For a few weeks, her mind was fractured, broken, warped. There were thoughts and feelings, memories that kept her awake at night. Whispers, so soft that some of the time, she wasn’t sure they were there.
Michelle was crazy.
Cordelia was crazier.
They all tried to help. Her mother kept a vigil by her bedside on the days she was in hospital, holding her daughter’s limp hand in her own, listening to the beep of a machine or the soft breathing of her daughter as she lay in that bed.
On those days, Cordelia was heavily sedated. On those days, Michelle remembered nothing.
She couldn’t remember what sparked it off. A memory, an event… She remembered pulling on her jacket, calling out to Jaydn that she was going for her run. That, she remembered.
She didn’t remember running down her drive. (That was when the memories started.)
She didn’t remember crossing the street. (She was training with Angel, down in the basement of the Hyperion.)
She didn’t remember jogging past the Beverly Center (she was holding Connor, telling him everything was going to be okay) or running into a friend and waving a friendly ‘hey’ (she was too busy hugging Angel when he came back from that retreat after Buffy had died).
She didn’t remember running in front of the car. (She was too busy telling Angel that she’d be by his side, always… And that was when her chest had started to get tight.)
The doctor’s all said she was lucky, more than lucky. They all said that Michelle should have died in that accident.
Little did they know, she had.
For weeks, Cordelia had been coping with two sets of memories, questioning whether she was crazy. For weeks she’d lay there in her hospital bed, being visited from friends and knowing they were the wrong ones.
Where was Angel? Wesley? Fred? Why had they left her?
Slowly but surely, Cordelia had begun gathering snippets of information. She’d called by the hotel to find it closed for business. She’d even called by Caritas, to find it an office block. None of her friends were there.
For Cordelia, the most surprising moment of all came when she was flipping through the business section, sitting drinking her morning coffee with Jaydn.
She’d kept up the pretenses, simply because she didn’t know how to start putting her life back together. Was she Michelle now? Or Cordelia? No visions– Was she still visiongal? No demony powers– Unless you counted the practical bouncing off that car without a scratch on her.
Who was she?
And then, after reading the article in the business section, Cordelia was beginning to ask herself… Who was Angel? CEO of Hell Incorporated? Didn’t sound like him.
That wasn’t her Angel, was it? He didn’t sell out to Wolfram and Hart unless he had a good reason. He didn’t abandon her, unless he had a good reason.
And that’s just the thing, thought Cordelia, looking up at Jaydn with a measure of sadness in her eyes, I need to find out that reason. And to find out that reason?
I need to let the part of my life that’s not real die…
“So this is it, huh?”
Spike reeked of Scotch. 12 year old Malt, if Angel wasn’t mistaken. He could smell him from the other side of the room.
Angel had been standing here ever since he’d gone to meet Connor, watching the sunset. It was the first one he’d watched in weeks. He figured that if this was his last day, then he could afford to look – a one last time type of deal, just like he’d done with Doyle up on that roof before destroying the Ring of Amarrha.
“I guess so.” Said Angel, quietly. “You ever miss it?”
“Miss what?” He stunk of Scotch but Spike wasn’t drunk, not yet anyway. He palmed the back of his head, stepping forward into the room. “Sunset?”
“Yeah.” Angel nodded, “Sunset. Life. It goes on all around us, every day… It’s not like we get to stop and miss it, is it?”
“Been a long time since I had a heartbeat,” Spike shrugged, downing another mouthful of his bottle of scotch, “To be honest? Kinda hoped that Shanshu thing of yours was gonna happen to me. Quite liked the idea of a little Spike running around.”
Angel frowned, watching as the sun slipped between the buildings across the horizon, the world a golden glow. “I don’t have a Shanshu, Spike. I signed it away this morning.”
He could hear the shock in Spike before he even spoke. “But… You wanted that. That was your redemption. You gave it up?”
“I had no choice.” Angel shook his head, thrusting his hands deeper into his pockets. When he spoke, his voice was heavy, tired. “I don’t want to become human.”
“Well that sucks,” Said a voice from behind him, “‘Cause I got a bottle of factor 15 right here in my bag that has your name on it.”
If Angel had a heart he felt sure it would have stopped beating. Standing behind him was a girl. She sounded like Cordelia, she smelled like Cordelia… Could have been Cordelia if Angel didn’t think he’d lost her forever once she hadn’t come to see him once her memories had been restored.
Angel didn’t turn.
It was Spike who spoke first, moving towards the brunette with a half-leer-half-smile on his face. “Cordelia! You look–“
“Tell me I’ve lost weight and I’ll kick your ass.” She grinned, shouldering her purse a little higher. “I hear you’re on the side of good now.”
She’s taking this too well, thought Angel, any minute now and she’s going to–
“Is he dead over there?”
The comment was enough to bring a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
“‘Cause really,” She continued, “As great as remembering his ass is? I kinda wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of him.”
Spike grinned and looked over at Angel. “Peaches? You in the land of the living?”
I am, thought Angel, trouble is I’ve had this dream too many times to want to turn around and risk losing her again.
When he didn’t, Cordelia took it upon herself to walk towards him, placing her hand gently on his arm. “You really didn’t think you were going into this fight without me, did you? ‘Cause I have this problem.”
He turned to look at her, his heart lurching in his chest at the sight of her. She looked amazing, hair tumbling in curls around her shoulders, make up done to perfection, like always.
It was Cordelia, his Cordelia, standing right there in front of him and smiling. That smile that he never thought he’d see again. “Problem?” He asked, softly.
“Yeah,” Cordelia nodded, “I promised I’d be with you ’til the end. I intend on keeping that promise.”
An hour later and they were alone. Spike had gone to ‘let the lovebirds do…whatever’ (that said with appropriate leer), Wesley had called in for just a moment to see if what Spike had said was true and Cordelia had had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting Illyria.
She sighed, again, resting her head on the ball of her fist. “I can’t believe how much has happened since I…” She faltered. She couldn’t apologise for what had happened.
She’d been body-jacked and nobody seemed keen on talking about the whole thing anyway, least of all Angel. “I mean… Fred.” She said quietly, trying not to cry again, “And God, Harmony, Angel…”
Her voice trailed off into that stunted silence that Cordelia had been able to perfect since the moment he’d met her.
He’d made the wrong choices, he knew he had. But now… She was back. Didn’t that mean that things could be good? That maybe things could be better?
“I’m not here by chance, y’know.” She said after a moment, wringing her fingers together gently. “I’d have worked it out eventually.” She’d told him about the dreams. Dreams about him, Wesley, Fred, Gunn, Doyle… Connor.
She’d told him everything that had happened these past weeks, ever since her memories had been returned.
“I think maybe the Powers have been sending me visions all along but… I thought they were just dreams.”
She closed her eyes at this and Angel could see how much that thought hurt. Cordelia had always blamed herself for the ones she couldn’t save.
A year of visions that she’d been unable to do anything about seemed to be catching up on her.
“I’m sorry.” He told her softly, “I just wanted… I tried to… I made a mistake.”
“Well, you’re not totally brain-dead,” She frowned, “There’s a start.”
De-ja-vu slammed into him like a fist to the stomach. He could almost say her next words for her, because he knew what was going to be said.
He looked at her, dumbly, mouth working over words he knew he had to say. “I don’t know what to do to make this right again.”
“Join the club,” She looked up at him, “Because I don’t either.”
Angel swallowed, hard. This had been his nightmare for weeks on end and now, she was sitting in front of him. This was no nightmare. “But…”
“No buts, Angel…” She said, looking at him as he closed his eyes, “This isn’t okay…”
Angel’s eyes flew open. He’d been waiting for her to tell him that he’d made his bed, he could lie in it. When she didn’t, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“It’s not okay by a long shot,” She continued, “But we’ll get through it. I think we’ve had enough time of being apart. Don’t you?”
He moved towards her tentatively, about to wrap his arms around her and just… Just breathe in her scent for five minutes, that was all the comfort he needed.
Cordelia held up a hand, “Wait a minute, Bucko. We’re going to talk about this, okay? We’re going to talk about your sucktacular choices and the things that’ve been happening this past year… But, before that? Just so we’re straight? You ever do that to me again, you ever take away my life like that because you think it’s what’s right? I swear to God, I’ll go glowy on your ass. I’m not messing around.”
From the look in her eyes, he’d say she wasn’t. “We’re straight.” He said softly.
“Now, do I get a hug? Or do I have to beg?”
It feels weird, standing here, thought Cordelia, glancing around her. Wolfram and Hart had started to fall apart at the seams, both she and Angel had been getting their asses kicked by that Hamilton guy and then… Connor had jumped in.
She’d felt her stomach clenching the moment she looked at him, her heart doing that pound thing in her chest like it had yesterday when she’d seen Angel. This time, she wasn’t so much feeling elation as she was feeling nausea.
Angel said he remembered everything about the last year, everything she did.
When he looked at her, recognition flashed in his eyes before he extended a hand, “I’m Connor.”
He seemed content to forget everything that was behind them and for a moment, Cordelia was more than a little stunned. Then, in front of Angel, right where he’d dropped Hamilton’s body, Cordelia had smiled.
“It’s nice to meet you.”
It was the easiest moment of the last day by a long shot. She and Angel had talked and talked and talked some more. She’d helped Wesley for a while, still majorly creeped out by Illyria who declared her as the sister Fred had never had.
Had even managed to squeeze in some reminiscing with Gunn and a brief and extremely yucky drink of Scotch from Spike.
Which left Harmony. Traitorous Harmony who’d sold everyone of Angel’s secrets to Hamilton who she’d just happened to be screwing on the side.
Harmony always had been a little tramp. And where Angel had seen fit to let her go and give her a reference, Cordelia had jammed a stake through her heart, which was apparently, like, total betrayal.
“No shit,” She’d told Harmony, in the brief second it had taken for her to turn to dust, “I told you you’d want to be as far away from me as possible.”
Angel hadn’t questioned her judgement. When the building had started to collapse, he’d ordered Connor home and gone to get Lilah Jr. the hell out of his office, though really, Cordelia would have been happy if she’d stayed there.
Building falling and all.
Now, they were here, in the alley just up from the Hyperion where Cordelia had stood not two weeks ago, wondering where the hell Angel and the others had gone.
“This is it, isn’t it?” Asked Cordelia, shivering slightly as rain beat against her skin. Above their heads thunder cracked, lightning shooting across the sky.
It felt like the end.
She looked up at Angel, blood smeared at the corner of his lip, his right eye swollen shut and for a second her heart tugged in her chest.
“I guess so.” He looked down at her, slipping his hand inside hers and giving it a tight squeeze. “Cordy…”
“I know, Angel.” She could feel a lump rising up in her throat. He’d told her hours ago that she should be out, doing something, living. Spending what could be her last hours the way she wanted to.
He hadn’t figured that she’d want to spend her last hours in the place she’d declared as the root of all evil the minute she’d walked through the door.
“Listen to me,” She turned towards him, poking a finger in his chest, “We haven’t had ‘The Talk’ yet. We haven’t done much more than leave your bed for the past six hours but… That’s beside the point,” She said, mentally shaking herself from those images,
“You die on me and we’ll have a serious problem, Buster. No getting splinters or being decapitated from the big sucking evil or whatever. I want you alive and well when we have ‘The Talk’ and not lying in my arms dying like some dumbass movie that wouldn’t know an ending if it bit it in the ass. Got me?”
Angel couldn’t help but smile. “Got you.”
“Good,” Cordelia nodded, firmly, “And now that’s out the way…” She reached up on her tiptoes and kissed him, the hand that had been in his coming round to cup the back of his head, pulling him down to her.
He tasted like hope.
He was her reason for fighting, for standing here at the end of it all. He was the reason she’d come back, the reason she’d took a good long look at her other, normal life and realised that that wasn’t her place.
Her place was here, by his side. The other stuff didn’t matter. Everything from last year, everything that could have happened between them, the fact that he’d signed away his Shanshu – it just wasn’t important.
Angel had said that he didn’t want his Shanshu in a way that had chilled Cordelia to the bone. He didn’t want to live, he’d decided.
Well that was just too bad, because Cordelia intended on making him, starting with this kiss.
Her mouth opened, tongue flicking softly against his. It was a perfect kiss, as far as Cordelia was concerned. It wasn’t brought on by possession or her trying to give away the visions. It wasn’t a goodbye kiss, or the last they’d ever share.
It was a kiss – one of many, she hoped – one that would keep her going through this fight.
When they broke apart, Cordelia’s eyes were still closed, her forehead resting against his.
Her smile was like sunrise to Angel. He didn’t need the cushy office at Wolfram and Hart with the special tinted windows that meant he didn’t burst into flames. He had Cordelia and that was enough.
“I’m fine.” She told him, pulling gently away from him as a noise sounded behind them in the alley.
“Didn’t want to interrupt the moment,” Said Spike with a grim smile, looking about as rough as Angel did. “Anyone else get here?”
Angel shook his head, grimly, his hand closing back around Cordelia’s again. “Not yet.”
“You feel the heat?” Asked Spike, glancing skywards as thunder pealed across their heads.
“It’s coming.” Said Cordelia, softly. She could feel it too, power thrumming beneath their feet, all around them.
Spike grinned, “Finally got ourselves a decent brawl.”
Ahead of them, something moved, a shadow separating itself from the others. It ran towards them, home-made battle axe in hand, though its steps were slightly unsure. A flash of lightning lit up the alley and Cordelia grinned, moving forwards with the others.
“Damn! How’d I know the fang boys would pull through?” Asked Gunn, his steps slowing, becoming less sure.
From where she stood, Cordelia could see the blood seeping through his shirt, even as Angel and Spike helped him onto one of the crates in the alley, getting him to sit.
“You’re lucky we’re on the same side, dogs,” He grinned, “Cause I was on fire tonight. My game was tight!”
“You’re supposed to wear the red stuff on the inside, Charlie boy…” Said Spike, glancing worried at Angel. If this was it, they weren’t gonna pull through it.
Cordelia glared at Spike, wondering why he had to be state-the-obvious boy. Gunn was fading quick, his eyes glazed over somewhat. She could feel the tears prick the back of her eyelids and had to bite her lip to stop them from welling up.
We’re gonna get through this. He’ll be fine.
“Any word on Wes?” He asked, hopefully.
The chain link fence rattled behind them, Smurf Girl dropping to the floor beside them. “Wesley’s dead.”
Cordelia didn’t stop the tears this time. She clutched her sword so tight she thought she was going to draw blood, tears intermingling with the rain washing down her face.
She didn’t dare look up. She could feel the grief washing from the others in waves, even when Illyria stopped to be state-the-obvious girl.
“I’m feeling grief for him. I can’t seem to control it.” And then, a comment that under other circumstances would have made Cordelia laugh. “I wish to do more violence.”
So do I, Cordelia realised, biting her lip. For Wesley, for Doyle, for everyone who gave up their life just so we could be here.
Beyond the chain link fence, demons gathered by the thousands, moving towards them slowly. Cordelia realised that the thunder they’d heard earlier wasn’t actually thunder. It was the 60 foot dragon, wandering towards them and looking like they were its next meal ticket.
“Okay, you take the 30,000 on the left…” Said Gunn, hauling his ass off the crate he’d been sitting on and brandishing his axe like he always did, like he was going to cause serious pain.
“You’re fading,” Illyria told him, “You’ll last ten minutes at best.”
Gunn nodded, “Then let’s make ’em memorable.”
They were a team. Missing a couple of members, sore, beaten up and bruised… But they were a team, nonetheless, and they were here to fight.
“In terms of a plan?” Spike looked at Angel, standing on his left. To his right was Cordelia, next to her Illyria. Behind Spike was Gunn, tired, dying, but determined to fight. Determined to help for as long as he could.
“We fight.” Said Angel.
“Bit more specific?”
“Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon.” Said Angel, stepping forward.
“I’m with him.” Cordelia nodded, raising her sword as the demon horde began their attack…
And the heavens were rolling
Like a wheel on a track
And our sky was unfolding
And it’ll never fold back
Sky blue and black
Six days later, the darkness had started to recede.
Gunn had lasted half a day before slamming his home made fighting axe into the back of a foe intending on taking Cordelia down. When she’d turned to thank him, Gunn had nodded and told her that he’d made his moments memorable.
He’d made them count.
He’d died moments later.
Three times, Spike thought he’d been done for. Three times, Illyria had come to his rescue. He was finding a new respect for the God who wouldn’t leave his sodding clipboard alone a month ago.
When the sky started to turn blue, instead of the oppressive black it had been for almost a week, Cordelia had been faltering. She was tired, rightly so, sure that the next reach of her arm wouldn’t be enough and she’d die.
She hadn’t seen Angel in what felt like forever.
When the sky began changing color, it gave Cordelia a new sense of hope.
They were winning.
She didn’t doubt the reach of her arm, the strike of her sword. She didn’t doubt her ability to survive or that of her friends.
When the demons started dissipating, going in different directions, Cordelia knew it wasn’t over, but the sky was beginning to change color and she was back, full circle, to that alley where they’d started.
LA was in ruins. People had died, good, innocent people. Some had fought, some had run. Some, it hadn’t made a difference – the demons had been intent on taking over.
They hadn’t let them.
A day later, one week to the day Wesley had died and their fight had begun, Cordelia found Angel.
“I know you’re dead and all,” She told him, crouched next to his body, holding one arm limply by her side, “But would it kill you to breathe? Let me know you’re alive?”
He didn’t move.
Cordelia touched his face, softly, a lump rising up in her throat. “You promised me.” She said quietly, hearing Spike and Illyria still driving away demons behind her. She was starting to think they were like the inhuman versions of the Energizer bunny. “You promised.”
Still, he didn’t move.
After a while, the sky started to get lighter. Spike and Illyria started to run out of things to hit. When they walked towards her, Cordelia turned, tears leaving streaks on her dirty face.
“You grieve for him.” Said Illyria, puzzled, bruises marring the pale gray color of her skin.
“Yeah. It’s kind of a human thing.” Cordelia answered, looking back towards Angel.
“He lives,” Illyria tilted her head to one side. “You grieve for someone who is not yet dead.”
Cordelia’s heart lurched upwards and into her throat. “I’ve been sitting here for two hours. You couldn’t tell me that sooner?” From the floor came a groan. Soft, barely audible.
Angel twitched and Cordelia leaned over, thwapping him on the arm with a punch that made his eyes flee open.
“You couldn’t have done that sooner?!”
Angel looked at her, weakly. “Did I get the dragon?”
Fighting the urge to either stake him herself or burst into tears, Cordelia wrapped her arms around him, hugging him for all she was worth. “You die on me and that’s all you can say?”
Angel coughed, blood filling his mouth. His ribs were broken, bruised, his sides sore from stab wounds that had gone straight through his torso. But he was alive. That was what mattered. “I’m already dead, Cordy…”
“Don’t use logic on me! You know what I mean…”
And it was the kind of voice that made Angel smile. It was her pissed off, ‘you-know-I’m-right’ voice.
Angel paused, glancing up at the sky before looking back at Cordelia, “We about due for that talk yet?”