Two weeks after his return, Angel awoke to the sound of muffled crying. Cordelia was curled up beside the bed sobbing into her tightly hugged legs. Connor was asleep on the bed surrounded by pillows.
Angel wasn’t sure what to do. He wanted to hold her, to comfort her but he didn’t dare touch her. For the first time he spoke directly to her. “Cordelia?”
Her head slowly lifted from its hiding place. He was looking directly at her. He could see her. “I’m so sorry, Angel.”
“For what? You have nothing to apologize for.”
“I promised to stake you but I didn’t have any weapons. I had to keep Connor safe no matter what. Please don’t hate me. I couldn’t bear it if you hated me.”
He slowly approached her as if she were a wounded animal. “I could never hate you. It wasn’t your fault.”
She shook her head. “It was. It was all my fault. I made you lose your soul. I offered myself to your demon. It was all my fault. I’m so sorry.”
Angel wrapped his arms around her. She didn’t pull away from him. “None of it was your fault. You didn’t make me lose my soul. It was an accident. We didn’t know it was going to happen. You saved our son. I’m so sorry what it cost you. I wish to God I could take it all back. I wish I could make this better. I’m so sorry I hurt you.”
She buried herself deeper into his arms. “How can you not hate me? I…I did all those things with your demon. I let him… He made me… I didn’t want to. I tried not to. I don’t understand why. I didn’t want him touching me. I swear I didn’t enjoy it. I’m so sorry. I betrayed you. Please don’t hate me. I tried to hide but he kept saying things and those people.
I couldn’t let him hurt those people. I hid as much as I could but my tree doesn’t work anymore. I miss all of you so much. I don’t want to be alone anymore. No one’s going to save me. No one ever did. No one ever came to find me. I always went home when I was ready. No one’s coming to find me now either. Please don’t hate me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Hush. You did nothing wrong. Please don’t feel guilty for… I-he knows how to manipulate your body. It wasn’t your fault. I know that. I know you hated every horrible second and I am so sorry I put you through that. I never wanted to hurt you. I’m so sorry. Please let me help you. I want to be there for you. I just don’t know how. I hurt you. You should hate me. You should want me gone. I’ll do whatever you want. I just need you to tell me what to do.”
She curled up on his lap. “Please don’t leave me. We have to keep Connor safe. He’s all that matters.”
“That’s not true. You matter too. How can I help you?”
“Me? No. I don’t matter. I’m not here.”
He gently began to rock her. “You are here. You’re safe now. I won’t let anyone hurt you. My soul is never going anywhere again. You’re safe.”
“Connor has to be safe. Connor is all…”
“Connor is safe. I will protect both of you. We’re a family. I won’t let either of you go. You’re both safe now.”
“You don’t hate me? You don’t hate me for what I did?”
“I could never hate you. You are the bravest, most selfless person I know. I’m so proud of you. You kept our son safe. He’s alive because of you. Those six people are alive because of you.”
“I failed the other three.”
“No. I failed them. I failed everyone. You did nothing wrong.” He lifted her chin until their eyes locked. “You did absolutely NOTHING wrong. You are NOT to blame for any of it. I let you down. I failed you.”
“No. You didn’t know that would happen. It’s not your fault. You couldn’t stop him from hurting anyone. I had to protect them. I had to keep them safe.”
“You did. You kept them safe and now it’s over. We’ll get through this. Lorne found someone you can talk to. She is going to help you get better.”
“Am I sick?”
“No. You’re just a little lost. I made you run away.”
“I was hiding in my tree.” She rested her head on his shoulder. “Did I ever tell you about my tree?”
“No” He gently rubbed circles on her back. “I’d like to hear all about it.”
“My grandmother had this little wooded area behind her house. I…”
It had been two months since their return. Wesley glanced around the empty lobby. He was still the first person to arrive. Things had improved. Their lives weren’t what they had been and they probably never would be. They had all changed.
Cordelia’s condition had improved since she started visiting the counselor Lorne had found. Angel joined her session once a week. The counselor had also come to the hotel twice to meet with everyone. She had a few private sessions with Angel and Fred.
Fred had stopped writing in her notebook but she still cried from time to time. She fussed over Cordelia and Connor all the time. Cordelia had started speaking again.
The whole hotel went still the first time she had laughed. He and Gunn had been bickering over the proper way to maintain a weapon and she suddenly started laughing. She called them an old married couple and continued laughing. It was a beautiful sight.
Angel spoke more often too. His eyes rarely left Cordelia but he would try to hold a conversation with the others. He even helped on a case.
Gunn was still angry but Cordelia had told him she’d never forgive him if he hurt Angel. He was however given carte blanche by Angel to stake Angelus if he were ever to somehow be released. Gunn promised to tie him up, bring him to his old hood and torture him before sending him to a dusty grave.
Connor had fared the best. The child was positively spoiled. The only time he was ever put down was to sleep and not always then either. He preferred Cordelia or Angel but he permitted everyone to hold him.
After a few sessions, she finally spoke to everyone about what happened. She refused to blame Angel much to Gunn’s confusion but she no longer blamed herself. She had learned in her sessions that rape wasn’t about sex.
It was about power. She had been his victim regardless of what Angelus had made her believe. Wesley had been shocked to learn that she blamed herself in any way. In his Watchers’ training, he had studied the emotional fallout from rape. It had in the past happened to several Slayers.
He became angry with himself for not being more helpful with what she had gone through afterwards. He assumed she had been broken by what Angelus had done to her, not by what he had led her to believe. They were all shocked when she asked them if they blamed her.
Fred had thrown herself into Cordelia’s arms and sobbed. They had their first group hug that day. They assured her wholeheartedly that no one had ever or would ever blame her for any part of what happened.
Wesley was rather surprised to see Cordelia grow closer to Angel as she improved. He knew logically that Angel wasn’t to blame for Angelus’s actions. He had explained as much to Gunn on several occasions but he found it surprising that Cordelia was able to make that distinction. She had been tortured by a demon wearing the face of the man she loved yet somehow she didn’t blame the face at all.
He eventually attributed it to the fact that during her ordeal she had focused the blame on herself rather than Angelus and by association Angel. Cordelia allowed Angel to touch her when they passed Connor back and forth.
He had been speechless when the two had been sitting on the couch together one day with their shoulders touching. The two continued to share a room, although they had chosen a new suite. They worked together to repair it. She and Fred did the redecorating. There was one king size bed.
Fred had told him that Cordelia and Angel shared it but Connor always slept in between them. She had theorized that the couple was trying to work their way back to where they had been before Angelus’s appearance. Wesley did his best to be supportive. He convinced Gunn not to voice his opinion.
He was startled from his reverie by Fred’s entrance. “Good morning.”
She smiled. Her eyes were no longer puffy and the dark circles were gone. “Hi.” She sat down at the computer. “Is there anything you need me to research?”
“Not at the moment.”
“I got donuts.” Gunn came bouncing down the steps.
“I have dibs on the glazed chocolate one. You did buy a glazed chocolate one, didn’t you?” Cordelia glared at him over Connor’s head.
Gunn stood staring up at her, his mouth open.
“Are you trying to catch flies or are you too scared to tell me you didn’t get me my favorite donut?”
“I… I didn’t forget.” He picked up the donut in question. “See.”
“You’re the best.” She resumed walking down the stairs and snatched it from his hand. “So what are we working on?”
Wesley shook himself from his state of shock. “We don’t have any cases pending. Gunn and I finished the Barrington case the other day.”
“Did they pay?”
“Yes. I deposited the check yesterday.”
“Good.” Cordelia placed Connor in his basinet. She tapped her finger on his nose. “You’re just the bestest baby in the whole wide world.” She looked up and found everyone staring. “What?”
“You seem in good spirits today.”
“I am. We had a really good session yesterday and last night we drove to my grandmother’s old house. I showed Angel my tree and we climbed it together. The branches were lower than I remembered but my seat was still there. I think my butt got bigger but then I haven’t sat there since I was eleven so there’s absolutely no need to let this donut go to waste.” She took a big bite.
“Where is Angel?”
“Mr. I’m-a-vampire-so-I-shouldn’t-have-to-get-up-early is still sleeping. Is it my fault he didn’t get any sleep on the car ride home? I offered to drive but nooo. God forbid he be a passenger in his precious car.” A painful memory flashed through her mind. She tried to blink back her tears.
Wesley rushed to her side. “Are you alright?”
“It comes and goes. Leslie told me my memories would hit me at the strangest times. She said it’s best to let them happen and then deal with the surge of emotions. Getting better takes time. It’ll never go away completely but the pain will become more bearable. It already is a little better. I have you guys and I have Connor and I have Angel. That helps. I won’t let Angelus win. He doesn’t have the power anymore. I do.” She offered a small but sincere smile.
“I have a case for us.”
“Yeah I had my first vision in months this morning. I guess the Powers think I’m ready to get back to work.”
“Their concern is so touching.” Gunn fist tightened squishing his donut. “Damn!”
“Dumbass. It doesn’t help to blame the Powers. They never did understand love nor have any appreciation for it. It’s all free will to them. It’s as much above their understanding as it is beneath their concern. We still have a job to do but I needed the break and they respected that. I don’t think I could’ve handled having anyone in my head for the last couple of months.”
“What did you see?”
“Some green slimy demon crawling out of the sewer and boy did this thing need a bath. I didn’t see it do anything but I felt its hunger.” Her eyes closed in concentration. “He climbed out behind that pizza place we used to go to when you, Gunn and I had the other office. It happens tonight at midnight. I drew a picture of it.” She handed Wes her sketch.
“I like the new non-painful visions but I’d prefer it if they didn’t come when I was on the toilet.” She noticed them trying not to laugh. “Go ahead and laugh but you try sitting on a toilet when you’re having a vision of some slimy demon crawling out of the sewer. I think the powers have a twisted sense of humor. I may never go to the bathroom again. You won’t think it’s so funny when you have to smell me.”
She glared at her friends but couldn’t stop a smile from forming. “Get to work people.”
Angel came grumbling down the steps. “I’m awake. Who needs sleep anyway? A solid four hours is more than enough.” He went over to his sleeping child.
“Oh sure. It’s okay when you sleep all day but I get yelled at.” He smiled at Cordelia. “So what is so important? We don’t have any cases. We could have slept a little longer.”
“I had a vision.”
He was at her side in an instant. “Are you okay?” He growled at the snickering people. “It’s not funny.”
“You haven’t heard the story yet.”
“Thank you Gunn. Your support is duly noted.”
“C’mon girl. I brought you a donut, didn’t I?”
“OK. You’re off the hook this time.” She turned back to Angel. She smiled at his scowl. “Don’t worry so much. It’ll give you wrinkles.”
She kissed his cheek. “I’m fine. I may even be able to use the bathroom again in time without fear of something crawling out of the pipes. I am pretty tough.”
His fingers gingerly touched his cheek. It was the first time she kissed him. “Bathroom?”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s a long story. I’ll explain while you get Connor’s bottle ready.” She dragged him from the room.
Wesley watched the pair go …. Cordelia Chase truly was an extraordinary woman.