Poison


AUTHOR: VISION GIRL (aka CHRISSY)
SUMMARY: A desperate struggle between two friends who’ve spent months apart. A poisonous injury bestowed upon Cordelia, her and Angel must face the possibility that she won’t make it, but more importantly, they must face each other.
RATING: PG
POSTED: 19 May 2004
CATEGORY: ANGST, Post-Epiphany & Pre-Disharmony
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A Friendship
WARNINGS: None Listed
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) This story does not affect the Season Two plotline. It’s an in-between-the-episodes fic. I just always wondered why Angel was so adamant when trying to get Cordelia’s forgiveness. I mean, sure, he cares for her and she cares for him and he’s just a manpire who wants to be redeemed, but I always wondered why he was so persistent with Cordelia when he could have easily just given up.
STATUS: Complete


Standing in the office she shared with Wesley and Gunn, Cordelia Chase placed her hands on her hips and looked at Angel incredulously, as if he were crazy to think they’d accept him back.

“It’s okay, Wesley.” He gruffly shrugged at Wesley’s confident refusal in response to his apology. “I don’t want you to come back and work for me.”

The nerve! Cordelia thought to herself, crossing her arms and slowly walking around her desk and leaning against it. He glanced at her once, but his attention seemed more focused on what he was preparing himself to say.

At length and through an elongated sigh, Angel spoke with an unusual bashfulness. “I wanna work for you.”

Gunn, standing behind Wesley, looked completely shocked. So shocked he didn’t even bother to hide it behind his usual macho façade. “You want to work for us?”

Angel half-grinned, still plainly unsure whether his offer was accepted. “Yeah…I do.”

Having enough with his pathetic attempt at trying to woo them into accepting him back, Cordelia opened her mouth to say something.

But Wesley beat her to the punch with a less bitter, more disbelieving “Why?”

Shoving his hand into his pockets, Angel looked down at his feet as they shuffled nervously.

When he looked back up, the confidence that Cordelia could vividly recall would nearly always hold a place in his dark eyes could be seen. “Because I think I can help.”

“How do we know we can trust you?” Cordelia asked him immediately after he spoke, not giving his reason even a moment to settle into her comrades’ minds. Gunn and Wesley both had the looks on their faces that proved they were extremely close, if not already willing, to forgive Angel and accept his offer. It was a sight she was disgusted to see. He fired us when things got too rough. And they weren’t even that rough; his melodramatic, ‘oh-so-tortured’ mind made them that way and practically turned him into a ‘lawyer-killing’ monster.

“I guess I’ll just have to earn that,” he offered her, looking at her more fully, as if searching in her eyes for what he saw in Wesley’s and Gunn’s; the small hope that he was to be forgiven, seen as worthy of redemption. And Cordelia was the person he most desperately needed acceptance from at the moment.

She’s known me the longest. Long enough to know that I’ve done worse things. The vampire stood and waited, hoping to get some sign that he could stay. Any sign would be good, actually, he wished to say aloud. Whether it be ‘Come on in and stay’ or ‘Get the fuck off our property.’
“No!” Cordelia said suddenly, her eyes drifting from him. “No,” she said again, her face contorting.

The vision hit her hard and out of the blue, as they mostly did every time they were sent to her. Blinding pain, torturous and bloody images…the usual.

Clutching her head and wincing to a great extent that, if she held her face that way any longer, it’d be stuck that way forever, Cordelia staggered as she tried to decipher the images flashing violently fast through her mind.

“The usual big scary rising up in a housing project in Topanga, and–” Cordelia stopped herself, her mind shifting thoughts quickly as she looked around. “Why is it that I’m not on the floor this time?”

It only took a minute for her to come to the conclusion that Angel was holding her. His strong, large hands placed on her hips and holding her steady, his grip immovable as he stood close to her, his chest pressed up against her back.

“I got you,” he whispered ambiguously into her ear as she slowly spun around to lock gazes with him. For a moment, she wanted to bring her hand to the bruises along his face and tease him for getting the shit beat out of him.

But that tendency to have a friendly bicker with him was immediately squandered as her newly founded instincts told her to remain strong in her anger towards him.

The innocent look on his bruised face was enough to make Cordelia grin, but her resentment was resolute and unchangeable. She wasn’t going to give in faster than the rest of them.

Yet the flicker in his eyes, one of complete regret, pushed her to the edge, forcing her to, at least for the moment, allow him to be in their presence. Looking at Wesley and Gunn, she acted as nonchalant as possible with her suggestion. “Maybe he should drive?”

Wesley simply grinned, “Let’s go.”

Though Cordelia was the one to suggest he tag along, deep down she was scolding herself for letting such weak emotions getting in the way of her resentment towards Angel. He needs to face the consequences, not be immediately forgiven. What’s there to learn from that?

She nearly gagged when he stayed close to her, disgusted that her offer for him to drive seemed to result in him assuming they were all close-knit buddies again. When his hand absently reached the small of her back as they all moved to the doorway, guiding her out the door, she nearly lost all self-control as she roughly pushed him away.

“I don’t need you to hold me,” she growled, pointing at him with a threatening finger.

Angel nodded, only Cordelia Chase can make a mere finger threatening. “You’re right. I forgot that you could handle yourself.”

“You forgot a lot of things when you fired us,” Cordelia snapped back, ignoring the stares from Wesley and Gunn as they waited outside by the car. She shook her head as she walked out of the office, “And there’s a hell of a lot more shit I’ve learned and picked up since working alongside my friends and partners.”

Angel tried to hide his pain at her bluntness, but couldn’t help but be surprised. Cordelia wasn’t one to hide her emotions everyday. If she were pissed, she’d tell you. And right then and there as they all piled into Angel’s car, she was way past being pissed with him.

* * *

Only the moonlight served as a way to make the housing development visible for Cordelia, Gunn and Wesley who unfortunately didn’t have heightened senses that adjusted to the darkness like Angel.

But even their bad sight didn’t seem to worry them as they watched Angel struggle with the burly, hardened demon.

Slamming against the concrete wall, Angel grunted but immediately buried the throbbing pain at the back of his head as he firmed his grip on the sword in his hand.

Approaching the big demon, 7 feet in height with saliva and sharp claws at its disposal, Angel tried to remain as quiet as possible. But his stealth seemed to bore the demon that ultimately turned its attention to Wesley, who stood helpless with a mere crossbow while leaning on his crane.

In one quick swipe with its large claw-filled appendage, the demon sent Wesley up into the air, eventually crashing on the other side of the Plymouth.

Cordelia and Gunn, though worried for their friend, remained unwavering in their confidence during the battle, the blades they carried their only protection as they faced the large demon that now was speedily approaching them.

Angel, though, had other plans as he jumped up against the wall and kicked himself off of it, lunging onto the demon and clutching at its coarse, bumpy skin.

Struggling to get Angel off of its back, the demon swiped aimlessly and took out Gunn, slamming him into an unfinished concrete wall and knocking him unconscious.

Cordelia swallowed hard and bent her knees, shifting her weight to her back leg and raising her sword in preparation for attack. Once Angel was thrown off, disappearing into the dirt and dust, she confidently approached the demon, stabbing it near its thigh.

Struggling to his feet, Angel noticed Cordelia trying to handle the situation and went to her aid, yanking out a stray barbed wire that was stuck in his thigh as a result of his fall. “Use some tactics…it’ll help. This demon’s got no strategy.”

“I can handle myself,” Cordelia snapped back at him, never once breaking her locked gaze on the demon as she ducked under its continuous swipes.

“Maybe we should fight like a team,” Angel suggested moving beside her and avoiding the swipes as well. “It might be easier to get rid of the demon if we-”

Cordelia, distracted by her frustration and anger with Angel, dropped her sword and turned to face him with a completely dangerous look on her face. Placing her hands on her hips, she firmed her jaw and spoke through gritted teeth. “You aren’t a part of my team. We stopped being partners a long time-”

Her anger-fueled discourse was cut short when one of the demons claws slashed through her top and slashed her skin deeply.

Clutching her abdomen, Cordelia groaned as she fell to her knees.

Angel kneeled beside her, his choice to make sure Cordelia was all right allowing the demon to get away. “You okay?”

“I’m fine!” She winced as she stood up. But a moment passed and she swooned, nearly blacking out as she unwillingly fell into Angel’s waiting arms.

Wrapping her arm around his neck, Angel turned and moved to the Plymouth, not once rushing Cordelia or forcing her to move any faster than she could manage.

Opening the door, Angel helped her inside the car. Once she was seated, he gave her a nod before kneeling down and picking up Wesley.

His motions were quick and fueled by his desire to help his friends, the exact friends he had abandoned months ago.

Whether subconsciously he was doing this just to prove to them he could be depended on or if Angel sincerely just wanted to help his friends, it didn’t matter.

The vampire was helping them and it was enough to keep him going as he ran to Gunn and moved him to the car.

Cordelia gave him a look as he turned on the engine and started to drive away, and not it didn’t take too long before she went out like a light, slumping over onto Angel’s shoulder. He didn’t mind, though, as he pressed the gas pedal as far down as he could and drove his friends to safety.

* * *

Angel paced in Cordelia’s living room as he scratched his head in thought. He was losing his patience and he was losing it fast. “We should get a shaman or something to help Cordelia. She’s getting pretty bad in there.”

“I haven’t yet had time to research the demon fully,” Wesley informed Angel calmly, removing his glasses and letting out a profound sigh. His side still ached from being thrown twenty feet by a strong, dangerous demon and it didn’t help that his gunshot wound hadn’t healed yet.

“She’s experiencing pretty bad symptoms, Wes.” Angel stopped pacing for a moment to glance at the closed door leading to Cordelia’s room. A moment of silence passed and he returned to pacing, ignoring the new objects and furniture placed in her apartment.

When they’d first arrived, he’d taken enormous notice of the changes in her home.

The different scent intermingling with the ever-eternal aroma of Cordelia, the new lamps, the different silverware and a few new magazines…he noted everything that had changed, everything he’d missed while seeking to destroy Wolfram and Hart in the past few months.

But now his worry for Cordelia was what was on his mind and it was going to stay there, it was going to be his top priority until she was fine and back to her sarcastic, tactless self. “She’s sweating profusely…and she’ll be having hallucinations. It’s like malaria but worse. She’ll need painkillers.”

Wesley shook his head, “I know all of this, Angel. I’ve already sent Gunn, who by the way has an extreme migraine thanks to the demon that has put Cordy in danger, to get some morphine from the office. We’re all trying here.”

Angel shook his head, opening his mouth to say something. But Wesley stopped him before he could start another rant. “Maybe you should go check in on her. Make sure she’s comfortable.”

“Do you, like, have a supply of Morphine?” Angel asked curiously, the slight casualness Wesley displayed when speaking of the painkiller catching his attention.

“With my gunshot wound and the demons we face, we’ve come to need it.” Wesley put his glassed back on and returned his attention to the tome before him. “Going to the hospital with injuries caused by demons could bring suspicion.”

Angel shook his head slightly, “With all the injuries…you shouldn’t rely on Morphine. You should always go to a hospital just in case of you get any medically-curable diseases or infections.”

“Cordelia, Gunn and I are a team. We make decisions together. It was our decision to do things this way…” Wesley explained quietly, not once looking up. “Besides, I did stay in the hospital when I was shot…”

* * *

Her pillow was drenched in sweat, and her eyes were barely focused as her shallow breathing continued to prove difficult to keep steady. Cordelia tried to swallow but her throat seemed swollen and her tongue seemed too dry as if every bit of saliva in her mouth had evaporated in the overly-warm environment of her mouth.

Feeling as though it weighed a thousand pounds, Cordelia had rightly concluded she wasn’t going to be able to move her head anytime soon, or her other limbs for that matter.

But compared to how I will be later, which will be worse, no doubt about it…I’m doing just dandy.She wished she had someone to talk to, someone to admit her pain and worry to. But when she heard the door open and, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Angel enter, her heart sank.

I can’t deal with this, she inwardly groaned. “Leave,” she ordered him just as he began to close the door.

Angel considered her command, but refused to give in. He was going to be there for her even if she didn’t want him to be. Approaching her bed, Angel raised the fresh glass of ice water so that she could see. “I brought you some water.”

“Not thirsty,” she lied. Don’t forgive him. He needs to work for your forgiveness. “Been so long…don’t know if it’s safe to drink anything you offer me.”

Holding back a wince, Angel tried not to show how hurt he was by her comment. “No matter how far down the road I was,” he said to her, his voice husky and quiet. “I would never hurt you.”

“The other night you seemed to be awfully close,” Cordelia reminded him, her eyes glancing up at him as he stood close to her bedside, holding the glass of water and looking guilty at the reminder.

She was right about him being awfully close. He’d been in a bad place for so long that the line between what was right and what was completely and utterly wrong had been made blurry.

Sure, he’d fired them and ignored them, left them jobless and abandoned them…but he hadn’t hurt them. Not yet.

And when he needed a book, his desperation escalating to a point that was beyond control, he was extremely close to hurting Cordelia just to get to it.

He nearly hurt his friend for a stupid book.

Seeing no excuse to get his way out of the hole he’d dug himself into, Angel’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Do you just want me to leave?”

The way he asked it made him sound so helpless, so innocent and confused, not knowing what to do and Cordelia almost felt bad for him. “I think I made it clear when I told you to leave when you first came in here.”

Angel just nodded, placing the glass of water on her bedside table and backing away.

Cordelia glimpsed an image of him with such distress on his face that her heart nearly ached for him, that she close to feeling guilty about being so distant.

But she didn’t say anything as he opened and closed the door, doing exactly what she had told him to do.

* * *

A half an hour later, the door closed softly and Gunn quietly shook his head. “She didn’t take the Morphine.”

Letting out a long breath, Gunn walked over to the kitchen counter and placed the bottle on the counter. Sitting down on the stool he spun around to face Wesley. “Can’t say I’m too surprised, though.”

Angel, who stood in the dark corner, leaning against the wall, nodded in agreement. “Neither am I.”

Gunn snorted, shaking his head as if disgusted. “You must be pretty damn confident to think you know anything about Cordelia.”

Angel remained unfazed though, his face showing no emotions unlike if Cordelia had said the same to him. “Even if I fired you, I never stopped thinking about you guys. I worried about you sometimes. I considered hiring you back until I realized you handled yourselves better than you ever did under my command.”

“Damn right about that,” Gunn looked at Angel with a hardened expression, hoping to guilt the vampire even more than ever.

But Angel continued to remain impassive, even though it was plain to see his words were sincere. “I realized a lot,” Angel sustained. “Realized I needed you more than I thought, more than I could admit. I want your forgiveness and I want to earn it, it’s why I came back. That, and I missed being with friends.”

Wesley, seated at the dining room table, nodded as he accepted Angel’s explanation. “While Gunn and I are more lenient in accepting you back, Cordelia isn’t. She’s far from that, to be honest.”

“I know,” Angel pushed himself from the wall and entered the dim dining room light, his pale features illuminated and his compassionate eyes now visible to Gunn and Wesley; proving to them he was sincere in his attempt for forgiveness and his unwillingness to give up. “I knew Cordelia would be the hardest, and I prefer it that way. Since I’ve known her the longest. Nearly as long as Buffy. I’m trying as hard as I can. It’s only a matter of time.”

* * *

Soaking the washcloth in cool water, making sure it was cold enough to contrast to Cordelia’s burning skin yet not too cold to disturb the slumbering woman; Angel licked his lips as he wrung the washcloth to get any excess water out of it.

Placing it gently on Cordelia’s forehead, Angel let his hand drift along her cheek, taking comfort in her soft, albeit feverish, skin. She’d always brought warmth to him and anyone else in the same room as her and it was one of the many things he missed.

She was a unique woman and if there was anyone he’d want to work day to day with, it was her.

Yet seeing her go through so much pain and struggle to such a great extent…it wasn’t something he liked to witness. It wasn’t what he came back to see, to behold. What he came back for was to protect Cordelia, to watch her grow, to live, to lead a happy life outside of and even perhaps at work.

She was the perfect example of a woman who had grown so much that if she were compared to her teenager persona, you’d be amazed that they were even remotely related. Cordelia Chase was the exemplar of stubbornness mixed with love, compassion and a sharp tongue. She was more of a champion than Angel, than Buffy and everyone else combined.

Cordelia chose the life she was living. Sure, the visions were bestowed upon her, but she didn’t have to have them. There was no prophecy foretelling her part in the coming battles and apocalypses, saying that she was a destined Champion who protected all that was pure and good.

Cordelia was given lemons so she made lemonade. She is who I look up to, no matter how much I hate to admit it.

Suddenly, she stirred against his touch, his cold hands so dissimilar to her scorching hot skin that it awoke her even from the deep slumber she was in. Her eyes were unfocused but she saw Angel, her eyes immediately moving across the chiseled features of his pale visage.

Her hand rose slowly, as if it weighed a ton, to his cheek as she traced the place where his bruises once were but now faded away. There was still a slight sign of them, but her blurry vision kept her from seeing them. “You healed…”

Angel nodded, a half-smile forming on his face as he brought his hand to hold hers up to his face. “Yeah…I did.”

But a moment passed and Cordelia realized just how nice she had been to him. Concluding that she was in some sort of delirium when waking up, she yanked her hand away. “Tough luck for me, I was hoping to see your face screwed up like it was for at least another few days.”

Thwarted that the moment he shared with his friend was cut short so soon, Angel pushed himself from the bed and moved to leave. But his ears twitched and caught the slight quickness and urgency of Cordelia’s next intake of breath.

Turning around, he saw immediately that she was struggling not to show that she was in pain and having trouble breathing. Angel knew though as he returned to her side, seeing the pain evident in her eyes even if she tried to hide it.

“You’re strong, Cordy.” Angel cupped her face with his strong hand and looked her in the eyes as he reassured her, “But you’re allowed to show the pain. Just…don’t hide it. Let it all out.”

She shook her head and tried to say no but instead she started to cough violently, so much that Angel was, for the first time that night, afraid beyond anything else.

* * *

“The demon we found is referred to as a Kaole Demon,” Wesley explained as his eyes scanned the page that explained the demon’s attributes. “It has infectious claws and such…the only cure for a bite or scratch is the Kaole Demon’s blood.”

Angel immediately perked up and headed to the door, “I’ll get the damn blood and I’ll bring back the head of the demon too. Damn thing doesn’t deserve to go on living after what it’s done to Cordy.”

“And to prevent it from hurting others…”

Angel remained silent as he paused, apparently mightily focused on the ‘killing of the demon that hurt Cordy’ part of his plan.

Yet Wesley squandered his plan before the vampire even reached the door. “You can’t find it.”

“What?” Angel and Gunn said in unison, obviously confused.

“The demon goes into hibernation after fights like the one we had with it,” Wesley explained, sighing and leaning back into his chair, exhausted. “Hibernation is held in a sanctuary of some sort where their scent is untraceable by vampires and demons alike.”

Angel slammed his fist against the wall, “Then we should get a damn shaman then! Or a warlock or witch of some sort. We can’t just sit around and let Cordelia lie in that bed. She’ll have experienced so much pain that she’ll be traumatized for life.”

Wesley looked up at Angel with a dire expression crossing his face. “Trauma is not the worst that can happen. If we don’t get a cure for her in the next twenty-four hours, she’ll die.”

* * *

As the door closed softly, so softly that it was barely even audible to Angel’s heightened hearing, Angel edged into the room, his eyes locking with Cordelia’s motionless body.

It only took a moment as he approached to realize she was crying softly to herself, as if hoping to relieve some of the pain and torment she was going through. But when she realized his presence, she immediately sucked it up and stopped crying.

Attempting to lift her hand to wipe away the tears before Angel could see them, Cordelia nearly broke down in tears once again as she discovered that she couldn’t move her hand without drowning herself in pain.

Angel, pulling up a chair right by the bed, grabbed a tissue from her bedside table and gingerly wiped the tears from her cheek. His eyes flickered with such emotion as he just sat in the chair and watched Cordelia, knowing that she was going through pain that no human, especially not her, should ever have to go through.

Cordelia did catch a glimpse of that unending emotion in his attractively dark eyes, but attempted to hide her own emotions, not necessarily succeeding.

All of a sudden, a crimson liquid slowly trickled from her nose and down her face. Angel right away confirmed it was blood, the unique scent disturbing him. Cordelia had never bled profusely in front of him and the blood that was coming from her nose was quite a lot.

Bringing a tissue up to her nose, Angel held it there for as long as he could before it was too full of the blood to be usable anymore. Grabbing more tissues, he tried again to stop it, but the infection from the demon seemed to be taking a more painfully visible effect on Cordelia.

The scent of blood grew stronger and he came to the sudden realization that she was blood was coming from her fingernails and staining the sheets around her hands.

“Is it getting bad?” she asked him. And for the first time, she wasn’t angry with him as she spoke, there was no bitterness…only acceptance. Perhaps acceptance of what was happening to her, or acceptance of Angel. He didn’t know and didn’t care, all that he hoped for was that she would make it through the ordeal.

Angel shook his head and started to lie to her, to reassure her she was going to be perfectly fine. But the thin line of trust she had in him at the moment was something he cherished and wasn’t willing to destroy, not so soon after he had unofficially gotten it. “If we don’t get the cure soon, you’re going to…you’re going to die.”

Surprisingly, Cordelia found enough strength to growl. “Maybe if you stopped whining like a little baby and got off your ass, you’d find the cure sooner.” As soon as she said it she realized she was being irrational as her eyes grew unfocused and she started to dazedly look off in the distance. She was on the verge of hallucinating if she didn’t hold on.

“Cordy,” Angel whispered her name, trying to get her attention as she started to mumble incoherent words.

After a moment, seeing no hope in trying to get her to focus, Angel leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. When he moved to get up, to leave and go consult with Wesley, she gasped his name in panic. “Angel! Don’t go!”

That was all it took for him to stop in his tracks and turn around. The sound of Cordelia helplessly pleading for him to stay with her was something he hadn’t heard before, even prior to him firing her. It pained him to let the idea of her being so powerless sink in.

“I can’t be alone,” she explained, her bloodshot eyes brimming with unshed tears. She was choking on her words, or on her spit…on something and she was having difficult time breathing. “I’m afraid.”

She started crying again, but what turned Angel’s stomach into knots was the sight of her tears red as blood and her teeth stained the same color. Blood was obviously seeping out of her internally, making the sight of her in pain even more calamitous.

Though he never figured it was possible to cry tears of blood, Angel brought his hand to her face and wiped away the tears, hiding his shock at what he was seeing. A few minutes later she started to convulse violently, choking on her own saliva and blood and struggling to breath, her panic escalating to points beyond her control.

Angel was on the verge of losing control of his own emotions as well as he witnessed the woman he always viewed as strong fall apart. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he kept her as still as he could to keep her from injuring her neck as she convulsed intensely.

* * *

Wesley felt a presence in the room and looked over to Angel, who was eerily quiet and obviously disturbed. Specks of blood scattered across Angel’s pale neck and smeared across his face, his eyes brimming with tears as a result of what he had just witnessed.

“We need to get the shaman…,” he whispered ambiguously, his voice filled with emotion.

Gunn, still shocked by the blood all over Angel’s face, collected himself enough answer the vampire. “He’s already on his way…if he finds the location before he gets here, he’ll call.”

Angel glanced down at his hands that were shaking and covered in blood before nodding and slowly turning to go back into Cordelia’s room, leaving Wesley and Gunn disturbed in his wake.

* * *

“Angel,” Cordelia choked his name when she heard him enter the room.

“I’m back,” he assured her. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Shaking her head before Angel even finished, Cordelia said to him in a simple, matter-of-fact tone. “No, it’s not. I’m going to die, aren’t I?”

Angel sat down on the bed, placing his hand on hers. “You’re not going to die, Cordelia.”

Weakly shaking her head in disagreement, Cordelia took in a deep breath, soothing her nerves. “It’s okay. I knew it was inevitable…”

Angel remained silent as he watched her so calmly accept a fate that had yet to be officially dealt for her. Either she was extremely pessimistic or utterly courageous when facing her possible bereavement.

“Working at a job like the one I’m working…living the life I’m living. It was all one big sign that have I’d have a short, albeit eventful, life.” She seemed so resigned, as if hacking up 30 percent of her blood supply through her mouth and crying out another 20 percent from her eyes was enough to exhaust her for a lifetime.

His grip on her hand tightening for a moment, Angel leaned forward and looked at her with a passionate gaze. “You’re going to have a long life. You’re going to keep tricking me into signing those paid vacation slips and you’ll make so much money that you’ll be able to have the biggest and greatest wedding when you finally meet the guy you’re supposed to be with.”

Cordelia tried to hold together the strength she had left, but hearing Angel assure her like he was…she couldn’t help but shed a tear. Who knew it took a poisonous, life-threatening ailment to get him to speak so openly, so passionately.

“You’ll retire early in life and have amazing, beautiful kids and you’ll live a life that you can be proud of,” Angel continued, his voice so quiet that only she could hear him. “You deserve a life and I’ll give it to you. All you have to do is make it through this and not give up, alright?”

Swallowing hard, Cordelia tried to find strength in her voice, but ended up sounding weaker than ever as she spoke. “Do you mean it all? Will you hold to that promise?” She seemed so desperate for something to hold onto, to hold him to. As if making plans for the future was an anecdote that could help, that could give her strength.

Angel nodded, “You’re stronger than I can ever be, Cor. I need to see you everyday to remind myself what I’m fighting for, to give me a purpose in life. I need you.”

Cordelia let out a long breath, the first she’d been able to take in a long time. “I guess I do too…I just…I hated it when you fired me and I wanted so bad to hate you. But I…” she stopped, taking another breath, not so deep as the last as her emotions got the better of her. “I’ve seen Angelus and know what he’s like. But when you fired me I was more afraid of losing you than Angelus.”

“I’m here now and I’m staying,” Angel reminded her. “No matter what comes our way, I’m not going anywhere.”

Cordelia smiled at that weakly, still grasping his hand and not letting go.

* * *

Angel’s grip on the steering wheel was unrelenting as he pressed hard on the gas, forcing his Plymouth to the limits as it sped along the streets of L.A.

“It’s almost four,” Gunn yawned. “Sun won’t come up till about six or seven. We better hurry.”

His eyes set on the road ahead of him, Angel firmed his jaw and didn’t respond to Gunn.

Eyeing Angel and noticing the dangerous speed they were driving down the nearly empty road at, Gunn cleared his throat. “You really desperate to get this demon? To kill it.”

“It hurt Cordy.” Angel needed only one reason and that was more than enough for him to want to maim the demon.

“You didn’t really seem to care not that long ago,” Gunn reminded him coldly, letting the fresh memory of Angel’s abandonment fuel his words.

“I never stopped caring,” Angel growled. “Not about Cordelia. Not about any of you. I had priorities that turned out to be the wrong ones…I made a mistake and I’m trying to redeem myself. Trying to prove that you can depend on me and trust me.”

Gunn eyed Angel cautiously, “Is that what you’re doing now? Trying to prove yourself by saving Cordelia? Earning back our trust is the reason you’re so focused on saving Cordelia, isn’t it?”

“No,” Angel gritted through his clenched teeth. “Cordy’s enough of a reason for me to do anything. I’m doing this for her.”

* * *

“Yeah, we’ve found it,” Angel mumbled into the cell phone. “Thanks, Wes.”

Hanging up, Angel took in an unneeded breath to calm to his nerves. They were standing in a dark, damp alleyway leading to a filthy pub for demons, obviously housing a sanctuary somewhere below it. But before Angel and Gunn could move any further, out walked a group of vampires, three to be exact.

The bigger one, with biceps so large they ripped the sleeves of his shirt, smirked at the sight of Gunn and Angel. “Lookie here, guys. Got us something to distract us for a while.”

“I sure am bored,” growled the one behind him, licking his elongated fangs and hunching over, preparing to pounce into action.

It was as if they were animals. Rabid, hungry animals. Angel shook his head and prepared to teach them a lesson, only to have Gunn place his hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

“I’ll take care of these guys,” he looked at Angel, assuring him with his eyes that he could handle the situation. “You just get in there and take care of business.”

Nodding, Angel agreed. “Don’t come in after you finish these guys,” he added quickly. “I can’t risk getting you infected by the demon too.”

Gunn opened his mouth to argue, but Angel had already snuck past the vampires and into the pub, leaving him alone to fend for himself.

* * *

His grip on the bowl firm, Wesley held back a wince as he continued to watch Cordelia hack her own blood into it. The pain etched across her face as she gagged and choked on her own blood was a sight he hadn’t beheld in a while. Not since she had been confined to a hospital had she looked so helpless, so not in control of her own state of being. And Cordelia wasn’t one to not be in control; in fact, she hated it. Being powerless, crying, whining, they were all on her list of pet peeves. She wasn’t some whiny little crybuffy who ran to a strapping, broody man for protection, she was a fighter.

Finally, when she ceased coughing, Cordelia rested her head back on her blood and sweat-soaked pillow. Blood was coming from crevices of her chapped lips, out of the corner of her eyes and seeped out of her ears along her neck. Though she was sweating, it was obvious that Cordelia was dehydrated and her skin was close to peeling away.

Wesley swallowed hard and placed the bowl on her bedside table for the moment. Then, when she was silent, her eyes gazing at something off in the distance, Wesley made the mistake of asking her a stupid question. “You alright?”

She just gave him a look and he shook his head at his idiocy. “I have Morphine…I suggest you take it.”

Cordelia shook her head, refusing the kind offer to numb her pain for a few minutes. “I’m not going out of this world like a whiny little crybuffy who needs painkillers. I’m going out as a fighter and I’m not going to stop fighting until I croak or Angel gets back. Either way, I’ve kept my end of the deal. He better keep his.”

* * *

Angel grunted and winced when his head collided with the metal bars of the large bed, surprised at how badly he was losing in his fight against the Kaole demon. Though he was a vampire and a strong one at that, it seemed as if even his greatest strengths didn’t matter against such a large, bulky monster.

Though when he struggled to his feet, what surprised him more than anything was Gunn standing there, waiting for him with a long sword firmly grasped in his hands.

“I told you to stay outside,” Angel scolded him immediately, leaning down and grabbing the weapon that lay idle.

Gunn just shrugged, “Nothin’s keepin’ me from helping Cordy. And besides,” he turned to Angel, smirking in a sly way. “You aint my boss no more.”

Angel found himself smirking back, agreeing wholeheartedly. He wasn’t the boss anymore and as a result, he’d discovered how much Gunn had grown over the past few months. Both in his faithfulness to those he worked with and his fondness of Cordelia.

It was something he didn’t regret seeing as he and Gunn readied their weapons, prepared to fight for as long as it might take just to save Cordelia.

* * *

“I guess you’ve forgiven Angel, then?” Wesley surmised as he wiped the sweat from Cordelia’s brow carefully and tenderly.

If Cordelia’s cheeks hadn’t already been stained with her own blood, Wesley would have seen that she was blushing. “I care too much about him and know that he means well when he’s asking for our…my forgiveness.”

Wesley just nodded, understanding what she was saying yet utterly confused at the same time. When had she grown such a soft heart? Yesterday if she was asked to forgive Angel, she would have castrated us all.

Yet looking down at her, sweating and covered in her own blood, on the verge of her life ending, Wesley let out a long breath and accepted that the possibility of death could make anyone rethink themselves and how they’re acting. “I guess what I’m doing is holding onto the hope that, if I survive all of this, we can return to that.”

“I love Angel like the big brother he used to be to me before he fired me,” Cordelia whispered, her voice wavering.

“Why were you so stubborn before, then?” Wesley asked her. “I can understand your anger with him and trying to teach him a lesson, but if this is what you want…why not tell him? Why wait until now?”

Cordelia replied at length, trying to word her justification just right so that she didn’t come off as crazy, even though she was beginning to think she was. “Forgiving him so easily would be showing weakness. I’m not weak. I couldn’t allow myself to forgive him so easily because it would be kind of like saying ‘Hey there, broody boy. Do whatever the hell you like and we’ll be fine with it after a few minutes and an apology. Kill innocent people; fire us, hurt out feelings. Doesn’t matter, as long as you say you’re sorry.”

She took a deep breath before continuing. “He needed to and still does need to deal with the consequences. He either treads carefully or goes evil again.”

* * *

“Love the bruise,” Gunn laughed, slinging his arm over the door of the Plymouth casually and leaning back into his seat. Resting his foot on the dashboard, Gunn nodded to the shiner forming on Angel’s cheekbone. “It’s a nice trophy.”

Angel smiled a small smile glancing to the backseat where the head of the Kaole demon sat on a stick. “Not as good as that one…”

“You would’ve gotten worse if I hadn’t been there, too.”

“Thanks again, Gunn. For not doing what I said…you saved my neck but more importantly, you saved Cordelia’s…”

Gunn just nodded and leaned forward to turn on the radio.

Angel let his eyes drift across the nearly empty highway as they drove. It was nearing seven in the morning and the sun was close to rising. But he wasn’t worried. Even if he was burnt to a crisp, Gunn would still be there to take the vial of blood that was safely in his pocket to Cordelia and rid her of the ailment she was now experiencing.

But in letting his vision drift, he noticed that the car driving steadily along the highway next to him and the man driving it. Looking like a typical middle-aged guy with a potbelly, the man gawked at Angel, but more importantly, at the large demon head in his backseat.

Ignoring it for the moment, Angel returned his attention to the road ahead. But as moments passed he felt the man’s stare remain on him and, his patience running thin, Angel finally just let it all out and turned his head. “Watch the road, jackass!”

Only he discovered that after the man had seen the demon’s head he had sped up and drove away, and where his car was driving was now occupied by a mini-van full of toddlers who were gawking at him in a similar fashion.

Angel shrugged it off, embarrassed.

* * *

“It’s almost sunrise,” Wesley informed Angel as the vampire and Gunn entered Cordelia’s apartment as quietly as possible. “Thankfully you got back in time.”

“Wes…why would a van of kids be out on the highway at this time in the morning?” Angel asked, still confused by the irony of the situation he had put himself in.

“Probably commuting out of Los Angeles to a more rural-located school. Why?”

If Angel weren’t dead, he would have blushed. “No reason.”

“We should hurry, get rid of the whole thing before Cordy goes through any more pain,” Gunn suggested.

Angel pulled out the vial that contained the thick, purple blood of the Kaole demon, proud that he and Gunn managed to be successful in their first mission together in months.

“Just to inform you all of this, so there isn’t any confusion,” Wesley cleared his throat. “A side-affect of the cure is that she’ll have no physical, emotional or any kind of memory of this experience…”

Wesley’s voice drifted as his eyes moved to Angel, knowing what the vampire probably figured would happen. Cordelia would forget about Angel’s selfless attitude towards her, his caring devotion to making sure she was all right and the fact that she openly admitted to caring about him, that she needed him.

But Angel gripped the vile and buried the disappointment quickly. I’m more than willing to start over and earn back her trust. At least now I know that she really does, deep down, care for me.

* * *

Angel shrugged at Wesley’s subtle prodding to go speak with Cordelia, biting down on his tongue to keep from saying something overly inappropriate.

It had been about two or three days since he’d cured Cordelia. Making sure to change her sheets and wipe the blood and sweat from her face to prevent her from putting two and two together, he had put the vial up to her mouth and she willingly swallowed it, her eyes never leaving his.

But when she passed out as the blood stopped seeping, her skin softened and got its color back, he knew that he was in for the long run to earn that trust back, to get her to admit to him that she cared and needed him.

“Don’t,” she abruptly said without looking up at him, moving to grab a box.

Angel stopped in his tracks and just looked at her, trying to act innocent. “Don’t?”

Proving that she knew Angel better than anyone, Cordelia absently explained what she was talking about as she grabbed the box before her. “You’re going to try and make small talk. Get all stammery. Don’t. You might strain yourself.”

“I just wanted to know how you were. Are. I mean, we really haven’t had the chance…” he paused, seeing that the box was heavy by noticing Cordelia’s arms flexing and her muscles straining with the weight. But she remained impassive about it and didn’t say anything. “Here, let me get that.”

“It’s okay,” Cordelia refused, her anger just waiting to be tested.

“No, I’d be glad to…” Angel attempted to carry the box for her, but she roughly pulled away from him.

“I got it!” she snapped firmly and when Angel backed away, giving her what she wanted, she let out a long breath. “Okay, you want to know how I am?”

Angel didn’t nod, but it was evident in his dark eyes that he wanted nothing more than to know exactly that.

“Tired, mostly, with sweaty running in a close second,” she answered at length.

For a moment, Angel wondered if she was experiencing some side-affects from the cure but tapered it down to her moving all her stuff back into the hotel, where they had decided unofficially Angel Investigations would be held.

“I’m also jazzed, can’t wait to get our business up and sputtering again. Ready to help those helpless,” she exclaimed, telling to truth as a half-smile edged onto her face. But a moment passed and her face hardened, seriousness taking over. “But just so we understand each other…you and I?”

Angel tried to hold his anticipation at what she would say, a small part of him actually believing she would forgive him just like that. His hope was crushed though as she finished, “We’re not friends.”

Hiding his disappointment, Angel took a step back and just accepted what she said, somberly turning around.

Though filled from head to toe with discontent at what Cordelia had just said to him, Angel reassured himself everything was going to be alright. Because deep down, under the thick layer of stubbornness, Cordelia Chase needed Angel just as much as he needed her.

 


…THE END…


 

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