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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)gleefulmusingsFR13541,1594712225,4659 Aug 1013 Aug 10Yes

First Steps

Title: Rescue
Author: xanzpet
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series, post-Chosen/Season Five, AU
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Pairing: Xander/Cordelia
Rating: FRT-13
Warning(s): Language, epic bitchery. Please refer to the Author's Notes for further warnings.
Distribution: Please ask first. Please do not screencap this story, save it to hard drives, exchange with others, or translate into other languages without written consent.
Feedback: Con-crit is valued; flamed are displayed and mocked.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lyrics, etc. are the property of their respective owners. Snippets of dialogue may be incorporated from the original canonical episode(s) and belong to their respective authors/creators. The original characters and plot are the property of the author(s). The author(s) is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended, nor should any be inferred. No profit is being made.

Summary: Xander’s desire to let go brings Cordelia back, and she knows just what he needs to get it together: a swift kick in the ass.

Author's Notes: Please forgive these notes, but I do believe they're necessary to anyone considering reading this story. It is, primarily, a Xander/Cordelia fiction, though they interact very little; in fact, Xander hardly makes an appearance. It takes place during the fifth season of Angel in lieu of "You're Welcome" (because it was just wrong for Cordy to go out like that), so this is basically how I would have liked to have seen Cordelia return.

Be forewarned: she is not nice in this story. She goes after everyone and doesn't hold back. In essence, she calls everyone out on their nonsense. Please know that I am not bashing the other characters; Cordy's arguments are carefully constructed to deal with how these characters act canonically. So if you feel this might bother you, please do not read this story and, if you do, please do not flame me, as I've been kind enough to provide considerable warning. I will also be taking liberties with Cordelia's powers as a half-demon and Higher Being, so if a superpowered!Cordelia is not your cup of tea, I certainly understand, and thank you for your interest! :)

* * * * *

They were talking about him again.

Even the overwhelming din of early-morning Rome – the melodious babble of the natives; the guttural demands of the English-speaking tourists, which he now found grating; the markets setting up for business – did little to cushion their onslaught of angry words and declarations of worry.

Didn’t they know he could hear them?

Perhaps it was telling that they no longer bothered to soften their voices.

It might have annoyed him more had he been able to bring himself to care. He found it vaguely amusing that they felt no compunction about debating what to do with him – with him, not for him – yet they never considered asking what he might want. Of course, he had been discouraging their particular brand of assistance for almost a year. He supposed that he should have been touched that they continued to fear for him, to worry and plan for him; instead, he found it suffocating.

Their biggest quibble was that he no longer laughed.

In truth, he had stopped laughing almost three years before, long before Sunnydale had been destroyed, before Caleb had taken his eye, before Giles had shown up on Buffy’s doorstep shepherding the first Potentials as if they were goslings, before the First, and even before Willow had channeled Freddy Krueger. They just hadn’t noticed.

He hadn’t laughed since before his aborted wedding to Anya. He had still quipped, had made corny jokes to soothe ruffled feathers, but he hadn’t laughed.

Ever since Buffy had died the second time, there just wasn’t much at which to laugh; perhaps even since before Joyce had died. There simply hadn’t been time. Dawn had needed so much; Giles had left; Willow had become tainted by her thirst for power; Tara leaving Willow caused the undercurrents in the gang to come swirling forth like rapids.

Xander had sided with the blond witch, and he knew Willow had never really forgiven him for the perceived betrayal. He too had believed that she was becoming consumed by the magic, and little of what had been his best friend remained; their relationship had never recovered. Band-aids had been applied, but sooner or later they’d have to be ripped away.

He had never wanted to resurrect Buffy, knowing on a fundamental level that it was wrong, unnatural.

He had let Willow convince him that Buffy was trapped in some hell dimension and needed rescue. His conscience had all but screamed its denials, insisting it was a fallacy, that Buffy was no more in hell than was Joyce. Willow had argued her case as if she had been presenting it to the Supreme Court, and he had allowed her carefully deliberate words to sway him; he had wanted his friend back.

In the end, his objections went unvoiced, and that was a decision he had made; he didn’t blame Willow and never had. He knew Tara and Anya had been just as ambivalent, but were waiting for him to argue their position. Now he realized that perhaps the reason he had kept his counsel was because he might possibly have won, and Buffy wouldn’t have been returned.

It was simply another bitter pill among many which he forced himself to choke down every single day. Some people took vitamins; Xander’s supplements were regrets.

He tuned back in to the voices, waiting to see what the morning would bring.

Buffy was demanding that someone go into his room and talk to him, make him see reason, make him take a shower and comb his hair and eat. There were important things to do and she needed him to help her. These arguments were old and tired. He noticed, however, that she didn’t volunteer herself as emissary.

Once, he had craved her reliance on him; now he found it loathsome. He was responsible for this, for making her needy and uncertain and dependent. All of the bravado she had donned in Sunnydale had evaporated in the wake of the deaths of Spike and Anya; she blamed herself particularly for Anya and, truthfully, he did as well, but certainly less than he blamed himself.

Buffy had made a bad call, but he had supported it, once again allowing the reasoning of others to run roughshod over his instincts, and Anya had paid for their mistake with her life. He and Buffy avoided each other each as possible, yet in some ways were closer than ever. She still had difficulty looking at him, the patch a reminder of yet another failure, another miscalculation. He didn’t blame her for the loss of his eye; he had saved Kennedy and he would do it again. The only thing he regretted about the whole thing was that he hadn’t been there when Buffy had played Cuisinart with Caleb. It must have been beautiful.

Willow wanted to bring in professional help, some nice man or woman who could get him to open and up and communicate with his inner child. Ever since Tara’s death, Willow had returned to the girl she had been in sophomore year: hesitant, unsure, going along to get along, looking to others for approval, and relying on the experience and wisdom of her elders. Anything to avoid making a declaration which might possibly come back to bite her in the ass. Her every thought was calculated and every word contrived.

He hated to see it, which was part of the reason he had sequestered himself in his bedroom these past three months, as well as avoiding her constant haranguing to allow her to fix his eye. He was about as anxious for Willow to work her mojo on him as he was to relieve Dawn of her virginity, which the younger girl had been trying to coerce him into doing for the past six months. Her argument that she was now eighteen made little difference to him; the whole idea bordered on incest, and made him throw up a little in his mouth whenever she brought it up.

Dawn, of course, was insisting that she be the one to come into his room, as if her demands for him to get up and live would somehow be better received. She warned the others that if any one them hurt her Xander, they would be made to pay in extremely painful and creative ways. He thought it funny that the others paid heed to her threat; not that it slowed them down much, not that her words wouldn’t eventually be disregarded, but it did give them pause. Somehow, little Dawnie had managed to surpass him in getting their friends to listen. He wasn’t sure if it was funny or sad; he didn’t really care.

As was usual of late, Faith spoke for him, declaring that if anyone went into his room, if anyone tried to push him around or hasten his mourning to placate their worry, they’d be dealing with her and her fist.

He didn’t know when he and Faith had become friends. They had barely spoken after she returned to Sunnydale, only shooting confused glances at one another when they thought the other wasn’t paying attention, except they always were. He never explicitly told Faith that he had forgiven her, but she had somehow come to realize it all the same. It wasn’t even difficult for him; he had forgiven others for a lot more. What was a little attempted murder between friends, after all?

Faith’s erotic asphyxiation had pretty much paled in comparison to Willow funneling the earth’s energy through his chest cavity. Buffy still had problems with Faith, and it was mutual, and he recognized they would never get along; he didn’t believe they were meant to work in tandem other than when absolutely necessary. Still, the animosity between the two Slayers had lessened somewhat, which could only be considered a good thing.

Willow continued to hold a grudge, which he thought was a little ridiculous, even though he understood her reasoning; he too tended to harbor revenge fantasies against those who had hurt his friends. Somehow it was always easier to forgive someone’s trespasses against you than it was to forgive those against ones whom you love. It was not a small consolation that Faith had eventually proven him right, though it took a long time.

She was a good person, she was a hero; it just took a coma and a vampire to convince her of that. He had forgiven her the moment he had learned she had turned herself into the authorities in Los Angeles all those years ago. He hoped she would soon realize that once she could forgive herself, she wouldn’t need the words from anyone else.

Giles was off in London, doing New Council stuff. He wanted Xander there with him, wanted him to be one of the new Watchers helping to guide new Slayers. It almost made him laugh that Giles now considered him the most responsible of the Scoobies. Maybe it was because he had never left, had never switched sides, had been there for it all. Giles thought a Council position was some grand reward for all of his sacrifices, but Xander just wanted out. He wanted his honorable discharge. He wanted to retire with a small pension and a log cabin in the middle of BFE where there were no phones, no demons, and no need to keep holy water by the gallon stashed beneath his sink.

It scared him how easy it would be for him to walk away, but he had done his time. Even in the immediate aftermath of Sunnydale's destruction, he had wanted to leave; he, like Andrew, had questioned why he was still alive. He had honestly expected to die long ago. That he had survived, that he had remained to bear witness for those whom he had lost, was more a punishment than a triumph. No one else understood that save Buffy, and he suspected that was why she was clinging to him more tightly than ever, but he just didn’t have it in him to live for her anymore.

He was so tired. He just wanted to rest.

He didn’t want to die, but he suspected death was the only viable sanctuary that would be afforded to him. He was ready to let go. Willow had stabilized, Dawn was safe, Buffy would finally be okay. But Anya was gone, along with so many: countless Potentials, Tara, Joyce, Kendra, Jenny, Jesse. They were all buried beneath rubble, like trash.

It was offensive.

He had nothing left to give them.

He closed his eye and floated away.

* * * * *

“You cannot go to him.”

“Watch me.”

“You cannot return to the mortal realm.”

“You can’t stop me.”

“You don’t know what you’re doing.”

“And you really don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

* * * * *

Across the world, Cordelia Chase opened her eyes for the first time in almost a year.

And she had a plan.

* * * * *

She gasped, drawing into her lungs a large amount of air, and promptly began choking.

She turned on her side and coughed fitfully until the spell passed. Her eyes were tearing and blinking rapidly as they tried to adjust to and filter the fluorescent lights shining down on her.

“Tacky,” she wheezed.

God, was that really her voice? Wait. What had happened?

“Crap, my head hurts,” she moaned.

A vision? She reached up to push her hair – which was surprisingly long again, but whatever, because that cut had been a major mistake – and released a startled screech when she saw a huge IV needle sticking out of the top of her hand.


She grabbed it and ripped it out, throwing it across the room.


What was going on? Where was she? The last thing she remembered, there were some pretty lights and then…

She shuddered as memory after memory washed over her, including those which involved her body if not mind, as well as those events she witnessed while she was…not here.

She closed her eyes tightly against the onslaught, trying in vain to accede to the screaming denials in her head that such things couldn’t have happened to her, to her friends and family. What the hell had she done to deserve any of it? Nothing!

Okay, so yeah, maybe she wasn’t as nice as she could have been, but she had been better than she once was, right? She had helped people. She had saved lives, saved the world. She deserved more.

She had deserved better.

She angrily wiped the tears leaking down her cheeks, cursing her weakness. There was no way in hell she was just going to lie there and whine about her lot in life. That was for people like Buffy, not her. When life handed Cordelia Chase lemons, she cut them open and squeezed the juice into the eyes of people who pissed her off.

Right, so she needed a plan, and she needed to get to Xander.

First things first, though.

She sat up, rolled her neck, and sighed. Unfortunately, First Things were going to be painful for a lot of people, including herself, but, hey, that was life. But the very first thing required was a nice, hot shower.

She grunted and tore the telemetry leads from her chest and head. If they left welts, some orderly was getting his ass kicked all the way to Vegas.

She swung her legs over the edge of the bed.

“Holy shit!”

Jesus! Couldn’t Angel have sprung for someone to shave her legs? Was he hurting that badly for money? Seriously, what the hell?

She dropped her feet to the floor and used her hands to push herself into a standing position, immediately falling over.

“Well, this sucks.”

* * * * *

The longer she was conscious, the more annoyed Cordelia became.

First of all, the hospital gown was cheap and thin, made of artificial fibers no less, and it was double-knotted at her neck. Her fingers were still refusing to comply with the commands from her brain. She was less than thrilled when, in frustration, she tugged once and the entire garment was torn from her body.

“Stupid demon powers. Where were you when I needed you? And, hey! How come I didn’t levitate except for that one time? That would have been useful.”

She stepped into the shower, which was entirely too small and stunk of mildew. Leave it to Wolfram and Hart to skimp on housekeeping. The water pressure was pathetic, but not as pathetic as the sliver of soap which reeked like dead flowers and wouldn’t pass muster in a Motel Six. The shampoo was little more than detergent, and the conditioner was more like vegetable shortening. Where were the essentials? Angel knew her preferences. Weren’t they expecting her to wake up?


She leaned further under the spray and rested her forehead against a slick tile.

What were they going to say? How were they going to react?

She angrily shook her head. She couldn’t worry about that now. They had made their choices, for better or for worse. She would try to give Angel one final shove in the right direction, but then she was done. As for the others, it was time for a reality check, Cordy style!

Instantly, she felt better and nodded.

Fred and Gunn were reasonable people, but they had gotten caught up in Angel’s misguided mission. She just needed to set them back on their own paths and make them realize that they could be Angel’s allies without being his minions. Harmony was in for a rude awakening, as was Angel for hiring her. And then Spike.

She grinned.

This was going to be so much fun!

* * * * *

She had forgotten that long hair took a lot of time to dry and style.

The upside was that all of the blond highlights had grown out. She needed to send something to her stylist who had talked her into them in the first place, but what was appropriate? Rotten fruit? Flaming dog doo in a paper bag? Then she recalled that he paid his employees under the table.

Luckily, she still remembered the name of the IRS asshole who had confiscated her money and jewelry before her father was sentenced. It was time to put that jerk to work for her.

And really, what had that blond been about? Who was she trying to be? Buffy? As if!

Satisfied that her ability to make executive decisions had not been impaired, she promptly settled upon a sleek, simple ponytail. She made quick work of it before her hair began relaxing back into waves.

She pranced out into the room proper and looked around, glaring. If there wasn’t an acceptable ensemble stowed in that ridiculous excuse for a closet, there were some nursing assistants who were about to be sent on a buying mission.

Suddenly, the door swung open, and a middle-aged Asian man wandered in.

“Who the hell are you?,” she demanded.

He stared at her for a long moment, his mouth falling open.

“Well?” She started tapping her foot which, to anyone who knew her, signaled the approach of that horseman who waved the banner of wrath.

“Uh, I’m your doctor.”

She sniffed. “We’ll see about that.”

Securing her towel around her bust, she sauntered over to the closet and threw open the door, peering inside. Luckily for those nursing assistants, there was a suitable outfit and pair of shoes inside. They didn’t offer the exact image she wanted to present, but she could make do.

Where the hell was the rest of her stuff? She raised her eyes and saw her favorite purse on the top shelf. Makeup!

She grabbed what she needed, spun on her heel, and headed back toward the bathroom. She looked askance at the physician.

“Are you still here?”

“Miss Chase…”

“Whatever. I don’t have time. I’m awake, I know my name, where I am, and what I need to do. So, if you’ll excuse me, and even if you won’t, I have more important people to talk to than you.”

She made it to the bathroom, threw at him an imperious glare over her shoulder, and slammed the door shut.

* * * * *

She did her makeup first, going for that natural look which took more time than people realized. Still, there was no point in painting the peacock. Some foundation, lipstick, eyeliner, and a bit of mascara later, she threw on the clothes before stepping into the shoes.

Ah, much better. All was right in the world when stilettos were on her feet. She just had to remember to walk slow so she wouldn't keel over again, because that would just be pathetic.

Several thoughts raced through her mind as she performed these tasks.

What about her apartment? If Angel had let the lease lapse, she was going to have to find some hot pokers. God, what about Dennis? He must have gone out of his mind! She chewed her lip. She didn’t have time to pay him a visit, but once she was on her way to Xander, she’d call the apartment and leave him a message. Hopefully, the number hadn’t changed.

She then took a page from Uma Thurman and began compiling her hit list. Actually, there was only one name on it: Skip.

“I’m gonna find you, you fat gray blob, and you’re going to pray that bug thing had pulled a black widow on you.”

She then ran down her list of targets which, fortunately, was much longer and would allow her to exorcise some of her rage.

First on the agenda was Angel. The vampire had a lot for which to answer, starting with Connor and ending with the takeover of the law firm. Next up was Wesley; spell or not, that dork was going to get an earful. Harmony. Spike. Then she’d revisit her old gang. She’d seen a lot of things during her tenure in the Higher Realms, and had been paid visits by people she wished she had been able to get to know better.

Some things she refused to consider, like Connor.

She shuddered.

Angel needed his son, and Connor needed him; she knew that. But she was going to make sure she was long gone before that reunion took place. She couldn’t deal with seeing him, because as far she was concerned, as far as she remembered, he was her son. All of the stuff that had happened had happened to her body, not to her.


She seethed.

“I’m not your fucking mommy, you stupid bitch.”

Then there was the funny stuff:

The destruction of the Watchers’ Council.

“Good riddance.”

She had no love for them. While she and Buffy would probably never be friends, she resented the way the Council had treated Buffy, as well as Faith, and she was shocked as hell that she was actually positing even a relatively mild defense of Faith.

The defeat of the First.

“Pussy. What kind of super villain can’t even touch stuff? Lame.”

The destruction of Sunnydale.

“About damn time.”

Finally, it was time to consider the sadness.

She knew that she was going to have to hurt them to help them, but as much as she despised that, it was necessary.

Angel had lost his way and he needed to be reminded of his purpose, but beyond that, there was little she could do for him. He had made some really bad calls, and she couldn’t fix that.

She loved him, so much that it hurt, but they could never be together; she had always known that. She’d been there for it all, even the stuff with Buffy.

Granted, the relationship he had had with the Slayer was completely different from the one Angel shared with her, which was mature and based on a deep level of commitment and friendship, but she no longer trusted him. He had become someone she no longer recognized, and that scared her.

She would help him, and she would always be there for him, but their time was over and she needed some space. He wasn’t her mission any longer. He answered to the Powers; she answered to an authority much more important: her conscience.

Right now, Xander needed her more. She didn’t know what would happen when she saw him again, but she’d take it one step at a time.

But first she had to get to him. Right!

She looked in the mirror, squared her shoulders, and deemed herself fabulous.

It was time to kick ass and take names.

And then phone numbers and addresses, just so she could remind everyone later how easy it was.

* * * * *

Harmony, vampire receptionist extraordinaire, was busy making executive decisions of her own.

In one hand rested a bottle of Cotton Candy Dreams; in the other, Paint the Town Red. But which to choose? An assistant’s job was never done!

She was startled from her reverie by the insistent chirping of Angel’s private line, which he had asked her to screen while he was in conference with the department heads.

She warily eyed the phone, knowing that whatever was going on must have been important, since access to that number was restricted. She chewed her lip, fearful of pressing the wrong button.


Gathering her courage, she laid down the nail polish and picked up the phone and pressed the button, closing her eyes and crossing the fingers of her other hand.

“Mister Angel’s line.”

“This is Doctor Tanaka in the Infirmary. I need to speak to Mister Angel immediately.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” Harmony replied, oozing professionalism, “but the boss is in the middle of an important meeting. Can I take a message?”

“I was instructed to speak only with him regarding this matter.”

Harmony tried to fit together the pieces. “You said the Infirmary? Hey! Is this about Cordy?,” she screeched. The ensuing silence confirmed her suspicions. “Is she okay? Tell me! I’m her best friend!”

He hesitated a moment longer. “Miss Chase is awake.”

The vampire choked. “What?”

“Miss Chase has awoken from her coma.”

“Oh my god! I have to tell Angel! Get off my phone!”

She threw down the receiver, raced for the private office, and tore the door from its hinges.

“Boss! Boss! Angel!”

He looked up from the file opened on his desk and glared at her. “Harmony, how many times have I told you…”

“Cordy’s awake!”

His face blanked as he slowly rose to his feet. Wesley, Gunn, and Lorne gaped at each other. Fred was already moving toward the door. Spike looked bored.

“Hello,” Harmony drawled, slightly shaking her head. “Cordelia Chase? Awake? Is this registering, or do I have to write a memo?”

Fred pushed past her, knocking her into a bookcase.

“My hair!” The vampire rushed to tend to the flyaways as the others, save Spike, raced past her.

“Well,” Spike smirked, “this promises to be quite a show.”

* * * * *

Angel loudly cursed the elevator, which was taking its sweet time. He was convinced the Senior Partners were somehow responsible for this, trying to keep him from her.

Fred was chewing on a tendril of hair. “She’s okay. Right? I mean, she’s awake, so that’s good, right?”

“It’s fabulous, gumdrop,” Lorne assured her, his heart ready to burst through his ass.

“Harmony,” Wesley asked, “did the doctors say how she was faring?”

“How she was what?”

“How she’s doing,” Gunn translated, sighing and rolling his eyes.

“No, just that she was awake.”

As they began chattering excitedly about their friend’s return, Angel kept his counsel and his eyes upon the floor, conscious that Spike was silently observing him. He prayed that Cordelia was okay, that she had come back to him, but he couldn’t allow himself to hope. What if it wasn’t his Cordy who had woken?

What if it was?

How much did she remember? How much did she know? And did the spell affect her like it did the others? If anyone was to remember Connor, it would be her.

But did it really matter? No. He wanted her back, and someone, somewhere, had heard him. Everything else would work itself out.

Finally, the lift stopped and the doors dinged open. Angel led the charge toward the hospital room, Lorne and Fred right on his heels, followed by Wesley and Gunn, and then Harmony.

Spike brought up the rear, a sick feeling settling in his stomach. He didn’t know the cheerleader chit that well, but from what he remembered, she was a bitch of the highest caliber. Normally, that was cause for celebration, and part of him was frothing at the mouth to see what she had in store for Angel; the other part of him said that this was too convenient and a little too easy. Everyone had agreed that the bint would most likely never wake up, so what the hell had happened?

Angel paused before her room, his hand poised to knock, sure that at any moment, someone was going to come up to him and say that it was all a big mistake, that Harmony hadn’t heard the doctor correctly, that Cordelia had actually taken a turn for the worse. He felt Fred pushing at his back, and he finally swung open the door, standing on the threshold, as if awaiting an invitation. Shaking his head, he stormed the room, eyes darting everywhere.

“Cordy? Cordy! Cordelia!”

The bathroom door flung open, and the Seer strolled out. Dressed to kill in chocolate suede pants and a tight black wrap top, she headed toward the phone, strutting effortlessly in absurdly high-heeled boots. She paid them no notice.

The gasps on their lips died before they were exhaled. Did she not see them? Were they imagining all of this?

“Cordy!,” Angel called again, his voice a strangled sob. All of the hope in his heart withered when she turned and regarded him with a cool, dismissive glance.

“Oh. It’s you.”

* * * * *

Harmony recognized the look in Cordelia’s eyes and promptly began backing up toward the door. She didn’t know what was about to go down, but she didn’t want any part of it.

Still, she was unable to remove herself completely from the situation, her morbid fascination demanding that she remain as a witness.

Spike wanted to dance a jig of glee because, as he suspected, the cheerleader was not amused with Angel, and anything which upset Angel gave Spike a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Wesley appeared utterly confused, Gunn upset, and Fred fearful.

Angel looked like he had just been drained by the Master.

Cordelia was waiting for Angel’s reaction before she made her next move. She had a few contingency plans in mind, but she knew from past experience of outmaneuvering Angel that it was always best – and more fun – to put him first on the defensive. So she would glare and wait for him to put his foot in his mouth.

“You’re back,” he whispered.

That was it? That's all he had? How anticlimactic.

“And now I’m leaving.”

She grabbed her purse and moved toward the door. He adjusted his position to block her path, and she knew then that it was on.

“You’re not going anywhere.”

She frowned and continued walking forward, her every step met by one of Angel’s retreat, though he didn’t move aside. She could see him mustering his arguments, getting ready to deliver a passionate homily about how much he had missed her and how badly he needed her, and she truly wanted to hear those things, to know that he still loved her, that she hadn’t been forgotten, but her anger at his ineptitude was lighted, and wouldn’t soon extinguish. He had forgotten with whom he was dealing.

It was time to remind him.

“Look, Broody, I don’t have time for this. Places to go, people to trash. Get out of my way, or I’ll rip your head from your shoulders and use it to start an office intramural soccer team.”

His eyes widened as he took another step back, gauging the seriousness of her threat. When he saw her eyes narrow and her lips thin, he understood that she wasn’t playing games; she was pissed, and he appeared to be her target. It was just like old times.

“You can’t leave me. Not now; not again.”

The words hurt, and it took all of her strength not to run forward and pitch herself into his arms, but that wasn’t what either of them needed. This wasn’t the time for Hallmark moments; she had a mission, and she needed to get him to refocus on his own.

“Listen, you huge dork, because I’m only going to say this once.” She expanded her gaze to include the others, pleased when Spike’s chortling died in his throat when she turned on him. “You’re all morons!”

* * * * *

They launched into babbling protests and denials.

She first moved on Gunn, pointedly looking him up and down, before snorting in derision.

“What is this? What the hell happened to you? You used to be Batman, running through the dark of night, taking out the big bads and making the streets safe for your crew.”

She shook her head in disappointment. “Look at you now. Wearing a five-thousand dollar suit you once would have ridiculed. So. Lawyer, huh? Guess everyone needs a job.”

She threw her hands up and looked at the ceiling. “Oh! That’s right! You had one.” She looked back at him and cocked her head. “And it wasn’t being a poseur who sold his soul to upgrade his brain with useless bullshit.”

“You just hold on right there, Barbie,” he warned.

“What would Alonna say?"

Devastation instantly marred his face, and he shrunk back into a corner, curling in on himself.

She nodded once with satisfaction. One down, two to go. She turned to Fred, whose eyes widened.

Cordelia decided to tone it down and make rational arguments. She didn’t want to upset Fred unnecessarily, and while the physicist had made strides in reclaiming her life, part of her would always be fragile, especially that which looked to her friends for validation. Cordelia shook her head in sorrow.

“What are you doing here, honey? The work you’re doing is important, absolutely, but here? With these people? After everything they’ve done to us?”

Fred bit her lip and lowered her eyes.

“Angel may run this office,” Cordelia continued, “but that doesn’t remove the taint of the Senior Partners. It doesn’t negate the number of times they’ve tried to kill all of us, or the havoc they’ve unleashed which we’ve had to clean up.”

She gestured at the vampire. “The dumbass thinks he’s in control, but he’s not. He sold out, and to the worst possible people.”

Fred turned and studied Angel.

Gunn inched forward, his head cocked. “What do you mean?”

“He’s here because he asked for a favor. Wolfram and Hart isn’t his reward; it’s his sentence.”

Angel’s eyes widened. Oh, shit. She remembered; she remembered everything. Not only that, she knew things she shouldn’t.

Cordelia’s gaze bored into Fred and Gunn. “You have a decision to make. Do you work for the good guys or for Angel? Because they’re no longer one in the same.”

Fred whirled on Angel, her eyes full of wounded pride and heartbreak. Gunn was glaring and muttering under his breath.

Cordelia took this as a good start. She wasn’t telling them anything they didn’t suspect, didn’t already know, but somehow along the way, Fred and Gunn had allowed themselves to stop questioning Angel and going along to get along.

She turned to Wesley, whose eyes brimmed with both sadness and hope. She hated what she was about to do, but it couldn’t be helped; she was angry.

“I will never forgive you for what you did to Connor. If you really thought he was in danger, why didn't you to come to me, Wes? I would have done anything for him, killed anyone who touched him, would have sacrificed myself to keep him safe. But you took that choice from me when you made your own, and that one choice has destroyed more than you will ever realize. You should have waited for me.”

His face clearly expressed his complete bafflement.

“Don’t worry," she said, "you’ll remember soon enough, and when you want answers, don’t let him,” she thumbed in Angel’s direction, “put you off.”

She felt the vampire’s rage about to boil over, so she looked back to him. “How deficient are you? Did you really think this was gonna work? You can’t just erase someone’s existence. You can’t wish them away because it’s what you want or because you believe it’s what’s best for them and everyone else. They might not remember, but they know something’s wrong.”

She looked at the others. “You have no idea what happened to me, do you?”

“You Ascended…,” Wesley began.

She cut him off with a roll of her eyes. “That was just the beginning, and the first and only example of my gross stupidity.”

Knowing that Angel was about to interject, she decided it was a good time to put Harmony in her place.

“If you even try to speak to me, you’re dust.” She remembered what Xander told Jesse after the latter was turned. “You’re not Harmony; you’re the thing that killed her. I might not have liked her much, but she deserved a hell of a lot of better.”

She ignored the vampire’s tears and once again faced Angel. “What the hell is she even doing here? You employ soulless vampires now? You couldn’t suffer Dru or Darla or live, but you give this bitch a paycheck? What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Harmony doesn’t kill.” His statement was backed up by vigorous nodding from the vampire in question.

“So that it makes okay?,” she demanded, shaking her head. “Intellectually, I can understand Junior’s presence,” she added, tossing a sneer at Spike, “since he has a soul now.”

Spike frowned at her use of air quotes.

“Yet you have an unchecked vampire,” she gestured to Harmony, “running around a building filled with mortals? Granted, they’re despicable vermin who will eventually roast in the pits of hell, but still.” She put her hand on her hips, her eyes glittering dangerously. “And if you dare imply that she somehow reminds you of me, I’ll shove a stake so far up your ass that you’ll be spitting splinters for a month.”

He wisely held his tongue, but also held his ground when she made to move past him.

Bored, she pushed forward, outraged when his hand curled around her arm to halt her progress.

“Don’t you ever put your hands on me!” She picked him up by the lapels of his blazer and threw him into the far wall. “Hello, demon powers!”

She smirked at his astonishment, even though he was already scrambling to right himself. She turned on her heel and embraced Lorne. Pulling back after a moment, she looked up into his eyes and wiped away the tear sliding down his cheek.

“Welcome back, Princess. You have no idea how much you were missed.”

She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. “You deserve so much more than this.” She sighed. “We’ll talk. Soon. I promise.”

Without waiting for a response, she released him and crossed the threshold, curtly nodding at Spike. “Rapist."

She sashayed out of the room, the smirk plain on her face. She couldn’t wait to find out how that little bombshell was received. She headed toward the elevators.

She had one more stop to make before hauling ass out of Wolfram and Hart.
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