Three days had passed since he’d last spoken to Cordelia and the black-hole-of-Darla-shaped-despair had multiplied.
Cordelia had refused to talk to Angel after tending her resignation.
Actually, she’d refused to talk to anyone. She’d remained stony-faced and in pain even as their ghost had tossed Angel through the attic door itself, it still wasn’t all he deserved in her book.
He’d remembered his latin then, much to Cordelia’s annoyance. Okay, so it sorta had something to do with his getting his hands on Wes’ book again, but still–She’d been reunited with her shoes when the burst of bright light happened and that was it over with.
Pervy Dead guy had crossed over to wherever it was creepy-ass poltergeists crossed over to and now they were left holding the pieces.
When Wes had shot from the room they’d been locked in, all bat-out-of-hell like and took one look at her, Cordelia had shot him the death glare. He didn’t want to know. Really.
It was Angel who’d had to explain. About the dress that she couldn’t return now, about the fact that he’d broken a couple of her ribs and finally, about her quitting and he did it all looking like he’d been staked through the heart and, miraculously, lived.
It was Angel who’d watched and felt his heart sink as Cordelia had hopped up into Gunn’s truck, leaving him no choice but to deliver Wes home instead.
“Have you heard from her?”
“No, Angel,” Wesley sighed, “I have not, in the last five minutes since you asked, heard from Cordelia.”
He’d talked to her early that morning and again late afternoon, neither of which he’d told Angel about.
She sounded quieter than usual, worse than she had the entire time they’d been fired only, when pressed, Cordelia had got angry.
“I’m so sick of everyone asking how I’m doing. I have seven broken ribs, I just quit my job and have no way of paying rent, all in all? I’d say I’m pretty shitty, actually.”
Wesley didn’t have the heart or, indeed, the gall to suggest that Cordelia come back to work. He’d offered to quit with her, to start their own team up yet again because if that’s what she wanted, then that’s what he’d do.
She hadn’t got back to him on that and Wesley had thought that perhaps leaving Cordelia to her own devices was best.
Whichever path she took (and he’d stand by her, no matter what) she had to decide on it herself. It was no good camping outside her apartment and demanding she see sense.
No, Cordelia had to make her own decisions. All they had to do was wait.
It had taken three days, a vat of ice cream and a round of bitching at Phantom Dennis to even clue Cordelia in to the fact that maybe she’d made a mistake.
The PTB had kept the noise in her head to a minimum over the last couple of days and Cordelia couldn’t work out why she’d panicked until she realized that they may have actually taken her quitting seriously.
Of course, that thought had made her all the more pissed. She had been serious. Why the hell should she work for Angel or even with Angel when he hadn’t even spared her or his mission a thought in the last three months?
Why the hell should she have every social event ever ruined because the PTB had, like, no sense of timing whatsoever?
Why the hell had Angel got to walk away, abandon his mission, when she was stuck there with visions she hadn’t even wanted in the first place?
She was too young for this, damnit! She was supposed to be out partying, dating rich playboy milionaires that’d take her away from this lifestyle and never let her think about it again.
And here she was, hugging the empty vat of ice cream for support.
She was feeling pretty miserable, slouched on her couch with the TV providing a low hum of noise in the background when Phantom Dennis switched stations on her.
He cranked up the volume and tuned her in for the pep talk of doom on some lame-ass movie that was playing.
“Dennis, cut it out,” Cordelia frowned, reaching for the remote and shutting off her set. She already felt like she’d made the biggest mistake of her life to date and her ghosty-roommate wasn’t helping.
The set flickered again, this time to an actor doing sad-face and Cordelia snapped altogether. “Jesus, Dennis! Do you want me to hire an exorcist? Really?”
The set shut off, the apartment plunged into silence and Cordelia immediately felt bad. It wasn’t Dennis’ fault. Was he not the ghost who’d brought her the vat of butter pecan from her freezer just one hour ago when she was really at her lowest ebb?
“Dennis, I’m sorry–” Cordelia started. It wasn’t fair to take her frustrations at Angel out on anybody, least of all him.
Frowning, she got up and grabbed her jacket off the back of the couch. “I’m going out.”
An hour later and Cordelia had realized two things. One; her credit card was maxed to the absolute limit, something she’d discovered after she’d tried to buy the way over-priced shoes at Neiman Marcus that she didn’t even want anyway but would totally make her feel better…
And two? She had no job, no official prospects and going back to Angel Investigations would be like crawling back with her tail between her legs and she had way way too much pride for that.
She was feeling pretty miserable when she stepped off the sidewalk. She never even saw the vision coming.
The pain exploded behind her eyelids and Cordelia barely had time to let out a whimper before down she went, scraping her knees on the ground beneath her.
A series of flashes, a huge demon dripping spittle that burned like acid, and suddenly it was over.
Cordelia blinked, seconds away from tears as the world bled back into focus around her, a guy kneeling over her and cradling her head so that it didn’t hit the floor.
“You’re okay,” he was saying, though his words seemed slurred and hazy through the pain. “We called for help.”
He was older than her, probably in his 60’s with tired eyes. He looked like he’d seen it all and then some and now he’d met with her on the night she’d had a vision.
She moved to get up, winced, and let him lift her, still feeling a little shaky on her feet. “You whacked your head pretty hard,” he was telling her, “the EMT’s are on their way.”
“I’m fine.” It was Cordelia’s standard response for the usual people, except the usual people weren’t around here. She was out, again, in public, embarassing herself horribly following a pretty shitty vision.
She tried to be gracious in batting the guys hands away, it wasn’t like he was trying to cop a feel or anything, but time was of the essence on this vision and if she didn’t call it in–
“Shit.” Her stuff was littered across the sidewalk. Her money clip, pepper spray, stake and keys had all survived. Her cellphone, however, had smashed into little bitty pieces on the ground.
Her night had just been upgraded from bad to worse. She turned to the guy who’d stopped her skull from ending up like her cellphone. “I don’t suppose you have a cellphone?”
He looked immediately apologetic, shook his head. “Never had one. Don’t believe in ’em. You should probably wait for the EMT’s anyway…”
“I’m fine,” Cordelia told him again, “Really. I just–I need to call my friends. They’ll come get me.”
“I have a cab,” he offered, gesturing behind him to the yellow cab he seemed to have abandoned hastily when Cordelia had gone down. “I’ll take you wherever you wanna go, free of charge.”
Her eyebrows lifted. Her first instinct was to be suspicious; after all, random kindness from strangers wasn’t something she was used to, especially not in LA.
“Free of charge?”
He gave a smile and Cordelia realized that his eyes were brown, crinkled at the edges. He reminded her of an older Wes.
“You look like you’re having a rough night, is all.”
Okay, she couldn’t disagree with that.
He asked where she wanted to go and Cordelia told him, no hesitation. It didn’t occur to her to head home.
She had enough money in her purse to get back home on a bus, her credit cards maxed to the absolute limit – she couldn’t have paid him if she’d wanted to.
She’d tell herself later that the hotel was closer, that taking the guy halfway across the other side of town and way out of his way just wasn’t fair. She’d get Wes to drop her off once they’d killed the thing in her vision.
The guy was pretty polite. He’d talked quietly on the way to the Hyperion, introduced himself as Sam in a voice as soft as a murmur and left her to ride out the waves of pain that were written all over her face.
He didn’t ask once what the hell was the matter with her and Cordelia had upgraded him from kind, random stranger to a prince among men.
He helped her out of his cab and to the door of the Hyperion, cupping her elbow in his palm.
“I’ll get you some money,” Cordelia started, as she reached for the door handle but Sam shook his head, no, smiled a little.
“I’d want someone to help my daughter. If she were,” he paused, choosing his words carefully as if he were trying not to offend after everything he’d done for her, “in trouble. Go on now.”
“Thanks,” said Cordelia, “Really. You’re–Pretty much a lifesaver.”
He ducked his head and gave a tiny wave as he headed back to his cab.
She pushed open the door to the hotel. At first glance, the place was deserted. No Wes researching, no Gunn… Definitely no Angel, and Cordelia felt a stab of uncertainty.
Before she could even get the words out of her mouth, he appeared, his brow wrinkled in concern. “Cordy?”
She figured she should feel mad. Within the space of three seconds he’d crossed the room, hand at her elbow where Sam’s had been to lead her into the lobby and if he thought she’d missed the way his nostrils had flared at the blood, he was very much mistaken.
Cordelia winced as he lowered her carefully into the chair, treating her like spun glass. Her bloody knee scraped painfully against the denim of her jeans. “Duh. Vision. Apparently the PTB didn’t get my memo about quitting.”
It was Angel’s turn to wince at the tone of her voice and he looked down.
Her heart squeezed involuntarily and she was thankful Angel wasn’t looking at her properly because she really had to work to keep her face impassive. “You wanna know what I saw or not?”
Credit wasn’t something she’d wanted to give Angel again any time soon (if ever) but he’d jumped at her vision pretty much as soon as the words had left her mouth.
Wes and Gunn were out of the hotel, following up a new case that’d landed on their desk just that evening. They’d cultivated new informants when they’d been Team-Angel-Without-The-Angel and this particular informant had an aversion to vampires which, lucky for Cordelia, meant that Angel had got to stay home while they went and did their thing.
He’d offered to take her home first but her apartment was right out of the way and time was of the essence on her spittle-demon.
She’d waved him off, watching him collect his broadsword like the dutiful little soldier he was trying to be these days and sighed.
He wasn’t making it very easy to be mad at him. Her earlier assessment had been wrong – she hadn’t had to crawl in here, tail between her legs. No, her vision had given her some lead-in, at least, and a hefty dose of concern ala Angel that usually got her mad.
There was no mad here. She just felt… Well, tired, really. Her head hurt from the vision and Cordelia couldn’t help but thinking that she’d made a huge, huge mistake in quitting.
That, and a little voice was needling at her, telling her to cut the guy some slack. He didn’t have to answer her vision, after all.
It was testimony to Angel that he had, in fact, though that opened a can of worms that Cordelia didn’t want opened.
“He owes me,” she’d argued with herself, annoyed that she’d even tried cutting him some slack, until she realized that she was actually arguing. With herself. And that pretty soon the guys in the white coats would come take her away.
She’d stomped her foot at that, acting almost petulant at the inner voice that was actually making some sense right now, and headed upstairs to shower.
It wasn’t until she emerged on a cloud of steam, knee sans-blood and hair and body both wrapped in a towel that Cordelia remembered that Angel had sold all her clothes.
The crank intensified. Not only had she not been able to find any halfway decent painkillers, but now she had no clothes either?
Deciding that not only was this turning out to be worse than Halloween but that Angel owed her (again), Cordelia pulled the towel from her hair, dropping it onto the floor of the bedroom she often used if she was too tired to go home post-vision.
It felt weird walking into Angel’s bedroom after months of never being in it. Actually, it felt weird walking into Angel’s room when he wasn’t there all overhanging forehead and skulky manpire act.
She’d been there a couple of times. Mostly to wake him, those last few months, when he’d been sleeping more and more and she’d worried about the same.
It hadn’t really changed much.
She pulled open the closet door, aware that the assault of black was almost going to be too much–And then paused, dropping to her knees.
On the floor of Angel’s closet lay bags. Dozens of bags filled with an array of colors and fabrics. Puzzled, she began rooting through, wondering when it was Angel had turned into a big cross-dressing freak.
It wasn’t until a moment later that she noticed the clothes were all her size.
Infuriated, she stood and kicked one of the bags, watching it up-end and spill its contents across the closet floor. What, Angel thought he could buy her back? As if she were honestly that shallow?
Okay, she’d give him that she was shallow – hell, she’d made a name for herself out of it. But seriously? That just stung.
She stepped back and grabbed one of his oversize t-shirts, ready to stomp back down the stairs and wait for him to return so she could give him a piece of her mind when her gaze caught on something she hadn’t seen in about a year.
High on the shelf was a tape, labelled in Angel’s block letters: DOYLE.
He found her lying on the sofa in Wes’ office, illuminated by the glow of the TV she was no longer watching, wearing a pair of his sweat pants and one of his shirts. A glass of water lay on the table beside her, a small piece of white residue beside it – a telltale sign that Cordelia had taken something for the vision headache.
She was asleep.
Angel sighed, feeling his gut twist. He wanted her back, needed her back. Not because of the visions. But because–she was his friend and he missed her, damnit.
She was different to a year and a half ago, when she’d first breezed into his life. Her hair was shorter, sure. Her clothes hung a little differently, she’d lost weight in the last few months too.
But she was beautiful, still, and so very young compared to him.
Her breathing was even, her chest rising and falling with a gentle rhythm that seemed to soothe him, he wasn’t used to seeing her so still.
He turned, aimed the remote at the TV to switch it off, which was when he noted the tape sticking out of the VCR.
Angel felt a pang and he looked back at Cordelia, pressing a different button instead and turning the volume right down to a low hum.
Instantly, Doyle filled the screen.
“When the chips are down, and you’re at the end of your rope you need someone that you can count on. And that’s what you’ll find here – someone that will go all the way, no matter what. So don’t lose hope. Come on over to our offices and you’ll see that there’s still heroes in this world…”
Angel swallowed, he’d watched the video a dozen times, more, and it never seemed to hurt any less.
“Is that it? Am I done?”
His throat worked as the tape cut out and he looked down, flicking off the set. He’d lost almost everything for this fight; some of it — Cordelia — through his own stupidity.
The glow from the TV faded and Angel sat there for a moment, not noticing that Cordelia’s breathing had changed or that she was awake.
“I was snooping,” she said quietly, after a minute had passed. “I found that.”
Her words were tinged with sadness, not anger. Angel turned towards her, letting his gaze sweep over her face. Her eyes were red and puffy.
She’d been crying and he hadn’t noticed, initially. He went to tell her it was okay when she continued.
“I found the clothes.”
She didn’t sound mad about it, but she didn’t sound thrilled either and Angel hurried to explain.
“I was going to give you them but I thought–I thought you’d think I was trying to buy your friendship and–I didn’t wanna do that.”
She seemed to think about that for a moment, weigh her options before she spoke again.
“I’m right, y’know.”
“What I said. About people coming back from the powdered wig days to bite you in the ass. It’s always gonna happen, isn’t it?”
“Angel, let me finish,” she frowned, moving to sit up on the couch. “I’m still mad at you, okay? You hurt me, more than I thought possible. More than I knew anyone could after–” Cordelia paused, refusing to say Xander’s name aloud and bring him into this.
This, no matter how she compared it, was different.
“I bounce back. That’s my thing. I spank my inner moppet, move on, and usually do it all wearing killer pumps and a skirt that’s three inches shorter than my last one, but this…”
It had taken a bag full of Xander-heads that she’d cut from photos and reading about spells ala boils on the penis for her to start even getting over the guy – and he hadn’t even been worth it, not when he’d traded her in for a mousy, boyfriend stealing little wimp like Willow.
Angel was different.
She wasn’t in love with him, the guy had some major fixer-upper issues going on and she so did not hate herself that much.
No, Angel was different because Angel was her friend. Her first real friend. And that was what had stung the most.
“I spent about 15 years of my life hanging with people who only wanted to be around me ’cause I was rich or popular and I was fine with that, way back when. They weren’t real friends. You were. And that’s what’s hard about this, I guess.”
“I really am sorry.”
“I know you are,” she nodded, “I don’t know anyone who flagellates the way you do, Angel. You’ll dissect it and you’ll think of ways you should’ve done this and should’ve done that and, y’know, for a while? That’s fine. You have a forever, you have time to make it up to me.”
Angel glanced up at her, barely daring to hope. “Does that mean–“
“That I’m coming back to work?” Cordelia smiled before she could stop herself. “I guess it does. I mean… If you think you can use me?”
He found himself warmed by those simple words. It had been him who’d reached out to Cordelia way back when, offered her a job and, later, she’d admit, a lifeline. Now, roles reversed, he’d come to realize how much he needed her.
Doyle had been right; Cordelia was a humanizing influence.
Angel reached out, placing his hand over the top of hers and squeezing gently. “I can’t do this by myself.”
Cordelia grinned, “Y’know, you’re pretty slow to catch on for a guy whose had about a billion years of experience.”
“Two hundred,” he amended, then, “I guess I’m still learning.”
“Yeah, well, I guess me too. You’re not the only one who lost their way for a while there.”
She glanced back towards the tape sticking out the VCR. “The visions suck, Angel, I’m not gonna lie. But helping people, doing what we do… It’s worth it, y’know? Even if the Powers do see fit to screw up every attempt at a social life I have…”
“You gonna see him again?” Angel asked, even though there was something in him that made him not want to know.
“Who, Lane?” Cordelia thought about that for a second, wrinkling her nose.
“As much as it pains me to say this considering his investment portfolio? I don’t think so. We’re from different worlds. The closest he’s ever come to a demon is his mother and believe me when I say no weapon forged could ever slay that beast. I don’t think it’s meant to be.”
And though initially she’d been narked at that, thinking of all the things she could’ve had being at the mercy of one Lane Daniels for all the right reasons? Cordelia found she didn’t actually care.
“I’m over it. Well, I’m kinda over it. I’m getting there,” said Cordelia, wiping the smile off her face and replacing it with a sombre expression, “I know what could help.”
He looked ready to offer her the world if she wanted it and Cordelia knew she’d made the right choice in saying what she had tonight.
“Those clothes. Upstairs? They’re too pretty to return and my closet is seriously feeling the pinch tonight.”
“They’re yours,” said Angel, feeling more at peace than he had in months as he got off the sofa to go get her bags.
“Now you’re pushing it,” Angel joked, chuckling to himself as he headed upstairs, leaving Cordelia alone in the office.
She sat back on the sofa, glancing at the TV again. She could hear Doyle as plain as if it’d been yesterday, not a year and a half and a few dozen viewings of that tape later.
“Someone that’ll go all the way, no matter what,” she murmured, smiling to herself. “Yup. Even if they do get lost along the way sometimes.”
~ FIN ~