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Rescue

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Summary: Xander's desire to let go brings Cordelia back, and she knows just what he needs: a swift kick in the butt.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Romance > Cordelia/Xander(Past Donor)gleefulmusingsFR13541,1594712225,0649 Aug 1013 Aug 10Yes

Recriminations

Fred squeezed by Wesley and Gunn before skirting past the vampires and Lorne, ducking out of the hospital room and into the hall, watching as Cordelia impatiently tapped her foot before the bank of elevators. Where was she going?

Suddenly, she sensed a presence behind her and turned around to discover a bemused Lorne.

“You know exactly where the diva is headed, sweetness. If I were you, I’d follow. I don’t think this is a show you want to miss. I know I don't, but I'm stuck playing shepherd." He smirked. "Go have fun.”

Her eyes lighted with glee and she all but ran to the nearest elevator in hot pursuit, trusting Lorne and Gunn to hold down the fort and fill her in later, because she was sure he was right: she so did not want to miss this!

Lorne chuckled as the woman bounced onto another elevator, her grin both infectious and obscene. Fred really was a character. He tuned back in to the others.

“Rapist?,” Angel repeated, glaring menacingly at Spike, who, if possible, paled beyond that which the others thought him capable. “What the hell is Cordelia talking about, William?”

“He probably snuck in here while Cordy was unconscious,” a vicious Harmony sullenly remarked, pleased when she heard Angel begin to growl. “Or he attacked his precious Buffy.”

At that, Angel all but flew across the expanse separating him from Spike, grabbing him by the neck and throwing him so hard against the wall that the plaster cracked and gave way.

“Is that it, Spike?" He cocked his head. "See, I don’t think even you have the balls to go after Cordy in here, but Buffy? That makes a lot more sense.”

Spike sputtered, but offered no rebuttal.

“If I find out Harmony is right,” Angel snarled, “you’re going to wish you were still a ghost.”

With that, he released the other vampire and watched with satisfaction as Spike slid down the wall and collapsed to the floor in a heap.

Angel turned on his heel and looked at the others. “Where’s Fred?"

“She scampered off after the Fierce One,” Lorne chirped. He paused. “I think you should give Coma Girl a wide berth, Angelcakes,” he added in a low voice.

Angel snorted. “I just got her back, Lorne. I’m not losing her again.”

“So you’re gonna force her to stay against her will?,” Gunn asked.

The vampire halted in his stride. “No. No, of course not.”

No. He wasn’t going to take any more choices from her.

“I highly doubt Cordelia is finished with us,” Wesley stated, still trying to figure out the meaning behind her words against him, “but obviously she has a plan. The more you try to interfere with that, the greater the chance you will alienate her permanently.” He nodded to himself. “I think the best course of action is to wait and see what she wants to do.”

Angel sighed and slumped his shoulders, knowing the man was right. “So what now?”

“We go back to your office and wait for her," Gunn said. "She’ll come when she’s ready.”

“But how is she back?,” a confused Harmony asked. “The doctors all said she would never wake up.”

“It’s obvious that she has an agenda,” Wesley replied. “What we must determine is if it is her own or that of the Powers.”

Lorne snorted. “And when the hell has the Princess ever succumbed to the will of others?”

Angel sighed. “We’re all doomed."



* * * * *



Cordelia strode off the elevator, made a sharp right, and began strutting down the hall as if it were a catwalk. It was a great day not to be in a coma!

She watched as demons and underlings wisely steered clear of her path as she approached one of the corner offices. Errantly, she wondered if they knew who she was before deciding it was irrelevant. At least these losers were capable of recognizing their betters.

Of course, judging by where she was, anyone would be their betters. Except maybe Willow and/or Buffy.

She sailed past the harried secretary posted outside the suite.

“Miss, do you have an appointment?” After being ignored, the assistant became even more flustered. “Miss! You can’t go in there! You’ll have to wait!”

Cordelia threw a dazzling beam over her shoulder. “Oh, I’ve been waiting for this longer than you can possibly imagine.”

She threw open the door and barged inside.

Her target looked up from the desk and frowned. “I don’t know who you are, but I advise you to be a bit more professional and knock before entering someone’s office.”

She cocked her head and smiled. “I’ll be sure to in the future. After all, I’d hate to disturb a professional at work.” She peered down beneath the open foot of the desk. “Love the shoes.”

She raised her eyes to meet the woman’s gaze. “Hello Eve. I’m Cordelia. And you’re about to get your ass kicked.”



* * * * *



Fred discreetly hovered outside of the office door of the Liaison to the Senior Partners, covering her mouth with a hand and snickering.



* * * * *



Eve’s eyes widened at the same time her mouth became a desert and her tongue glued itself to her upper palate.

Cordelia smiled. “I see my reputation proceeds me.” She shook her head fondly. “Who am I kidding? Of course it does!”

The other woman suddenly averted her eyes and began straightening her desk, her mind desperately searching for something to say. This wasn’t supposed to have happened. Cordelia Chase was never intended to rise from her coma.

“How nice for Angel and his sycophants that you have rejoined the living.”

The Seer threw back her head and cackled. “You calling anyone a sycophant is funnier than Angel eking out his cover of ‘Mandy’. Listen up, whore, because have I got a memo for you.”

She walked forward, planted her hands on Eve’s desk, and bent down.

“The Higher Realms is a neat place, if a little boring, and there are all kinds of things to see, like you shedding your Ally McBeal suit and waving your pathetically small funbags in Angel’s face.”

She paused and frowned. “See, I’m not too mad at him, because whatever else he is, he’s a man, and you can’t expect them to act as anything other than the animals they are, but you? Honey, you already know you’re going to Hell, but there’s Hell, and then there’s special Hell.”

Annoyance began creeping past Eve’s fear. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re obviously deluded and overestimating your own importance.”

“Then why are you sweating?” Cordelia straightened her stance. “You’re human, right? At least biologically.” Her eyes narrowed. “I no longer am, and while I might not have the power of a souled vampire, I have more than enough to deal with you.” She snorted. “I can’t believe a slut is the best the Senior Partners could do. They really are slipping.”

“I would watch my mouth if I were you.”

“But you’re not," Cordelia instantly volleyed, "which is pretty much your whole problem. Aside from your big cow eyes and nappy hair, the only things you’ve got going for you are the space between your ears and the one between your legs. Now we all know what you can do with the latter, but why don’t you expend some effort and try thinking for once?”

She raised an eyebrow. “If the Senior Partners had any power over me, I’d already be dead. See, I’m beyond their reach, and it takes a lot more than Rosemary’s Baby to knock me down for the count.”

“What are you doing here?,” Eve flatly demanded.

“In a minute I’ll be kicking your ass, but first, a warning. Ever since I woke up, those helpful visions have been coming on full-force.”

Cordelia dropped to her haunches and stared into Eve’s eyes. “How’s Lindsey?,” she purred. “Still plucking that guitar? Hey, when you two were in bed, did he ever scream out Angel’s name? How does it feel to be nothing but a go-between? I guess some people are just destined to be forgotten.”

Eve’s eyes hooded as she tried in vain to blank her face.

“That sad thing is I think you really love him. Lindsey, I mean.” Cordelia sighed. “You know, there was a time when I honestly thought there might be something more to him than his smarmy smirks and his ability to hang a suit, but I was wrong. Maybe you’ll catch on or maybe you won’t. I really don’t care.” She leaned in. “But if you do love him, you’ll keep him far away from here.”

Eve jerked back and widened her eyes.

“Seer, remember? Those ugly tattoos of his won’t keep him safe much longer, and he’s never going to take down Angel. If I were you, and thank god for small favors that I’m not, I’d pack up my shit and get the hell out of town.” She rose to her feet. “Well, that was my good deed for the day. Now, about that ass kicking.”

She grabbed a corner of the desk and sent it flying into the nearest wall, surveying the result with satisfaction. “And that’s just not going to get old any time soon.”

She seized the opportunity afforded her by Eve’s confusion, and grabbed the woman by her collar, hauling her to her feet.

“I’d say it’s been fun, and it would almost be true, but I’ve got things to do.”

She drew back her fist and socked Eve right in the eye, knocking her unconscious. As she watched the bitch sink to the floor, she gave a sigh of contentment. “Nope. Definitely not going to get old.”

She spun on her heel and exited the office. “Let’s go, Fred. Hers was only the first name on my list.”

The physicist merrily skipped after the Seer.



* * * * *



Ten minutes later saw the Seer storming into Angel’s office, with not even so much as a dismissive glance in Harmony’s direction.

“Eve sends her regards,” Cordelia announced to the room.

Gunn and Wesley began snickering.

Angel blinked. “Is she still alive?”

She shrugged. “Hey, this place has a hospital. Why don’t you send her some flowers? I’m sure she’ll be touched to find you still care.”

“I don’t.”

“Oh, that’s good to know. So you only sleep with the people you don’t like." She tilted her head and considered that. "Well, I guess that does explain Darla.”

“Cordy…”

“Save it. There are more important things to discuss.” She looked at Spike. “Like what the hell you’re doing here. How’s that soul working out?”

She shook her head. “I’ve had my share of followers, but none as pathetic as you. Why do you keep sniffing after Angel’s leftovers? First Drusilla, then Buffy, then the soul, now this. Can’t you do anything on your own?” She smiled. “No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to be him, Spike. Of course, Dru taught you that years ago, and while it's no surprise you're slow, I hope it helps you to have confirmation.”

“You listen to me, you dizzy bint…”

“Shut the fuck up,” Gunn barked at the blond vampire who, surprisingly, did as he was told.

“I almost feel sorry for you,” she continued. “I saw the number Buffy played on you, but what you did to her?” She shook her head. “There’s no excuse.”

“You tried to rape Buffy,” Angel whispered at him.

“Are you going to stake him?,” Cordelia archly asked. “After all, when that happened, he didn’t have a soul.”

“You’re defending him?”

“Please. What I’m saying is that he’s paying in his own way, and his conscience is doling out more punishment than you ever could. That’s something you should understand.”

Memories of Angelus haunted him as he considered her words, knowing that he couldn’t afford to act rashly in this situation; he had, after all, done much worse things, also to people he had loved.

“As horrible as this is to say,” Cordelia added, “and as undeserving as she was for what happened, I’m glad it was her and not Dawn or Tara.” She frowned. “I suppose by then the Red Menace could have fought him off, but perhaps not as successfully as Buffy.” She cocked her head. “Anya was still a demon then; she would have killed him. Good for her.”

Wesley and Gunn curled their lips at Spike, who now found himself unable to make eye contact with anyone. Yes, he was paying, and knew he always would be, but he would give anything if he could just shut out from his mind the memory of Buffy’s screams.

“I'm surprised Willow suffered to him to live,” Wesley remarked.

“She doesn’t know,” Cordelia said. “The only ones who do are Dawn and Xander.”

Angel was incredulous. “And Xander didn’t kill him?”

“He probably would have,” she acknowledged, “but by the time he found Buffy on the bathroom floor, Spike had already high-tailed it out of Sunnydale.”

She left unsaid his vow of revenge on Buffy and of how he went to Africa, determined to find a way to have the chip removed. The fact that he was instead granted a soul was the ultimate gotcha. Sometimes, the Powers did know what they were doing, though she would never admit it. She had seen too many of her friends undeservedly burned by their caprice.

“It was only at Buffy’s insistence that Xander didn’t stake him when he returned, and let me tell you, the line for that was really long.” She sighed. “Whatever, it’s not our concern, no matter our feelings. Buffy forgave him, and that’s the end of it.”

“Do you know how they are?,” Spike whispered. “The Watcher won’t tell us.”

“Physically, they’re all fine. Emotionally? Not so much.”

“I am sure the destruction of the Hellmouth and their battle with the First left them…,” Wesley began.

“Sunnydale biting it is the least of their worries,” she interrupted. “Buffy and Faith are still arguing, arguing, arguing; Giles has sequestered himself in London; Willow flits back and forth between Rome and Rio with her new girlfriend, but is still mourning Tara; Buffy still hasn’t dealt with Joyce’s death; and Dawn is trying so hard to be an adult, she’s sacrificing what’s left of her childhood.”

“And Xander?,” Angel carefully asked, realizing she had skirted the issue.

She knitted her fingers together and looked down at her hands. “Losing the eye was bad enough, but…”

“He lost an eye? When?”

“Caleb,” Spike spat.

Angel furrowed his brow. “That preacher Buffy killed? But she didn’t say anything about him hurting Xander.”

“Because you would have tried to kill Caleb for her,” Cordelia said, “and she needed to do it herself. It was the only thing she could do for Xander.”

“That poor boy,” Wesley murmured. “This was never his fight.”

“It was never any of ours,” she interjected, “but we made the choices we made, and we long ago realized that there would be consequences.”

“There’s something more,” Angel hedged.

She pursed her lips. “He’s…not doing well. He goes back and forth between Africa, where he finds new Slayers, to London, where he delivers them to Giles, and Rome.” She angrily shook her head. “They just won’t leave him alone!” She began pacing. “Always sticking their noses into his business, never letting him live his own life, so convinced they know who he is and what he needs. Bullshit!”

And that’s when Angel realized that she had returned not for him, but for Xander.

“Where’s the demon bird in all this?,” Spike asked.

“Anya’s dead.”

He blinked and stepped back. “What?”

“She died in the school, saving the world, and not just protecting the chosen few with whom she was obsessed. That’s why Anya's a hero, and you’re a schmuck.”

He averted his eyes.

“You’re going to him,” Angel stated.

Her eyes flashed. “That’s right. I’m going to save the big jerk from himself, because the others sure as hell can’t do it.”

He eyed her. “You’ve got something up your sleeve.”

She widened her eyes and looked down at her bare arms. “Hello. Sleeveless.”

“You want him back.”

“I never let him go. Not really.”

Angel swallowed and nodded, thinking of Buffy. He understood all too well.

“I love you, Angel, and I always will, but there will never be anything more between us than friendship, and you know that.”

He set his jaw, nodded, and looked away. The others, including Spike, held their tongues, though they discreetly observed the couple.

“You came back for Xander,” Angel finally said.

She nodded. “I did. He’s my new mission. After I get you back on track, I’m leaving for Rome.”

“Back on track?”

“Cordy, you told Eve you’ve been having visions,” Fred anxiously interjected. “What did you see?”

Wesley and Lorne peered intently at the Seer, who shifted restlessly.

“Angel, we need to speak alone.”

He nodded tersely and prepared to shepherd the others from the room, but Wesley quickly vetoed that idea.

“If this concerns me, I’m not leaving.”

“Me neither,” Gunn added.

“Nor me,” Fred said, nodding.

"What they said," Lorne said.

Cordelia sighed and threw up her hands, knowing it was a lost cause. “Fine. Then you should probably sit down.”

Angel was the only one who did.

She eyed him. “Doyle was only the first.”

His eyes widened as his gaze roved over the others.

“I was supposed to be next."

“Then why weren’t you?,” Spike demanded.

“Shut up,” Angel snarled.

“Because there was something the Senior Partners didn’t see coming,” she replied, a small smirk playing on her lips before quickly dying, “but I can’t be sure that the rest of what I saw won’t still happen.”

“Which is what?,” Wesley asked.

Instead of answering, Cordelia turned to face Gunn. “You played right into their hands.”

She barreled ahead, despite his now waxy pallor, because this wasn’t the time for hand-holding. “Some legal fuck-up you’re supposed to make costs Fred her life.”

There was no way she was going to mention Illyria, because she was sure the Senior Partners were somehow listening, and she wasn’t going to give them the opportunity to step up their plan.

The other woman squeaked.

“What happens to her, you can’t even imagine.” Tears ringed her eyes. “Not just her life, but her soul. Blinked out as if it never even existed.”

Finally, Gunn took a seat, his disbelief belied by the truth of her words.

Cordelia sighed. “The aftermath won’t be pretty.”

She then looked to a shaken Wesley. “You stab him, before once again turning on Angel. In the end, though, you’re dead, too.”

She watched as he plopped down in a chair and then turned to Lorne. “You go back to Pylea after Angel forces you to kill Lindsey.”

Finally, she looked to Angel. “You get…Steven…back for a little while, but then the Senior Partners kick it into high gear.”

He set his jaw, desperately attempting to smother the hope that he might one day be reunited with Connor. He was unable even to posit compelling someone as gentle as Lorne into taking a life, even one as despicable as that belonging to Lindsey McDonald. “How?”

She rolled her eyes. “An apocalypse, duh, but the real thing this time. We’re talking capital A. The Circle of the Black Thorn.”

“Shit,” both Angel and Spike muttered, wincing.

“I didn’t see far enough to know if you two survive, but Gunn doesn’t.”

Well, not in any way he would appreciate, at any rate. But she so wasn't going to tell him about that. He'd kill himself there and then if he knew he might become a vampire.

She looked at the others, distressed to see the effect of her words, but refusing to betray any of her emotions. They needed to hear these things. They had been swimming in denial for far too long, when they should have been demanding answers.

“This would be so much easier if we weren’t here, if…things…weren’t affecting you.” She then glared at Angel.

“I believe you,” Fred whispered. “Ever since the things you said in the Infirmary, I can’t stop thinking about how wrong it is that I’m here, that something’s off about how easily we accepted the takeover.”

She looked at Gunn and Wesley, both of whom reluctantly nodded. They didn’t want to believe the picture Cordelia had just painted, but they knew that her visions were true portents, and they trusted her far more than they did Angel at the moment.

Cordelia looked at Lorne, who sadly shook his head. “I don’t need you to sing, darling. I can feel your pain from here. I know you’re telling the truth as you believe it.” He sighed. “The question is how to keep all this from happening.”

She turned back to Angel. “You’re required to stay here - it’s part of your contract - but I’m taking them with me.”

He dropped his eyes, shame rolling off of him in waves. “The contract has stipulations.”

She nodded. “I know, and I’m so sorry.”

He frowned and raised his gaze. “What do you mean?”

“I’m going to have to revoke that clause. We couldn’t save Doyle, Angel, but I have to save them, even if it’s at your expense.”

She shook her head as the tears which had been threatening ever since she had awoken finally spilled over. “I’m sorry,” she helplessly repeated.

She ignored his confusion and backed up a few steps until she could trap all of them in her gaze. She whispered words no one, not even the vampires, could detect.

And the spell broke.



* * * * *


Lorne was the first to buckle under the onslaught of memories assailing he, Fred, Gunn, and Wesley, his empathic abilities registering the screaming complexities of the deceit Angel had perpetrated against them.

He remembered everything about Connor: from his birth, to Wesley’s theft, to his return, of the horrible violation Cordelia had been forced to endure, and the untenable choice with which Angel had been faced. None of it, however, was an adequate excuse for the choice he had made and the danger he had coerced them into facing.

How could he have done this to them? Didn’t he know that they would have done anything for his son? That they would have done anything to spare Cordelia the heartache of what her life had become? Lorne wasn’t angry at the decision Angel had made for all of them; he was furious because he had not even been paid the courtesy of being consulted.

It was not memories of Connor which swirled about Wesley’s head, but the words Cordelia had leveled at him while in her hospital room.

His betrayal of Angel was an act which would haunt him until the end of his life, but he had made his choice and he alone should have to suffer the consequences. Instead, that one poor decision had contributed to the downfalls of everyone he loved.

Why hadn’t he gone to Cordelia with his suspicions of the prophecy? If anyone would have been able to unearth the truth and ferret through the subterfuge, it was she. How could he have denied her that chance, that right? Regardless of her feelings for Angel, Wesley had no doubt that Cordelia would have unquestioningly done anything to protect Connor. How could he have taken it upon himself to steal a child from loving parents without having – without demanding – all of the facts?

But how could Angel have done this to them? Cordelia had been correct: the existence of a person couldn’t be erased simply because another wished it so. Not only were he, Lorne, Fred, and Gunn deserving of the truth, but Connor and Cordelia were at the very least owed mourners, a chorus to witness their unwitting roles in this Greek tragedy of epic proportions, a horrifying amalgamation of Oedipus and Hippolytus: the return of the prodigal son, the figurative dethroning of the father, the attempts of patricide, and the taking of the mother as bride.

For all intents and purposes, Cordelia had been Connor’s mother, and he could not even imagine what her soul had been forced to witness, what it now had to bear, because he had been hasty, so sure in his moral indignation. Wolfram and Hart – dear God, how could be working for them? – may have instigated this atrocity by raising Darla, by bringing back Holtz, by employing Sahjin, and by turning the firm over to Angel, but he himself had been their accomplice, unwitting or not.

His theft of Connor had opened the door to Skip and Jasmine; he had all but raped Cordelia himself.

As if reading his mind, Cordelia shook her head. “No. Of all the things I blame you for, that’s not one of them.”

Pain blazed in his eyes as he fell to his knees, his head dropping and slamming into his chest, tears pouring down his face. Her words, though welcomed, did little to assuage his guilt for his part in her assault. She more than anyone, more than Angel or even Connor, had been completely innocent, yet she had suffered the most, paying for sins in which she bore no culpability.

Gunn saw nothing but red, anger coursing though his veins and singing a war cry which demanded attention and recompense, matched only by the wailing dirge of self-recrimination rising to meet it. Yes, Angel and Wesley had been so stupid, he could have killed them and borne no guilt, but were his own actions any more excusable? Who had he become? Moreover, who had he allowed himself to become?

Cordelia’s question returned to haunt him: what would Alonna think of him now?

He was fearful of the answer; even though he no longer knew nor understood who he was, he knew shame. How had he strayed so far from his self-appointed path? When had he decided that it was acceptable to become part of the problem instead of the solution? He had survived one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Los Angeles, the predators both human and other; he had organized his people to strike against those who hunted them; he had dedicated his life to eradicating the evil that plagued his city. What use was it now? He had sold out, and for what? No good reason he could discern.

Angel was helpless to consider anything but his friends, the scent of their rage and guilt causing both his soul and demon to recoil and retreat, leaving him an empty husk. Only now did he recognize that feeling was nothing new; he had been experiencing it for months now, almost a year really, and he realized that it was predicated by Cordelia’s absence.

He did need her to keep him on track, to make him remember what he was fighting and why he railed against it. Suddenly, he understood Buffy and Xander’s relationship in a way he had never considered, and regretted every slur against their bond. All of that time, all of the fighting, all of the hateful words, and it was based in something so common as envy.

Regardless of Xander’s personal feelings, Angel’s relationship with Buffy must have appeared as noxious to the boy as his own with Darla had to Cordelia. It was no mystery that Xander and Cordelia had been drawn to each other; in all of the ways which counted, they were far more alike than different: each was the Heart of their family, and each had been broken far more than that which anyone should have to endure.

Angel’s ruminations successfully provided the distraction Fred needed, and she seized the opportunity to launch herself at the vampire, fists and words flying, even as tears of rage scalded her eyes. In this moment, there was no one and nothing she hated more than this creature. How had she blinded herself to what he was, to the treachery of which he was capable?

His demon had always been incidental as far as she was concerned – she understood Angelus, but considered him Other – but never had Angel’s humanity seemed more circumspect than at this moment. As outraged as she was on behalf of Connor and Cordelia, as angry as she was for Wesley’s betrayal and Gunn’s choices of late, she felt so deeply a personal violation, it left her breathless; if possible, she would have peeled off her skin just to feel clean.

“You asshole!”

For some reason he would never be able to explain, Spike felt compelled to defend Angel, but he was summarily surrounded by the other three men, and while he knew he could make short work of them, Cordelia was another matter entirely.

He remembered with vivid clarity how she had casually thrown Angel across her hospital room as if he were a rag doll. Perhaps it was only because she had surprised the other vampire, but Spike wasn’t willing to take the chance; the bint was half-demon, after all. He was sure that, somewhere, Anya was laughing her ass off at him, and it almost made him smile. It was also painfully obvious how much Cordelia loved Angel, no matter how angry she was at him, and he felt vaguely resentful.

Angel welcomed every blow and condemnation, knowing that Fred’s wrath was justified and he wondered how the hell he ever thought he would get away with this. She was just as blameless as Cordelia and Connor, yet he hadn’t given a second thought to taking her will from her, convinced in his belief that he knew best and the decision would be the right one for all involved. He was galled by his own hubris, and it was painful to consider that Cordelia had been lingering in the Higher Realms, forced to bear witness to his ever-evolving stupidity and helpless to stop it. No wonder she woke up pissed; he was just surprised she hadn’t staked him on sight.

“That’s enough, Fred,” Cordelia said.

All of the fight fled the other woman, and she pushed back from Angel and stalked away, but not before whirling on her heel to face him once more and cracking him sharply across the face, so hard it jarred his teeth. Strangely, he was grateful.

Fred returned to Cordelia’s side. “What about Connor? Will he remember now?”

“No,” she immediately replied, if only to reassure Angel. “The only ones who know are us and the Senior Partners.” She frowned. “Possibly Eve.” She sighed. “Which means that Lindsey might find out.”

Gunn snorted. “He can’t do anything.”

“Don’t underestimate him,” Cordelia warned, “although at this point I think he’s more concerned with Eve than anything. If we can get her out of here safely, it should neutralize him.” She shrugged. “If they can outrun the Senior Partners, I say let them.”

“You think he’ll give up that easily?,” Spike asked. “He’s out for blood.”

“I’ll take care of him.”

“You’ll have to find him first.”

“I know where he is,” she smiled, “and he and I are going to have a nice little chat about impersonating my dead friend.”

Spike would gladly pay to see that and said as much.

“If you want to come with, fine. After all, he snowed you, so you have to right to be pissed. But no killing.”

He mumbled under his breath but nodded his acceptance of her condition.

“I want out of here,” Fred declared. “I never want to set foot in this place again.” She turned her back to Angel. “I can’t even look at him. I don’t even want to hear his voice.”

“It’s okay, hon,” Cordelia soothed. She turned to the others. “Why don’t you wait outside for a minute, and let me talk to Angel.”

Gunn threw a venomous look at the vampire before grabbing Fred and storming from the office. Wesley appeared miserable, blanketed in a shroud of his own pain, but he too said nothing to Angel before departing. There was much Lorne wanted to say; he could feel all of their anger and pain, but he also felt the weight of the guilt both Angel and Wesley were experiencing, and he knew he had no words which could either alleviate or further propagate their anguish; he, too, left.

“Now, Spike,” Cordelia reminded him.

He was torn. He wanted to see her rip Angel to shreds, but he also felt that damnable need to defend, or at least protect, him. Seriously, what was that about? Shaking his head, he stalked out of the room.

She took a deep breath. “There are things I need to say, and you need to listen to them.”

Defeated, he nodded, still unable to look at her.

“Eyes front, Angel.”

Swallowing, he raised his gaze to her and waited.

“You’ve really fucked up here, but I understand why you did what you did.”

He set his jaw and ignored the tears which spilled down his face.

“I know you were just trying to protect me and Connor,” she continued, “but this isn’t something that can be blinked away.”

She knitted her fingers together to refrain from tugging at her hair, a childish impulse she hadn’t experienced since sixth grade.

“I was raped, Angel. My body, my mind, my soul.” Her breath hitched. “It was rape; over, and over, and over again. I can still feel her inside of me, even though I know she’s gone. There are holes, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fill them.”

She held up her hand to stall the interruption she felt coming. “Shut up and listen. You owe me that much.”

He nodded, and she inhaled sharply.

“I don’t blame you for Jasmine or Skip or any of that.” The look in his eyes made it apparent that he didn’t believe her, but there was nothing she could do about that; it was a realization he would have to reach on his own. “What I blame you for is not knowing.”

She threw up her hands and began pacing. “How could you not know? Out of all of them, you were the one I was counting on to recognize that she wasn’t me. She wasn’t even a good actress! Her look, her walk, her speech. None of it was mine.” She slammed her hands down on his desk. “How could you not know?!”

“Because I didn’t want to.”

The immediacy of his reply wasn’t what surprised her; what did was that he had an answer at all.

“What does that mean?”

He fidgeted. “I was just so grateful to have you back, I didn’t care.” He ducked his head. “Of course I saw the differences, but I let myself think it was because of your Ascension, or that the demon part of you was asserting itself. I didn’t…I didn’t care. All I knew was that I had you back, and that was all that mattered.”

“You’re lying.”

He was startled. “I’m not.”

“I watched you, watching Connor and…and her.” She angrily shook her head. “Denial isn’t going to cut it here, vampire. You damned well know that there is no way in hell that I ever would have taken to bed the boy I thought of as my son. Not even you’re that stupid. You were jealous, and you were hurt, and you let those emotions run roughshod over what you knew to be true.”

He had no defense. She was right, even if he had never before considered his actions in that light.

“What else did you see?,” he quietly asked.

“Everything,” she whispered, her voice haunted. “I watched Connor try to kill you; I watched him fall in love with what passed for me.” She bit her lip and choked back a sob. “You have no idea what it was like to watch that, to see my baby looking at me with lust in his eyes.”

She shook her head. “Of all the evil I’ve seen, of all the evil I’ve fought, that was the most heinous perversion of innocence I’ll ever know. That thing raped him as much as it did me. Denying him his memories doesn’t change what happened. Don’t you get that? Magic doesn’t erase biology. The firm is winning, Angel. They’ve deterred you from your mission, you’ve compromised your own redemption, you’ve sacrificed all of us to protect Connor, but what happens when this deal no longer suits the Senior Partners?

"Hello! This was all engineered, and once they’re done with you, who do you think they’re going to go after?”

Insight crashed into him.

She nodded. “They want Connor as much as they want you. They’re the ones who brought about the prophecy to begin with! They're the ones who brought back Darla. They wanted him to be born. Why? Once you’re gone, who’s going to protect him then? They’ll renege the spell, he’ll lose his mind, and then he’ll be theirs. And you’re the one who will have done that to him.”

His mind whirled with the possibilities she had raised. No, probabilities.

How could he have been so blind? How could he have allowed his desperation to get the better of him? Everything he had done had been for his son, but in the end, he was the one to place Connor in the crosshairs.

Cordelia scowled. “Maybe you thought I’d never wake up and that you wouldn’t have to deal with me or with reality, but I’m here, and I’m pissed, and there’s no getting around it. I can feel Lilah’s blood on my hands, Angel.”

He flinched. “It wasn’t you.”

“That doesn’t matter," she snapped. "It was my body; it was my hand that killed her. I have to live with that. I have to live with those memories. And as much as I hated her, and as much she probably deserved to die, I don’t deserve to bear the responsibility.”

“You don’t deserve any of this.”

“Tell me something I don’t know!,” she screamed. “Let’s talk about who doesn’t deserve things, okay? Connor doesn’t deserve having his mind raped again to quell your own guilt. Fred and Gunn didn’t deserve you cheapening their belief in you so that you could keep them at your side. Did taking Wesley’s memories change how betrayed you feel for what he did?”

She resumed her pacing. “Don’t you get it? You played right into the hands of the Senior Partners! They spent four years trying to corrupt you, and in the end, you did it to yourself! Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve sacrificed, you just threw away!”

“I didn’t know what else to do!”

“Bullshit! You couldn’t handle the part you played, what happened because of your own stupidity and inaction, and under the guise of ‘doing what’s best’, you compromised all of us! Who the fuck are you to make life and death decisions for us? What part of ‘team’ did you forget? We’re not your toadies, we’re your equals, and you seem to forget that all too often. Whether it’s firing us or bringing us here or whatever, haven’t you learned by now that you don’t know everything?”

“I was trying to protect all of you! I was trying to make sure that Connor would have the life he deserved! That you would get the help you need!”

She snorted. “And what the hell has Wolfram and Hart done for me, Angel? What have they even done since you put me in that room? Not a damn thing! If it were up to them, I never would have woken up!”

“Then how did you?”

Her eyes widened before hooding. “There are other forces at work here.”

“And somehow Xander figures into it.”

She gave a curt nod. “He does.”

“Why him?”

“And not you? Isn’t that what you really want to know?”

“You’re goddamned right! You couldn’t find your way back to me, but you could for him?”

She sneered. “Oh, yes, you were certainly thinking about me when you were screwing Eve into that couch. And let’s not forget about Gwen and Nina and god only knows who else.”

“It was solace,” he whispered.

“That’s what Anya told Xander after she slept with Spike. It’s a weak excuse at best.”

“You saw what was happening in Sunnydale?”

“Random much?,” she barked. “Yeah, I did, and by the way,” she rolled her eyes, “cookie dough?”

He was absurdly grateful he couldn’t blush.

“I watched her…relationship…with Spike, and let me tell you, they’re both freaks! Seriously, what kind of moron invites the vampire who tried to rape her into her home, with her little sister and all of those girls who weren’t even Slayers yet?! Hello!

"And I can’t even believe I’m about to stick up for Faith, but where do Buffy and Willow get off treating her like dirt? Willow tried to blow up the fucking world, and almost killed all of her friends in the process! She did kill two people. Sure, they were lowlifes, but still. I always knew she was off the beam.” She shook her head. “ I watched Tara die, and then Anya, and all of those Potentials who hadn’t the slightest clue what they were fighting.”

She clenched her fists. “And Caleb, that miserable piece of shit. Do you have any idea what it was like to watch the son of a bitch gouge out Xander’s eye with his thumb? You could ask Buffy and Spike. After all, they just stood there and watched it happen.”

Angel indulged in a bit of standing and watching himself as Cordelia worked herself more and more into a righteous furor.

He couldn’t blame her, unable to imagine the horrors and atrocities she had been forced to watch: the defiling of her body; the corruption of Connor; his own countless stupidities; her friends nothing but pawns in a battle which would most likely never be decided; the destruction of her hometown; the maiming of the first boy she had loved; the attempted violation of another girl who had once been an integral part of her life; the near destruction of the world at the hand of a girl she had known since childhood; the slaughter of others, whether known to her or not.

So, yeah, he figured she had the right to pitch a bitch fit like the world had never seen.

She surprised him, however, by reining herself in. “Look, everything I told you about the others is true. If they stay here, they’ll be picked off one by one, even going so far as to turn on each other in the process.”

“You never said what was to happen to Fred,” he observed.

“No, I never did, and I won’t. You know the Senior Partners are listening, right? I don’t even know if they yet know what they have planned for her. Or are planning. Or will plan.” She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I’m not going to be the one to put ideas into their heads.”

He nodded. Her argument was sound. “Why Xander?”

“Are you still on that?,” she demanded. “Be honest with me about something, okay? Totally, seriously honest, and don’t spare my feelings, because I’d never do that for you.”

“Apparently.” He sighed. “Okay, brutal honesty.”

“If I hadn’t Ascended, if I had met you on the beach that night, if there was never a Jasmine or any of the rest of it, do you believe we would have been together all this time?”

“Yes.”

“And if Buffy had wanted you back? If she came to you and said that she finally understood what being with you involved and that she was ready to face all of it, ready to deal with Angelus and the possibilities? If Willow found a way to make your soul permanent and it would never be an issue again?”

His mouth fell open. He didn’t answer; he didn’t need to.

“That’s how I feel about him,” she whispered. “I love you, Angel. You know I do, and I always will, and I know that what you feel for me is completely different than what you feel for her, because of course we both know that there’s no woman who could ever compete with me, but I can’t and won’t let myself be used because what you really want isn’t available. I deserve more than that.”

She gently caressed his face. “And so do you.”

He opened his mouth to protest, and she held a finger to his parted lips. “Maybe I’m wrong and it could have worked then, but now?” She shook her head. “You’ll never be able to look at me and not see Connor, despite knowing that it was never me at all, and I love you too much to put you through that.”

He leaned his mouth toward hers, but at the last moment, she offered her cheek. As he kissed it, breathing in her scent and wondering how he had survived this long without it, she quietly said, “We need to leave now, before they can stop us.”

He repressed a sigh, knowing she was right, but held onto longer than necessary, trying to memorize the feeling of her body against it, committing to memory her every curve, mapping in his mind every freckle.

“I know.” He paused. “You’re never coming back, are you?”

Her arms went around his neck. “No. I’ll never come back to L.A., but this isn’t the end. When you finally figure out that there’s nothing here for you, come find me.”

“And he won’t be upset about that?”

“I don’t care if he is or not. No one tells me what to do, and no one picks my friends but me. He knows that.” She nestled her head in the crook of her neck. “I wish you could understand him like I do. You two have more in common than you ever realized.”

“Maybe that was the problem all along.”

She smiled. “Maybe it was.”

He cleared his throat. “We’ll go now, and you can brief me on the way.”

She nodded and headed for the door.

“What about Harmony?,” he suddenly asked.

She halted in her stride, her shoulders stiffening. “She’ll be fine.”

She wanted to add that no one cared enough about Harmony for the vampire to be an issue, but even she couldn’t be that tactless. Besides, the other girl would be a useful spy.

He hesitated a moment longer and then followed her out into the lobby.

“Well?,” Gunn barked.

“Cordy had a vision,” Angel smoothly began, after quietly instructing Harmony to summon Eve and send the woman to the garage. “Let’s suit up. It’s time Angel Investigations remembered its mission.”

The others, save Spike, searched his face, wondering what had been said, what had been decided, and if Angel was simply fronting for the Senior Partners, before deciding they didn’t care. Cordy’s return has precipitated one of their own, and it felt damned good to be back in the saddle. Maybe they could finally get something right.

“Where are we going?,” Wesley asked.

Angel looked to Cordelia, who grinned.

“To see an old friend,” she purred, “and to remind him that the dead should be allowed to rest in peace.”
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