“Careful with the hugs, Princess,” cautioned Lorne jovially as Cordelia’s arms wound around him, “this jacket wrinkles.”
Lorne didn’t bother to hide the tears of happiness at seeing both Cordelia and Connor home safely. He hugged Cordelia back just as hard, marveling at the bright grin on her face despite the dark bruise her assailant left behind.
Her normally bright aura appeared somewhat confused today. In fact, the only one of the group not a little muddled was the baby who was snuggled in his daddy’s arms.
“My turn with the little nipper,” Lorne held out his hands. “What a surprise that a tiny bundle like this can make you wonky when it disappears. No more disappearing acts, kid.”
Seeing that the Pylean was already getting distracted by humming a tune to Connor whose bright eyes were fixed on Lorne with rapt attention, Angel cut in with a quick reminder, “The letter.”
“How could I forget?” Lorne chuckled in a way that suggested he had really been putting off potentially bad news. “It’s right here in the pocket over my heart, burning a hole like a hot potato. I figured you should open it, especially if there are any more gypsy curses attached to it.”
Since Lorne’s hands were full of baby, Cordelia reached behind Lorne and pulled out the velum envelope from his pants pocket. It was sealed tight with dark red wax and a marking she had only ever seen in Wesley’s file on Angelus. That name was written in an old style on the front of the envelope.
Cordelia held it out in the direction she knew Angel to be standing before following through with the temptation to rip it open herself. Almost as soon as he took the envelope from her, it vanished from sight. She let out a little grmph of frustration as that also meant she couldn’t read it over his shoulder.
“Well?” Cordelia prompted him after a few seconds, knowing the others were equally interested in discovering the truth. “What does it say?”
The only response was the appearance of the letter and its envelope on the desktop next to them. Whatever it read was keeping Angel in his silent broody mode and that had Cordelia snatching it up the instant she saw it. Wes, Gunn and Fred all crowded around her to read the message while Lorne kept his distance. He’d already gotten the gist of it from Angel’s reaction.
“Cryptic much,” mumbled Cordelia in complaint. Frowning, she asked the group, “So what’s it mean?”
Taking the letter and it’s envelope from her hand, Wes studied the seal on the cream colored envelope and the single line of script within the letter itself: Prepare for judgment. “It appears we are to expect visitors.”
“They’re coming here?” Cordelia looked around for Angel, but the invisibility thing made it hard to find him. He’d moved off somewhere. Turning back to Wes, she demanded clarification, “To do what? Judgment could mean anything.”
“I doubt it’s a pie-eating contest,” commented Wes drolly. “Obviously, this has to do with Angelus’ crimes against the Kalderash Romany and their subsequent curse.”
When Fred piped up to call out the vampire’s name, Cordelia figured she wasn’t alone in wondering whether Angel knew more about that single line of text than was obvious. Whether it was a warning or a threat, she needed to know because not knowing was already causing anxious butterflies to swarm inside.
Angel hadn’t gone far, just over to the couch where his voice sounded steadier than it should under the circumstances. She automatically followed the sound, standing there until his hand curled around her wrist and with a gentle tug brought her to sit beside him.
Linking her fingers with his, Cordelia listened as Angel reminded them all, “The Kalderash intended the soul to be the means to my punishment. It could be that they want to ensure the curse is still meeting its intent.”
“To see that you remain tormented by the emotional response to the memories of the people you’ve killed,” Wes nodded his own understanding.
“I get that part,” admitted Gunn as he rubbed his bald head with one large hand. “I don’t get this happiness clause. Vamp gets a little action and boom the gypsies have Soulless Joe back.”
That was a question Cordelia wouldn’t mind having an answer too. “So when can we expect this gypsy invasion?”
Glancing down at the letter again despite knowing it revealed nothing of the sort, Wes answered, “It doesn’t say. Reconsidering my original hypothesis, this mention of judgment could be an event rather than an actual visitation.”
Cordelia released Angel’s hand and stalked over to Wesley’s side grabbing the letter and holding it up to the light looking for clues that weren’t there. “So where do we find this Madame Bosha?”
“We don’t,” Angel stated with a tone of finality.
Not about to take that without further explanation, Cordelia turned back toward the couch. “We don’t? She’s the one with the answers, Angel. This sounds like a threat and I’m not gonna roll out the red carpet and wait for doomsday.”
Angel’s hands were suddenly on her arms and she jerked in surprise at the sudden sensation. The fingers gripped gently, but firmly enough to get his point across, “Let it happen as she plans it, Cor. Whatever the Kalderash have in mind, just let them come.”
With a growing sense of fury, Cordelia’s response was accompanied by a hard shove to his chest that wouldn’t normally budge Angel an inch. She felt his hands drop from her arms and though he was no longer touching her, she could tell he hadn’t moved more than an inch or two away.
Just to prove it to herself, Cordelia poked a finger at his chest as she complained, “Don’t you dare give me that broody I-deserved-to-be-cursed attitude. You’ve paid for that over and over. More than enough.”
“Can it ever be enough?” Cordelia flinched at the pain evident in his words. “I’m a vampire. It’s what I am. No matter the existence of the prophesy and the promise of finding redemption, what can I possibly do to make up for everything I’ve done in the past?”
“That’s the mission, Angel,” her hand slid up the contours of his chest to palm the invisible face. Almost imperceptibly, he leaned into her touch. “You live it every day helping the hopeless. The people you’ve saved…”
“A handful in comparison to those I’ve tortured, those I’ve killed,” Angel pointed out. Redemption had seemed so close when they’d first discovered the prophesy. Now it seemed eons away. “The innocents I’ve slaughtered far outweigh those I’ve saved, including the favorite daughter of the Kalderash.”
A frustrated growl sounded from Cordelia’s throat as she gritted her teeth together. “It’s a good thing you’re invisible. You need a swift kick in the rear,” she told Angel.
The slight motion under her hand as the curve of Angel’s mouth brushed against her thumb made Cordelia realize he was smiling. Relief at his reaction felt overwhelming to the point that she threw her arms around his neck hugging him close. “Don’t think I can’t do it, either,” she added as she moved out of his arms.
The cool tips of his fingers trailed across the line of her jaw, his thumb whispering across her mouth for an instant before Cordelia sensed him stepping away. That little touch left her wanting more, but this was hardly the time to think about the way her imagination had been twisting their interactions into something intimate.
Cordelia sucked in a sharp breath, releasing it before pointing out, “It’s today that counts, not the past. I…any of us here would take you over some comic book hero in tights any day.”
“Damn straight,” Gunn confirmed his agreement.
As did Fred, “Cordy’s right.”
“The Kalderash judged you when they invoked the curse,” Wesley pointed out as he decided they might be reading too much into the letter. “Returning now could mean anything.”
“Madame Busybody is the one planning all of this,” reminded Cordelia refusing to drop the idea of looking for the old woman.
Gunn was all for that. Sitting around and waiting for something to happen was not his idea of a good thing. “Wes & I should check out the gypsy’s shop. Maybe we can find a clue about what she’s planning.”
“It’s closed up tight,” Lorne explained that he’d found the shop empty. The only thing left was the envelope taped in an obvious location. “Not a crystal ball in sight, much less a clue.”
Apparently, Angel wasn’t surprised that Madame Bosha had cleared out of her shop even if Cordelia thought it strange that it was necessary. “If the Kalderash want to be found, we’ll find them easily enough. Otherwise forget it.”
“So we just wait?” Cordelia found that idea ridiculous.
In an off-key sing-song, Cordelia reminded him, “Hello, you’re still invisible.”
Wes promised that he and Fred would continue to conduct research, but stressed that the safest thing to do would be to refrain from reversing the invisibility process until they were certain about the effects on Angel’s soul.
Having heard that, Lorne didn’t think it was necessary, “Your soul has been super-glued, Angelcakes. Don’t ask me when or how it happened, but it’s suddenly as clear as crystal.”
The confidence behind Lorne’s words made Cordelia’s heart beat a little faster. But Wes had to ruin her little rush of happiness by explaining his theory about the magic effects of the Invisibility Ray. “The danger of dispersing the soul entirely is too great to ignore. More research is required before any action can be taken.”
Afterward, Lorne sent Cordelia a sympathetic look, commenting, “Doesn’t that blow a cold wind up your skirt.” Then to Angel, he slyly suggested, “Seems to me someone ought to take advantage of this whole invisible thing while he has a chance.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes at that comment. Take advantage? Pfft! “Like Tall, Dark and Stuffy is really gonna head to the nearest women’s dressing room to sneak a peek. This is Angel we’re talking about, not Wes or Gunn.”
Simultaneous complaints sounded from the latter two. “Hey! I resent that remark.”
“Resemble that,” Cordelia snorted as she shared a look with Fred that caused the Texan to blush a rosy hue.
Lorne shook his head as he realized Cordelia let his advice to Angel fly right over her head. He leaned closer to the vampire whose aura was glowing with frustration. “You have work to do, sugar pie,” he suggested.
“The little nipper and I are gonna catch up on that bedtime story we missed out on last night about the Jolly Green Demon.”
The days that followed fell into a pattern of business as usual for the team at Angel Investigations. With one minor alteration: Angel’s invisibility.
Wes kept researching, but had come up with nothing remotely useful in regards to the Kalderash or the Eye of Dakronn. Despite that, the Englishman continued to burn the midnight oil to find information.
A remote link had been established to Willow’s computer database to allow for cross-referencing.
While Wes focused on discovering all there was to know about the mystic Eye, Fred continued to tinker with prototypes of Invisibility Rays using alternate power sources. Unfortunately, she was having no luck maintaining the stability of the wavelengths around the test objects.
That just made her all the more determined to solve the problem.
The PTB apparently had no compunction about sending their invisible champion off on a mission. If anything, they seemed keen to take advantage of the situation by sending Cordelia three visions in the same week.
Gunn tagged along for the fight and came back with stories of how the demons reacted to the invisible vampire. When he gave them a chance to react at all, Gunn pointed out.
Despite her concerns for Angel, Cordelia had problems of her own that no one else knew about. Staying at the hotel, she missed the distraction and care that Dennis offered, especially his ability to listen.
Tilting her head back, Cordelia swallowed down the pain killers, her hands shaking as she moved to hold on to the edge of the sink. Geez, it keeps getting worse.
“Headache?” Angel’s concerned voice sounded behind her.
Straightening up, Cordelia silently reminded herself not to leave the bathroom door open again. Just because the place looked empty, didn’t mean that it was. “Yeah, it’s just the usual after-vision thing.”
“Didn’t you take something before I left?” They both knew she’d popped a couple of Tylenol.
“I did,” Cordelia agreed swiftly as she rummaged through her purse for the bottle she’d opened just minutes before. How bad was it that she disguised her medication? “These are just vitamins. One A Day keeps the doctor away.”
Angel examined the label before returning it to her. “I thought that was an apple.”
“That was just back in the days before scientists fit everything you need into a pill,” Cordelia made an effort to grin and attempted to get out the door.
“Wait,” Angel caught her, pulling her back in front of the sink.
“Let me go,” she pleaded softly. God, she didn’t want to talk about this. “It’s just a harmless little vitamin. I’ll eat an apple later if it’ll make you feel better.”
“What? No, look at the mirror,” Angel turned her around to face it.
Cordelia hoped he wasn’t going to point out that she looked tired. It had been a rough week and while the bruise on her face was now hidden under a thin layer of makeup, the effects of back-to-back visions showed in her eyes.
“I look like I’ve just come back from Hag City.”
Angel chuckled, pulling her back against his chest. His cheek rested against the soft cascade of her hair as he bent his head to say, “You need some sleep, Cordelia, but you’re still beautiful.”
A smile played at the corners of her mouth as she gazed at her lonely reflection. “I wish I could see you.”
“I can,” he told her with a sense of wonderment. “I see my reflection.”
Cordelia figured it was another side-effect of the magic that kept him invisible and also protected him from the deadly rays of the sun. “You see both of us?”
A flash of envy consumed her for an instant. She wondered what they looked like together, standing front to back facing the mirror. With her bottle of vitamins still clutched in her hand, Cordelia knew there was far more than just invisibility separating them.
“Cordy, I think we need to talk.”
Cordelia lifted her bare wrist and pointed to where a watch might normally be worn, “Look at the time. My boss is a bear when I get behind on the filing. Gotta go.”
Little actual filing was done the remainder of the afternoon. Cordelia busily pushed paperwork around her desk as she tried to figure out what Angel had been going to say to her. She’d been so focused on avoiding the subject of why she was popping pain pills like they really were just vitamins, she wondered if he intended to say something else.
Whatever it was, Angel didn’t bother her with it the rest of the day retreating up to his suite the moment the baby monitor alerted him that Connor was awake.