz pulled a knife from his belt and pressed it against the former Watcher’s neck all in one quick movement. “Why don’t I just slice your neck right now?”

Gunn’s large hand grabbed Holtz arm, squeezing it roughly. Speaking in a tone that proved he wasn’t one to be messed with, Gunn clenched his other hand into a fist to keep from exploding. “Put. The knife. Away.”

Holtz was just as close to losing it as Gunn when he firmed his grip on the knife and remained unfazed. “Test me and those you care for will die in bloodshed. My death is of no importance, but if I feel threatened enough, I’ll take the lives of as many people as I can manage, to get my revenge, to make my point.”

“You’re a psycho,” Fred said to him under her breath, not flinching in the least when he shot her a dangerous look. “Your revenge is so entirely half-baked. You just go on rampages to make a mess, but you have no real plan. You’re just a stupid, blind man who can’t get over something that happened nearly two hundred years ago.”

“I must say I have to disagree,” Holtz murmured, the sharp blade he was holding slowly cutting into Wesley’s skin; not deeply enough to make good damage, but deep enough for Wesley to try and struggle against him. “It doesn’t take much to mess with idiotic employees of a sadistic vampire.”

* * *

The room was cavernous and dark, the distant sound of water dripping into a small puddle echoed continuously; and if Cordelia hadn’t been in such a nerve-racking place, clenching her fists in anticipation of what to do next, she would have lost all patience and control over herself in annoyance of the constant dropping.

For a moment, she regretted kneeing Angel in the groin. Even if he was a vampire, he was still a man who had his sensitive spots. Saying goodbye in the way she did, Cordelia knew she came off as many things other than selfless.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t trust Angel; in fact, she trusted him with her life more than anyone. Cordelia just had a different plan for when she finished the Trials. She was to ask for something completely different than Angel would ask for and she wasn’t going to risk it all by telling him before they were close to the portal.

Angel would have stopped me, Cordelia mused to herself, imagining clearly what his reaction would be.

Abruptly, five torches ignited with fire, lighting up the circular, cave-like room that Cordelia stood in the middle of. A few feet in front of her appeared a finely dressed man in what appeared to be an Armani suit with slicked back hair and a neatly combed goatee.

“Hello,” he greeted formally, holding out his hand to shake Cordelia’s.

Apprehensively, Cordelia slowly took his hand and shook it briefly before quickly pulling away.

Unaffected by Cordelia yanking her hand away from, the suited man just smiled. “Are you ready for the Trials?”

Cordelia took a moment to finalize whether or not she was doing the right thing. I am, she thought to herself a moment later. Nodding in agreement, she stepped forward and waited.

“The Trials have three levels that need to be completed,” he droned, no emotion in his voice at all. “First one tests your endurance, willpower and strength.”

Slowly but surely, Cordelia’s surroundings faded away and she found herself standing on a three inch-thick, foot wide wooden plank. Looking down, she realized the plank was placed over a seemingly bottomless, dark pit.

Holding back her fear, Cordelia looked up at the suited man who was at the other end of the room, casually seated in a plush leather recliner. “After falling a great distance, you’ll land in acid that’ll tear your skin apart in a matter of minutes.”

The way he spoke without inflection or emotion was chilling. Cordelia remained calm and collected though, burying her fear and anxiety deep down and sugarcoating it with her everlasting confidence that she always had on retainer.

“No biggie, I was a cheerleader in high school,” she brushed it off, finding a comfortable and firm position on the plank. “I’ve got perfect balance.”

The suited man shook his head as if disappointed by her lack of perception in the situation. “It isn’t that easy. You shall be carrying your burden without barriers, to a full extent.”

Out of nowhere, a mind-splitting vision hit Cordelia, shocking her and sending her down to her knees, which she fortunately placed in a position so that she wasn’t going to fall off the plank.

With one hand holding her head, trying to put pressure on the point where the searing pain was located, and the other holding onto the board, Cordelia looked around through squinted and tear-filled eyes.

Only to discover that, centimeter by centimeter, the plank she was on was shrinking.

* * *

“No!” Angel bellowed, throwing himself forward to try and reach Cordelia, to take away the pain and remind her that everything was going to be okay. As he smashed his face into an invisible barrier restricting him inside the viewing room he was located in, Angel had disturbing flashbacks to the time when she had been restricted to a hospital bed.

Strapped down and filled with drugs, Cordelia had cried so helplessly as the visions pounded onto her, filling her with pain, with alarming images and tormenting sensations.

It had been the first time he’d openly admitted to needing her, but it was definitely not the last.

“I told you that you were just to watch,” said the demon guard, materializing beside Angel and holding back a smirk as the vampire fell to his knees and clutched his nose, watching the love of his life go through endless pain.

“Besides,” the demon added, patting Angel on and back and turning to leave. Just before he faded away, he informed Angel of something he prayed he wouldn’t forget. “She can’t see or hear you. Only you can…”

* * *

Fred ducked when the large, bulky man threw his fist towards her face, trying to damage her, to render her injured. Her small frame provided a quickness that wasn’t available to hulking men like the ones that were fighting against her, Gunn, Wesley and Lorne.

When the man saw that his punches were pointless he pulled out a sword and lunged at her, not once taking a break to catch his breath. But Wesley saw this as it happened and shoved himself from his wheelchair, heaving the man against the wall and knocking him unconscious.

As Gunn and Lorne both tried to deal with Holtz, the only conscious henchman left approached Wesley who was unable to move as his legs throbbed in pain.

Wesley clutched his neck as it throbbed from the recent pressure applied to it. The pressure applied by the knife Holtz had to him just a few minutes prior to the fight they were now engulfed in. He tried to move, tried to roll away, but he couldn’t without his wheelchair.

Gunn, though, caught sight of the henchman moving towards Wesley with a knife in his hand and a look on his face that confirmed his friend was in trouble. Pushing Holtz away from him, Gunn ran to the henchman and threw himself in front of his the knife.

The blade buried itself into Gunn’s shoulder and he groaned, falling to the ground and clutching his shoulder, but he got up and found enough strength to tackle the henchman into the wall.

Sighing in relief, Gunn slumped down while still clutching his wound. The adrenaline was enough for him to stop feeling the throbbing pain, but he knew later it’d be hurting like hell.

Only when he saw Lorne be dispatched, knocked into a pillar, Gunn realized that Holtz was still wide-awake and able to move. Plus, he still had the threatening and extremely sharp knife clutched in his hand.

As he approached, brandishing the blade and grinning malevolently, Holtz limped a little, slowing himself down enough so that Fred could sneak behind him.

“I’m sure Angel’s going to enjoy seeing you all gutted when he returns,” Holtz growled under his breath, raising his knife and aiming for Gunn’s neck.

But a smash of a vase against his head caused his eyes to go cross-eyed and unfocused, unconsciousness rapidly taking over.

When he fell, it was to reveal an exhausted and extremely pissed off Fred standing with several shards of the antique vase she smashed against Holtz’ head in her trembling hands.

* * *

The sound of the wooden plank crashing along the walls of the pit seemed endlessly significant, as if signaling the death of a champion. But moments passed and a hand, filled with splinters and covered in blood, rose onto the edge of the rocks and grasped firmly for support.

Cordelia’s head poked over the edge as she struggled to climb up. Gasping a little when she slipped, she finally just used her foot and pushed herself up far enough to get out of the death trap that was the pit.

The suited man looked pleased to see Cordelia lying on the rocky ground, exhausted and covered in sweat. “You did well. Your audacity is impressive.”

Cordelia coughed as the pain from the visions subsided at a painstakingly slow pace. “Why do I get the feeling that there’s more?”

“There’s three tests, as I stated earlier,” the suited man offered a hand, but Cordelia refused, struggling to her legs and using what willpower she had left to keep them from giving in.

Groaning as she recalled him saying that to her, Cordelia took in a deep breath and tried to steady her trembling hands. The images she was shown still lingered and her heart ached for the victims in them.

For a second, she considered asking if the visions were real, if those people were going through what she saw. If the man in Chino actually was having his skin peeled off while still alive and the grandma from Novato was having her intestines sucked out through her bellybutton. A moment passed and she realized that asking such a thing, letting her emotions and concern become evident, would be a sign of weakness.

Champions aren’t weak, she told herself. And she was a Champion. Or else I wouldn’t have been allowed in here.

“Even though I knew you had the visions before the test,” the suited man admitted. “I know a little more about you now after watching you go through all of that.”

“What’s the next test?” Cordelia asked curtly. Let’s get this over with.

Turning and ambling over to his recliner, the suited man didn’t once lose his calm exterior as he pondered how to word the next test. When he turned to face her, he couldn’t help but feel a bit surprised that she had followed him, her face barely a foot from him. “The next is a choice.”

“A choice?” Cordelia reiterated in subtle disbelief. “What kind of choice?”

“The exact choice you made when coming in through the portal,” he answered in a matter-of-fact tone. “A choice of getting rid of your vision pains or getting what you came in here hoping to receive.”

Angel, standing firm and looking through the invisible barrier at the two talking, looked more than confused. “That’s hardly a choice.”

Sure, he was speaking to himself, but he couldn’t help it, his bewilderment at how stupid the suited man was, was growing with every passing second. “Getting rid of the vision pains is exactly what she came here for.”

The vampire was blind to even what was directly in front of him. Ignoring what Cordelia had last said to him, Angel was in denial, focusing on the large hope that he’d go home with her safely in his arms.

But the suited man’s continued explanation caught Angel off-guard and turned his stomach over.

“Choose between getting rid of the pain or giving the man you love his permanent soul.”

* * *

Gripping his hand tightly, Fred placed her hand on Wesley’s shoulder as she aided him into his wheelchair. A bruise formed on her cheekbone, and it would be a full-blown shiner in the morning but, as Wesley looked at her when setting into his wheelchair, she looked just as stunning as ever.

“You nearly got yourself stabbed again,” Fred reminded him, locking the wheel on his wheelchair, hoping the man she loved would stay still for the moment as she turned to see Lorne approaching.

With a simple cut lip, Lorne was the least injured out of all of them and perhaps the most relieved. “Little guy didn’t hear any of it,” he laughed as he nodded his head upstairs, speaking of Conner. “Still safe and sleeping.”

Gunn grunted slightly as he tightened the tourniquet around his shoulder as he kneeled down and made sure the henchmen were locked up and not dangerous.

Unlocking his wheelchair while Fred’s back was turned to him, Wesley quietly wheeled over to the doorway leading to his office, where Holtz lay bound and gagged, tied to the chair with chains and locks. He isn’t going anywhere.

“Now who’s the cocky Englishman?” Wesley smirked.

* * *

Without hesitation, Cordelia responded to the suited man. “The second one…the last one. I mean I want…I need for Angel to have a permanent soul.”

“You need it?” the suited man narrowed his eyes and furrowed his brow, question evident in his tone. “How is that?”

“Don’t get all psychiatrist-y on me,” Cordelia snapped at him, clenching her hands into fists and shifting her weight to her right foot in impatience. “That’s my answer and deal with it.”

“I just was interested, is all.” The suited man raised his hands and waved them in front of him in a defensive manner. For a moment, his eyes glanced off to his right, as if looking at something specific.

Cordelia didn’t take much notice of the fact and growled. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Alright,” the man said, grinning at her impatience, as if impressed by her passion. “The next test is for you to face your worst fear.”

“Simple and straightforward,” Cordelia sniffed. “What’s it going to be? Spiders, snakes?” She had a whole list of fears yet at the moment she was feeling pretty confident with herself.

Appearing in the stonewall behind the man was a gate. Cordelia couldn’t help but feel intrigued as to what was behind it.

“Metal gate’s are just a precaution,” he smirked, and with a wave of his hand, a lever appeared.

“What the fuck are you?” Cordelia spat, tired of his blatant giddiness. “A warlock?”

“My name? Starts with a P, ends with an E and rhymes with,” he grinned and winked at her before evaporating into thin air. “Powers that Be.”

Cordelia snorted at the dimness of what the man had just told her. Either he was entirely clever and was just trying to off put her, or he was extremely stupid and accidentally slipped the real answer.

Wait, Cordelia thought. Then that means he was…

She didn’t have time to think when the lever pulled itself, heralding the slow rising of the metal gate.

Footsteps could be heard and chills shot up Cordelia’s spine as she put two and two together.

A few moments passed and she realized, as she muttered the eternally chilling name, she really was facing her biggest fear.

“Angelus…”
“Angelus…,” Cordelia breathed, her voice not without disbelief as her russet eyes settled upon the soulless vampire. Deep down she wanted nothing more than to believe to a full extent that the Angelus before her was simply an illusion, a trick, a part of the game that she was a part of. But he looks so real…

Grinning from ear to ear, Angelus folded his arms across his chest at the sight of Cordelia, licking his lips as his eyes followed the line of her fit, curvaceous body. “Wouldn’t mind waking up to that everyday.”

His voice was chillingly tantalizing, every word dripping with perverted implications as his eyes focused on Cordelia’s breasts.

Seeing this, Cordelia cleared her throat and tried to cover them by crossing her own arms and mimicking Angelus’ position. Even as she tried to act natural, her actions proved that she was letting Angelus’ presence get to her, much to his delight.

“Don’t be such a tease if you don’t like me staring,” Angelus suggested, his smile never faltering. “It’s just so good to see you…though I prefer that you be naked. We’ll just have to get to that later…”

Cordelia tried to remain looking at him determinedly, to keep her cool, but eventually, when his dark eyes flashed at hers, she couldn’t help but avert her own. Her confidence was diminishing rapidly even as she tried to hold onto it with all the might she could muster.

Closing her mouth tightly to keep her lips from trembling, Cordelia noticed that, as Angelus spoke, he sauntered closer and closer to her, his feet barely leaving the ground as the space between them lessened, inch-by-inch.

“Aren’t you glad to see me too?” he asked, his face nearing hers and stopping only when his nose just barely brushed against her cheek.

The firelight from the torches illuminated his face, emphasizing his perfectly chiseled features. With a lick of his lips he made himself all the more alluring and if Cordelia hadn’t had the painful knowledge that he was no longer the man she loved, she would have found herself desiring to kiss him. For all intents and purposes, he was
Angel, except…not.

Angelus sure had the smile, the eyes, the face of Angel but he wasn’t him and the continued perverse comments were proof of that.

Wanting to say something desperately, to keep her control over the situation that was fast slipping away, Cordelia looked at him finally.

He moved a little closer, the tips of his shoes touching hers and his lips running along her jaw line as his hands moved to be placed on her hips.

Cordelia was forced to allow him to win at his mind-games for the moment and take a step back, admitting she was more than uncomfortable with him.

Glancing fleetingly to survey what was different about Angelus, she noticed that, though he was dressed as Angel had been outside of the portal, a dark yet thin overcoat with stylish pants and boots, he had a knife and a whip on his belt.

Looking past Angelus she noticed a spear materializing against the wall. This is all a game I guess.

Cordelia tried to estimate how fast she could move while pushing past Angelus to get to the spear. Not fast enough, she thought as she held her ground for the moment. He’s fast enough to stab me with that knife before I even take two steps.

As if he saw something in her eyes, Angelus slowly unsheathed the small blade, running it along her side and up her arms until it reached her neck, where his eyes glinted with sadistic pleasure.

Whether he saw the underlying fear in her eyes or could actually read her mind, it hadn’t been made clear and didn’t really matter. He knows I’m scared and it’s pleasing the shit out of him.

Lifting up the knife gradually, he let the cool blade meet her chin, the smooth side of it teasing her, moving suddenly every once in a while to cause her to fear the sharper edge of it even more.

Running it along her cheek, Angelus took in a sharp breath as he pressed himself against her, his groin pressed up against her hip.

“You’re probably wondering how I was brought forth,” he whispered, leaning in and pressing his lips on her ear as he spoke. “How the Angel you loved ceased to exist and how I was broken free.”

Cordelia tried to shake her head, to refuse to fall into his trap, but her body seemed frozen, numb with confusion mingled with fear. Deep down she was trying to assure herself that the Angelus before her was some sort of trick that Angel was waiting outside for her.

But as moments passed, her confidence and ability to assure herself was lessening.

In a teasing manner, Angelus let his free hand run along the small of her back, sending chills up and down Cordelia’s spine.

The vampire was becoming more confident that he knew Cordelia’s body from top to bottom like no other person as the seconds passed and it obviously pleased him and boosted his ego.

“It all started with a girl named Buffy.”

Cordelia blinked slowly and swallowed hard, a large lump forming in her throat as her heart ached at his words. She was finding it harder and harder to think that it was all an illusion.

Perhaps it was the way he touched her, or his breath coursing along her neck as he spoke. She didn’t know and didn’t care; all she could notice was how much she hated the person she was becoming, one that was becoming a puddle of fear in front of a monster that she previously had claimed she could handle, as the seconds slipped past.

“Cute little blonde,” he added in a chipper tone while still managing to sound threatening. “And about yay high.” He raised his hand to the height he averaged to be Buffy’s.

Taking the opportunity, Cordelia grabbed at Angel’s wrist and twisted it abruptly while kneeing him in the gut. As he fell she ran towards the spear, her movements quickened by her distress.

Angelus recovered too soon, thanks to his heightened vampire strength, and yanked out his whip, lashing it out.

His good aim paid off as the end of the tight rope wrapped around Cordelia’s ankle and roughly kept her from moving.

Through clenched teeth, Angelus yanked the whip back at him, roughly sending Cordelia crashing onto the hard, dirty floor.

* * *

Lowering his glass of ice water onto his desk, Wesley removed his glasses and absently cleaned them with the end of his button-up shirt.

Glancing up at Holtz only every few moments, Wesley remained surprisingly calm as he continued to interrogate the man.

“Why are you so foolish?” he asked in a patronizing tone. “Why, after witnessing what happened to your family, are you willing to do such a thing to us? It’s irrational and hypocritical if you ask me.”

Holtz never once looked at Wesley as his eyes absently locked onto something in the distance, as his eyes were somehow looking into the past.

“I was losing faith… After I took the child and Angelus hadn’t immediately followed, I was beginning to wonder why he deserves such an innocent life. But then he showed himself and I…I was afraid.”

Wesley shifted in his seat, placing his chin in his hand as he listened to Holtz speak so quietly, for once without any anger evident in his tone.

“It wasn’t Angelus looking at me,” Holtz explained, shaking his head. “It was a different person. A father trying to save his son. Something I could never have thanks to Angelus.”

“Your jealousy grew when you saw how much Angel cared for his son,” Wesley pointed out, guessing correctly.

The man nodded his head in agreement with Wesley’s intuitive observation. Letting out a deep sigh, Holtz tried to move in the chair he was bound in, but the chains and ropes that constrained him there wouldn’t allow it.

“I lied before. I wanted nothing more than to take the child; to take him away forever and have Angel live with never knowing his son for the rest of eternal life.”

“Why kill us then?” Wesley inquired, motioning towards the lobby where Lorne, Fred and Gunn watched over the two other henchmen. “We’re innocents…to a certain extent.”

“Hurt, not kill.” Holtz finally smiled when he looked up at Wesley, as if amused at looking at his plan from a different perspective.

The gash on his cheek was red and swollen, but the man’s strong features were still evident and unchanged. “Empty threats were what I told you all. I would have injured you to send a message but I would never have killed you, unless it was in self-defense.”

* * *

Groaning, Cordelia’s eyes slowly fluttered open as she stirred in the dirt. Feeling her sore nose she soon discovered it had bled excessively while she was knocked unconscious.

The feeling of cold hands running up her legs shook her out of feeling her sore nose and she looked up to see through her blurry vision that Angelus was on top of her, straddling her and keeping her down with his weight.

His large hands moved inch by inch up the inside of her legs, each second passing bringing him closer to…

Cordelia refused to think about it, struggling under him and trying to get away.

That same sadistic grin she had seen on him earlier was still on his face as he watched her try and struggle, removing his hands from between her legs and forcing her own to the ground on either side of her head.

His overbearing weight and strength forced her to say below him and intimidated her at the same time.

But it was the way he was speaking and what he was saying that disturbed her. “You couldn’t believe how good it felt to be inside of her. To have Buffy’s soft, naked skin rubbing against mine as we made love over and over…”

Cordelia froze under him, her eyes locking with his in disbelief. She couldn’t block it out anymore, the things he was saying, doing…something magical was at work and it was destroying all of her defenses.

That or she was truly afraid of Angelus.

“She gave me true happiness like no other person could,” he whispered to her, his dark eyes flashing the reflection of the firelight.

* * *

Angel pounded on the barrier with his fists relentlessly, struggling to break through it somehow. His hands were turning bright red from the pressure of the last few minutes he’d witnessed, and he knew that later they would be quite sore.

But it didn’t matter to Angel, the only thing that mattered, that hurt him beyond anything had ever before, was what he was looking at.

Seeing Angelus torture the woman he loved both emotionally and physically was a sight he wished to never behold.

Moments before Angelus had entered the cave-like room, Angel felt something leave him, a piece of the puzzle in his body.

That’s really Angelus in there… it pained Angel to admit it, but deep down he knew it was true.

That damn bastard in the suit managed to remove Angelus from me and make him into his own person…

* * *

“I know what you’re thinking…” Angelus whispered, pressing her arms more and more into the ground, enjoying the sight of all the color leaving her hands. “ ‘I gave Angel perfect happiness too!’ ”

His imitation of her voice was shrill and insulting as he spoke in a mock tone. Cordelia wanted nothing more than to tear the man on top of her apart.

“You think the potion was what kept me from comin’ back? Well, you’re wrong!” Angelus looked more pleased than ever as he spoke, watching her eyes as they shed painful tears. “Angel, the swell guy that he is, lied to spare your feelings.”

“No…” Cordelia whispered, shaking her head and getting her hair even dirtier.

“No potion…too bad. Angel knew he wouldn’t get true happiness with you and made up the story so he wouldn’t hurt your feelings. Truth is he was just really horny and let’s face it, you’re an easy gal who loves a good romp in the sack.”

The way he spoke of it, it was so…casual, so painfully nonchalant that Cordelia’s heart fell apart as she began to believe him.

Angelus turned every word and wrung it to its very limits so that it struck her heart and soul glaringly, assuring she’d be scarred emotionally for quite some time.

“Angel’s a lot like me, he’s an opportunist and saw that night and you for that matter as an opportunity to hit a few high notes and get his groin stirring in ways that didn’t involve a sock, his hand and his ‘oh-so-tortured’ imagination.”

“I know Angel!” Cordelia growled at him, finally finding a small flicker of strength to speak. “He’d never lie to me and hurt me like you.”

Angelus just laughed, “Babe, I’ve got bad news for you. Angel is me, I’m him. Nothing’s changed that. The only thing keeping him from snapping your neck is that pesky soul.”

It seemed as if Cordelia’s anger was what she needed to find strength, both emotionally and physically.

Managing to get out from under Angelus’ grip, Cordelia kicked him off of her and rolled away, getting to her feet as fast as she could manage.

But Angelus was quicker as he rolled away from her and towards the spear, grabbing it with his hands and getting to his feet all in one graceful movement.

Weaponless, Cordelia grabbed onto the wall, leaning against it, as she grew slightly woozy. Shit…

“You don’t scare me,” she spat at him unconvincingly.

Smirking, all Angelus did in response was lash his whip at her, the tip of it smacking her in the face.

Holding the long slash across her cheek, Cordelia locked gazes with Angelus and knew that it was going to be a bitch to get out of the situation she found herself in.

“Yeah, you’re afraid of me. Admit it.” He sneered and prepared to strike again.

Cordelia used her anger towards the comments he made to her just moments prior to stay standing and to find confidence in her words. “No, I’m not.”

Gripping the whip, Angelus took a step backward as if turning to walk away but snapped back and threw the whip at Cordelia.

When it hit her in the leg, digging dip into her shin, he laughed but it was slightly dampened when she remained standing, albeit barely.

* * *

“Are you going to kill me?” Holtz asked Wesley, not in the least bit fearful of his death.

“As much as that would lessen my frustration at the moment, I refuse to.” Wesley crossed his arms and leaned back into his wheelchair, trying to go to sleep.

When he opened one of his eyes to peek at Holtz, he saw a curious look on the Englishman’s face and couldn’t help but continue in his explanation. “We’re waiting until Angel returns. He’ll decide what to do with you.”

Holtz chuckled under his breath, “I wonder what Angel might do when he sees me here tied to a chair. You think he’ll take advantage of the situation?”

Wesley didn’t answer, mostly because he himself didn’t know the answer to the question.

* * *

Cordelia gripped the wall and held on tightly while her other hand held her face. Slashes all over her face, her legs and torso, Cordelia was hardly recognizable. Her left eye was swollen and so was her lip, as if she had a large hamburger stuck in her mouth.

Every time she tried to speak, it came out mumbled and hardly discernible.

Not that Angelus really cares what I say, Cordelia thought to herself. Unless it’s me suggesting I take my clothes off.

“Take your clothes off,” he repeated. Mere seconds ago, after lashing at Cordelia again with his whip, he’d ordered her to remove her clothes and she’d refused, predictably.

“That night wasn’t enough for me…not enough naked Cordelia to write home about, in my opinion. Take your clothes off.”

Cordelia shook her head as her legs shook terribly, nearly causing her to fall to the ground. But she kept standing, using the wall for support.

“I’ll stop hurting you,” he offered in a suggestive tone, hoping to have found a soft spot.

Her right hand gripping onto the wall, Cordelia looked down at her left for a second, narrowing her eyes to see through the blood that caked her eyes that had seeped from the gash on her forehead.

Seeing the glass shards stuck in her hand, she painfully remembered what had happened.

But she wasn’t giving in to his offers; she’d come to take the Trials and was going to finish them.

She looked up at Angelus and saw him placing the whip back onto his belt, much to her relief. But a moment later she managed to make out through her blurry vision that he was spinning the spear in his hand in a threatening manner.

The strength she had found earlier she had kept in reserve, deep inside of her so that no matter what happened, she wouldn’t give up.

Using that strength, she spat at his shoes and, even though her injured face couldn’t manage it, she was smiling on the inside. “Fuck off.”

Not pleased by her comment, Angelus quickly lunged the spear into her side, his aim perfect and hitting her just below her ribs.

Surprisingly, he saw her still standing, her legs giving in but her only usable hand still holding strongly onto the wall, keeping her from falling to the dirt.

“I know exactly what’ll get you onto the ground,” he growled, removing the whip from his belt. “All it takes is a little nudge…”

* * *

Angel fell to his knees, his hands still formed into fists and pointlessly pounding on the barrier. His eyes formed tears but he wasn’t willing to shed them, the last small bit of hope left inside of him keeping him from doing so.

But as he saw Cordelia, fighting for her life and nearing it as the minutes passed, his heart broke in two that he wasn’t able to help her.

Through all the years, even after he’d fired her that one time, he was always there to protect her, she was always in his mind and never left.

Being overprotective was his bad trait but in relation to Cordelia… he couldn’t help it and wasn’t ashamed.

Angel remembered what he had said to the demon guard outside and he realized it was no painfully and completely true.

“She isn’t ready…,” he whispered to himself, his voice breaking. “I’m not ready. Not to let go, I’m not.”

* * *

The crack of the whip brought a wave of devastating terror to Cordelia’s heart as she slumped to the ground in one defeated motion, the pain of the whip adding to the paralyzing throbbing of the sharp spear buried deep in her side.

As the blood flowed freely from that wound, the cuts all over her wounded face were gushing blood that caked her eyes and stained her perfect skin a dark crimson.

“Do it!” the terrifying voice urged, cracking the whip again.

Cordelia couldn’t help but consider the incredible irony of the situation she found herself lying in, the blood spilling and dripping all over the floor in her wake as she attempted to crawl to safety.

The one person she trusted transformed into a monster and torturing her so simply, as if merely another day in the life of Angelus.

This isn’t real…it can’t be. Cordelia tried to calm her nerves, to rationalize the entire situation. But her fear remained, drowning her. Why does it feel so real?

Stepping into the firelight view, Angelus sported a sadistic grin on his pale skin. “Remove your clothes…now.”

His foot stepped on top of her left hand, forcing her to cry out in pain as the weight of his foot dug the shards of glass deeper into her hand. It had been several minutes since he’d ruthlessly broken a pane of glass and forced shards into her skin, the smile on his face never faltering once during the occurrence.

* * *

Angel growled as he watched Angelus torture her. First he had torn her heart apart with lies and now he was moving to practically kill her.

Forcing himself to his feet, Angel looked around the room for a lever, a rock that looked out of place…something that could signify a way to open the barrier, to allow him to enter.

Even if, subconsciously, Angel knew there was no way to get in unless the suited man personally allowed him to, he continued searching.

* * *

His voice was low and seductively provocative, slipping into Cordelia’s heart and tearing it apart.

“Can’t screw the living daylight’s out of you if you have your clothes on…well, I could if I tried. But you’ve exhausted me quite enough, I admit.”

Angelus was enjoying what he saw, the pain clear across her face, the physical torment she was so plainly going through and it became evident to Cordelia in the way she saw him looking at her, forcing her eyes to discern the expression on his face through the coated blood smeared all over her eyes.

Cordelia’s mind tumbled through the numerous possibilities available to her in the situation she found herself stuck in.

I could run, was the first thought that drifted into her clouded, weak mind; and it was the first to be immediately dismissed as the searing agony in her side from the spear amplified to an extent she almost couldn’t bear.

She noted the sparkle of enjoyment…of pure bliss, in the vampire’s eyes.

Though she’d seen a smile on his face, a glimmer of joy, never before had she seen such flawless bliss in his eyes; it was a frightening reminder that he was no longer the Angel she knew and loved.

It was a look that had broken her heart a thousand times in the past few moments; moments that she had spent in the chamber with him, and it was a look that she knew would continue to kill her deep inside for the rest of her life. Which shouldn’t be much longer.

* * *

Angel froze in his search to get in as he saw Angelus prepare to…

He forced himself to look away as he focused his eyes on Cordelia, locking onto her eyes where he saw a flicker of something he never imagined to see in her eyes: Resignation.

* * *

Knowing it would not be too much longer, Cordelia closed her eyes, visibly giving up as her shaking arms gave in and her entire body crashed onto the cold, stone floor, her own blood splashing in her wake.

Breathing sharply, her eyes bloodshot and barely usable, Cordelia Chase knew it was coming. Either she was going to die and go to heaven, or the torment was just beginning. What was to come was simply the answer to that question. Either way she wanted it to arrive, to arrive sooner rather than later.

And as she saw the whip lash into the air in slow motion, moving to strike her face, she knew that once it hit her it would be the last thing she would ever feel.
Cordelia didn’t know how it happened or even if it was physically possible, but when she lifted her right hand up and in front of her face, defending herself from the whip, she was more than happy to not worry about it. Whether out of impulse or something else, her hand shot up fast enough to save her face, perhaps even her life.

The searing pain in her hand as the tight rope-like whip dug deep into the sensitive skin was easily ignored as the shock of her surviving swallowed her whole.

Still in pain, Cordelia yanked her arm back with every ounce of willpower she had left in her entire body, wrenching the whip from Angelus’ unsuspecting hands in an instant.

Angelus was stunned to the point that he didn’t even bother to put up a fight for the whip. Instead he just looked at Cordelia with a slightly wide-eyed expression that would have, if Cordelia had not been in the current situation, brought an amused smile to her face.

The mere fact that Cordelia had any strength left in her was what shocked him and her for that matter, to the point that they both remained motionless for quite some time.

Until Cordelia, struggling immensely coughed and cursed under her breath as she stood uneasily on her shaky legs. Using the wall for support, Cordelia took in as deep of a breath as she could to try and sooth her nerves before focusing her eyes on Angelus, who remained standing still with a priceless expression on his face.

“Crap…,” Cordelia grunted as her face contorted with pain while her hand pulled out the spear from her side, letting it drop to the ground with a loud clatter.

The flicker of flames from the torch just beside her on the wall illuminated the dried blood, saliva, and tears smeared across her face as her chest shallowly rose and fell, coinciding with her breathing.

Collecting himself, Angelus swallowed hard before speaking. “Surprised a soft lady like you could handle so many lashes of my whip and still manage to stand.”

While his words were intended to make him sound confident, the doubt in his tone proved his confidence was fast waning.

“I’m not…afraid of you,” Cordelia spoke as slowly as she could, knowing that if she pushed herself too far too fast she’d pass out from the pain and lightheadedness that was taking over. “I’m not afraid to…kill you.”

“Really? Why is that?” Angelus asked derisively, as if unimpressed. Her seemingly unthreatening admission that she wasn’t afraid giving him back his confidence for a moment as he disbelievingly crossed his arms over his chest.

If her face hadn’t been so brutally beaten and wasn’t covered in dried blood, Cordelia might have smirked. “Because you’re not Angel.”

Angelus focused his dark eyes on Cordelia’s beaten façade, trying to find some waver in her out-of-the-blue confidence. He didn’t notice that her hand slowly moved along the wall to the torch, grabbing onto the handle firmly.

“The Angel I love is waiting outside for me to return to him with so much hope and love that it nearly kills me to remind myself that it won’t be happening,” her eyes, already brimming with tears, so blatantly made it known that she was on the brink of sobbing from the pain and unending whirlwind of emotions that filled her from head to toe.

“You’re not the Angel that I’m sacrificing my life for…you’re just a sick monster. And I know that I’ll have no problem killing you.”

Angelus, though still a tad surprised that she was standing up to him, both literally and figuratively, smirked at her last few words, realizing he had the upper hand. “You have nothing to kill me with.”

“I’m going to have to disagree with that,” Cordelia growled before straining the already worn muscles in her arm and lunging the torch at Angelus.

Falling to her knees, Cordelia’s deep brown eyes watched Angelus struggle aimlessly, ripping off his shirt, trying to get the fire away from his skin. Only he wasn’t fast enough and in a matter of moments, he burned to a crisp as Cordelia watched, her entire world slowed down.

* * *

Fred ran her hand through her long, brown tresses as she sighed with exhaustion. It’d been a long night of watching over the henchmen for Wesley and it was now her turn, something she wasn’t necessarily looking forward to.

Though if it kept Conner and everyone else safe, she was willing to sacrifice some sleep then.

Turning around the corner and slowly moving down the stairs with her crossbow in hand, Fred walked slowly and cautiously as she noticed that the lights were dim and her surroundings weren’t entirely clear.

Gripping the crossbow and running her other hand along the belt wrapped around her waist to check if she had enough quarrels, Fred couldn’t help but worry about whether or not one of the henchmen had somehow maneuvered his way out of his bindings.

When her bare feet met the cold, hard floor of the lobby, she took in a sharp breath as she quietly slinked towards the office area where she heard a soft yet deep voice mumbling.

It took Fred only a moment to see with her own eyes that it was a somber looking Gunn, on the phone.

“Okay then, talk to you later,” Gunn muttered into the receiver before placing the phone back on the phone jack.

Freezing in her movements, Fred offered a warm smile at him when he noticed her. Her voice was soft as she lowered her crossbow and asked him, “Who was that?”

“Just my crew up north,” Gunn said quietly in an almost resigned tone as he let his eyes move away from Fred’s.

“Oh,” Fred managed to say curtly as she finally managed to force her legs to move, bringing her to Gunn’s side behind the counter where several files were waiting for her. “We got a call from some clients…”

“I know,” Gunn mumbled, still not looking at her and his voice still as quiet as a mouse. “Your turn to watch over Dumb and Dumber?”

“Yeah…,” Fred answered gently, her voice attenuating slightly.

A few moments of silence passed before she finally managed to blurt out something.

“When are you leaving?” She looked down at the folders as she asked him in such a nonchalant tone that it became obvious she was trying too hard to act natural when deep down it was killing her to ask him such a question.

“When Cordy comes back,” Gunn answered softly.

Trying to hide her disappointment, Fred reminded herself that she knew all along that Gunn’s return wasn’t permanent. Even if she loved Wesley and was with him, the Texan couldn’t help but want Gunn to stay.

Before they had started dating she was a friend of his, buddies even and it bugged her that once again their family was falling apart.

“Good for you,” Fred lied. “You’re making the right decision, I guess. But just so you know…you’ll always have a place in Los Angeles, here at Angel Investigations.”

The way she said it as she turned to face him, the cute, small smile that she always had on her face, made Gunn’s heart melt. The smirk that was on his face, though, was for another reason. “I’ll be getting my stuff and I’ll be back in a few weeks…”

Fred did a double take, nearly breaking her neck from whiplash. “Wh-what?”

“The guy I left in charge when I came down here…well, from what I hear he’s been doing a much better job up there then I was and he’s recruited more people and killed more demons. He’s taking control up there.”

“So…you’re staying?”

Gunn nodded, “I gotta prove a lot of things to some people. Besides, I’ll be going back up there every few months to check in on them and remind em’ who’s boss.”

“Why? I mean, why are you staying? Is there…a reason?” asked Fred.

“I let one thing get in the way of something bigger before. My family.” Gunn replied at length, trying to word it right. “And I’m not going to let it happen again.”

* * *

Wesley took in a deep breath, hoping that his mind would stop reeling and he could just count the money in his hands, get the newspaper and return to the Hyperion. It wasn’t like he didn’t trust the others watching over Holtz and his henchmen, it was just the undeniable urge to make sure Holtz shitted his pants out of fear from just the silence. He needed to be there, to see the Englishman start to panic, perhaps make some deals to save his own life.

Grabbing the newspaper and the quarter he got for change, Wesley spun around in his wheelchair, nearly wincing from the bright sunlight.

First florescent lights for god knows how long, then I spend nearly every minute in the dark hotel…it’s no wonder that I’ve become a stranger to daylight, Wesley mused, the image of his pale friend who avoided sunlight for his own safety coming to mind. He was becoming more like his boss then he had intended. Not accustomed to sunlight, stubborn and a lady to keep me close to perfect happiness…

“Sorry sir,” came a soft grunt when Wesley was nearly pushed from his wheelchair after being abruptly ran into by a man. The man, wearing a gray trench coat and a scowl to match, picked up the newspaper that flung from Wesley’s grasp, offering a polite, lopsided grin to lighten the moment. “Got things on my mind…you know, the usual.”

Nodding, Wesley held back his own wince as the throbbing continued where his stitches felt slightly separated. “No worries. We all have problems that are distracting.”

“I get that,” the man nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets as his smile twitched back into a slight frown. “I got a guy up my back and it’s…well. I won’t bother you about it.”

Wesley held his hand in the air, stopping the man from walking away. “If you’re having security issues…not knowing whether you’re safe…I can help.”

Sure, it wasn’t a demonic case, but the fresh memory of Fred, thin and emotional, struggling to stay strong even as she was diminishing physically. Their money problems were becoming so big that…well, he was starting to get scared himself.

Handing the man his card, Wesley offered a genuine smile that, albeit wasn’t even close to competing with Fred’s or Cordelia’s large, beautiful grins; but it was enough to come off as welcoming and friendly. “Call there if you need any help. Any at all. Name’s Pryce, Wesley Wyndam Pryce.”

“Burton, Trevor Burton. I’m sure I’ll give you a call. Thanks.”

* * *

Angel fell face flat on the ground, his chin scraping against the hard, dirty stone floor when the barrier disappeared. He’d been throwing himself against the barrier ever since Cordelia had grabbed the whip and saved herself. Though impressed, Angel was far more concerned with saving her, keeping her from dying which, by the looks of it, was coming dangerously close to happening.

Getting to his feet he ran over to Cordelia, who lay on the ground, defeated, her injuries still serious. Falling to his knees, Angel wrapped his strong arms around her and lifted her up into his waiting embrace, squeezing her tightly in hopes of a response.

Rubbing her hair out of her eyes, Angel desperately whispered her name over and over, his voice quiet and filled with unending despair. Gently placing her head in his lap, making sure that her neck would remain uninjured as he ripped part of his sleeve off, Angel continued to mumble her name.

Angel pressed the cloth up against her deepest wound along her abdomen and applied pressure to it, hoping to stop the blood flow.

A shift in the environment disturbed Angel’s senses and his head immediately shot to the right, locking gazes with the suited man.

Angel fixed the suited man with his most disdainful glare, his jaw firm and his dark eyes fuming with anger. “You…” was all he could growl, his voice low and quiet but not hiding the unmistakable fury.

The man remained unfazed as he sauntered towards the vampire and his seer, only stopping when he noticed Angel’s dark eyes flashing a rim of gold as his demon struggled for control over his actions. In one casual yet quick movement, the suited man pulled out a vial from his pocket.

Smiling, he challenged the fuming vampire. “If you want her to live then let me help.”

Angel broke his gaze with the man and looked away, his sorrow at his inability to help Cordelia overcoming his anger with the man that put her in the situation. With only a second passing, the suited man took Angel’s lack of response as a sign that he was allowed to move to Cordelia.

Bending over to prevent his suit from getting dirty, the man tilted the vial so that the liquid inside spilled into her slightly opened mouth.

A few moments passed and the wounds along Cordelia’s face, her arms and legs slowly healed, the bleeding ceasing.

Angel ran his hands in disbelief along her face, noting that though the wounds were healed, visible scabs that faded away ever so slowly replaced them and the blood that covered her face still remained.

“Cordy…,” he whispered to her, letting the back of his hand move slowly up and down the side of her face, hoping that she would show some sign that she was still alive. His wish was granted when her russet eyes became visible, brimming with tears.

She beamed at the sight of Angel, her smile only faltering because of the soreness that still remained all throughout her body. “Angel…,” the way she said his name was endlessly, emotionally effusive yet bittersweet at the same time.

“I’m here,” he said to her, his emotional tone a perfect match for Cordelia’s.

Once Cordelia’s eyes started to drift Angel knew that she would see the man in his Armani suit standing proud and unaffected by her obvious pain. It wouldn’t just anger her, it’d do more. If Angel had learned anything from knowing her for so long, it was that an angry Cordy was a terrifying Cordy.

When she finally did see him, her russet eyes blinked away the tears and burnt holes through the expensive, dark Armani suit; she clambered to a standing position, bringing Angel unwillingly up with her.

Angel grunted when she stood up, standing up with her while keeping his arms wrapped around her the entire time. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Cordelia ignored him for the moment, her eyes still securely locked onto the man standing before her. “Do I get my damn reward now, or what?”

Nodding while fixing his crooked lapel, the suited man cleared his throat, directing his attention to Angel. “Will you please step forward…?”

“No!” Angel immediately refused to play along with Cordelia’s wishes. No matter how much he loved her and wanted her to have whatever she wanted, what she was planning on sacrificing for him he wasn’t going to allow. “I’m not taking the offer.”

Turning to face Cordelia, Angel gripped her arms as he said to her through gritted teeth. “I won’t just stand here and let you die. You’re getting your vision pains taken away. You’re going to live.”

“I went through the Trials and I’m getting what I want,” Cordelia told him, her voice for the first time in a while without emotion. “I want you to be able to be happy…even if it isn’t with me.”

Angel shook his head, “This is shit. This is some half-baked plan of yours and you’re not thinking clearly.”

“I have thought it through,” Cordelia informed him in a level tone. “If I survive, take away the vision pains…what will we do? You told me a long time ago that it wouldn’t take sex to make you happy. That you’re happy being around me. What’ll happen on Conner’s birthdays or on hers, when you feel nothing but happiness for us? What if you turn back into Angelus?”

“Don’t stand here and talk to me about risks,” Angel growled at her, his voice surprisingly dangerous and threatening as his anger and frustration with her was starting to get out of control. “I’m not letting you sacrifice yourself for me.”

“Why not? You’d do the same for me, wouldn’t you?” Cordelia asked him, trying to find something to grasp onto, to use at her own advantage.

Angel nodded, “Yes, I would. But that’s…different.”

“How?” Cordelia challenged him, seeing the opportunity to win the argument.

“Conner needs you! I need you and Fred, Gunn, Wesley and Lorne need you…the whole world needs you,” Angel explained to her, his voice dropping to a low tone.

“These visions that you get give me the chance to save people, they remind me what my purpose is in the world. You remind me that…that there’re things worth living for in the world.”

Cordelia threw her hands up in frustration, shaking her head. “What in God’s name do you think will happen if I accept the offer, then? I won’t be able to help you anymore! I can’t sacrifice my purpose in life for you and me. If I die then the visions will be given to someone else. But if I accept the offer, how am I supposed to know that’ll happen?”

The suited man cleared his throat and took a step forward, “Actually…you would just be removing the pains from having them, not the visions themselves. It would require you to become half-demon, but the end result would be more than worth it.”

“Half-demon…?” Angel’s eyes drifted for a moment as the prospect startled him. She’d be giving up her entire humanity…but she’d still be alive. “Do it.”

“Angel!” Cordelia grumbled under her breath, bringing a hand to her head as lightheadedness took over, the entire experience becoming even more overwhelming. “Just shut up, alright?”

“No,” Angel refused to give her that luxury. “You’ll be able to live and be the champion that you proved yourself to be when taking the Trials.”

Cordelia eyed him, her eyes filled with frustration. “I’ll knee you in the groin again if you don’t step forward.”

Angel didn’t move.

“The one thing I’ve learned from working with you, beside you and falling in love with you is that no matter how many awful things you did as Angelus, you’re Angel now and you’ve atoned for so much shit.”

Angel tried to warn her to stop, but she cut him off before he could even open his mouth to protest. “You’re a true champion that just deserves a break. And I’m giving you that break even if it costs me my life.”

Shaking his head, Angel leaned in, cupping her face with his large hand and whispering to her. “No matter how long I’ve known you I still haven’t been able to figure out what the hell goes on up in that head of yours…”

Cordelia couldn’t help but smile at that, even if it was all bittersweet.

The suited man remained unfazed however, pulling his sleeve up to look at his gold Rolex. “As touching as this all is,” he said in a sardonic tone. “I have a hair appointment.”

Cordelia ignored the suited man as she leaned forward, her lips brushing up against Angel’s in a tender kiss. Pulling away a moment later, she wiped away the single tear that streaked down her face as she stepped away from Angel, avoiding looking him in the eye. “Can you do something…to keep him still?”

Nodding, the suited man, with a wave of his hand and smirk on his face, kept Angel standing still, perfectly motionless. Stepping up close to Angel, only a foot of space separating them, he placed his hand on Angel’s cold, pale forehead before turning his head to look at Cordelia.

“Is this what you truly want? Are you one-hundred percent willing to sacrifice your future for his freedom, his happiness?”

All Cordelia could do was nod when she noticed Angel looking at her from the corner of his eyes, showing that he wanted nothing more than to stop the whole thing.

A long two minutes of silence followed. It felt like eternity but Cordelia knew it was two minutes because she counted it to herself in anticipation of not only Angel’s chance to be happy but also the end of an era.

The era that she spent in Los Angeles, forming a new, surrogate family where she found happiness, confidence and a purpose in life. But most of all, an era where she fell in love and realized that there were things in life that are worth sacrificing for.

Furrowing his brow, the suited man made a soft grunt of confusion, shaking his hand to see if it worked before placing it back up against Angel’s forehead. Nothing happened. As a result, the man pressed his fingers into Angel’s head more forcefully, causing Angel to proclaim an ‘ow’ in response.

“What’s going on?” Cordelia asked, crossing her arms over her chest and looking at the two men before her, searching for an answer.

Stepping back, the man ran his hands along his suit to smooth out the wrinkles as he quickly and quietly said something under his breath.

Even Angel’s acute hearing couldn’t pick up what he said as Cordelia, more emphatic than before, asked him, “What was that you said?”

Apparently embarrassed, the man in his fine suit was without his confident smile for the first time since Cordelia had got there. Clearing his throat, he chose a different route, directing his attention to Angel. “Have you recently lost your soul?”

Angel nodded, his ability to move slowly returning to him. “Five years ago, I think. But they restored it.”

“Oh dear,” was what escaped the man’s lips as he looked down at the ground, at his feet for a moment, trying to hold back a comment at the irony of the situation. As he avoided the stares, Angel’s control over his body finally came back, though ever so slowly.

“What’s the problem?” Cordelia demanded.

A tentative smile on his smooth skin, the man looked from Cordelia to Angel for a few moments as if he were watching a tennis match before he finally responded. “His soul is already permanent.”

Cordelia shook her head as her legs gave in, her disbelief and exhaustion getting the better of her.

Angel, catching her in time, held her in his arms as he asked the suited man, his firm voice returning, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“His soul is already permanent. The curse was lifted when the soul was reinstated.”

Exasperated, Cordelia blew a dirty piece of hair out of her eyes, the ones that nearly burned holes into the Armani suit of the man that stood before her. “I went through all of that for nothing…I nearly killed myself trying to give Angel something that he already had?”

“It wasn’t done in vain,” the man assured her, his voice back to a soothing tone. “You will still get your vision pains removed, with the gift of the visions still intact.”

“Why?” was Cordelia’s breathless reply. “I made the decision. I chose what I was taking these trials for.”

“When I did another type of trials a while back, it was revealed that what I came for couldn’t be given to me,” Angel explained, remembering back to when he tried to save Darla from her life-threatening disease. “I didn’t get another choice in the matter.”

“It’s a different kind of trial,” the man said, almost bitterly, as if offended. “In a different location. And I certainly have better taste in apparel.”

Tugging at his lapels self-consciously, the man continued in his usual even tone. “Cordelia Chase came here knowing that her visions were killing her and still gave someone else what they most desired. She was willing to sacrifice herself for your happiness.”

Turning his attention to Cordelia now, acknowledging her fully, the man dropped his voice to a softer tone, more sympathetic and knowing. “You deserve nothing more than to get what you need because you proved yourself by not only sacrificing your future but by making it through the trials.”

* * *

Looking at his watch sporadically, Wesley cleared his throat and tapped his finger on the handle of his wheelchair repeatedly, the silence becoming almost unbearable.

“Could you please stop that?” Holtz snapped, the bags under his eyes so evident that he looked sickly near-death.

“Well, since you asked…,” Wesley muttered, his tone dripping with sarcasm.

“I’m thinking, is all…,” Holtz admitted. “About my family. My infant child that I never got to see grow up.”

“If you’re trying to get sympathy from me,” Wesley laughed under his breath, turning around halfway to see if anyone was coming for him. Though he was pleased inwardly at Holtz’ desperation for sympathy, he needed some company. “It’s not working and it’s more than pointless. In fact, it’s rather pathetic and far below what I expected from you.”

Holtz had the nerve to snort, his lips curling into a sly grin that was only barely evident through his thick goatee. “Really? And you have that talent to tell what people can achieve, what level they stand at in the world. Hunters or huntees. Prey or predators, right? Well then, sitting here for hours has naturally deepened my level of curiosity. So, as a polite fellow that you obviously are, would you tell me where I stand? Where you stand, even?”

“I’m not allowing you to get to me,” Wesley informed him, leaning back in his wheelchair, folding his hands over his lap.

“Or perhaps that sweet, tender young woman that holds a fancy for you,” Holtz went on, his eyes flaring mischievously. “Where does she stand in the world? Tell me that since we both know where she obviously sleeps…”

Wesley looked up, his jaw firm and his normally warm, friendly blue eyes were icy and practically burning holes into the man tied to the chair. “It takes a desperate man to sink to the levels you are at.”

Holtz didn’t seem to mind though. “You must not be that bad. Otherwise Angel wouldn’t have left you in charge. You must be a very dependable young man, sitting here watching over the prisoner and making sure he doesn’t make any sudden movements. Be very proud of yourself. You have a lady and a job under a murdering vampire.”

Though his grip on his wheelchair was tightening, his knuckles white and the blood leaving his hands, Wesley simply smirked at Holtz, using every last bit of his willpower to keep his voice even. “You’re looking to get out of this pile of shit you’re in, aren’t you? We’ll see how you try and weasel out of this whole thing once Angel gets back…I think it’ll be quite entertaining.”

The phone rang off in the distance and Wesley turned his head to the side, his eyes still looking at Holtz, if only from the corner of his eyes. “Why don’t I leave you to contemplate your impending death while I go get that call?”

Spinning around and rolling out of the office, Wesley let his face soften for a moment and released his grip from the handles of his wheelchair, glad to be out of the room, to get fresh air and calm himself.

Picking the phone up and feigning his cheeriest voice, Wesley spoke as clearly as possible, praying it wasn’t a wrong number. “Angel Investigations, we help the—Mr. Burton?”

“…”

“Yes, this is Wesley, the man you spoke with…” Wesley replied. “Don’t be afraid, Mr. Burton. Whatever the case is we can handle it.”

“…”

Wesley grabbed the notepad as he listened to the description. “To get it right, was it three or four eyes? Three? All right then. No, I don’t think you’re crazy. We get these kind of cases more than you might assume.”

“…”

“We’ll check in with you if we need anymore information, I’ll also have someone call you with the amount due,” Wesley said to the man on the other line, hoping that his tone wouldn’t give away the smile that slowly spread across his face.

Hanging up, Wesley let out a long breath, quite pleased with himself as he removed his glasses.

Fred walked down the stairs, taco in hand and looking perfectly clueless as she took notice of Wesley just sitting there with a rare, quite large, grin on his face. “What’re you smilin’ about?”

Looking up at Fred, Wesley looked positively giddy. “We have a client.”

* * *

The moonlight shone through the window of the train, illuminating the few passengers located in the boxcar. It was just after midnight and sunrise was far from happening. The train had an hour or two to go before Cordelia and Angel got off, giving them both enough time to find shelter from the sun.

His arms wrapped around Cordelia tightly enough to assure both her and himself that she was safe, but loose enough so that her breathing was even and she could relax, Angel let out a long, unneeded sigh. Enjoying the sight of the moon, crescent yet as bright as a full one, he couldn’t help but cherish the silence for a moment.

No disturbances. Just Cordelia and me. And about two dozen other Indians…

Cordelia, with her head resting on Angel’s shoulder, took the opportunity to be the first to break the silence. Not since they had bought their tickets and thanked the person who escorted them to their seats had they used their vocal chords. She had to clear her throat before delving into what she needed to say what was on her mind.

“How stupid can I be?” she wondered aloud.

“You aren’t stupid,” Angel whispered in her ear, his voice husky and quiet. “You were just doing something completely selfless for me. Just as I would have done for you.”

Nodding, Cordelia suspired as she spoke. “I know that you’d do anything for me. It’s one of the reasons I love ya.”

“How do you feel?” Angel asked after a few minutes of silence passed. “You feel any different than before?”

Cordelia shook her head softly, yawning. “Being half-demon doesn’t feel much different then being human.”

Moving in closer, burying her face in Angel’s chest, welcoming the security she felt in his arms and the love that she knew he felt for her. Her eyes closing slowly, she took in a deep breath as they both decided without words to sleep. “We should call the gang when we get off the train.”

“Why?”

“The demon isn’t dangerous, but they should know about it,” Cordelia explained as she slowly fell into a slumber.

Angel looked down at her, realizing she had just had a vision and no pain was involved. It finally happened and he was more than relieved.

* * *

Lilah Morgan took her first step off of the plane, descending the stairs in a confident stride. Tan from her vacation and poised more than before she had left, she removed her sunglasses and inhaled a deep breath as she took in the site of the Los Angeles landscape.

But the sight of black clad men with equally dark sunglasses caught her eye. Growling, she stepped onto the pavement and placed her hands on her hips. “I told no one to bother me while I was on vacation. If I needed an update then I would have asked for one.”

Nodding, the man tried to form the words to respectively agree and disagree at the same time. “We left you be on your vacation, Miss Morgan. But the events that have occurred affect you too profoundly for it to wait.”

Lilah hesitated with a response, her confidence wavering. “What is it?”

“It’s about the vampire and Miss Chase…”

“Did everything go as planned?”

* * *

One Year Later

“Where’s the damn coffee! I need to wake up and I can’t without my coffee!”

Cordelia’s voice bellowed throughout the lobby, echoing down the hallways and anyone who’d known her a while could guess that people outside would be also able to hear her clearly.

Angel walked out from behind the counter, holding Conner in his arms and looked at Cordelia with an incredulous expression. “Hey! You know not to say the D-A-M-N word in front of Conner.”

Holding out his arms, Conner giggled at the sight of Cordelia. “Mommy!”

Cordelia, barely holding back a squeal of her own, practically ran over to Angel and Conner, pressing a quick kiss on Angel’s lips as she took Conner in her arms, squeezing him tightly.

The doors opened, signaling Lorne’s entrance in his bright green suit that matched his skin, accentuating it and making him as attractive as a demon with horns and red eyes could possibly be. “Hello, my fans! Lorne has entered the building.”

As he walked past Cordy and Conner, he tussled the toddler’s hair, grinning at both him and his mother. “Club was packed last night. Need to expand the menu. There were so many demons in there that some of them I had no idea what species they were. Yep, it was that packed.”

Moving behind the counter, Lorne looked around absently for something. Whatever it was wasn’t specified. “I left a few post-it notes around the place last night. Lot of potential clients.”

“Yeah…you put one on my forehead last night,” Angel informed him, not at all bothered by it, surprisingly. Opening his mini-fridge and grabbing his cup of blood, Angel glanced at Lorne, and if anyone had looked closely enough they would have guessed that the vampire winked.

Laughing, Lorne shook his head. “It was your fault. Falling asleep half-naked on the counter asks for a little post-it note punishment.”

Grinning as he lifted the cup of blood to his mouth, Angel glanced at Cordelia. Before taking a sip, he mumbled as quietly as possible. “We took advantage of our night alone…”

Yet Lorne heard even his quietest tone.

Cordelia smirked too as she placed a kiss atop Conner’s head. “Were you the reason why I had small pen marks on the back of my neck?”

Lorne shrugged. “I needed something to write on and I swear I thought you were the counter.”

The doors leading into the Hyperion opened again, a gust of warm L.A. air spreading throughout the lobby. Charles Gunn entered, ax proudly in his hands and green goo smeared across his clothes and baldhead. “Whoo! What a fun time I had! That Smithson client we had…he was a demon himself. No worries, I got the check.”

Waving the slip of paper around proudly, Gunn dropped his ax on the couch, practically skipping over to the group. Softly holding his fist out, he let out a laugh when Conner threw his fist out to collide with his in a cute fist bob that he taught him.

In simply a robe of dark crimson, Wesley walked quietly out into the lobby from the direction of the kitchen, looking positively relaxed and sated. When he noticed the others standing around, he froze, his cheeks slightly flushing.

“English got chicken legs!” Gunn teased, holding back a laugh. Lifting his hand in an exaggerated wave he then turned to leave. “I’ll be back later! Gotta go clean up at my place.”

Wesley simply shook his head, remaining as nonchalant as he could, clearing his throat to say something. Only Fred ran out, wearing only his button-up shirt that barely covered half of her thighs.

“What’d you do with my under…wear?” she asked, skidding to a halt when she noticed the company they had.

Following in suit with Wesley, she blushed, yet even more profoundly as she turned to leave, hoping the awkwardness wouldn’t follow her back to the kitchen.

“You have fun last night researching?” Cordelia asked sarcastically.

Letting out a long sigh, Wesley walked over to the counter. Though he said nothing in response to Cordelia, the sly smile tugging at the corner of his lips proved that yes, he did have a lot of fun the night before. And a few times earlier that morning. “I came out here to see if there was anything in the mail for me, that’s all.”

Cordelia, on the other hand, was in the mood to make Wesley feel as awkward as possible. She and Angel hadn’t taken his permanent soul casually and they’d pretty much written the book about having sex around the workplace. They were the masters at avoiding getting teased by co-workers.

Besides, the urge to have a sisterly little squabble with him was high since she hadn’t had a fight with anyone in a few months and she needed some tension to even things out. “How’d you find a robe in the kitchen? Which, by the way, I’m not going into until it’s been cleaned.”

“It’s mine,” Angel quietly pointed out, a smile still playing at his lips, more sly than usual at the fresh memory of him and Cordelia spending the night together. “Must’ve left it in there when you and I…”

He stopped himself, taking a big gulp of blood as an excuse not to finish what he was saying.

Lorne broke the silence, his curiosity and confusion getting the better of him. “How many clients have we had in the last few days? I’ve lost count.”

“Ten,” Cordelia answered.

“Eleven,” Angel corrected her, his smile gone from his face as a cloud passed over it. Something was on his mind and fortunately, no one noticed. Except for Cordelia.

Trying to hide his broodiness, Angel turned around as naturally as possible, hoping to not draw attention to his exit. As he walked into Wesley’s office, running his hand along the doorframe and the chairs placed before the desk, his mind flashed a few disturbing images in front of his eyes.

Being in the office didn’t help the memories that were resurfacing. Not at all. All he had to do was go kiss Cordelia, or watch Conner just play and they’d leave his mind. Just as he’d done over the past few months whenever he remembered Holtz and the deal he proposed.

That binding spell was powerful, Angel assured himself as he leaned against the desk. Looking down at the two padded chairs before him, he could swear a faint ghost-like figure of Holtz was looking back at him. He knew it wasn’t the same chair; they burnt that one right away after they got rid of the man… He’s not coming back.

Cordelia wrapped on the doorframe softly, looking at him with concern. “Is everything all right?”

Angel just looked at her for a moment, taking in the sight of the woman he loved and his child, theirchild. “You think I did the right thing in giving Holtz what he wanted? I just have that feeling that it wasn’t right, morally at least.”

Hearing Angel talk about morals wasn’t new to Cordelia, yet the subject of Holtz in relation to it was. It’d been a year since they returned to Los Angeles to find Holtz bound to a chair, awaiting whatever punishment Angel had in mind. They hadn’t spoken of what Angel did for the man since.

Letting out a sigh, Cordelia walked over to Angel, placing Conner in one of the seats in front of him as she leaned up against the desk by his side. Placing her hand on his, drawing his attention to her, she half-smiled at him, her russet eyes filled with a sincerity that she knew would relieve his dragging conscience, if only for a moment.

“The thing that separates us from other people, those who do different things than us,” Cordelia began, her voice in an ambiguous whisper yet Angel heard every word. “Is that the things we choose to do, the choices we make…they aren’t always right, or even wrong. Sometimes they just don’t point in a definite direction.”

Angel nodded, only half-understanding. “I just…I wonder whether I should have given him what he wanted.”

“It was a choice,” Cordelia whispered to him, her other hand softly touching his face, stroking his cheek lovingly. “I don’t love you any less because of sending him to that alternate dimension.”

Shaking his head, Angel let out a bitter chuckle. “Right about now Holtz is probably sitting down at the dinner table. Eating with his family… Probably has Angelus’ head up on a mantle.”

“I’m glad he’s gone, and so are you,” Cordelia reminded him, noting the bitterness in his tone and hoping it wasn’t there permanently. “Conner’s safe. And besides, he got something he lost a long time ago, even if it isn’t full-on reality. We won on both sides of the moral scale, in my opinion.”

“He was so far down that path of vengeance that he was willing to be lied to. And I gave him that lie,” Angel pointed out.

Cordelia remained silent for a moment. Angel worrying himself over one of his many choices wasn’t new. He was ‘Broody Boy’ and would always be that at heart, permanent soul be damned; and she loved him for it. “Is there anything you regret doing?”

“No,” Angel immediately said, looking to Cordelia, his eyes deep with love. “Because then I wouldn’t be where I am now. A father, running a successful business and engaged to possibly the smartest, most beautiful woman in the world.”

“And a family of friends that can’t be beaten,” Cordelia finished, agreeing with him wholeheartedly as she looked down to her left hand, seeing the diamond ring placed on the second finger in.

It reflected in her eyes and Angel knew she loved it. Cordelia may have turned out to be a selfless hero in the end, but she always had that love for shiny objects. She wouldn’t be Cordelia without that and he loved her for it.

Placing a soft kiss on her head, Angel whispered in her ear in a tone that proved to her he wanted nothing more than to just stay there, sitting with her close to him, with their son alongside them. “We should get to work…”

Cordelia snorted, “I need to get to work. You need to go get the car, it’s been in the garage for god knows how long.”

“Um, if you’ve forgotten, I’ll be toast within seconds of stepping outside.”

Cordelia merely eyed him for a moment or two before he finally relented. “I’ll have Wesley come along so that he can drive it back while I hide under the blanket.”

Standing up, Angel placed another kiss on Cordelia’s hand this time before walking past Conner, tickling him for a moment before exiting the office.

“You get tinted windows?” Cordelia called after him.

Angel turned to her, smiling as he nodded.

Letting out a long breath, Cordelia felt utterly and completely relaxed. No worries in her mind other than the usual ones of what weapon to bring to fight the demon they were up against and the outfit she should wear the next day.

Everything was near perfect as she looked down at Conner, who looked back at her with a goofy grin on his face, his hair slightly curly and lengthy down to his ears.

Sure, they weren’t the richest people in the world, and every once in a while things got rough…but that was life and Cordelia Chase loved that about it.

Because as she watched Angel walk out of the office, throwing back a glance at her, his usual grin on his face, she knew that some moments, although they lasted only a few seconds, would remain in her heart forever and nothing could take them away.

She was finally as close to perfect bliss as she could be.


…THE END…


 

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