Starting Over. 6

I’ve angsted over this part for a week and it’s doing my HEAD in. Literally. I tried to include Doyle/Groo, it did my head in that way. It didn’t have much Cordelia, it did my head in that way. Finally, I just thought, “right, sod it, I have to post it or I’m going to be bald by next week…” So, here ya go. Just be thankful I like my hair.

Part 6

Three Years Ago…

A bead of moisture began its slow trickle down the half-demon’s forehead, its eyes bulging as the sword pressed against its neck.

The demon – known as Doyle by his friends and a variety of names by the other people he came into contact with or owed money to – looked up at his captor, realising that no small amount of Irish charm would get him out of this one.

“Woah, woah man,” he held up his hands, “I’m… I come in peace?” He muttered, wondering what the hell he was supposed to say to his ‘champion’. The Powers hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with the vision – just a flash of a place, a name and a sensation that Doyle still wasn’t getting used to.

“I do not understand these words,” said his Champion, darkly, “And you have a different smell to these other cows.” He gestured to the small crowd that had gathered across the street and looked at Doyle again.

“Yeah, well, first off? Not a cow.” Doyle huffed, rolling his eyes skyward, “Human, most of the time. With a little demon in me.”

“Demon?” The pressure of the sword increased, “I’ll kill you where you stand, filthy–“

“Hey, hey, less of the filthy,” said Doyle, indignantly, “And, for the thousandth time? Not all demons are dedicated to the destruction of the world, ya know?” Doyle paused, still holding up his hand, “The name’s Doyle. Pleased to make your acquaintance… Groo, is it?”

Groo’s eyes narrowed, “Speak, demon. How do you know my name?”

“I get visions from the Powers That Be. They told me you were comin’ here tonight, an’ that I was supposed to meet you so you could… Help. Welcome to LA, big guy… We got work to do.”

I am SO dead, thought Cordelia, glancing around the room as she struggled against the bonds that tied her to the chair, SO so dead. If this had been Sunnydale and she’d been trussed up like a turkey, she’d have a moderately high chance of getting out of there – considering Little Ms. Likes To Fight had this uncanny knack of turning up at just the right time, give or take a few minutes.

As it were? This wasn’t Sunnydale.

Cordelia had left that little dump behind for pastures greener – Los Angeles, to be precise, the call of fame and fortune too loud to ignore.

It had been hard at first. She wasn’t destitute per-se, but yeah, some months she felt a little light-headed from the whole not eating thing. Then this acting gig had come along and… It had been like Cordelia’s dream come true. A national, no less, sponsored by some of the most richest and influential guys in LA.

Cordelia Chase, big fish of little pond ala Sunnydale, was three weeks away from hitting the big time.

Her first acting gig, she’d see her face plastered all over billboards and TV’s and… Now, Cordelia was realising that her face would be all over those for the wrong reasons.

“Y’know, I knew you were evil,” She growled, looking up as one of her, *airquote*, ‘co-stars’ walked into the room, “You were entirely too hot to be normal.”

He barely spared her a second glance, heading across the room to the head cheese, the one who looked like the kind of guy you’d see hiring a gimp costume in a sex shop.

“Don’t make me gag you, Cordelia,” he growled over his shoulder, “I want to hear that mouth of yours do something better than talking.”

She muttered an expletive under her breath, looking at the others in the room she recognised as extras, one of her other co-stars, all trussed up, just like her. Most of them, however, had stopped struggling. They were sitting there, looking pretty docile, making Cordelia wonder if they’d been drugged.

“Hello, anyone home?”

Nobody looked up.

This is just my luck, she thought belatedly, Something good actually happens in my life and, despite the lack of certain slayer’s who shall remain nameless, it still sucks beyond belief! What is it, karma?

She was NOT that bad. At least not so bad that everything in her life was leading up to this point and, hello, first big break since she’d fell on a rebar!

Seething, Cordelia watched as they made preparations – for what, she didn’t know, but she’d lived in Sunnydale long enough to realise that this was some multiple sacrifice thingy. Possibly a cult, which she SO didn’t get.

Her eyes flitted across the room. One entrance, one exit. Which meant that if she was ever going to get out of here– Who was she kidding? She was never getting out of here. There gimp boy stood, sharpening his knives, and in a word? Cordelia was screwed. She yanked at the bonds that tied her to the chair again, pulled this way and that to try and get free.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

“You won’t get away with this, y’know,” said Cordelia, addressing her co-star again, “I have… I have friends! Friends in high places! And they will be SO pissed when they find out I’m not where I’m supposed to be right now.”

“And where’s that?” David, co-star extraordinaire, looked over at her, smiling cruelly. He didn’t even give her chance to lie. “Haven’t you worked it out, Cordelia? We didn’t pick you for your acting skills – what little their were anyway–” Cheap shot. “–We picked you because you, like so many in this city, were alone. We sensed something in you. Vulnerability… Solitude. You don’t have any friends.”

Cordelia’s anger flared. “I have plenty of friends, as it happens! I was May Queen! And I was almost Prom Queen by, like, two girls, I–“

“Shut her up.”

Gimp boy crossed the room at that one simple order and a burst of pain spread across Cordelia’s face. Her cheekbone cracked under the weight of the punch and the brunette groaned, slumping sideward in the chair.

“I was sent,” Groo repeated, “To lessen the burden.”

For what felt like the fiftieth time, Doyle tried to explain. “Listen, man… I’m… I’m not… I don’t need you to lessen the burden. Really. I’m good with the burden.”

What he was proposin’ was against all laws of God and man. Well, God and man according to Doyle anyway… He had no problems with guys doing as Groo had suggested but him? Definitely not… Well, gay.

“But didn’t you say that I should help?” Asked Groo, confusion flitting across his face, “I am the Groosalugg, my purpose here is to comshuk with the visionary. That’s–“

“Not ME.” Doyle asserted, shaking his head. How come he always got the dense ones? “Look, we’re gonna be there soon. And we gotta figure out a plan of attack so that you’re not rushin’ in there all hot-headed and–“

“I will kill the filthy beasts!”

Doyle groaned. This was going to be a long night.

When Cordelia woke again, she was no longer in her chair. Now the centrepiece of what looked like a grand human buffet, she lay tied to a table with restraints that looked suspiciously like they’d come from the nut ward of a hospital, keeping her in place.

She went to say something, bark her disapproval, but found her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth, her throat dry. All she managed was a groan and the answering smile she received from her kidnapper only got her pissed.

How long had she been out? And why was it that she had a serious case of tunnel vision going on?

“You can’t keep us here,” said a voice from across the room, pitifully.

Cordelia sighed. They choose now to speak up? What happened to earlier when I was the one doing all the talking?

The girl said something again and though Cordelia couldn’t quite make out what it was, she rolled her eyes. She’d been through enough in Sunnydale to know that the petty whining got you nowhere. Fast.

She pushed against the restraints again, each muscle willing the other to work and just break free… But that was the thing about Nut Job restraints. They were meant to keep the nut jobs down.

“I have family,” one bleated, “They’re going to miss me.”

But it was then Cordelia realised… One of the voices, she’d recognised. He’d been in the same situation as her. New in town, semi-hot but not enough to make it huge, looking for his big break in acting… He had no family here, just like her.

They were alone here. They didn’t have anyone…

Despair flooded in quickly. She wasn’t in Sunnydale any more, there was no Buffy to potentially ruin her life and save her from the big ick monster all at the same time. Cordelia had walked into this one all by herself and there was no-one who even knew she was here, never mind cared enough to rush in and save her.

The tears slipping down her cheeks were compounded by the knife she felt sliding into her flesh. She tried to scream but it caught in her throat, the smell of her blood assaulting her senses.

Somebody else screamed.

For the first time in her life, Cordelia found herself wishing she was back in Sunnydale. Back with people who knew her, people who’d miss her – people who’d know she was gone.

She felt helpless, groggy. She was bleeding out from wounds on that table she wasn’t aware she had and her head was starting to pound.

Gimp Boy appeared over her, smiling, the knife in his hand dripping blood – probably hers.

David was nowhere to be seen but Cordelia had always figured that he wouldn’t get his hands dirty for anything.

“Asshole,” she murmured, but it came out raspy and the word itself wasn’t enough to get her meaning across. Gimp Boy smiled again and she vowed that if she ever got out of here? She’d wipe that smile clean off his face.

Pain exploded through her left side and Cordelia managed to shriek this time, bringing the entire room down around her—No, wait, that wasn’t her.

The last thing Cordelia remembered before losing her battle with the darkness was a weird-smelling guy standing over her, telling her everything was going to be okay.

Present Day…

He arrived at the hotel fifteen minutes after the phone call from Fred. Driving hell for leather through the streets of LA, Angel’s knuckles were still white when he got in the hotel, having gripped the steering wheel so hard.

He listened in silence as Fred filled him in on the events of the day. Cordelia’s visions, Wesley’s visit to the evil law firm across town, his involvement in all of this.

The lawyer had some front, he knew, dragging Cordelia into something he had no idea he’d even been part of, giving her visions so powerful and potent that they’d grown into physical manifestations of themselves.

“Where is she?” He asked, once Fred had explained again, “Is she—”

“Okay?” Fred shook her head, “Not even. Four visions, Angel, each worse than the last… And the pain doesn’t seem to be lettin’ up. That’s not even mentionin’ the whole… Boil and burn thing. She looks awful.”

He noticed the flush of her cheeks, as if saying that she didn’t look good was betraying Cordelia. Proud to a fault, Angel knew that, Cordelia had been the same back in Sunnydale. “I want to see her.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” said Wesley from behind him, “Seeing you might confuse Cordelia…”

“Wesley–” Angel’s jaw tensed as he turned towards the former watcher, his eyes narrowing, “I want to see her.”

Wesley sighed, “Very well.”

Angel took the stairs three at a time. He didn’t know what room she was in – assured Wesley that he hadn’t paid that much attention during his almost illicit visits with Cordelia – yet he could hear her heart beat, could hear the soft murmurs as she slept, the cries as she dreamt.

When he got to her room, Angel pushed open her door, his heart splintering as he saw her lying there on the bed.

“It wasn’t my idea to call you,” Wesley told him as he got to his side, his gaze raking over Cordelia’s too small form, “I didn’t even know about your visits before this.”

Angel sighed. “Wesley…”

“I’m not berating you.” He said, stopping as abruptly as he’d started.

The silence hung thick and heavy between them. The only sound in the room at that point was Cordelia’s breathing – slow and laboured. She was hurting and all Angel wanted, all he knew Wesley wanted, was to make that stop.

“I don’t agree with the way you’ve gone about it.” He murmured, “Inserting yourself into her life like you did, making yourself part of it… You shouldn’t have done that, Angel, but I understand that I didn’t give you much choice.”

Cordelia shifted suddenly, crying out as part of her burned skin scraped against bed clothes that were soft but brought no comfort. Wesley winced, watching Cordelia as sleep claimed her again.

“I blame myself for what happened,” he held up a hand to ward off any argument, shook his head, “I’m not looking for absolution, Angel, I’m simply telling you so that you understand. Fred said something to me downstairs, told me that we didn’t just lose Cordelia the day of her accident…

We lost something else too. We used to be a team, you see. Chase Investigations – no case too big or small,” the corners of his mouth lifted in a wistful smile, “We could handle it. And yet after Cordelia’s accident, we stopped being a team.”

This time, when Wesley spoke his gaze drifted to Angel’s. “I’ve made decisions these past few months that I’m not proud of. I’ve looked after Cordelia for so long now that it’s become second nature and when something threatened to rock the boat…”

“I understand,” said Angel.

“Do you?” Wesley asked, “Because I’m not sure I do and I’m the one trying to explain it. Cordelia is my best friend, Angel, has been for a long time. Ever since Doyle and Groo… All I’ve ever wanted is to look out for her, to make sure she’s safe and when you came along, you seemed to be able to put all that in jeopardy.”

Angel looked at him, puzzled, “By being her friend?”

“By making us realise that there was more to Cordelia’s life than we could give.” He sighed. “I’d have figured it out, you know.”

By the grim determination on his face, Angel knew he probably would have, but he let him continue anyway, watching Cordelia for any signs of waking.

“I’d noticed something was different a couple of weeks ago. She seemed happier almost…”

Angel’s spirits lifted at the simplest of statements. She seemed happier… Had he done that?

“And now this,” Wesley continued, “Lilah—She works for Wolfram and Hart. She’s vindictive, Angel, will stop at nothing to get what she wants and even if that means destroying Cordelia, she’ll do it.”

Angel’s spirits had dropped again, the mere mention of Wolfram and Hart enough to put a dampener on what Wesley had said, “What does she want?”

“You,” said Wesley, “She has… She has a mission for you.”

“A mission?” Angel took a look at Cordelia, confusion evident on his face, “What does that have to do with Cordelia?”

Wesley sighed, “Apparently they have their fingers on more buttons than even I knew about. They’re going through Cordelia to get to you and unless you do what they want…”

They let the rest of the sentence hang between them, the implication clear. She’d stop at nothing, she’d go through Cordelia… Angel’s eyes glittered angrily, his composure stretched to the limit as he tried to keep his demon from coming to the fore.

“What’s this mission?”

Wesley sighed, “It’s Wolfram and Hart. I can only assume that it’s something bad, Angel—”

He nodded.

“And since past involvement with Wolfram and Hart has ended rather badly, I can only tell you of what a risk you’re taking.”

Angel nodded again, “I know that.”

“Good. Then I don’t have to convince you to let me come with you.”

Angel nodded, “Right—” then, “—No, Wesley. I need you to stay here in case something goes wrong.”

Wesley frowned, “But it’s Cordelia.”

Angel knew that. He knew that Wesley would do anything to keep her safe but if something went wrong and Wesley didn’t come back, he wasn’t sure how Fred and Gunn would begin explaining it. “I know that,” he sighed, “But… If something happens, if this mission goes wrong…”

Another sentence left hanging. Something else that they both didn’t want to say.

Sighing, Wesley shot a glance back at Cordelia. “You know where their offices are?”

Angel nodded. “I’ve run into them once or twice.”

Once or twice was an understatement and, unwittingly, Angel had brought Cordelia into the war between himself and Wolfram and Hart. They’d dogged his every move since he’d got to LA, capturing him during a street brawl with another vampire and trying to bribe him into becoming part of their payroll.

Angel, as they’d expected, had declined.

Now, by seeing Cordelia, he’d given them ammunition, a way to hurt him. And that didn’t sit well with him. That didn’t sit well with him at all.

“Care to elaborate?” Wesley asked, gazing openly at the look on the vampires chiselled features.

“I should go,” said Angel, his face clouding as he turned towards the door, “If Cordelia wakes up, tell her… Tell her it’s being taken care of.”

To Be Continued… Yadda, yadda.


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