Wesley glanced around the Hyperion lobby as he walked down the steps. “Has Angel come down yet?”
“Yeah. He’s in your office.”
“She’s still upstairs. She came down for a bit. You should’ve been here. Apparently the vamp isn’t the only one who can throw a hissy fit.”
“What do you mean?”
“Angel’s mystery client stopped by and she is hot. I thought Barbie was gonna throw down when the woman asked Angel to spend the night with her again.”
“The client is a woman.”
Gunn nodded enthusiastically. “That would be a hell yeah.”
“And Cordelia was jealous?”
“I didn’t see any claws but there were green sparks in her eyes.”
Wesley tiredly sank onto the nearest couch. “I was afraid of that.”
“It isn’t magic, is it?”
“No. Lorne confirmed the bond isn’t affecting their emotions.”
Gunn’s gaze alternated between the closed office door and the stairs leading to Angel’s suite. “What are we gonna do?”
“If it was only Angel’s feelings concerned, the solution would be simple but I fear Cordelia’s heart is entangled as well.” He sighed. “This is such a mess.”
“Are you sure we can’t just stake him?”
Wesley paused to consider it but quickly shook the idea off. “We can’t. Perhaps I should talk with Cordelia. I can remind-”
“Hold up. Have you met her? You can’t tell Cordelia what to do.”
“Charles, she’s not the type to do something simply because she’s been told not to. She’s a grown woman, not a child.”
“That’s not what I’m sayin’. You know how she gets. It’s one thing for her to do the insulting, but if someone else does it, she starts defending like a momma-bear. By the time she finishes shooting down all your reminders, Cordy will have convinced herself to take a running jump into their marriage bed and I don’t mean to sleep.”
“Hmm. Perhaps I should speak to Angel instead.”
“Ah there you are, Angel. Do you have a minute?” Wesley asked as if surprised to find him in his office.
Angel rose from his former chair. “I had to make a few phone calls… to some contacts.”
Wesley’s eyebrow arched but he remained silent.
Angel gathered his notes and moved to the other side of the desk. “I thought it would be easier to use the office.”
“It’s quite all right. Are you working on the case you were dealing with last night?”
“Yeah. There’s a land developer that’s been sending vampires to convince land owners to sell.”
“It looks like it. I haven’t been able to find out what type yet. Corsair, Inc. is buried in holding companies. Lorne has a friend trying to weed through it to get me a name.”
The fact that Angel’s first instinct wasn’t a trip to Wolfram and Hart was not lost on Wesley. “When Cordelia comes down, she can run a search on the internet.” Wes braced himself as he said, “Speaking of Cordelia, apparently my theory about the bond was incorrect.”
“Oh?” Angel eyed the door, considering escape.
“Yes. Lorne informed me that the bond does not have any direct effect on either party’s emotions. Which leads me to wonder why you allowed me to continue to believe there was?”
“I don’t know what you mean?”
“Don’t you? I believe you informed me in this very room that it would take magic for you to fall in love with Cordelia. While I found that ludicrous, I did think you were being sincere.”
Angel finally made eye contact. “Look, Wes. I told you what you wanted to hear. It’s none of your business whether or not I have feelings for Cordelia. That’s between her and me.”
“I don’t want Cordelia to get hurt.”
“And you think I do? I know you care about her, but she’s a grown up. It’s not your place to make her decisions. You may be the boss of Angel Investigations but these are our lives we’re talking about. Why can’t you just let us decide what’s best for us?”
“Those are valid arguments but I can’t stand by and watch you hurt Cordelia. Again. Neither can Gunn. You aren’t the right man for her.”
Angel resisted the urge to grab the pompous interfering man by the throat. “You don’t know that! Let me ask you, Wes. Why are you in here talking to me? Why not go tell Cordelia how she feels? I’m sure she’s just waiting for you to instruct her.”
“Sarcasm is hardly going to help the situation.”
“Neither is your interference. I’m in love with her. I want our marriage to work. I don’t want a divorce or annulment or whatever. I want Cordelia in my life, in my heart and in my bed. My soul is secure. My happiness is not a danger to you or to Gunn, so back off.” Angel turned to leave.
“I’m done discussing this, Wes. The only way to prove you’re wrong is to love Cordelia and to make her happy.”
That stopped Angel in his tracks. “What?”
“You’re right. It isn’t my place to tell either of you who to love.”
“I agree,” Angel said, warily.
“I’m not interested in your buts.”
“Do you really want Gunn and me as your enemy?”
“Are you actually threatening me, Wes? I got to say that’s not smart.”
Wesley took a deep breath and sat down behind his desk. “Let’s calm down.”
“I am calm.”
“Yes I can tell by the death grip you have on the doorknob.”
Angel released the dented metal and moved to sit across from Wesley. He didn’t really want to fight. He valued Gunn and Wesley’s friendship. He wanted his entire family back but not at the expense of losing Cordelia. Angel was finally ready to stop the yo-yo ride and fight for his marriage. “I’m calm.”
Wesley detected a note of warning in his tone. “I realize I’m overstepping myself but Cordelia is very important to me. You don’t know what she’s been through.” He held up his hand to ward off any interruption. “That’s a fact, Angel. It’s not merely my opinion.”
“I will give you that, but I am here now. I’m not suggesting she and I ignore what’s happened. We were best friends and we’ll be that again.”
“Given time, that is entirely possible.”
“I will give her time. I just don’t intend to ignore how we feel about each other while we work through our problems.”
“But do you really believe completing the bond is the way to go about it?”
“Angel, I can accept that you love Cordelia. Well I can learn to accept it. She’s an amazing woman, but you have no idea what this… marriage means.”
“I love her and that’s not going to change.”
“Perhaps. Angel, you admit you have problems to work through but the course you wish to choose cannot be undone. You’re talking about tying a nineteen year old young woman to a two hundred and fifty year old vampire. Once completed, the bond can never be broken. Can you even begin to comprehend the magnitude of such a decision?”
Angel shifted in his seat. “I will love her forever, Wes.”
“But Cordelia’s forever is not nearly as long as yours. Have you thought about that? The bond requires fidelity, we’ve seen that and according to that priest, the bond cannot even be broken by death. For an immortal demon such as you, that may prove to be a great number of years of magically enforced chastity.”
“Have you thought about what would happen to Cordelia if you were staked? You have done a lot good but you’ve also committed some truly heinous acts. Neither of us can say what will happen to your soul after you die, but should any torment be involved, do you know if Cordelia will be forced to feel your suffering for eternity? Do you even care what might happen to her once you’re gone?” He felt a twinge of guilt. He may not rival Angelus but Wesley knew exactly which buttons to push in this instance.
“I hadn’t thought about that.”
“You love Cordelia and… maybe you can make her happy. Maybe the two of you can have a truly wonderful relationship but that doesn’t mean you need to be married. After the forty nights have been completed, I won’t try to interfere in your relationship.” He was tempted to cross his fingers. “Cordelia is a grown woman and I will respect her decision… in this matter.”
“I-I suppose we could do that.”
“And in a few years and after considerable research, I will personally track down a qualified priest to perform the ceremony should you and Cordelia decide to marry.” May lightning not strike him dead? Wesley stood and began pacing.
“That seems fair.”
“I mean the two of you haven’t even had a proper date. Marriage seems a bit fast, don’t you think?”
“I guess you’re right.”
Wesley cleared his throat before continuing. “Angel, I know I have no right to ask this but I want you to give Cordelia the next forty days as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“As I said, I won’t interfere in your relationship after the annulment is final; however, I would like to see you give Cordelia a chance to see… to explore the possibility of a normal life or as normal as a seer can have.”
Angel spoke through a clenched jaw, “Meaning?”
“Brian is a-”
“Angel, be reasonable.” Wes moved to stand behind his desk. “Brian is a nice normal man, who could possibly make Cordelia a very happy woman. That is what you want, isn’t it? You want her to be happy, don’t you?”
“I will make her happy.”
“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable, after all you did do it for Buffy,” Wesley calmly pointed out. “You know the bond prevents her from becoming too serious with Brian and pursuing a romantic relationship with Cordelia now may prove too strong of a temptation for you right now. Making love would bind her to you for an eternity… and to your demon.”
Angel felt his resolve draining away. How could he ask Cordelia to open herself up to not just him, but to his demon? The priest said they would feel each other’s emotions. Would Cordelia feel his demon? Would she experience all its urges? How could she not become disgusted or worse, afraid?
The pain and anguish reflected in Angel’s eyes hit Wesley like a punch to the gut. He felt like a total bastard. He reminded himself he was only doing what he thought was in Cordelia’s best interest and by extension Angel’s as well. After all, Cordelia’s unhappiness would torture Angel. Still he felt the need to offer some sort of consolation. “It’s only 40 days, Angel. It could give her the chance to go into a relationship with you without regrets. Put the choice where it belongs, with Cordelia.”
Both men turned when the door flew open. The object of their discussion stood in the doorway with fire blazing in her eyes.
“I want to have a word with you, Mr. Thinks-He-Can-Tell-Me-What-To-Do!” She expected a heartfelt apology quickly following by another soul-searing kiss. “Go away, Wes,” she said without taking her gaze from Angel’s.
“I might remind you that this is my office.” Wesley’s bluster melted at one arched eyebrow. “Which you are free to use when needed of course.”
Cordelia waited until the door closed behind Wesley to speak. “What do you mean I will break up with Brian tonight? Who the hell do you think you are? I decide when… I mean if I break up with anyone! Just because… and with the kissing… and the practically non-existent jealousy, which wasn’t even really jealousy, I don’t know why I even mentioned it. Like I would be jealous of that blond tart? What kind of name is Trixie anyway?” She folded her arms and gave him her best belligerent glare. “The point is, Angel, you can’t tell me what to do.”
When it didn’t look like he intended to continue, she said, “That’s it? Where’s my apology?”
“I’m sorry. I had no right to tell you to break up with Brian.”
“You bet your ass you didn’t.” Now kiss me, she wanted to demand.
“I realize I was being unreasonable. I admit I was flattered by your jealousy. I-”
“I was not jealous of that… woman.”
“-have feelings for you,” he said, ignoring the interruption. “I have romantic feelings for you that have become increasingly difficult to ignore.”
*Now kiss me*
“Being married has been really confusing for me. A part of me feels like I’ve been handed this wonderful gift and I shouldn’t let it go, ever. Upstairs, I let that part, that small part, get the better of me.”
“Uh huh.” Small, she wanted to ask.
“I shouldn’t have… Cordy, I don’t want you to break up with Brian.”
“Nothing can happen between us. We don’t know—”
Cordelia interrupted before he could finish. She couldn’t bear to listen anymore. She cursed herself for being a million kinds of fool. “Exactly. I’m so glad we’re on the same page about this. I mean I get that there are some lusty feelings. Let’s face it. We are a couple of hotties, but that’s not the stuff lasting relationships are made of. I’m so relieved. I thought we were going to have some awkward moments. Phew! Well I have to go. I need to run some errands before I meet Brian at Caritas. Yeah so we talked and we straightened out where we stand and I’m gonna go now. Bye.” She rushed out of the office without meeting his gaze.
Angel stared at the empty doorway. He realized Cordelia misunderstood what he tried to say. An inner-voice raged that he should chase after her, make her understand; make her acknowledge the depth of their mutual feelings. The voice was squelched by reason. Wesley was right. Completing the bond wasn’t fair to Cordelia and he knew without a doubt that the next time he kissed her, he wasn’t going to stop.
“So that’s it? One year?”
“Miss Chase, it’s not an exact science. I wish I could-”
“Don’t take it back now. Just give me a straight answer.”
“The cold areas of your brain have increased by nearly 9% since your last test. Given the rate of decline, yes, I would estimate you have a year.”
“Dead. It sounds so… final. I guess it’s supposed to. I wonder who came up with the word. Dead, morte, mortuus, none of them sound all that appealing.”
“You know French and Latin?”
“I know death, Doc.” She rolled her eyes at how melodramatic she sounded.
Doctor Jefferies truly hated this part of his job, hardly surprising. No sane person could enjoy telling a young woman, barely claiming adulthood, she was dying. “Is there someone I can call?”
“No. There isn’t anyone,” Cordelia calmly replied. “Don’t worry, Doc. This doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. I’ve been coming here for months and each time the picture was a little bit worse. It’s like someone’s been drawing on my brain with a crayon. Hearing the words… it’s different, more real, but I’m a whole lot stronger than I look.” She tried to blink back the tears that began to form. “Can I ask you a question?”
“It’s not medical,” Cordelia qualified.
“That’s all right.”
“I recently starting dating a-a really great guy. He’s pretty much everything I ever thought I wanted in a man. Given time, I think I could learn to love him, but that wouldn’t be fair, would it? I mean he deserves… more.”
Cordelia’s comment about learning to love a man gave him a moment of pause. She deserved “more.” “Miss Chase, Cordelia, I won’t tell you to stop living your life. The rate of decline may grow negligible or even stop altogether.”
“And if it did?”
“Well I… I think I could safely say that could increase your life expectancy by perhaps two or even three years.”
“I think we better stick with the worse case scenario.” I won’t give up my visions, I won’t quit to buy myself a couple of years, she thought.
“Have you given any consideration to confiding in this man?”
“He’s too nice. I won’t have him stay with me out of pity,” Cordelia said. “I couldn’t do that to him. It’s better to end it now, before he-I mean we fall in love, don’t you think?”
“Cordelia, you have a very difficult path ahead of you. I cannot predict how functional you’ll be in the time you have left. As much as we know about the human brain, there’s so much more we don’t understand. You need a support system.”
“I have one. I have… two very supportive friends. They help me a lot. They just don’t always know about it.”
“They should. The pain medication I’ve prescribed is a controlled substance. You’re already prohibited to drive a vehicle.”
“That’s why God invented cabs and the bus system.” She didn’t mention that she still occasionally drove. It wasn’t like she had any problems doing it.
“Yes, but you need someone to confide in, someone to talk to.”
“I have that too. Unfortunately it isn’t possible for him to come here with me.”
“Okay,” he said. “It’s your decision, but to answer your original question, if you wish to be fair, you’ll tell your young man the truth.”
“I’ll think about it, Doc.” Cordelia knew she wouldn’t tell Brian. He would want to take care of her and worse; he’d tell Wesley and Gunn, who’d tell Angel. Angel would probably be so torn up by guilt he’d change his mind. He’d probably claim to be hopelessly in love with her just because he knew it’s what she wanted to hear. He’d only have to humor her for “one year.” She couldn’t bear that. “I guess I’ll see you in a few weeks.”
“Yes.” He signed her paperwork and handed it to her. “Someone at the front desk will schedule your next appointment.”
“Thanks.” Once the door closed behind her well-intentioned doctor, she closed her eyes and said, “One year.”
…”Hi honey! I’m home.” Cordelia smiled when a slight breeze caressed her cheek. “I have another picture to add to the collection.” She walked into her bedroom as a plastic tub slid out from under the bed. She slipped the large envelope inside atop the others. A pill bottle floated for a moment. She answered, “Nope. No new drug bottle for that collection.” She rattled the bottle in her purse. “This one still works, so there’s some good news. I mean it seems like I’ve been trying a new med after every visit lately.”
The CAT scan she tucked away lifted slightly.
“That news wasn’t so good, Dennis. Doc Jeffries actually said it today. It was… a little less than I expected. He-umm-he gave me… one year.” Cordelia didn’t realize she was crying until a tissue floated toward her. “Thanks.”
She wiped her eyes as she walked into the living room. “He was a little vague about the quality of life during that “one year.” He reminded me about the no driving thing. He sounded kinda serious too. I guess I won’t be playing designated driver anymore. I’ll have to think of a different excuse for not drinking. I suppose I could remind everyone I’m technically underage. I wonder… I umm wonder if I’ll ever be… It doesn’t matter. Alcohol is totally overrated. I mean it makes total losers look like hotties.”
Dennis tucked a blanket around her trembling shoulders.
“Thanks. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I told the doctor about you today. I mean I left out the phantom part. I just told him it wasn’t possible for you to come with me for my appointments. He-uhh-he thinks I should tell the guys.”
The phone floated toward her.
“No. They can’t do anything. Besides even if I decided my life was more important than all the helpless we’re supposed to help, giving up the visions now wouldn’t save me. Too much damage has been done. It might buy me some time but at what cost. I can’t do that. I won’t. This is my decision. Wesley and Gunn can’t know, at least not yet. I will tell them. I will. I’ll know when the moment’s right. Until then, I still have you.”
A photo of Angel awkwardly standing in front of the painted door of their old office floated out of the drawer she’d stuffed it into.
“I don’t want to talk about Angel.” She smacked the picture away. “He’s the least of my priorities right now. He made his feelings perfectly clear. Besides I need to work on channeling my inner dumbass. Guess who gets to give the “you deserve a normal life” speech tonight?”
The photo dangled in the air again.
“No not Angel. He’s already given that speech to the only woman he’s ever loved. I’m talking about me. I have to break up with Brian tonight. It’s not fair for me to start something there’s no hope for. Brian’s a great guy. He deserves the house in the suburbs with the 2.5 kids. I can’t give that to him. I probably couldn’t even if I wasn’t… dying. I said it. I’m dying, Dennis.” She brushed a lone tear from her cheek. “It’s one thing to pretend I’m okay to the guys, but I can’t do it with Brian. I could love him. I really think I could but I can’t let him love me. I won’t. I won’t put him through that. Wes and Gunn already love me. There’s nothing I can do to stop this from hurting them, but I can help Brian.”
The air vibrated around her.
“Come on, Dennis. Help me pick out the perfect break-up outfit. I haven’t done this in a while.”