Splintered 10

Chapter 10

“Don’t move.”

Wes tightened his grip on the crossbow as the last of Darla’s ashes fluttered to the floor. Her killer stood rigidly amid the dusty remains, eyes devoid of any guilt, rage or murderous zeal that might provide a clue as to his true identity: Angel or Angelus.

A chill zipped down Wes’ spine as his scrutiny gained him a glimpse of eternity, cold and dark, reflecting nothing. He crooked his finger a nudge closer to the trigger. The empty eyes staring back provided no hint. He took in a shaky breath and held it as he gazed into their fathomless depths, searching for a sign of hope.

If this was truly Angelus as Cordelia intimated, one weak moment, a false move, any indecision could cost them everything. Give him a single opportunity and it might be their remains on the floor. After Cordelia’s shocking revelation, doubt plagued Wes’ mind. How quickly his sense of triumph waned as success turned to failure.

Or had it?

The incantation had been legitimate, but he might have been too late. The truth was standing before him. Angel or Angelus? Wes took a hesitant step across the threshold maintaining eye contact along the way, not daring to blink.

“You’re dust,” Gunn’s bald threat sounded right behind him making their intentions clear, not that it wasn’t already apparent. He just wasn’t big on diplomacy.

On the way to the Hyperion, Wes had informed Gunn that the probability of having to face Angelus was relatively high. Though he’d left out most of the details, the mere mention of Cordelia’s name brought Gunn to conclusions not far off the mark. Axe in hand, he was more than willing to take action.

Gritting his teeth, Wes sounded out Gunn’s name, urging him to stick with the plan and follow his lead. “We agreed I’d do the talking.”

“Who needs talking,” Gunn huffed. “Soul or no soul, I’m gonna kick his ass.”

Wes noticed that those dark eyes never wavered from his own, though he had no doubt that they saw every move Gunn made. Even Wes could sense him moving in the background, no doubt maneuvering about with the axe in an act of showmanship.

Slightly irritated at the interruption of his assessment, Wes continued to scrutinize the vampire standing before him. Seconds had already passed, more than a minute. Long enough for Angelus to make any move he needed to escape or to find a dozen ways to kill them.

Then the moment came when the wooden shard in his hand dropped to the floor and his cold stare fell away just long enough to reveal both shame and anguish. It looked heartfelt, painful, and real. Then it vanished again behind a grim expression as he ordered flatly, “Get out; both of you.”

A hopeful swell of emotion flooded Wes. He knew that Angelus could be deceptive, but he needed to find out one way or another. All he could think of was to give him an opening. So Wes lowered his crossbow and stepped closer. “A-Angel?”

Gunn wasn’t going for it, moving past Wesley as soon as he dropped his arm to his side. There was no stopping him and Wes tried, too late, to wave him off with a subtle motion. Subtlety was lost on Gunn at the moment and he’d no sooner ordered Angel to, “Show me what you got,” in quite ornery fashion than the vampire did just that.

Moving faster than either human could anticipate Angel grabbed the handle of Gunn’s axe, twisting both it and him around. Wes gaped in horrified reaction, raising his crossbow, but finding he had no clear shot. Tossing the long-handled battle-axe aside, Angel now had him in a headlock.

“Drop the crossbow,” Angel demanded while yanking Gunn to a standstill when he tried to break free. Tilting his head, he all but growled into Gunn’s ear, “When I said to get out, I meant now.”

Abruptly released, Gunn stumbled forward, nearly knocking Wes to the floor as he was tossed back across the threshold. When they both regained their balance, it was to see Angel slumped down in his leather chair looking like he’d just lost his best friend. Considering that might be an understandable consequence, Wes jockeyed for position as Gunn moved in for a second round.

“Stand back,” he said firmly, squaring his shoulders. “We’re not leaving until we get answers to some very important questions. The first of which is?”

“I didn’t lose it,” Angel’s quiet statement cut through, surprise filling every syllable. He shook his head, confused and amazed by the fact. Wes stared hard at the vampire for a long moment, searching for any signs that he was being hoodwinked before the rigidity in his frame slackened. “I’m still…me.”

Gunn accusingly pointed a finger toward him. “Not for lack of trying.”

The wry look sent Gunn’s way was hard to miss, but Wes hardly noticed. Swamped by an overwhelming sense of relief, he felt his knees shaking as the tension drained away. Finally, he uttered, “Thank God. It worked. It worked! I knew it.”

Rising from his chair, Angel walked forward, buttoning up his shirt along the way. Wes kept a hold on the crossbow despite the certainty of his success, watching as Angel’s gaze narrowed suspiciously. “What have you done?”

“Yeah,” Gunn commented as he retrieved his axe from the other side of the room. “Why aren’t we kicking his ass?”

“Because his soul is still intact.”

Gunn wasn’t too impressed with that fact, pointing out, “That don’t make it right.”

“Er, well, no, of course not,” Wes stuttered in agreement. He saw the grim expression on Angel’s face and knew that he was of the same opinion. “Gunn is quite right in demanding an explanation for your actions, but I must first inform you that the incantation was a success.”

As if he’d forgotten all about sending Wesley to San Francisco, Angel looked stunned by the news. Obviously, he never considered the fact that the scroll might truly be legitimate or that Wes would take the initiative to recite the spell.

It was rather a satisfying moment to point out, “So much for the, uh, goose chase, I think she called it. Though your reasons for me going leave a lot to be desired, my timing, I think, was rather impeccable.”

Having only buttoned his shirt halfway, Angel’s hands fell limply to his sides. “Is??”

The words were apparently stuck in his throat, Wes noted, picking up where his voice trailed off. “Is the soul permanent? Yes, it should be. I’ll have to arran-“

With a growl, Angel cut in, asking thickly, “Is she okay?”

Wes realized that he hadn’t been thinking about himself, but Cordelia. A shudder worked its way through Angel’s big body, visible to the two watching his every move. Guilt, no doubt, he assumed.

“No thanks to you,” Gunn responded before Wes could, walking forward aggressively until only a few feet separated them. “If it was up to me, your dust would be next to that pile on the floor. She’s safe. That’s all you need to know,” he added with a curl of his wide mouth.

Sensing trouble again, Wes stepped in, but Angel was feeding off of Gunn’s anger and took objection to the fact that Cordelia was being kept from him. “Where is she?”

“Calm down,” urged Wes. “This will only escalate into something none of us need right now.”

“Where is she?” Angel enunciated each word slowly, the question now a demand. “Darla threatened-“

Wes held out his hands, pushing back and signaling his plea that they put a halt to this before it got any worse. “Safe at home,” he explained without adding a reminder that her apartment was protected from his entry.

“You mean safe from me,” his anger dwindled with every word and he rubbed his hand over his face as if trying to wipe away the evidence of his guilt. “I’d never hurt her. I couldn’t.”

The latter seemed to be muttered mostly to himself as he half-turned from them. Wes guessed he had a lot to think about. “Physically, she’s fine. This whole ordeal has been rather a shock for her.”

“I don’t know what your definition is of ‘hurt’, man,” Gunn shook his head in disgust, “but then, you ain’t a man.” He sucked his teeth sharply, his big hands tightening on the axe handle.

Angel looked confused, holding Gunn’s fiery gaze “I didn’t….” His eyes, dark and tortured, turned Wes’ way. “You know I’d never hurt her!” Neither man missed the pleading tone that threaded through his impassioned words.

Wes’ gaze faltered and slid away and he let out a strained breath. “At the moment, Angel, I don’t know anything.” Then looked back up from the contemplation of his highly polished shoes to add, “Whatever you think you’re feeling doesn’t change the fact that she didn’t want it to happen.” He shook his head in complete dismay and deep disappointment.

Angel frowned darkly and half turned away, aware but not caring that Gunn stood behind his now vulnerable back. “That’s not true. It wasn’t like that,” he denied tiredly, “Cordy and I, we’re…” Pausing, he raked an unsteady hand through his already tousled hair. “Something’s wrong with me.”

Noting that Angel seemed to be having trouble thinking straight, Wes frowned deeply. The lack of sleep and his obsessive behavior all added up to something, but he might have to put it all down to a psychotic break unless new evidence came to light. There were other possibilities, but they required research and the passage of time.

“That’s why you’ll be staying here until I sort this out,” Wes said determinedly. He was grateful that Angel appeared to be calm at the moment. Having to dust his friend in spite of his soul being intact was not something he wanted to do. There was an explanation for this and he just had to find it.

Gunn pointed out that they’d need to keep a 24/7 watch over Angel’s whereabouts. “I don’t trust him. We could turn our backs for a second and he’d be out the window and after Cordy.”

“Nothing will happen to Cordy.” Angel turned, looking him dead in the eye. “Get the chains. I won’t stop you.”

“Yeah, I’m all over that plan.”

Wes quickly forestalled that action even as Gunn headed toward the door. “That won’t be necessary.”

“I say it is,” Gunn’s quick rejoinder followed.

Glancing over at Angel, who seemed to be staring at his bed as if it was the last place he wanted to be, Wes let out a deep sigh before addressing the vampire. “There is no changing what happened today. You will have to live with it. Being chained here is not going to alter that.”

“Cord-“

“Cordelia is safe,” Wes interjected. “You haven’t been yourself, lately. I have a few theories, but until I am able to sort them out, you’ll have to remain here. We’ll take measures to ensure that you do.”

Feeling rather confident of the fact that Angel was now cognizant of his wrongdoing, Wes highly doubted Cordelia would be in any further danger. In his right mind, Angel would stake himself before harming a hair on her head. There was a reason for the tangled mess that led to all of this and now he needed time to prove it.

“Gunn and I will be downstairs,” he said as he watched Angel slump down into the seat of his leather chair. “We’ll be here…if you need to talk.”

That familiar broody face was enough to convince Wes that he was making the right decision. Angel’s gaze was already turned away, an expression of guilt weighting him down as securely as any chains ever could.

Following him out the door, Gunn pointed out, “If I go back in there, I ain’t stopping to chat.”

Arguing with Gunn was pointless. Wes tried to focus on the tasks ahead, sorting out the details of his theory that would declare Angel to be just as much a victim to all of this as Cordelia herself. Only Gunn wasn’t about to be quiet and let him think things through.

“I still say chains woulda been the way to go. We can’t trust him.” Gunn’s disgruntlement sounded in Wes’ ear as they made their slow way down the stairs.

By now, all Wes wanted to do was call Cordelia to assure her Angelus was not a factor and sleep for at least several days. But that was not even a possibility right now, and the thought only made him irritable. “I think that chains are going a little overboard.”

“Overboard? Have you forgotten what he’s already done?” Gunn gripped his axe that little bit tighter as he glanced behind him, his dark eyes reflecting frustration and anger.

Wes paused in mid-step and rubbed a weary hand over his face before looking directly at Gunn. “I have a good idea why Angel has been behaving strangely. Things should improve from here and he shouldn’t slip back,” he tiredly replied. “Plus, with the added advantage of having his soul bound, we at least don’t have to be concerned about Angelus.”

“He wasn’t Angelus when he did what he did,” Gunn reminded grimly, causing Wes to wince slightly before continuing down the stairs.

“I have my suspicions about his unexpected behavior. I believe Angel has been influenced by outside forces.” Wes returned defensively. “And from what I have just witnessed, I think he is almost definitely coming out of it.”

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Gunn pushed ahead before confronting the man with a disbelieving glare. “So, what you sayin’? We forget it happened and pretend everything’s rosy?”

Wes held back the urge to retreat as Gunn crowded him unconsciously as he spoke.

“Not at all.” He let out a weary sigh before continuing, “As I said, I do believe something or someone is behind this. I’m not saying Angel’s behavior has been at all acceptable, but we do have to take into account the real possibility of foul play.”

Starting to feel like a broken record, Wes sidestepped the other man with a frown and walked over to the checkout counter and picked up the receiver. Looking over his shoulder, he caught Gunn’s eyes. “We are going to have to take turns keeping a close eye on Angel. Are you okay to take first watch?” he asked, attempting to suppress a yawn.

Gunn may have been a little mollified, but Wes was more than aware it wouldn’t take much to make him all gung ho again. A small part of him had doubts about leaving Angel in the hands of his somewhat hotheaded friend, but what choice did he have? Lack of sleep was quickly catching up on him now that intense relief had drained the adrenalin-based energy from him.

“As long as you know: he steps one foot outta line and he’s dust.” Gunn’s reply upped his concern another notch and Wes turned to face him with a deeply serious expression.

“As long as you know that unless he attempts to walk out of that door, staking isn’t an option,” he reminded him with a hint of unexpected steel lacing his tone. After a pause, Gunn nodded in reluctant agreement.

“Glad that’s settled,” Wes nodded back before turning back to the phone. “I’ll leave you to it and contact Cordelia with the news. First I must make a rather important call.”

***

Huddled on the couch clutching her comforter close, it crossed Cordy’s mind that she’d been doing that a lot in the past 12 hours. It took couch potato to a whole new level. God she was tired, but sleep was the last thing on her mind right now.

Looking over at the clock on the mantle, her shoulders tensed that little bit more. Where the hell was Wes? Two hours had passed since he’d dropped her off; his warnings still sounding in her ears. And still no word.

Had they found Angelus; confronted him? Were they still alive? Cordy swallowed down the acrid bile that rose in her throat at the thought, and as the minutes passed agonizingly by, anger slowly replaced her fear. Anger because she hadn’t followed and brought her own stake. Anger because she agreed to “stay safe” at her apartment, but for the life of her she couldn’t bring herself to move off the couch.

Imaginings grew at an alarming pace, her mind sinking into a well of despair- and the phone rang, its warble breaking the silence and jolting her so hard a wave of nausea threatened.

Cordelia shot off the couch, almost tumbling to the floor as the comforter twisted round her legs. Righting herself she rushed to the phone, and then hesitated just as her hand touched the receiver.

What if it was Angelus? A shudder ran through her at the thought. She shook the possibility off. Why would he bother? Why give her a chance to prepare, escape? A harsh breath forced itself out of her mouth. You never knew with the sick bastard. Angelus had always been cocky. He probably wanted to gloat.

“Oh, stop being a whiny baby,” she pulled herself together with difficulty and picked up the phone.

“Hello?” A wave of intense relief rushed through her when Wes’ familiar voice came down the phone. He wasn’t dead. To have that on top of the guilt already eating away at her… “Cordelia? Are you there?” The worry in his voice triggered her locked vocal chords.

“Wes, are you okay? What about Gunn- did you find Angel…Angelu??” the words poured out, barely a breath in-between as anxiety notched by the second and it took a while for the repetition of her name to sink in and bring her questions to an abrupt halt.

“Yes, Cordelia, I’m fine, Gunn’s fine and Angel…is still Angel.” As Wesley’s hasty reassurance rang in her ears, Cordelia’s knees buckled. Blinding relief whooshed through her, her hand reaching blindly out to press against the wall to stop from crumpling to the floor. She could vaguely hear the sharp concern as he called out her name and managed to reply with only the slightest hitch.

“He’s still Angel?” Cordy forced down the jumble of questions that revelation set off, pressing the receiver tightly against her ear in an attempt to still the tremor in her hand. “How?” wrenched out of her throat, and for a moment silence greeted her before a deep sigh sounded in her ear.

“The incantation worked,” he replied, the relief in his voice, to her, sounding oddly subdued to Cordy. “I was in time, after all. Cordelia…” Wes cleared his throat before continuing and her heart clinched in anxiety as she waited. “It’s… the whole scenario is a little more complicated than I originally thought.” He halted abruptly before blowing out a sharp breath. “Look, I need to come over. We can talk about everything then, alright?”

Cordelia’s brow furrowed in confusion, irritation mixed with dread at his sudden hesitancy. “Is it…bad, Wes?” she swallowed tightly as he paused again.

“Nothing we can’t sort out,” Wes eventually replied, his tone now full of calm reassurance. “I’ll be there in approximately twenty minutes. Why don’t you make us some tea in the meantime?” he suggested, waiting for her agreement before ending the call.

Numbly pressing the end button and placing the phone down, Cordelia turned and trailed back to the couch. Once there, she grabbed the comforter and pulled it up until the soft fabric pressed against her trembling mouth.

Angel hadn’t lost his soul. According to Wes, the incantation had been successful. Any other time, she’d be thrilled that this happened. None of them needed the threat of Angelus hanging over their heads. Wes’ impeccable timing came with a downside.

Who’s to say Angel would’ve experienced that moment of bliss with her? Not that she wanted Angelus around. Hell, no. Fretfully, she wondered why it bothered her so much, knowing whether or not a perfect moment could ever exist between them.

Cordelia could agree that pure bliss evaded them that first time. Under the circumstances, it was amazing that Angel made her? it wasn’t bad despite the way it started. Then she’d conveniently forgotten, getting caught up in how he could make her feel. It made her believe that anything was possible.

Only reality crashed in upon them and Cordelia remembered that Angel’s fantasy world and his creepy stalker act led to this. If there was bliss, it was all thanks to what was going on in his sicko head. That’s what confused her the most.

Since when did Angel start thinking of her that way? Her insecurities ate into her as this thought rolled over in her head still not knowing what brought on his sudden interest. It had come seemingly out of nowhere. Yet it wasn’t just his behavior that mortified her, but her own reaction.

There were feelings there she didn’t want to name mixed up with anger and fear. Doubt fogged over the rest. What the hell had possessed her into thinking it was possible she could have caused him a moment of perfect happiness? She wasn’t Buffy. Soul lossage and the Slayer sorta went hand in hand.

Cordy’s stomach roiled with such a surge of jealousy that she gasped out loud, her face paling even more as momentary disappointment flooded her at the thought that she hadn’t been capable of causing him to lose his soul. Oh, God. Self-flagellation eclipsed the disappointment, and tossing aside the comforter, she rose on shaky legs and made her way to the kitchen, hating herself more with every step.

“Angel’s not the only one needing a straight jacket and a padded cell,” Cordelia muttered as she filled the kettle with water. “Imagine actually wanting Angelus around just to have proof that Angel?”

That Angel…what? Cordelia’s voice trailed off for a moment as she turned off the tap. “He wants me? duh, kinda obvious.” It would take more than that, she knew instinctively. Losing his soul would take more than just wanting and having.

They’d had sex, sure, but did anyone really know for a fact if that was what did it? For all anyone knew, including Angel, sex might not even be the trigger, but the deep love for the woman he had sex with.

Shaking her head, “Made love to,” Cordelia stressed the difference aloud as her mind wandered to their second time together. The gentility of his touch couldn’t diminish everything that happened before it.

If it was just about sex, Cordelia knew, “I’d bliss his fangs off,” but it was more complicated. It had to do with his feelings, not hers, whatever they were.

That was the real problem. Supposing Angel did have feelings for her beyond friendship, they were twisted up by this dark obsession. Even if Angel’s soul was secure, things couldn’t go anywhere between them. Not with him being a psycho stalker.

***

Wes shifted restlessly in his seat as he waited for Cordelia to bring the tray of tea into the lounge, biting his lip to stifle the heavy sigh that threatened to slip out on noting her seeming reluctance to commence with the discussion to come. He couldn’t really blame her.

The momentous task of explaining both his suspicions and more recent findings related to the dreadful mess that was the past several weeks, wasn’t something he relished.

Wes shook his head, most probably for the millionth time that day since his earlier concerns had been found to hold more than an element of possibility. He just hoped that the explanation and factual evidence brought to the table, as it were, was sufficient to at least partly dispel the pain and confusion seen quite clearly shadowing Cordelia’s normally sparkling hazel eyes since the moment he arrived back at his apartment in the early hours of this morning.

The heavy sigh repressed moments before escaped when glancing at his wristwatch: six hours. Six hours had passed and yet it felt so much longer to his weary mind. Guilt made an unwelcome appearance yet again as his head turned, eyes going to the kitchen doorway, where the muted clink of crockery could be heard.

I should have called to cancel, Wes thought, self-annoyance flaring within. If it had crossed his mind at the time, this whole messy business could have been averted, and thus then not put into the position of having to attempt to clear up the whole sorry mess. “I’m way over my head here,” he muttered to himself, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.

“What was that, Wes?” the quiet question jolted his awareness back to the present; startled eyes lifting to regard the speaker who was in the process of settling comfortably on the couch, a tray holding two cups, a jug of milk and a bowl of sugar that surrounded the pot of steaming tea now resting on the coffee table between them.

“Um, a bit of a headache,” he quickly replied. “Lack of sleep must be catching up on me, I suspect.”

Cordelia wrinkled her nose and nodded wearily. “I feel ya. I suppose I should be glad I’m not the only one.” Glancing at the tray, she asked, “Want to do the honors?”

With a nod Wes rose and approached the table and busied his hands while he quickly arranged his findings inwardly before speaking. As he filled her in about discovery of the suspicious powder in Angel’s rooms and his earlier phone call to the lab he sent the sample to, he could tell by her stiffening posture that he’d gained her complete attention.

“This isn’t the first time drugs have affected Angel’s behavior,” he reminded her and knew by Cordelia’s expression that she was recalling how he was drugged by Rebecca and it blissed him out enough to bring out Angelus. “I suppose we can thank ourselves lucky that this time the drug used didn’t go to that extreme- thank goodness,” then cringed a little as she seemed to sink into the couch, her eyes swiftly shielded by her lashes.

Clearing his throat, he continued, explaining that the drug was a complex formulation, something not marketable, made for a specific purpose. His voice lost the edge of discomfort as he warmed to the subject, realizing too it was a purpose he was beginning to understand. His source had provided him with a breakdown of the powder’s complex properties. The metabolites included hallucinogens and neurotransmitters designed to produce both psychotropic and physical effects.

Cordelia lifted her head as he spoke, her eyes slowly glazing over. Then she hmphed and narrowed her gaze, causing Wes to stop mid sentence. What with the lack of sleep, she scowled in irritation. “Any chance you can repeat that in English, Wes? Real English, not words that just had to be made up by some kook in a lab coat?” At his sheepish expression, she softened her tone. “I get that Angel went psycho and started with the stalkery behavior, but I want to know is… why me?”

“Yes, of course. Sorry.” Wes shifted in his seat and took a sip from his teacup before clarifying. “The drug affects the part of the brain that pulls out deep desires and brings hidden emotions to the surface…” his voice trailed off as the contents of his words suddenly hit him. “Which must mean Angel had hidden desires for you.” Even as he said it out loud, it instantly made sense to him.

A strange kind of relief engulfed Wes when Cordelia expressed surprise, the shadows in her weary eyes clearing a little his words sunk in.

“We can assume that over the past month, maybe longer, that somehow Angel’s sire, Darla, had been sneaking unobserved into the hotel in our absence.” Wes continued with a deep frown, his own eyes averting when Cordelia’s face paled noticeably.

“I first assumed that the drug was designed to be inhaled”, he revealed “but quickly disregarded that considering we know that vampires don’t actually breathe. The lab informed me that the compound was in fact triggered by contact with saliva. Darla must have used her fingers to -.”

Cordelia interrupted loudly, “Ew!” her nose scrunched up in distaste. “Can we skip the howdedodies and move on?”

“Right, yes of course,” Wes cleared his throat noisily. “Given the properties of the drug, Darla, obviously being an egotist, must have assumed she would reap the, uh, benefits.” Ignoring Cordelia’s deepening expression of distaste, he soldiered on, determined this time not to be interrupted.

“The findings show that the property of the drug enables the ‘giver’ to literally orchestrate the victims dream- not unlike lucid dreaming. Control must initially have been Darla’s, but Angel’s subconscious feelings and desire for… another, ” Wes stumbled a little, a slight flush tinting his otherwise pale face, “were obviously stronger.”

He paused, thoughtfully. “Something must have triggered it- possibly your scent,” Wes guessed with a slight frown that matched the one creasing Cordelia’s brow.

Her eyes went wide suggesting a moment of clarity “The hair sniffy… that must’ve been when it happened.” Wes was about to nod in agreement when he caught a subtle change in her expression as another obviously more distressing recollection hit her.

Searching his own memory for that moment and other early signs, Wes came to focus on one in particular. Tentatively broaching the subject, he asked, “That day when you went to wake Angel regarding your vision… did anything untoward happen?” Feeling surer by the second that he was onto something when her mouth gaped open in shock, he saw a healthy dose of mortification reflected in her eyes.

“Uh, what makes you ask that?” Her defensive reply turned suspicion into certainty.

Leaning forward to place his teacup on the table, Wes used the distraction to get better control over his own discomfort and by the time he straightened up his gaze was earnest yet revealed sympathetic understanding. “Cordelia, I can recall quite vividly that day. You’d had a vision and went to inform Angel, who was, as we know at that time, taking to sleep long hours. You came down after quite a long period of time skittish and upset.”

Wes did not wait for a response before adding; “When Angel joined us he too appeared completely distracted; as well as sporting a fresh wound on his …face.” His cheekbones flared hotly, matching the color that had suffused Cordelia’s face, and he relented a little. “I’m sorry for putting you into this position, but it could be important.”

Cordelia dropped her eyes, the blush fading from her cheeks as she silently contemplated her fingers that twisted the soft fabric of the sweater she wore. Her anxious fiddling drew his attention to the fact that it was the same sweater he’d found her in hours earlier. Until now it hadn’t clicked that the item of clothing belonged to Angel. And her not changing out of it strangely gave him hope.

His attention was brought back by the sound of her halting voice. “Angel was asleep- duh!” Cordelia’s mouth twisted even as her deeply shadowed eyes rolled in typical fashion. “I called him but he was out of it…” she paused and swallowed. Wes remained silent and patiently waited for her to continue. “When I shook him, he pulled me onto the bed and kissed me. I lost it and …bit him”

“Hmm…the act of biting Angel may even have triggered something else on a subconscious level.” Wes nodded to himself. “He is a vampire, after all.” Cordelia glanced up, her surprised expression bringing home that she expected to be reproached for her behavior.

After a long pause Cordelia shifted awkwardly in her seat. “So…how was he? Angel,” she added in response to his faintly confused expression. “When you found him?”

Wes drew in a deep breath and leaned back in his chair before expelling it, “Seriously distraught over what happened, which is understandable considering the circumstances,” he replied tiredly, meeting her anxious gaze. “He was concerned for your welfare.”

Noting the tremble that assailed her mouth, Wes pushed on. “Angel seemed aware that he’s not himself and I can almost certainly assure, open to seeking help.”

“He needs it,” she frowned. Then her expression softened again. “So what happens next?”

“We decided that for now, it would be best if Angel remained in his suite,” Wes replied. “Give him time to…recover. The effects of the drug are already diminishing. I believe it will take a while for it to leave his system completely, but there should be no sustained aftereffects.”

“How long do you think that will take?” Cordelia asked, chewing her bottom lip and revealing her anxiety. “I mean, he was seriously delusional,” she reminded him.

Nodding slowly, “I do recall you mentioning concerns regarding his mental health a while ago.” Wes pursed his lips in thought before continuing. “If he’s been on it for a month, then there is no precise way to tell how long it will take. Each passing day should bring him more clarity,” he reassured her with an optimistic smile, relieved when she returned it, albeit wavering.

Wes’ next concern hovered on the tip of his tongue: easing Cordelia back into her routine at Angel Investigations. “Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can put this whole mess behind us and continue on with the mission.” he concluded. But his growing relief at being able to look ahead with a positive air deflated at Cordelia’s abruptly shuttered expression.

“I’m all for the mission. You know that,” Cordelia agreed without hesitation. “But going back? I’m not sure that I can.”

It was Wes’ turn to gape in shock- rapidly followed by the urge to kick himself as he realized how linear his view had been. He’d simply assumed having all the answers and reducing Angel’s culpability would be enough for Cordelia to forgive the vampire’s recent digressions and return to the fold.

Providing Cordelia with the details of what caused Angel’s behavior seemed a logical path to forgiveness. Wes considered that Cordelia normally put a unique twist on logic. He’d pushed aside her need to recover from this whole experience, supplanting it with his own hopes that things would go back to normal. Even better than normal considering his belief that Angel’s soul was now permanent.

“I hope,” Wes swallowed, struggling to express himself, “that you will consider forgiving him.”

Cordelia’s pensive expression failed to assuage his fears on that matter. She obviously was not yet willing to commit herself to forgiveness one way or the other. As he realized that both of his friends were going to need time to make it through this ordeal, Wes decided to back off.

Pushing her now would gain nothing. It might even have the opposite effect by driving Cordelia further away. He couldn’t take that chance. Rising to his feet, Wes picked up his teacup and quickly drained the contents, grimacing a little as the cooled liquid slid down his throat, then setting it down on the tray, suggested that he should go. “It is time for me to get some sleep.”

He left out the part about needing to relieve Gunn once refreshed. “I suggest you do the same,” Wes stood looking down at her tired, almost lost, eyes, “if you can.”

Cordelia rose from the couch to walk him to the door. “Call me later, okay? I want to know how he? how things are going.”

Wes let that little slip slide. He stepped out into the hall, turning back as he realized, “Oh! One more thing I forgot.”

“What?” Cordelia asked warily.

“It’s about Darla,” he began only to be cut off before providing the details.

Wrinkling her nose in distaste, Cordelia pointed out, “That bitch already knows the drug works. What’s to stop her from trying it again? or coming after Angel in some other way?”

Wes took the quick route, “Darla is dead,” and watched as her mouth dropped open in surprise. “Angel staked her because she threatened you.”

Chapter 11

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