Wesley and Gunn were waiting in Angel’s office to deliver the bad news about Cordelia. At least Wesley was. Gunn was just there for the show. Telling a demon that his killer girlfriend was about to die promised to be a most entertaining afternoon. Yessiree. Bring on the justice. Bring on the pain.
“We’ve got to be strong and united in this, Gunn. He’s going to be extremely angry and in a great deal of denial. We can’t back down.”
Wesley was pacing as usual. Doesn’t he know how weak he looks? Gunn was sitting behind Angel’s desk in his chair, feeling right at home. “Yeah, yeah. I know the game plan, Wes. But if he even looks at me funny…”
“What are you saying? You’ll put him down like a dog?” Wes stopped pacing and looked at Gunn like he’d never seen him before.
“Hey, I’m just saying I’m not going to be the messenger that gets shot, man. He steps on my foot, I bite his leg off.” Gunn rose to his full height and then some letting Wesley know whose territory Wes was trying to piss on.
Wes didn’t flinch at the aggressive posture, but he didn’t advance either. “We’re talking about Angel and we’re talking about letting the woman he loves die. I suspect he will look at us very funny at first. But I hope he will eventually understand and accept the truth of what’s best. Until then, we will need to be patient and tread carefully around his feelings.”
“I’m not treading around anybody’s feelings. If I see…”
Suddenly the door burst open and a frenetic, wild-eyed Angel flew in.
“Jesus, I’ve been looking for you guys everywhere. Cordy spoke to me! She’s back!”
Wesley looked at Gunn bewildered and then looked back at the exuberant Angel. Gunn just looked disappointed.
Lorne and Fred were already standing outside Cordy’s door when Angel, Wes and Gunn rounded the corner running.
“Are the doctors still in there?” Angel asked worriedly.
“Yes. They said we should wait here until they can assess her condition.” Fred looked at Angel with a mixture of apprehension and joy. A fair complement to his impatience and…well…more impatience.
“What’s to assess? She spoke.”
“Angel what did she say exactly?” So far Angel hadn’t been very clear about what happened and Wesley feared Angel was delusional.
“I was showing her some clothes in a magazine and she said ‘that shirt’s nice’.”
“Uh-huh. Did she actually speak those words or did you just hear them?”
“Well I heard them so she had to say them, right? I mean it was her voice.” Wesley just stared at him with his disbelief apparent. “Wes, I know her voice! I didn’t imagine it.”
Angel turned and towered over Fred as he made a move for the door handle. Wesley’s hand shot forward and grabbed his wrist.
“We should let them do their job, Angel. If you’re right, then Cordelia has only just come back from a horrible ordeal. We can’t be sure how much she remembers and how those memories are affecting her right now. They may need to sedate her.”
Wes let go of his wrist as Angel’s shoulders slumped. “Angel, I know what you think you heard.” Angel jerked his head up and was ready to argue, but Wesley cut him off. “But the fact is that her condition has, over the past weeks, deteriorated dramatically. I think you should be prepared for bad news. Or, at the very least, cautiously optimistic news.”
“What are you saying? She’s back! She came back and she’s not going anywhere ever again. I won’t let her. Do you understand that? Do all of you understand that?”
The gang looked at each other uncomfortably and tried to avoid Angel’s eyes, except Gunn who was quietly enjoying this. “We understand what you want to happen. But MRIs and blood tests don’t lie. Cordy is dying and ain’t nothin’ you can do to stop it. So you can stand there and act like nothing’s wrong from now ‘til Roseanne wins an Oscar, but that ain’t gonna change facts.”
You could almost feel the blood in Angel’s veins boiling. The air got suddenly thick and humid. Angel snorted like a bull, took two steps and was nose to nose with this man he didn’t know. A growl hung at the back of his throat and he heard Gunn growl in response.
Angel was caught off-guard for an instant, but then the realization dawned on him. He had sensed something different about Gunn for a while now, but he couldn’t put a name to it. He still wasn’t sure what had happened to him or when, but he was sure now that Gunn was fundamentally changed. What he sensed about him was pure animal. Feral animal. Some part of Gunn was no longer human and that didn’t bother him as much as it might have before. It made it easier.
“Cordelia will not die. I don’t care what MRIs, blood tests or doctors say. She. Will. Not. Die. I won’t let her. WE won’t let her, and if you can’t be a part of that, you can leave.”
Gunn wanted to stake this asshole right there. Arrogant demon. Thinks he has the power of life and death. Later, baby. We’ll party claw to fang and hot damn, I’ll have me some fun. It killed him to back down, but he couldn’t do anything yet. So for now he’d better smooth things over if he could choke down the bile rising in his esophagus long enough to spit the words out. He broke the staring contest and looked down in an act of sublimation. “None of us want her to die.”
“Angel, Charles is just…we all just want you to be prepared. You know. If something happens.” Angel turned from Gunn to Fred fearing another traitor. Fred jumped and added quickly, “But, of course, nothin’s gonna happen because Cordy’s strong and brave. She’s a fighter and we’re all going to fight for her. Please, can’t we just be happy right now? Please?” Fred wanted so badly to calm the situation down. We’re all going to be together again. Cordy will bring us all back together again. She has to.
The tears were beginning to form in Fred’s eyes and Angel knew her plea was genuine. The tenseness in his body gradually eased as he looked from Fred to Lorne. He looked as upset as Fred, and Angel began to feel guilty for his outburst.
“I’m sorry. I know you guys are only concerned for Cordy and me. I just don’t think it’s going to do her any good if we don’t have faith in her. Ya know? I know she’s got a long way to go to get back from this, but we can’t be negative around her. She’ll sense any doubt, and she doesn’t need to deal with our worries on top of everything else she’s got to deal with. Okay?”
“Of course. You’re right. We should all be as positive as possible around her.” Wesley relented for now. At least until the doctors came out and confirmed what he already knew to be true. The rest nodded and muttered in agreement.
Angel turned to Gunn who stood motionless. “Gunn?”
He looked up at the vampire and locked gazes. “Sure. Anything for the princess.”
There was something about the way he said “princess” (was that sarcasm?) that sent a chill up his spine. Angel would definitely not be turning his back on Gunn anytime soon.
The tension only increased when somebody’s pager started buzzing wildly.
“Dammit, Dennis. Why isn’t it working? I was sure it would.”
“I’m sorry, Cordelia. Maybe you should check to see what’s happening.”
“What? Huh? Oh, for crap’s sake. I totally forgot I can do that. Must be your bound-to-one-home ghost ick rubbing off on me. Remind me to get you unbound as soon as I’m in my body again.”
“No, please don’t. I don’t want to be unbound. I want to stay with you.”
“Silly, I meant unbound to this apartment. Of course, you’ll come with me. I couldn’t live without you.”
She could feel his blush and surrounded him with her essence to hug him. It was weird, but it worked.
“Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”
Buzzzzz. Buzzzzzz. Buzzzzzz.
“I’m sorry, but there’s been no change. At least not for the better.”
Angel blinked in disbelief and then spoke through clenched teeth. “But, she spoke to me. I heard her!”
The doctor was very intimidated by the boss, but more concerned about what that vamp would do if any harm came to his patient. So he straightened his shoulders and prayed he could make his case.
“I can’t say for sure she didn’t speak, but none of our tests can confirm it. Her condition has not improved and, in fact, there are some indications that she’s worse. Her vitals have slipped to an alarming degree.” He fully expected the demon to break his neck and apparently the others did, too, since a few of them grabbed his arms in a timid attempt to rein him in.
Cordy was surrounding all her family now and would have felt pure joy if not for the irritating little doctor man blowing snow out his ass. “Please, stop with the doom and gloom. I’m right here you rheological retard.”
Angel wanted to kill him, but something in him snapped. It was the tether that he’d had bound around his hope that broke. He slumped and might have actually fallen if he hadn’t felt Lorne and Fred’s hands supporting him.
Buzzzzzz. Buzzzzzzz. Buzzzzzz.
“Who’s pager is that? Would somebody turn that bloody thing off!” Wesley whispered loudly. The sound didn’t seem to be affecting Angel, but it was driving him over the edge.
After some panicked searching by the various members there, the offending object was finally found.
“Sorry. That’s mine. I’ll turn it off. Sorry.”
“Noooo!! Don’t turn it off. Answer it! Well, hell’s bells. Has Wolfram & Hart mind fucked you people?” When no one answered her simple question, she gave up Plan A. “Dennis, we’re moron challenged here. Charge up Plan B.”
An interminable silence fell after all the fumbling about with pager checking. It all went completely unnoticed by Angel. Finally, Lorne quietly broached the impasse.
“Doctor, can I go in?”
The doctor looked at Lorne and then at Angel seeking his permission to allow it. “Well, I have no objections if…”
“Angel? Do you mind? I need to check something out. I’ll be just a minute.”
Angel was still a bit dazed by the idea that Cordy might actually leave him, so he just automatically nodded his consent. The doctor stepped aside to let Lorne pass and Angel caught a glimpse of her chest falling as air left her body. He didn’t want that to be the last image of her that he saw.
Angel sat in his luxurious new pad just a short sewer hop from the W&H building. It felt strange here still, definitely not a home, and the only thing that made it feel normal was the sketchpad and pencil in his hands.
He had only seen Connor with his new family that one time. He’d wanted to go back every day, but he knew it would only make it more and more difficult to leave him there. As the days turned into weeks, it did get easier. But he never forgot. I don’t even have a picture of him. Which is why he drew sketches of him.
He spent every waking hour at home sketching Connor and Cordelia. Not and Cordelia. Not them together. A sketch of Connor separate from a sketch of Cordelia. Never in the same drawing.
Damn. Why did I have to go there? Why do I have to have a photographic memory? He knew logically what had happened. He didn’t blame either one of them. Cordy wasn’t Cordy and Connor was just a horny teenager who fell in love with a beautiful woman that showed him kindness. Hell, he had too, so he could see how it could happen. He wasn’t angry or hurt by it anymore. It was just the picture of it in his mind that he couldn’t let go of. Cordy with another man. It was the beast in him. That territorial, alpha male, macho crap that was in his blood, and he couldn’t wash it out of him with transfusions.
But now it didn’t matter. Connor was gone and soon she would be, too. Just when he’d felt the most hope he’d had in months, life showed him just how undeserving he was.
“Angel, sweetums. I don’t know how to tell you, but…she’s not there anymore. She’s gone.”
Lorne was broken. Only a few hours ago he was Mr. Broadway and now he was just a weeping Pylean in hell with no music.
The image he had glimpsed through the door was what he had drawn as soon as he sat down. It was too painful to keep locked in his mind. The lines defining her form on the page were dark and much too solid. She wasn’t solid any more. He needed to erase them. Make them wispy and barely there. She needed to fade into the negative space more.
The sketch was just as still and lifeless as her body. Devoid of depth and strictly two-dimensional. And so was his thinking. All he thought about was his pain and loss.
But, truly what had Cordy lost? A working body? Life? Her family? No, if he actually went deeper than the surface he knew in his heart she hadn’t lost anything. She was so much better off without him and certainly better off without all the fighting. The only thing of substance that was missing was the closeness of those who loved her and whom she loved. But she wouldn’t be without her family forever, and most would be joining her much sooner than later. But can I live without her until… Can I live without her?
As soon as Fred reached her office she dropped into her chair, let her head fall into her crossed arms on the desk and bawled. Yes, she was officially the crybaby of the group, but somehow she’d managed to keep it together in front of Angel. She didn’t think he could sink any deeper, but then she witnessed him slide into the earth’s core before her very eyes when Lorne told him the news.
It really didn’t matter any more. Nothing did. Their family was destroyed and Cordy wouldn’t be able to put it back together again. Fred wanted to desperately, but they didn’t listen to her like they did Cordy. Cordelia was intimidation personified and Fred knew she could never measure up like that.Hell, I’d be lucky if they listened to me about the time of day. How can they think I’m so smart and so stupid at the same time?
The sound of the phone ringing so close to her ear was enough to stop her heart and self-flagellation. She pulled up quickly and swiped at her drenched cheeks. Sniffling, she tried to calm herself before answering. Well, isn’t this just a fine pigs’ sty you’re wallowin’ in, Missy? Cordy’s dyin’ and you’re feelin’ sorry for yourself. Stop it, this instant! One more wipe of the eyes and then her hand lifted the handset from its cradle.
“Winifred Burkle speaking.” When no one answered her, she tried again. “Hello. This is Winifred Burkle. Is anybody there?” She was about to hang up in irritation when she heard the tones. She put the phone back to her ear and listened for a second. Just more tones. Like someone trying to dial another number.
“C’mon Fred. You’re the frickin’ math genius. Puzzle girl extraordinaire. Get a clue.” Cordy pleaded.
“Hellooo? You’ve got to hang up before you start dialing again. I’m still on the line. Helllloooooo?” The only response she got was more annoying tones from some dimwit trying to dial again. “Okay. I’m hanging up now. Goodbye.”
“I don’t believe this. A little girl’s life is in the balance and she’s being polite to a wrong number. Dennis! Call again.”
When she hung up she noticed her message light was on. “Great. Probably some emergency in Computational Portal Advancements. Just what I need today. To get sucked into another swirling vortex to hell.”
“Can’t say I blame ya there. Had one of those today myself. Dennis!! Are you listening to me?”
The phone rang again just as Fred was about to check her voice mail. “Hello, this is Winifred Burkle.” Again, nothing but someone dialing.
“That’s my boy. Keep it up.”
“Okay, this isn’t funny whoever you are. I’ve had a really bad day so far and I don’t need this kinda grade school crap right now. If you don’t stop calling, I’m going to trace this call and use my considerable scientific and anatomical knowledge to ram a cattle prod right up your ass.”
“Dammit, Fred! This isn’t a prank. It’s deadly serious. And thanks for the nice torture visual. Dennis, one more… Stop, wait a minute.”
Fred had picked up the phone to check her voice mail. The first message was from Knox. Something about a technical screw up with a hand-held dimensional sequencing thingamabob. Yada yada yada, who cares.
The second was from Wesley telling her about a meeting in Angel’s office in thirty minutes. Will this day never end? I don’t think I can take another emotional meltdown.
The third was another one from the pranky boys and when she heard the tones her last nerve sizzled. Those dialing digits were about the meet the sharp end of a Troilan Triblade. She slammed the phone down.
“Fred, no!! Listen to the sounds. Please, please. It’s the same every time. I know you can figure it out. Please, Fred.”
Fred picked up the phone again.
“Yes! There ya go. Listen again.”
She dialed a few numbers and started barking orders. “This is Winifred Burkle, Head of the Science Division. I need a number traced ASAP. Two calls were made to this number within the last fifteen minutes…uh-huh…yeah, that’s real sad. But I don’t give a flying monkey’s ass whose mother just died. I want to know exactly who made those calls, and I want to know now!” She slammed down the phone and headed for the restroom knocking her chair over in her whirlwind exit.
“Ooookkkkaaayyyy. Again with the nice visual. Not what I had planned, but this could work just as well. As long as she recognizes the address and as long as the phone trace guy is as scared of her as I am right now.”
Gunn had left the wake outside Cordelia’s tomb and trotted straight to his fortress for some rejuvenation. No matter how long between visits, the sensation was as strong as the first time he stared into those eyes. Clarity born of purity. The pure white of the room and the pure black of the panther. All colors of the spectrum create white, and black is born of the absence of all light. All consciousness creates life and lack of consciousness marks death.
There is no gray as long as the white and black never mix. The white thinks. The black feels. As long as you don’t mix feelings with thinking, everything remains pure. Pure hunger. Pure vision. Pure power. Pure purpose. Pure white. Pure black. Pure right. Pure wrong. Man that was deep. Guess the homeboy’s got depths after all.
Ever since he fell into the eyes of the cat (or whatever the fuck happened), Gunn was the man he wanted to be. A cat? Whaddup with that? Shoulda been a dog, ya know? But, hey. Cats are cool. All independent and strong. Sleek and fast. Quiet and patient. They know what’s food and what’s not. What lives and what dies. A cat is the king of the jungle. King Gunn. “Kinda feels good on the tongue. King Gunn.” A sly grin scampered across his face and just a hint of cold yellow crept in behind his normally warm brown eyes.
Yeah, I got it goin’ on. No more pansy-ass ‘if it’s got a soul, it’s okay’ crap. Because it ain’t okay. If it’s demon, it’s dead. If it kills, I kill it. The mission is all there is and all there should be. I am King and I rule. “Now who dies first your majesty?”
The eyes have it.
Nasulo was taking his time. Killing the girl was going to take some finesse. She wasn’t his ordinary victim. No timid tea set toting, house-playing Barbie wannabe her. This child was unique and was forewarned. He knew of her gifts and imagined she knew he was coming for her.
Would she also know how he was going to kill her when he didn’t even know himself? And once he did decide his strategy was it already doomed to fail because she’d see it coming? For once in is eternal life he thought he might have to wing it. Surprise himself and in the process leave her no time to form her defense. I didn’t know I could get headaches. She’ll pay for that in many vile ways.
Fala had already seen her death, and it didn’t bother her. She’d also seen her rescue, not that she really needed it. She was perfectly capable of taking care of the Nasulo or dying by its hands.
Whatever. There was no death for her. Of course there could be death for this body, but another would take its place. The only reasons for her to avoid Nasulo’s claws were her mother and the tormented one. Her mother was a kind and precious soul, but incomplete. And the one who was to save her could help her mother’s soul reach the next level.
And there was that secondary benefit. The joining. It didn’t need to happen in this lifetime, but it couldn’t hurt. She just couldn’t decide.
“Mommy, can I have a Klondike bar?” She decided to put off that conundrum until later. Maybe the crunchy and smooth confection would tip the scale.
Everyone was in Angel’s office except Gunn. They’d already waited 10 minutes for him, and Wesley’s patience was worn.
“Angel, I think we should start without Gunn. He wasn’t in his office, so I’m not sure if he got the message. He’s already well aware of the situation and…”
“Fine.” Angel just stared out the window with his back to them.
Fred and Lorne looked to each other for support. Wesley saw the two exchange glances and wished he was on their team right now. He did not want to be the one putting the knife in Angel’s heart. Why do I always have to be the mature one? If only I could hold someone’s hands and cry when I felt it. Like right now.
“Wesley, why did you want to meet? What situation are you talking about?” Was Angel really so out of it that he didn’t know why they were here? Oh, God, take this cup from me. When God failed him yet again, he spoke.
“The situation is Cordelia.” Wesley heard the tone in his own voice and was shocked by its businesslike cool. He took a deep breath and tried to let the weight of what he was about to say reflect in his voice. “Angel, it’s time. We need to let her go.”
Angel slowly turned his chair and faced them. He forced himself to move his chest out and in to simulate breathing because he didn’t want any one of them thinking he didn’t care. That he was just a dead, unfeeling corpse that had given up. He wanted them to know that life mattered to him and that her life was still precious to him.
He looked Wesley in the eye and said, “I agree.” Once he spoke the words, he stopped breathing.
The shock went through each of them differently. Wesley was sure he had not heard correctly. Fred was simply devastated but somehow knew he was ready. Lorne was merely accepting as always of the way of things, but still amazed that he had not seen it in his aura. There was still so much conflict apparent in him, surrender definitely wasn’t on the top of the charts.
When no one said anything, Angel decided to let his friends off the hook and himself, too.
“I love Cordelia. I wanted to say that to her before anybody else heard it, but I’ve accepted that it’s not going to happen. I hope she knew. It took me so long to realize it, and then too long to get the courage to tell her, but I hope she felt it from me. Maybe some day I’ll find out.” The tears that had pooled just at the precipice now spilled over at the thought of seeing her again…smiling and happy.
He choked back the hard knot in his throat and willed the tears to retreat so he could continue.
“But one thing I’m sure of is that she loved us. And she would never want any of us to be in this much pain. Cordy loved life and didn’t fear living it. We have to honor her and do the same thing.”
He pondered who was left of his family in the room. A scruffy yet impeccably dressed rogue demon hunter, a terminally insane but totally guileless physicist, and a green-skinned, red-horned anagogic diva demon. Their hearts were breaking but he couldn’t let their lives be ripped apart now. If Cordelia had done one thing for him, it was to show him he still possessed a heart. He wouldn’t let her life be in vain. If he couldn’t save her, he could do that much for the love of his life.
He would have to be the heart of their family now. As soon as he did what he had to do and put the shredded pieces of it back together. Please, Cordy, help me.
Tomorrow was going to be the worst day of her life so far. And that was saying something coming from a woman who’d been trapped in a hell dimension for five years. Fred shuffled into her office after “the meeting.” That’s what it would forever be to her now. The day they had “the meeting” that killed Cordy. She never wanted to meet with anyone ever again. But there was one more to attend at 9:00 am sharp. The “goodbye meeting.” Wasn’t tonight just going to be chock full of restful non-sleep of the tossing and turning variety?
What do you wear to a plug pulling? She couldn’t help but smile at the Cordy in her. “Oh, God, I’m going to miss you so much.”
She plopped into her chair and picked up the phone to call Charles. She didn’t know why he hadn’t been there, but she wanted to be the one to tell him the decision. She got his voice mail and wasn’t sure what to do.
“Umm…Charles….this is Fred. Well, of course you know it’s me. How stupid of me. Anyway we had the meeting about Cordy just a little while ago and… Gosh, I really wanted to talk to you. I wish you were there. I….uh…miss you, ya know?”
Fred’s eye wandered from the phone cord she was twisting in her finger to the message that had been placed on her desk while she was gone. She stared at the words not immediately grasping what she was seeing. But something tickled her brain about it. Something was familiar.
“Uh…oh! Sorry. Uh, maybe you should give me a call when you get this because I don’t want….”
The address. That’s what was bugging her. She knew that address. It was Cordy’s old apartment. What the hell? Who would be placing prank calls from there? And to her private line?
“…uh…to…tell….you….” It hit her like Ernst Angley’s healing hand. “Holy shit! My mother’s Aunt Rosie’s girdle! Oh, my god!” She suddenly realized she still had the phone in her hand. “Oh, Jesus. Sorry, Charles. I’ve gotta go!”
She slammed down the receiver and pulled it off again when she tried to grab her purse with the phone cord wrapped around her arm. The cord was evil and wouldn’t let her go, so she snatched her purse anyway and pulled the phone from the wall as she flew out her office and out of her mind.