“She’s gonna freak, man – and with good right too. They walked into that building knowing what the hell they were doing and someone was waiting… Someone tipped them off again.”
Wesley frowned at Gunn’s words, knowing his friend was right. He shouldered the crossbow he’d been carrying and shook his head slowly, trying to make sense of it all.
“The only people we told about tonight’s operation were the team leaders, the others were following – blind, but following, nonetheless.”
“So, we know you ain’t doing the tipping off and we know I ain’t doing it. Cordelia’s out… So that leaves who?”
“Not even.” Gunn said immediately, “I grew up with the guy, Wes. He wouldn’t.”
“Gio, Roberts, Jonah…” Wesley tailed off with a frown, “I’m starting to believe more and more that we have a traitor in our midst.”
“Gee, you getting that?”
Wesley ignored the sarcasm in his voice. They were nearing the Hyperion now. 68 rooms all filled with members of their army, some doubling up with others – and five beds in there that would tonight stand empty after the failed patrol they were returning from. No hi-jinks, Cordelia had said. No putting anyone in danger, just a routine patrol – they could handle that.
It turned out, they couldn’t.
Five men down.
Tired, Wesley rubbed his hand across his face and shouldered open the door. Months ago, Willow had visited Los Angeles, placing a certain kind of spell on the hotel.
Anything ‘Hellmouthy’ as she’d put it that came within a two-mile radius of the hotel would throw off an alarm, alerting the group of people inside, letting them prepare for battle. Most of the time, the alarms were false – a demon or some other such creature ambling past.
They had yet to deal with an ambush on their operations base…
As Wesley and Gunn entered the lobby, the ex-Watcher found himself frowning. It was a rare opportunity for any of them to have a night off. Along with Cordelia, a few of their group that had been injured last night had stayed behind, forgoing the patrol to get well again.
For one brief moment Wesley was glad they hadn’t been there – after all they’d lost tonight the casualties could have been much, much higher.
“Is Cordelia in her room?” He asked the small gathering in the lobby, face softening into a smile as his eyes settled on Tina. Tina was 16 years old, a girl much too young to be tossed into this fight.
Her parents had been killed a year ago, her father of some sort of hindrance to Giles, he’d gathered – since the Vampire King had ordered him to be killed.
“In the office. She got some phone call from that Willow girl.”
Wesley knew fine well that Cordelia wouldn’t have stayed in her room the entire night they’d been gone. Most nights, she spent her time sitting downstairs when they weren’t patrolling, listening in on the police scanner she’d had set up in her office.
He firmly believed that Cordelia needed an outlet, something that would take her mind off what they did on a nightly basis, but telling her that had proved futile. Cordelia had reminded him that this fight – then, hers – was all she had. She didn’t need an outlet; she needed it to be over.
When he entered the office, Cordelia was standing with her back to him, muscles corded in her back, knuckles pressed white against the table. “Cordelia?”
“Willow called.” She said quietly, not turning round.
“I heard. Is everything all right?”
“The slayer, the one in my vision – she got free.”
He allowed himself a brief moment of hope, one that surged through him like wildfire, before confusion rained on its parade. “I don’t understand, I thought that would be a good thing…” He questioned, softly.
“It was. It is…” She amended, “It’s just…”
The fall in her voice told Wesley everything he needed to know. “You think he’s not coming back.”
Her shoulders squared and she turned, eyes dark, sad. “I always believed he was dead,” She said, angry at herself for letting herself hope all this time even if she hadn’t let herself admit it. “I always believed that if he wanted to get out enough, he could and now…”
“Now that she’s out it just proves that what you believed might be true.” Wesley finished, moving towards her and placing a gentle, supporting hand on her shoulder. “Cordelia, that’s only natural.”
“Is it?” She bit, “Wesley, it’s been five years. Hoping after all this time that maybe he was still alive was so stupid, I just always thought that maybe, y’know? I always hoped that maybe he’d just walk back into my life one day and… Now, this has happened, I’m just not sure I can believe that.”
Wesley sighed, stared at her for a moment. There were two things he could do here. He could tell her what she wanted to hear, that hoping was all very well and good – and that maybe, someday, her miracle could happen. Or he could tell her the truth.
She’d always been honest with him, always. She’d never sugar coated anything, never laced it with sweetness just to make it that little bit better. Wesley honestly wasn’t sure that he could do the same with her.
“Cordelia…” He began, eyes meeting hers. “I suppose… We all thought that one day he’d return, just like I’m sure Willow and the others thought the same about Buffy. Seeing you like this, I wish he would, if only to restore your faith in the fact that occasionally, good things happen to good people. People like you.
You’ve been fighting for so long and not once have you lost sight of your mission, his mission… I think, in doing that, you’ve honored him. You’ve honored everything he came to Los Angeles to do – and you’ve done it each time with the glint in your eye that he loved just as much as us.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming.” Said Cordelia gently, “You have ‘but-face’.”
Wesley smiled, a sad smile that Cordelia had been witness to too often. “I think perhaps it’s time to let him go, Cordelia. We all torture ourselves with the hope that he might show up someday, I just don’t think we realise that we’re doing ourselves more damage than good by thinking it. It’s nice to be able to hope for something,” He continued, “But when it’s something that might never come true, it begins to get dangerous.”
He watched as the tears welled up in her eyes, and when Cordelia looked down, Wesley wanted to kick himself for saying what he had.
“There’s always been that little part of me, y’know?” Cordelia whispered, “Just that one little part of me that hoped maybe…”
She straightened up then, blinking back the tears that still, she hadn’t let fallen.
This conversation was over.
“How was patrol?”
Her moods had changed so quickly that Wesley was taken off-guard. In one bare instant, she was back to being the self-sufficient, independent Cordelia that everyone – with the exception of a few – looked up to for guidance.
So taken aback by her mood swing, Wesley didn’t answer at first – and from the look in her eye, his hesitance was all the answer she needed.
She’d known, instantly. How, he wasn’t sure, but she had, nonetheless.
“Five.” He told her, wearily, his tiredness showing. “We interrupted a feed, a group of teenagers in a nest downtown. There were too many of them.” He faltered then, not wanting to say what he did next, “We have reason to believe that they were tipped off.”
Her face blanched. Wesley could almost swear that he could hear her heart beating quicker – or was that his? – as he looked at her.
“Again?” Her voice was strained; her hand shaking in what he believed was anger as she reached up to push her hair behind her ear.
“Again.” He nodded, “It can only be one of the team leaders. They were the only ones who knew where we’d be and what part of the city we’d be patrolling.”
The snap of the pencil in Cordelia’s fingertips drew Wesley’s eyes downwards. The yellow, rubber-tipped writing implement was now splintered, half lying on the floor, the other half resting in Cordelia’s hand.
“I’m tired of this,” Said the brunette, sharply. “They want to play with vampires? I say we let them. I’m going to find out who our traitor is and they’re going to see what it’s like to be on the wrong side of Cordelia Chase. From tonight, only you, George and Rondell know anything. Team leaders will take their assignments from you, me or the others, depending on what happens when we get out there. They find out nothing before that.”
“It’s going to cause dissension,” Wesley advised, shaking his head slowly. “Can we really afford to alienate people like this?”
“You tell me,” Said Cordelia, taking a moment to look at Wesley, “Then tell me whether we can afford to let innocent people who put their lives on the line die like this.”
“Then I’ll inform the team leaders.” He stood then, going to walk out of the door and into the lobby, when Cordelia’s voice halted him.
“Yes?” He turned back to face her, eyebrows raised.
“Thanks.” She told him quietly, “For what you said earlier, about Angel. You were right. I have to let him go.”
Picking her way through the dust and debris, Cordelia bit back a sigh.
She’d come here alone, against Wesley’s advisement of taking some of the group with her, insisted that she was fine and she could handle herself.
He’d known what she was going to do, understood that in order to move on, Cordelia had to lay old ghosts to rest.
Never thought I’d be laying this old ghost to rest... She thought sadly, placing her foot carefully on one side of a broken beam. The old offices of Angel Investigations – and the last place she’d ever seen Angel – had been destroyed by a bomb blast just four short months after Doyle had died.
Cordelia had been driven crazy by her visions, a visit from Vocah putting her in hospital where she’d seen everything – every ounce of pain that would be introduced to the world, not just through Giles but by others too.
People wanting to destroy each other, knives-in-eye guys. Cordelia had seen it all. While she’d been in hospital, Vocah – acting under the instruction of Wolfram and Hart, had ordered the scroll Angel had stolen two weeks before his disappearance to be retrieved.
Apparently, leaving Cordelia practically insane in a hospital bed just wasn’t enough for Wolfram and Hart.
Vocah had left a bomb, an ancient, multi-dimensional device – Wesley had deducted – and had blown the offices apart, Wesley inside.
It had been Gunn who had saved them both. Had called by to talk to Cordelia about joining her fight just two weeks after his sister had died. What he’d found was a blazing office, Wesley inside, and Cordelia lying in a hospital bed.
Charles too had shown he could mean business. He’d attended the raising of Darla – stopped it right as it was happening, killing Vocah and Lindsey McDonald in quick succession, retrieving the scroll required to bring Cordelia out of her coma.
Cordelia shivered, pulling up the zipper on her jacket. She wasn’t cold, not by a long shot, it just seemed that here, there were more ghosts than usual. Doyle, Angel… The memories that Cordelia had held close to her heart for just over five years. She could still remember Wesley getting cranky over that ‘Shoeshine’ thing.
A ghost of a smile passed across Cordelia’s face, the first one that night, as she ducked under a fallen beam and stepping into Angel’s office, ready to go down the stairs. Her steps were always careful. The building itself had been condemned four years ago, deemed unsafe for public use but unable to be built upon again because of a bitter lawsuit that had raged since just after the bomb blast. Cordelia didn’t know the gist of it and she’d never asked. By default, this part of the building was hers – decrepit though it was.
She slipped down the stairs in silence, her footsteps barely making a sound on the charred black floor. Everything down here was different and yet… All the same. The cabinet that housed his weapons, charred almost beyond recognition, yet still standing.
The stove where he’d used to cook breakfast after a particularly long case. The wrought iron bed that, even after all these years, still stood – the mattress charred into little pieces.
A layer of dust spread over everything, making it look like a blanket of snow had settled across the dingy little bat cave, as Doyle had liked to call it. It had been five years since she’d stood in here, five long years and yet… She could still remember everything.
She could smell beyond the bitter, burnt smell – smell the God-awful coffee that used to assail her senses when she walked into the office of a morning. Could still smell the beautiful aroma of breakfast wafting up the stairs when Angel was feeling generous, even the wood of the desks. She could smell it all… See it all as it had been then.
And her heart was breaking.
As tears welled up in her eyes, Cordelia crossed the room, taking the small package from her pocket. It was the last thing she had left, other than silly things she’d kept like sweaters, which had lost their smell after months of crying herself to sleep into them at night.
She took it out of the box, turning it over in her fingers for a second, the tears finally sleeping down her cheeks as her mind went back…
“You’re leaving?! Angel, you can’t… We need you here…” She whispered, breathlessly, her head spinning. He couldn’t be leaving, could he? He wouldn’t do that. Not to her, or Doyle. God, just a phone call from Buffy, one… And he was ready to drop everything and walk away from her.
She hated this, and in that moment, she hated him for doing this, for putting them through this.
Her next comment was bitter, laced with anger. “Although, I guess it’s Buffy…” She bit off, “Gotta go rescue your slayer, right? I mean… Forever, immortal love crap – can’t miss your seat at that little revival, can you?”
He placed a hand on her arm and Cordelia wanted to slap it away.
“You know that’s not true.” He pleaded, desperately, just wanting to make her see. “Cordelia, please. Look at me.”
“No.” She told him with an emphatic shake of her head.
Placing his hand on her cheek, Angel turned her to face him and bent down, dusting his lips with hers. “Listen to me. These past few months, here in LA with you and Doyle. I’ve learned something. I’ve learned that I have a family that’ll be there for me, no matter what. But I’ve also learned something else too.”
In perhaps his biggest speech since Cordelia had known him, Angel continued. “I’ve learned that love doesn’t always have to hurt. Cordelia, I love Buffy, part of me will always love her – but… She’s my past. You’re my future. One I intend on coming back to. I’ve lost too many things in my life, I refuse to let you become another one of those.”
Cordelia closed her eyes, trying not to cry, trying to be strong because even if she didn’t like it, she knew that Angel had to do this, he had to go. “You’re saying goodbye.” She whispered, feeling her heart break in two.
Her eyes snapped open and Cordelia looked at the place they’d stood, the place where she’d yanked away from him and yelled that if he cared, if he really cared, he’d never leave. He’d leave Buffy to handle this on her own. But in this fight, you accepted certain things.
You accepted that one night, you’d put your life on the line, one night you’d be fighting and the next night, you might be dead – because that was the way it worked – but you did it, nonetheless. You did it for those less fortunate; you did it because people, innocent people, didn’t deserve to die at the hands of a vampire or the claws of a hell-beast.
Some people never knew what went bump in the night and it was those people, those who needed saving, that Angel was fighting for.
He was fighting for their future, no matter what it held.
“I bought you this.” He told her quietly, handing her a small silver box. “It’s not much but… When I’m not here…”
“I understand.” She nodded, looking down at the tiny Angel in the box. Soft fingers drifted over it, touching it almost reverently, like she was afraid she’d break it. “When do you leave?”
“Tonight. As soon as the sun goes down. They need me…”
“I know.” She said nodding, then, “Angel? Promise me something?”
“I’ll come back.” He nodded, making her look at him. “You have my word.”
Somehow, the silence had seemed to grow louder, taunting her.
Reminding her that Angel wasn’t there.
“I’m sorry.” Cordelia told him, wondering if he could actually hear her. “I’m sorry that… I didn’t come for you. I’m sorry that you never came back. I’m sorry for a lot of things but… I know what you did was right. And that if you saved just one person that night when you left, then what you did was the right thing.”
Gently, she placed the Angel on the floor, running her fingers over it one last time.
“I love you. I know I never said that and I know that… That maybe I didn’t show you as well as I could. But I loved you – I still love you. But I can’t do this any more, Angel. I can’t hold onto something I’m never going to have or hope for something that might never… I have to let you go.”
She straightened then, her tears falling freely onto her shirt. She didn’t care. This was harder than she’d imagined, much,much harder. When she turned and walked away, her heart pounding in her ears,
Cordelia turned, could almost imagine him standing right behind her. “I’m sorry.” She whispered to the empty room, before beginning her ascent up the stairs.
“Have I mentioned how much I really don’t like this?” Asked Michelle, turning to look at Angel. They’d been driving for the past two and a half hours in a car that, from the way it had been left, couldn’t have even been classed as stolen.
“Come on, who leaves a car like this lying around, keys in the engine? For all we know, it could blow up three miles down the road.”
“Has it blown up yet?” Asked Angel, “No. Why? I have no idea but… Let’s just say. Gift horse, mouth – me looking the other way.”
And that was the end of that discussion.
“So,” Michelle continued, desperate for some kind of interaction, even if he was reluctant to talk. “Once we get there, what’s the plan?”
“We find my friends.” Said the vampire, simply. “They promised that while I was gone – they’d hold up their end of the fight. They wouldn’t go back on their word.”
“Not to be all… Ms. Stating The Obvious and everything but… You know that we could be walking right in the middle of a war here, right?”
“We’re already in the middle of one.” Angel replied, “It doesn’t change just because we’ve crossed the border. You told me yourself that the only reason Giles hadn’t managed to take LA was because of Faith. I’m figuring that since you’re here and she’s not, he managed to kill her…”
Michelle didn’t remind him that that was the reason he’d got so pissed in the first place. He was unstable enough…
“From what I heard, she fought well… Well, all things considered…”
Angel turned to look at her, sharply. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re about to miss our exit.” She frowned.