Title: The Cost of Surrender
Content: C/A, B/S, B/A, C/S (It’s not that kind of R, so don’t get too freaky!)
Summary: Angel and Cordelia deal with the aftermath of Angel’s decision to join Wolfram & Hart.
Spoilers: Through Series Finale of BTVS and Season 4 Finale of Ats. Minor spoilers for Season 5, but this is definitely going to be AU when all is said and done.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: I don’t care where, just let me know.
Notes: Based on a challenge from Califi. It’s too lengthy and too spoilery to include here, but if you really want to check it out, look at the Hiatus Challenge thread, Califi’s Challenge #2.
Feedback: Feedback is very, very important to me. Feed my demon.
Surrender is a funny thing.
It comes as a last resort, only after all other options have been tried and have failed miserably and the only two choices left are that or death. At first glance, death looks pretty appealing. Who wants to let your enemy win, to gloat and sneer, to breathe the putrid hot breath of superiority in your face as you admit defeat? Death would let you get the last laugh, right? The most graphic, poetic display of flipping the proverbial bird?
When it comes right down to it, death just leaves your loved ones to pick up the pieces of the war you’ve fought, to struggle to survive without your protection. Death may let you pee on your enemy’s victory parade, but it won’t do anything to alleviate the suffering of those most important to you. The loss of your presence, your protection, only serves to exacerbate their anguish and destroy all you fought to protect.
Choosing death over surrender at the end of war is the choice of cowards and arrogant narcissists who think they’re making the ultimate statement, one that will assure them posthumous victory emotionally, if not physically.
Death is a cop out.
Surrender wears the veneer of cowardice, but when those layers are peeled back, true strength of character resides underneath. Surrender forces you to face your own demons and own up to your own mistakes, and continue to be the shield for your family and friends. Surrender keeps you alive to find a way to revolt and take back what’s rightfully yours.
But surrender, while the more valiant option, is never easy. It may give you the opportunity to fight again someday, but it doesn’t make any promises of happiness. In fact, it guarantees a life of backward glances, “what ifs” and guilt. It is a blunt, rusty knife that twists in your gut and scrambles your insides until you can’t figure out which way to turn. It demands the forfeit of your very essence, and it may mean that you have to make so many sacrifices along with your freedom that any one of them could be considered the ultimate one.
It may mean that you have to lose your closest friends to their addictions, whether they be celebrity, power, science, or knowledge, all in the name of protecting their souls and futures.
It may mean that you have to watch your son lose all memory of his life with you, no matter how painful, and give him a family that he’s always wanted.
It may mean that you have to stand by helplessly as your best friend lies in a coma, oblivious to the pain and havoc that her possessed body caused you, stifling the love for her that grew inside of you until it withers and dies from neglect and despair.
It may mean that you have to protect a woman you once loved as she waxes lyrical about metaphoric cookie dough and acknowledge that your feelings for her may be the only real thing you have left, the only chance for a future with any measure of happiness.
It may mean that you have to become the man you’ve always hated more than your demon, the man that makes a mockery of the soul you’ve strived so hard to keep, the man that takes you further and further away from promised redemption and humanity with each compromise, the footsteps echoing like gunshots in your brain. You may not have sold your soul to the devil, but you feel like you might as well have.
Surrender is the only righteous option, but your soul won’t come away unscathed. You sacrifice your very being and are changed forever. Your surrender begins to look like a terrible mistake as it is reflected in the mirror of time. As your despair grows, it seems like nothing, no one, will change you back. . .
The annoying buzz of the intercom echoed in the tomb that was Angel’s office. He grunted, staring at the phone as if it would bite him, then grudgingly pressed the button that connected him to the secretary he didn’t think he needed.
“Yes?” he said, his tone caustic.
“Mr. Wyndam-Price is here to see you, sir.”
Wesley. Well, at least someone he could tolerate was here for once. If he had to look one more time at the evilly angelic face of that Lilah wanna be one more time, he thought he might throw up. At least Wesley’s eccentricities were familiar.
“Send him in,” he said, immediately severing the connection and turning to face the evening sky out his window.
On the other side of the double doors, the electronic filter of Angel’s terse reply couldn’t hide the vampire’s foul mood, worrying Wesley as he stood next to the secretary’s desk. He’d come to convey some very important information and it was important that Angel was open and receptive to it.
Wesley sighed, knowing that getting an open and receptive Angel these days was like asking for a Popsicle not to melt in July weather. The vampire had severely regressed to a state that was reminiscent of Darla’s unfortunate return a few years ago. Then, he’d managed to pull out of his misery, although it had taken everyone a long time to trust him again. Wesley doubted that kind of turnaround was on the horizon this time, considering how the light of Angel’s life was currently oblivious a few floors below in a hospital bed.
The efficient woman in front of him was used to Angel’s behavior, not reacting to the darkness in her boss’s voice any more. “You can go right on in, Mr. Wyndam-Price.”
She smiled coyly up at him, batting her eyelashes and arching her back so that her breasts pressed provocatively against the low neckline of her suit.
Wesley stifled the urge to roll his eyes. He’d never been one to attract women in his younger days, but it had amazed him how a bad mood and a little bit of stubble made women salivate and throw themselves at him. It wasn’t any wonder; just look at Angel. He may not have the stubble, but his bad mood was enough to make up for it and then some. It seemed that the darker Angel was, the more women found him irresistible.
Pushing through the double doors to Angel’s office, Wesley scanned the darkened room for his employer. He had reflected many times since they’d taken over Wolfram & Hart on the irony of the situation. Originally, Angel had been the boss. Then he went into his “beige” period and lost it, running to Darla and firing them. When he’d come back, Wesley became the boss. Then Wesley lost it, abducting Connor and unleashing hell on earth. Then Angel took over Wolfram & Hart and hired Wesley, becoming the boss again. Now, it appeared that Angel was regressing back to some serious “beige” period characteristics, and Wesley wondered if a change of management wasn’t in their future once more.
He, for one, wouldn’t be at all upset if they imploded the evil law firm and got the hell outta Dodge, bringing what was left of their little family back to some sense of normalcy. But for now, the vampire still signed the checks and Wesley remained to act as his conscience. It was becoming more and more obvious that Angel was having trouble listening to his own.
“What do you want, Wesley?” Angel said, not being able to stop the coldness of his words. He didn’t want to alienate the closest friend he had left, but he couldn’t seem to keep from being a bastard to anyone that cared about him.
Wesley ignored the icy tone, recognizing the desperation underlying the words. He walked wordlessly over to the chair in front of Angel’s desk and sat down, reaching out to flick on the light in front of him, bathing the room in a soft glow. Angel swiveled around in the big leather chair, his empty eyes resting on Wesley’s.
The Englishman decided that bluntness was probably the best course of action. “I found a patch for your curse.”
Angel raised an eyebrow. “A what?”
“A patch. Something to sew up the loopholes.”
Angel regarded him solidly, disdain now permeating his features. “I don’t think happiness is going to be a problem for me, Wesley,” Angel said.
Wesley sat back, unruffled by the vampire’s short temper. “It’s not happiness that’s a problem, Angel. We may run Wolfram & Hart, but we can’t control all of its employees or clients. And the firm is not our only enemy.”
“I am aware of that,” Angel said, growling as he clenched his teeth, his patience rapidly disappearing at this seemingly useless conversation.
“The problem with your curse is that it allows the possibility of your soul being removed. While happiness has, so far, been the only thing to separate it from your body, it is definitely not the only thing that can.”
Wesley stood and walked to the side of Angel’s desk, facing the window and crossing his arms.
“I have no doubt that someone will again try to remove your soul, Angel. I don’t know who or when, but the possibility of unleashing Angelus and attempting to harness his power is just too tempting for some.” He paused, wanting to continue but dreading Angel’s reaction. “And this time I’m not so sure that you’d try to stop them.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Angel exploded, vaulting out of the chair and shoving his face into Wesley’s.
The former watcher remained calm. “It’s no secret, at least to me, that you’re in a bad way, Angel. Losing . . . someone so close to you has obviously taken its toll. I don’t blame you for wanting to escape the pain.” Even Wesley knew better than to mention Cordelia’s name in Angel’s presence.
The fire of Angel’s temper died as quickly as it rose and he sank back down into the soft leather of his chair. He may not be angry anymore, but he still didn’t want to talk about Cordelia. Back to the matter at hand.
“So this ‘patch’ would make my soul inseparable from my body?”
Wesley turned back to face him. “Yes, except in death. But then you wouldn’t need your soul, anyway.”
Angel actually smiled slightly at Wesley’s lame comment. Of course he wouldn’t need his soul if he were dust. His glower returned as he realized that he’d smiled. He didn’t deserve to smile.
“Fine. Do it,” he said, turning his gaze back to the window and the skyline beyond it.
“Very well,” Wesley said, reaching into his pocket for a piece of paper.
He chanted seven Latin words, Angel’s gaze whipping to his face at the sound of his voice. The vampire gasped, a glow shining in his eyes as he clutched his chest. It was over almost as abruptly as it began, and Wesley placed the paper back in his pocket.
Dazed, Angel stared at Wesley. He had no doubt that something had occurred, but despite the pain, he didn’t feel anything different. He still felt desperation clawing at him, hopelessness saturating his very being. He’d always thought that having a permanent soul would make him feel more secure. If anything, he felt more uncertain than ever.
“That’s it?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes,” Wesley said simply. “Let me know if you have any problems, any pain or symptoms that could be side effects.”
“Yeah, okay,” Angel replied automatically, still in shock.
Wesley glanced at his watch. “I have a meeting with my staff in ten minutes. I’ll see you later, Angel,” he said, then turned and left the room.
Angel just stared after him, his gaze resting on the closed doors for many minutes after Wesley’s departure.
As the shock wore off, Angel reflected on how this might have an impact on his life. It was definitely true that having a permanent soul did make some things better. Life may never be as good as it once was, but he did have some options.
Maybe it was time to take matters into his own hands and stop expecting the sacrifices he’d made to pay dividends.
Before he could change his mind, Angel reached for the phone on his desk and dialed a number from memory. The other end rang, and Angel tensed.
At the greeting from the other end, Angel’s deep voice filled the room. “Hey, Buffy. I have some really good news.”
Wolfram & Hart
Subterranean Level Two
Cordelia’s first sensation upon waking was the feel of something smooth and cool brushing over the nail of her third finger on her right hand. It dragged from the base of her nail to the tip, then moved over a fraction of an inch, and repeated. She felt the sensation move from her third finger to her fourth. A warm hand grasped hers gently, holding her finger out and away from the others as the cool substance was spread over her nail.
Drowsily, she opened her eyes to mere slits, peering through her eyelashes at the person at her bedside. It was a thin woman in a nurses uniform, her pretty face a study in concentration as she dipped the brush back into some light pink nail polish and withdrew it, applying the reloaded brush to Cordelia’s nail. The woman’s red hair was pulled back into a sensible ponytail at the nape of her neck, one tendril floating down to her cheek. She blew on it once, and it floated up, only to settle back to the exact place on her skin where it had been annoying her.
Something about the scene wasn’t right, but Cordelia couldn’t pinpoint it. Her mind was too fuzzy to concentrate, and she didn’t have the energy to chase her random wonderings down and string them together into coherent thought. She was just about to drift off to sleep again when another person entered the room. It was a doctor this time, her stethoscope and uniform setting her apart from the RN at Cordelia’s beside.
The nurse looked up and smiled, setting Cordelia’s hand back on the mattress and screwing the cap back onto the nail polish.
“Dr. Walters! How nice to see you,” the nurse greeted, her face wreathed in a smile.
Dr. Walters smiled back. “Hello, Cyndi. You’re always so cheerful.” She looked over at Cordelia, noting the fact that the young woman’s color looked much better. Walking over the bed, Dr. Walter’s grabbed Cordelia’s chart, making notations as she flipped the pages.
“Has she shown any signs of waking, Cyndi?”
“No, ma’am,” Cyndi answered, her face grave. “We’ve made certain that she’s stable, but we’ve made every effort to keep her coma intact as the Partners have requested.”
Cordelia gasped inwardly at this response, her lucidity returning as the conversation began to make sense. Wolfram & Hart had her? In a COMA? It was very difficult to remain completely still. Her fingers itched to reach up and squeeze the life out of the women in front of her, but she knew she didn’t have the strength.
Dr. Walter’s voice interrupted her raging thoughts. “And the levitation?”
“Unpredictable as always. It seems that she’s still very much a seer, but we have no way of knowing what she sees, or any way of predicting when the visions will happen.”
Frowning, Dr. Walter’s replaced the clipboard on the end of Cordelia’s bed. She glanced at her watch. “Her next dose of meds are in thirty minutes. Make sure that you aren’t late. Without them, she would have woken weeks ago. We can’t take the chance that our efforts will be thwarted. The Partners are adamant that she remain inactive.”
Cyndi nodded vigorously, her ponytail bouncing. “Of course, Dr. Walters. I was just going to prepare them now.” She stood, pushing the chair against the wall and following the doctor out of the room. The door closed softly behind her, leaving Cordelia in the soft glow of light emanating from one bedside table.
As soon as the women left, Cordelia opened her eyes fully and looked around the room. Desperate to escape, she tried to sit up, only to discover that she was dizzy and still very groggy. She looked down at the IV in her arm, then up to the bag that was empty. She noticed a drip coming from the corner and followed it to a puddle on the floor. Apparently, Nurse Cyndi hadn’t been paying much attention last time she’d started the medication and the bag had leaked. Thank God. The IV came loose with one painful jerk, and Cordelia threw it violently away from her.
Her mind now rapidly clearing, Cordelia thought back to the last thing she remembered before today. It was the highway and Skip, that conniving “guide” of hers, telling her she had to ascend to a higher plane. Her eyes narrowed as she realized that she’d been duped somehow. There was no memory of ascension, and a legitimate ascension would not land her smack dab in the pit of the hell that was Wolfram & Hart.
Her heart wrenched as she remembered her ill-fated appointment with Angel on the cliffs. He must have been going frantic trying to find her. She knew he’d still be looking, but he would have had no way of knowing where she was or if she was okay. She had to get out of here on her own and find him.
Summoning her strength, Cordelia dragged her legs out from under the covers and slid off the bed, wobbling as she stood. She felt as if she might pass out for a moment, but she gritted her teeth and the sensation passed. Tentatively, she walked to the closet, opening it to find clothing in her size. She was puzzled as to why there would be clothes for her if she was supposed to be in a coma, but she just shrugged, not wanting to try to figure it out. Only when she reached to take off the hospital gown did she realize she wasn’t wearing one. She had on regular clothes: a pair of low-rise khaki pants and a knit top. She was barefoot and there were no shoes in the closet, but that didn’t surprise her.
“These people are nuts,” she muttered, closing the closet. She searched the room for something to subdue her captors when they returned. Her eyes rested on the folding chair that Cyndi had left against the wall. Folded flat, it would make an excellent weapon. Cordelia grabbed the chair, flipped off the light and sank into a darkened corner to wait.
Just minutes later, Cordelia heard footsteps outside her door and watched anxiously as the knob turned. Cyndi entered, frowning when she realized the light had been shut off.
“Damn light bulbs. That’s the second time this week,” she complained, pulling the cart in behind her. Flipping on the overhead light, she said, “Sorry, Miss Chase, I know the bright light bothers you.”
Cordelia raised her eyebrows, wondering how Cyndi could possibly figure that, and tightened her grip on the folding chair. Cyndi busied herself preparing the meds, still not looking at the empty bed. She finally pulled the bag up and examined it, then turned to face the bed.
“Here we go, Miss—Oh, my God!!” she gasped. She looked up frantically, searching the room. Whirling around, she came face to face with a very angry Cordelia.
“Contrary to popular belief,” Cordelia said sarcastically, “Comas are not restful.”
She brought the folding chair down hard on the wide-eyed woman’s head. Cyndi’s body crumpled and she fell to the floor, sprawled out with all the stiffness of a wet noodle.
“Let me know later if you agree,” Cordelia said, leaning the chair back against the wall.
Kneeling down next to Cyndi, she pulled off the nurse’s uniform, followed by her own clothes. She pulled the uniform on, then somehow dragged Cyndi onto the bed, drawing the covers over her face. She adjusted the ID tag and swipe card on her lapel so that the picture was hidden, then smoothed her hair down. Catching sight of the open door to the bathroom, Cordelia rushed in and looked at herself in the mirror. She was surprised to find that she had make-up on and her hair looked fabulous; thick, healthy, and much longer than it had the last time she’d looked in a mirror. One thing she could say for the evil law firm; they knew their cosmetics.
She frowned, realizing that she must’ve been in a coma longer than she’d originally thought. Oh, well. All the more reason to get out of here as fast as possible.
Sneaking out of her room, she darted eyes up and down the hallway. Satisfied that she was alone, Cordelia began walking confidently away from her room, searching for an elevator. Finding one, she swiped her card and pressed the button. The doors swung open, and she entered. She frowned as she realized that the buttons only indicated subterranean levels, nothing above ground. She must have to access another elevator for that. She pushed the button for “Sub Level One.”
She was dismayed to find that the doors opened to some type of medical reception room. The room was a buzz of activity, not conducive to hiding. Noticing the reception desk, Cordelia made a command decision. Time to put that acting talent to good use.
Straightening her shoulders, Cordelia walked confidently up to the blonde woman behind the desk.
“Excuse me,” Cordelia said softly, keeping her tone purposefully shy.
“Yes?” the woman responded, her manner efficient but friendly.
“This is so embarrassing,” Cordelia darted her eyes down and forced a blush. “I just started working here, and I can’t remember how to get back outside to my car.”
The woman’s eyes warmed and her features softened as she smiled. “Don’t worry, hon. This place is a labyrinth, all right. The rest of us get lost occasionally, too. You came up the Sub elevator?” She said, pointing to the elevator Cordelia had just exited.
“Okay. Go across the lobby,” she pointed in the other direction, “And take the elevator with the big gold sign saying ‘Wolfram & Hart, Attorney’s at Law’.”
Cordelia raised her eyebrows.
The woman laughed. “I know, they’re pompous asses up there, have to write their names on everything, including the toilet paper. But what can I say? They own the building and the research facility, and they sign my checks. Who am I to complain?”
“Thanks for your help,” Cordelia said, turning to walk away.
“Don’t forget it’s payday, hon. That always makes things better,” the woman called after her.
Cordelia turned back. “Oh, really? What date is it again?”
“I know how you feel. Sometimes I even forget what year it is. It’s August 2, good old 2003. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Time flies so fast.”
Her world reeling, Cordelia just nodded back and thanked her again weakly, then walked away on shaky legs.
2003. Oh. My. God. She’d been in a coma, like, forever.
And where the hell was Angel?!?