She was a slayer? Cordelia turned her attention on Kelsi, wondering what was going on. “What am I? Flypaper for freaks?”
Gunn chuckled, noticing the dark look on the slayer’s face, immediately shutting up, time not to piss off a vampire who was also a slayer and could kill you horribly.
“And you were so nice when you didn’t know who I was.” Said Kelsi, shaking her head, “Shame… So, Wesley. Looks like you’ve made a nice life for yourself round here and… Oh, I see you got my present.” She gestured to Scott’s dead body and smiled, “Was a nice touch, wasn’t it? The things vampires will do for a little power in this town.”
“Another vamp did this?” Asked Gunn, puzzled.
“Well yeah, couldn’t get of my little shopping trip with Cordelia here to come down and kill another Watcher, fun though that might’ve been…”
Her grip on Cordelia’s arm was like iron. Angel, watching warily, knew that one wrong move and Cordelia would be the one to pay the price, no questions asked, no nothing. She’d die… In silence, he stood until Kelsi’s gaze fell upon him. Raising a perfectly shaped eyebrow, the slayer regarded him with soft, gentle eyes, alluding to the person she was, “So this is Angel?” She asked, “I’d heard about you, helping and of course, falling in love with my replacement…”
Replacement? Then that meant… Buffy. She was the Slayer before Buffy and… She was dead? Ah, now Cordelia realised why the guys looked so damned scared and.. Oh! “Uhm, guys, as much as I love being grappled by a dead person, perhaps you could, y’know, get me free?”
Kelsi laughed, “Always so honest, Cordelia? Don’t worry… I’m not about to hurt you, only your boss.”
“Why don’t I believe you?” Asked the brunette, shaking her head. Usually, people wanted to hurt Angel, and so they came through her or his friends to do it. This should be like… Second nature to her. She shouldn’t be surprised but… This was Wesley! Who’d want to hurt Wesley? Maybe for his kissing skills, sure but other than that…
“I don’t get it…” She said, shaking her head, “What’s going on?”
“You don’t know?” Said Kelsi, shocked, “Is betrayal something you make a part of your everyday life, Wesley?”
“Hey!” Cordelia said harshly, “You don’t know the first thing about him, so don’t…”
“Ah, but I do, Cordelia.” She smiled, “That’s where you’re wrong. I knew him a long time ago, when he was with the Council, before I appeared in Sunnydale. For a long time, you see, I just watched, bided my time until he’d know hurt, until he’d know pain. It seems he’s found friendships with you people… How will he feel when they’re taken away?”
“Uh, hello – he’s still right in front of you…” Said Cordelia, glaring at her. The guy was in the same room, did she have to talk about him like he wasn’t there? Cordelia hated that. “Geez…” The famous roll of her eyes came and Wesley had to literally, bite back a smile. The situation they were in right now was dangerous, “Let her go, Kelsi.” Said Wesley, his voice taut with fear, not for himself, more the brunette in front of him, Kelsi looked the same, her face still pretty, someone Gunn or perhaps even Angel would have taken an instant shine to – but inside now, she was dark, no longer the girl Wesley had once known.
He remembered their first meeting… The time she’d slayed her first vampire. She’d become almost like a daughter to him… And he’d killed her.
Kelsi frowned, “Now, now, Wes – don’t go gettin’ all reminisc-ey on me. I want you awake when I’m cutting into your friends.”
Angel’s entire body tensed, his senses now completely honed. A threat had been made. Usually, this would be the first signal for him to attack, especially a foe as dangerous as Kelsi standing in front of him, but Angel, not for the first time in his 248 years of unlife, was unable to do a thing. In her grasp, Kelsi clutched the one thing that meant everything to the once-brooding vampire and she could snuff it out like a candle, with Angel merely watching.
“It’s me you want. Take me,” Said Wesley, stepping forward.
“One more move and I swear, I’ll snap her neck.” Kelsi’s eyes darkened and the hatred that wasn’t masked made Wesley’s heart beat faster. “One thing I’m really shocked with? Your fighting skills, Wes! Seem to have improved from your running like a girl…”
“Okay so maybe you used to know him,” Said Cordelia coldly, “Doesn’t mean you do now!”
Wesley frowned, “As much as your input is valued, Cordelia, I think that perhaps it’s wise that you keep quiet.”
“I was defending you!” Said the brunette, indignantly, “Angel, tell him!”
Holding his hands palm up, Angel shook his head, “I’m staying out of this.”
Cordelia scowled, shouldn’t he know by now, especially right now, that he should side with her. Over everything? He’d abandoned her! And if he thought clothes were the way to go, then okay, he was sorta right but… Hello, still major suckiness on the hurting front!
Angel, noting the look on her face, decided that right this second, Cordelia was less of a threat than Kelsi was, in answer, his game face slid on, “If you think that…”
“Geez, I’m sorry! No need to get all ‘grrrr’ on me…” Said Cordelia, shaking her head, “God, you’re so temperamental! Maybe you are a woman…”
“No, I’m serious, I mean…”
“What?” Taken aback by the yell, the brunette glared at him, “What?”
“Can we deal with the situation at hand here?” Asked Angel, gesturing to Kelsi.
“I thought you’d never ask,” Said the ex-slayer, dryly. “Seems to me like the two of you have… Issues, whatever. Can I get to the killing her horribly part?”
“Kelsi, please. This wasn’t her fault.” Said Wesley, stepping forward, “This was mine. I put you through that… Barbaric ritual, it’s me you want.”
Kelsi laughed, “But that would be too simple. You wouldn’t hurt. I wouldn’t be happy. Remember that Wesley? When you handed me my birthday present, a day late of course because you had Official Council Business to attend to…” Slowly, the hand that wasn’t holding onto Cordelia slipped inside the neckline of her shirt and from it, she pulled a cross, her fingers tingling slightly, “I’ve worn it ever since. Ever since Moor turned me… The cross didn’t work,” She said shrugging. “I always wondered whether you had to believe it… Whether you had to believe that it would work so that it would burn. He liked it. Said it made him feel good.” Shaking her head, she met Wesley’s eyes, “Do you remember what you said, Wesley?”
His gaze drifted from hers, to the floor and her laughter rang throughout the hotel, “Can’t even look at me, can you? I came to you, asked why I was feeling the way I was. So… Helpless and weak. You told me that everything would be fine, everything would sort out itself and I’d be okay. Then you took a needle and you stabbed me with it. Sundown came and went, you lied again. Told me that you had no idea what was causing my weakness, why I wasn’t able to stake a perfectly harmless fledgling vampire, fresh from his grave. You gave me this…” She said gently, her voice soothing, almost placating, “And then you told me that you had, again, Official Council Business, that you needed to meet me somewhere later that night. A nest of vampires, you said. Something you could easily handle, but my presence would be unsettling… For the vampires at least. How about now, Wes? My presence unsettling now?”
“Kelsi, what I did was wrong, but torturing these people is not the answer…”
“I thought you’d come for me.” She said quietly, her eyes glazed over, “Just as his wrist was pressed to my lips, the door opened… I damned myself by hoping. The way he walked… Such hesitancy, almost like he were afraid. His breathing hitched, just once. I was convinced it was you. You paused, his blood coursed through me and pictures, God… Pictures of what I’d do, of what I’d come to do…”
“I wasn’t there,” Said Wesley quietly, pain evident in his eyes. He’d damned this girl to death, to become the thing she fought and he’d done it knowingly. He remembered that conversation with her, about how she was his Slayer and he’d always be there for her. She’d laughed, smiled and fingered the gift he’d given her softly… Her eyes brimming with tears. A slayer, or so they’d both been taught, was supposed to cut off her emotions, use this lack in her fight against evil. Kelsi had been different and for that, Wesley had been terrified when he’d met Buffy – she too, was different, used her emotions in her fight and it had scared him beyond belief, she’d gone through the Cruciamentum, but her use of her emotions, would that get her killed too?
Of course, the two were in differing levels, Buffy had friends, a mother and a sister to keep her grounded. Kelsi had only Wesley and that night, she’d told him so. And he, God forgive him, had sent her to her death at the hands of a vampire who had taken her life, crushed it in his fingertips and turned her into the thing she was supposed to fight. Here she stood in front of him, was it possible then, that she knew remorse? Knew guilt for the things she done? Or was it simply hatred, hatred for him, the thing he’d damned her to?
“I know you weren’t there,” She spat, “Come on Wesley, even then your ways were antiquated. The Council wanted something following to the letter? Wesley would do it… You wouldn’t disobey orders, if you could…” She said coldly, “Gee, now I’m kinda wishing I got to see some of that loyalty extended to your slayer instead of it sticking with the Council…”
She wasn’t prepared for the attack that Angel launched. Even now, as a vampire, her emotions had proved a distraction and as the ensouled vampire leapt towards her, Kelsi pushed Cordelia into him and bolted out of the hotel and down the steps. Angel crashed into Cordelia, knocking her to the floor and hearing an effective crunch beneath him and a yelp of pain. He moved back quickly, hearing her whimper in the process, “Great, new clothes and broken ribs, what a week for me…” She groaned, holding her side.
Angel’s face slid back into his human aspect and worry flooded his features, “We need to get you to a hospital.” He said gently.
“No, we need to see to Wesley.” Said Cordelia, looking down at the ex-Watcher who was staring at the door through which Kelsi had retreated. “Wesley?” Her voice was soft, tender at first, then more harsh to break him out of his reverie, “Wesley!”
His gaze drifted up and remorse shone behind pain-filled eyes, “You’re hurt.” He said gently.
“Well, duh… Angel’s not exactly lightweight, y’know?”
“Are you saying I’m fat?”
Cordelia shook her head, ignored that comment, she *so* didn’t need to get into that kind of conversation with Angel, sometimes he really was like a woman. Only yesterday he’d brooded for an hour over her ruffling his hair affectionally as she’d walked past… Pffft – shouldn’t he be grateful she’d actually touched him? Who knew how many showers it took to get rid of the remnants of blonde, undead and skanky? Taking one with blonde, creepy cop lady SO didn’t count either! Ridding her head from thoughts of how much of a ‘Blonde-Groupie’ Angel was, Cordelia looked at Wesley, “Look, we’ll get through this. We’ll figure out a plan and we’ll deal, it’s what we do. Or at least it will be what we do when Broody boy here lifts me off the floor…”
“I’m not brooding,” Said Angel, frowning as Cordelia winced.
“You are! You’re standing there brooding away, while you have nothing to brood about, while I, on the other hand have everything to brood about.”
“Huh, how?” Asked Gunn, glancing over at Cordelia who had now been lifted VERY carefully into Angel’s arms.
“Because,” She stated simply, “Angel bought me a backless top and I won’t be able to wear it with the bruises that’ll be popping up any second now.”
“Nice to see you got your priorities right,” Said Gunn, frowning slightly.
“Oh bite me, everything can’t be doom and gloom at Angel City. Think positive! We’ll get through this, okay?” She asked, mentally tapping her foot as she waited, not-so-patiently, “OKAY?”
“Good.” She smiled, nodding.
Wesley however, wasn’t so certain that things would be as ‘okay’ as his friends made out. How was he supposed to make up for killing someone who’d trusted him with their life? One look at Angel told him the answer wasn’t simple…
One step at a time.
Angel winced at her admission of pain and shook his head, “We need to get you to a hospital, Cordelia.”
“What, for me to spend three-thousand dollars of Health insurance I don’t have for a fossilised and not even remotely sexy doctor to say, ‘Oh, Miss Chase, you have broken ribs’, do the same thing you’re doing without the brood and then prescribe me painkillers? Please! I may look like a sucker for a sob story, but I’m not a dumbass. Just… Fix me up.”
“Angel,” Said Cordelia, “Wesley. He needs me. You can wrap me in bandages and send me off to hospital after the crisis, okay? Right now, you and Gunn need to work out a plan and I need to impart all my womanly-wisdom on the guy who could turn out to be an eternal brooder like you if I don’t help him.”
“You think you guys could stop bickering and actually get something done?” Gunn’s words, while not cold, weren’t exactly laced with friendly warmth either.
“Don’t you start too,” Said Cordelia, frowning, “Two brooders is quite enough in one hotel for me, thanks.”
Angel picked up the first aid kit that he’d placed on the floor next to the sofa and looked at her, softly unbuttoning her shirt. “Cordelia…” The bruise that adorned her stomach and ribs was black, angry…
“Angel, just do it.” She said, squirming slightly, here she sat in front of two of her best friends in one of her oldest Victoria’s Secret bras, this was NOT fun. Angel nodded and gently, began strapping her ribs in tightly, ignoring the winces of pain, “This’ll help, but you need…”
“A doctor.” Finishing his sentence, she nodded, “And I promise that that’s where I’ll go right after we figure out what we’re going to do. Angel, Gunn – why don’t you guys find Merl, see if he knows where Kelsi’s been staying, all of that…”
“You mean, be detectives?” Asked Gunn, “I dunno…” He teased, “Do you think we can?”
Cordelia smiled, “Offer Merl something he wants in return for the information.”
“My word that I won’t kill him if he doesn’t?”
“Exactly.” Cordelia nodded, stood, albeit painfully, putting her shirt back on with the help of Angel, “Be careful, okay? Don’t go after her yourselves.”
Angel frowned, “I don’t like leaving the two of you alone, Cordelia, what if she comes back?”
“She won’t.” Said the brunette, certainly, “Angel, she wants Wesley. She wants to hurt him, the people she has to come through are his friends, I already have the broken ribs to prove that. I’d like us to be at least a little prepared the next time she comes. I just… Look at him.” Her voice was soft. In his office, Wesley sat, head down in a book he wasn’t reading. “We need to do something. We help the helpless, right now, that’s Wesley… Okay? Just go.”
Sighing, Angel stood and wiped his hands on his trouser legs, going to the weapons cabinet, grabbing his favourite broadsword and handing Cordelia a crossbow, “If she comes back, you know what to do?”
“Hey, she broke my ribs. She comes back, the bitch is getting it.” Said Cordelia, shaking her head, “Now go, stop worrying.”
Angel and Gunn nodded at her and turned, walking up the steps. Shooting one last look at Cordelia, Angel continued, his gaze leaving hers as she walked into the office. “Hey…”
“Cordelia.” When he looked up, his eyes were haunted, “I imagine you hate me.”
“Hate you?” Cordelia raised an eyebrow, “Why would I?”
“Uh-huh… Red-headed chick, kinda short, has a severe case of the bumpies?”
“Cordelia, this is no laughing matter.”
“Hence my no loughing. Wesley, how long have we been friends?”
“Over a year now,” Said the ex-Watcher, quietly, “Cordelia, please. Don’t patronise me by telling me that this is alright, it’s not.”
“I know that.” Said Cordelia, “I also know that what you did was wrong. But think about it, different circumstances and somebody could be telling this self-same thing to Giles. Wesley, we make mistakes – and like it or not, it’s the mistakes that we make that bring us to where we are today. As much as I hate to say it, if there had never been a Darla, where would we be? If there had never been an Angelus, or that Gypsy clan, we wouldn’t be here. We make a choice. Without this, this whole situation, the Cruciamentum, you would never have been transferred to Sunnydale, Giles wouldn’t have been fired and we’d never have known each other. I’m not saying that her dying is a good thing but without it, you wouldn’t be in our lives.”
Wesley looked at her, stunned. She wasn’t telling him it was allright, but she didn’t hate him either. In fact, none of them did, something he didn’t quite understand. “Then… What are you saying?” He asked.
Cordelia thought for a second, what was she trying to say? Speaking softly, she looked up, “We’ve all got something to atone for, Wesley. Whether it’s being the uber-bitch in High School, the Scourge of Europe – or the order-following watcher that made a mistake. None of us are guilt free. Remember that song… Uh… Que Sera, Sera or something? It was French…”
Wesley nodded, believing that now he understood where she was going with this, “Whatever will be, will be.” He said gently.
“Total crap,” Said Cordelia, “Don’t buy it at all.”
Okay, Thought Wesley, As she would say, OR NOT.
“This isn’t a Jack Dawson thing, but we make our own luck. We’d proved with Angel that, where we mightn’t be able to change the past? We can certainly change the future and ourselves so put me down for a whole-hearted, ‘yay, me’… We’ll get through this, Wesley. No matter how long it takes, we’ll get through it, we have to.”
Wesley, even though he didn’t feel like doing it, smiled. She had a unique and often tactless way of making sense. “I guess you can put me down for a ‘yay, me’ too then.” He said gently.
“Good,” Cordelia sat down in the chair, wincing in pain, “Now, as payback for my poor broken ribs, you can tell me your side of the story.”
Wesley closed his book and let out a sigh, “Where shall I start?”
“At the beginning? Usually sounds best…”
“Quite,” Said Wesley, softly…
* * * * * *
“I ain’t tellin’ him jack…” Merl, the lizard-like demon, shook his head.
Gunn frowned, “You want me to start with the killin’?”
“Can’t.” Said Merl, “It’s a sanctuary… And plus, I’m still pissed at the guy. Do you know how much money I lost down in that sewer when he hung me upside down?”
Angel, who was tired of the ‘acting like he wasn’t here’ treatment, spoke up, “Merl, you had no money.”
“Not after YOU finished with me, it all lay in the sewer and I was too traumatised to even think about picking it up.”
“Traumatised, yeah…” Said Gunn, grabbing hold of Merl, “Listen, one of my friends’ life could be on the line and I’m not spending my night talking to a parasite demon with no tongue, let alone no spine. You’re gonna spill…”
“Better listen to him, Merl…” Taunted Angel, “The guys pissed. It’ll take him five seconds to drag you outside, even less to spill your brains against the wall upstairs.”
“Ah, it’s nice to see Angel Investigations back in the roost where it belongs.” The anagogic demon, having just finished a Patti LaBelle number, stepped closer to the two detectives and smiled, “Back in business with a case that comes more directly from the Powers than you think, huh Angelcakes?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Angel’s face had been in a constant frown since he’d gotten here, he was worried about his friends, moreso Wesley and Cordelia, Merl wasn’t talking. Chalk this up to be a bad night.
“Can’t disclose confidential client information,” Said Lorne, shaking his head, “What I can tell you is that this girl? Not something you want to mess around with, Angel. The girl has some SERIOUS rage.”
“We’d noticed,” Said Gunn, “Merl?”
“Alright, a couple of drinks and an apology from the blood-sucker and then I’ll tell you.”
Angel shook his head, “No drink, no apology. You walk away tonight with your head firmly attached to your shoulders, having given us the information, everyone’s happy.”
“You wouldn’t do it.” Said Merl.
Angel turned, “Try me.” His voice was cold, harsh, he had the settling feeling in his stomach that something wasn’t quite right with any of this and he didn’t know what.
Frowning, the parasite demon shook his head, “Damnit, you do know you’re really bad for business, right?”
“I need an address… Anything you can give me.”
“Just an address.”
As Merl was scribbling an address down, Angel looked at him, “You realise that if this is wrong, I’ll…”
“Yeah, yeah, cut off my head and feed it to the pond scum demons down in the sewers, sing me a new tune sometime, wouldja?” Merl grumbled, turning back to the stage where a gravsluck demon was belting out a painful rendition of a Destiny’s Child tune, effectively murdering the song from where he stood.
“Survivor?” Said Gunn, shaking his head and looking at Angel, “Somehow, I liked the hottie version better.”
Angel didn’t reply, instead, he moved across the floor and up the stairs, out into his car and waited impatiently for Gunn. “Something tells me that we’re not going back to the hotel yet, are we?” Asked Gunn.
Nodding, Angel floored the accelerator and handed the address to Gunn, “You know how to get there?”
Gunn sighed, “Yeah man, but shouldn’t we wait for Cordy and Wes?”
“We’re not going to fight,” Said Angel, following Gunn’s directions, “We’re going to chat.”
Gunn had seen Angel’s idea of ‘chatting’ before. This he didn’t like. “I guess now would be the time to be really glad you’ve had an epiphany, huh?”
Angel didn’t reply.
The first thing they noticed when they got there was that… The apartment block she lived in? Run-down, just like they’d expected. Arguments between husbands and wives, perhaps lovers floated down the urine-smelling hallways. Angel frowned, there’d been death here, ugly death, caused by her? He wasn’t sure.
“You smellin’ somethin’ man?” Asked Gunn, his voice hushed. He was no stranger to places like these, in fact sometimes, he knew more about them than he cared to admit. “Blood.” After a while of Angel being silent, Gunn had answered his own question. “From her?”
Angel shook his head, “Death. This place smells of death.”
“We’re in the most rundown, ramshackle part of town and you’re surprised it smells like this? Welcome to the parts of the world you don’t see, Angel.”
Gunn was right, he didn’t visit here too often, why would he have the mind to? Briefly, it reminded him of that first week in LA, finding Tina dead in her apartment after he’d tried to help her had reminded him that no matter what he did, he couldn’t save anyone. He wasn’t here to try and save Kelsi, she was so far past that, he wasn’t sure something could ever bring her back again. He was here to… Here to what? Was killing her his decision? Or did Wesley need to make his peace with what he’d done in some way? Could he make peace with it?
They got to her apartment and for a second, just stopped at her door. The sounds of the TV drifted through and then a cry of pain. Female. Angel didn’t have time to think, raising a booted foot, he kicked down the door, went to rush forward in order to save whoever was the hostage of the vampire and was effectively pulled short… By a barried at the door.
A demon can’t enter a person’s home unless it’s invited.
Angel frowned, watching almost as if in slow motion as Kelsi shot up from the chair she was in, only to find Gunn coming towards her, “Where is she?” Growled the young black man, glaring at the vampire. Puzzled, Kelsi stared at him, “Where’s who?”
“The girl, where is she?”
“There’s no one here but me.”
Gunn frowned, “Then I guess you won’t mind my taking a look round the apartment, right?” Kelsi stepped back and watched as cautiously, Gunn checked the rooms, finding nothing. “I told you.” She said quietly.
“You’re hurt.” It was then, the second thing that Angel had noticed, the burns all down her lower arms. She’d taken off the shirt that, in the hotel, had hidden most of them quite well. Cross marks, implanted into her flesh, holy water droplets that Angel remembered Drusilla enduring to him, making scars. Kelsi quickly picked up her shirt to cover herself and looked at Gunn, “Get out.”
“You’re a vampire.” Said Angel, quietly, “And yet I can’t enter this house. You live with someone?”
“And lemme guess,” Said Gunn, “He does that to you, on a regular basis?” He gestured to her arms, to which Kelsi glared at him, “There is no one who lives here but me, I assure you. In return for keeping his neighbourhood safe from vampires, the landlord lets me stay and…” Briefly, she wondered why she was taking the time to explain, she wanted them dead? The feeling was mutual. “I said get out. Now. I do this, no one else. I do this, so that I might feel again, might know what it’s like to…”
“You didn’t do that.” Said Angel, shaking his head, he knew torture, he’d inflicted it. Upon vampires as well as humans, he had the experience here and he was using it. “The burns are too extensive for you to have made them, whoever’s doing this to you is…”
“None of your concern.” Kelsi’s voice was now soft as she watched Angel’s gaze flicker over to the bandages on the side of the table, “Please, you must leave before he comes back.”
“Then there is someone.” Said Angel, quietly, “You’re hurt, come with us.”
Kelsi laughed, bitterly, “You want to keep me safe? With the man who killed me in the first place? Are you crazy? You know that if I go there, I’ll kill him – and her too, you want that?”
Angel frowned, “You can’t stay here…”
“I can and I am, now leave.” She stepped towards Gunn, her human facade sliding away and leaving her demon, staring yellow eyed at the pair, “I won’t hesitate to kill the two of you. You think what he does to me is bad? Think of what I can do to you.”
Staring for a moment, Angel looked at her, “Who is it?”
“My Master.” She whispered, “I’m bound to him, bound to him by death. Not by choice, now please, you have to leave…”
In her eyes was a look of fear, a look of pain – one both Angel and Gunn instantly recognised and as they stepped back, Angel spoke quietly, “Wesley didn’t mean to hurt you, he was only following orders, you know that, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
Kelsi nodded, “Just like I’m doing.” She whispered, “Following orders. Life is a Puppet Show, Angel. Someone makes us dance the way they want and we can only follow.”
She waited, waited for them to leave… Until finally, Angel stepped back a hand on Gunn’s shoulder, “Come on…”
“We’re leaving?” Gunn’s voice was shocked, “Hey, did you forget the mission statement? We Help The Helpless. Remember that?”
“I remember,” Said Angel as they walked back out to the car, “But that’s not the way. The only way we help her is by setting her free.”
“So… We kill her, right? Got stakes in the trunk…”
Angel shook his head, “She said herself that life’s a show. It’s time we started pulling some strings.”