As Gunn pulled the car to a stop in the driveway at 1630 Revello Drive, Cordelia felt anxious. For the first time since leaving the hospital, she realized this was going to mean a reunion with the Scooby Gang.
Knowing Buffy was alive was one thing, but actually seeing again was quite another.
“This place gives me the wiggins,” she grumbled and climbed out of the front seat.
A hand closed over hers, the touch cool, familiar and supportive. “C’mon, they don’t bite. Though I suggest you don’t turn your back on Dawn,” Angel joked.
“Ha! Dawn likes me,” Cordelia smirked as she remembered the way Buffy’s younger sister used to try to get her attention by asking for fashion advice and makeup tips. “Or she did until I started dating Xander, her hero by the way.”
“Not anymore,” Angel told her as they moved closer to the door. A little worry crept back into his tone, “Spike’s got that honor for the moment.”
“Eew! Well, there’s no accounting for taste,” Cordelia’s nose crinkled. “Then again, living dangerously runs in the family. Lucky thing you’re invisible; I can’t tell if you’re pouting over it.”
Angel apparently stopped in his tracks because he tugged her back toward him. “I don’t pout.”
“Pfft!” Cordelia reached up to pat his invisible shoulder. “You own the patent on it, Mister Broods-a-lot. If it’s any consolation, you’re my hero.”
His pleased, “Really?” was followed by Cordelia rolling her eyes.
Gunn stepped up beside them, a look of wry amusement on his face. “We goin’ in any time soon?”
Before she could answer, Cordelia saw the front door open. Dawn stepped onto the threshold. After staring at them in wide-eyed silence for three or four seconds, she yelled over her shoulder, “They’re here.”
Cordelia watched as Gunn walked past them into the house. She squeezed Angel’s hand, trying to bolster her courage to get this reunion over with. As soon as she dropped Angel’s hand, she felt his fingers slide up her arm until his palm cupped her cheek.
“Am I being a dork about this? Geez, I am.” Cordelia wished she could see his face. Those dark eyes often told her so much, when she could read them at all.
“Never,” he indulged her before saying what was on his mind. “Thank you again for doing what you did for Connor.” The depth of his sincerity sounded as he added, “As heroes go, you’re mine.”
“Ang—.” She started to protest that anyone would have done the same, but felt the brush of his lips across hers. Like a whisper across her mouth, the soft caress was there and gone.
A squeal sounded from the doorway, startling Cordelia whose heart was suddenly pounding in her chest. Fred ran out, arms open wide to engulf Cordelia in a tight hug.
“How are you? Obviously you’re okay since the doctors released you, but are you sore, achy, in pain? That bruise looks painful. I could make you a poultice I used in Pylea… except I don’t have the ingredients. You need jangaroot and bushelberries and I just don’t know what would substitute for that.”
When Cordelia finally got a word in, she promised, “I’m fine, Fred. Where’s Connor?”
Cordelia gaped, “You left him with Anya? Fred, she’s a former Vengeance Demon.”
“Oh, well, hmm,” Fred bit her lip. “I-I’ll be right back.”
She rushed past Dawn who assured them, “Anya won’t hurt the baby. She’s trying to talk Xander into giving her one for Christmas.”
Snorting, Cordelia tried to imagine Xander as a father. Realizing it wasn’t quite such a funny thing as she originally thought, she commented, “As long as Anya doesn’t think they come gift-wrapped and placed under the tree.”
“No, I’m pretty sure she knows where babies come from,” Dawn sighed deeply. “It’s not like we don’t hear about it every day.”
“Poor you!” Cordelia laughed as she hugged Dawn. “Hi, Dawny. Maybe it’s better that I don’t ask for the details.”
Dawn assured her, “It’s very…educational.”
“What’s that Dawnster?” asked Xander as he pulled her out of the way to get to Cordelia. Then he saw the dark bruise on her cheek and his smile faltered. “Oh, God! Your face. It’s—”
A low rumble of discontent sounded next to them.
“It’s not so bad,” corrected Xander quickly, “hardly noticeable. The good thing about bruises is that they go away. And you’re a girl…girls can use makeup.”
His backpedaling had Cordelia laughing, her smile so wide that her face did ache a little. “Nice try.”
They walked into the foyer where Wes greeted her with a smile and a long hug. “You look like a squirrel has been making a nest in your hair,” Cordelia told him. “Your Rogue Demon Hunter look is edging on scary Mountain Man. Did you sleep at all last night?”
“I think so, for a couple of hours,” Wesley didn’t look too sure about it. “Researching this problem has proven rather interesting.”
Buffy piped up behind them, “You’ll have to wait a minute for the rest of us to say hello.”
Turning around slowly, Cordelia stared for a second before saying, “Hello, Buffy.”
“Hey, I’m glad you’re alive,” Cordelia commented awkwardly. When she felt Angel’s fingers threading through hers again, she leaned slightly into him.
“Yeah, you, too,” Buffy looked just as pained by the conversation.
Cordelia saw the Slayer’s eyes drop down to where her hand seemed to curl up against the air. When Buffy looked up again, she was staring at the open space that Angel filled with his invisible form. It was obvious that she knew Angel was standing next to her. Cordelia waited for Angel to say something, but he remained silent.
“We were in the middle of making dinner so, I’m just gonna…,” Buffy pointed toward the kitchen.
Buffy moved so rapidly, Cordelia only saw a flash sweeping out of the room as Willow took the opportunity to say hello. She reached in to hug Cordelia only to knock into Angel first. “Oh, Angel, you’re here. Of course, you are. Here, I mean. Just hugging, honest.”
“Here’s Connor,” Fred called out behind them.
Anya stood next to her looking rather perturbed. “There was no harm done. I was just holding him. Can I help it if the baby seems to like troll stories? He seemed very alert and interested in hearing about the end of the battle.”
Chuckling, Xander pointed out, “He’s a little young for that, An.”
Cordelia figured her stories couldn’t be any worse than the ones Angel made up for Connor when he thought no one was listening. She held out her arms toward the baby, simply telling Fred, “Gimme.”
“Me first,” Angel complained and reached in to lift Connor from Fred’s arms. “There’s my brave little man.”
Gunn, Fred and Wes walked back into the living room, quite used to the spectacle of the vampire cooing over his child. The fact that he was invisible and Connor seemed to be suspended in midair gave them a moment’s pause, but there were other things on their minds now that Cordelia and Conner were back in the fold.
Cordelia nodded at Wes when he motioned toward the dining room where his research was set up. His haggard appearance and impatient body language suggested whatever he had to say was going to be a doozy.
The sound of baby talk coming from the former Scourge of Europe caused quite a different reaction from Willow, Xander and Dawn. Slack-jawed, they stood staring at the sight as Connor bounced in the air. A toothless smile brightened his face, little legs kicking happily at the sound of his father’s voice. Cordelia had to laugh at their stunned faces and was suddenly sorry that Buffy had left the room.
“It’s my turn, you greedy vampire,” Cordelia complained as she motioned with her hands. “Give me Connor and let’s go see what Wes has to say to you before he has a coronary.”
Cordelia snuggled the baby in her arms and closed her eyes for a moment. Relief at having him back safe washed over her like a rainfall. He’d come into their lives so suddenly. While Cordelia hated his mother for her influence on Angel, she never once resented Connor’s presence.
Maybe there was a slight twinge of jealousy or a little bit of hurt when Angel was so over-protective that he wouldn’t accept any help, even from her, but that hadn’t lasted long.
The nape of her neck prickled as Cordelia got the sensation of being watched closely. It didn’t take much imagination to figure out who it was. “What is it, Angel?”
A hasty, “Nothing,” returned.
“Pfft! Yeah, right,” Cordelia’s disbelief was apparent.
“I was just… thinking.”
Moving to take a seat at the dining room table, Xander cut in, “Don’t strain yourself, Dead Boy.”
A responding growl sounded so low that Cordelia was certain she was the only one to pick it up. Xander’s old nickname for Angel was a reminder of graveyard patrols and long nights of research in the library.
“So what’s on your mind? It’s obviously not the nothing you say it is.”
“No, it’s something,” he admitted. “Just something that should wait.”
“Because it should.”
Wes cleared his throat. “Perhaps this is a good time to move on to the important topics of the day?”
“I’m back,” announced Buffy as she arrived carrying a tray of sandwiches and a bag of potato chips. “What’d I miss?”
Xander and Willow chimed in, “Nothing.”
Cordelia suspected it was a lot more than nothing. She wasn’t alone in that thinking, either. Before Anya, Dawn or Fred could correct them, Wesley informed Buffy, “I was about to tell Angel and Cordelia the findings of my research.”
“Just in time, then. Dealing with the Trio, I missed most of that myself,” Buffy said as she put the tray down on the only clear spot on the table.
“What’s to know? Just uninvisiblize him, already,” Cordelia gestured toward the ray gun that lay upon the table.
Adjusting his glasses, Wes looked toward Fred who smiled encouragingly and then shrugged, switching to a nervous frown. Cordelia wasn’t sure what all the silent signals meant, but it had to be trouble. Nothing was ever as simple as pushing a button.
“I’m afraid I have to recommend we delay reversing the invisibility process,” Wesley said as he squared his shoulders.
Less than pleased, Angel demanded. “Why?”
“Whilst I have every reason to believe that another exposure to the light beam will restore you to a visible wavelength,” Wes informed him, “I am concerned that doing so will have further side-effects.”
Wes touched his hand to the metallic casing as he explained, “The power source for the Invisibility Ray is actually an ancient mystical stone.”
“Jonathan found it in a junk shop,” Cordelia offered up what little information she had gleaned.
“The magick from the stone overloaded the electro-mechanics of the ray gun.” Fred reached for one of the sandwiches. “A new circuit pathway was accidentally created during the overload, turning the destructive laser beam into diffused lightwaves.”
Xander, munching on a handful of potato chips, gave a dramatic shout, “Presto! Invisible vamp.”
“What other effects, Wes?” Cordelia had heard the concern in his voice just as Angel had and wasn’t about to let it drop.
Telling them of the trip to the carnival and their meeting with the old gypsy fortune teller, Madame Bosha, he further explained, “We were told to look for the Eye of Dakronn to reveal the truth.”
“Truth about what?” Cordelia had to ask.
Fred shrugged cluelessly in response. “She was kinda cryptic.”
“So the power source,” Angel concluded, “is the Eye.”
“Yes,” Wesley nodded, “though it took me ages to verify it. The Eye of Dakronn is an ancient relic of the Kalderash Romany.”
Cordelia’s eyes darted toward Angel. She could feel his tension despite not being able to see him. Across the table, Buffy squirmed in her chair as she remembered, “Jenny Calendar was Kalderash.”
“Wes has a theory,” Fred’s excitement showed in her eyes as she met Cordelia’s gaze across the table.
“Actually, you might say that it is Lorne’s theory,” corrected Wes. “Angel, do you remember Lorne’s reaction to you before we left for Sunnydale? He said—”
“There was something different about me.”
Cordelia gestured in Angel’s direction, “Hello, invisible!”
“No, he said it was something else.”
Wes and Fred exchanged glances again, which drove Cordelia to demand, “Just say it.”
“Lorne believes Angel’s soul is now permanent.”
“What?” Cordelia heard her own question echoed several times over. Nobody except Fred was in on this part of the discovery, apparently.
Angel sounded just as surprised, “How? Are you saying the Trio’s ray gun did this?”
“Not precisely,” corrected Wes rubbing a hand across his mouth and stubbled jaw. “I believe Lorne knows what he’s talking about. He wouldn’t say it if he hadn’t given it a lot of thought.”
“He’s got but-face,” Willow pointed out to Cordelia suggesting that was a bad thing.
“But,” Wesley added ignoring Willow’s interruption, “we remain uncertain as to the cause. Madame Bosha hinted that the Eye of Dakronn would reveal truth. She said nothing to indicate that it would have this kind of effect.”
Angel let out a harsh laugh, irony weighing heavily in his voice as he asked, “What is it that really has you worried?”
“If the Eye did nothing more than shed it’s proverbial light on the subject of your curse,” Wes shrugged, “then using the ray gun to reverse your invisible condition will mean nothing. We could reverse the process without any untoward effects.”
Cordelia realized what Wes was going to say next. The idea of it frightened her as much as the other news had given her hope. Wes held up a finger in point of case, “However, if the Eye’s power had something to do with cementing your soul in place, I fear exposing you to its power again might strip the soul away entirely.”
“So Angel has to stay invisible,” Cordelia took in a deep breath and let it out in one short huff. “There are worse things to be. Just think of the perks.”
Angel’s mouth was close to her ear, “Have some in mind?”
“Duh!” Cordelia slapped at his chest. “No more Angelus.”
Wesley’s quandary had kept him searching for other clues, but his resources here were limited. Combined with what he had back at the Hyperion, they might provide some extra data.
Unfortunately, he had to tell them, “The fact is that we know very little about the methods the Kalderash used to invoke the original curse. We have only a variation of it that Willow has used before.”
“What about this Madame Botox?” asked Cordelia as she switched Connor from one arm to the other. “She seems to be a know-it-all. Maybe she can tell you more.”
“Lorne called about an hour ago,” Fred told her ruefully.
Then Wesley revealed what he had to say, “Madame Bosha has closed up her shop on the boardwalk. There was an envelope taped to the window, addressed to Angelus.”