The Road Before Us by Misty Flores
Summary: Years after the death of their true loves, a lonely Cordelia and Angel reunite to stop a new nemesis, and find themselves fighting a mutual attraction as they cling to the memories of their mortal lovers.
Spoilers: Angel, Season Two. BTVS Season Two.
Notes: The third and final installment of the Winters Trilogy – found at http://www.wolverineandrogue.com/mistiec under Buffy fan fiction. This story written also so you could understand what's going on without reading the first two : suffice to say, this series was written a LONG time ago, before Angel even aired, and this story has been in development nearly that long.
The Road Before Us: Chapter One
This rope that's wrapped around me
Is cutting through my skin
And the doubts that have surrounded me
Are fighting their way in
I keep it close to me
Like a holy man prays In my desperate hour
It's better that way
-Melissa Etheridge – Angels Would Fall
small lights flickered, their heat warming her face, as she barely contained her smile, darkness mingled
with the little candles showing only shadows of her friends,
her family, as she felt his hands gently massage her shoulders,
the tone deaf singing almost too much for her ears.
"Happy BIIIRRRRTHDAAAAAY dear Cordeeeeeeelllliaaaaaaah-"
There was a deep breath in, the cake was placed before her, Buffy's eyes shining brightly as she slipped into the chair across the table from hers.
"HAPPPY BIIIIRTHDAYYYYY-" * gasp * "Tooooooo YOUUUUUUUUUU!"
Cheers and hoots filled the air. She couldn't help but try to contain her laughter, palms cupping her mouth as she fought to control the giggles, taking in a breath and blowing out fiercely.
The lights flickered on and suddenly the faces of her friends were revealed. Buffy, eyes hued a beguiling blue, forearms resting against the table as she gave her that small, hidden smile. Never large, never huge – because Buffy still had her demons to fight, a fight that would never be won. There was always grief, tinged in the eyes of the Slayer – who had lost family, loved ones… mothers. In the doorway, away from the light, in the shadows stood Buffy's soul mate, a vampire who even now, after a few years, kept to the darkness, even in the presence of his friends.
Giles, looking older and more dignified, resting in the couch, eyes blinking sleepily from his jet lag – coming in at the last second on a flight from England. Tired, his eyes still held the sad drawn look that came from losing the first to die - Joyce Summers.
Willow and Oz were sitting side by side, in their arms a baby toddler, who had red hair and bright blue eyes, and who clapped and laughed and shrieked with the best of them. And behind her, she could feel her own husband's presence, a young mortal by the name of Xander Harris - who was entirely too quiet to be considered anything but up to something.
"Xander, if you even think about pushing my face into this cake, I will kick your ass and shove my sword so far up -"
A large hand clamped over her mouth as Buffy quickly slid the cake out of harms way. "Now that's the Cordy I know and love," he quipped, placing a quick kiss on her cheek before moving around her and settling in the chair beside her, an arm slung around her shoulders. "So tell us, Cor," he said, pushing the plates to Buffy, watching as Willow got up with the knife, preparing to slice and disperse the chocolate goodness. "What'd ya wish for? A night of Xander love?"
"You think I'd wish for that?" she shot back, eyebrow quirking. Willow hid a smirk and only shook her head, passing her the first piece.
"Seriously, Cordelia – what did you wish for?"
"I'm not telling."
"Oh, come on."
"Nope. It's bad luck, not doing it. We are an official casestudy for Murphy's law here, folks, I'm not messing with it."
Almost as if on cue, the telephone rang, clear and steady, cutting off the end of Cordelia's words. Immediately, she could see the frowns, the looks, and the jubilant feeling that had previously been dominant was now replaced by blatant worry and just a little bit of irritation.
"Uh… I'll get it."
The entire room was holding their breath, she saw it on their faces . Xander picked up the phone. The lump in her stomach had already dropped, and she felt nothing but resignation when Xander nodded, and then turned to her. "It's Claribel. For you."
She ignored the looks, the way Buffy tossed the fork on the table and leaned back in disgust, the way Oz looked away, then stood up to put baby Rupert, Ruppy for short, to bed.
"Hey, Clari, what's up?" she asked breathlessly.
"Hello, Chase, dear. I'm sorry to interrupt, I know you were looking forward to-"
"Just spit it out," she answered, running a tired hand along her forehead as she moved, turning her back against her group of friends. There was a pause, but Clari, apparently used to this behavior, immediately began her news. Cordelia listened, and finally nodded, hanging up the phone, knowing when she turned, she would see the same, passive faces she had come to regard as familiar.
One second, two: they all knew exactly what she would say before she uttered a word.
"I have to go."
"What else is new," Buffy muttered. Cordelia rolled her eyes, a half hearted attempt to make light of the aching problem that was becoming more and more apparent.
"Oh, don't even go there, Buff, okay? I can't help this. You, of all-"
"Guys! Hey!" Willow came forward, waving her arms as she stepped between the Immortal and the Slayer. "We've been through this all before. Hellmouth issues vs. Immortal Millionaire duties don't exactly mesh." She turned, took a breath, and gave Cordelia a crooked smile. "When will you be home?"
Cordelia could feel Xander's eyes boring into the back of her head as she slowly fingered the golden band on her third finger. "Soon."
With that, she gave a smile, sad and dismissive, before turning, moving toward the door, picking up a long black coat and the sword that had lain forgotten beside it.
Willow began to clean up, motioning for Buffy to help her. Angel continued to stand in his shadows, watching her, very real sympathy in his eyes.
Only Xander came forward, eyes dark and sincere as he carried the half smile on his face. Her young husband, with the tousled brown hair, the little wrinkles around the corners of his eyes that signaled his descent into manhood, strong broad shoulders, deliciously, amazingly, mortal. Her old rival, nemesis, comrade in verbal battles, with whom she had fallen in love with against her will, as a teenager, and loved with even more ardor after losing him for two years in her quest to understand her immortality, her destiny, and her fate.
"So… I guess… I'll be back," she said, a chipper smile on her face. He didn't smile back, and her own patented Chase smile faltered at the disappointment in his eyes.
"For once I wish you'd tell me where you were going."
He hated not knowing, he hated her name. Hated the fact she was now Chase Winters, multi millionaire, and Immortal, never knowing if the reason she was leaving THIS time was to engage in a battle to the death, or to handle a stock market crash.
"If I did, would it make it any easier? You knew what you were getting into when you married me, Xander."
"I married you because I love you, Cordelia," he finally said, digging his hands into his pockets, looking like a lost little boy. "Because, I want to be with you."
There was a sigh, a slump of her shoulders, and a lean forward to gently kiss his lips. "I'll be back, nimrod. I always come back." She turned, away from her husband, away from her friends, boots clipping down the steps as she walked into the cold, dark night, sliding into the open door of the limousine waiting for her.
Tossing the sword on the leather seat next to her, she leaned her elbow on the window as the car swerved away.
The sight of Xander leaning against the doorway stayed with her all the way to Big Bear.
-- The cobblestone was wet, sleek.
Chase Winters stepped carefully, her umbrella swinging loosely from her right hand, black gloves keeping them from the cold. The white trench coat, though new, still bore the same style as always, and the clothes beneath it, white, sleek, and expensive, were cut only slightly off from before. The hair was shorter, highlights were light blonde but not too light, and the face, despite the hundred years that had passed, had not aged one day. She paused at the top of the hill, surveying London's cobbled streets, before turning, finding her usual place at the café and taking her seat.
Times had changed, war had come, famine had made its entrance, but for the 130-year-old Immortal, it was nothing but another passage.
The waiter paused by the table, and she barely acknowledged him as she crossed her legs, pulled out the small personal computer that lay cradled in the palm of her hand and began to speak into it, watching as the information downloaded across the tiny screen. The barely visible speaker in her ear scuttled gently with static and with a tap on her ear lobe, she answered it.
"Ms. Winters. Good morning." Immediately the assistant on the other line began to rattle off the morning reports, and she listened, eyes watching the screen as the international trades began to circle through. A double tall Latte with extra foam was placed beside her, and she thanked the waiter, Billy, with a nod and a smile. He smiled back, but again, didn't say a word to the business woman who passed by the table every day.
Her hair was sleeked back, and she paused once to smooth down a bang that fell forward, eyes flickering up to study the man who was sitting inconspicuously across the courtyard, also taking notes, the old fashioned way, on a pad, and paper, every day, for as long as she had been there. No matter what time, there he was, as the years passed she had come to regard her shadow as her watcher.
Over the years, the faces changed, but the attitude didn't – always watching, never speaking.
Adhering to the unspoken rule, she never acknowledged him, just as he never acknowledged her, the keeper of her secrets. She wondered when they started being so open, that she could catch him with a single glance. Or perhaps, no one else ever took the time to look. In her centuries she had dealt with her share of her kind, and only one, a dark-haired man with a husky voice and a strange kindness, had ever commented on their followers.
A smirk floated on her lips as she watched him scribble down, and she wondered just how much he knew. Different faces, all privy to the information of one Chase Winters, born Cordelia Chase, Sunnydale, California 1981. Born into privilege, until high school, where she fell in with the Slayer, and her own Watcher's Council, fell in love with one Xander Harris.
Met her first death on prom night, driving too fast, and a little under the influence on a dark and stormy night. Raised by Winters, an old Immortal with no emotions and no passion. Trained until he met his death by her own sword, the student killing the teacher. Volumes containing Winters work revealed that he had loved her, and that it was an unrequited love, had handed everything over to her, on account she change her name to Chase Winters.
Killed another Immortal, experienced another quickening when Magdalene met her own death by Chase's sword.
Returned to Sunnydale, California September 2001, where she reunited with her mortal lover Xander Harris, killed yet another Immortal, Clarisa… And settled into domestic bliss – for exactly five years.
Cordelia's smirk faltered, and she took an unneeded breath, hearing the scratch in her phone that made her wince.
"Geez, Marney! That – can't you calm down!"
"Sorry, Ms. Winters – but you have to- the company's V.P.-"
"You can tell the VP that his company will go out of business without those permits, just like every other dealer in this area and we're the only one's who can secure the free trade pass. If they don't like it, they're free to take their business elsewhere."
And with that, she tapped her earlobe again, cutting off the conversation, plucking the tiny device out of her ear canal and dropping it into her pocket. No more phone calls, no more contact, not today. 130 years old exactly, today.
Pursing her lips, the young Immortal gently scrolled through her data computer, pausing as her eyes flickered down to the one picture she kept inside, in the tiny niche labeled PERSONAL. Eight people – young, early thirties maybe : one blonde slayer, one redheaded witch, a dark vampire, a werewolf, a watcher, an immortal… her lips quirked. And a Zeppo. Xander's smile was infectious, even in the century-old digitized picture.
Whoever would have thought she would have outlived them all? Five years of domestic bliss, and they lost Buffy – in a fight, saving the world, like always. The young Slayer was incredibly old, and Cordelia hadn't been there, fighting her own battles, in another part of the world – rushing to get back to aid the Slayer – but back too late.
Buffy Summers was laid to rest in the grave beside her mother's, with a tombstone that finished with the line `She saved the world a lot.' Angel, her dark vampire, with the haunting eyes and brooding demeanor, had taken it badly, to say the least.
In a week, he was gone from their lives. They never heard from him again.
Five graves, side by side, friends who had been young, healthy, grown old before her very eyes, while she remained, losing the only pieces to her past one by one. Wars, famine, a couple apocalypses, and Chase Winters never changed. But she was never called Cordelia again, and she never returned to Sunnydale.
Snapping the picture closed, Cordelia dropped the tiny computer into her lapel, and stood, nodding to the waiter, who immediately charged her net account.
Walking past the inconspicuous watcher, her steps faltered, eyes boring into him. He never looked up. But he scribbled furiously. Watching the placid face, she could stand the silence no longer.
"Asshole," she muttered, and walked away in disgust, leaving him to scribble down her response. Let him tattoo it on his ass, for all she cared.
Sunnydale, California, 2004
She didn't cry. Xander's eyes were red with the tears, Willow was sobbing, forehead buried into her husband's shoulder, and poor Giles looked completely broken. But Chase Winters didn't cry.
Eyes were dry, spectacularly dry, as she stood, watching as the casket was lowered into the ground, carefully.
Buffy's death, her funeral, one that her husband would not attend. She saw Buffy everywhere. Her smile, her walk, the quips, the stakes. The time she locked her in the basement with Xander. The time she had been forced to wear Cordelia's suits. When she held Willow's baby for the very first time. Oddly, none of the times when she saved the world seemed relevant, all Cordelia saw were moments.
There was no tears in her eyes, and Cordelia wasn't sure exactly why that was. Her hand gripped Xander's, her face was drawn as she looked down at the casket, and as the dirt was pitched over it, she suddenly realized why.: It wasn't real to her.
Cordelia Chase did not accept what she could not see, Chase Winters made things happened, and Cordelia Chase and Chase Winters, would not have let Buffy die. Too young, too tired, too loaded – five years of true love with a vampire and it was over in two seconds – because Buffy saved the world – again.
Cordelia knew what it felt like to die, she had done it often enough. Drowning, dragged by horses, lance through the heart, all a picnic. But Buffy had given herself up as a sacrifice, to save a young child.
In the end, it was as simple as that.
The darkness in the air matched the grief. She swallowed, and again Cordelia wondered why she could not cry for her friend. Everything inside her ached, tensed, and finally she gently let go of Xander's hand, and moved, back, away from the group, pausing when she saw the figure in the darkness fifty feet away.
Pushing fists into her coat, she walked silently, moving around until she stood next to him.
"You're not going to stake yourself, are you?"
The hulking vampire said nothing, watched the scene with dead eyes, never even acknowledging her presence.
She was quiet, Immortal standing beside the Vampire, not knowing what to say to the man who had just lost the love of his undead life. He would continue living – what he called living without her.
Sucking in her breath, Cordelia suddenly knew why she couldn't cry. Her hand trembled as she gently laid a hand on his forearm, eyes suddenly misty and her voice cracking slightly as she began, "Angel-"
He cut her off with a growl, and as the last of the dirt was placed over the box Angel jerked away, gone in two seconds, merging with the shadows.
Cordelia was left alone, watching from afar as her mortal husband and the remnants of her mortal family buried their friend.
She waited, looking back to where Angel, the centuries old vampire who had lost his wife and would go on the rest of his life existing, and turning back she saw Xander.
And she saw herself.
It was only a matter of time before she became Angel.
And then the tears came, as Cordelia whispered to her lost friend, "Damnit Buffy – why couldn't it have been me?"
The bridge looking over the river was quiet. Chase Winters watched, letting the London wind flicker over her, as she breathed in a sigh, smiling at the boats, moonlight dancing over the waves in tiny ripples. The sword, a welcome weight, was encased against her hip, long trench coat hiding it gracefully, and she thanked the London weather for the inconspicuousness of it all.
Leaning over, she could barely see her reflection, thanks to a strobed light that moved over the river from one of the clubs.
It was odd, Cordelia Chase acknowledged, that now, in the future, her thoughts dwelt mainly of the past. A rich spoiled bitch with great hair and witty comebacks now transformed into … this. A hundred and thirty years would do that, she guessed.
The footsteps that walked toward her were soft, but she heard it, waiting as the figure drifted to a stop. There was no shiver, no ringing in her head that warned her of another of her kind, but an altogether different radar, a sixth sense she had developed over the years for the supernatural.
Demon's still abounded, and vampires, living in the chaos of the after war effects, had thrived. But beheading worked beautifully, and Cordelia only smiled, keeping her eyes on her reflection.
Funny how good a little violence felt.
The voice that spoke, however, was not violent. It was soft and husky and a bit hesitant, and altogether too familiar.
Cordelia's heartbeat jumped, rapidly accelerated, and it changed her breathing, as her stomach dropped to her ankles and she blinked. No one had called her Cordelia in decades – and no one would still be alive to think so except-
Her head whirled and her eyes focused and pinned the vampire standing ten feet away, dark and brooding and completely familiar.
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Two
Katherine was once a slave, once a peasant, once married. She had had her own personal vendetta against another Immortal, had died and reawakened and done the entire quickening, saving-the-world bit. When it was all said and done, Katherine really only had one serious conclusion regarding her life.
She was tired of it.
Immortality was high overrated, and the immense irony of the entire situation was that unless you really found someone to share life with – there was no point. Because falling in love meant losing that love, and finding an Immortal didn't mean anything, because of that damn ending that they all knew – there could be only one.
The beautiful face with the chocolate brown eyes and the dark curly hair was striking, when in contrast with the black leather that she wore, had not changed. All in all, like so many Immortals she had known, she was alone, again.
The number was dwindling, the fledgling Immortals cut down before they had time to find their proper place, and more and more often, the elders were picking, choosing sides. Interesting time to live, if you worked on the side of the good. The Good, what the hell was that anyway? You saved your life by murdering others, cutting down friends with swords, absorbing memories and lives and for what? The aching never stopped, for more than five hundred years, the memories never diminished, and time and time again, she committed the same human mistakes.
And she was doing it again.
The man on the other side of the bed watched her, eyes a dark, midnight blue, young and masculine and completely capable of doing the things that she needed. She looked older, but at this point age never mattered, and she turned, her hair spilling across the pillow as she regarded him, post orgasm glow and the smell of sex still lingering in the room.
"That was a damn good lay, Brian."
He chuckled, low and throat, watching her with those same intense eyes. "Glad you approved."
"I've had the experience to be a pretty good judge."
"Mmhmmm." The accent was still sexy, as he moved forward, thumb tracing her collar bone. "So I've take it it's been a lot?"
A quirk floated across his handsome lips. "Figured." A low growl that seemed not quite human came from his throat and she had to laugh, as he dipped his mouth into the hollow of her throat, catching her with a surprising amount of strength as he suckled, gently.
"Woah, watch it there, big boy, I have to go." She pushed him away, ignoring his look of disappointment as she slid over the bed to the side, letting the sheet fall as she moved toward the bathroom. He was still, the unreadable expression on his face uncaught by her as he sighed, falling back to the bed.
"Yeah?" she called from the closed door.
"Is this a one night stand?"
She opened the door, peeking inside, smirking a little. "You want it to be?"
She just rolled her eyes, clamping the door shut. "Sex isn't everything, Brian. Sometimes it's just sex."
"And sometimes it's more." He threw the covers off, reaching for his boxers. "Don't tell me it's that good for you all the time."
"What do you want, a medal?"
He heard laughter from the bathroom. "I hate to break it to you, Brian but Sex is actually a TEAM sport. Kinda like figure skating."
He pursed his lips, a trifle confused. "Figure skating?"
There was a pause. "It was an old sport. My grandmother has some old tapes."
"Oh." He smiled. "Actually, I think I do pretty well on my own."
The sounds of water splashing against the tile made him pause, smile. She did it the old fashioned way, huh? Taking a breath, he stood in her apartment, lush and rich and very nicely furnished. Water was expensive, she must have had the funds to cover a shower, even a bath, and that meant money.
Pulling on his pants, he began to look around curiously, casually opening up drawers, looking on tabletops. On the top of one coffee table in the flat, he found a picture, of Katherine, in very odd clothes, leaning against another dark-haired guy.
He frowned. Boyfriend? Husband? He hadn't seen a ring. Turning, he looked up to the mantle, and found something that attracted his attention. A sword, gleaming, old, and shiny.
Moving toward the bed, he grabbed his shirt, pulling it on, when he heard the doorbell ring.
"Hey, Katherine? Door!"
"Hey Brian? Get it!"
He shook his head, smiling as he padded to the doorway, reaching the handle and opening it. At the person in the doorway, he frowned, feeling quite territorial as he crossed his arms.
"Can I help you?"
"I'd like to come in."
"I need to see Katherine, I would like to come in."
Brian narrowed his eyes, but the face seemed familiar somehow, and he turned, making the deadliest mistake of his short life.
"Come in, I'll get Katherine."
He never saw it coming, and his blood seeped from the doorway. The figure walked over the body, and closed the door behind him.
Sunnydale, California, 1999
Another crash came from the kitchen, making Willow wince. Angel turned, watching through the doorway as Buffy continued her angry, jerky movements. Willow Osborne leaned against the counter, watching with a frown, before turning, coming forward.
"Maybe I better do the dishes, Buffy."
He glanced toward the doorway, where Xander leaned, watching his wife drive away. Always the same – an attempt at the normal – taken away by their never ending ties to the supernatural.
"How are you, Giles?" he asked, turning instead to Rupert, who half dozed on the couch. Shaking him awake, Rupert blinked, and took in a breath, rubbing at his head.
"Is the party over already?"
Angel felt a smirk emerge. "Yeah."
"Oh. Well then, I think I'll retire. I promised Buffy I would help her with that research she needed."
"I think it's a good idea."
The vampire helped Rupert up, watching as he walked toward the stairs, and moved back to the kitchen, where Willow motioned with pleading eyes.
He nodded, and moved forward, "Buffy can I talk to you?"
She paused, sighed, brushing her blonde strands away from her face and handing the rag to Willlow. He moved to the empty living room, settling down on the couch, letting her stand, knowing she needed to keep in motion.
"What bothers you so much about her doing this?"
"Doing what? Leaving? All the time?!"
"You know she can't help it."
"It doesn't matter." Her blue eyes moved toward the door, to Xander, was now out of earshot, sitting on the porch steps. Her voice lowered slightly as she turned, moist eyes on his. "Have you seen what it does to Xander?"
Angel pursed his lips. At times his Slayer was so young, so angry and bitter, at times so old and self sacrificing. Her mission, her purpose on this world had left her with nothing but questions, and not even the forced resignation he had, that he knew frustrated her so much, could make her understand it.
"What it does to Xander, or what it does to you?"
She took in a breath, stared at him, and he continued to watch her, unwavering. "Is this about Xander and Cordelia or about us, Buffy?" he said again.
Her shoulders slumped, and she came forward, letting him gather his arms around her, press his lips against the top of her head. Her voice was soft, resigned. "I'm not going to be around forever, Angel."
He closed his eyes, pushing away the dread. "I know."
"I just… these times… that's all we have. And Cordelia doesn't seem to … get that."
"Does she?" She pulled away, eyeing him. "I don't know if she does Angel. What if one day something happens and she's not here-"
He pulled her in tighter. "Nothing's going to happen to you, to any of us, Buffy. Not if I can help it."
The vampire felt the soul inside him twist, never more conviction in the haunted vampire's eyes than at that moment.
She was quiet, and a small, "Angel?" emerged, muffled by his fabric. "Promise me something."
"If something happens to me-"
"Nothing's going to happen to you, Buffy."
"Angel." Her blue eyes were moist, her mouth trembling slightly as she pressed fingers against his mouth. "Listen. I need you to promise to take care of them. All of them. I don't know if Cordelia will be able to."
He swallow down the growl of anger, of fear. "Nothing will-"
He closed his eyes. Angel didn't want to ponder that. His time was short. He thought of the Immortal who left them, of the pain in her eyes as she moved away from her husband, from the family she had forsaken. He thought of his attempt to leave Buffy, found nothing but memories in the city – of the immortal's fight to stay sane and his own attempt to break away from the only humanity he had known and loved. The demon inside hated the closeness, the soul cherished it.
She held him closer, and then asked him, "What keeps you from leaving?"
His eyes still closed, he could only think of one answer, "You."
The clothes were different, all white, a contrast to her darker look. Hair was shorter now, chin length, sleek, sophisticated. Older. Not in face, not in appearance, but in her eyes. Eyes of an old soul, and the familiarity as she stared at him, at first unbelieving, and finally blurted out, "Angel? It's you? God I haven't seen you since – oh. Um… Since…" She struggled, face flushing, and hands nervously fiddling together, and she looked nineteen again, and he found himself smiling at the recognition of the past.
"It's okay, Cordelia. You can say her name."
"Buffy… I'm sorry," she said, leaning against the bridge railing, eyes meeting his, bright with surprise. "God… it has been forever."
He was silent, but the smile was gentle. "Nice to see a familiar face."
She nodded back, and the silent awkwardness descended. "So… are you still… GRR?" Wow. She even illustrated that.
"Yeah, there's not really a cure for that."
She was quiet, looking away, and he continued to just watch her, the way the wind tousled her hair. GOD, it was good to see her. He came forward, sniffing, inhaling the scent, familiar – human, but off. Not a demon… still Immortal.
"So… are you going to ask?"
He paused, for the moment confused. "Ask what?"
"What happened. To them. After you left."
Them. He closed his eyes, feeling a jolt of pain shiver through him, infecting his soul. "Cordelia…"
"Hey, I just thought you might like to know considering you just kinda took off there."
"I couldn't stay."
"Because it hurt too much."
She blinked, and the anger in her face was considerable as she looked away, at the river, any place but him. "I got news, broody brood boy. It kinda hurt me too. But I still stayed."
He looked down, hands shoved in his pockets. "I kept tabs."
"I know." He glanced at her in surprise, but she wasn't looking at him, as her hands grabbed onto the ledge, noticeably whiter knuckles. "So how is good old Los Angeles this time a year, Angel? Still saving souls?"
He blinked, mouth opening slightly. "You knew?"
"You're not the only one who kept tabs." She drifted off, and then her eyes latched onto his, her voice brighter, more chipper. "Funny running into you here. Come to live up on old memories of the big bad Angelus?"
He frowned, again. "No. I heard you were here."
She was quiet, cocking her eyebrow, half glaring at him silently.
"It takes a hell of a lot to find me, Angel," Cordelia pointed out finally. "Not exactly high profile."
Shit. This is why he hadn't seen – it hurt. Looking at her… thank God her hair and clothes were different… it brought back…
"I had some leads. Some watchers don't interfere, but they talk with a little persuasion."
The eyebrow remained quirked, but rose higher. "You roughed up my stalker/watcher dude?"
A small smile that hinted of the demon within drifted across Angel's face, and it amused her, bringing a sense of fun into the strained conversation.
"Yeah. A little bit."
Good. The asshole deserved it. "Uh huh. Then what?"
"I .. uh.. smelled you from there."
Cordelia raised an eyebrow, her own hazel orbs boring into the vampire's.
"That's incredibly freaky, and kinda gross, Angel."
Looking at Cordelia, Angel wondered if she knew just how much he knew. How he knew when Willow developed Alzheimer's, no cure as yet, how he came to visit. He wondered if she knew about the flowers that mysteriously appeared in Willow's room, or if she knew how he watched from the doorway as she knelt beside old Xander's room, watching as she held his pale, frail hand, kissed the soft skin, and cried.
"So you've had about a hundred years to make a social call and never brought it up, care to tell me why here, why now? Cause you're not exactly a Londonaire type."
"I need your help."
"Of course, you do."
Cordelia Chase regarded the facet from her past with mixed emotions. A smile quirked on her lips as she looked at the vampire, never aging, and incredibly refreshing to see in a life where nothing ever stood still but her own race. He had been family, a friend, although she was married to Xander and he to Buffy, she knew that eventually, they would have this confrontation. He had been family who had left, given up on their own, and it didn't matter how many times he had lurked in the shadows, how many times he brought flowers to Willow's room, the point was that she had been the only one who knew he was still there. And for all intents and purposes – it wasn't fair.
He should have been there. He should have talked to them. He should have talked to her. But he stood here now, a century later, dark eyes brooding, in the same black clothes, and he was a vampire with the soul, who still did good.
She sighed, running her hands through her hair and nodding toward the restaurants in the square at the bottom of the bridge. "Come on."
Katherine stepped out of the shower, taking in a deep breath and wondered exactly how she was going to get rid of this one. It was a mistake, that she knew. One night stands, for all their simplicity, were a sign of weakness, the acknowledgement that even though she stayed true to her dead husband's memory in heart, the contact of another human being was insatiable.
The Game was nearing it's conclusion, she could feel it, and she wondered blithely whether she even cared anymore. Old vendetta's seemed just that… old. Life and it's purpose… seemed to have faded away. But Katherine, with her deep blue eyes, and square set shoulders, just slung the towel over her body and opened the door, running a hand through the dripping wet tendrils of her hair.
"Brian, if you go through my things, I'll have to kill you," she said, running a finger over the open dresser and raising an eyebrow at the disheveled bed.
Ways to get rid of an unwanted lover who didn't want to leave because of great sex : number one: act the bitch. Number two : tell him he sucked. Number three : Threaten to behead him.
She mulled over the choices, looking around the bedroom for him, raising an eyebrow when she noticed everything but his shoes were gone.
"Well… I guess he had a change of heart."
A small smile flickered over her face, until a shudder claimed her, and she paused.
Throat suddenly dry, she turned, hand clutching the towel to her, walking to the living room.
"Brian? Hiding out is not my idea of a game."
Carefully she reached for the sword on the mantle.
The sword was still in her hand as she whirled, settling neatly against the intruder's neck, steady, and then trembling violently when she saw the face. Her face went white, and unknowingly she let the towel slip, as her blue eyes widened. "N… Ni… NICK?"
Nick, her young husband, from so many years ago, who died an early death because of their work, was smiling at her, never flinching from the sword at his neck.
"Katherine, are you okay, baby?" She swallowed, shaking her head a furious no, stepping back, keeping the sword in her hand.
"You're dead, dammit."
He paused, looked surprised. "Do I look dead, Kat? Dammit, Kat put down the sword, okay? I just want to hold you. It's been so long-"
"You can't be NICK-"
"Kat, who else would it be? You really think it'll be a look alike?"
"STOP!" Her voice cracked with panic, her body continued to shake but it was NICK – and he was strong and alive and it was NICk and, GOD-
"Kat, baby, calm down." He kept coming forward, hands raised out. "I promise there's an explanation."
She swallowed, heaving in her breath, and then something in the corner caught her eye. A pool of blood, trailing from one, very dead body. Her jaw dropped and she gasped, and in that second her sword was yanked away, and her naked body was hauled up against Nick's rock hard one.
His palm closed over her mouth, muffling her gasp and before she could flip him over he pushed his knee into the back of hers, making her buckle, full weight on top of hers, rendering her helpless.
"Told you there was an explanation," he whispered in her ear, and her eyes widened in shock as he bit into her neck.
Her blood rushed from her body, she could hear him gulping greedily.
"Okay, so what brings you to murky old England?" she asked, reaching over to pop a chip into her mouth as she leaned back, glancing over the secluded corner of the English Pub. His first statement to her after she suggested fine dining was, "I don't eat."
"I don't care," had been her response, and as a result, they were here. When the waiter came, she had whispered into his ear, and when her coffee came, a mug of red, suspiciously familiar liquid had been placed in front of the vampire.
He had looked shocked, but she only shrugged. "It's only pig's blood. Sorry Ang, don't trust you enough for the red gourmet human variety yet."
It had taken him ten minutes to feel comfortable enough to take a sip. He took a napkin, wiped at his face, and said, brusquely.
"My seer. He saw a vision." Angel paused his explanation, unsure of how much Cordelia knew about his life in Los Angeles. She merely raised an eyebrow, and nodded.
"How long has this one been around?"
"A few years."
She pursed her lips, taking in a breath. "I stopped keeping track after the first two… Doyle and Wesley…"
He winced, and she paused. "I'm sorry," she finally said. "I just don't know why they keep plugging you with seers who keep– and who the hell ARE they, anyway?"
"The Powers that Be?"
"Is that what they're called? I thought it was the Nazi Brigade."
He couldn't help but smile grimly. "Want to hear about the vision or not, Cordelia?"
Grabbing another chip, she nodded. "Fine. Your seer had a vision. Of what."
"Give me your pad."
She raised an eyebrow, but did it, reaching into her pocket and handing it over. Carefully Angel pulled his, connected the wire, and began the download.
"This is what we captured."
Cordelia took the pad back, staring into the tiny computer screen, tapping on her earlobe to raise the volume.
Murkiness… screaming… a naked woman… and a vampire.
She placed the tiny computer down, her lips pursed. "Okay, aside from `eww' and `augh', what exactly am I supposed to get from that?"
"That's how they come, in flashes." He reached forward, punching a button. "We were able to find the woman in the picture… at least I think we did. Here."
She watched as a much clearer shot of what appeared to be the woman was revealed. Dark hair, long, curly. Blue eyes.
"We found that on one of the Watchers I… ran into while keeping…" when her eyebrow rose, he continued hastily, "They had a file on her. Her name is Katherine."
"An Immortal?" He nodded. She thought hard, taking in a breath. "You recognize her?"
She studied the picture, slowly shaking her head no. "I've heard of her. For a while, back around the time Xander and I… I mean before… I knew of her. Standard do-gooder. Mortal husband. Hell of a left hook, Duncan said."
"No one you'd know."
He clamped his mouth shut, looking the other way.
"So… this is why you needed me? Wanted me to help you track this chick down?"
"She's here, in your city. She's one of yours. I thought you might know her."
"I don't." The voice was flat.
He narrowed his eyes, crossing his arms. "You still carry that sword around?"
She breathed out, nodding. "One thing that never changes about us. We always carry those things around."
"Still do what you did in Sunnydale?"
"What? Slay vampires? Save the world?"
He nodded. Slowly, she shook her head.
"Mostly I'm just trying to keep my own head attached to my body, Angel. The Endgame is getting closer. Doesn't leave much time for helping the helpless when you've always got some power hungry freak waving some silly sword."
He looked distracted, and she raised an eyebrow. "What?"
There was a haunted, tired look on his face, and he finally let his shoulders slump, the handsome vampire curling his hands around the mug and drinking, before answering, "Click forward on the next clip. That came right after."
Curious, she shrugged, pressing play.
The same shouting, murkiness, vampires….
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Three
As a child, so long ago, Katherine had hated enclosed spaces. Her mother, always unsure how to handle the temperamental, headstrong child, used to threaten to lock her in the cellar, and little Katherine, always afraid of it, had rebelled even more because of it. But the hard life of peasant work had driven the playfulness out of her, and with so many brothers and sisters, she had learned to subdue the stubborn nature – in favor of searching for food, and hiding from the marauders who had taken advantage of the Crusades. The fight to survive had served her well, for even as she awoke from her first death gasping, confused and scared beyond her wits, she had always the innate ability to take whatever fear, whatever paralyzed her, and put it aside for the most instinctual thing: to survive.
When her eyes drifted open, her head pounded and reality seemed foggy. Her back ached, and as she attempted to move, she realized why, bound hand and feet with metal chains, in a room that resembled something out of a gothic horror novel.
With her mind clearing came the fear, and her throat was dry as Katherine searched the room, desperately, for her sword.
No sword. Crap. She took in a breath, a deep breath, and moved, as much as she could, until she was sitting semi upright, her head resting against a pillow, easing the ache slightly.
She felt faint, slightly dizzy, as she tried to recollect exactly what had happened to her.
Blood… all the blood….
She looked down, realizing that by some miracle, she was now dressed, in a slip of a nightgown, but it was enough – for now.
Hands fumbled for the chains, and she pulled, but her body was weak, and although she was alive, like she always came back to life, that was still a hell of a lot of blood. She cursed in anger, and then stared at the door, wondering, always wondering, and saturated with fear and dread and wonder, and in the darkest recess of her heart, just the slightest bit of hope…
Because Nick had been her true love. Nick had been her savior, and when Nick died…
She took in an uneven set of breaths, as her muscles contracted, and her head cleared, eyes set on the door.
But no one came in.
Sunnydale Airport, California 2004
"Attention all passengers, Flight Number 1482 to New York City is now ready to board. Please have your tickets ready. We will now begin boarding First Class passengers only."
Cordelia reached a hand to her neck, massaging lightly. She cocked her head, attempting to get the kinks out as she walked out of the private terminal.
Airports were a bitch for Immortals, with their metal detectors and cops who didn't `care who you are, you follow the rules' and annoying flight attendants who offered you champagne every half minute when all you really wanted to do was close your eyes and sleep. Cordelia was never a great flyer, and to her, the best part of the whole damn affair was the part where she was home, most often late at night, carefully placing her sword by the chair, pulling off her clothes, nightgowns be damned, and slipping into bed next to a young man who was snoring lightly.
Homecoming. And today she was even going to be denied that.
Sighing in aggravation, she walked forward, eyes trained until she saw the unfamiliar young man holding the card that said in bold black letters : Chase Winters. Standing next to him was a very familiar blonde who had an identical card that read: Cordelia Chase.
Buffy. Cordelia rose an eyebrow, stifling the smirk as she walked toward them.
"Funny," she said dryly.
"I thought so!" Buffy replied, smiling as she wiggled the card, sticking it in her purse. The young man looked confused, as Cordelia walked up, placing her bags in his hand, plucking the card out of his hands.
"Not that I'm not glad to see you and all that, but what are you doing here? I thought I told Xander not to pick me up-"
"He doesn't know I'm here," Buffy said, slinging the bag over her shoulder. "I'm hijacking you."
The poor young chauffer looked even more confused. "I… uh… Ms. Winters?"
"Her name's Cordelia, bub-"
"Uh… you're not Ms. Winters?"
"I'm Ms. Winters – Cordelia is a nick name, right, Buff?" Poking her friend in the ribs, Buffy only smirked, reaching over and taking the bags the young man carried.
"Come on, Cordy. Let's get outta here."
"I have a limo-"
"Get your ass in my little jeep, Cordelia."
But Buffy was already walking away, at a brisk pace. Cordelia swore underneath her breath. Her sword was in that bag. Running her hand through her long dark hair in frustration, she finally just turned to the young man. "Take the limo back, tell Johnson I'm sorry – I'll call him in a few." After that, she had no choice but to run after her friend.
"Okay, so WHAT the hell is THIS about?" she asked, sliding into the car seat, making sure to buckle her seatbelt. Buffy was NOT known for her prowess on the highway. Xander had once mentioned he preferred Cordelia behind the wheel – and considering an accident was how she met her first death, and a couple ones after that – that said quite a lot.
"What? Can't we bond?" Cordelia again just gave her a suspicious look. Buffy was acting way too perky.
"Can you WATCH the road!" she suddenly yelped, grabbing a hold of the arm rest, sinking into the leather seat. "That was a stop sign!"
"Was it?" Buffy looked into the rear view, and then looked back, narrowly avoiding another accident when the baggage claim guy jumped out of the way.
"Hey Buffy? How about *I* drive?"
"You? I don't think so, Ms. I-Can-Never-Die. How much IS your car insurance these days, anyway?"
"Okay, why does everyone think I *LIKE* dying? You think I ENJOY biting the big one? Like a little game? `Gee, I think I'll get run over by a bus today!'" she grumbled, staring outside the window.
Buffy smiled, swerving out onto the highway. "So… how'd it go?"
"Whatever pulled you away from your birthday bash."
"Oh…" Cordelia shrugged. "Okay I guess… Didn't sleep a lot – one of the vice presidents of the one of the companies involved in the mergers got cold feet."
"Didn't wanna go through with it, huh?"
"No… literally. He was bitten by a Vorax Demon while skiing up in the Alps and ended up with an equivalent of frostbite on his feet. He was going to die and we needed him alive for the merger so I had to hunt the damn thing down and…" Cordelia leaned her head back, closing her eyes. "It was annoying. Did I miss anything?"
"Oh…not a lot. Some scary freaky thing happened where we couldn't speak-"
"Mmhmm." Cordelia kept her eyes closed, settling her tired body back against the seat.
"Well these demons came into town, `The Gentlemen' - none of us could talk! It was so freaky-"
Cordelia made some sort of sound, and felt her head slip. Jolted awake, she only caught the last bit of Buffy's speech.
"-destroyed it and we were all able to scream and I killed it. That's all."
"Cordy?" A furious shake of her shoulder made her open her eyes, catching Buffy's annoyed expression.
"Did you sleep at all?"
"Ah. Okay, then let me do this now, before you slip away again."
Cordelia blinked, shrugging her shoulders and taking in a breath, rubbing at her eyes. "Okay, do what?"
"I'm … I want to extract a promise."
"You want to `extract a promise'? Whenever Giles comes to visit you always get all `SAT' on us."
"Okay, geez. I'm listening. What's up."
The pause, followed by the unsteady breath, made Cordelia open her eyes, and she found Buffy with an insecure, very serious, face. Her mouth opened, closed, took in a breath. Hands around the steering wheel tightened, making Buffy's knuckles an odd shade of white.
"I … uh… I know you guys don't like to talk about this… but… you being … I need to make sure you'll take care of-"
"Buffy," Cordelia interrupted, hazel eyes now completely focused on her friend. "Spit it out."
The blonde Slayer's voice trembled slightly when she finally said, "I want you to promise me that if anything happens-"
"Oh, Geez, Buffy!" Cordelia sounded exasperated, as she crossed her arms and looked outside the window. "Why the hell do you have to bring that up again?"
"Do you honestly think I want to think about the `come the time' day?"
"Cordelia, get over it. I need you to promise-"
The heated question came with a heated response. "Because I've been having dreams, okay? And they're not of the good. Something's coming and I want to make sure that if I don't pull through you'll-"
"Wait, wait. WHAT?! STOP THE CAR." Cordelia jerked the wheel to the side, and Buffy cursed, swerving into the side of the road and pulling to a stop.
"What the hell, Cor!"
"What do you mean dreams! Bad dreams? And why the hell haven't you told anyone about them-"
"Buffy, the last time you had freaky ass dreams you DIED!"
"I KNOW!" Buffy's face made Cordelia stop yelling, as she watched the tired Slayer lean her head back against the seat, close her eyes for a fraction of a second. "And that's why I'm telling you now. Only you. Everyone else…"
"Especially Angel." Her eyes were unexpectedly bright as she turned to regard her friend. "I need to make sure you'll take care of them. You're the only one that can. Angel… he might try but he doesn't know how to… how to be on his own yet."
Cordelia could only stare at her friend, trying desperately to find a way out of this, to find a way to escape the huge mantle of heartache and responsibility Buffy was handing her. Buffy just couldn't DIE. Buffy was the strong one… she was always the strong one...
"Do you realize how much it HURTS, Buffy, when you make us think about that? Make me think about spending my life without ANY of you? I mean here… right here? It ACHES Buffy- I just… I don't want to think about it."
"Yeah well, tough cookies. You have to, Cor," Buffy replied. "It comes with the territory. Just like I have to think… you think this is pleasant for me too?
"I'll take care of them, okay?" she finally interrupted softly. "I will. If… God forbid… anything happens I will do everything in my power to take care of them – everyone. Xander… Willow, Oz, Giles-"
A small, morose smirk came onto Cordelia's face. "I think Angel can pretty much handle himself, Buff."
"No, he can't. He's… insecure and scared and he doesn't… he still feels things, Cordelia. Vampire things. Soul bound and all – and there's still a lot of things he has to atone for… he'll need help. Humanizing influences. Make sure he has them."
"Okay, okay." Cordelia shrugged. "Angel, too. Boy, Buffy – you this morbid and depressed ALL the time? Cause this is just… fun."
"Nah… sometimes I'm actually grim. Immortal witch."
Cordelia grinned at the game they never stopped playing. "Slayer Freak."
"Dead Guy Boffer."
"Xander's not a geek. He's a lame dork!" And with that Cordelia turned up the volume on the radio, a real smile on her face as hazel eyes met blue and they both burst out in time with the song, dancing in their seats as they cruised down the highway.
"I will SURVIIIVE. OHHHh, as long as I know how to love I know I'll be alive-"
"I got all my life to live-"
"And I've got all my love to give-"
"And I'll survive! I WILL SURVIVE! HEY HEY!"
"Are you insane?"
Angel sighed, a needless, almost breathless sigh as Cordelia's cold hazel eyes rested on his, dropping the tiny computer and snapping it off before sliding it into her lapel.
"Cordelia, these visions are real-"
"They're wrong. I don't need help. I've never even…" she broke off suddenly, grabbing her cup and downing it, obviously agitated. "I'm not in trouble. I'm not one of your little victims, so… just forget it." He continued to stare at her, sadness in his eyes that seemed to penetrate her gaze, as she broke the stare, flushing slightly. "Just… how do you even know it'll even get to that point? These things look pretty vague to me. Don't tell me you get them right all the time."
"We don't," he admitted freely, leaning back and watching her carefully. "But that was pretty clear. Some way or another this Katherine girl and you are going to be tied together with some… bad stuff."
"I'm already tied to bad stuff."
"Okay, then worse stuff."
"Cordelia, like it or not you're my damsel, okay?"
"I'm no one's damsel, Angel," she said, her glare and her low, dangerous tone certainly a testament to that.
"Uh… that came out wrong. What I mean is…"
"And besides, don't you need like, blonde hair to fill that role?"
"CORDELIA!" The tone almost came out in a growl, but she only raised an eyebrow, regarding him. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to continue in a lower voice. "Look. This isn't going to work, okay? This pushing me away with those little barbs. I'm not letting you go now. I promised Buffy and Xander…"
That did it. A softness immediately flickered over her face before she could hide it, a small wince and a hint of grief at the mention of her dead husband, and her voice was different, her voice softer as she finally asked, "Xander asked you…"
"I'll help you with this Katherine girl, okay? That's the best I can do. I don't know about the rest."
The insecurity on her delicate features brought an uneasy smile to Angel's face, and he found himself nodding, reaching forward to gently press her hand, and stopping at the last second, pulling back.
"Thank you," he finally said.
She only managed a grim smile, somewhat pained and a little sad. "Just like old times, huh?"
His smile froze, and the haunted look in her eyes brought back memories, of a blue-eyed girl not above twenty five, with a sad smile and a grim face, and a mentality that made her save the world at the cost of her life, ripping out his very world from under him.
"Yeah," he said, his voice rough. "Just like old times."
"Is this it?" Cordelia asked breathlessly, hands dug deep into her pocket as she looked up at the small flats that lay nestled on top of the cobble stoned hill.
"I think so," he replied, coming up behind her, eyes on the building. "Feel that tingly thing?"
"No, not yet," she answered, eyes taking in the place, and suddenly stopping. "Hey." Nudging him lightly, she motioned to a darkened corner, where two inconspicuous men were talking in low tones. "Looks like my watcher and Katherine's watcher know each other."
Angel narrowed his eyes, immediately uneasy. "They just follow you around like that?"
"And you let them."
Cordelia shrugged, non committally. "Hell, as long as he's not watching when I'm changing I could care less. I got it all explained to me – they're not supposed to interfere. Just record it. Sort of like an underground newspaper. We're not even supposed to know they exist." With that she took a breath, and jogged up the stairs. "Come on."
Angel took another look at the men and shook his head. "And they call me a stalker."
He met Cordelia at the doorstep, and immediately paused, a twist in his heart, and a sniff confirming what he suspected.
A low growl emitted from him, and Cordelia glanced at him, eyebrow cocked in curiosity. "Any reason for the growl face?"
"Oh… goody." Taking in a breath, she quickly unsheathed her sword, leaning against the hall, staring at the doorway. "So… on three?"
"Okay, three-" And with that, Angel kicked open the door, rattling the hinges and damn near blasting through it.
He heard a sigh from behind him. "Thank you, Batman. Oh- EWW." She shuddered, moving from around him to inspect the body before them, lying in it's own sticky mess of congealed blood and dead weight.
Angel knelt down, carefully poking at the body. "Vampire."
"The body's a vampire? But wouldn't he have – oh. Vampire killed him, you mean."
"Yeah. I can see that." She turned surveying the scene, sword drawn as she swung the arc of the room. "Okay… no tingly feeling means no Immortal – and I highly doubt she would let cute dead guy out of her sight…and…" Cordelia paused, blinking, and moving forward.
Angel looked up. "What?"
Cordelia frowned, leaning over to pick up a fallen object. "Her sword. She's so dead."
Cordelia eyed the antique saber, let it shine in the moonlit beams that danced across the flat wood floor. "Immortal, NEVER leaves their sword behind unless they are complete idiots. Katherine, from what I've heard, is NOT a complete idiot."
"So what do we have?" Angel said, still crouching next to the body, straightening to survey the room.
"Thrown towel," Cordelia said, kicking at the floor, "and blood here too."
"Vampire is somehow or other invited in here, kills... this guy… takes out Katherine?"
"Without her sword." Cordelia crossed the room, looking onto the mantle piece. "No real sign of struggle… and believe me she would have…"
She paused, glancing at the pieces on top of the mantle above the fireplace.
With a carefully closed expression, Cordelia gently took a framed photo off, holding it up to Angel as he walked over. "This must have been mortal hubby. Late `tens… judging from the way whispy hair and the Crouching Tiger look here… 2001?"
"She had a mortal husband," Angel said.
Cordelia clamped her mouth shut, nodding shortly as she put the framed picture back, carefully. "Something we have in common."
There was an uncomfortable silence, as both vampire and Immortal held thoughts that were elsewhere, before Cordelia coughed, wiping quickly at her eyes before turning away from the mantle, and moving around the room.
"Alright, so we've got no leads but vampy activity and a REALLY stupid Immortal chick who either forgot her sword, and her towel on the way out over the dead guy or got captured by him…"
Angel only watched, his heart in an odd place. "Do you always do that?"
"Avoid thinking about him… about them … like that. Push them away."
Her shoulders slumped slightly, her face naked for two seconds before she finally just said, turning away, "I have to."
She placed Katherine's sword in her holster, and walked into Katherine's bedroom, leaving Angel alone.
Sunnydale, California, 2004
Chase Winters walked up the darkened steps, her key in her hand, always careful to be quiet as she gently inserted it into the lock, turning.
God, it was good to be home.
With a sigh she closed the door behind her, putting her bags down, leaving only her sword swinging on her back as she walked past the little table with all the pictures, the dearly departed Joyce, and to the stairs, where Willow and Oz's little Rupert gave them a gummy and toothy smile from the portraits that were hanging on the wall.
Up, past the banister, shedding clothes as she went, and into the darkened room where only a young man snored lightly on the king sized bed.
A small, relieved smile played across her face, and with almost panther like grace, she slid under the coves, moving over to rest against his back and place tiny kisses on his shoulders.
"Hi honey," she whispered, her voice a tad husky. `I'm home."
A small groan and a moan, and she could only grin, moving from his shoulder to the crook of his neck, biting lightly. Bastard slept like a log.
She sighed, half in frustration, half in contentment, and finally just ran her fingers over his shoulder and down his chest, brushing her chest against his back.
"Alexander Lavelle Harris, if you don't wake up and give your wife a long overdue welcome she will take that sword and stic-"
The body flipped, and suddenly she was pinned under a very sleepy, but still very desirable male, who glared at her with a wolfish smile. "You know we have to talk about you and that sword fetish."
She chuckled. Leaning up, Cordelia pressed her lips against her husband's throat and held him to her, unable to keep the smile off her face when he groaned, capturing her chin and pulling up to meet her lips with a passionate kiss of his own. His palms slid down, over her shoulders, rounding her hips, pulling her lower body a bit more snugly against his hardening flannel covered groin.
"Mmm. I LOVE when you're naked."
She giggled, kissing him again, the smile sliding off her face as his hands, and caresses, and kisses became more and more urgent. Soon, she was panting, as she slid her palms down his chest, pressing her lips against him, straddling his body, and moving down to a nipple, to the ridges of his abdomen, a slow, mischievous grin coming over her when she heard his gasp inward. Her chin nudged the ties of the pajama bottoms when the phone rang.
Cordelia really wanted to. She REALLY wanted to, but she only swallowed down her disappointment, making a point not to look at her husband as she pushed her hair out of her sweaty face and reached for the phone.
"If someone isn't dead, I'm going to –" She paused, and suddenly the anger slid away and a look of pure panic replaced it. "What? When?" Xander frowned, letting her move off of him, sitting up and watching her with concern etched on his face. "Okay." Swallowing, she purposely didn't look at his face as she slid off the bed and reached down to grab her pants. "I have to go."
"Xander," she began with a sigh. "Don't-"
"NO! Not again, Cordy! You just GOT here."
"I have to!"
"Why? Another merger president lost a pinky this time?"
"Claribel had a stroke." She turned, her face sad, stricken with grief. "She's dying, Xander."
Xander paused, and immediately she knew he understood. Claribell, the young adopted daughter of Winters, who had grown old, tired, and for two years had been the only family Cordelia had ever had.
That Claribell, was dying.
She swallowed down, hard, slipping on her bra and pulling on her shirt. "Tell them I'll be back as soon as I can… I don't know when…"
"Okay." Her motions faltered, watching as her young husband sat on the edge of the bed, face in his hands.
"Come with me," she suddenly blurted out. He looked up in surprise. "I just… I'd like you to come."
A pause, flicker of doubt on his face, and the beginnings of a nod before he shook his head slowly. "I can't. There's this new… this Glory girl… claims she's a god… we were going to –"
"It's not that I don't want to-"
"No. I understand. Sunnydale… sucks. My life… sucks." The words were emphasized with the jerk of her zipper, followed by the way she flung on the long coat, grabbing her sword. "You have my cell phone number?"
"Okay." He stared at her, and she paused, face softening when she saw his expression. "I'm sorry."
"Me too. Good luck with… I hope she's okay."
Cordelia nodded, and her eyes watered as he stood, and in two seconds she was locked in his arms, shuddering slightly.
She pulled away, and kissed him once, hard on the mouth.
"I love you."
Chase Winters walked away from her husband, yet another time.
"Great. So we've got next to no leads and a disappearing Immortal."
"We've got a lead." Cordelia gave Angel a scathing look and he almost looked sheepish as he pulled out the tiny computer. "We have the vision."
"Screams, ickiness and MAYBE a face? Please. How do you work like that?"
"It's all we got."
"For now," Cordelia admitted, stepping over the body and outside of the door. "Oh, thank God. Fresh air." Standing next to the flat, she glanced over the hill. "So? You're the detective guy now. What do we do?"
He grazed over the hill with his eyes, and finally just smirked. "We find a witness."
Cordelia looked from him to the man at the bottom of the hill, and her jaw fell slightly open. "Angel we can't do that." But he was already moving.
Sighing, she went down after him. "Angel they won't tell us anything. They can't interfere."
"They can't interfere with the Game. I'm not a part of it."
She paused, considering. "Good point."
He strode purposefully, down the hill, and with long strides, making it almost impossible to keep up with him.
Her damned watcher never even saw it coming. In two seconds Angel had a handful of the Watcher's throat, picking him up off the ground and never giving the terrified face any leeway.
"So… let me introduce myself," he said in full demonic visage. Cordelia looked around his shoulder to take a peek. Yeap. Still scary. "I'm Angel. You already know Cordelia. Where's Katherine?"
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Four
Terence Jacobs was by nature, a mild-mannered, passive man. In the war-torn environment, he had remained calm, quiet, rising above on his own on account of his wisdom, and points of observation. He took his job quite seriously, and despite the rule of non interference, he felt that no one on earth knew his own assigned Immortal quite as well as he did.
She awoke in the morning and worked with her sword for an hour, all the while talking in her little earpiece to the different branches of her franchises. Then it was a long, luxurious bath, and for that he envied her. Water was a luxury she could afford to waste, and the splashes he heard and the bubbles he had found the last time he had snuck in were a testament to that.
Hair shorter than it ever was, it made her look older, blonde streaks doing only a bit to change her look. She wore more white than black, another testament to her wealth, and it seemed that Chase Winters had finally come to accept and grow into her position. There were no ties, like the ones that had held her back for so long. She had never married another mortal and she had never returned to her small town – and now, he felt he was witnessing a rebirth.
He had never experienced another Chase Winters, but the reports from the two watchers before him had been clear: they were fond of a softer Chase. This Chase he had yet to meet, and it intrigued him. An alarming sense of wonder had pervaded over him when the vampire with the soul came back into her life – on her birthday, of all ironies, and he had tailed them both, aware that something was about to happen.
Chase Winters was about to get sucked back into being Cordelia Chase – something that could prove fatal in the coming End Game. Cordelia Chase was weaker, had a bigger heart, and gave more mercy than Chase Winters, and mercy was the last thing that an Immortal needed to give when fighting against much older Immortals, with much more experience. So far, Chase had been lucky, and as much as Terence hated to admit it, he was on the edge of his toes, waiting for her luck to run out.
Sucked in she was, he was made completely aware of that, when out of the blue, the vampire completely broke the rules and now had him banging against the wall, causing a rather incredible amount of pain.
"ANGEL!" Chase grabbed her partner by the hand, pulling him away slightly and easing the choking somewhat. "He's kinda turning blue!"
"Sorry." The vampire faced him again, as the fangs dripped and caused what Terence supposed was quite a familiar reaction, considering. "You were saying?"
He swallowed, managed to get some air into his windpipe and tried to speak again. "I'm not allowed. Chase knows the rules."
"Ah yes, the rules." Chase crossed her arms, pretended to think. "The whole non interference thing. Gee. You are aware that a vampire is holding you by your throat, right?"
"It's rather obvious."
"Please, Ms. Winters-"
"Her name's Cordelia."
"I'm not allowed to interfere!"
"So don't interfere! Just tell us what that other Watcher dude told you."
"What she said," said the vampire, his demonic face quite ferocious looking. Which, he gathered, was the whole point.
"What's going on here?"
Oh, thank God. Terence turned, nodded stiffly to his comrade. "Hello, Mr. Bellows. So nice to see you again."
Mr. Bellows was older, forty, or fifty, and he did a much better job at looking only mildly bothered by the Immortal and the Vampire who were intruding on his personal space.
"Mr. Bellows, this is Angel and you already know Ms. Winters."
"Mr. Bellows, Katherine's watcher, right?"
Mr. Bellows merely raised an eyebrow. "Been talking to Duncan, have you?"
"Very few people know we watch."
"Yeah, well that's because the majority of our type are idiots," she shot back, sighing. "Look. Katherine's in trouble."
"Yes, I know," he answered mildly.
That made Angel release his grip on Terence's throat, and for that he was thankful, taking the time to regain the air in the passage, and straighten his tie.
"Where is she?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" Angel seethed, stepping intimidatingly closer to Mr. Bellows.
"The Vampire with a Soul," he remarked instead, an offhand observation. "I was not aware you and Ms. Winters were so close."
"Oh, we go way back. But you know that, so stop acting stupid." Terence tried his best to move to the side, but instead was caught by the tie by one feminine gloved hand. "You're not going anywhere, Mr. Watcher dude."
"I'd rather you call me Terence."
"Mr. Jacobs, if you would refrain from speaking directly to your Immortal," Mr. Bellows said briskly, and Terence colored slightly.
Mr. Bellows then focused his attention onto Angelus, hands behind his back as he said briskly, "You had a vision of my Katherine, have you?"
Terence and Chase both gave each other a semi-shocked look.
Angel paused, looked back at Chase, and then briskly nodded to Mr. Bellows.
"I see." Mr. Bellows was quiet, and finally he nodded, breathing out. He then turned, regarding Chase, and asked in an almost monotone voice, "You are helping him?"
"Gee – how did you make THAT landmark observation?" was her cutting reply, but when he only cocked an eyebrow, she also just nodded.
Mr. Bellows was quiet, and finally he took a breath, squaring his shoulders. "Katherine was taken by Nick, from what I can gather, if my information is correct."
"Her old husband."
"I thought he was dead."
Terence had to give the vampire credit, he put the pieces together just a bit faster than Ms. Winters did. A cloud of somberness covered his face, the demon face receded into the handsome human one, and he looked away, shoulders slumping slightly.
"But if he's dead, then why-"
"He's a vampire, Cordelia," he said, his voice raspy, and a little angry.
"Oh." There was no emotion in the response. "Yikes."
"I tried to follow to where they had taken her, but I'm at a loss. She's alive, for now. But I don't know where she is. I can say no more."
Chase sighed. "Look buddy if this is about the whole `interfering' crap, chances are I won't be alive at the end of the Endgame ANYWAY, so no harm, no foul, okay?"
Terence gave her a look of shock, his chest flooding with concern, the vampire almost mimicking his movement, as the intense brown eyes focused on Chase's.
But he received not even a passing glance, Chase having only eyes for Mr. Bellows.
"I'm afraid that is all I know."
Terence watched as the vampire and his own Immortal, who was quite cheeky looking even up close, gave each other a look.
Mr. Bellows cocked his head. "I suggest you find some cover, Angel."
He pointed upwards. "Sun… it will rise… in about fifteen minutes."
"Come on," Cordelia grabbed his arm, pulling him away. "My flat isn't far from here."
Mr. Bellows nodded. Terence squared his shoulders, moving to stand by the older Watcher. He watched with a curiously shuddering heart when the Immortal paused, looked back. "Thanks."
Mr. Bellows only smiled, nodded his head courteously, and the Immortal and the Vampire walked away. Terence shifted, cleared his throat.
"Yes, Mr. Jacobs?"
"I … was under the impression that we were not to interfere."
Mr. Bellows gave him a cold look, and finally just turned. "No one interfered, Mr. Jacobs. Did you see anyone interfering?"
He gave his older comrade a smile, not sure of the other's intentions, but perfectly happy to agree. "No, Mr. Bellows, I saw no one interfere."
He nodded shortly. "Then, I suggest we follow them."
"Well I can't very well be a watcher without my own Immortal to watch, can I? If they lead us to Katherine so be it."
Katherine was only aware that exhaustion had taken her, when she woke up. Her eyes flew open, her breath heaved inward, and she found herself staring directly into the face of Nick.
For a moment, she could do nothing, as her hands and feet, now bound spread eagled against the bedpost, made it impossible to do anything but thrust her hips, and Nick's heavy body was straddling her, erasing that option.
There was no fear, as her dark blue eyes gazed into his, and her mind refused to click with what had already registered – this was not Nick – this was a vampire. But the dark hair was the same, soft and whispy, falling into his face. The smile he gave her, full of love and eternity, was devastatingly familiar, and the eyes… Nick's eyes…
Her heart gave a tug, her eyes watered, and completely joy mixed with utter sadness as she was caught between fear, and completely relief.
"Nick," she breathed, chest gasping with breath.
He was somber as he looked down, hand trailing from her neck to between her cleavage, watching as her breasts moved up and down.
"I forgot how beautiful it was," he said, almost wistfully. "To sit and watch you breathe."
"Do you know why I did it?" he asked, almost talking to himself as he continued to caress her body, worshiping her with tender touches. "I didn't understand then… I thought I could live forever. I knew.. you wouldn't let me do it, always so damn self sacrificing." He gave a small smirk. "Do you know, that I actually thought you were tired of me? That you were looking forward to when I died so you could live your own life?" He swallowed, his voice deceptively sad. "I didn't know… I'm sorry."
"Nick, what are you doing?"
"I thought about seeing you – after it happened." He grinned then, almost at the memory. "You were in so much pain – and I realized why I never did it. Never saw you. I wanted to see you suffer."
Katherine swallowed, her chest now constricted, and she was drowning in his eyes – her Nick's beautiful eyes who was talking about suffering like it was something beautiful. And it was… she could see it. It was beautiful to him.
"The pain, Katherine. The pain was like a drug." He smiled, and eased off of her, sliding down to stretch his length against her, face now buried into her shoulder, breathing her in. "Tell me something, Katherine. Every guy you fucked after I was gone… were you thinking of them or me?"
Her eyes closed as a single tear slipped down her cheek.
"I can feel your heart beating, Katherine," he whispered in her ear, hands now moving over a breast, kneading lightly. "I can smell the blood in your veins. It's never been so intoxicating before. I'm sorry. I forgot what it was like to hold you, to touch you. But I remembered. And I'm here now. And I can smell your fear."
The prick in her neck was pain made her gasp, and suddenly the lightheaded feeling came, as she heard him sucking noisily.
God. She closed her eyes, and let one more tear slip.
"I can finish it," he whispered. "I can make it last forever."
And for what seemed the millionth time, Katherine wished it would all just end.
The door was opened rather hastily, and Angel burst in, past Cordelia, sighing as he was met with the refuge of the flat.
"Hold on, let me close the blinds. Watchers will lose the free show but what the hell." Tossing her entry circuit card, along with her data pad, onto a nearby mantle, she ran to the windows, hurriedly closing them. "Do me a favor, turn on that lamp, will you?"
Angel turned toward the general direction she pointed, and found a small niche and obediently spoke into it. "Lights."
The room lit up immediately. Angel watched as Cordelia pressed a lever, and the blinds obediently eased down with a barely audible mechanical whir.
For someone as financially stable as Cordelia, these were modest surroundings. Tastefully bare, Cordelia had the essential flatscreen embedded in the fourth wall, the large leather couch and desk both facing it. Hardwood floor, purposely cleared middle floor where he imagined she spent many afternoons on the mat that was tucked into the corner. A dark, black iron curved stair case leading up to the bedroom. Probably the most intimate of the house.
"Done inspecting?" she asked, almost amused, pulling out the tiny earpiece and settling it in it's place next to the tiny computer.
"Simple. I don't spend a lot of time here – and every time I try to decorate SOMETHING comes up. I've given up being En Vogue a long time ago. I'm really the only one here, anyway." He frowned as she turned, pulling off the cloak and placing the sword in its place on the mantle, resting Katherine's sword next to it. "Come on, Angel, make yourself at home… kinda. You promise to stay good?"
"Kidding! Geez." She kicked off her shoes, moving toward the bedroom as she sighed, stretching and running fingers through her short hair.
He stayed put, fists dug into his trenchcoat.
This was turning into an odd, and semi awkward reunion. He hadn't sure exactly what he had been expecting when he walked back into Cordelia's life, but … somehow… this wasn't it.
Never quite sure what their relationship was, to say friends would have been too casual, to would have said family was too severe, Angel had had to settle for `casual acquaintances' when he had to explain his reason for following Cordelia to London to Travis. The seer had adamantly argued that Angel was a `big stupid bimbo' (his exact words) for going without him, but Angel had maintained this needed to be done alone.
He knew Cordelia resented him for leaving – he knew that she would have blamed him for going through the disintegration of everything they had loved alone. And she knew that in the end, even a little bit still blamed himself, and to an extent, her, for what happened to Buffy.
An uncomfortable knot in his throat arose, as she came back down the stairs, faltering at seeing him in the exact position she had left him in.
"Geez. Act like a statue why don't you."
"I'm just… taking things in…" his statement faltered as he looked behind her, and curious, she looked back as he walked past her. Sitting on a table in the corner of the room were several old fashioned portraits, carefully encased in plastic. With a carefully closed expression, Angel traced the frame with his fingertips.
He felt her warm presence next to him, as she let out a soft sigh, a wine glass in her hand as she regarded the pictures. She said nothing as he lifted up a particular one, of a vampire with a smile on his face, holding in his lap a small whisp of a girl who looked like she weighed no more than a doll.
"Where did you get this?"
"Duh. Buffy. Before she… you know… croaked." Clearing her throat, she took the picture back, setting it in it's place in the mantle.
Angel's brow furrowed, biting his lip as he continued to look over the images. There was Willow, a grey streak in her hair as she leaned against a younger redheaded man wearing glasses. There was Xander, holding a young Chinese girl, their adopted daughter, he remembered, hoisting her high in the air, the sunlight beaming from around him. There was Giles, in his wheelchair, looking old and frail and wise.
"How did you end up in England?"
He didn't look at her as he asked, but he heard the uncertain pause, before she said hesitantly, "I took care of Giles… he was the last to… he held on for a while… I just took care of him." Grimly she turned away from the pictures, waving her flask at a large bookshelf of old books less than ten feet away. "Left me with his musty book collection, too. Woohoo."
Moving away, she sat on the couch, not caring to look at him as she curled her feet under her, reaching for her ear piece.
The pictures were haunting, moments frozen in time. He hadn't seen them, truly seen them, in more than a hundred years. Never more than lurking in the shadows, watching from afar, demon spies and snitches as his eyes and ears.
"Angel get away from there," she finally said, setting her glass down, hazel eyes flickering over him. "We don't have time."
He ignored her, instead looking up, fingers reaching to touch the framed portrait on the wall, of Willow and her child, seated next to Buffy, and a smiling Cordelia.
Family. Happiness and memories of living he had forgotten. Years and he had learned to smile again, a century and he had learned to laugh again, but there had been peace in his heart, at this time he had almost forgotten what he was.
"You never forgot, did you?"
"What you were."
She was quiet. "Angel, get away from those portraits. We don't have time."
"Why don't we have time?" he turned, almost violently as he glared, his dead body almost feverish with emotion. "Shit, Cordelia. You had TIME with them – you have memories that I don't have-"
"Do you deserve them, Angel?" her voice was bitter, hard, as she narrowed her eyes at him, watching him from over her flask of wine. "Yes I have memories. Yes, I saw Willow's son grow and yes I saw my adopted daughter have children. Yes I got to spend ten years with my husband, before the Hellmouth got him too, but you know what else I got? Every day, looking at Buffy's grave. I got to see Willow get Alzheimer's and whither away and I was the one that got to find Oz with a silver bullet in his chest – just before I got to kill the hunter who was after his damn pelt." He swallowed, but she stood, her voice shaking only slightly as she continued. "I got to sit in a hospital for days before I finally decided to pull the plug on my husband who died of a coma, and I got to be introduced to MY grandchildren as the family friend Chase. MY GRANDCHILDREN, Angel."
She crossed her arms, looking away, trying to contain the very visible rage that consumed her. "What were you doing, Angel? Saving souls? You ran – so I got the memories, all of them. They're mine."
A low growl came from him. Selfish – damn selfish.
"What the hell about all the times before, Cordelia, huh? Leaving your birthday party? Willow's baby being born? Buffy-"
"Don't do it. Don't blame me for that," she snapped coming closer, hazel eyes flashing vividly. "I couldn't help it."
"Then what makes you think *I* COULD?!"
The chime through the flat startled them both, and Cordelia's jaw tightened as she moved, back, away from him, toward the door.
"Delivery for Ms. Winters?"
She flicked her hand, the door immediately vanished, and the polarizing changed so she could see outside. Sure enough, there was a deliveryboy, holding a parchment paper bag.
With a jerk she opened the door, grabbed it. "Thanks – charge the regular account."
Closed again, she moved away from the door, and thrust the bag into his hands. "Go to bed. We'll find Katherine when the sun comes down. Take the couch."
As she walked up the stairs, Angel looked down at the bag.
He didn't have to open it to know what it was. Blood. Fresh from the butcher. Not pig's, but richer. Cow.
Oh, God. Oh, God.
He ran, as fast as he could, bloodied hand slipping against the railings as he tried to clamor up, heart in his throat as his wound at his side tore open even more, and he paid no attention.
Flailing helplessly, tears stinging in his eyes, his black shoes slipped, and the steel poles banged into his chin as he fell back, gravel biting into his back, biting his tongue with the impact.
He tried again, but again he slipped and he couldn't get up, there was too much blood – too much blood – he was bathed in it and there was too much and he couldn't get up- Too slippery – but Buffy was up there and Buffy was fighting alone and-
A charge of white lightning, the air around him charged with magnetic disturbance and his throat was dry, making his next cry almost soundless as he watched the body fall. Like a feather, he watched, and his whole body jolted in a cry of complete and utter despair when it hit the ground.
One second of shock, two, and suddenly his limbs found life and he moved, over the rocks and gravel and fallen cement, stumbling and falling and getting up again.
He didn't hear the limo as it pulled up, didn't see the other person who ran, sword gleaming.
There was only Buffy, on the ground, body broken and crippled-
"Oh, God, no. NO. NO NO NO- "
He hitched in his breath, vision blurred with tears as everything inside him ached and screamed, and it couldn't be her. He couldn't touch her, for fear it would make it real and he only watched, with wide open eyes as the brunette stumbled to a stop, tossing the sword aside.
"Oh, God. Buffy! Oh, GOD, NO –"
A growl and a howl and suddenly he was screaming at the world, eyes toward the sky with fists clenched, before his knees gave out and he buckled, falling to the earth, ridges coming to his face as he howled, pushing away the boy and the redhead, and gathering his broken lover, thinking if he held her together, she might just work.
"Angel-" Her grip was strong as she tried to touch him. He growled, lunged at her with snapping fangs.
"Xander, let me-"
"Look at him-"
"I DON'T CARE."
He nuzzled his nose into her blonde hair, whimpering and crying, holding him to her like a wounded animal, and there was so much blood- She wasn't dead.
She wasn't dead.
She wasn't dead-
"SHE'S NOT DEAD!" he growled, holding her closer, scooting into the corner, keeping her still. "GO away!"
The brunette had tears streaming from her eyes as she took in an unsteady breath. "Let her go, Angel. She's gone."
"She's NOT- FUCK YOU, CORDELIA."
"Where the hell were you!"
She flinched, but he only saw Buffy, and he continued to hold her, and nuzzle her and whimper until the soft hand fell to the ground and he saw it. Lifeless fingers. Dead fingers. Oh, God.
He dropped the body, moving away in horror, arms raising above his head as he looked down in disbelief. That wasn't Buffy. Buffy wasn't dead. She only looked like Buffy – Buffy was still up there…
He moved to the railing, and strong hands tried to keep him from going up and he growled, punching at them, felt the flesh as he hit it, hard.
"She's up there!"
"LET ME GO!"
"She's DEAD, Angel-"
And he snapped, falling away from the railing to grab onto the brunette, swinging her into the railing, growling and seething, holding her with claws that drew blood.
"Angel, I'm sorry," Her body was shaken, her lips were cut and bruised from his strikes, but her eyes were wounded and dead. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry-"
And he froze, turning as Xander knelt over Buffy – over Buffy's dead body-
"Angel, I'm sorry…"
"No…" he whispered, and suddenly he was sobbing, collapsing against the Immortal as she held him tight, sobbing with him, clinging to him, and she was here now-
"Where the hell were you when she needed you?" he growled suddenly, and she froze, and he swallowed, and pulled away and stumbled back, yellow eyes glaring into the dark hazel, before he turned, hiding in the depths of the night –
The beast – the animal – had just lost his heart and his soul.
The hands at his arms spurred him into immediate action, even as he woke, growling as he pushed, grabbed, and opened his eyes to find himself pinning Cordelia onto the couch.
She cocked an eyebrow, and when he looked at her uncertainly, she moved, hooking a knee between them, twisting, and tossing him off the sofa.
"Note to self: Never interrupt a vampire when he's having nightmares. Geez."
He lay on his back, dazed, and blinking away the vestiges of sleep. She took in a very audible breath, leaning over, studying him, and pressing a mug of warm red liquid into his hand.
"What the hell was that?"
He swallowed, sitting up, rubbing at his head as she kneeled next to him. "Sorry."
"Something like that."
She studied him, nodded. "Yeah, I couldn't sleep either. Being near you … brings up old…"
"Yeah. Some not altogether pleasant."
His hands were shaking as he took a quick gulp, rubbing hands through his mussed hair as he tried to shake away the images.
She turned, curling up into the corner of the sofa, holding a cup of steaming liquid of her own. Silence followed, as he pushed himself to his feet, falling into the other side of the couch, gulping down the rest of the blood. She was quiet, and he took a deep breath, for the calming factor, rubbing absently against his bare chest, shuddering slightly.
Finally he looked up, thick tongued, rasping, "Do you dream about them?"
"Every night, since she died. Every time, I lost one of them, the dreams got worse."
He nodded, taking in another noisy breath. Angel's hands clenched around the mug, watching the fireplace that glowed in front of him. She remained quiet, hazel eyes pinned on him as she watched as he continued to gasp.
"Talk. You look like you're about to burst."
"I blamed you." Her expression became slightly guarded when he focused the intense dark eyes on her, and she only nodded.
"I didn't mean it."
"Yes you did."
"Yes I did," he admitted.
"But I blamed you too, for leaving." He looked down at his hands, and nodded.
"What was it like?"
"What?" she asked softly.
She was a little taken aback by the question, but when he looked at her, she shrugged slightly. "Mostly? A little tiring, but… nice… considering. I remember when Ruppy went to prom – he was too nervous to ask a girl, so he asked me. Said I looked the right age. I got hit on by so many little perverts I almost brought my sword out from the limo."
He grinned, couldn't help himself. "Really?"
"Oh, yeah! Here… I have pictures-" she stood, moved over to the table and picked up an album, coming back to settle in beside him. "Here."
Sure enough, there was Cordelia, with Willow and Oz's son, smiling dutifully into the camera.
"Are you wearing pink?"
She smacked him lightly. "He picked the dress okay! And I'll have you know it was a Prada!"
He smiled in spite of himself, turning over the picture. "Is that his graduation?"
"Oh, yeah! I took him to Italy with Willow. Oh, God! We were in Venice, and…"
She continued to chatter, and Angel listened, turning to watch as the hazel-eyed brunette animatedly told the story that involved Ruppy, Willow, and falling into the rivers.
"What about me?"
"The Los Angeles scene?"
"Eh… it was okay."
He shrugged, felt a smile tug on the corner of his lips. "Well there was this one time… I was helping out this friend of mine, Kate-"
"You… friends? Are you kidding?"
"No- anyway- HEY!"
"Come on, on with the story."
He nodded as she smiled, leaning back. "Well… she had to take a sensitivity class, and it was… well there was spells…"
"And… I got struck with a sensitivity stick…"
"You got the whammy put on you?"
"Uh… yeah. I stunk of… whammy."
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Five
Mr. Jacobs carried the coffee carefully, thankful that there was at least one perk in a sacred order that required an oath, next to zero digital compensation and the most horrendous apartment this side of London. Free, wonderfully free and rather expensive, coffee, a luxury only given to those who could afford it, he found himself addicted helplessly, and he carried the two steaming cups as if they were gold, up the steps, the sun setting behind him.
Taking a breath, he paused, looking around as he regarded his position, both in life, and at this moment. One hundred yards away from the flat that housed his very own Immortal, a young woman who was at this moment in there with a vampire – at the cusp of what many had come to regard the possible end of days. And yet, as the sun sank and darkness began to permeate the small streets of London, he felt the soft wind – gentle at least for once – rake through his hair, and the young Watcher smiled.
He had often heard of how the Watchers Council broke – one to guard the Slayer, the other placing more importance in Immortals – but he never had seen the two sides of a very sick world work together in quite this way. It was fascinating, and oddly, it provided him with something akin to hope.
Taking a breath, he moved up the hill, into the shadowy corner where the lens was seated, along with his good Mr. Bellows, who was helping him in shifts. Apparently this was a tumultuous time, and Watchers were required for more than eight hour shifts. Coffee was the only perk.
He sensed something was wrong when he wasn't immediately berated for dawdling. Steps faltered as he looked into the darkness, hand clutching his coffee. A movement made him jump, and he cursed as the hot liquid spilled onto his palms, scalding him.
The low laughter that came out of the darkness was chilling.
His heart, previously beating comfortably, now pounded against his chest. He took in a ragged breath, and managed a timid, "Mr. Bellows?"
The body fell out of the darkness, the corpse previously known as Mr. Bellows splayed before him, hands curled in firsts, mouth agape, and the ever dignified watcher's glasses were broken. The head fell at his feet, and Mr. Jacobs hitched in his breath, a small whimper emerging as the fear flooded through him. The man who stepped out of the darkness wiped at his mouth, regarding the young Watcher, and then looking up into the flat.
"Bloody good being back," he growled, the yellow eyes twinkling as the demonic face smiled.
And ignoring the Watcher completely, he turned, the leather coat flapping behind him, the blonde hair visible even as the rest of the vampire faded into the night.
The small jolt that went through him made his eyes open, and Angel, slightly disoriented, at first wasn't quite sure what it was.
It mingled in his dreams, and when he stirred, the murmur of protest startled him, as the very discernable body splayed across his kept him from moving.
Curious, his hands moved, discovered silken strands moving through his fingers. Fingertips grazed his bare chest, and Angel smiled, as Cordelia, who was a welcome weight pressed against his hip, shifted again, nestling closer into his body, burying the side of her face into his ribs.
Her palms were wrapped tightly against him, and slightly confused, Angel blinked, looking around the couch, and wondering when exactly they had fallen asleep, and how she had ended up sprawled across him. There was something there, in that talk that happened this morning, something that had been established that had previously been missing, and Cordelia, sleeping soundly with him, had given him proof.
They had trust.
The jolt that had awoken him came insistently again, and he sighed, reaching out to pluck his data pad out of the trench coat and leaning back, careful not to disturb the Immortal sleeping half beside him, half on top of him. With a flick of his ear, he answered.
Immediately the fuzzy image of a scruffy young man with glasses that fit badly came onto the screen. "What the hell took you so long, you big bimbo?"
Angel let out a heavy sigh. "Travis, the next time you call me that I will rip your head off your body. And I can do that. Really. Just rip your head, right off your body. "
"Geez, how's that for love? Haven't seen me in a couple days and it's not, `howzit goin', Travis? Have a vision, Travis? Take something for the pain, Travis'?"
"Yeah, yeah. You're lucky I'm not affectionate. You gotta come back. Had a vision, some pretty heavy shit."
Angel's eyes flickered down to the head of streaked blonde and brown. "I'm not done here, yet."
"It's kinda a timetable-"
"It doesn't matter." He spoke softly, quietly. "She's not saved yet."
There was a pause, as he answered finally, "Katherine."
"What about that other chick – hot girl you knew?"
His hand, disturbingly of it's own accord, stroked Cordelia's shoulder thoughtfully. "She's… it's better."
The door chimed, and Cordelia stirred above him, as he jerked his head toward the door.
"Ms. Winters! Ms. Winters! Please!"
"I'll call you back," Angel said, abruptly cutting off the connection as Cordelia slowly became alert, moving off of him and staring at the door.
"Ms. Winters!" The chiming stopped and the door began to pound. "Please, Ms. Winters!"
"Is that Terence?"
He followed her as she strode to the door, pulling it open to find her distraught watcher on her front porch.
"Uh… are you okay?"
The young man was sweating profusely, his tie loosened and his hair mussed, and his hands, were stained red with blood.
"What happened?" Angel asked immediately.
"Mr. Bellows…" he gasped, and cringed, and jerked his head to the street. "I believe Mr. Bellows… is dead."
"What?" Angel grabbed his shirt and his coat, pulling on one on top of the other hastily as Cordelia slipped on her shoes, forgetting to put anything over her flannel pajamas and her tanktop as she yanked her sword from the mantle and followed Terence out of the door.
The street was deserted, not exactly surprising. Angel gathered that people in Cordelia's priveliged neighbored kept to themselves, asked no questions and never looked outside. A lot of the world was like that now.
Cordelia, faster in her sneakers, reached the area first, and the scent of spilled blood hit him as he stumbled to a stop after her, kneeling down as Mr. Jacobs sank to the floor Mr. Bellow's blank eyes stared up at him.
Angel swallowed, smelling the blood, feeling the lust inside him for the spoils of the kill. The vampire who had done this had been particularly brutal, the holes weren't neat and trim but messy, torn.
"Oh, God. He just died," Cordelia breathed.
"Which way did he go?" Angel said, getting up.
Terence pointed, and he began to move, until Cordelia caught him by the wrist.
"You're not going anywhere."
"Cordy, he's getting away!" he growled, jerking her hand away, not having the patience to listen.
"You're not wearing pants!"
Angel blinked, and looked down.
Sure enough, two long, pale legs stuck out from under his trenchcoat.
"Oh." He took in a breath, and the scent stayed, blood and fear.
"Come on. I can follow the scent but it has to stay fresh." Terence nodded, gulping, eyes widened and panicked.
Only Cordelia stayed, and her hand gently leaned forward, closing Mr. Bellow's eyes.
Her eyes were misted with tears as she rose, and strode quickly, following the Watcher and the Vampire back to her flat, leaving the dead body behind.
Sunnydale, California 2006
"I tell you something, C.C., this place gives me the damned creeps."
Cordelia rolled her eyes, ignoring the comment as she turned eying the graveyard.
Faith, rugged and just a bit tired, kept her grip on her stake, looking over the gravestones with her, the convicted ex-con now dressed in leather, the black tanktop her only protection against the cold.
"Where the hell are they tonight? You'd think with all the coming issues that they might be running around celebrating."
"1999 was a long time ago, Faith," Cordelia said, keeping her grip on her sword steady.
Faith jcocked an eyebrow, watching as the Immortal unconsciously tipped the sword side to side, moving it in a graceful arc.
"So, when does the Chosen One get one of those babies?"
"When the Chosen One gets off probation," Cordelia shot back, taking in an unsteady breath as she cocked her head. "You check that end, I'll check this."
"I don't think it's a good idea to split up." Hazel eyes met dark brown, and the Slayer shrugged. "Just sayin'. I don't want any shit to happen to you and have that little gang you call family blame me."
Cordelia took in a breath. She had a point, Xander and Giles and company hadn't exactly been receptive to the idea of Borne Again Slayer Girl being brought back into their midst. She and Xander had argued about it for days, and finally Cordelia's logic had won- this town needed a slayer. The current one was simply too green. But it had required a trip to Los Angeles, and very careful planning to avoid being seen by any compatriot of Angel's shady group of do-gooders.
As far as he was concerned they were no longer an issue, and Cordelia could think of better ways to spend her time than to spend them with Angel. Sitting down across from Faith, the Slayer had looked different, and after five occasions of talking through plexi-glass, Cordelia had made the decision.
Two months later, Faith stood with her in the graveyard, stake in her hand, a rough cut of a Slayer who was still willing to battle the forces of Darkness. But it still haunted Cordelia. Faith cited Angel as her own personal epiphany – the reason she no longer sought blood – the reason she was attempting to atone.
Only Cordelia knew, and Faith had made sure to tell no one else. No one else would have believed her.
"Let's go that way," she said finally, and Faith agreed, taking the lead as the pair walked past the mounds of dirt, more fresh than she had seen the week before.
"I have to go take care of some business," Cordelia said finally, carefully palming her brown strands behind her ear as she walked. "I'm leaving tomorrow."
"You're leaving me alone." Faith faltered, stopped and suddenly shook her head. "Uh-uh, Queen C. If Xander could that little hubby of yours will stake me."
"He won't stake you."
"You kidding? He makes me step out in the sunlight every day just to make sure I'm still human!"
"Rachel likes you a little too much for him to do anything to you." Faith gave the tired Immortal a smirk.
"Great plan of yours, C. Get in with the daughter."
It was more than a plan, it was a gesture. Cordelia had killed before, she knew the pain, she knew the agony, and she knew that what Faith needed was trust.
Maybe Xander was right – if Cordelia had seen what Faith had done to Buffy, had seen how she had almost killed Angel, then maybe she would have understood the hate and the hurt – maybe then she would feel she was tainting Buffy's memory by including Faith.
But there was need, and there was trust, and at that moment, with the coming war and the coming darkness, Cordelia had been stretched too thin – she needed to trust someone other than herself, and the only available person had been the renegade Slayer.
Entrusting her adopted daughter to the Borne Again Slayer meant a lot to Faith. She cared for Rachel, with the beautiful almond eyes and jet black hair, like she was her own.
It showed the trust.
"Yeah, well, you know me." Faith nodded shortly, and they continued walking in silence.
"So when are you going to ask me?"
"Ask you what?"
"Where the hell I was last week?"
"Fine. Where the hell were you?"
"In LA. With Angel."
Cordelia paused, drew in a breath, and shuddered. "So didn't need to hear that."
"He asked about you guys."
"Don't." The curt words cut Faith off, and she looked surprised, steps faltering.
"I'm not your keeper, Faith."
"Uh… According to the judge you kinda are, Chase."
A growl from behind made Cordelia whirl, and Faith smiled behind her.
"Hey there, big boy." In two seconds the Slayer had flipped over her and driven the stake into the vampire's chest, watching with a grin of self satisfaction and maybe a little blood lust as the being exploded into dust.
"Damn, that does it for me."
Cordelia watched, blinked and shrugged. "You disturb me, Faith."
"I disturb myself, Queen C."
They continued to walk, and finally Cordelia began, in a quiet voice, "I know how Angel is doing, okay? I get… reports every couple weeks, checking up on him. But I'd rather keep it impersonal."
"You stalk the guy?"
"Oh." They continued in silence. "So that's how you knew where I was?"
"Damn, Chase you've got some eyes."
"Then you know he stalks you too, right?" Cordelia whirled, her eyes widened as Faith gave her a look, and a smile.
"So that skipped your little radar, huh?"
"Watches. In the shadows. You mostly. Keeps an eye on the rest of the gang but says-"
"I don't want to hear anymore."
"No, Faith," she finally snapped, turning. "You can be friends with Angel if you want – hey if he's responsible for all that do-gooding and soul saving and saved your ass in the process, GREAT! But we all have very deep Angel issues and kinda don't wanna hear about it."
Faith snapped her gum, crossing her arms as she kept her dark orbs connected with Cordelia's.
"That all, Queen C?"
"At your service." Cordelia just shook her head, and turned, resting the sword on her shoulder.
"He doesn't blame you, Cor. If that's what you think."
She closed her eyes, took in a breath, and just blew it out. "Come on, Faith. Let's do another sweep and head home."
"The scent ends here."
"You lost the scent?"
"I didn't lose it, it's just… convoluted… there's so much…"
Angel trailed off as they stood over the hill, looking into one of the poorer districts of London. The wild partying, mingled with chaos and other sinful embellishment was… reminiscent somehow.
The darkness of the night was dour, streets layered with a sheen of mist that made it almost impossible to get a clear picture.
Cordelia came up beside him, dressed in all black this time, giving him a sharp gaze. "What?"
"Deja-vu," he whispered. Haunted eyes brimmed with memories of chaos, of torture, of blood, bathing the streets with it.
The scourge of Europe once roamed these streets, and drank in every minute.
"It's pretty crazy down there," Cordelia said, crossing her arms as she looked down into the ghetto. "After the war these camps were never rebuilt."
"I could understand that. Happened in Los Angeles, too."
"Wonderful for the vamp looking for the easy meal."
They fell silent, both watching in introspection.
"You sure that the guy you saw, had blonde hair and a leather duster?" he spoke, tossing his words behind them, where the Watcher stood.
Cordelia's eyes flickered to his, mouth opening slightly. "You're not thinking what I think you're thinking, are you?"
He gave her a somber glance. "I'm not sure."
"But he was chipped!"
"A long time ago."
Cordelia sucked in her breath, appeared lost in thought before finally turning to Terence.
"Go home, lock yourself up. We'll take it from here."
"I would like to help-"
"You won't help, you'll only get dead." Terence shuffled, his face one of nervous agitation, and Cordelia stepped forward, finally just squeezing his shoulders.
"Hey, Terence. I finally met the man behind the notebook, okay? I don't wanna lose my stalker just when I put the voice to it."
The young man smiled grimly. The connection between the Immortal and the Watcher was curious, Angel could only watch, feeling himself an outsider as Cordelia leaned forward, smoothed a palm over Terence's cheek, and then kissed his forehead.
The frown was noticeable, the stab of jealousy a little surprising. He coughed, and came forward, patting the young watcher's shoulder.
"We'll find the guy."
"Mr. Angel, it has been a pleasure."
He turned immediately, stepping toward the ghetto, stealing himself to walk in.
She came beside him, the trenchcoat flapping behind her. He turned, regarded her, and found himself frowning. Her eyes were a trifle suspicious, self consciously asking, "What?"
He only gave a grim smile, and turned back, a curious ache in his chest.
"Nothing," he said, his voice clipped.
Cordelia just shook her head, mumbled something about a `social retard' and walked with him down the stairs that were carved into the slope of the hill.
There was no time for the thoughts that had begun to infest his brain, no time to ponder what the passage of time had done for Cordelia, and what it had done in his heart.
The only traitorous thought he allowed was that Cordelia had become a very beautiful woman.
He had left her there, on the bed – after taking more of her blood, and Katherine knew, if she didn't get loose, something far worse would eventually happen.
Shaking slightly, tears now sliding down her face, Katherine lay back, still, her muscles aching Vampires. She had suspected their existence for a while, known that it was spoken of in their inner circles, of the other side of the coin, the Immortals who lived forever by taking the lives of others. Darker, deeper, and much more frightening than she had ever wanted to know.
She remembered Nick, sitting next to her, bare-chested, buried in Anne Rice books. She had opened her eye sleepily, told him to put that trash away, but he had been fascinated.
It should have triggered something, it should have told her something – a warning, a sign that something was dreadfully wrong.
God…. A century later and this was coming up now… Nick had sold his soul for love. FUCK.
Katherine was not a crier, some of her stubborn heritage had retained in her after all these years and she knew that crying was not in her. But she began to sob now, and with her arms and legs bound, she could do nothing to wipe the tears away.
Cordelia Chase had been in this chaos exactly once, fleeing from an Immortal who had traced her in an attempt to pick out the fledglings – because they were easier pickings.
She had quickly established that even if she was a mere one hundred years old, she was no one to be trifled with.
This place, during the aftermath, had been silent, despondent, and forgotten. No one cared what happened here, and it made it a perfect battle ground for Immortals - and a perfect place to breed sickness, filth and carnage.
She stepped over the sewage that lay in the street, moving with careful ease as she followed Angel through the dark streets, hand gentle on her hilt, resting inside her coat, eyes focusing on everything around her.
Angel's hand on the small of her back was oddly comforting, a reminder without words that, at least tentatively, they were friends again. And they were quickly running out of time.
"It's like a needle in a haystack in here," she said, breathing out, the yells, laughter, shots in the distant not particularly new or scary. "We're not going to find anything."
"He's here," he responded, eyes dark and hooded, looking like the Angel of before. She turned, and found herself wishing for the Angel that smiled. He had a good smile. But the vampire only furrowed his eyebrows even further, sniffing at the air. "Despair is here. Fear… Lust…. Anger and hate. It's… beautiful. For someone who likes that," he tacked on immediately when she cocked an eyebrow. "Evil breeds on chaos."
She managed a glare at her overly broody companion. "Yes, Angel. Relive your glory days why don't you? Geez. You even think about biting me you're so losing your head, bound soul or not."
He only shook his head, narrowing his eyes at one pub at the end of the corner. "There."
Cordelia squinted her eyes, taking in a breath and nodding. "You smell it?"
"I smell fear and blood."
"Okay, forget I asked." God, sometimes this guy was just NOT FUN. Taking a breath, she took a step toward the pub, only to have Angel's strong grip stop her, with a hand to her elbow.
"Angel, it helps if we move."
"Are you sure you can handle this?"
At the question, Cordelia gave him a surprised look. "Why wouldn't I be able to?"
"I just…" biting his lip, Angel looked disturbed. "It's not pretty in there."
"Right, and it's pretty out here?" she snapped, indicating toward the deteriorating houses and flats. "For your information Angel, I took my fifth head here: covered in grime, right after the war. One of my coats was completely ruined, and it was a really good coat! Do you know how hard it was to find a Dolcen original in those times?"
He gave her a blank look, and she rolled her eyes. "I can handle a few vampires. Besides, the most they can do is bite me."
"Some people say it hurts."
"Like a bitch," she responded, and walked ahead of him, purposely ignoring his look of bewilderment.
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Six
-- Sunnydale, California 2007
Faith's scent was unique, always discernable, and it brought a smile to Angel's face every time it wafted through the battered hotel. She smelled of spice and cinnamon, graveyards and fresh dirt, leaves and the mingled scent of her favorite cologne and a small tinge of blood and leather. Occasionally, she smelled just a little bit like Cordelia – which was disconcerting and a bit nostalgic at the same time.
Jogging down the stairs, he found the Slayer making herself at home in the circular sofa, sitting back and meeting his eyes.
"Hey. Good to see you."
"Good to be here."
Faith, his little redeemed Slayer project, showed up on his couch whenever the mood struck her since her release from prison, and it had given his current coworker, the recently fired and now fulltime private investigator, Kate, a heart attack every time she walked in and found Faith on the couch. It was no different now, as the blonde walked into the room and almost double stepped back.
Faith turned, and grinned. "Hey, Kate."
"What is she doing here?"
Oh, boy. Here we go. "Kate, Faith is welcome."
"Right, just like all murderers are."
"Uh, hello, Kate?" Faith flicked a thumb in Angel's direction. "Former mass murderer, right there. You don't give him half the flack you give me."
Angel could only smirk as Kate gave him a pointed glare. "Not a word." Angel shrugged, moving toward the coffee machine, grimacing at the taste of the first cup he poured.
"How old is this coffee?"
"What, you expect me to make it?" Kate asked. "At the station we had the rookies for that."
"Hey don't look at me," Faith said, shaking her head emphatically as she shifted on her seat. "I can't even make toast."
"Heard from the new Seer yet?" Kate's voice was clipped, as she put her bag down on the table and fired up the computer, pointedly ignoring the Slayer who moved over to watch her work.
"Not yet." The smile had fallen from Angel's face and Faith noticed, narrowing her eyes.
"You lost the other guy already?"
Kate and Angel's eyes met, and the frown that passed between them was enough for Faith not the press the issue. Instead the Slayer patted Kate on the back, who jolted at the contact, and turned to Angel. "So Cordelia knows you stalk her."
The coffee automatically spilled on his shirt. Cursing, Angel reached for a napkin, mopping at the mess, ignoring Kate's look of bewilderment.
"It kinda slipped out."
Faith's eyes didn't move from Angel's face as she automatically answered, "Chick who got me out."
"Oh… I thought that was Chase Winters."
"Same, tomato, tomato difference." At this Kate looked completely confused.
This was definitely not good. Angel knew that Cordelia and company weren't exactly receptive to even a passing reference of Angel. Xander hadn't trusted him since the moment he attacked Cordelia after Buffy's death – and they would never understand that the promise he had made Buffy had become a true calling – an obsession with keeping them safe the only way he knew how.
"They … know?"
"Nope. Only her. Don't worry about it, Angel. She'll be discreet."
"Why are you stalking Chase Winters?"
Faith flipped her dark hair back, looking into Kate's blue eyes. "Didn't you know? They go way back."
Once again, Kate looked supremely confused. "You do?"
"We don't," Angel said hastily. "We barely know each other."
"She stalks you, too, you know."
This time Kate was the one who spit out the coffee she had been in the middle of drinking. "What?!"
"Oh, yeah. Though for her it's a little more impersonal. Detectives and shit."
"Detectives… are stalking… us? Angel, what the hell did you do to her?"
"I didn't do anything!"
"Oh, please, Angel." Faith rolled her eyes, moving off the counter and back onto the couch. "She's just trying to make sure you're okay. Some promise to Buffy."
"She made a promise to… " Even now, Angel's chest constricted slightly at the mention of his dead wife's name, and he came forward, completely absorbed in the tattling Faith's story.
"Yes, she made a promise to Buffy. To look after you." The tone was different, somber, as Faith took an unsteady breath, all pretension gone out of her mouth as she gave her friend an even glance. "What the hell did you two do to each other, Ang? She can barely even tolerate your name and you go into hives every time I mention anything about her."
"Can someone tell me what's going on?" Kate demanded, running her hands through her hair, blue eyes brightened in anger.
Angel continued to stare into the renegade Slayer's dark orbs, feeling the tremor inside of him as she focused completely on him. The challenge was clear, and he closed his eyes, breaking the connection.
"I'm going to bed."
"You just got up."
"I don't care."
"Angel- okay, I was just lying, okay? Just messing with you, she doesn't stalk you, I swear-" He jogged up the steps, ignoring the conversation behind him.
"Thanks, Faith. Confuse the crap outta me and make him brood even more."
"Oh, bite me, Kate. All I was trying to do was bridge a gap, okay? Him and the Queen C got some buried issues that they gotta let go of, or it's gonna tear them up inside."
"What are you talking about?"
"Facing your issues, Kate. If not you explode. Trust me, chica. I know."
Eddie's was a deceptively simple, innocent name. The faded neon sign was missing one of the `d's, as it hung crookedly over the old fashioned tavern walls. Angel looked at it, the way it swung, the memories swirling through him-
It was all so familiar, places like these a dime a dozen in the 1800's, perfect for easy pickings, perfect for a vampire with creativity, and a penchant for blood. He felt the familiar itch in his mouth, the rise of anger inside of him mingled with lust for the chaos, and after a hundred years, it still bid to him. Closing his eyes, he let out a soft growl, quelling the urge. A hand on his elbow squeezed, and eyes opened to find Cordelia staring up at him, her eyes squinted at him.
"You realize you've gone all vamp face, right?"
Shit. Taking a breath, he shook himself, letting the demonic face recede. "Sorry."
"Geez. Remind me to get you the hell outta Europe, Angel. Too close for comfort."
How close to the truth she truly was. He waited as she pulled out black gloves, covering her delicate fingers before reaching for the knob, catching his eyes and nodded slightly as she turned, and the noise increased two fold, as they ventured into the smoke and darkness.
The floor was packed with bodies, cold mingling with warm, laughing and chaos. Placing a hand on Cordelia's shoulder, he made sure to stay right behind her, eyes narrowing as he walked through the crowd, letting her choose the path. People moved, gave way, let her walk, and it seemed to Angel that the chaos lowered to a dull roar, as more than one of the undead gave them more than a passing glance.
"Okay, I know I liked being popular in high school, but I'm so over that phase," Cordelia said in a low tone. Angel nodded, moving to her side and taking her hand, slightly surprised when she tangled their fingers and held on tight.
She was trembling. He let out an unneeded breath, and gave her a squeeze, thankful she had insisted on bringing along Katherine's sword, and even more grateful she had made him wear it. He pushed his way to the bar, and found a demon with three horns in very inappropriate places size them up.
"Better get that human outta here. They don't last too long." Cordelia raised an eyebrow, smirking slightly.
"She's with me."
"Humans don't belong to anyone but themselves," spoke up a voice behind them. Angel whirled, the low growl rising to his throat menacing enough, but Cordelia's quick intake of breath followed by a hand on his elbow stopped him from doing any real harm.
The vampire who had intruded eased onto the bar stool, eyeing the Immortal up and down. To her credit, Cordelia, even as the vampires and demons surrounded her and Angel, only looked mildly bored.
"Aren't you the free thinker?"
The vampire, with dark black hair and midnight eyes, grinned at toothy smile. "Let's just say I have a real taste for what women need."
"Listen, pal-" Angel was once again cut off with a well placed elbow into his kidney.
Cordelia ignored the growl he gave her as she patted his ridged forehead. "Calm down, Angel."
"Angel?" The vampire's grin grew even wider, and he began to laugh. "Pussy Angel? Hey guys! It's Angelus!" Chuckles and quite a few growls rumbled through the crowd.
"Oh that's it-" Angel stepped forward again, and yet again Cordelia elbowed him back into place, barely giving him a glance.
"I said, stay, Angel." He growled again, louder, glaring, the anger overweighing his tolerance for her little show.
"So, you know him?"
"Not personally, but I think I know him and his stupid little soul saving is gonna get him killed really soon." The vampire's eyebrow furrowed as he cocked his head, tongue sliding over his fangs as he sidled closer to Cordelia. "What are you, some kinda vampire whore?"
"Oh, that's it-"
"Apologize to her," he seethed, pushing away Cordelia's attempts to keep him contained.
"Fuck you, Pansy."
"Oh, shit, now you pissed him off," Cordelia muttered, her hazel eyes whirling onto the guy, all the while keeping her hands on Angel's broad chest, trying to hold off the steamed vampire. "Listen, buddy, what's your name?"
"Why the hell do you care, bitch?"
"Angel! Stop!" Cordelia grabbed her friend by the coat, swinging him back to behind her as he continued to glare at the vampire.
"I said, apologize to her!"
The vampire grinned, moving off the stool while his compatriots whooped and howled.
"Because, I'm going to let him loose in about two seconds and I think it would be a really good thing to know your name before he cuts your head right off your body."
"Just suck her dry, Nick!"
NICK. Angel paused, his eyes flickered down to Cordelia and she nodded shortly, mouthing a quick, `WAIT'.
Oh. He gave another growl, full of bluster for good measure, and he saw a quirk of a smile on Cordelia's face, before she straightened her expression, playing it out.
"Wait, you wouldn't be, THE Nick?"
Nick looked slightly taken aback, a smile of surprise on his vampire features flickering on as he cocked his head. "Sure."
"The Nick who got his ass kicked by a girl?"
He blinked in surprise. "What?"
Two seconds later he reeled back from a spinning heel kick, crashed over the bar and lay in a daze as Cordelia held a sword directly beside his neck. Angel smiled, crossing his arms as he grabbed a peanut from the cup on the bar and watched.
"Shit, the bitch is an Immortal?" Angel casually reached back and backhanded the demon who had spoken, breaking his nose, never taking his eyes off the scene.
"Hey, Nick. I'm Chase."
"What the hell is with the swearing? I mean, geez. Don't you have respect?" she huffed, leaning down and placing her knee painfully on top of his chest, bearing her weight down onto the bone. "So, what do you say we take this outside, loverboy?"
"HEY! No fighting in here!" The demon behind the bar vaulted over it, and immediately Angel grabbed him, swinging him into the bar.
"Can't you see the lady is talking, pal?"
"I'm not going anywhere, bitch," Nick wheezed, careful not to move as she moved the sword slightly, grazing his skin and drawing blood.
"Ooh… gee. You know, as much as I appreciate the compliment, I do NOT appreciate the derogatory way you use the word 'bitch'. But being as I'm such a nice person and all I'm going to be really understanding and let you live, if you tell me where Katherine is."
The vampire grew incredibly still. The dark eyes narrowed, flashed, and the demon face receded into the human. With a growl he thrust his hips up, knocking Cordelia backwards, into Angel, and vaulting up, pushing past the demons and out of the door.
"MOVE!" Angel thrust through the demons, clearing the path and knocking into another as Cordelia stumbled outside.
"Where is he?" he said, whipping around. The courtyard had four different exits, and the entire place looked completely deserted.
"Oh, he's a fast little vampire," Cordelia said, grimacing as she massaged at her wrists. Her sword had disappeared, once again hidden in the folds of the trenchcoat.
"We lost him," Angel breathed, taking the wrist and looking at it. "What happened?"
"Eh, he wrenched it a bit with that little move. That guy is flexible! No wonder Katherine married him. Wow." He raised an eyebrow, and she blushed. "Well I'm not saying *I* would, but- you know for a vampire… " she trailed off when he only gave her another look, and she finally just sucked in her breath and changed the subject. "So – the vampire got away, huh?"
"And no sign of Spike," Angel breathed, choosing to let her little comment go.
"Well, we can worry about that later, right now, we have to follow our good friend Nick."
"But he got away."
She rolled her eyes. "You really think I would let a vampire get away from me? Please. I've only been staking them for HOW many years?" With that she took out her data pad, speaking clearly. "Initiate trace sequence." He gave her a blank look, and she gave him a bright smile. "Sounds all cool and star treky, huh?"
He moved behind her, ignoring the smell of her perfumed hair as he peered into the small screen. "You put a tracer on him?"
He couldn't help but smile, clasping her shoulder in regard. "You're something else, Cordelia."
"I know. I rock."
"Hey pansy! You got your girl fighting your fights for you now?" Cordelia gave a groan, and Angel turned to see the some of the demons in the bar trickling out.
He turned to Cordelia who was watching him with barely contained impatience. "This will just take a minute."
Without another word, Angel turned, walking back to the group, and without preamble smashed a fist into the snickering demon's face. One launched into his shoulder, and he reached up, grabbing the figure and hauling him over it, banging him on the ground head first, and then reaching back and digging a heel into the last one's groin. Making sure to dust off the leather jacket, he smiled at the pile before him and then turned to find the Immortal checking her watch.
"Fifteen seconds to spare. I'm impressed."
Their eyes locked, and upon closer look, it turned out Cordelia had a fleck of gold in those hazel irises. He must have been focusing a little too intensely, because she suddenly coughed, and their gaze broke, and he found himself focusing on the very interesting graffiti next to her as she turned, walking back into the darkness.
"Come on, let's follow Nick."
Her body was warm when he caught up with her, and if Angel noticed the flush of red on her cheeks, he said nothing.
When he burst into the hallway, stumbling to a stop, the vampire was only mildly annoyed. The way the other one was gasping, just made him roll his eyes.
Flapping the old newspaper open, he said in a bored monotone, "Bloody Idiot. You're a hundred years old. When the hell are you going to learn you don't have to breathe so bloody loud?"
Nick looked confused, and his eyes refocused on him and he ignored the observation, instead coming forward. "Spike, I ran into Angelus."
"I know. Who do you think bloody lead them there?" Spike said, putting the paper down to look at the vampire with barely disguised contempt. "You have the IQ of a mop." He wasn't exactly lying. Nick, smart, agile and incredibly smart, wasn't stupid – but compared to many other vampires he had encountered, Spike had to give him credit for not being the sharpest tool in the shed.
"Like I'm really going to explain myself to you," he muttered, returning to his newspaper. "I'm bloody tired of spelling things out for you. Speaking of which, I hear you've been snacking on our little Immortal."
Spike grinned. "Your Immortal. That's funny, Nicholas. Very funny." He turned cold eyes onto the other vampire, but the foolish American vamp only glared right back, standing straight with his fists clenched. Spike's grin faded, and his gaze turned cold as he finally forced himself to put down the paper and stand, meeting the vampire face-to-face. "I'm going to explain things to you one more time, Nick. And the next time I'm taking that bloody stake and sticking it in your arse. It won't kill you but it'll give Love's Bitch a whole new meaning."
Nick crossed his arms defiantly, a low growl coming from his body. Spike pursed his lips, turning, and then coming back and swinging a crushing right hand across Nick's face. The younger vampire's entire body jerked, losing his footing and crashing into the wall, not having a chance to recover before Spike brought a booted foot up, directly into his ribs. This brought Nicholas to his knees and Spike stood over him, looking down in contempt.
"I knew I gave you too much trust," he sneered. "You break her mind, and we've already lost the stupid GAME," he enunciated clearly. "I'll take over with her. Stop seeing her, stop playing with her head, and stop making her into a frivolous mess. We need the bitch alive, sane and at full strength, so get over your bloody obsession with your ex- wife and start concentrating on what's to come. It's getting closer."
The vampire took a cigarette from his pocket, considering the match, and then just using Nick's stubble to create the needed friction, ignoring the grunt of pain.
He took a drag, and let it out slowly. "It's going to be a bloody good show."
"This is a nice car."
"You said that."
It was nice. Angel ran his hands over the dashboard, admiring the curves and stability as she leaned back into the seat, peering into the abandoned mansion.
"Tell me something."
"What IS it with vampires and boring old dead mansions? I mean, cryptic much?"
"Well in our defense, we are vampires, Cordelia."
She sighed, brushing her bangs behind her ear as she continued to gaze at the house. "Just once I'd like to see a vampire with a cheery demeanor. It'd throw the slayers off for sure, tell you that." Angel raised an eyebrow, and she shrugged. "I mean come on, usually it's black leather and that's a dead give away. We go stake happy but I tell you, if I ever saw a vampire come along singing Barney show tunes, I'd do a double take."
"On behalf of my people, Cordelia, I would ask you to kill him on principle. "
A small smile flickered over her lips and he returned it, before they both fell silent.
"So what are we waiting for?"
"We're checking the place out," she said evenly.
"I know but we've been checking the place out for an hour. It's been dead."
"Give me a few more minutes," she said, her eyes moving to the data pad. "I'm just mapping Nick's movements. Gives us a little map to go by." Ah. That made sense. He sighed, drumming his fingertips on the panel. "You hungry?" she finally said, reaching into the back of the car as he nodded hesitantly, grabbing a bag and pulling out a sandwich for her, and a thermos for him.
A wave of insecurity came over the vampire, once again caught off guard with the casual way she handed him the blood. Swallowing, he stared at it.
"Oh, don't be embarrassed, Angel. We're practically family." For some reason, the words brought a smile to his lips, as he caught her sparkling hazel eyes, the grin she gave him electrifying and bringing warmth inside of him that had been missing for a while. Carefully, he pulled the thermos top off, and his mouth pulled into a frown.
"I think it's gone bad."
"What? Let me see?" Leaning over, she inspected the cup. "Oh, no! That's cinnamon! Thought it would give it a kick."
He blinked. "You put cinnamon in my blood?"
"Sure." When he gave her a look, she only shrugged. "Be glad I didn't go with my first impulse and put jalapenos in it."
"Right." Wrinkling his nose, he carefully lifted the cup to his mouth, gingerly taking a sip. It was… different. Not bad different just… different. Like … brunette was different than blonde. Not… bad different. Just… different. His breath hitched inward and he choked, spitting the blood out as he felt his heart heave.
What the hell?
"Fine," he said hastily, swallowing down the blood and grimacing. His eyes flickered down to the ring that was still on his third finger, and said nothing.
"Okay… I think we've got enough info." Cordelia, never noticing his agitation, pressed her shoulder into his showing him the pad. "You see? We should be okay on our own – doesn't look like there's that many in there not many have come out and if we take these two pathways we can meet up here – and find Katherine in the process. We can link our voice synthesizers on the same frequency-"
"That sounds like a lot of work."
"What do you suggest?" she asked impatiently. "Burst in and fight it out?"
"It's worked before."
He got a huff in response. "I'm just curious, how long did it take for you to learn how to use a cellphone?"
"I never used one."
The jolt that went through him startled him yet again, and he cursed, almost spilling the blood as his hand jolted to his ear. "What?!"
"Angel! You gotta come back NOW!"
"Travis, not a good time."
"Angel, NOT CARING."
"Angel?" He waved a quick hand at Cordelia, speaking quickly to his seer. "Can it wait for one hour? Look – talk to Lorne and get someone to handle it. I need to-"
"Angel- it's… fine. FINE. It's only a vision. I don't care. Why should you?"
Too late, the line was cut off.
He gave an exasperated sigh, leaning his head back against the seat. "I gotta go back to LA."
His eyes opened and connected with hers, and he took a breath, one he felt he needed – odd considering he knew for a fact he didn't. "Soon. Come on. Let's go in."
"Without the plan?"
"Look, I'll do the stupid frequency thing and I'll even take the little map."
She was waiting for something from him, disappointment mingled with her hazel eyes with something that he couldn't quite place. But the look softened her face, and his own eyes softened in response as he said nothing.
There wasn't anything he could say.
She took in a breath, and let it out slowly, giving him a small smile.
"Okay. Let's go."
Without another word, they opened the doors, and swords naked in their hands, they strode to the mansion, side by side.
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Seven
In the end, it was as simple as walking right in. Cordelia never trusted simplicity – she had learned the hard way one too many times to never underestimate an opponent, and if it was that simple, then it was usually because they had something much worse waiting inside. That said, Cordelia was more than wary when Angel knocked on the door, waited patiently until it opened, and then proceeded to smash his way through, with her having really nothing to do but walk right in.
The hallway was dark, and she never trusted darkness. Candlelight flickered, shadows moving through the darkness, and she stood, ready, body straight and tall, the shivers creeping up her spine.
"Okay, now vampires I'm all cool with, Angel, but if you sucked me into a haunted house I'm so going to kick your ass." All that earned her was a smirk, before the vampire moved in front of her, the trench coat swishing behind him as she followed, slowly, deeper into the house.
Taking in a breath, she took the data pad out with trembling fingers, unsure why she was so frightened, why NOW of all times she was having trouble gaining a clear head.
"Fine," she muttered, reaching behind her belt and strapping on the photon light she had kept for just this occasion. "Give me a sec." A button was pressed and the hallway was bathed in tinted hue. "Thank God." No ghosts, nothing evil or scary, just REALLY bad decorating choices. Carefully, she moved the beam over the walls, swallowing in attempt to moisten her dry mouth. "Okay, vampire hellhole. Angel, you should know your way around, where to?"
He frowned, stopped a few feet ahead of her, head up, almost like an animal sniffing the air. Closing his eyes, he waited, hands twitching as he looked down one hallway, and down another.
"Wait." She came forward, the pad in her hand. "The tracer says he's this way."
"It's not that way."
"How do you know?"
The look he gave her plainly said `duh'. Right, vamps know their own. How incredibly freaky was that?
"So, Angel do you get the same thing we do?"
"You know, like a sixth sense? I mean with us it's the tingly sensation but-"
"Cordelia." He squeezed her forearm, and she clamped her mouth shut, looking down at the data pad.
"Angel, he's moving."
She sucked in her breath, clenching her jaw as she looked back towards the other hallway. Cocking her head, she turned, ignoring Angel's call as she walked toward the hallway. And suddenly it overcame her, sweeping through her senses and making her almost nauseous.
Strong hands wrapped around her, and she was pulled back into a firm body, cold palms on her face, and intense brown eyes staring at her as Angel gazed at her worriedly.
"I'm okay. She's here. She's that way."
He swallowed, looking back where he came, and he finally bit his lip. "I have to go that way."
"I have to."
She narrowed her eyes, and then gently disengaged herself from him, stepping out of his arms, and squeezing his forearm as she took Katherine's sword from him, and placed the extra short saber she had brought along just in case.
"Here. I'll meet you."
He looked ready to argue, but she was already walking away from him, pushing open the door and descending the stairs to the basement, leaving him to stare at her with open apprehension.
Los Angeles, California, 2003
"He's late. Again. The first time *I'm* on time, and your hunka- broody-love is late."
Buffy stifled the smirk as she watched Cordelia pace back and forth in front of her on the sidewalk in front of Miyagi's, one of Hollywood's bright spots.
"Well, he's not the only one who's late. Your little hubby's MIA too."
"Yeah, but Xander… I kinda expected it." Buffy raised and eyebrow and Cordelia gave a half hearted shrug, "Ever since I threw out his old wardrobe and made him get a new one – THANKS for that, by the way."
Buffy gave her a thumbs up. "Always willing to help a friend in need. `Sides, spilling hot kerosene and accidentally blowing up your bathroom when it was full of vampires – kinda fun."
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Anyway. He's got this thing – spends literally, HOURS in front of the mirror. It's sad." The wind that was rising from the Hollywood Hills flickered through Cordelia's bangs, and she ran her hands through it, pulling the coat around her tighter as her face softened and she came forward, leaning against the car door. "We made these reservations and I'd just kinda like to be on time, is all."
"Cordelia, we couldn't even plan PROM."
A small, wistful smile came over the brunette and she shrugged. "I know. Don't you hate that? Nothing going as planned? Wouldn't you like, JUST ONCE, to … do something and have it… go … well?"
"You learn to let go."
"Dammit, you're always so… accepting."
"Are you kidding?" Buffy's blue eyes floated over the chic sushi bar and then craned her head, looking back to the bar across the busy Sunset Boulevard. "I just learned to stop wishing for things I couldn't have." Hazel eyes met blue, and there was a look, before the Slayer and the Immortal looked away, shifting feet.
"We're here! Sorry!" Willow Osborne almost tripped she was running so quickly, dragging Oz behind her as she gave them a harried smile. "The sitter was late."
"Ruppy was disagreeable," said the young husband behind her, nodding. "Ladies."
"Well, you know, it doesn't even matter, Wills, because our hubbies are incognito," Cordelia said, breathing out a sigh.
"Oh. Well, maybe they're doing something… together." Everyone gave Willow shocked glances, and her eyes widened at the implication. "No! I mean! Not that thing they do together – cause they don't – do that." She whirled on Oz. "We talked about stopping me when I do that."
"Still like when you do that."
Willow gave him a smile, squeezing his hands before turning to her friends, who were now locked in very disturbing imagery. "I mean… the planning. Might have been something… nice. For you."
"Oh. Highly doubtful. Angel's kinda the king of dumb planning."
"Oh yes, and Xander? Not much help in that department either. He earned a degree from the Angel University of Dumb Planning. He sat at the feet of the master and learned well how to plan dumbly."
"I think you don't give us enough credit."
Cordelia finally blew her breath out, turning on her husband, who stepped out of the limousine that pulled up right beside them. "TOOK you long enough."
"You think I wanted to get here on time, for Sushi? Please."
Buffy merely came forward, kissing her husband hello as he stepped out of the other side, coming around. "What took you guys so long?"
Angel glanced at Xander, and the younger man seemed to puff up with pride, sliding his arms around the brunette and drawing her closer. "Well… we figured – Los Angeles, Native town, do something native, and nice. So we're leaving this place."
"Not eating raw fish, Buffy. Even I have standards."
"Don't make me steal the sword and throw it in here, Cordy."
"Don't make me lop your head off with it! I have reservations, hey! Watch the hair!" Cordelia was fuming, and Xander only smiled, pressed a kiss against her angry mouth and then suddenly the air was filled with trumpets and strumming guitars.
Cordelia turned, as a group of Mariachi stepped out of the car behind them, strumming violins, low baritones in harmonizing music floating toward them.
"Que linda esta la manana, en que vengo a saludarte. Que vimos todos con gusto, y placer a felicitarte."
Cordelia's mouth fell open, entranced by the sight and the music. A kiss pressed to her cheek and she heard whispered, "Happy Birthday, Cordelia," as Xander held her close, smiling at the band, pressing a single rose into her hand.
"El dia que tu naciste, nacierion todas las flores-"
"Hey what do you know," he said after a minute. "Something actually went to plan."
Cordelia whirled, where Willow was smiling happily with Oz. "You KNEW?!"
"We had to figure out SOMEWAY to get you here without you and your many minions knowing about it," Buffy said, keeping hold of Angel's arm. And the beat changed, and suddenly a familiar beat came about with a distinctly latin take,
"Happy Birthday, to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dear Cordelia-"
When the phone rang, Cordelia grabbed it and threw it in the wine bucket.
His hands had curled into fists. Angel looked down, closed his eyes, and uncurled them, forcing his feet away from his friend and down, a low growl involuntarily emerging from his throat. He moved, knowing why there were no guards, why it had been so easy to walk in, knowing exactly why he had shivered with anger and why the scent had hit him so hard, so familiar.
All doubts as to who was behind it were completely thrown out of his head as he walked up the stairs he had once walked as Angelus. The wood, withered and old, creaked and groaned beneath his feet, announcing his arrival as he moved through the hallway, into the main chamber.
"Was bloody wondering when you'd get here."
Angel's nostrils flared as he stood, the hands back into fists as he regarded his old companion.
Cordelia preferred both hands on her sword when she was fighting, but she had always made sure her wrist was strong enough for handling the weight on its own, keeping the other free for any other surprises that might have come her way. As she moved, there was no sign of Nick, and the hitched in breath gave away her tension, the almost suffocating feeling that was crippling her breath and in a sense, her thought process.
Her eyes kept moving, glancing down at the makeshift map and then up at the maze of the basement she had entered in, and finally, when she had taken yet another wrong turn, she slipped the pad into her pocket, turned off her phone by flicking her ear, and began to let the sense take her.
She had only really helped another Immortal when she encountered Duncan, a fight against him that had ended rather quickly by some vampires who had chosen to take the easier of the two. For that she was eternally grateful. Having at least a thousand years on her, Duncan could have taken her head easily. It was nice, meeting someone like him, learning that other Immortals were also involved in helping, even if she was more involved with keeping herself alive than anything. But what drew her to him first, what had made the blades cross, had been the innate tension that ran through their kind: there could be only one.
It was disconcerting, and hard to shake – she wondered if some of them ever were able to overcome it. Her hazel eyes moved, pinning the closed door immediately, and she licked her lips, knowing what was on the other side of the door. God, an immortal who could never die being taken captive by a bunch of vampires. Buffet, anyone?
Her hand gripping the sword tighter, she reached for the knob, closing her hands around it, taking in a breath, and then turning.
"Oh, FUCK it. Just come in, take my damn head, why don't you! See if I CARE!"
Cordelia blinked, looking behind her to make sure she was the one being cursed at, and then turned to see the woman in the bed, bound and spread eagled, staring at her with anger.
"Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Cor- Chase. Chase Winters. I'm not here to lop your head off."
Katherine looked older than she did, early thirties maybe, with dark blue eyes and cascading brown hair. Her face was streaked with dried tears, but other wise, she appeared unharmed.
"Let's see. Immortal chick, clad in black, in a vampire hell hole, comes in carrying a sword, unharmed, and me unarmed. Gee? Why don't I believe you?"
"Oh, yeah – this is picnic. Can you chill with the attitude please, and maybe speak a little louder? I don't think all the vampires heard you." Coming forward, she heaved a sigh, as the woman struggled underneath her, when she raised her sword.
"FUCK! You know the rules!"
"Will you calm down! I'm just trying to cut the chains!"
"Have you tried the key?"
"The what?" Cordelia turned, and found the metal keys dangling from the door. "Oh. Cool." She ignored Katherine's huff of exasperation and quickly began unlocking the cuffs.
Immediately the other Immortal gave a sigh of relief, pulling her arm back and kneading the wrist. "Shit, that's uncomfortable."
"How the hell did you let yourself get kidnapped by a vampire, anyway?"
"Excuse me, who the hell are you?" Katherine said, narrowing her eyes at the younger Immortal. "It's not like this happens every day to me."
"Okay, well, let's go."
"I'm getting you out of here."
"I'm not leaving!"
"What?!" Cordelia whirled, turning back as the other Immortal began to inspect the room, rummaging.
"I have something to take care of."
"Yeah. Getting out of here. Look I would love to stay and chat, but I gotta meet a friend, so- MOVE it, sister."
"WHO are you?" Cordelia rolled her eyes, running her hands through her short hair as she looked down the hallway, cursing when she heard voices.
"We have to go, NOW." Reaching forward, she grabbed the Immortal by the arm, pulling her toward the door.
"I don't even know, if I can trust you." Cordelia paused, and without another word, reached into her coat and pulled out Katherine's sword, handing it toward her handle first.
Katherine's eyes met hers in surprise, and Cordelia only said frankly, "Okay? Let's go."
This time, the other Immortal followed her out.
The vampire had gotten better.
Angel was sweating as he slammed into the wall, feeling a painful ache shoot up his spine, ignoring it to roll and duck under Spike's swinging hand, tripping the blonde vampire in the process.
"You know, Spike, as much of a Hallmark moment this is-"
"I know, I'm getting all teary eyed here, myself." The vampire swung, and Angel blocked, only to have another fist crash into his ribs, making him grunt and swing back, cracking Spike in the temple, sending him faltering back. It was so easy to fall back into old habits.
"Wait- so are we at least going to have the talk where you tell what you want with me?"
Spike seemed to consider, and then shrugged, giving a devilish grin. "No." He launched forward, a roundhouse blocked by Angel who swung with a swinging sidekick, knocking Spike back, spilling a couple of candles in the process.
"Damn, this feels good!" Spike said, grinning ear to ear, cracking his neck and raising his arms wide. "Tell me you don't miss this!"
"I don't miss this."
"Liar." Angel stood, fangs glistening as he waited, watching as Spike moved, slumping back into his chair and throwing his leg over one of the armrests. "Want a drink?" He raised a goblet he plucked from the table. "It's fresh – Watcher blood." Angel gave a low growl, circling the area, yellow eyes trained on his former companion.
"Because we have a history, I'll give you a choice, Spike, I can either stake you now, or let my friend behead you." Spike merely took a drag from a cigarette, leaning his head back and taking a good look at the vampire with the soul.
"Everything's the same," he said breezily, "Even down to the poofy hair. Bloody hell, Angel it's been a hundred years, take off the damn ring!" The fists clenched again, and Angel came forward, pausing when Spike smirked. "Hear you got a little brunette we both knew with you. Pretty one, the cheerleader – never thought she'd amount to much but she's earning herself quite a name now-" He chuckled, a hearty sound. "Didn't even know she and that bitch Chase Winters were the same person until I ran into Darla."
At the mention of the vampire turned human turned vampire again, Angel began to picture several long sessions with holy water and Spike's chest as the canvas. In two broad strides he had Spike by the throat, toppling over the chair and landing on top of the smaller vampire, knee against his esophagus.
"As much fun as this is, Spike, you're going to tell what this is about, right now."
"Angel?" He turned, distracted as the brunette entered the room warily, and grunting when a pale fist hit him on the temple, sending him flying off. Cordelia visibly winced. "Sorry." Her eyes flickered over him to the now standing blonde in the leather duster. "Spike. Been a while."
"Cordelia. You look smashing! Have you been working out?"
"Yeah, actually! I have a gym-" she drifted off when Angel shot her a look.
"You two know each other?"
"Always did have a thing for brunettes."
"Isn't Dru enough for you?"
"I kinda killed Dru," Cordelia offered timidly.
Angel turned, eyes widened in shock. "WHAT?!"
Spike's smirk was gone, as he glared at the Immortal. "That's right. Staked the bloody hell outta her."
Cordelia looked almost defensive as Angel came forward. "Hey! Okay, at last check she was a vampire! She was evil! So you know, yeah, Mr. Pointy had a field day and besides, I'm sorry, but she is DAMN annoying with-"
Angel's eyes flickered from Cordelia to the dark haired women who came in brandishing a sword, wearing nothing but a silk night gown.
"Chick in your vision. Katherine, Angel. Angel, Katherine – and Spike – the Big Bad."
Spike gave a merry little wave. "Hello, cutie."
Katherine gripped her sword tighter, giving them all a scathing look. "Where the hell is my husband?"
"Ex-husband, baby. He's deader than a doornail."
"As in walking corpse?"
"We're getting out of here," Angel said, and Cordelia suddenly knew why, as about fifteen more vampires came into the room, stepping directly behind Spike.
"Angel! No fair – You get two and I'm left without one? Share the wealth!"
"Spike, I will deal with you later," Angel seethed, pushing Cordelia gently behind him as he backed toward the door.
"Angel, why are we running? Hello, three of us, armed! We could probably take them!" The other Immortal stalked past him and he lunged forward, grabbing her and pulling her back.
In reflex the sword flicked toward his neck, and was met equally fast by a blade that blocked it before it could reach its destination.
"Attacking my friend is a big no-no, lady!" Cordelia glared, now in front of him.
"I'm finding my husband."
"Your husband is a vampire!"
"GIRLS!" Angel grabbed both swords, yanking them out of their hands, and moving back.
"Oh, poofy! Don't run!"
Angel didn't listen, holding both swords, he broke into a sprint, making sure Cordelia and the other Immortal kept up, elbowing a vampire who tried to break through. The two swords proved useful for mowing a pathway, and Angel stumbled through the doorway, holding it open, motioning wildly.
"Let's GO, ladies!" Cordelia rushed past him, Katherine next and he bolted the door, moving with Cordelia to the car, pushing Katherine in. "Drive."
Cordelia swerved through the streets of London, confused and completely bewildered. "Okay, explain to me why we ran from Spike like a bunch of pansies."
"There was evil in that house," Angel said, eyes dark and thoughtful, gazing out of the window. "There was a reason he wanted us in there. Not just me, you. It was a trap. We weren't fighting on our turf."
The brunette sighed, finally pulling to a stop, turning to look at her friend. "So you're saying this thing isn't over."
He rubbed at his eyes, shaking his head after a minute. "I don't think so. I have to go back to Los Angeles, but I'll come back and-"
The car door slamming caught them both off guard, and Cordelia's head swiveled back.
"HEY!" Fumbling with the door, she stepped out, running after the Immortal. "Katherine!"
"Thank you for saving me, I have to kill my husband."
The sword flashed, and Cordelia froze completely when the dark eyes bore into her, the cold blade resting against her neck. And she had left her sword in the car. Smart, Chase. Really smart.
Katherine was quiet, deadly silent, and Cordelia didn't dare move.
"I repeat, thank you for saving me. Now leave me alone."
"Angel, shhh," she said immediately, never taking her eyes off of the Immortal. Shit. She should have known it wouldn't have been this easy. Taking in an unnecessary breath, she finally just nodded. The blade wavered, and then moved away, and Cordelia didn't move as the Immortal walked away, turning a corner and disappearing.
"Are you okay?" Angel kept her close, cupping her chin and taking a better look at her neck. "Did she hurt you?"
Cordelia swallowed, felt her heart shudder, her gaze pinned in the direction of the lost Immortal.
"Angel, she's hurting… she's hurting so much."
"You don't have to do this."
He knew that his voice had come out raspy, thick with emotion and for once, Angel didn't try to bury it. The hazel eyes of the Immortal captivated him, the sadness flickering behind them making his own heart shudder, as she gave him a tired, grim smile.
"I know why you had that vision. Of me. I'm the only one who could understand. Well… maybe you." Her eyes moved toward his left hand, and he bit his lip, fingers grazing the band of solid gold.
"Can you imagine – if one day, tomorrow, today, she just… came back? Just like that?" Angel swallowed, looking up as Cordelia reached into her shirt, pulling out a solid gold ringing hanging on a delicate chain. "Can you imagine – knowing the evil he had become?"
Her eyes met his.
Angelus – Flashes of Buffy's watered eyes, of the night of bliss that had let lose the vampire who killed, battered and broke so many beings-
A demon that still existed within his own flesh, kept at bay only by a soul that filtered into his existence.
"The plane will take you directly to the roof of your hotel. They know where it is."
"I can handle it."
"I don't want you to handle it." Angel reached forward, covering her palm gently with his colder one. "Cordelia, that wasn't the only reason you were in the vision."
"It's the only reason I can believe. You have to go to Los Angeles. I have to stay here anyway, so… I'll find Katherine."
Her tone was final, and in the end, there was nothing for Angel to do but nod as he finally stood, legs aching with unseen weight. "I'll keep in touch."
"I'd rather you wouldn't."
At first the words wouldn't register. He mulled them over again, and unsure, looked at her face, but it was blank, there were no emotions relevant in Chase Winter's face, but she licked her lips, and looked down at her coffee cup.
"I don't know, how I'm going to come out of this, Angel. But you sought me out, and you… made me remember. And for that… thank you. I needed to remember. Why… I'm living. But right now- with Katherine… I don't know how that's going to turn out… and until then… I'd rather you… just finish your business."
"I'll call you. I will," she said again when he only stared at her. "Stop it, Broody face."
He closed his mouth, and finally just nodded.
He didn't believe her, and she knew it.
But she only gave him a small smile, and he knew it was dismissal, and he turned, walking toward the jet she had chartered for him, walking away from his memories, away from the only facet of his past still living.
Cordelia had taken his burden, but it didn't make the dead weight of Angel's heart any lighter.
And when he turned, to give one last look at the former Cheerleader, she was already gone.
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Eight
There was a reason William the Bloody had survived years of Chaos, bloodshed and anger, more than his fair share of Slayers and had avoided being staked even when his own Drusilla, left on her own after leaving him for the Fungus Demon, had met the end of `Mr. Pointy' upon her return to Sunnydale.
He had always wondered what was different about him, what allowed him to view other opponents as not just… meals… but real, living breathing – there was a sick perversion in the fact he could understand his food as people – thinking, and worthy of his attention and concern. Since the return of Angelus, Spike had never underestimated the need for contact, the draw of loneliness – it struck even his kind, though to their credit, they were often so self- obsessed the chord to remain attached to someone or another quickly withered.
He had been one of the few who truly understood companionship, and it had made him wonder how Immortals could handle it – until he met the true beings who were ten times more alone than he ever was. Bloody Immortals with their stupid little games – all they ever asked for was being alone.
"We're almost done."
"Good," he answered, not taking his eyes off the pentagon, and the druids circling around them. "Now you know the rules."
"No eating the druids," grumbled one fledgling.
"That's right," he said, smacking him upside the head before moving around. "We wait until we get to our little destination, for that goodness."
A dark-haired vampire stepped into the room, and Spike's eyes narrowed, focused. "Nick! You missed the whole show!"
"None of your bloody concern." Spike crossed his arms, turning back, watching as the men in the robes continued their rhythmic chanting. "You bloody led them here too quickly. There wasn't enough time. She's no bloody use to us now."
The vampire froze for a half second, a low growl coming from him that would have done its job on anyone but the bleached blonde vampire, who only narrowed a scar laden eyebrow.
"Do we have a problem?"
"She's an Immortal-"
"One of many," Spike drawled, flapping his coat. "There are a few others we can choose from."
"It has to be Katherine."
"Oh, don't start playing the part of the worried hubby now, old man," Spike snapped, finally losing patience. "She's not your wife anymore and you're not her husband. Bloody hell, you're as bad as Angel. Ponce."
He turned, and the pentagon burst into the flames, nearly engulfing the druids with its ferocity.
Spike smiled, watched with brilliant excitement in his eyes as he stepped forward, into the middle of the circle, kneeling down, looking at the sacred artifact.
"Is it done?" he demanded.
"Yes. It is done."
He nodded, and grinned, a mischievous grin on Billy's face that rivaled that of a happy boy as he picked up the sword, admiring the curves. "Bloody good show." Slowly, he stood, holding the weapon with gloved hands, careful none of it touched his body. "Let's go."
A swell of irritation swept over him as he turned to regard the younger, obsessed vampire. "How she gets there isn't a worry. She'll be there. They all will."
Her hands moved without thought, the ritual mechanical. Black leather pants pulled on over the tightly muscled legs. A black shirt, followed by a black leather jacket that buttoned tightly over the ample bosom. Hair, wild and free, curls cascading over her shoulders. Gloves pulled on over tanned, calloused fingers, her blue eyes never strayed from the mirror as she stared passively into it. A sword, her old sword, given to her by Nick, was carefully placed in its scabbard, hidden in the leather, and then it was done.
Katherine was ready to kill her husband.
There was nothing inside of her as she moved, out of her apartment, into the mist of the deserted streets. Katherine had never been a huntress, but she had the capacity for it, knew in her mind and her body, had she been born with anything less than her conscious, she would have reveled in her Immortality. But the dying had worn off, the joy of living and never aging had worn off, and she was tired, damn tired, of looking at her face every day and never seeing one wrinkle, one change.
There would be only one, and Katherine reveled in the day when she would discover that it would not be her. There was nothing inside of her alive – because there was nothing inside worth living. She wasn't sure if it would make it easier- or harder to drive her sword through her husband's neck.
The startling blue eyes, the raven black hair, the smile that had been so infectious their many years of marriage, it all flashed through her head as she continued to walk, her eyes always misty, always moist, but never flooding over, because to do so would have meant that the emotion had taken over- So instead, she tore the memories of her husband from her mind, instead focusing on the disgusting slurping that filled her with nausea, the feeling of the cold, dead body on hers, such a contrast from what he used to be-
She wasn't killing her husband, because he was already dead.
Katherine stumbled with surprise and a little more than anger as the feeling overwhelmed her, the tingling sensation that she almost ignored, had it not been for the rage that had settled itself in the chasm where she largely suspected her heart used to be. Looking up, she turned, unbuckling the leather and sliding out the sword, looking up over the bridge.
"Fuck it, Chase. I'm not in the mood for this." The younger Immortal stood there, the wind whipping through the shorter hair, and without a word, she merely turned, walking slowly down the steps to meet her, her own sword, a short saber, gleaming.
"Neither am I," she responded.
Katherine clamped her jaw, her eyes flashing at the passive stare of the ignorant child.
"Fine," she bit. Without preamble, she swung, sparks flying as Chase met the blow, the force behind it providing a large clang.
"There can be only one," she whispered.
Sunnydale, California 1999
She could NOT believe she was about to do this.
Cordelia Chase took a shaky breath, hands drumming on the steering wheel of her Daddy's new car, staring at the old mansion which harbored the half crazy demon.
It had all sounded so easy when she had suggested it to Buffy. Buffy, Xander and even Willow told her she was insane. Yes, Angel's return had thrown them all for a loop, and yes he was rather traumatized and even Giles knew that Angel's return from hell was probably something he should TALK about. Buffy had tried to break though, but he had shut her out, gone even more broody than before, and that was making Slayer Girl broody, which was making Xander Buffy obsessed again, and Cordelia Chase was just NOT HAVING her boyfriend Buffy obsessed again. Lame Loser or not.
It had all come into one complex little social problem, and Cordelia was good with those. She was dating the school loser, and had managed to come out semi unscathed, right? She even kinda… loved the zeppo. And the only way to safeguard her affections for her boyfriend was to get Buffy's man back into … semi sane working order.
Okay, sure, he was a vampire who had just tried to kill everyone and you know, destroy the world. That was sans soul, right? Angel wasn't Angelus, right? Angel was good… and even… kinda helpless. In a fangy carebear kinda way. Nope – no Broody Slayer and Angsty Soul Laden Vampire were going to make Xander obsess about anyone but her.
Sure… Piss him off enough to realize that if he was mad enough to care – then maybe life was worth living. Hell, even now she tried to figure out if she was one frappe short of the loony bin.
"Okay, Cordelia, you can do this. It's just like talking Aura out of the powder blue ensemble. Motivational Speaker."
"Shut up," she murmured to her inner Xander, when she felt her boyfriend's words come back to haunt her. "Prom's in three months and I'm getting a damn good dress and you're passing chemistry so you can take me. And if pissing off Angel is the only way to do it, then damn well so be it."
With that, she grabbed her purse, gently watched her step as she slammed the convertible's door, walking with a straightforward, purpose filled – and still quite graceful, thank you very much- stride to the icky, desolate mansion where Broody Dead Guy had holed up. Like the Mary Kay lady who had been chased away from her door, she rapped with her knuckles, strong, purpose-filled knocks that were full of confidence and not at all shaky.
Because Cordelia wasn't shaky. Nope. Not at all. One second, two, and she got impatient, grabbing the big, dusty clapper and using that.
The door opened a tiny bit.
She smiled brightly. "Angel! Hi!" Pushing forward, she let herself in, ignoring the vampire's look of surprise as she walked into the middle of the hallway, looking around. "Wow. Nice place… for… a dead person."
"Cordelia, what are you doing here?"
He was wearing scruffy black pants, and a tank top, hair was unruly, and his mouth was pulled in a decided frown as he moved past her, padding in bare feet into the library. Geez. Hobo, much?
Pasting the ever bright `Cordelia killer watt smile' on she followed him in, hands coyly behind her back. "Just checking up. How ya doing?"
He only glared at her, sinking into a really dusty chair.
Broody silence. Oh-kay. She leaned over the coach. "What are you reading?"
Angel paused, closing the book, glaring at her. "Cordelia, I'm kinda busy."
"Oh yeah, I can see that. `Cause the life and times of Garfield is SO interesting. I never knew you were int-"
He slammed the book down, heaving a deep, inaudible sigh. "Cordelia, What do you want?"
"Geez. What I can't come see an old friend?"
"We're not friends."
"Well, hit a girl where it hurts." Shaking her head, she was prepared to sit on one of the chairs, thought better of it, and wrinkled her nose, preferring instead to stand. "Okay, you got me. I actually came for a reason."
"I'm alive with anticipation," he practically growled, looking into his book again.
"I'm just wondering. Are you doing to be broody losery guy like, full time now? Cause you know, we already have one of those around the school."
"Giles can get away with it! He's tall, and… have you heard him sing?"
"Just wondering, because this little thing you're doing? With the dirty tanktop, and the dirty pants and the REALLY bad taste in décor?" she turned, scrunching her nose, smirking when his eyes floated down to his ensemble self consciously. "Not exactly hitting high marks with the Buffster." His hand slammed down, slamming the book into the ground. The crash made her jump, and she swallowed, eyes wide in fear as he stood, a low growl coming from his throat.
"I said NO. I'm on a mission, damn you-"
He came forward, grabbing her elbow, dragging her toward the door. "Leave, Cordelia." She dug her feet into the shag carpet, her features set in grim determination.
"Growl and grunt as much as you want, caveman, I'm not leaving until you spank your inner moppet." The growl sent a chill through her, and when he turned to her, handsome features erupted into the game face, she felt her knees threaten to turn to jelly, and so she did the only thing that came to mind.
She slapped him. Soundly.
The sting of her palm was visible in red welts across the side of his face, and utterly terrified, Cordelia held her ground, giving him a `so there' look as she crossed her arms, fully ready to bolt before becoming angst guy's next meal.
But the vampire only looked stunned, and then, watching the trembling girl before him, he did something completely out of the blue. He began to laugh. It started as a snort, and suddenly the vampire face receded and the whole ridiculousness of the entire situation completely floored him, and the vampire laughed so hard he sank into the chair, tears eeking from his eyes.
Cordelia was frozen stiff. But he made no move to attack her, and instead her own heart jolted when he suddenly shifted from a snort to a sob, and the tears that began to stream out were real. Haunted sobs were wrenched from Angel's throat, as he covered his face, his shoulders shook with force that made her swallow.
Oh-kay. A handful of blubbering Soul Guy was not what she expected. Guys she could handle – but guys who CRIED? She hated that. But hanging with the Scoobies had done something, because the next thing she knew she was walking toward him, sitting down beside him, and carefully, hesitantly, placing one hand on his cold back.
The contact made him stiffen, but when the tear streaked eyes met hers, she offered a gentle smile and a shrug.
"We've all got demons, Angel," she said frankly. "Some of ours just… work a little harder than others."
He stared at her, a long hard stare into the hazel eyes, and Cordelia felt her heart jolt when the vampire smiled. A tiny smile, full of pain and regret and haunted agony – but it was there all the same.
"There, see? Not so bad! You oughta do that more often! And hello, can we fix the décor? Geez, you'd think you been around so long, you might have grabbed some taste, Mr. I've-Been-Alive-For-Two-Hundred- Years-And-Never-Developed-An-Investment-Portfolio."
A look of shock, uncertainty, but the smile widened, and Cordelia rested her cheek on the palm of her hand, resisting the urge to pat herself on the back. Mission accomplished. Buffy Summers, you are on your way to getting back one incredibly broody boyfriend.
And I'm on my way to the perfect prom.
The Hyperion was cold and lonely, as Angel walked in setting his bag on the floor and ignoring the look of anger in his Seer's eyes.
"Don't ask," he said gruffly, pulling off his coat.
His eyes were flashing, but his face was tired, as he sank into the chair opposite the young Travis, half glaring at him.
"Just tell me what's going on."
Travis, with the scruffy dirty blonde hair and wide, brown eyes, was more than used to his broody boss, and only shook his head, stating in a passive, monotone voice, "Vampires nest, about to conduct a ritualistic sacrifice, happening here." He tossed him a pad. "And the other visions – all swirly and stuff… a lot more vague. Lot of yelling, lot of cranking, lot of swords… some demon rising, and that Katherine girl again."
Angel closed his eyes, opening and closing his left fist. "Anything on that with Cordelia?"
"Good." He let out a deep, unneeded breath. "Let's get to work."
"Did you finish what you had to in Merry Ole' England?"
Travis stared, but didn't say a word, and when Angel looked up to wonder why, he found Travis' gaze was occupied by looking at his left hand.
The bare left hand. Angel was still as Travis' eyes moved up, and found the ring nestled into his chest, hanging on a delicate gold chain. It wasn't on his hand.
"Let's get to work," Angel said gruffly, launching out of the chair and heading upstairs.
He didn't care to explain himself, and if asked, he doubted he even could.
Katherine moved swiftly, and Cordelia parried as quickly as she could, ducking and rolling as she blocked Katherine's very offensive moves.
Memories seared through her heart like a double-edged sword, and she tried to push them away, to concentrate on the fight – but they kept plaguing her with every swing.
Angel's eyes, Buffy's smile, Xander's hold- Angel's eyes… Angel's vision.
"WAIT!" She shook herself, holding out her arm, eyes suddenly wide open. Katherine, in the middle of a charge, looked unsure, and she struck again. "I said, WAIT! GOD!" Cordelia gave a long breath, meeting the thrust, and swinging around, making Katherine lose her balance, and stumbled back. "What the hell are we doing?"
"Playing the Game."
"That's not why I'm here."
"There can be only one-"
"KATHERINE! GET A GRIP!" Cordelia reached forward, shaking the Immortal viciously. Katherine responded with a punch into Cordelia's face. "OWW. Bitch. Alright, that's it. This stupid Game? Not playing it." Cordelia huffed, and threw her sword across the courtyard, letting it clatter.
The other Immortal wavered, lost in confusion, shaking her head. "Pick it up!"
"NO! I'm not here for that. I want to help you!"
"Help me with what?"
"Deal with your issues. You've got some."
"I don't know what the fuck you're talking about."
Cordelia sighed, brushing her bangs from her face. "Look, I know what it's like, okay? I married a mortal… I lost him…"
Katherine's sword wavered, her blue eyes tearing up in confusion. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"I know all about Nick, okay? I've… seen photos. I've been there. I know. I married mine and he died and it was like everything inside of me just… died with him. And I don't know what I would do if he just walked back in all evil but… suicide and trying to get me to take your head isn't gonna do it. I want to help you, Kat, but you gotta let me… and not swing that thing at me every half second."
The sword was shaking visibly now, as Cordelia stood, her palms out, letting Katherine look at her, really look at her.
"What was his name?"
The word was raspy, and Cordelia swallowed. "Xander. Alexander Lavelle Harris. A completely loser with horrible taste in clothes and the best damn body in California. He was on the swim team," she explained when Katherine smirked slightly.
"What about the other guy?"
"What other guy?"
"Oh. He's a friend… he wants to help you. He… knows what it's like. He married a mortal too."
Katherine's gaze hardened. "He's a vampire."
"Yeah. But a good one. It's a soul thing."
"Are you and he-"
"Oh, no! I like my men less broody and more spendy."
The comment earned her a shaky smile, and Cordelia smiled back, gentle, calm.
"We're just friends. Who want to help. Okay?"
A long pause, a shaky nod, and the sword suddenly came down.
Thunder crashed and lightning lit up against the windows, but Mr. Jacobs never paid attention.
Terence never entertained visitors, he wasn't exactly the social type, and so it more than irritated him when rapid raps became pounding at his door.
Looking away from the consul, he took another gulp of coffee, straightening his tie and moving towards the door.
He froze at the familiar voice.
When she called his name again, his feet found the energy to move, and without thinking he went forward, unlocking the bolts and hurriedly turning the knob.
Ms. Winters immediately brushed past him. "What the hell is going on, Terence? Kat and I just almost lopped each other's heads off for no reason!"
Throwing off the trench hood, she looked completely drenched, and proceeded to shake out drops of water from her hair. Coming in a second after her was Ms. Katherine, who was also shaking out her much longer tresses, giving him a suspicious look.
"This the guy?"
"Yeap. My stalker. Terence, you know Katherine, right?"
Shifting his feet at the sudden intrusion of two Immortals heavily armed in his room, he could only offer a shaky nod.
"Glad to see you're all right, Ms. Katherine."
"Just plain old Katherine will be fine. Ms. Katherine makes me sound… old."
"So you're watcher guy, what the hell is going on, Terence?" Cordelia repeated, coming forward. "Katherine and I just went killer hungry out there and that's never happened to either of us."
"Uh… Ms. Chase, I wouldn't know-"
"But you would know if it's been happening elsewhere. The other watcher guys would have told you, right? Is this what I think it is?"
Mr. Jacobs hesitated, but the hazel eyes bore into him, and the dark blue joined, and it wasn't threatening at all. These Immortal ladies were scared. Taking a breath, he unclenched his fists, eyes on his Immortal. Ms. Winters, with her winsome beauty, sharp tongue and her kind heart…
The fact that he was only now beginning to know her when he had spent most of his adult life watching her seemed so unfair somehow. With one nod and two words, he made his decision.
The words spoke ominously, something akin to the Rapture or End of Days itself. Ms. Winters sucked in her breath, meeting Katherine's gaze with a small welt of fear. Both knew immediately what that meant. The Gathering, the beginning of the end game where the Immortals congregated and heads started to roll. And in the end – there could be only one.
"It's happening? NOW?!"
"Yes and no." He moved forward, sitting down at his table and typing rapidly. "The Council believes…and of course this is all confidential- "
She only rolled her eyes and slapped him roughly on his shoulder. "Yeah, okay, go on-"
"It shouldn't happen yet. And yet it is."
Cordelia crossed her arms, peering over him, lost in thought. "Okay. So if it's not supposed to happen… then something… or someone's rushing it?"
"We believe so."
"That explains us running at each other like cavemen," Katherine offered from the other side of the Watcher.
"It's more than that," Terence said, typing away furiously, looking up at the monitor flattened against his wall. "It's… congregated. One by one... the Gathering is being focused into one place. The Immortals are being drawn."
"I haven't felt anything."
"Well we've already established you two have managed to break from whatever… " Terence blinked, and suddenly his eyes widened, but Cordelia sat down next to him, her gaze and tone not allowing for any nonsense.
"So where is this one place?"
Sunnydale, CA 1999
He knew something was wrong when Buffy knocked. She never knocked, just flounced in with her bright smile and sexy clothes, and dropped in next to him, nudging him and acting like a typical seventeen year old girl. Things had been going well for his Buffy.
The smile had returned to her face, her eyes were brighter, and for once, Angel could say he loved her as much as he knew her. Talks, long talks and hand holding and friendship walks that were chaperoned by other members of her little gang because they didn't quite trust him yet, but were willing to try, for one simple reason. If Cordelia Chase had gotten him pissed enough and he still hadn't killed her, then maybe he had some self control after all.
But Buffy's knock was deliberate, almost timid, and Angel stared at the door, unsure, and for the first time in the three months that he had begun to seek her out, he felt truly scared at what she might say.
Her prom date… maybe her prom date had- No… she wouldn't allow- But she was so fragile. His strong little Buffy had an incredibly fragile heart.
Swallowing, he walked forward, carefully hefting the weight of the door and opening it to find her small form looking up at him with eyes misted over with tears.
"Oh, God, Angel."
Overcome with sobs, she was suddenly buried in his arms, holding him tightly, so tightly he felt his ribs creak in protest. But he only held her closer, confused, scared and bewildered, pressing kisses to her soft blonde hair and smoothing it down.
"Buffy." But she only held him closer, the strong little Slayer clinging to the vampire as if he was her only lifeline.
Bringing his arms around her, he brought her into his home, closing the door, standing just inside the hallway, feeling his white tank top become soaked with tears. His throat was choked, and it took him two raspy tries to ask again what was wrong. She shuddered, as he looked down at her, cupping her face gently in his broad palms.
"It's Cordy," she whispered, and her face convulsed and she began to sob again, clutching tighter.
Cordy? "What… what happened to Cordelia?"
A sniffle came from his love, a barely audible answer that made his entire being plummet with emotion.
There was nothing inside him, he only gathered her tighter, staring off into the distance as his mind was suddenly filled with memories of the brunette with the scathing tongue and elite fashion sense, with the bright smile and the barbed words. She had only been seventeen.
"How did she…"
"A car accident. On Prom Night. She Umm… just crashed, Angel. Just like that. It wasn't a demon or… a prophecy or… even a damn vampire – but Cordelia died in a DAMN CAR CRASH. We couldn't even find her body."
"Shhh." Angel eyes were wide open, as he gathered her closer, allowed her cry against his cold body, trying to support when suddenly everything went empty inside. The brunette who had pulled him from his aura of pain, who had literally smacked him out of it… was gone… just like that.
"And, God, Angel. Xander's just a mess. He just… he let her go by herself… that night and the roads were wet and stuff and someone spiked the punch… we found her car all mangled and there was blood everywhere-"
He closed his eyes, inhaled Buffy's scent and ignored the fierce trembling inside of him, the shriveling of emotion that told him that if someone as untouched by the supernatural as Cordelia Chase was truly dead…
What hope was there for him?
He couldn't sleep. His fingers felt naked and the coldness of steel against his chest was only a reminder of what he had done. Something ached in his chest as he propped himself up on the pillows, reaching for the chain and holding the tiny gold band on between his finger tips.
Small, round… perfect. A symbolic representation of an eternal, powerful love that would never end. Till death do us part.
The wedding vows rung through his head, and he never understood, always wondered why Buffy, late one night in his arms, had whispered that she wanted him to learn to live…
He understood now… because what they both waited for, what they both spent their entire lives dreading…was death. It dominated him, his thoughts, his hearts… Seer after seer died. Friend after friend. None had seared has heart, had shook him so completely than the moment Buffy had taken her last breath… And she had asked him to live. Even immersed in death, with the possibility of death, she had asked him to live.
The oracles, before they had met their demise, had left him with a parting gift, a sentence of advice that had never had so much meaning-
The Powers that Be were wise ones. When one door closed, another opened.
Hazel eyes that hadn't lost their luminosity haunted him now, along with the blue, and in his mind he replayed Buffy's words, over and over, said to him and apparently, to Cordelia.
Take care of each other… watch each other… Because neither quite knew how to be alone.
But his fingers still felt naked, and he frowned, once again remembering the beautiful face with the blond streaks, smiling, always bright smiles…
From the moment he had met her she had made him laugh… That was a rarity… even Buffy had agreed. The smiles were less and less, the eyes were deep and sad, and he realized then, Cordelia, had never moved beyond death herself.
Cordelia Chase, aka Chase Winters… was not living… Because she was living among the dead.
The door burst open, and Travis showed up in his doorway, looking pained and worried and scared.
"What?" Angel asked, immediately getting up, pulling on a shirt.
"Vision. Hollywood, Sunset and Vine. The Sunset Media Tower. Lots of vampires – and one woman."
He was out the door in two seconds.
Bursting past the guards, Angel continued to run, past, the elevators, past the closed bar, and into the parking structure. Faltering, he looked, up and around, until the crashing and cursing made him burst into a sprint, moving up, and around the corner. He almost stumbled into the pile of vampires, was just in time to see another beheaded and damn near close to being beheaded himself when the blade stopped an inch from his neck.
He paused, and an audible gasp came from his lips.
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Nine
"This is L.A. Maybe evil's just stuck in traffic." – Cordelia Chase.
In the barely there light of the parking structure, with the flickering fluorescents that seemed positively ancient, her face was barely discernable. But she responded to her name, her scent, although cleaner, less tainted with fear and anger, was clearly her own.
"Katherine?" he said again, hands in the air, mind reeling with surprise and confusion, almost forgetting the blade resting against his neck.
The blue-eyed Immortal was still with shock, but recovered quickly, putting the sword away and staring at the vampire with open curiosity.
"This is… a surprise."
"What are you doing here?" he immediately asked.
"What are you doing here?" she shot back.
"I live here."
"In the parking structure?"
"No… I-" She seemed less surprised than he was, and the shock still outweighed his ability to speak.
"Angel- the vampire guy!"
"Why are you here?"
Katherine actually smirked as she crossed her arms, tossing her long dark hair behind her shoulder with a shake of her head. "I've been called."
"Tell me yours, I'll tell you mine. What the hell were you doing running into a flock of vampires?" The tip of her lips quirked. "Trying to join the party?"
"No!" Angel squinted, shoving his hands in his pockets as he looked at the summarily less depressed Immortal. His last encounter she had been half crazed with grief, now, Angel got the distinct impression he was seeing a more normal, playful side of Katherine. It was disconcerting, to say the least.
"My friend has these visions of people in trouble… that's how… I had a vision of a lot of vampires attacking a girl-"
"Which would have been me." She grimaced slightly, nodding to the black car in the corner of the garage. "They kind of cornered me while I was trying to get out of here."
"Katherine? What are you doing here? Where's…" he swallowed, curiosity unable to stop him from blurting out, "Where's Cordelia?"
The smile faded, and she took a breath, walking past him to the car. "Come on. I'll explain on the way."
She had the distinct impression she was being watched. Cordelia was used to being watched, it came with the territory, but usually the feeling was not at all threatening, because honestly, how threatening could a little man in a tie with a too-big coat really be?
No… Terence was, for once, not stalking her, but on his own, working on a much bigger problem, and Cordelia's sixth sense was giving her much more chilling vibes.
Back into the Chase Winters mode, she sat back in the leather chair, inspecting the digital binder before her, manicured fingers tapping against the hardwood desk, knowing the eyes on her were growing impatient. She didn't care.
Her other hand, resting on her ear, stroked the lobe thoughtfully, something she preferred to do when she was nervous instead of touching her hair, which was sleeked down.
"This is unacceptable," she said finally.
The lawyers gave a surprised look, irritation filling their faces seconds before one stood.
"I remember giving this company a very large sum of money to stay away from Angel Investigations," she snapped, tossing the digital binder onto the table with a clatter. "You mind your business and he minds his."
"That would be difficult," clipped a lawyer in an expensive suit, with hands as polished and manicured as hers. "Considering he seems to thrive on getting involved in ours." Chase gave a sigh, leaning back into the leather, staring down the lawyers of Wolfram and Hart.
"Do you think I'm so ignorant, I don't know what you do?" she said finally. "You've killed two of his Seers, and resurrected Super Bitch from Hell- you've even tried to get him to turn evil, again, and all you've really managed to accomplish was pissing him off even more. You know for evil, blood sucking lawyers, you're not too smart."
"This is disappointing, Ms. Winters," he said slowly. "I thought we were understood."
"The understanding, at best Mr. Weathers, was a shaky one, apparently." Chase stood, carefully pulling at the sleeves of her linen white suit, keeping her eyes on his. "From now on consider the support of Chase Industries completely off limits. None of our contacts will be used, as well as none of our free trade agreements."
The talking suits shifted uncomfortably, and she resisted the urge to smile. They knew, she knew they needed her.
"Perhaps you have neglected to understand exactly how we could help you with what's coming?"
"We have resources to make the Gathering quite easy for you, and quite difficult."
Cordelia stared at their faces, disbelief clouding her features before she suddenly burst into chuckles.
"Are you trying to threaten me? GOD - you guys are such losers!" Her hand clapped over her mouth as the inner Cordy came out, and taking a breath, she began again in a more serious tone. "Trust me, this endgame is way over your heads. My only advice to you, is stay the hell outta of it. You're too green to be messing with the big time, boys."
Picking up her briefcase, and sliding on the white coat, she only gave them a courteous smile, and walked out of their offices. Good riddance with Wolfram and Hart.
Blowing out her breath as she strode down the staircase, it occurred to her that the darkness that had come over the sky seemed slightly unnatural. It made her shiver, the all white she had taken to wearing seeming a little too conspicuous in the hellhole that was Los Angeles. So spread apart that not even the bombs could destroy it, Los Angeles was still thriving, with it mini malls and the proverbial cornucopia of guilty pleasures. Angel had his hands full, that she knew well.
Again she wondered exactly when to pop into Angel's office with a cheery – `Hey! We're here! Guess that vision was a little more scary than we thought!'
The darkness of Los Angeles was intoxicating, she shivered as she pulled the white duster closer to her body, seeing the car in the distance of the deserted parking structure. But when the chill over her became an undeniably familiar sensation, as it rode up her spine and took over her body with the nausea, she knew she wasn't going anywhere soon.
Exhaling slowly, she turned, a tired, grim smile caressing her features as she regarded the taller figure leaning against the post.
"One of Wolfram and Hart's best, I presume?"
He smiled, the sword resting casually against his shoulder, pushing away and walking toward her.
"There can be only one, princess."
Sunnydale, CA 2009
She ran quickly, it was almost impossible to keep up with her, and Angel gritted his teeth, dug in his feet, and continued to pump his legs, sliding down the slopes, grabbing onto brushes to break his fall as his mouth dried with panic. Not even the forced swallow did anything to alleviate the tension in his chest, and he continued to pump, hoping against hope that he would not be too late, that she would not be too late. The vampire had a better grasp of the night then they did, as Cordelia skidded down a path, immediately followed by Faith, shouting orders to each other and circling the woods, a tranquilizer gun in Cordelia's hand and a smaller laser taser in Faith's.
They were barely shadows, and Angel halted, sniffed once, trying to find the renegade werewolf.
"I thought you said he could control it!" Faith's voice broke the stillness, permeated through the darkness.
Cordelia didn't say anything for a moment, but took a deep breath in and then, "That way."
Angel got the whiff, and he was off, knowing they were far too busy employed with finding Werewolf Oz before the hunter did to pay much attention to the vampire that was trailing them.
And he saw the wolf, saw the flicker of metal gleaming against the moonlight, and the cry ripped from his throat in warning as he burst forward. The shot rang through the night, and then all was still. He was too far away, Faith and Cordelia ran into the clearing before he did, Cordelia knelt beside the fallen body, and her hands were trembling.
"Oz," she whispered hurriedly, "Oz."
He came forward, but Faith turned and pinned him with her eyes, and when she held out her hand behind an unseeing Cordelia and shook her head, he stayed put, hands locked into fists, chest heaving with anticipation.
He could smell the blood.
The wolf whimpered, and the animal that was Oz lay it's head on his friend's lap, as Cordelia gathered his blood stained hands in hers, and gave a long, painful, sigh.
It was over.
Angel felt something inside him tremor, a deep anger, as the growl was ripped from him, sinking to his knees.
Another one. Just like that.
"Oh, shit," Faith whispered, banging her hands against the ground while Cordelia stood stock still. "NOT OZ. NOT FUCKING OZ. Where the fuck are you, you bastard!" She screamed into the wilderness, tranquilizer gun up and waiting, staring into the night. "Come out, you bastard!"
The shot was almost unheard, and it caught Faith in the shoulder. He sprung into action, bursting into the clearing toward the attacker, but a whirling swept in front of him and his body followed the action, whipping in time to see a sword sever a hunter's head from his body neatly.
He paused, still hidden in the shadows, turning to see Cordelia stand, carefully moving the dead body of Oz to the side and moving to Faith.
"Are you okay?" she said in a low voice, helping the brunette in the leather pull herself into a seated position, leaning against her with harried breaths.
The Slayer seemed unsure, shocked as her gaze ventured from the body, back to Cordelia. "I… uh…"
The Immortal just methodically moved the arm, inspecting the damage. "Flesh wound. You should be fine."
Angel didn't move, his whole body taken with shock and a little uncertainty, as she moved to the body without the head, ignoring the blood, ignoring everything but the sword, which she cleaned by wiping against the blades of grass, and sliding it back into her coat.
Faith stood, a little uncertainly, hand on her bleeding shoulder as Chase Winters flipped open her cell phone and made a call.
He considered moving out of hiding, moving to pay his respects to the dead Oz, and even further considered moving to the bastard that killed him for his pelt-
But Chase Winters, with the dead hazel eyes, who had just killed a man, a human, made him pause, as she turned, looked exactly in his direction, and then just moved away, kneeling beside the body of one of her own best friends.
As the Slayer watched, turning to where she knew he was hiding, giving him a slightly panicked look, Angel could offer nothing to help her understand what had just happened.
The methodical casualty with how she took the life made something very clear to both the vampire and the slayer. They were all supernatural, but Cordelia was no longer a mere mortal – she was what at one point both he and Faith had both striven desperately to be. She was immune to the laws of man. Because as an Immortal, she was suddenly that much above them.
Faith stepped toward her, but wavered, Angel took a step, but was unable to make the journey.
And having achieved what the demon Angelus and what the murderer Faith had once wanted so desperately, Cordelia knelt beside the body of Oz, lay her head on the dead werewolf's chest, and sobbed.
For the third time since he had gotten in the car, he swore that his undead life had reached its critical, if not anticlimactic, end.
Katherine, this new, chipper Katherine, apparently, had never learned how to drive. His heart had somehow managed to work its way into his throat as he curled his fingers around the armrest, gripping on tight after making sure that his seatbelt was fastened for the fifth time, and finally just swallowed down the fear as she swerved along the highway, explaining herself as quickly as she could along the way.
"How much do you know about Immortals?"
"Enough," he said, noting that the increased speeds that these new fangled sonic powered cars were capable of were not necessarily a good thing.
"Okay, then you know about the Gathering?"
His mind quickly scrambled for the answer. "The start of the End Game. All the Immortals congregate-"
"And proceed to try and wipe each other out," Katherine finished, grimacing slightly. "What no one thought was that it would happen … so soon."
"Apparently the EndGame that we've all been waiting for is here, in Los Angeles. Now."
"We're hosting the End Game?" The vampire with the soul gave the Immortal a stunned look, and she nodded, frowning.
"Yeah, you should feel honored. It's like the Superbowl. Or the Olympics. If we still had either."
"And that's what you're doing here?"
"Pretty much drawn to it like everyone else. That the exit?"
"No… the one before."
"Oh." He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as she swerved over the ramp and into the desired lane. A small growl of fear escaped.
He inhaled sharply, stilling the urge to take the wheel by force and asking instead, "Where's Cordelia?"
A small smidgen of a smirk floated on her features as she gave him a quick look. "You mean the little hundred year old girl named Chase? I didn't kill her if that's what you're worried about. She's here, we came together."
With the answer came silence, and questions for the vampire, who was suddenly filled with nervous tension that coiled like a spring inside his body. Cordelia was here? Since when? The Gathering was now? Cordelia was going to be involved in the Game? Oh, God.
"Chase says you help people."
Distracted, he could only nod, eyes furrowed in contemplation, the aching in his heart now aided with a budding tension.
"You think you can help me?" At the words, Angel turned, eyes locking with hers.
The smirk was gone, but Katherine licked her lips, took a breath, and began speaking, her voice somewhat shaky and a little disturbed. "Chase and that Watcher seem to think… they think Nick and that other vampire are – it's not time, Angel. The End Game, I can feel it. Chase can feel it. It's not time yet."
There was the roughness in her voice that Angel had been seeking; the confliction. Angel paused, the visions that had been plaguing Travis running rampant through his mind as they whipped by the streets.
"Turn here," he said almost mechanically, and this time the way she jerked the tires gave him nothing to fear.
"Someone's rushing Armageddon."
"Only if a bad one wins," Katherine corrected.
"Who knows what's bad and what's good?" Angel said, mulling the thought over. "Power has been known to corrupt, and absolute power…"
"Yes I know the saying."
"… and they kidnapped you…" he mulled the words over, lost in thought. "Spike's never been one for the end of the world," he finally said, suddenly reminded of the alliance between Buffy and Spike to bring him – no Angelus, always Angelus- down.
"Chase also said you had visions."
Chase was saying an awful lot. Angel turned, shrugging, choosing his words carefully.
"I don't get them. I have Seers… he had them, and… I use them to help people."
"So we do need help."
The reality of the whole situation began to sink in, as Angel sunk further into the seat and let Katherine continue to drive.
The end of the world, the gathering, Immortals fighting in his city for the right to be the last alive, and Cordelia was one of them – Katherine, the one in his vision was here and Cordelia was still not anywhere to be found. Spike had taken Katherine for a reason in London and now, he had a sneaking Spike hadn't been leading him into the mansion at all.
Angel had simply been a means to an end.
There was so much they didn't know, and he knew, they were running out of time.
"I need to talk to Cordelia."
The tone was grave, husky. The big, hulking body was completely still. She flashed him a quick glance, but nodded.
"I'll call her," she said after a moment, ticking her ear and speaking hurriedly. "Maybe we'll get somewhere."
The burning cigarette provided only a pale glow in the night, eerily consumed by the darkness in the corner, where the vampire watched the fated confrontation between two beings.
The fight was almost a dance, and he had to admire that, the way they regarded the murder and annihilation of each other so poetically. It was… bloody beautiful. He could charge for a view like this.
He leaned against the wall, the stucco tickling his back, as he lazily pulled the cigarette to his mouth and inhaled deeply, letting the acrid smoke taint his already dead lungs.
The cheerleader was fighting with a short saber, quite ancient by the looks of it, but she more than held her own against the more medieval, larger, and heavier double edged sword of her opponent. With each crash that came as the two blades met, came a flury of sparks, Good versus Evil, duking it out for the fate of man kind.
Good versus Evil. He narrowed his eyes, dropping the burnt cigarette to the ground, grinding it into the old cement with one booted heel. He never believed in black and white, never once believed someone was all good and all evil. Soul, or not, William the Bloody had long since known the vestiges of love, had once cavorted with humans who had been hostile, and without blaming them, he knew why. Because he was evil – even when he was a `good guy'.
Love made some blokes do some perverted things.
But the love was long since buried, deep within the sectors of his multi-layered vampire countenance, and he only watched with narrowed eyes as the brunette faked a right, blocked the flat of the blade with a foot, kicking it out and leaving him open, whirling and in a split second, slamming the blade into the side.
He smirked. Her signature move. Sloppy. The other one should have seen it coming. Should have done his homework. A quick pull out, and Cordelia Chase, aka Chase Winters, swung, twirled, and neatly took the head, the blood spurting over the white clothes.
He winced. She would be pissed about that. He waited, knew what was coming.
The lightning came, the noise, and the unseen force ripping through her body as she stumbled, fell to her knees, head arched back in triumph, agony, pain. And just like that, it was over.
He smiled, taking a breath, letting it out, considered giving a standing ovation, but instead turned, walking away from Cordelia.
All the time, remembering.
Her heart was beating irregularly as she walked into the hotel. Her steps were hesitant, and Cordelia felt her chest constricting, her body a little feverish. She could have attributed that to the quickening, and in truth, she was tired, spent, the energy still flowing through her veins, the memories of the man she took coursing through her.
But something was wrong – the fight had been too easy. Way too easy. And her mind refused to dwell on that, instead turning to intense dark eyes, to the look of disappointment and lost hope in the face of the vampire she had considered an ally, an enemy, and sometimes, a guardian, even when she was protecting him.
Sending him away had been too easy. In her heart, to ease the tremoring, the confliction, the heat his gaze had given – The ring burned cold on her chest, and she wondered, how this happened, so many years after. Married at a young age, lost for years after, Cordelia had no time to ponder an attraction to a vampire.
The Gathering was happening, it was affecting her, running through her veins, the anticipation urging her to take part in something that would most likely kill her. It was happening too soon – and Wolfram and Hart had broken their alliance and now she was here, in the city of Angels, seeking help from the one person she had pushed away, the one person she had known for over a century – and the one person who was her only link to her past – to her memories.
The good ones, anyway.
Pushing open the door, she took a breath, thankful that she had a change of clothes in the car, the charcoal gray pantsuit a color more suited for the occasion.
She had never seen the Hyperion from the inside, it was… bare.
A young blonde man with glasses that seemed just a little too big jogged out from around the corner, "Hey, can I help… you?" His steps faltered, his eyes met hers, and he was still for a moment.
"… Hi!" A too wide grin came out and he came forward, hand outstretched. "I'm sorry… I …" he cocked his head, considering. "Chick from my vision?"
She couldn't help but smile. "Hello, Travis. I prefer Cordelia."
He nodded enthusiastically, grabbing the hand and pumping. "Wow. I uh… this… this is… " he pushed the glasses up the bridge of his nose and began to clear some books and pads off on of the chairs. "Here! Sit!"
"I'm okay, listen is Angel here?"
He shook his head. "There was a… he's out… about." He motioned with his hands, jogging to the containment unit. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm fine." The Seer continued to stare at her, and Cordelia finally cocked an eyebrow.
"Checking my face for flaws of any kind?"
"Oh." He blushed pushed at his glasses one more time, the flush visible even to the tips of his ears. "Sorry, I just… Angel said… it doesn't matter what Angel said-"
"It kinda does." She dropped her duffel bag on the middle of the floor. "I need to see him. Can you get him on the intercom?"
"Oh, Angel doesn't go for that. I can barely get him to use the ear phone," he dismissed. "I did get him one of those old fashioned pagers- you know, but he didn't like the way it beeped under his skin."
"Yeah, being marked isn't exactly my thing either."
Music drifted out from one of the corners of the hotel and Cordelia turned, studying it, but Travis only pushed his glasses up his nose yet again, and shook his head. "Ignore it. I do."
Her eyes narrowed. "You know I can recommend a good correctional physician for the vision thing."
"The glasses? Yeah I know they're ancient but … my eyes, can't mess with `em." He gave a slight shrug and a grin. "Vis-"
"Oh, right. The vision thing."
They fell silent, as Cordelia took a breath, tapping her earlobe and quickly running off a number. She waited, but there was no answer.
Her eyes flickered up to find him staring curiously. "No I'm fine… I was just… you know that girl, Katherine?"
"The other Immortal, that's so cool by the way. Yeap."
"I brought her with me."
Travis blinked, and the silly love-struck smile faltered. Cordelia's eyes widened and she started forward when he jerked. His thrashing body was hard to hold, as he cried out in pain and fell to his knees. The urge to panic was so very acute as she tried to keep his jerking movements to a minimum, mind flashing to that first aid course she took way back in 6th grade, and that was HOW many years ago?
But the epileptic Seer stopped thrashing, buried himself in her arms, and clung to her. And really clung. He was shaking slightly, and Cordelia, not by nature a cuddly person, and completely bewildered by his reaction, could only pat him awkwardly, and received an even tighter clingy Seer in response.
Boy- Angel – this how clingy he is with you?
She considered telling him about her little rule of personal space when the tingling sensation over took her and the door swung open, forcing her concentration on the six lawyers and… the two Immortals who walked through the door.
"Oh, you have to be kidding me," she said, as Travis looked up as well, pulling his hands away from her. Slowly, she stood, eyes on the duffel bag fifteen feet away.
"You guys don't know when to quit, do you? No wonder Angel hates your guts."
Mr. Weathers looked incredibly smug as he slid his hands into his pants pockets and spoke with an almost leer, "Ms. Chase this is just a business negotiation."
"Uh-huh." Hands twitching warily, she stepped in front of the seer, watching the two Immortals, one female and one male, with the swords, naked and gleaming. "You two realize if you take me outside the rules of the Game it's open season on your heads, right?"
"We've got the resources to make sure that doesn't happen," said the girl easily.
"God, you're stupid. How old are you? Fifty? Sixty?"
"Now, THIS is interesting." Cordelia almost slumped in relief as the Immortals and lawyers whirled to find a leather clad Katherine in the doorway, twirling two short swords in her hands.
"I tell you, Chase. I leave you alone for two seconds and this happens. Never trust the ones younger than two hundred. Always manage to suck themselves-"
"Bite me, Kat," she said, crossing her arms.
She grinned. "I won't but he might." Angel stepped in, on his face the demonic demeanor of Angelus.
"Hey, Angel." She managed a little wave, never taking her eyes off the Immortals.
"Angel, GREAT timing!" Travis said, giving the vampire a thumbs up.
Katherine lobbed a sword over the heads of the lawyers, and Cordelia caught it easily, swinging it and pointing it toward them.
"Okay, now we're even."
The scene was ripe with tension, with anger, and a little bit of bloodlust and fear. Angel was careful, circling around the group and moving next to Cordelia.
"Oh fine. You know, high off of one Quickening, getting ready to lop another head off. All great fun."
His eyes locked with hers, as the pair set eyes on each other after the absence that seemed much longer than it truly was, and then both looked away.
The lawyers received a much more threatening glare, followed by a dangerous, and threatening, growl.
"I told you to stay the hell away from this place."
"Not everything's about you, Angel," Cordelia muttered underneath her breath.
Mr. Weathers only smirked. "Chase you can't hold them off forever. Sooner or later, one of them is going to win."
"Yeah, and upon my unfortunate demise every portion of Winters Incorporated is given to Angel Investigations."
"What?" Angel and Travis both spoke, coming around to stare at her.
"Not the time guys," she said, both hands steady on her sword. "Take a walk, lawyer boys."
"Yes, take a walk." A new member joined the standoff, a middle-aged man with green skin, red horns, and a very festive taste in clothes. "Angel Investigations just happens host the lovely, redesigned, and all new Caritas, and Tony, you know what that means."
Mr. Weathers gazed at the demon, blowing his breath out.
"Sorry, sugar lips but rules are rules. Come back when you're ready to play nice. And that goes for you two, ladies, and of course, gent." He nodded to the four Immortals in the room.
Mr. Weathers was quiet, and there was a long, still moment, before he clamped his jaw, the tick evident before he turned, nodding to the lawyers, and ordering the Immortals with a snap of his fingers. "Let's go."
Katherine and Cordelia's swords did not lower until the door closed.
And then the flood started.
"Where the hell were you?"
"What do you mean everything goes to Angel Investigations?"
"What kind of sword is this? It's cool!"
"Angel, do you EVER pick up your phone!"
"HEY!" Everyone stopped chattering as they turned, watching as the fluorescent dressed demon covered his hands with his ears. "Guys! Kinda got other priorities, here, don't you think? Like the END OF THE WORLD?!"
And Cordelia asked one more question. "All right. Who the hell is the green guy?"
"Oh, forgive me." The man sauntered up to her, took her hand delicately, and kissed her palm. "Ms. Winters, a pleasure. I'm known as the Host, but feel free to call me Lorne."
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Ten
There was a mutual feeling of anticipation inside of everyone as they waited for what seemed the inevitable. Words needed to be said, conversations needed to take place but it hadn't happened yet, and Angel strongly suspected they would not happen any time soon.
He waited, with arms crossed, leaning against the counter as his dark eyes roved over his hotel lobby, watching the newly congregated group. Katherine was sitting casually, straddled backwards on a chair, speaking to Lorne, who for all his hundred and forty something years, didn't look a day over fifty. In the corner of the office, half hidden by darkness, with hands crossed, pacing back and forth, speaking quietly to thin air, was Cordelia. Her form was tense, and as she spoke she rubbed at her eyes, trembling slightly, an action that made him frown.
Questions flittered through his mind, mixed emotions bundled inside of him, his hands clenching at the corner of the counter. Cordelia had dealt with Wolfram and Hart. Cordelia had willed everything to Angel Investigations. Cordelia was harboring a lot of secrets, apparently. He had often wondered how the hazel-eyed vixen could have lasted one hundred and thirty years without getting sucked back into the world of darkness and helplessness he had never escaped. He had supposed that was the difference – Angel was darkness, and all Cordelia had ever sought was light.
A rattle in the drawers caught his attention, where Travis was shuffling until he found what he was looking for, pulling out the contraption and taking a big sniff.
"Watch it with that, Travis."
The Seer only gave him a glare, taking in another breath of the sniffer.
The Powers were always on his eternal `if I ever meet them I'm going to kick their ass' list. Working for them for more than a century had done nothing to lessen his contempt for their way of doing things. Time after time he had lost Seers, friends, and on more than one occasion… more than friends, and each time he vowed there would be no more Seers, no more pain… no more humans and demons sacrificing their lives for the lives of others. But another would always show, with high hopes or bitter broken dreams, and slamming his door to them hadn't helped – the visions came regardless.
The evil came regardless.
Travis came into his hotel with a smile and the too big glasses, calling the vampire a big bimbo, shouldering the pack and asking if it was okay to smoke. The pain was still almost unbearable, and like the Seer before him, Travis had taken to using the sniffer to alleviate it, and like the Seer before him, he was dangerously close to being hooked.
"Angel, you get the mind numbing pain that makes you want to throw up and rip your eyes out, then you tell me what to do."
Carefully, the blond scruffy boy slid the pad across the counter, and Angel took it, pressing play immediately. More of the same… cries, vampires… Katherine… swords… and… a demon?
"These PTB have to work on their descriptions," Angel said, pressing his thumb against his lip.
"Yeah, no kidding. Right now the only clue we got is our Kathy girl. My guess? Something to do with the Gathering."
"Hmm. I asked around…there was nothing. I'll look again tonight. Aside from these Immortals … lopping heads off everywhere… they're pretty much keeping to themselves."
"Maybe, this is one thing the Powers don't want to get involved in. Maybe the Immortals are even above them?" Angel crossed his arms, exhaling slowly, once again drawn to the Immortal in the corner.
"We're getting involved Travis." Hopping over the counter, Travis sat looking in the same direction, where Cordelia continued to speak into her tiny ear phone.
He nudged Angel. "Hey, what's she doing?"
"Probably getting updated on things. She's been neglecting her investments lately."
"Yeah, I could imagine what with almost getting her head chopped off and everything." He was silent, and then he popped up," So was she serious? About… you know… everything coming to us? Are we rich now?"
"I don't know."
Travis twiddled his thumbs, and finally just gave a low sigh. "Angel?"
Angel ignored the comment. Travis shifted around again, and the vampire finally tore his eyes off his Immortal friend and instead gave his Seer a glare. "What?"
The blonde seemed on the verge of saying something, seemed to think better of it, shifted again, and finally just spoke. "Okay… you know that I'm generally not nosy- most of the time-" he amended when Angel narrowed his eyes. "But I have to ask, she the reason you took off the ring?"
Angel narrowed his eyes, and walked away.
Lorne, with his green skin and horns, had been happily surprised that here on Earth he had gained yet another abnormality.
He didn't age… much. Perhaps it was something different about this world, the same way it had affected Angel when Wesley had gotten sucked into the dimension of Pylea, but ever the vain singer, Lorne searched every day for hope of not seeing a wrinkle.
Slowly, very slowly, he grew older, but according to Angel, who, despite his inability to admit it, cherished the fact that at least of one his congregation of friends was still with him, he still looked like Lorne. For that, Lorne could have hugged and kissed the little dead vampire till doomsday, if in fact he wanted to be gutted. He did not want to be gutted, and as a result he only settled for patting Angel on the back and calling the little Angelcakes a `good little boy'.
Now the room was a cloud of discontent, floating and swirling all around him in such luminous waves it was almost difficult to separate the colors between the princess and the vampire, the older Immortal and the naïve seer. Darks and grays mixed with the brighter colors of optimism, and inside the vampire, and both Immortals, was the darkness he always found disturbing – not so much on Angel - but on the trained killers it was a little… scary. Katherine, with her laughing dark blue eyes, gave the word confliction a run for her money. Older than sin, she wore her smile like a mask, her words like a barb, and her aura, was well hidden in itself. Impossible to read made her something less than a victim, and more than an enemy.
Cloudy – shady.
The princess he had yet to have a real conversation with, but the hazel eyes emanated confusion and perhaps just a little bit of despair, something not good if what was rushing through him with anticipation was true. And of course, the vampire – who apparently had done some soul searching, and found a little humanizing influence to go with it – who came back with a ring around his neck and not on his hand, and even more broodiness than before, and of course the added bonus of it all being directed toward-
"Have you talked to Cordelia?"
Cordelia. Chase Winters. Talk about an opposing personality. While Angel's demon hid behind a soul, Cordelia's lay naked for the world to see.
If it hadn't been so heartbreaking, it would have almost been amusing.
"Not yet," he answered, nodding to where the other Immortal had gone to speak to the younger. "Can't say I blame the kid. The second she heard I read auras – ZIP! To the other room like a rocket. Their kind don't take it well, and may I say? VERY Nice choice. Hot-o-rama in the sizzle in my groins kinda of way."
"It's not like that."
"As most dreams often aren't." Lorne said, grinning. He had to give Angel his due - after a century or so of poking and prodding- he had come to realize that Lorne was NOT a psychic. He read auras, two completely different fields and was therefore not expected to know the future, but only see the fudginess around it.
But occasional the big bimbo – Travis' endearment, but it had a nice ring to it – often fell into the relapse.
"I need to know how she's doing. There was a reason she was in that vision."
"And a reason she isn't anymore. Shouldn't your focus be on our little Katherine there?" he asked, nodding toward the other Immortal. "Hate to say it Angelcakes but our little sword carrying vixen isn't the main priority at the moment. Chase's aura is clouded, but Katherine's… well that's just one big mess of a thing."
"Well, you try waking up to find out the hubby of your dreams is a vampire who has a penchant for your blood and just might be trying to kill you and see how well you turn out. Oh wait… you've been on the other side of THAT coin, haven't you?" Angel winced, visibly, and Lorne felt one small stab of regret, but continued the words. Some things just needed to be said. "There's a reason this case was given to you, Angel. I've been neglecting my little bar, and so I leave you to your case." Lorne stood, taking the drink and sipping it before turning back. "Oh, and as far as the Chase things go – has it ever occurred to you the reason she was in that vision was not for you, but for her? Get past the past, Sweetness, the road before you is what's holding you back – but for Katherine's sake, take a deep, dark look – saving her life may not be the answer – the key, is in saving her soul."
After five repeated attempts to talk to the friend he had left under questionable circumstances, Angel came to the conclusion that Cordelia Chase was doing her damnedest to avoid him. It left him frustrated and annoyed, his mind occupied with coming Gatherings and Endgames, a little angry at her less-than-professional inability to talk to him, and angry at himself for allowing himself to be so affected.
Her eyes were tired, her body was spent, but she tolerated Travis' obvious crush and talked to Katherine and even talked to him – in a pure, passive way. There wasn't any of the true Cordelia that he had seen inside and he wondered why, worried why, until nightfall came and he had to force himself out onto the streets in an attempt to gain what little information he could find.
Los Angeles had become a warzone for good and evil – a congregation for those who wanted chaos, and those who wanted order. Large and spread apart, it stood, with its small skyscrapers and large names, a symbol of the dream-like existence that everyone sought. The true activity was at night, always at night and for Angel, one lone vampire cursed with a soul, it was very overwhelming.
Years of feeling the anger inside of him, years of stripping away at the logic between good and evil, the ever shifting boundaries and the need for human contact had left others worried- in the apocalypse, would Angel still, with his ever shifting morality and his increased penchant for violence against those who preyed upon the innocent, help the helpless, even if he was very quickly becoming just that himself?
Thoughts roamed through his head, as he pushed snitches to the floor and slammed booted heels onto backs, as he hissed and growled and occasionally drew blood to get his information and in the end the only thing he got was nothing but fear. The Immortals who were congregating in his town were plaguing fear on everyone and in the back of his mind was the doubt that Angel, with his lone vampire self and two Immortals who were as in the dark and drawn by the spell as any of them, would not be able to stop this. The Powers had been known to accomplish much, but this… to stop it seemed impossible. The Gathering was an Immortal thing – nothing Angel could do would stop that unless there was an outside force that was manipulating them – and Spike nor Nick, were nowhere to be found.
An angered and worried vampire entered the Hyperion late that night, the hotel dark and desolate as he walked through the lobby, ignoring the sounds that came from the new Caritas and instead walking to his own domain, the suite of rooms that had served as his haven for years.
Her scent made his steps slow, almost coming to a complete stop as he saw Cordelia sitting on the armchair, curled into it almost like a child, a wine glass in her hand, staring at the fire with an unknown, wistful expression on her face.
Her eyes shifted to meet his. She offered a smile, looking back to the fire. "I couldn't sleep." Her gaze searched over his body, and suddenly her lips parted in surprise, the wine glass placed on the table next to the chair. "What the hell did you do, you big bimbo?"
"I'm so glad that's catching on," he remarked, shrugging off the trenchcoat with a grimace, as Cordelia immediately helped him, removing the bloody covering and leaving it on the floor.
"Come into the light so I can see."
He obeyed, letting her clasp his hand, fingers tightening around hers, welcoming as she placed him in her own chair, body heat warming his colder one. Carefully, she placed herself between his parted legs, eyes focused on the torn shirt and the ragged cut on his left pectoral. "Wanna tell me how this happened?"
"Oh… the usual."
"And that would be?"
"Vampires, demons- you know. Fun stuff."
"Mmhmm." Quickly her hands swept nimbly over the shirt, unbuttoning the rags and then raking her nails over his chest, opening it before her. The intimacy in the action startled Angel, the look of concern on her face was disconcerting, but an involuntarily smile of relief pervaded his face, almost as if he had been waiting for Cordelia to finally show herself, for Chase to be stripped away.
She was completely still, eyes focused on one single place. Biting her lip, she turned, picking up his left hand, and inspecting it.
"You took off your wedding ring."
There was almost no emotion in her tone, just a shake in her voice that made him flush, a rush of guilt flowing through him.
"It's on my neck."
"I know." Her thumb traced his third finger furtively, and her eyes met his and almost immediately she let it go, almost flinging his hand back down. "Forget it," she snapped. "It's none of my business."
She leaned forward, her face hidden by the wall of hair as her breath fell on his skin in soft, moist tufts. Her heart beat faster than usual and the breathing was quickened, but she quickly took a box of bandages off the second shelf and resettled herself between his legs, gently cleaning the wound.
They sat in silence, until she frowned. "Stop moving."
"I'm not," he answered automatically.
"Then stop breathing."
"I don't breathe."
"Then stop flexing your manly boob muscles!" she exclaimed, flashing him an angry look, muttering afterward, "Or whatever."
He narrowed his eyes, and then the lips almost slid into a smirk as she carefully pressed a bandage against him.
"You think my boobs are manly?"
Her eyes flickered up, and back down. "Don't read too much into it, Dead Boy," she responded. "They're boobs. You're a man. Manly Boobs."
"And I'm so glad THAT endearment's coming back."
She actually smiled at that, before the reference to her dead husband made her straighten it and change the subject. "Did you see anything tonight?"
"No. More quiet than usual… everyone's … waiting."
"For the end of the world?"
"For anything." She sighed, nodding, taking a last piece of tape and pressing it against him, before moving, almost hesitantly, from her place between him. "How's Katherine?"
"Oh… usual. Wise cracking, conflicted and doing her damndest to make it look like she's okay when she's all… whigged on the inside. She won't talk about what happened with Nick, even if we need to find out for… you know… obvious reasons."
He nodded, lips pursing. She sat down beside his feet, leaning against his leg as he passed her the wine glass, sipping into it with a thoughtful, distracted expression.
He watched her, her body warm against his leg, her hand stroking his thigh almost a distraction, as she automatically leaned her chin against it, sighing and closing her eyes. Angel didn't move, scared to even speak at the action of trust. Her mass of silky hair spilled over the black pants, her cheek resting against his knee, an embrace that was both a comfort and at the same time, disconcerting.
This was Cordelia, with the laughing hazel orbs, the same Cordelia who at seventeen had slapped him and then chagrined him for not developing an investment portfolio. The same Cordelia who had witnessed his ardent love for his Slayer, who had herself married a mortal who had more than once called him Dead Boy. It was his past, bleeding into his present, in the warmth of her hands, the heat of his groin that inflamed in reaction. And it was his friend, a rarity for him.
"You never told me what you meant by what you said with Wolfram and Hart. What ties, Cordelia?"
She froze, and he almost regretted the words as she pulled away slightly, swallowing the wine with a gulp and taking a breath.
"It's nothing," she said after a minute. "It's my business."
"Angel." Her eyes met his with a flash of defiance, a shake of her head indicating that there was a warning buried in there as well. "My business."
He had no choice but to let it go, thankful when she finally relaxed against him, her eyes closing as her head fell against his leg once more. Carefully, gently, his hand moved to her shoulder, almost an embrace, letting his fingers skim it tenderly, before closing his eyes, and leaning his head back against the leather couch.
He had missed her.
She dreamt of Nick.
The dreams tormented her, left her hot and aching, and Katherine, seconds away from bursting into tears, had no time to do either, as Chase burst into the room, tossed her the sword and ordered her to get up. When Katherine demanded an explanation, Chase had only said Travis had had another vision and this time, it was much more specific.
In the car, the vampire kept casting furtive glances at her, and when she finally turned to meet the gaze, she had plastered on a smile as she winked, making him swivel his head back and immediately keep his eyes on the road.
Chase, for all her younger years, had taken the front seat, her hand was gently stretched over the back of Angel's seat, fingers buried into the nape of Angel's neck, caressing tenderly. The action was the focus of Katherine's attention, eyes riveting from the vampire to her new ally, hand tight on her sword as her stomach twisted in knots.
Cordelia and Angel wore no wedding rings, the ones she had seen, were worn around the neck. She wondered about that, memories drifting into the dreams of Nick, of the wedding rings that meant so much when they were exchanged, wondered exactly how and when they made the commitment, to whom. Mostly she found herself wondering how they died.
Cordelia turned, pinning her gaze on her, and Katherine only cocked an eyebrow, pointedly looking to her hand. Chase blushed and took her hand away, but continued to study Katherine.
"I really think I should handle Nick."
The knot twisted painfully, her heart aching with the pressure, but her tone was clipped, leaving no room for argument. "I'm going to handle my husband."
"He's not your husband, Katherine." That was Angel, watching her through the rearview mirror. "You have to understand, your husband died." Katherine only watched coolly. "He may have your husband's memories but he is pure evil."
Pure evil. Was pure evil capable of love? "How do you know that?" It wasn't a defensive question.
Cordelia and Angel shared a look, before Cordelia turned once more. "We've come across our share of vampires."
"Angel has a soul."
"And that makes a difference?"
Cordelia swallowed, and Katherine noticed Angel's ringless hand tightened around the steering wheel. There was an unspoken conversation, and suddenly Cordelia began to speak.
"Angel lost his soul… about a hundred … and something years ago… the girl he married… she was a Vampire Slayer."
The abandoned warehouse looked like any other in downtown, with the broken windows and rusty fire escape ladders, the burnt out neon signs and the trash and grocery carts, evidence of the homeless who escaped the night by hiding wherever they could.
Things were dangerous here.
Angel stepped out of the car, eyes trained to find anything out of the ordinary, viewing the compound for what he knew would come.
The scream was immediate, and his eyes connected with Cordelia as she nodded. Breaking into a run, he left the two Immortals behind, mind now occupied only with the woman in the vision-
In the back of his mind, he wondered why a woman would be caught dead in this place, in the alley, let alone alive.
But it was a woman, she was in trouble, and there was no time.
Cordelia was left standing with Katherine, looking at the building, taking in a breath.
The tingle, the nausea, the entire ripping through of the senses was unmistakable. Both shot the other looks, both gripped their swords just a bit tighter, and both moved without argument to the door of the building.
It was no surprise that it was unlocked, nor were they startled at all when there was nothing on the first floor but littered glass, the squeaks of mice, and trash littered across the dusty cement.
"Yeah. Here's something I don't get. Why on earth do you guys keep PICKING these Godawful places?! Why not like, Bloomingdales or something?"
Katherine ignored her, moving in a wide arc around the room, taking a deep breath. "We should separate."
"Probably not a good idea."
"It's not a choice." Katherine turned, grimacing. "You feel it, right?"
Cordelia waited a moment, and finally nodded. "Yes, Deathwish girl. I feel it. Doesn't mean I like it."
"If either of us gets sucked into this fight we won't know when to quit."
The Gathering was taking its toll. The alliance was shaky enough.
"I'll go upstairs."
Katherine moved with a steady stride, her mouth pursed into a permanent frown as her heart beat rapidly against her chest. Her eyes were blurred with tears and it made her murky vision unstable at best, as she took in a breath and pushed the door to the fourteenth floor open.
Hiding secrets had never been a problem for any Immortal – deliberately withholding information had always been of use. Not telling them that in this room, in this building, she and Nick had once consummated their marriage was almost damning.
Trust never came easily for Katherine. Chase and Angel, for all their pleas to attempt to understand, for all their stories of bad Angels and murdering Cordelias, of death and destruction, were still young… Chase was barely more than a child. And Chase, like a young, idealistic young mortal, was on the verge of committing another cardinal sin – falling for a vampire.
The appeal of Immortality was never lost upon Katherine. She understood the draw, understood the appeal for vampires to live forever, to never age, because humans, as a race, were collectively fearful of the unknown. Death was the barrier no one had managed to cross, even Immortal's souls were set free only to be tugged back into their bodies to begin again. But as above others Immortals always pretended to be, the hard truth was in reality, they were no better than their kinsmen the mortals – they loved and sought to be loved, they sought for the company of others, and even though reality and experience told them time and time again that what they sought was not what they ultimately wanted, the bitter truth was that it was needed.
The vampire was waiting for her, on the bed, shirt unbuttoned, watching her with the eyes of a killer – something Nick never truly was. He had been a thief and a con artist, a Robin Hood of the new world, who helped people because he thought it was right, never for the money, and always for her.
"Kat, baby. So glad you came."
She felt her eyes water, struggled to keep the tears from spilling over, as she watched, and waited in the doorway. "Why are you doing this?"
"The same reason I always did everything, Katherine, for you."
She swallowed down the hatred, the anger. "That hasn't been a factor for a hundred fucking years, Nick."
"It's a factor now."
A part of her told her it was useless to argue, that by the way he sat on the bed, he knew that if she had come to kill him she would have done it by now, that to sit here and even ATTEMPT a conversation with a vampire that bore her husband's face and memories was pointless. But here she stood, and her hand was on her sword and it wasn't moving, and her eyes were beseeching, searching for anything –
Searching for hope.
"You remember, Kat, baby? This place? Remember all the promises we made and how long it took for me to make you believe there could be something?" He took in a breath, a needless breath, she noted, as he moved off the bed, watching her with cold eyes that were SO MUCH like Nick.
"Kat…I was a jerk, okay? This new… existence it's hard for me but I want to make this work- I promise you, just like… like I promised you then, that I will make it work – but I can't do it alone, Kat." The voice had gotten soft, and husky, and her heart jolted from within her, spurring her into action, the trembling sword against his neck.
"You're not my husband," she whispered, visibly shaken.
His eyes bore into hers.
"I'm the closest thing you'll ever get to him, Kat."
There was one long minute of breathing, as everything Katherine had ever believed in, every hope that had withered and every dream that had died surged up with in her, following her gaze from the cool blade resting on the dead flesh to his cold, naked eyes.
Eyes that held love, eyes that held compassion. Eyes that held NICK.
With a sob she jerked the sword away, and the next second she was in his arms, mouth moving fiercely against his colder one. It was jolting, it was surrender, and she felt so very alive.
Big Bear Residential Hospital, California, 2004
The stark whiteness of the intensive care unit was always a startling contrast to the wilderness of outside. Doctor Harper, first year resident and top three percent of his class, with HONORS, was in the middle of working his eighteenth hour when the frail, slender old woman was dropped into his lap.
Heart failure, a blocked passage and not enough air getting into the chamber, he had worked hard and feverishly, but the old lady with the gold on her fingers and the tired eyes just shook her head once she was stabilized, closed her eyes. The young man in the suit who was with her had made the call, and Doctor Harper, sipping at his coffee, took a break, and found himself sitting with the little old lady with the sad eyes.
Rich old folk weren't exactly new here in Big Bear, he had had more than one elderly couple come in after getting involved in some sort of skiing or lake accident that they had garnered in an attempt to relieve their glory days. But there was something different about this one. Doctor Harper had learned to read signs quite quickly, for a long time he thought he could have been a forensic expert before thinking maybe had to be more in trying to give life, than studying death, and he noticed the little things that stood out.
The hands, for instance. A rich gold bracelet with small diamonds and beautiful etched scratchings that spelled out Claribel Winters. Rich, and expensive, but the fingers were calloused and the hands were worn with work, quite a contradiction. And the body, plump but firm, and the eyes, gentle and kind, but with a hardness that made him suspect something was off.
The next morning, after two hours of sleep in the dingy cot in the kitchen, he sipped the coffee again, and found himself checking on Claribel Winters first. No improvement, but there was a serenity in her face, almost as if she had resigned herself to die.
Footsteps pounding outside the hallway, and Doctor Harper turned, looking up to meet a young women, who couldn't have been over twenty two, long brown hair cascading over her shoulders, hazel eyes bright and moist and dark, tight clothes over a long muscled body.
He found himself licking his lips, straightening his tie for the beautiful woman but she wasn't looking at him, her eyes instead were on the frail lady whose hand he was holding.
"Oh, God, Clari," he heard whispered, and the expensive trenchcoat was shrugged off and wrapped and laid on the chair and immediately she came forward, grabbing the sleeping women's hand and keeping it tight. Doctor Harper felt slightly guilty for noting there was a wedding ring on the women's left hand.
"Hello," he finally said, his voice cool and professional as he grabbed his clipboard and straightened up.
"Uh… hi," she said unsteadily, taking in a breath, and giving a tight smile. "How is she?"
"And you are?"
Oh. OH. THIS was Chase Winters, who owned that big place up on the hill and owned all those companies? He had expected someone … older at least. His eyes flickered down to the women on the bed.
"Well… Ms. Winters… Ms. Winters here … suffered from heart failure. There was complications-"
"Will she be all right?" Chase demanded, her voice snapping.
"I believe that's up to her," he finally said. "We've done all we can but so far she has not responded to the-"
"Well, maybe, you're not doing it right. Fly some specialist in or do- "
"Chase, dear. You're giving me a headache. Shut up."
The woman on the bed spoke clearly. It was a frail tone, weak, but her eyes were open, and Chase's Winters' cold face changed immediately, softening as her face flooded with unshed tears, kneeling down by the bed and tightening her grip on the old woman's hand.
"God, Clari – I came as soon as I heard-"
"There was no rush, Chase. I was waiting for you."
Suddenly Doctor Harper felt he was intruding, as he leaned over, trying to force himself not to hear as he checked Ms. Winter's vital signs.
"My goodness that was… interesting."
Chase's answer was shaky at best. "Clari, you're going to be fine. I'm going to get the best doctors there is and I'm going to fly them- "
"Chase, dear, you will do no such thing. I'd rather we not drag this on."
"I was waiting for you to say goodbye, Chase."
Doctor Harper froze, his eyes riveted on the scene, on Chase's disbelieving face and on Claribel's own weakened face of resolution.
The hazel eyes flickered up, as if suddenly noticing he was there, and she said in a quick, no room for argument tone, "Do you mind stepping out for two seconds while I talk some sense into the blockhead here?"
"Uh…of course. I'll be back in five minutes to monitor-" she glared again, and he just shut his mouth and backed away.
Stepping outside, he leaned against, the hallway, inches from the open door, sucking in his breath.
And the conversation played on.
"Chase, for once you're going to shut up and listen to me. Goodness knows what Winters-…" she trailed off, and began again, her tone weaker. "I'm sorry, child, for what I said before."
"You never said-"
"I said you were death and destruction to those you loved."
His brow furrowed, mouth pursing. She had said that? Why?"
"Well, maybe you were right."
"I was wrong. Winters was wrong. We've placed a burden on you, Chase, and it's not right."
"Clari, if you keep going with this heart to heart I swear to God I'm going to hug you, I swear."
That seemed to be a threat, Doctor Harper noted, allowing a small smile on his face.
"Cordelia, my whole life I've been raised as one of you. To disregard true life for one's higher purpose – to embrace the game and ignore emotions – that's all Winters knew. And eventually it broke him. Don't let it be the same for you, child. Embrace life, love life, even when everything around is dying and destruction seems inevitable find COMFORT in your feelings, in your emotions. It's the only touch of reality you have."
The conversation had taken a turn he couldn't quite follow, but he still stood, hearing the sounds of the sniffling, of the tears, as his hands tightened around his clipboard.
"I just wish I could see you… Cordelia – I'm sure you'll make me quite proud."
"Clari… Clari- CLARI!"
His eyes jerked open and he turned, running into the room as he saw the younger women clutching at the older one's hand, and the monitor that before had beeped, beeped, beeped safely now gave a piercing flatlined sound.
In the end, there was nothing he could do, and he gave Chase Winters a regrettable frown, clearing his throat but she only held up her hand, took in a deep breath, and nodded.
"She called me Cordelia," she finally said weakly.
The Immortal she was seeking had hidden in the shadows, and she stood, waiting, her sword catching glimpses of the moonlight with flashes, her location no secret to whoever was out there. Again, spurts of memories and thoughts distracted her concentration, and Cordelia mentally tried to block it out, but she kept wondering where Katherine was and what Angel was doing and if leaving Travis alone was the right thing-
In the end she was in no shape to battle any Immortal – because Cordelia was always terrified she would run into another Duncan, another Amanda with her razor sharp fan, and then she would be as good as dead- Because in the Gathering there was no way out – in the End Game, there could be only one. GOD – how TIRED was she of that phrase?
She heard the crack behind her too late, too unfocused to completely turn and the booted foot hit her back hard, sending her tumbling forward, the sword clattering out of reach. Dazed, and with a bitch of a headache, she scrambled up, not daring to move for the sword when she saw the vampire pick it up, study it and grin.
"Spike, get the hell out of my way, you interfere with the Game you're –"
"I'm what? Dead? Already there, Cordelia." He swung the sword, looking around the empty room, trying to look interested and then finally just shrugging. "If you're worried about that little twinkle feeling, don't. Bloke's gone now. Flittered away to fight another fight." She narrowed her eyes, said nothing.
He waited, staring at her, making exaggerated swings with her sword, twirling and then stomping down hard with one foot. "Billy Idol called. He wants his wig back."
He gave her a grin, holding the sword against his cheek. "What do you say, Cordelia, we let bygones be bygones? Ignore the past-"
"Spike, you're an evil vampire."
"That aside, consider what we have in common."
She cocked an eyebrow. "Like what?"
There was a silence, before he grinned merrily. "We're both old."
"Wow. I'm astounded at your astuteness, Spike."
The grin faltered, and he shook his head. "You used to have a sense of humor."
"Forgive me, Spike, but the last time we encountered each other you tried to rip my throat out."
"Bloody good for you, Faith was there. How did the little vixen turn out?"
She let out a sigh, suddenly tired, too tired to engage in the battle of the wits with the vampire who seemed to enjoy it so keenly.
"Spike, give me my sword back now."
Yeah, Cordy, like he's really gonna say, "Oh sure! Here you go! Bloody sorry about that!" Moron.
"Here's the thing, Cordelia. This little End Game thing of yours? Concerns me just a little bit. The whole idea of ONE Immortal leading the world? Bloody stupid, I say."
"You think so too, huh?" she answered wryly, but he ignored the comment, instead raising his head to the ceiling, eyeing the warehouse as one would the Vatican.
"I figure – get the right girl, choose the right demon to possess her – give her that added little strength, help her win – makes for a happy little family, no?"
"Oh, Come ON! Cordy! Always so by the book – that was never you!"
She sucked in her breath, backing away carefully as the vampire advanced, keeping the sword in his hand firm. Of course, Spike was behind this, of course he wouldn't want to just watch the end of the world without some assurance, without planting a card in the deck.
The thoughts raced through her, her headache coming on stronger as she searched the room for anything she could use as a weapon. This was just not a good situation in general.
She knew how to fight disarmed, but Spike had nearly taken her life once before, and chances are, he had only gotten better with the added time.
"Now, is this why you wanted Katherine?"
"Oh, no, that was Nick – I've had enough with insane brunettes. Heartbreakers, all of them." He paused, cocking his head. "How did that feel, Cordelia? Killing Dru, just like that?"
"It felt pretty damn good, Spike," she said, eyes on the sword, always on the sword.
"Hmm… I bet. Still owe you for that, love. Fully prepared to just toss that aside, to the past- you want to live through this, don't you?"
Shit. She just wasn't up to this. This wasn't her deal. Spike was Angel's deal, Angel's demon, Angel's past. Cordelia had her own damn skeletons in her closets. Dammit Angel – where the HELL are you?
"Spike, I would rather die with my head chopped off, bleeding an angry trail than to spend one more minute in your Billy Idol wannabe company."
"Oh, now that's just harsh."
He lunged, and the sword flashed.
Simplicity in fighting was highly underrated. Angel was always a resourceful guy, willing and able to use what worked in a situation to defeat whatever opponent he faced. On occasion, he was brutal.
The vampires were flung, beaten and staked in methodical fashion, the woman in the vision old and frail – and kidnapped. When he finally reached her, she was covered in blood, weak and frail, but alive, and half scared.
"Hey, shhh…" He reached for her gently, but the cowering girl only shook her head and scrunched further into the corner. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said softly. "I'm a good guy."
"There are no good guys."
"Sure, there are." His hand reached out again, and she only looked at it, sucking in huge, gasping, sobbing breaths. He gave a needless sigh. "What's your name? Is it Anne?" The recognition gave him some ground, and Angel smiled, thankful that after a century, he had learned to deal with this sort of thing. "Anne, I need to help you."
The sincerity in his face counted for some thing, she had seen him dust the vampires, but she had also seen his brutality in doing so.
But the need to trust anyone apparently won over, because when carefully, he got a hold of her hand, she let herself get pulled up. Once that was done, the poor young girl gave a wretched sob, her fear so apparent. It was in her smell, so blatant and almost drugging, calling to what he used to be. But the vampire stilled the urge, as he was so used to doing, instead allowing her to press herself against his bigger body and hold on tight, weeping for the trauma she had just endured.
"Let's get you home."
She nodded, keeping her trembling hold on him, and he smiled, drawing her in, under his shoulder.
A crash from above them made her jump, startling them both, and Angel's head jerked up as a form fell from five stories up, hitting the ground with a sickening squelch.
Anne shrieked as Angel quickly let her go.
The time it took to get to the body was a blur, he wasn't sure when his heart constricted, when the urge to panic took hold of him, when the denial came about as he fell to his knees beside her.
On the ground, eyes closed, blood dripping from her mouth, pooling around her head, with a sword impaled in her abdomen, very, very dead, was Cordelia Chase.
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Eleven
In a split second everything that meant anything was stripped away and there was only complete, utter darkness.
There was death, so much death and the vampire could smell the blood, palms trembling as fingers drifted hesitantly toward the body, afraid to touch it, afraid to confirm what was lying in front of him.
Quickly he pressed his ear against her chest, listening desperately for a heartbeat.
There was nothing.
The blood continued to pool, invading his senses, as a wrenched sob tore from his throat and his hands closed into fists.
Suddenly her entire body heaved inward, as she gasped for breath.
His heart gave a jolt as he yelped, scrambling back and then coming back forward just as quickly, swallowing down the lump that stuck in his throat.
She only grimaced, leather gloved hands reaching for the sword, with a whimper, pulling it out.
Hands immediately inspected her as he came forward, palm over her heart.
God, it was beating. It was beating.
"Hey Angel, you wanna get your hand off my boob?"
His eyes jolted up to hers, and they were brilliant and hazel and ALIVE, and he found himself smiling helplessly in relief, his free hand tangling with hers.
But she only cocked an eyebrow.
"Hand still on my boob."
"OH!" Flushing, his hand flew away, moving to slide around her to help her sit up. "Sorry. You ….uh… died."
"Yeah. Happens once in a while." She grimaced, looking down at herself, hand on her wound. "Oh, God. I'm bleeding, aren't I?"
"I think you cracked your head open."
"Oh, DAMN. I'm sticky and gross and AUGH, I LIKED this shirt."
"What the hell happened up there?" he asked her, gently inspecting her head, gratified to see the wound had already healed, leaving only the caked blood behind – rich with her scent.
"In a word, Spike," she said.
"Yeah – kinda cornered me and told me – yeah, bigger problem- he's trying to get in on the Gathering, he's the one rushing it, he's raising some kind of demon to possess well… me. By the way, I think your D.I.D is getting away," she muttered, hand pressing against the back of her head and coming away smeared with red blood. "Oh, Eww."
"D.I.D.," Cordelia repeated. "Damsel In Distress. She's getting away."
Angel's eyes swiveled to the blonde who was slowly backing away. "Oh! Anne! Sorry!"
Quickly he stumbled to his feet, moving toward the shaken girl, carefully taking hold of her shoulders. "I'm sorry."
The terrified young girl was shaking visibly, trembling at the sight of Cordelia wiping the blood from her now healed body.
"I'm fine!" Cordelia said, still digging in her hair, grimacing in disgust. "I'm fine!" She swung her sword at the D.I.D, and then froze the blade in midair, making Angel pause in concern.
"This isn't my sword! Where's my sword!? This isn't my sword!"
She began to frantically look around the ground, searching anywhere for a scattered blade.
Angel watched, trying to keep his hold on his D.I- erm… Anne as soothing as possible, despite the very real panic in Cordelia's voice.
"Well where'd you put it?" he asked helpfully, turning to try to find the blade himself.
"He took it!" Cordelia exclaimed, peering at the foreign blade. "And I thought I could get my sword back-"
"By getting yourself impaled?!"
"Well, duh! Of course I did. Getting impaled is a hell of a lot better than getting your head lopped off..."
Angel paused, eyes narrowing. "You PLANNED that?"
"Dying hurts like a bitch but at least I wake up," she huffed, almost growling at the sword. "I want my sword back! That was Winters' sword! All right, WHERE THE HELL IS HE?!"
When she began to stalk to the warehouse, he finally had to let Anne go, coming forward and grabbing her by the shoulders.
"Cordelia, calm down-"
"The bastard took my sword!"
"We need to find Katherine."
The name seemed to finally give some recognition to Cordelia because she met his eyes, and her shoulders slumped, as she sighed.
"Oh. Right. But we're getting my sword back after that, right?"
He couldn't help but offer a small smile. "Yeah."
It was late, he was tired, and he hadn't had a good night's sleep in more than a week.
All in all, what else was new?
The darkness that surrounded the world of Los Angeles had infected him as well, infected everyone who fought for the good – like a poison, it seeped into the soul, taking with it hope, love.
With every death there was a reprise of the lost feeling everyone tried to suppress and Travis wondered, deep down, how Angel had managed to survive when he had been surrounded by death and loss.
Worry had abounded for Travis when Angel decided to reconnect with Cordelia Chase, aka Chase Winters. For years she had become something close to a mythology, a lingering hope for Angel that there was something that wasn't going away, wasn't dying.
After what Travis read in his research on Immortals, he became more and more certain that all Cordelia really had was an extended lease on life.
A few Get Out of Jail free cards, and then, her time would come.
He had been worried when he had just known of her, now that he knew her personally, he was worried sick.
Cordelia Chase, with her infectious smile and her tired hazel eyes, slender muscled body hidden by the trench coat, had Damsel In Distress written all over her, and Angel was a sucker for those.
Plus, the whole hottie quotient, and the hidden depths, and really, who could really resist a hot woman who dressed expensively and had a sword fetish?
And in what was coming, if this Endgame was happening, Angel would lose the last hope that he held out for.
It had been a BAD idea to get Angel involved with her, and it was an EVEN WORSE idea to fall for her.
The other girl, the Katherine girl was the one that needed to be obsessed over, in the way only Angel could do it – but Cordelia was distracting-
Hell… even Travis himself –
But no… not a good idea to even think about that, he admonished to himself, staring back down at the books and complaining loudly that Angel needed some new staff members, and soon.
The aching headache was searing through him, and he could barely look at the page without blanking out, much less try and read it.
Before him there had been many, and ever since Travis had taken on the burden he had tried to shake the nagging factor that everyone who knew Angel, everyone who knew his past, was waiting, counting his moments.
Almost a running joke, Travis, the next Seer – how long did he have?
The sounds of Caritas got louder and he growled, a side affect from living with the vampire, pushing himself to his feet, fully preparing to walk into the hotel bar and give them a piece of his mind, when a figure in the doorway stopped him.
"I need help."
He swallowed down the pain, looked in annoyance to Caritas, and turn, forcing on a smile.
The man did come in, the leather duster swinging behind him.
She wanted to go home, indulge herself in a long, luxurious bath, wash out the blood, change her clothes, and get her damn sword back.
Instead, Cordelia Chase was waiting, unsure how to enter the building, unsure about anything.
Rubbing her hand against her aching head, she gave Angel a tired glance. "Angel, take the D.I.D- Anne. Take Anne home."
"I don't think it's a good idea to leave you, Cordelia," he said immediately.
"It'll be fine, I'll find Kat, we'll go home, I'll take a shower, and then I'm going to KICK SPIKE'S ASS FOR TAKING MY SWORD!"
The last words she screamed, stomping her feet in something akin to a tantrum that made Angel smile in reaction.
There was always something so eternally refreshing about how Cordelia Chase handled situations. Even one hundred years ago, she reacted to dying in exactly the same way she had reacted to Buffy's getting a bad haircut.
Oh, that had been a scary day.
Arms tightening around the blonde under his shoulder, he found himself pausing, refection and clarity at his own actions making him almost stumble in realization.
He had smiled.
In the midst of the coming darkness he had smiled at the memory of his dead wife.
There hadn't been a churn, a pang of pain and anger, but in the path before him, littered with death, there had existed a memory that was previously overshadowed, of his wife close to panic over the bad haircut, of Cordelia threatening to take the hair dresser's head, of Willow doing the best she could to make it fixable- of in panic finally dying the whole thing back to brown in an effort to make it better-
Of walking on eggshells for weeks, repeatedly telling his wife she looked good…
Memories that made him smile.
The lump in his throat didn't lesson, but he had to stare at Cordelia, with the half smile on his face, gripping the blonde and gently turning her towards the car.
He received a huff, a puff, a roll of her eyes in return. "Angel I've been taking care of myself for HOW long? PLEASE don't pull the D.I.D routine with me."
He blinked. "I'm not-"
Sticking her tongue out, she waved him to silence, turning back to the building. "I'll meet you at the office."
"Are you sure-"
"I'll be FINE! In fact, tingle feeling, right now." She shuddered slightly, hand on her stomach as she reeled, shaking her head. "We'll be right behind you."
That signaled the end of the conversation, and when the door slammed shut behind her, Cordelia knew she had made her point.
A blonde. Why did they always have to be blonde?
Shaking her head, she took another look at the sword, curious at the gleaming antique saber with the longer handle and the strange way it seemed to glow in the dark.
Etchings appeared on the blade, and the weight was lighter than hers… Eastern perhaps?
She exhaled slowly, shifting the handle, testing the weight.
A good, clean, excellently made sword.
It just didn't make sense. Why would Spike – what did he want with her sword?
"What happened to you?"
She turned, found the Immortal with tousled hair in the doorway, and offered a grim smile. "I got tossed out the window."
"Oh." There was a pause. "Are you better now?"
Cordelia gave a shrug, once again looking at the blood that was quickly congealing on her clothes, and in her hair, smeared across her face. "Not saying I wouldn't mind a shower, but yeah. Are you okay?"
Katherine stepped forward, her walk strong and purposefully, and head still ringing from her near- okay, DEATH experience, Cordelia didn't notice the gleam in her eye right away.
"You're tired? I just got shishkabobed! And have you seen my hair? I mean, Medusa much? And my shirt…" Cordelia trailed off as Katherine continued to advance, caught the subtle way Katherine shifted her grip on her sword, the way the face was carefully hidden in the shadows, so as not to see the eyes.
Straightening, Cordelia licked her lips, looking around at the now deserted streets, taking in an uneasy breath.
"Katherine – this is so not necessary," she began irritation leaking into her voice. "How are we going to help you if you keep trying to kill me?"
"Oh I need help all right, but you guy's are hardly qualified."
Her hand tightened around the hilt of the new sword, moving around, falling into the circular pattern, eyes on Katherine.
"I'm sensing just a little bit of bitterness here."
"I'm sensing a lot, Cordelia," Katherine said, enunciating her real name with an almost disgusted tone. "You claim to know me, to really know me, to know exactly what I'm going through but that's not stopping you, is it?"
"Kat, you have to calm down," Cordelia said, hands out, carefully motioning with her palms. "The Gathering has infected you, you have to-"
"SHUT UP! God you're such a kid." Tossing her hair over her shoulder revealed Katherine's face, and the tear streaked, angry eyes that were directed towards the younger Immortal. "You don't even see it do you?"
"The vampire, Chase. You and the vampire." Katherine swallowed, shaking her head. "You expect me to deny what I feel – when I KNOW Nick can feel love?"
"Nick is evi-"
"SO?! What the hell are we? We KILL Cordelia."
"We kill to live."
"And so does he."
"He doesn't have to."
"And if you can love a beast- then why the hell can't I?"
The words were tossed, edged in emotion, lingering in the air as Cordelia absorbed them, her heart beating slowly, slowly, and then quickening the pace with the jolt that came with the realization.
"You think I love him. We're not lovers, Kat."
Katherine didn't say a word, only clenched her jaw and lifted her tear streaked face to the sky, almost as if in the heavens would she find the answers that she was so desperately seeking.
"I need to hope, Chase. I need to love. I'm not saying I'm better. But now maybe I don't have to be. Good and evil… they mean nothing – the longer you live the more the lines blur – and all you care about… is love. Life. Anything that … I'm sorry."
Her hand raised high and the sword came down lightning fast, flashing in the moonlight.
Cordelia swung, dipping into an arc, twirling and raising up to meet the blade, bracing herself for the impact.
The clang that erupted sent a broad flash of light so powerful it threw them both back.
Cordelia landed, her back pounding against the pavement, hand still gripping the sword, and found Kat no better off, bouncing off the wall and landing in a heap.
"What the hell?" she whispered, eyes jerking toward the blade in her hand.
Katherine stood, wiping the blood of the split lip from her mouth before she shook herself out of the pain and came at her again.
This time she managed to stay on her feet, but when she struck again and Cordelia whirled, and the two blades struck again, the power surging into Cordelia's arm, helping maintain her balance.
Katherine was hurled from the force of the blow back against the wall again.
"What the FUCK is wrong with your sword?"
"You think I know?!" Cordelia asked, keeping her grip tight on it.
Katherine swallowed, wiped the blood from her mouth, and then looked up into the building.
The urge to panic was so completely clear, as Cordelia shuddered at the tingling in her hand. The urge to drop it came along with the surprise but she held firm, eyes always on Katherine, who was regarding her with wary suspicion, just a little bit of fear.
Carefully, Cordelia lowered the blade, moving it behind her back. "Katherine, stop the insanity, please. Get over yourself, for two minutes and – HEY!"
Katherine backed away slowly, sliding the sword in the lapels of her jacket.
But the Immortal was already running away from her, quickly enveloped by the darkness and Cordelia was too tired, to weak, and to freaked to do anything but watch her go.
She stilled the urge to run after her, kept the sword close to her sighed and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply, exhaling slowly.
She had no idea what she would do if she caught up to Katherine, with a sword that seemed warped and a mind that was blistered, anticipation rushing gloriously through her veins.
She didn't trust herself.
The Gathering was getting to her too.
Mr. Jacobs had removed his tie long before, working feverishly with an aching back and a throbbing neck.
His hand was almost unconsciously resting beside his ear, straining to hear the beep, to feel the jolt that would tell him his Immortal was all right.
The waiting was the hardest part, as he leaned forward, wiping sweat from his forehead and rereading the texts about the numerous battles, the evils – the pitfalls…
So much he didn't know, so much he didn't want to know. Demons had always scared Terrance – they had no rules, no orders. Immortals, evil or good, lived by their own set of rules, but they followed them. Those who tried to abide by chaos were snuffed out, put away by their own kind for their manipulation of the Game.
But demons… witches and spells… that brought in another element and Mr. Jacobs did not even want to ponder the darkness that associated with that.
Perhaps this was why the Watchers Council – the Slayer Sect- was regarded with such… disdain and almost fear from the Watchers Immortals.
Immortal Watchers dealt with higher beings – the Slayer's Council – with the lower.
The ringing of the phone in his ear made him jump, as his hand automatically flicked his the lobe, hearing the click.
"Hey, Stalker Boy." Chase sounded tired, her voice tinny from the distance. "How's it hanging?"
He found himself looking down before he caught the old slang. "Oh. Umm… Okay, I guess. How are you Ms. Winters? "
"Freaked, Freaked and even more Freaked. Listen, Terence I need you to do me a favor. I know who's behind this – I need you to look him up."
"Yes, of course. Just tell me the name-"
"It's a vampire. Beached Blonde idiot vampire named Spike. William the Bloody – I don't know. He's got this spell and he's gonna raise some demon and it's going to possess… well me. So, I need some information about spells – anything that could be used to trigger the EndGame."
Mr. Jacobs' mouth had gone completely dry, and now that he was fairly certain she expected an answer, all he could do was stammer, "Ms. Chase. I'm not versed in… mythology and demon lore."
"Then find someone who IS. Please Terence. A lot of Immortal's lives hang in the balance and of course the world. Again. Why are we always saving the damn world? I mean – okay never mind.. Gotta go – Katherine just tried to kill me and I've got a weird sword. Get back to me. Bye."
He opened his mouth to answer, but the phone had already closed the connection, and he found himself speaking to thin air.
"I… uh… Good Lord." Demons. He knew nothing about demons.
Demons were beneath them. They were nothing to the Immortals and yet now…
Was a vampire really and truly behind this?
Taking a breath, licking his lips, his hands began to type over the keyboard, fingers shaking slightly, before hearing the click on his phone as he connected.
"I'll like to get in touch with the Watchers Council. The Slayers' Council."
It was amazing how things looked so different, and so completely the same. Los Angeles was eternally the mecca of bohemia – the fururistic movies of the past nothing like what it was. People clung to the past, here, and the darkness that came with it hung over it like a crowd. In this, the hotel did not stand apart. Old and rickety and barely standing it bore the symbolism of it's own city well – and with the flickering light that emanated warmth, it also bore the hope.
She smiled as she walked toward it, closing her eyes and inhaling a breath of relief as she descended the stairs.
The sight that befell her as she opened the door made her freeze completely. The inner sanctum of Angel's hotel was completely torn by the scene.
Lawyers, leaning over a body, blood everywhere. Broken glasses on the floor. Travis.
She couldn't move for a half second, couldn't breathe, and the gasp was what they heard first, as they jerked up to see her, and then looked back down to the body.
Her heart dropped into her stomach, hardened as it churned, everything inside of her moving with the anticipation that infected her from the Gathering, the rage and the need -
"We didn't do it!" blurted out one, doubling back.
She swallowed down hard, eyes narrowing and anger exploding from inside as she burst into the room, brandishing the sword and grabbing one lawyer by the tie, hurling him into the wall.
"Ten seconds, lawyer boy," she hissed through her teeth, not daring to look at the convulsing Travis for fear her already frazzled self control would fail her. "To tell me exactly what happened."
"We didn't do it," he repeated. "I swear, Ms. Winters! We were just… we came to give you a … summons – you've been serve-" he was cut off when Cordelia tightened her hold on his windpipe, dangerously close to choking him.
"Listen. I have blood in my hair. I'm ready to kill someone. My clothes are ruined. And you just killed a friend of mine. Do you THINK I have ANY reason NOT to hurt you, torture you and castrate you?"
"It wasn't them, Sweetie."
The voice belonged to Lorne, and Cordelia slowly turned, looking past the terrified lawyers and finding the green man tied up in the corner, green skin incredibly pale.
"Wasn't them. It was a vampire. I would have spoken up before but I don't like them much either."
Cordelia closed her eyes from the sight of Travis, but when he gave a low moan, she finally let go, jerking back from the lawyers as if their touch disgusted her.
For once, they complied. Cordelia stepped around Travis, cutting the bonds of the host before returning back, slowly sinking to the floor.
His breath was shallow, lips pale and eyes glassy, but he moved, barely.
She found herself smiling, even as the tears began to blur her vision, even as her trembling hands gathered his in hers, and squeezed.
"Wow. This hurts more than those visions." His eyes closed, and her hands gripped tighter.
"Hey. Keep your eyes open. All you need is a little medication, and some bandages." Lorne immediately nodded, running back towards the bar.
"Eh. It's okay," he tried to smile, but the wheeze caught him and his entire body shook from the cough. "Wow. I'm woozy."
"Travis. Shut up. Not helping with the whole blood loss."
He took in another ragged breath, and she smiled grimly. Everything inside her was completely numb, as she held onto the Seer, Angel's Seer, a young man with scruffy blonde hair and broken glasses.
"For what it's worth… I know why- that dude-"
"What did he look like?" she asked immediately, thankful that once again, her eyes were crystal clear. There were no tears. And she couldn't take the time to wonder why.
"He… blonde. British accent. Wanted to cut off Angel- the Powers."
She closed her eyes, felt the swell of emotion that tumbled through her and when the fingers squeezed against hers, she looked down again at the brilliantly human eyes, and found nothing but pain.
"Save him for me," he said simply.
Cordelia swallowed, and the tears came, as the blood pumped through her heart and her breathing became ragged. Tenderly, she leaned forward, pressing her lips against his pale ones, kissing the Seer gently, so gently. At the contact, a tingle went through her, and seconds later, the fingers went limp.
"I got the stuff!" Lorne almost tripped as Cordelia let the hands go, wiping at her face.
"It doesn't matter. He's gone," she said matter-of-factly.
Lorne paused, genuine sorrow on his face as he kneeled down, and gently closed the eyes of Travis.
A sense of awareness flowed through Cordelia, and she turned, found the figure in the doorway, eyes on the body.
The hooded eyes were focused on Travis as he walked forward, slowly, shoulders hunched. Without a word, he knelt beside Cordelia, studying, and with one hesitant hand, reached toward Travis' face, before pulling back.
"Spike killed him. To cut you off from the Powers."
"To cut you both off," Lorne added, crossing his arms, eyes red, bloodshot, voice curiously void of any semblance of melody or tune. It was rough, raspy.
Angel pursed his lips, and his shoulders shook as his eyes closed, head falling forward against his chest, taking in a deep, moving breath that Cordelia knew he didn't need. Every nerve was on edge as she kneeled beside the vampire, hesitant to do anything, unsure how to react.
Oh, GOD, she hated death, and sometimes she wished for it more than anything in the world. When the eyes opened, they were dark, intense, and the face was closed as he reached forward, turned Travis' chin, and inspected the wounds on his neck.
"Burn him," he said finally, voice dark and clipped. "We can't afford to take the chance." He stood, picked up the broken glasses and carefully placed them on his chest.
Cordelia watched as he stood, and headed toward the stairs, never once looking back. She could barely breathe, her mouth open to receive the air as she locked eyes with Lorne. But the Host was no better off, as he shrugged helplessly and picked up the phone.
Los Angeles, California, 2006
The beacon glowed bright, dark and menacing.
Angel's throat was dry as he looked at the machine, saw the way it pulsed, and pulsed.
"What does this thing do?" The voice with the Irish tint was right behind him, and he spoke without looking.
"It's light kills anything with human blood." He turned, saw the way Doyle processed this, looking down at the fearful refugees under the deck.
"Well, it's gettin' brighter, and that little doohicky... It's fully armed,=
He didn't even stop to think as he responded, "Almost. I pull the cables, I think I can shut it off."
Doyle, his voice scratchy with fear, almost snorted. " Yeah, but how're you gonna get to it without touching the light?"
His face contorted as he turned, and let his expression say it all.
Doyle considered, watching, and immediately the half demon shook his head, locking eyes. "Angel it's suicide. No. No man, there's got to be another way."
He sucked in his breath, found his thumb caressing the cold metal on his hand. The promise he made to Buffy. The promise he made to all of him.
And the people, down there, frightened and scared. They would all die. And wasn't he dead already? Angel offered Doyle a grim smile. "It's all right..."
The young Irishman with the oversized leather coat had tears in his eyes, and Angel stepped forward, clasping his shoulder, dead heart suddenly feeling as it would burst. This was the end, and it felt right, because he was saving lives. So people could live. So he could live.
Doyle's hands tightened on his shoulders, tone tired and scratchy. "The good fight, yeah?" Pure, unfiltered emotion flitted through him, and he nodded, as Doyle nodded back, in his eyes the acceptance that Angel often strove for. "You never know `til you're tested. I get that now."
The punch came out of nowhere, and Angel flew, falling, falling, landing with a jolt on the ground, blinded for a second in pain.
Dazed… dazed and alive and OH GOD – DOYLE!
"NO! DOYLE!" He scrambled to his feet, wobbly and scared as he scrambled for the ladder, pulling himself up as fast as he could.
But he was too slow, or Doyle was too fast, because Doyle jumped, landing with a jar on the beacon and Angel could only watch helplessly as the half demon Seer scrambled for the wires. Angel stood, frozen, helpless as the light began to glow brighter, and brighter, and still Doyle worked on, pulling at the wires.
And GOD it began to burn - the stench in the air and still Doyle held on-
He stood at the edge of the platform, and he screamed, "DOYLE!"
And then the scream came – pain, agony, and the thing burnt out and Angel had to force his head away, tears streaming from his eyes as the darkness overtook him.
Doyle. The first to die.
The first to wrench through Angel's heart – the first to sacrifice his life for his champion, for the helpless… for himself.
He sat, in the dark, his body numb and his mind splintered, as he fingered the ring, closed his eyes, and tried to desperately not to remember.
The door creaked open almost hesitantly.
"I… don't know. I just wanted to… you know… make sure…"
"I wasn't suicidal?" His eyes finally opened, turning to regard Cordelia, half hidden in the shadows.
"I'm sorry, Angel."
"I know." She waited, and when he said nothing, she only licked her lips, turning toward the door. "Don't."
He turned, reached over and flicked on a lamp. "Don't."
So she didn't. She came forward, showered and wet hair neatly combed back, face devoid of any make up. There was silence as they sat.
"We're going to get him," she said finally.
"We're going to more than get him," he answered. "He's going to know what pure pain is."
"You'd be the expert." The words made him close his eyes, and she sucked in her breath. "Oh, God, Angel. I'm sorry. I didn't-"
"You're right." He kept his hands on the ring, turning it in the lamplight, watching as it shone. "I am."
"No. You're not."
"How many have you seen die, Cordelia? Does it hurt any less?"
She was silent beside him. Then, "Like a hole, ripped through me – always empty and always… God, Angel, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of waiting for happily ever after. There's not… there's no happy. There's only ever after."
"There's happiness, Cordelia." He finally looked up, eyes meeting hers, dark and brown and focused. "In the moments. In the memories."
She was silent, and finally spoke again. "Do you remember, how… Ruppy was born?" The smile that graced his lips encouraged her, and she went on, softly. "Everything was… different. We were newlyweds and there was this LITTLE life, and it was ours. It was…"
"It was innocence."
"God, I would give anything to feel that again."
"I'm okay, Cordelia," he finally said. "I've come to accept death."
"When the hell are we going to accept life?" she whispered, under her breath, so small he could barely hear her.
"Travis was smart," he began. "And he had a crush on you."
"A crush on me?" he smiled as he nodded, watching as the tips of her lips pulled up slightly.
"Thought you were a hottie."
A slight blush pervaded her and she shrugged. "I guess." But the smile faded away and she took a ragged breath. "I have to tell you, Angel-"
"I don't want to hear it," he said, closing his eyes at the grave tone. "Not tonight."
"Tomorrow." His eyes focused on the ring, still in his hands, letting it fall back against his chest.
"It's never going to stop, is it?"
"My life is darkness, Cordelia," he answered matter-of-factly. "I have to atone-"
"For something Angelus did?"
"I am Angelus."
"You're Angel. And you're good."
"Then, what makes you think you're paying for something?"
The question caught her off guard, and she only shrugged. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters to me."
He did, closing his eyes and exhaling slowly. "Do you remember when my soul was the biggest problem?"
"Oh yeah. Big Broody Angel – oh my soul – pure happiness- demon- typical male."
She nudged him and he chuckled, the numbness in his soul easing slightly, letting the raw pain flare and then slowly fade.
"Only to find that Willow had botched the thing and not given me a curse to begin with."
"Just easy as that, huh?" she whispered, her lips quirking at the irony as she gathered her legs under her, exhaling with a long breath. "It's funny… we thought that once we got over the whole soul curse everything would be easier."
Easier. Angel let the word mull over his mind. Was it any easier – to lose his Slayer after he had held her trembling and woke up with her in his arms, easier to hold her in his arms and know he only had borrowed time? Easier to live lifetime after lifetime, watching from shadows, always in the world but never a part of it?
"It's not easier."
"I know," Cordelia said after a moment, craning her head, turning it so her hair fell somewhat into her face, hiding her hazel orbs as they regarded him. "So, what have we been doing, Angel? Since then?"
He considered, watching as her delicate fingers pushed the hair out of her face, a wisp of a moment that seemed to last an eternity with the delicate gesture.
"In a sense, learning."
Every word was enunciated, every syllable had meaning as his eyes roved over hers and he whispered, "What it means to live- not live in the past – not live in death – but really… truly… live."
The words hung in the air, her eyes met his and their gaze locked. One long, meaningful glance, intense warmth rushed over him as her lips opened slightly, her heart slowing to one long, tantalizing beat before skipping two more, suddenly rushing at a furious pace.
The beat filled his senses, alive – awareness…. Gentleness…
Passion had entered the equation, feeling and emotion that had previously been shared with only one other person was now open, naked in his eyes and for once, Angel did not try to bury it, not the demon, shifting under the bound soul, not the low growl that was almost imperceptive from his throat.
It took, it seemed, years for his hand to reach hers, to caress a thumb over her palm, to turn it over, and study every line, every groove. The flesh was warm, soft, rough with worn calluses that were hidden with the scent of lotion.
Her breath hitched slightly, and he knew it was then that she had somehow forgotten to breathe.
Death was swarming all around him and in this one woman there was life given so vibrantly.
In his past, in his present… in his future.
From her hand his palm slipped, now carefully caressing her thigh, spreading long fingers over it, stroking up, searing heat in her warmth that made his body shudder.
She was still, so very still, and her lack of movement finally caused him to look up, a question in his eyes that was waiting to be answered.
But the hazel brilliance was moist, her lips were trembling, and shaking fingers were gentle on his skin as she leaned forward, palming his cheek carefully, moving across the stubble, thumb pulling on his lower lip slightly as she finally moved to his neck, curling around the nape, and pulling him forward.
He kept his eyes open as their lips met, watching with obsessive precision as her eyes closed, long lashes feather light against his skin, watching as her body curled against his. But when her lips shifted under his hungrily and her body pressed tighter against his touch he found them sliding shut involuntarily, passion overcoming his senses as he kissed her, and kissed her, and kissed her again.
Hesitancy of movement gave way with the increasing ardor, as she gasped for breath, breasts heaving as they pressed against his chest, hands roaming as if only by touching every part of is body would she ever truly understand what it was they were doing.
Her eyes were perfect, the gold flecks mixed with hazel darkened to an almost brown with passion, and his fingers followed the pert nose to the mouth, palms spread wide down the swan like column of her throat and further down, sliding, firmly, gently, between her cleavage and over the abdomen that was firmly taut.
But the gentleness of worshiping her body was soon lost as his hand smoothed over her backside, gripping her thigh, guiding it around the curve of his hip and pressing her own against his rock hard groin.
The sensation, the feel of her heat against him made him groan in sync with her own gasp and he trembled as his mouth sought hers again, hot and wet and open.
There was never a question of how far this would go, how dangerous this was to their friendship because it was the friendship that had mutated, pushing them to this point, as he slid cold fingers up the warm, contracting muscles of her back and rode the shirt up, resting his body between her thighs as she, equally busy, ran her hands over his now bare chest, the lapels of his shirt hanging open, falling on each side of her.
And it was Cordelia, who finally lay under him, who rocked her hips against his and gasped his name. It was Cordelia who raked her fingernails down his back and threw her head back with reckless abandon. Cordelia who bit her lip in an aching attempt to smother her sounds, cradling her palm gently against his cheek as he smoothed his hand over one pert nipple.
And it was her eyes he was lost in as he was swallowed by her warmth, the groan ripped from his throat as she tightened around him, her gasp at the invasion and her low, almost panther like purr as he began to move.
And when he exploded, he was clinging to her, mouth moving over her neck and her face and any piece of her flesh he could reach, and the identical rings that hung on identical chains tangled when his chest pressed against hers, but it was okay.
And when it was over, as her tired, spent body rested on top of his and his hands roamed almost in wonder over the naked skin, he noticed the chains and the rings, but only stared, and then closed his eyes, pressing his lips against her sweaty forehead.
Somehow, he knew.
It was much more than okay.
The Road Before Us: Chapter Twelve
-- Sunnydale, California 2009
Sudden brightness in her face made her groan, jolting her into consciousness as she moved instinctively, hand slipping away from the muscled chest to cover her eyes, sighing when she saw nothing but darkness again.
When she heard the low chuckle, she muttered, "Shut UP, Xander," ignoring the warm hand that slid up her waist and pulled her in closer to his side. Her body, lazy with sleep, settled against him as she parted her fingers slowly. "Why is it, wherever the hell I sleep, I always get hit by the damn sunlight!?"
"You used to like sunlight, Cordelia," came the sleepy voice of her husband.
She gave a slow, light growl, stretching against him and reaching out to throw the covers over her head, letting out a contented sigh.
"I like the dark," she mumbled.
And it was true, she did like the dark, with the… darkness. Chase Winters had come to understand something about lightness and darkness – and although she had often cherished the sunlight she never got to see, thanks to the fighting and the quickening and Sunnydale's relatively late hours – darkness had become her place.
In the light, in the daytime, she had become to feel more and more exposed. Daylight held no secrets, everything splayed out in the open, for everyone to see – in the darkness there was room for shadows, room for secrets – room for Immortals with double lives.
Over the years she become less and less involved with the light, less and less involved with making it a point to attend Ruppy's baseball games or Rachel's soccer games – and more and more she had felt the tension that arose because of it.
"Yeah, I know. You need a tan, Cordy." She only growled something intelligible and hugged him closer, burying her face into his chest and making a decision not to move ever again.
"Where were you last night?"
One eye creaked open when he raised the sheet peer into her face. Xander had aged well. He looked like a man, with a little premature grey in his hair. Married young, lost so many lives, young – and the constant stress of creating a family with a barely there wife when he himself had never had a stellar first hand experience at it, it was all making it's point, and taking it's toll. But he had proved himself, proved he could, even when she barely came home, and even when their adopted children asked time and time again, why Mommy looked so young and why she was never home.
"Xander," she began, stretching against him, closing her eyes. "You always ask, and I always give you the same answer. I'm not telling you. Let it go."
"And I'm always going to keep asking. But hey, who the hell am I? You know, only your husband. Geez. FAITH knows more about my wife than I do."
The bitter answer made Cordelia groan, and she sighed, sitting up, finally pulled out of her want of sleep, to look at her husband with a passive expression.
"Okay, fine. You want to know what I did last night, Xander? Since Faith is in Los Angeles, I had to track a Yrackier demon for five miles on foot. We got into a fight, and he came close to raping me. Then he cut out my kidneys, ate them, and threw me off a cliff. When I came to, three of my ribs were broken and I had lost most of my blood – so after about four hours of barely conscious agony-"
"Stop." His voice was choked, harsh, and her heart tremored slightly when she heard it, but she only crossed her arms, and kept going.
"And I fainted. I woke up, covered in blood- again, lost my sword, spent two hours trying to find it, and then had to retrace the demon all the way back to it's lair, which was littered with corpses, a few of them human-"
"No, Xander! I'm sharing!"
"DAMMIT, Cordy!" He rose, throwing aside the bed covers as he reached for his pants, pulling them, turning to glare at her as he ran distracted hands over his disheveled hair.
The look in his face was plain agony, but she got the point, as she took a breath, and settled back down on the bed, pulling the covers back over herself.
"Xander, there are parts of myself – of my life that I don't want you to know. That you don't HAVE to know. And it's okay."
"No it's not." His voice was heavy, as he came forward again, chocolate brown eyes gentle and almost moist as his hands slipped to her shoulder. "Look. Yeah, it hurts okay? To… see that part of you. But I knew about that when I married you. I knew what I was getting. And I want it."
Her heart was beating fast. Over the years she had come to cherish the heartbeat. Her senses within her arose, her awareness grew with every quickening and she could count them, would count them at times when she was distracted, worried, saddened.
This heartbeat slowed.
"Xander – you don't get it. I'm … honored that you to know about every death, and every spell and every torn muscle. But I don't want you to know." He swallowed, his jaw tightening as she continued. "Do you understand? I have this… life here. This is my sanctuary. You and… and Rachel and Rupert and Willow – it's… light here. And Faith and me – we're part of the darkness – and you can't mix that."
Her hand reached out, placed carefully into his palm, as she let her fingers tangle with his, the rings clinking slightly as she gave him a sad smile.
"I have barely enough time with you as it is… I'd rather we talk about… happy stuff."
He looked down, at the entwined fingers, at Cordelia's eternally young ones, and he let out a harried breath.
"Fine," he finally said. "Fine, Cordelia. But you … you have to understand that it hurts not knowing."
"And you have to understand – that it hurts just as much to know."
Their eyes locked, and suddenly the moment was broken when the door was flung open, and a little Asian girl ran into the room.
Cordelia's face slipped into a smile as Rachel clamored onto the bed, dark eyes shining. "Mommy! Can we have pancakes?"
"If Daddy makes them, sure."
"Hey midget!" Xander grinned, grabbing the girl and tickling her mercilessly.
The younger girl squirmed, digging into Xander's ribs and then launched over, attacking Cordelia with an "oomph".
"Mommy, you're staying, today, right?"
The little dark eyes looked up at her, eternally shining, eternally adorable, and eternally loving.
"Sure, sweetheart. I'm staying."
Her eyes rose to meet Xander's, and when he tossed her a hesitant grin, she reached out, grabbed his fingers, and squeezed.
The coffee was grainy, and it tasted bad.
She never noticed, as she leaned back on the chair feet propped up against the desk, her cup warming her palms.
Angel had taken off the ring. Her own ring, hidden in her cleavage, had been warmed by her skin, a contrast to Angel's.
It had been the metal that had awoken her this morning, tangled in the sheets, legs splayed over a pair of curiously cold legs, arms wrapped around a cool body, face buried in a strong, masculine neck. Metal rings had tangled together, and Cordelia, opening her eyes, didn't quite understand at first, what it was they had done.
Angel, with his ringless hand, held her close, not breathing, eyes closed, still, completely still.
When she shifted slightly she earned herself an unconscious growl, as the vampire suddenly came to life, to throw his legs on top of hers and wrap his arms around her tighter. She had waited, as he sniffed her in his sleep, nuzzling her neck, and she felt the smile against her cheek as he gave a soft, low moan, before keeping his grip tight and letting his head fall back to the pillow.
Cordelia was never one for one night stands, and she knew, despite the long years of loneliness with a bound soul, that Angel wasn't either. Angel was a man who had to be pushed to express himself, attempting to separate himself from the vampire Angelus as much as possible. Angelus had screwed and fucked – Angel made love.
She closed her eyes, as her fingers edged between their naked bodies, trying to untangle the rings and necklaces. Her fingers worked, carefully, slowly, and she gave a sigh of relief when she finally freed hers from his, carefully palming hers and even more carefully moving Angel's very possessive hands.
Half an hour later, she was rooted to the desk, drinking the old coffee, showered, completely obliterating any remnants of the night of passion with Angel. Even the marks, small bite marks – nothing major- and large hickeys were gone, thanks to her ever healing Immortal body.
But her mind still burned, and Cordelia waited with apprehension, unsure and unwilling and not wanting to be there when the vampire awoke alone.
"You look one shot short of a good time."
She turned, and found Lorne, the Host, or whatever his name was standing in a robe, rubbing at a spot just under his horns.
"Right around the horns. It's so annoying, but ah well – beauty has its price."
"Doesn't it though," she responded shortly, before taking another sip and grimacing. "Do you know how to make a decent up of coffee?"
"Honey, I can make the best apple martini this side of Los Angeles – but please don't ask me to deal with caffeine," he said, inspecting the small cooler. "Though, shouldn't I be offering you a cigarette?"
He tossed her a glance, and Cordelia only sighed, quirking a finger in his direction. "Bring it on."
"Didn't know you smoked," he said, but came forward obediently, settling down across from her and handing her a white stick.
"I don't – but eventually, you do it sporadically when you're like me. Not like it kills you." With trembling fingers, she took the cigarette, bringing it to her lips and moving forward, breathing in as he held the match under it, watching the tip burn.
Pursing his lips, Lorne studied her, and finally he sat back, crossing his arms. "You're all full of piss and vinegar, aren't you sugar lips?"
She blew her breath out, careful to blow the smoke away from the man's face. "What do you mean?"
He was quiet for a moment, as if framing his words, and began again, "You realize that doing what you did last night wasn't exactly… constructive?"
She cocked an eyebrow, keeping a straight face as she responded, "Does my aura say that too, Lorne?"
"Oh, honey, I heard the screams."
"I don't scream during sex. I'm not very vocal at all."
"And thanks for that little insight. I was being sarcastic."
"So was I."
"As much as I love this little debate, sweetie, maybe we should get back to the business at hand. You realize we're running out of time."
Her blood was very close to boiling, but Chase Winters kept her lips shut tight as she knocked the cigarette on the ash tray, letting the ashes fall before bringing it to her mouth again, taking in the nicotine. She hadn't lied to Lorne, she rarely smoked, but there was certain purity in the action that allowed her to think – to understand and control herself.
"Hey. Green Guy? You're not telling me anything I don't already know, and when Angel comes down I appreciate you leaving us alone to talk this out, without your little talk of auras and colors and … that – where on earth did you even FIND a crushed velvet robe in this day and age?"
"The big dope has a crush, sweetie."
She swallowed, and nodded, blowing out another breath of smoke, eyes roving toward the stairs.
There was darkness in the air. He could smell it, taste it, and it filled his soul with fear, as his fingers reached for the warm body and there was nothing but cold air and cold blankets, a telltale sign that he had been alone for a while.
Panic had been an option at first, but her scent still clung to the sheets, and he inhaled, taking it in, and finally allowed himself to breathe again – at least… figuratively.
Pulling on pants and a sweater, he stumbled toward the door, careful to run his hands through his hair as he walked to the hallway, hearing the murmurs of Lorne and his lover…
Angel closed his eyes, steadied himself on the balcony and let a small smile slide across his lips. It seemed almost foreign, the grin that caressed his features.
In the darkness there was a spot of light – one thing he needed to cling to, because with his ever increasing alertness he began to remember. Travis was dead. The world was in peril. A vampire demon with a soul was no match against the higher beings, against the Immortals – and no one would know the outcome – the coming darkness.
He had woken once during the night, found her body splayed across his and he had remembered smiling as he registered her face, her eyes, her even breath as her chest rose and fell against his.
One moment of peace and solitude, as his hands began to caress her body, down her legs, up to her shoulders, feeling her stir under his gentle ministrations. His lips had clung to hers as she slowly escaped the realms of Morpheus, lips moving against his.
It had been slow that time, slow and soft and he had kept his eyes locked on hers the entire times, watching as his lips trailed her jawbone, lips clinging to her bottom one, suckling as she arched beneath him, emitting a tiny squeak of pleasure, before her entire body trembled.
His eyes had closed when it was over, but he kept her near him, against him, never letting her go.
And he had woken up alone.
Angel had never shared a bed someone since Buffy – had never wanted to wake up with a lover until now – and strangely…
He shook off the confusion, palm over the ring as he walked down the stairs, faltering when he saw the figures seated at the table.
Cordelia was showered, dressed, a cigarette in her hand and a tightened smile on her face.
"They all do, Angelcakes. Perks of having a recyclable set of lungs." Lorne stood, nodding to them. "Going to make sure the bar is ready."
He walked away, but Angel barely saw him, instead watching Cordelia, who carefully placed the cigarette into the ashtray, butting it out.
"Amazing, huh?" she said after a minute, watching the burning embers at the end of the crumpled cigarette. "One hundred years and we don't have Pepsi – but we still have these little bastards."
In what seemed to be becoming a familiar feeling, Angel felt unsure. A deep knot settled in his stomach at the way Cordelia deliberately avoided his stare, and when he came forward, it twisted when she finally looked into his eyes.
"Angel, last night was a mistake."
There was no reaction – pure numbness. His mouth was dry. He swallowed, and flashes of Cordelia under him, over him, face awash in ecstasy, beautiful, intense-
"Katherine went Anakin on us, Angel," she continued, her voice firm. "She went all… Darth Vader and to the dark side. She… Last night she tried to kill me." The words sunk in, and still they seemed to have no meaning. Cordelia's fingers continued to play with the now shredded little white stick. "She was the reason – she was your Damsel, Angel. And because of me, we might have just royally screwed it up and destroyed the world because we've lost her – because we were so busy obsessing about our hormones that we never saw she was having her OWN vampire issues."
"Last night was a mistake." The voice was calm, almost deadly, and it took her by surprise, as she shot him a startled glance.
"What do you call it?"
"I call it making love."
"Angel did you listen to me?"
"We can save Kat."
"No- Angel, we can't! She's gone! She's bitter and angry and she thinks I love you!"
"She thinks you love me."
She paused, but he only narrowed his eyes, not allowing her to see how the words affected him, not even as her eyes teared up and she looked away, trying to gather her composure.
"Angel," she began in a softer tone, "Look, I'm not saying I didn't… it was my fault, too-"
"Angel – just LISTEN, dammit-"
"Why the hell should I, Cordelia? You're sorry we fucked? Okay! Point taken. Thanks Cordy, you were a damn good lay-"
Her words were choked with barely there emotion, teeming at the surface, but never quite coming out the way they should have.
"Don't cheapen it Angel."
"You made it a mistake."
"I made it the only thing I could, Angel!" She retorted, slamming her hand down on the table, "Because I know what's coming and this won't matter when I'm dead."
Startled at the choice of words, he gazed at her, studying her for a clue into the sentence, his mouth opening slightly at the admission.
But her face was hidden under the curtain of her hair, as she took in a breath, ignoring the question.
"Katherine thinks that Nick isn't evil. That he's capable of love."
"Some vampires are."
She looked up, her voice even as she straightened finally, regarding him. "So we're just supposed to let it happen."
"There's a difference between loving something and loving what they are, Cordelia," he said, eyes narrowing. "Katherine doesn't understand evil – her world has been tainted by her losses and she sees him and can't make the distinction. Evil always hides under a cloud of deception and beauty is its favorite tool."
Sunnydale, CA 1998
The world was grim, swaying, drowning in an edge of reality and a cobweb of disillusionment.
He blinked once, looking up and suddenly he saw her, staring at him with… was that a sword?
Carefully, he tried to stumble to his feet, but his mind was so muddled and there was pain – there was so much pain. "Buffy, what's going on? I don't remember… where are we?"
"Angel?" Her voice was uncertain, as the sword came down, and he swallowed back the weakness, hands reaching for her.
"You're hurt." Oh, God, she looked so scared. What happened? Gentleness overwhelmed him and he carefully pulled her in, savoring her scent, relief and confusion tainting his words. "God, I feel like I haven't seen you in months…. Buffy, everything's so muddle…"
His eyes closed, and she began to tremble, soft sobs that were barely recognizable sliding through her and he held as well as he could with his waning strength, heart beginning to burst and break as he closed his eyes, letting her cling to him.
Behind him, there was a noise. Her eyes opened and focused and he turned and it was there… a statue…
"Buffy? What's happening?"
His eyes bore into hers, hoping against hope that his little Slayer could explain what he didn't know, could explain the searing pain in his heart and the agony-
But she only gazed at him through sheen of wet tears, and offered him a small smile.
"Shhh…" she said, gently framing his face. "It doesn't matter."
Her lips touched his, and in that Angel found his peace, as his eyes closed and his arms wound around her, moving his lips against hers desperately.
Acceptance, love… and nothing else mattered.
She pulled away, and he watched her, desperately.
"I love you."
"I love you," he responded immediately, clinging to her, the pain still searing his soul but it was okay because Buffy…
"Close your eyes."
He did, trusting her completely, even as her eyes watered and her grip fell away.
The pain flared up, and his eyes opened wide.
He was impaled.
Unsure, bewildered, in pain, he looked up, pleadingly.
He tried to reach for her, but she seemed so far away, small and lonely and scared and OH GOD, WHAT WAS HAPPENING?
And the warm beams seared through him, pulling him, swallowing him into the darkness, the abyss of eternal loneliness.
He stood, opening his eyes against the past, and found Cordelia with her hand on her head.
"Are you okay-"
With a cry. she suddenly jerked back, topping over the chair and landing with a thud on the ground. Immediately, he was at her side, grabbing her arms, pulling her trembling body up his thighs, pressing her against his chest.
"Cordy! What's wrong-"
She gave a whimper, her head banging back against him, crying out as tears streamed from her face. Her hands sought his, gripped them as her eyes opened and her body suddenly stilled. Deep, heaving breaths that bordered on rasps came from the smaller body, as she gripped his hands tightly, eyes wide and unseeing.
"What the HELL was that?!"
"Scratch and sniff in my head! And the smell – have you SMELT burning flesh? And UH – who the hell put the TV antennae in my brain?!"
"TV-antennae-" His thoughts were whirling, jaw dropping slightly as he blinked, looking away, thinking…
"You kissed Travis before- Cordelia, did you just have a vision?"
"No, I just had a migraine the size of Antarctica!"
"So the Powers chose a new Seer, did they?" Angel looked up to find Lorne kneeling in front of Cordelia, offering her two small white pills and a cup of water.
"Help her up, Angel; meet your new Link to the Powers."
Cordelia was still dazed. Angel was careful with her, as she gripped his forearms, letting him help her onto her feet and into a chair. Shaking slightly, she took the pills, downing the water immediately after.
Angel kept his hands on her shoulders, kneading gently as his eyes locked with Lorne's. "She can't be the new Seer."
"She was in the right place, at the right time, with the appropriate feelings of guilt," The Host said simply, crossing his arms as Cordelia shuddered, watching her grimly. "These things are never an accident."
"Wait, wait!" she interrupted, finally gaining enough control over her whirling senses to pin them both underneath her hazel gaze. "What the hell are you saying?" --
The lingering remnants of the headache still existed. She sucked in a hiss and rubbed at her temples, swallowing down another gulp of water, and sorely regretting not giving into her temptation for another cigarette.
"I didn't ask for this. Geez. Why couldn't it have been mono, or herpes-"
"No one asks for anything, sweetheart," Lorne said, leaning forward on crossed arms. "Angelcakes, over there, didn't ask to be made a champion, Travis didn't ask to die-"
"I don't even know if I'm going to make it through the end of the Gathering!" she finally snapped, ignoring Angel's frown as she continued to rant. "I just…" she buried her hands in her hair, hiding her face, still for a moment.
It was too much. There was dying all around her, and now there was pain and dying and feeling inside of her too? In her head, in her brain? Splintering every sense?
"I wanted out of this," she whispered, so small she thought no one heard her. Her eyes were moist as she blinked back the tears, looking up and locking eyes with the vampire. "Is this the part where I tell you about the vision?" she began haltingly.
Angel's eyes bore into hers, as if trying to read into her very soul. The look in his eyes was haunting, the dark orbs processing, calculating, eternally sorry for his past wrongs, for the future wrongs, for the pain that had been passed from Seer to Seer – and now to her.
She wished for the smile, the beautiful smile that was so gentle across his features, lighting up his entire face. She had seen the smile last night, when he cupped her face with his hands and leaned forward, gently pressing his lips against hers.
"Yeah," he finally said. "Travis… he had this… device that would allow us to record them when they came-"
"I'm not putting one of those things in my head, Angel."
"I'm not asking you to. Just tell me what you saw."
It was a moment before she was able to put what she saw into words.
"There was… a dark room… like a ballroom or something. And… Katherine… well she's not the damsel anymore."
"What do you mean?" Angel's brow was furrowed, the concern displayed so evidently on his face made her offer a small, grim, bitter smile of irony, as her fingers weaved through her hair, pulling slightly at the corner in an attempt to create a small tingle that would ebb away the pain.
Lorne was uncharacteristically silent.
"I… The damsel… is me… I think. I don't know. It's dark and we're fighting and she's got … some sort of power… and there's an ugly grey blobby thing-"
"Uh… sugar lips? We need something a little more concrete than that." The look she sent Lorne could have scathed a lesser man.
"The gist? Her or me, okay? I mean geez, give me a break, okay? I'm kinda new at this!"
She was trembling, and she bit her lip, crossing her arms in an attempt to still herself. Anxiety coursed through her, heat seared through her body and she shifted, the ache fading away as she felt a tingle, her mind and body almost feverish with response.
Quickly she stood, retrieving the sword that was alien to her, palming the handle carefully. Her gaze once again drifted to Angel's, but his attention was no longer on her, but rather, his eyes were riveted on some point behind her.
The door closed, locked, and Cordelia turned, her eyes blazing as she almost smiled in anticipation.
Lawyers and two Immortals.
She cocked her head, nodding to her two fellow warriors.
"There can be only one."
Sprawling across from him, it was as if nothing had changed.
Her fingers carefully slid up his chiseled chest, fingernails circling one hard nub, and smiling in response when she felt the nerves jump underneath. A small chuckle came from his body, making it almost alive under her touch.
Dark midnight eyes met equally dark orbs of a dead vampire, but it was Nick, and there was passion that glowed there. It was colder than usual, than she remembered, but she remembered every curve, every line, ever ripple and shudder underneath her hands were so familiar.
It was Nick, and even after a hundred years, there he was, with that half smile, the same strand that fell into his hair.
He was patient, as she explored his body.
"Done yet?" he asked.
"Not yet," she responded, shifting closer, and with a wicked smile, playing her mouth around one nipple, sucking in hard, hearing him gasp in response. She grinned, mumbling around it. "You're not the only one who can bite." The low growl was almost a turn on, and the extra strength counted for something when he bucked up, pushing her back roughly on the bed, landing on her.
Ridges marred the perfect face – the face of a demon, with yellow eyes. She watched, fascinated, no fear, even when the fangs bared. With hesitant fingers, she reached forward, touching the ridges, hearing him hiss in response. Careful, so careful, she explored the new part of him, and smiled in response.
Settled between her thighs, he rocked his hardness against her, and her chest rose and fell, eyes darkening in arousal.
"You evil bastard."
"I'm evil," he responded immediately. "I don't give a fuck about anyone or anything, but damn baby, I love you."
The words were edged with need, and she smiled, eyes moist as his head drifted down to slant his lips over hers, tongue almost pierced by the sharpness of the fangs.
"What? No biting?"
The low grow rumbled through her husband, and it almost reached into her, as Nick propped himself up on hand, turning to glare at the vampire in the doorway.
"That's half the bloody fun of sex with a corpse," Spike said, taking another drag of the cigarette as he took another step into the room, kicking the door behind him shut. "Otherwise, what's the damn point?"
"Get out," Nick growled, drawing up the sheet to her torso, covering her from Spike as he clenched his hand almost tightly around her waist.
Spike only flicked cold, calculating eyes over her, in a stare that seemed to burn with its chill, and clipped, "What's she doing here?"
"She's a bloody Immortal," Spike said, settling into a leather chair, rubbing out the cigarette onto it.
Katherine heard the hiss as he snuffed it out, and she felt strangely cold, fear once again entering the equation.
Immortals were killers – but they weren't cold blooded.
"Get her out of here."
Her eyes narrowed, but Nick jumped the gun first, sliding out of the bed nude and marching up to Spike, who only glanced down and then up again.
"Happy to see me, are we?"
"She's the one."
"She's not the One. She's fickle and half crazy. And she's bloody old. I've got someone else now."
Katherine held the sheet to her chest, her mind amazingly cool despite the situation. Nick had told her enough to understand what would happen to whomever they choose. There would be the only one left standing. And fuck, it if she was going to lose her head just when she got her heart back.
"I'm the One, Spike."
There was almost a hint of a smile in his face as he looked around Nick's nude form to her.
"Katherine. Nice to see you developed a spine in all this. Lovely tits, by the way."
"What the fuck did you do with the sword?" Nick growled, hands pulling into dangerous fists.
Spike didn't answer, but gave him an annoyed glance, fishing into his leather duster for the packet of cigarettes. Without a word, he lit another, breathing in deeply, and blowing the smoke directly into Nick's face. With that he stood, pushed Nick roughly out of the way, and walked to Katherine.
"You want it, Katherine?"
His eyes bore into hers, cold hands on her thighs, seeping their coldness through the worn sheet. The threat was in the challenge, as his face gave way to the demonic one, the killer.
But she stilled her heartbeat as she looked at Nick, and her mouth turned into an almost mischievous smile he seemed to appreciate, when she nodded.
"That's my girl. Cordelia Chase has the sword that you need. It's the key – a little spellbinding – get the sword, you get the demon it awakes. Get the sword; you get to be the one."
Quicker than lightening, he was on top of her, mouth parting hers roughly, kissing her with fangs uncaring, leaving her with the taste of bitter blood on her tongue as he was pulled off, smiling cheekily at Nick who growled, pushing him off the bed.
"The sword, Kat. Be a good girl and get it back – or else Cordelia will win – and you're deader than a doornail."
He turned away, slamming the door shut behind him.
A complicated action pared down to its simplest component.
Higher beings, creatures who roamed the earth for thousands of years, learning, growing wiser with each year, more powerful with every head taken, were still governed by the thoughts, realities and emotions of pure mortals. Animalistic dances, read in the faces and lodged in the mind as the Immortals, revered by mortals and feared by vampires. In the end, it was about killing, about winning.
She paid no attention to the lawyers, no attention to Lorne who said this was a sanctuary, she knew the spell paid absolutely no mind to her – she was no demon.
It was the need to kill that had infected her, in her body and flowing down to the extension that she had come to cherish, the metal blade that felt slightly foreign, but fit perfectly in her hand.
The vampire tried to whisper to her, and then spoke louder, but she ignored him, as she and the Immortals who had come to challenge her circled, like animals, younger against still younger.
When the first struck, it was clear that there was no match. As soon as the blades clung together, he had been flung to the wall.
He came back and it took only a duck, a kick in the ribs and a twist for her to take his head.
The blood splattered over her clothes, and smeared across her cheek, and a thought in the back of her mind told the diva she would regret the stains, would complain and gripe, but at that moment, only the glory of the kill, the waiting of the inevitable testament to her victory was on her mind.
When the Quickening came, she welcomed it, not caring who was watching. And when it was over, spent and sweaty on the floor, she looked up and found nothing was the same.
Lawyers were scattered, the other Immortal had long since run, and Angel and the Host were both looking at her as if they were seeing a stranger.
Her bloodlust sated, Cordelia felt herself coming back, the mortality easing away to reveal the humanity, and she took a breath, carefully climbing to her feet, thankful when Angel stepped forward, keeping his grip on hers.
Forgetting her earlier promise in her weakness, she leaned forward, forehead resting in the crook of his neck, taking in a breath, more relieved than she would have liked to admit when he slid his arms around her, sheltering her from her loss of control, stroking her gently until she was ready to be herself again.
Her fingers clung to the black wool, breathing in the scent, her body trembling.
"What the hell- the sword – when she hit the sword-"
"What are you still doing here?" She felt the growl under her cheek. "Get out."
Carefully, she extracted herself from his grip, eyes locking with the dark orbs of concern before taking a harried breath, moving away.
"No." Moving toward the desk, she picked up the stray towel from her bath, rubbed at the blood with it, finally turning to the lawyers. "It's the sword. And it's me. You've seen what the sword can do, so either stop being pestering rats, and let me stop it- or you're going to have me being the most powerful chick in the world. Not a good thing for you."
Mr. Weathers, with his salt and pepper hair and his too bright tie, studied her with the cold stare she had come to admire. He didn't consider himself evil. He had three children and a wife who he tried very hard to be faithful to. He had a house in the valley and donated a portion of his money to the refugee's states fund. He wasn't a stupid man. He was also powerful. Cordelia knew that she was dealing with no regular junior partner – when he spoke, he spoke for Wolfram and Hart.
He licked his lips, dug his hands in his pockets, and considered every angle, every possibility to avoid having her take over the world. And just like she knew it would, her logic won out.
"Wolfram and Hart has no interest in seeing this Endgame start before it's time," he began finally. "Consider our resources yours, for the time being."
And, please don't forget we mean to screw you with everything we have when we figure out how to get around it and get our hands on that sword, Cordelia added mentally.
She was making a deal with the devil. Angel shifted, shaking his head emphatically, fully intending to push the lawyers he hated out of his hotel when the hand on his elbow stopped him.
Angrily, he shook the host off.
"This is bullshit."
"It's the only way, Angel."
The use of his name, not `Angelcakes' or `Sugarlips', but Angel, made him pause, glare at his friend and companion and prepare to offer another argument when Lorne only shook his head.
Lorne's face was somber, a different face that didn't quite look right on him. "Listen, cutie pie, that Cordy chick? A little bit of a basket case right now but you have to trust her instinct. We can't stop this alone – she's got a hold over the lawyers as long as she has that sword-"
"They can't be trusted!"
"And neither can she!" The whisper was fierce, as Lorne pulled Angel back, away from where Cordelia was talking with the lawyers, where Mr. Weathers spoke to her in a low, soothing voice. "She's infected, Angel, and if you try to play by any other way, we're just adding more wood to the fire."
That wasn't what he wanted to hear. Angel's hands pulled into fists, banged into his sides. Tension coursed through him like a coiled spring. For so long the danger had been him. The unworthy demon had been the source of fear.
Cordelia had been constant. Cordelia had been strong. Cordelia had been strong when no one else stayed and Cordelia had been the first to take off the ring.
She had also been the one to leave his bed this morning.
And she had been the one to push him away. The Cordelia Chase he knew would never have allowed blood to splatter on her without wiping it off immediately.
The Cordelia Faith knew wouldn't either. But Chase Winters would-
It had been Chase who had left Angel's bed – it had been Chase who buried Cordelia behind the walls of fear – and it was Chase – the Immortal, who relished the kill.
He exhaled deeply, crossing his arms and keeping them tight across his chest as the lawyers began to take off blazers and loosen their ties, already on phones and typing on pads.
It had all been so simple now – and it filled him with true, real fear. Immortals were no different than vampires with souls. Chase was Cordelia's demon.
Twice, she had caught him staring at her as if she were a stranger. Both times she only gave him a tight smile, looking away just as quickly. Was he regretting it? Regretting the smiles and the low moans of ecstasy?
God, Cordelia, don't even –
She shook herself out of it, turning back to Weathers.
"The scrolls… are you sure?"
"No," he said, rubbing his temples slowly. "But it has quite a few things to say. We have used it as a tool before to –"
"If you say `to hurt Angel', or any variation of that phrase, I'm going to kill you," she said simply.
He gave her a long look, and just shrugged. "Then I won't. But it might be useful."
"Then get it."
"I'm going to make some calls outside," she said finally, turning her back to him and carefully avoiding Angel's gaze as she kept the sword in her hand and moved to the courtyard, into the exposed light.
Her eyes squinted in the daylight, and she almost stepped away from it, but necessity took its toll and instead she stepped forward, letting the warmth bathe her. She wasn't used to the light anymore. In the darkness were the shadows, in the light there was… nothing to hide.
FUCK, Chase, get a grip.
Carefully, she began to punch in the numbers, thankful that she still remembered how to do it the old fashioned way.
What was the damn extension again? She took in a breath, looking down at the tiny pad, and felt the click in her ear.
So absorbed in her task, she noticed nothing, until a rush of air made her pause, turning and getting caught full in the face by a booted heel.
Lurching backwards, she stumbled on her feet and fell to the floor, hitting the back of her head on the ground, resulting in a blinding flash of pain. Before she had a chance to regain her balance, the weight of a body settled neatly on top of her, kneecap digging into her esophagus, choking her breath.
Katherine waited, her eyes dark, focused.
"Hey, Chase." Carefully, she deliberately placed the edge of her blade next to her neck. "Now you know all about this whole gathering thing," she whispered fiercely. "Care to take bets on how long I can last before I cut your head off?"
Cordelia felt lightheaded, tried desperately to take a breath, but the weight of Katherine on her chest, and the cutting off of her oxygen only made her dizzy. Her eyes tried to look past Katherine, into the room where everyone congregated, but Katherine just shook her head, pressed the blade tighter.
"Not a sound, Chase."
Closing her eyes, she finally nodded.
Katherine's other knee pushed down on her hand, and her grip was useless, as Katherine reached over, grabbing the blade. Cordelia's hold held.
"Let go, Chase." Cordelia swallowed, but her eyes opened and she glared, trying desperately to hold her strength despite her lack of air. "Fine."
The crack that came was so very audible, and Cordelia flinched, whimpered as the jolt of pain came with the broken fingers. Katherine took the blade, holding it almost reverently as she stood, swinging it slightly.
Once the pressure was off, Cordelia could breathe, and she did, sucking in huge gasping breaths as she kept her broken fingers close to her.
"Spike is raising a demon to possess the handler of this sword. That's not happening. When I win this, it'll be on my own terms, with my own blade, in my own battle."
Cordelia closed her eyes against the pain, pushing back against the wall, blinking them open again when she heard the words.
"Katherine – you-"
"Kill the demon or kill me, Cordelia. That's the only way you're stopping this. See you around." With the two blades in her hand, Katherine turned, walking away, pulling herself up over the wall, and disappearing.
There was nothing but darkness as Cordelia felt the pain, the bones knitting themselves back together with a crack and a whimper.
Biting her lip, she fought back the pain, taking deep breaths, looking carefully toward the open door, where the men worked, completely unaware.
Trembling slightly, she walked over to where her pad had fallen, picking up and with her good hand, punched in each number deliberately.
Waiting for the click, she heard the voice, and took a breath.
"It's Chase," she said finally. "I need a favor."
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Thirteen
The murmurs of the Council, the teeming mass of old men and few women in the small, packed room, used to frighten him. Mr. Jacobs had never gotten far within the inner ranks and cliques of the Council for the simple fact that crowds terrified him. He had often wondered why the Council, who spent so much time alone, with no one but their unknowing Immortal for company, prided themselves so much on their eloquent speech skills.
Today, he was facing their wrath, and oddly, never had he felt more confident, more sure of himself than the moment he stepped onto the pulpit, met with accusing glares and anger.
"Council wishes to address Fellowman Jacobs."
"If it would please the Council," Mr. Serves stood, his bald head mottled with pink. "Mr. Jacobs should not be here."
"He has not yet been fired from the Council," said the head of the Council, rubbing at his forehead tiredly. "He has a right to speak."
"He has broken the rules-"
"I had good reason!"
"GENTLEMEN!" The Slayer Council head, a Mr. Raven Giles, slammed his palms down on the table. "This is not order unless we make it so. Mr. Serves, if you would please take your seat until Mr. Jacobs gives the floor." That said, he turned his gaze onto the younger man. "As for you, Mr. Jacobs, I suggest you restrain yourself. You have enough anger directed at you as it is." He took a breath, nodding, and exhaling slowly, turning to watch the eyes that were set on him.
"I cannot begin to describe the urgency of this situation. Again, I thank the Slayer's Council for coming, Mr. Giles, thank you for your acceptance of this matter." Mr. Giles just gave a nod, motioning for him to continue. "I am aware that in the past this Council has had their differences, but now we have a crisis that concerns us both. I assume you've all read your briefs?"
"I had a little trouble getting past the first paragraph," tossed one old Watcher dryly, "After the part where you SPOKE to your Immortal."
Small rumbles of agreement spurted across the room. Mr. Jacobs took a moment to pull his glasses off, rubbing at his eyes. "Impartial. For centuries we have remained impartial. Where has it gotten us?"
"It is not our position to contest it, young man."
"The fate of the world is in the hands of a Vampire with a Soul and an Immortal! We can no longer afford to BE impartial!"
"Whether the world ends is of no consequences to us, Boy. We have our oath."
"And what about our lives?" He slammed his hand down on the podium, the microphone clipped to the side of his cheek accentuating the noise, sending the thump in resonating waves throughout the room. "And the lives of others? Watchers, we pride ourselves on knowing – on living – at least the Slayers have attempted to DO something… we are the last hope for humanity. Don't you think we've watched enough?"
"You're suggesting we ally ourselves with that Immortal. With the Vampire?" Giles said, removing his glasses in order to get a better look.
Mr. Jacobs took a breath, loosening his tie, taking the time to collect his thoughts before he answered. "I'm aware of what that means. I'm fully aware that what I'm asking is completely without reason and based only on passion for life and love for the future. But if that means completely obliterating our past, so be it. Without us the world is lost."
"You say the Immortal, this… Chase Winters… has an enchanted sword?"
"The last I heard, it was tainted by a vampire."
"And the Souled Vampire, Angelus-"
"Angel," he corrected.
"Angel, he is helping her?"
"The Powers that Be have also taken an interest. They have made the Immortal his Seer." Quiet descended upon the room. The dark haired Watched looked back at Mr. Giles' impassive face.
"I realize we must take an impartial stance, but without our interference, the Gathering is coming, and a vampire has interfered. It is before it's time. Someone has already tampered." Mr. Jacobs closed his eyes, issuing a long, drawn out breath. "I believe we can help, put things right. They need our help – and the world- perhaps when we stop the Gathering before it's time… we can afford to be impartial again."
Mr. Giles raised his hand. "Mr. Jacobs, there is something that I've never understood about your sector. You Immortal Watchers. Why must you be impartial? Why must you only watch? The key to our salvation, the key to the world, is interference. Our sector has always believed that information, given and past on generation to generation, helps and allows us to continue our work."
"The difference is, Mr. Giles," a member tossed from the other side of the room, "that we watch the higher beings, not the lower ones. Immortals will eventually decide the future of man kind. As mortals, it is not our place to question it."
"So that may be, sir," Mr. Giles answered, tapping his fingertips, "but, I have it on very good authority that if your Immortals are allowed to continue with this farce of a Gathering, then a lower being will in fact be in charge."
"The demon raising! Yes!" Mr. Jacobs held up his pad, pointing to it emphatically. "This Immortal will not WIN based on anything but an enchanted sword! And a vampire is behind it!"
"No buts." The voice that interrupted was smooth and gentle, but it ran with authority. Mr. Jacobs turned, found himself almost cringing as the lead member of the Council stood, body firm and taught. She crossed her arms, watching them all, and even Mr. Giles, well respected in every circle, gave her his full attention. "We are nearing the Endgame, that is true. But our position, what it feeds on, is the natural way. The coming of full circle. This is not the time." She slipped one dark lock behind her ear, and seated herself, the elder lady crossing her arms in the roomful of men. "Someone has already tampered with the endgame. We must stop it before it reaches it's unnatural end. Mr. Jacobs, you yourself said this young Immortal knew of us before she came to you?"
Her dark eyes were thoughtful, lips pursed, and then she finally nodded. "Well then, we are doing nothing that changes things. Mr. Giles, your grandfather knew her well, did he not?"
"He loved her as his own."
"And your opinion?"
"I believe if anyone has a chance of stopping this, she and the vampire with the soul do. The Powers that Be have added their support. I believe that blessing enough."
"The Powers do not govern Immortals. They lead their own destiny."
"The child is a Seer, is she not?"
"Only because she chose it."
She closed her eyes, exhaling, lost in thought while the others looked on. "A vampire and an Immortal, working together. Who would have thought?" Her eyes opened, and pinpointed Mr. Jacobs. "As long as the Immortal and the Vampire work together, so shall these two councils." She stood, her eyes moving over the two congregations. "Are we understood?" There was silence. "Any arguments that ensue, please be sure to stick them up your butt. The bridge has been crossed. I say we cross with the boat, before we get stranded."
The discussion started as soon as she left the room, but Mr. Jacobs felt a surge of relief flow through him as he felt the hand clap on his shoulder.
"She has much of her grandmother in her."
Terence turned to find Mr. Giles staring after her in admiration.
He smiled, nodding. "Didn't you know? Her grandmother knew your Immortal very well."
Terence's eyebrows furrowed in contemplation, attempting to picture the faces that his Immortal had encountered.
"Faith. The Black Sheep."
She heard the shouting before she entered the darkened mansion. It was loud, the voices discernable even as she opened the door. arefully, she kept the blade close to her, feeling the tingling within her, fear reduced to her very core, hidden underneath a layer of resolve and pure, unfiltered anger.
The hope was there, along with the doubts, but Katherine had lived too long, lost too many times, and fought too many battles to care about the doubts- she had rarely felt hope in such copious amounts, and she would not lose it now.
Even if it meant losing her soul.
She had always relied on the power of her will, the power of her own unbending ability to never forget, and she relied on it more than ever, as she closed the door behind her, moving past the vampires who nestled and stood, staring at her, some with contempt, others with curiosity, and others with lustful hate.
Animals, the first word that came to mind as she crossed them, moving past them. Beneath her. But Angel was a vampire, with his kind brown eyes tortured soul, and Nick, NICK was a vampire, with the dark, feral orbs that glittered with evil, but also, with love.
Was it really so different?
Immortals who succumbed to their animal instincts, who lived and breathed and only lived longer than necessary, outstaying their welcome, and in the end, always alone.
It was the loneliness that bit into her, forcing her to seal her face.
Simple, the one thing that drove her, the one thing that overturned a lifetime of good, a lifetime of living for others: she couldn't be alone anymore.
Opening the door, the shouting came in full force, the beached blonde vampire Spike sitting, looking dejectedly bored while the other vampire, her Nick, screamed and bellowed at him, hands clenched, those ridges marring his beautiful face.
The body wreaked tension, and Spike was rapidly losing patience. She slammed the door behind her, causing them both to look up.
Spike tossed her a cheeky grin. "Kat! Lovely to see you. Got the sword?"
She wordlessly lifted it, showing him the blade. Nick only narrowed his eyes, huffing in deeply, growling in a low, almost indiscernible rumble, coming from deep inside of his chest.
"I'm not going to be using it," she clipped, tossing the sword on the ground, letting it clatter into a corner. "I'm going to win this my own way."
He gave her a long look, blue eyes clear enough to drown in, as he shifted his lean body in the chair, one leg hooking over another in contemplation.
"I would pick that up," he said after a minute. "That's very important."
"Kat, what the fuck are you doing?" Nick said.
"I said, I'm winning this my own way." She tossed her dark curls behind her, dark blue eyes narrowing. "This is my game."
"It's not your game, it's MY game," came the British accented voice, as the vampire still didn't move from his chair, looking again to the sword. "You, like anyone, are just a pawn."
"Don't talk to her like that," Nick said immediately.
Spike completely ignored him. "Let's get something completely clear, Kat," he said. "You are weak. You are weak and half baked and utterly insane. Without the sword, you are nothing. You know you're nothing. You know you stand no chance. You think Nick here was the reason you came back?" He shook his head almost patronizingly. "All you were looking for, was a bloody excuse."
The words slithered through her, as she stood, rooted to her spot. Animal, beneath her. But his eyes held hers, the darkness and evil inside him haunted her, and she looked toward the sword as the rage came almost immediately, bubbling up and floating over.
"You're a bastard," she whispered, her words carried only by the dead silence of the room. "There is nothing you can say that will affect me."
"You sure?" he smiled, shrugged. "Here, I'll prove it." She watched, as he stood, fishing into his leather jacket. He produced a stake, and ten feet away, she heard a screaming, realized it must have come from her, as the stake was suddenly buried into Nick's chest.
The dark-haired vampire looked down in surprise, and his eyes flew up to meet hers, but her rapidly blurring vision obstructed anything further, as the mottled version of her husband crumpled to the ground, and exploded into the dust.
And then there was nothing.
The ground rose up to meet her knees and she landed with a thump, watching in beseeching silence, palms unclenching in utter disbelief.
Numbness, completely disbelief, two seconds of turmoil and then the scream came, agonizing and complete with the splintering of hope and a shattered heart.
Her legs were shaky at best, but somehow she managed to get to the sword, reaching up and suddenly running into Spike's cold face. His gaze pinned her, challenging and deadly and completely in control.
"You want to kill me, Kat?" he sneered, clenching her upper arms firmly, squeezing so hard it was painful. "Kill me, then. Prove that he was the reason you got tired of fighting. Prove that he was the reason you lost hope and prove that the only reason you're doing this is your twisted version of love."
She raised the blade, but it was shaking, and it was so hard to see with the tears streaming down her face, but she held the blade inches away from his neck, eyes connected with this evil being.
His eyes held her, completely held her, and she tried, she tried so hard to make the sword move, but she couldn't, and suddenly the tears came full force, taking over her body. Sinking to her knees, she didn't look as he snorted in disgust, moving back to the throne like chair, sinking into it and lighting up another cigarette.
"Bloody weak fool."
She trembled, hand wrapped around the blade, and closed her eyes and shuddered with hate. Hate at herself, hate at him, and hate at everything and everyone that had led her to this point.
In that moment, her entire world tipped sideways, and she saw the world through a different view.
Because Spike considered her beneath him.
There were Wolfram and Hart lawyers in his office and he couldn't kill them.
The champion received angry glares, threatening glances from them, and he gave as good as he got, as they moved from desk to desk, talking amongst themselves, on phones, bringing up everything they had on the Endgame.
He glanced into the courtyard. Cordelia had her back to them, hair glistening in the sunlight, talking to mid air. He closed his eyes against the sight, and moved off the desk, over to Lorne, who was sitting in the chair, engrossed in books.
"Oh no! I tell you some of these passages? Downright boring! You'd think these guys would have had a sense of humor."
He heaved a sigh. "I meant about what's coming? In your aura?"
"Oh." The Host looked up, his smirk fading. "Well, this place is dark in that sense. Not really a beacon of shining light. You've got the biggest do-gooder vibe in here, and coming from the vampire, not a good sign."
He sighed, craning his neck to see around Angel to the Immortal standing outside. "That sword of hers is trouble. Alone, she doesn't stand a chance. With you, it's better."
"Better," Angel repeated.
"Better. Chase is a clouded person, cookie. You've seen it. By herself she feels she knows who she is, feels she won't be disappointed. She's a link, not a champion, not yet, but the Powers have seen fit to peg her as your Seer for a reason. Like it or not she's your Seer. She can't run anymore."
Angel crossed his arms, resisting another glance at her. "Running."
"Yes, running, you big dope. The old commitment `phobe. Nothing too complicated there. You start to care, you run away before it starts to hurt. Standard of any relationship that went bad. Cordelia's lost everyone in her life she's loved. I have a feeling the little muffin thinks if she loses one more then it's over."
"You're saying she's running because she can't stand the loss?"
"Like champion, like Seer. You did, didn't you?"
"Angel." Mr. Weathers came forward, careful to stay at least five feet away from the vampire as he looked down at his own pad. "These visions that Ms. Winters had."
"I'm not telling you anything."
Mr. Weathers looked mildly annoyed. "I realize we have our past, Angel, but-"
"I'm not telling you anything." This time the statement was followed with a low growl.
"Angel, stop," Cordelia looked tired and she strode into the room, falling into a chair.
"Ms. Winters if we could see the sword-"
"Like I would let you get your hands on the sword," she snapped, running her fingers through her bangs. "And even so, it's not even an issue. Kat stole it."
Her eyes flickered to Angel and she offered a small shrug. "Yeap. Broke my fingers, beat me up and took it." She glanced at Mr. Weathers. "And if you think I'm bad with it, try a half crazy with grief Immortal on for size."
Mr. Weathers winced, closing his eyes, breathing out slowly. "The lesser of two goods?"
"Oh, she's not evil or good. Beige is a good way to describe her aura," Lorne muttered, scratching again at the area around his horns. He looked pointedly at Angel. "Remember what I said about her?"
"Lorne, I get that, okay?" Angel snapped, coming forward to inspect Cordelia's hand. "You okay?"
"Fine. Fingers are good as new," she said, twiddling them for his benefit, and then straightening away from him. "So, new plan?"
"I personally would be more than curious to know what it would be," Mr. Weathers said, as the other lawyers gathered around. He also slumped in the chair, and glared at his compatriot. "Since you let the sword get out of your hands."
"Yeah, you know, broken fingers and being choked to death really constitutes LETTING," she said. Angel glared at the lawyer, but she slipped a hand into his, keeping his form by her side, squeezing gently. Her fingers continued to caress his palms, almost tenderly, as she continued to speak to the lawyer. "So yeah, new plan. Consider the visions- and MAJOR OWWIEE, by the way," she snapped at Angel, keeping her hand in his. "All pinpoint to some major battle, right?"
"That seems to be the case."
"But I'm the champion, Cordelia," Angel said, momentarily distracted as she continued to gently caress him, moving away from his palm and now gently squeezing his forearm. The touch, the need for touch was driving her, or him, for that matter, but Angel had become inherently suspicious.
Cordelia was in the middle of something, there was something going on in her head, and he wasn't quite sure what it was. Like him, she had something deeper inside of her, another subconscious, one that had only recently pushed him away.
Carefully, he extracted the fingers, moving away, and she caught it, eyes darkening before she flushed and pulled her hands into her lap.
"You may be the champion, Angel," she finally admitted, shrugging slightly. "But this is my fight. And it looks pretty crystal clear. I kill Kat, I take the sword, and I'm in the driver's seat of the possession."
"Still not figuring how this helps anything."
"I would agree with the vampire," Mr. Weathers said.
"Yes, isn't that what we're distinctly trying to avoid?"
"What the princess is saying is that we have to stop the possession to avoid the – pardon the pun- Cordylus wreaking havoc on the world." Lorne shrugged. "The kitten has a better control of her senses, being younger, less Quickenings, she has the best chance of being defeated if anything goes wrong."
"You're saying that you'd be easier to kill."
The callous words of Mr. Weathers didn't seem to affect Cordelia at all as she nodded, eyes on her fingers as she opened and closed her fist, wincing slightly.
The words affected Angel.
The words washed over his soul, as he stood in the middle, between the Immortal and between the lawyers, calmly discussing the imminent death of one Immortal who didn't seem to want to live anyway.
The panic that associated that Immortal, with Cordelia, made him close his eyes against the scene, bite his lip to force himself not to say a word, when all he really wanted to do was take Cordelia, lock her up and force her to talk- to being to create sense of this inherent world of denial she was living in.
"This is of course, assuming I actually survive the Endgame, which we also have to stop, because, well… not really in the mood to fight a bunch of Immortals at once."
The outburst came out edged with complete primal need, festered with anger, and it made everyone, Lorne and Cordelia, jump.
Angel burst forward, latching onto her hand and pulling her out of the room, never giving her even a moment to argue before slamming to door to the office closed.
Mr. Weathers narrowed his eyes, straightening the tie of his expensive ensemble.
"He's not going to kill her, is he? It's not in our best interest-"
"No, he's not going to kill her," Lorne said, moving back to the open book of spells. "But Cordylus needs some talking to, and the vampire… well- he knows what she needs."
He slammed her into the wall, hard and vicious.
She barely had a moment to register exactly what was happening, not even a moment to think when he pinned her there. Her heart was beating wildly as the demon inside of Angel made his appearance, ridges dark and menacing on the handsome face, fangs glistening in the half light.
But his upper body pressed against hers, pushed his heavy weight into her, until she was spread against the wall, leaving her no room, nothing but Angel against her, yellow eyes searching hers, senses overwhelmed with nothing but the vampire.
He was panting, something he didn't have to be doing, and it was interesting that she noted that, that Angel, who didn't breathe, was so thrown mentally that he resorted to an inherently human characteristic, the need to breathe to gain control. His grip was painful, and the myriad of emotions that splayed over him was singled out in the single word that came from his lips.
She closed her eyes against it, unsure why the word struck her, unsure why she was so affected by the vampire who seemed on the brink of losing everything and anything he had ever cared about on account of her.
"CARE, Cordelia. CARE, dammit."
She wasn't a callous bitch, not anymore, but there was the temptation to swallow down the pain, the confusion, and merely raise a cold eyebrow, and completely lie – tell him that she didn't care, and she would have done just that had he not uttered one more sentence.
"Nothing that has happened to us, nothing we've ever done, Xander, Buffy, Faith, they won't ever mean anything if you don't care."
The stone cold faced vanished, and her first impulse was the lash out at him, threaten him for bringing up their names at a time like this.
She took in a breath, and he continued to press his heavy weight against her. Instead of speaking, she found herself drifted fascinated fingers over his face, moving over his face, tracing his lips, past them to his shoulders.
Her heart shuddered within her, and with it her body trembled.
Emotion. It had been so long since she had been overcome with so much of it.
"I do care," she finally admitted achingly, her eyes suddenly moist. "I care Angel. I know I'm not strong enough Angel." He continued to gaze at her with the demon yellow eyes, but she only saw Angel, never seeing the ridges, seeing only the vampire she had always known. "Angel, I can't win against this demon. Kat's not strong enough to fight it, you have to stop him. I don't even- It's you, Angel. You're the champion. You have to stop this thing- because I won't be able to. All I'll be able to do is kill Kat… and I don't even know… if I can do even that."
He didn't say a word, but continued to clutch her, as if he was unsure.
"Angel, help me trust you."
Los Angeles, CA 1999
The dreams had left a haunting affect on her, and she sighed, shivering, burrowing further into the airplane seat, looking to her side to find Xander asleep.
The private jet was relatively quiet. But she couldn't stop shivering. Goosebumps broke out on her body, as memories flooded through her.
Thank you, Winters, she thought morbidly, closing her eyes. Thank you so much for having a psychotic lover you never told me about. Thank you SO MUCH making me kill you. THANK YOU SO MUCH.
Nightmares of words so telling of her trauma. Claribel's face when she told her death and destruction was all that she would ever bring her friends. She hadn't believed her then. She had believed it would be the same, that nothing would change. She could have Xander and could have her life back-
But there was this – targeting her friends, targeting even Angel, who up until now, had been out of their lives-
Her eyes flickered over to him, found him watching Buffy's sleeping form with the haunted look of love she had come to regard as familiar.
When his head lifted and his eyes connected with hers, she cocked an eyebrow. The vampire swallowed, looking away.
Taking a breath, she made her decision. Walking around Xander, she moved to the front of the private jet, taking a shot from the bar and knowing he was there as she put it behind her.
"We'll be there in a half hour."
He didn't say a word as he took the drink, downing it in one gulp and then waiting as she poured him another. Their eyes met again, and this time, she looked away.
"Do you blame me, too?" he asked frankly.
"What are you talking about?"
She managed a grim smile as she looked at the murky liquid in the glass, manuvering her fingers around the form of it, letting the liquid swirl. "Not everything is about you, Angel. I've got my own demon to deal with."
He was quiet, but she could feel the black sweater as it skimmed her forearm. Her head turned, angling back to see what he was viewing so sacredly.
"You came back to them."
"So did you."
"Because I had to," he said quickly.
"Me too," she answered, finally taking the liquid in, letting it burn satisfyingly down her throat. Again they looked at each other, again they looked away. "So here's the million dollar question," she answered, her voice rough from the alcohol. "Who's weaker? Me for not being able to leave, or you for running?"
"You don't know why I left."
"I have an idea."
"Who knows? You did the right thing."
"I had no choice."
She gave a sigh, leaning forward as he moved over her, plucking the shot glass from her hands and refilling it. "From the looks of it, neither do I."
A beat, both were quiet, the dark hazel met the dark brown and both stared, for one long minute, both understanding, in this crisis, that at that moment, they were one and the same.
Death and Destruction.
Cordelia looked away.
His grip relaxed, but this time it was her who kept him against her, her hands now clutching his shoulders, keeping his body against her, almost as if she was relishing the contact. Angel felt the warm, human body against his own, but it was her face that struck him, there was so much naked emotion-
"Angel, my whole life since I've become… what I am, I've had people telling me I'm Death Incarnate. And I believed them. No one in my life that I've loved has ever… not died on me. Everyone I come in contact with dies, Angel. Except you." Her hands smoothed over his face, her eyes shining brilliantly even as her voice trembled. "You, Angel, have always existed, beautiful and tormented, and I see you and I see Death, and for some reason you still make me feel- like there's light. You make me crave … light, Angel. You are surrounded by darkness and when I'm with you, there's nothing but light, and it scares me because-"
"You get hurt in the light." His words were gruff, torn from his closed throat.
She nodded, letting the tears slide. Hurriedly she wiped them off, closing her eyes for a second, composing herself before beginning again, a tad more evenly. "I'm trusting you, Angel, to get me through this. Because you're the only one who can."
Her gaze was soft, almost desperate, but the ice cold in Cordelia's hazel orbs had melted, and he found himself whimpering as she slid her hands over his neck, and he leaned forward, moving his lips against hers desperately.
Her kiss was hungry, open and wet and without reservations. There was nothing held back as she held him, sealing his promise with one of her own.
When their lips broke apart, she gasped in, but he only gave her a second to recover before pulling her close, burying his face into her shoulder and breathing her in. Her form was trembling as she held him, pressing kisses to his cheek, to his neck, to his shoulder.
Love and trust was prevalent, and the desperate fear that hung over them tainted it only slightly. The door opening made him look up, and Lorne looked startled. "Oh… uh… sorry- you need to see this."
He closed the door, leaving them in darkness again.
Angel closed his eyes, sighing against her hair, pressing his lips against her forehead, gently moving his hand in a caress down her back.
She managed a small smile as she patted his cheek. "Might want to lose the game face before we go in there."
He had completely forgotten about the ridges.
Taking a breath, he forced them away, but the look in her face never changed, and he gave her an unsure smile, before pulling away, keeping her hand firmly in his as they moved towards the door.
Cordelia gasped as she came into the room, moving away from Angel as she saw who was in the room.
Terence Jacobs turned, papers and books inadvertently flying all over the place as he dumped his load on the chair.
"Ms. Winters!" She looked a little overwhelmed when he came forward, gave her a bear hug that invaded much personal space, and smiled happily.
"We're here to help!"
"We?" Angel asked, crossing his arms as he came up from behind the Immortal who was also a little dumbstruck.
Various men and women were settling into the space of the lobby that was very quickly becoming crowded. The lawyers looked almost disgusted as dusty books were placed over their immaculate pads, and one even sneezed when the dust pooled.
"The Watchers Council has united to help stop the impending evil," Mr. Jacobs cheerfully informed them.
"The Watcher's Council?"
"I don't understand," Cordelia said, looking unsure as she looked around the room. "I thought the Council was supposed to be impartial throughout all of this."
"We are. We have no intention of stopping that particular concept. Provided things have run their course here. There's nothing about this Endgame that is natural." The female stepped into the room, arms behind her back, voice deep and devastatingly familiar. "So this is the Hyperion. I always wondered what my mother saw in it." Cordelia and Angel both froze, as the woman pushed the black hair behind her ear, and finally gazed at them both. A stare, and then a gentle smile floated over her face. "Hello, Aunt Chase. Uncle `Gel."
She broke out into a smile, and nodded eagerly.
In two steps she was in Cordelia's arms, holding her tightly, eyes moist as she pulled back.
Cordelia gently cupped her face, fingers trembling. "God I haven't seen you since-… You were…" she indicated her height at her waist, and shook her head. "You… you're a WATCHER?"
"Wouldn't Mom be proud?" she said, grinning. "I… long story – but I missed you. Grandma missed you."
"I missed your grandmother. And your mother."
"Uncle `Gel!" Still holding onto Cordelia, Katie turned, gripping his outstretched hand. "I just… I'm so happy to see both of you!"
Terence looked absolutely dumbstruck. "You know them both?"
Chase barely looked at him. "I'm Katie's Godmother."
Angel raised as sheepish hand as Katie gently patted his cheek. "Godfather, right here." He was also grinning. "God, you look so much like your mother."
"No, my mother never looked this old." She smiled, shrugging, and then she stood back, as Angel gently pressed a hand into Cordelia's shoulder. "They both would have loved to see you… one of Grandma Faith's regrets was never being able to help you reconcile your differences."
"Oh, honey, they're more than reconciled," Lorne butted in, shutting up when Angel elbowed him sharply.
"That was Faith," Cordelia said, blowing her breath out. "Never able to keep her mouth shut about … well… us."
"Ahem." Mr. Weathers looked more than annoyed. "As touching as this is- we are on the clock."
Cordelia huffed, when Katie raised her eyebrow. "Evil lawyers, meet the Watchers Council." To Katie, she said, "They… are TRYING to help. Mostly just being annoying."
Katie smiled, but she nodded to Terence, who was shaken out of his dumbstruck gaze like a windup toy. "Every resource is at your disposal. We have already figured out, we can stop the demon, and reverse the EndGame, but we need the exact spell. We are looking for it as we speak, it's located in some scroll… the scroll of…" he peered into the book, and looked up. "Anatole."
Mr. Weathers shuffled when Cordelia looked at him pointedly.
"The heads discussed this, and we believe-"
"Hand it over, moron." He sighed, and nodded, reaching into his briefcase and placing it in Terence's hands.
"If we do not get this back," he said, voice clipped and dangerous. "We will use every means in our employ to make life very difficult for you."
"Yeah, Wolfy and Hart," Angel said, coming up behind and slapping him hard on the back, making him lurch forward as the vampire slung a heavy hand over his shoulder. "Gotta love `em." Mr. Weathers stared at him as if he was insane.
"Okay guys, it's crunch time," Cordelia said, moving over to watch as Terence pulled open the scroll, Katie settled down on the other side of him with her own set of books. "We're going for broke. Like the Market Crash of 2100. Winters Incorporated almost hit rock bottom then. But we managed."
"Yes," Mr. Weathers smiled fondly at the memory. "I remember it as a young lawyer. We had an interest in that."
"Yeah, I know," she responded, grimacing. "You tried to do a hostile takeover. Literally," she added under her breath.
Angel shoved Mr. Weathers into a chair and moved around, nodding to Lorne and some of the lawyers. "Weapons. Let's get them."
Cordelia walked by, scruffing his hair before settling in next to Katie.
Mr. Weathers sighed, trying to fix the bangs and adjust the suit.
"What you get when you try to bond with the people you hate," he muttered.
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Fourteen
Anticipation, mingled with dread, fear and wonderful intensity filled the air. It was almost tangible, and as if he was mortal, the vampire stood in the center of the room, raised his arms, and breathed it all in.
Shrugging off the leather duster, he carefully placed it on the chair, moving toward the stone, circling around the druids who began the chanting.
Vampires were cursed with memories, cursed with feelings and emotions, and as killers with no soul, there was no excuse for the weakness that it caused. Existing was never something Spike did well. As a child, even as a young man, William was someone who believed in the poetry of life, in taking it by its very essence and obtaining it, owning it: possessing it.
Glory. Love. Life. In the blood, running down his throat, into his veins. In the bodies he took, in the lives he savagely tore apart. Love and life sacrificed for the essence of humanity, the very thing that made so many human – made him the vampire he had become.
Unrequited love was perhaps one of the most forbidden of the curses that had been doled out to his existence. Losing Drusilla, not just losing her love but losing her respect, being chipped, falling into his fantasy world with the Slayer, and then regaining his dark goddess, the glorious evil, only to have her taken again by yet another Scoobie… A bitchy Immortal who never lived, never existed.
He stood, the emotion lumping in his throat as he held the cigarette to his lips, narrowing his eyes and pursing his lips.
It had taken more than seventy years to bring this plan to a head. Seventy years to create the plot of revenge so intricate and so powerful that lesser beings had balked.
The Immortal who had taken away his love and his self respect, and the Vampire who had taken the blonde would be torn from each other in one foul swoop. The druids continued to chant.Spike nodded when the stone began to rumble, shake. Let them kill each other with their newfound love.
Even death was too good for that. He closed his eyes, and shifted, knowing the Immortal would be watching.
Let her play her part then.
"Watch and learn, Kat," he whispered, dropping the cigarette and grinding it with his foot.
Vision number two was a hell of a lot more painful than the first.
Cordelia lost all body control and she very nearly hit her head on the corner of the desk had it not been for Angel's quick reflexes, honed to perfection. In less than a second, he was by her side, jerking her into him and holding her tightly as she writhed with the pain. The vision came without warning, in the room that was congregated with both good and evil, both sides attempting to stop the unnatural, as lawyers and watchers stared, at first uncomprehending, as the Powers that Be made their interest in this particular situation known.
Through it all, the vessel, the Immortal caught between the worlds, shook uncontrollably, clutching the vampire with a desperate need, and if the evil in the room took notes, they would have remarked on the way she seemed to hunger for his touch, the way her body curled into his, face burying into his shoulder as if by only his scent she would be able to make sense of what had happened to her.
Cordelia herself noted nothing of the sort, but her hands latched onto Angel's shoulder and her face dug into his shirt, as she breathed in, desperate to find a link to reality from the horror of what she had just witnessed. Living, breathing, and completely unfiltered with pain.
When her eyes opened, she dimly heard the voices around her, some demanding to know what happened, others asking in hushed whispers if she was all right, and one in particular, raspy and gentle, accompanied with a pair of colder than usual hands that cupped at her face, gently questioning her on what she saw. Reality came slowly, her Immortality battled the headache, and soon it was reduced to a dull throb. Her legs were shaky, but Angel's strength more than compensated for it, and when her eyes floated up and met his, the dark gaze was filled with concern. She took a haggard breath, and carefully released him, felt her knees buckle a second time, and grabbed onto him again.
"Are you okay?"
"Do I look okay?" she snapped, shaking her head and running fingers through her hair, pulling away from him again, thankful to find she could actually stand on her own this time. She had an audience, she realized. Men in suits and ties and woman in blazers, and one guy with horns were all waiting for her words. "We're outta time," she finally said, moving away from Angel and towards the weapons pile he had created, choosing a broad sword. "I've got a place, and that demon's being raised as we speak. Let's go."
"But the spell! We don't have it!"
"There's no time!"
Terence flipped desperately through the pages, looking down at the open scroll. "It's here… but the words… the translation…"
"No time, Terence," Cordelia clipped, moving past him, taking the black trench coat that Angel held out and shrugging it on. Her eyes closed, and she breathed in, shuddering slightly as she felt the blade in her palm, and when she opened her eyes Angel was staring at her in open concern.
"Nothing. It's just…" she swallowed, and managed a grim smile. "The Gathering… I'm starting to feel it again."
He bit down the comment as they stared at each other for a long minute, knowing exactly what that meant. Katie broke into their moment, slinging her bag over her shoulder and motioning to the other Watchers.
"We're coming with you."
"No buts. We can damn well figure this thing out there. At least if we can get a look at the thing we can determine the correct translation." Terence immediately nodded, shrugging on his blazer. Cordelia crossed her arms, watching the scene silently.
Angel shook his head. "No, Katie. It's too dangerous."
"Danger? You do remember who my grandmother was, right?" The elderly woman gave a strong smile. "I've had my share. It's time we do something for ourselves, instead of letting our Slayers and Immortals carry the bulk of the work."
"We gotta go," Cordelia said, moving to the desk and scribbling down on a blank scrap of paper. As Lorne came over, she held it up, allowing him to take it from her hand. "The address. That's where we'll be. The rest of you, figure this out here."
Mr. Jacobs nodded, gathering the books, and carefully setting the scroll on top.
"If you think you're going anywhere with that scroll-"
"Come on, you're coming too." Angel grabbed Mr. Weathers by the scruff of the neck, pushing him roughly toward the door.
"Hey! This is a good suit- and listen, VAMPIRE-"
"You think, I'm letting your evil ass stay in my hotel, you've got another thing coming." Angel pushed him out of the door, and turned back, catching the ax that Cordelia tossed to him. Catching her gaze, he took an unneeded breath, and nodded. After a second, she nodded back. Turning, the two strode toward the door, letting Katie and Terence take the back, out of the hotel, into the night.
She huddled into the corner of the limo, hands covering her face, trembling. The feeling of helplessness invaded his soul, and he clenched his fists to avoid touching her. She was infected.
The words mulled around in his brain, but he stayed put, body taut with tension.
A slender hand, worn with wrinkles, settled on his knee. "The Gathering," Katie said, her voice deep, calm, even. "It's getting to her. Soon she won't be able to process anything but one, single mantra: There can be only one."
His gaze never left Cordelia's form, watching as she took in a breath, moved her hands to the lapel of her trench coat, fanning herself, leaning back, and closing her eyes and breathing deeply.
"Can you help her?" Rough, desperate need filtered through, and the woman beside him paused. After a beat, he tore his eyes from Cordelia and turned to Katie, found her watching him with an odd expression.
"Is it true Angel?" she asked after a second. "Are you in love with the Immortal?"
"Her name is Cordelia, Katie." In the words wasn't the answer, but she continued to search his face, and in his eyes, she found what she was looking for.
"Take her hand, Angel. Hold her. Make her breathe in your scent. Remind her who she is." He gave her a questioning look, but she only shook her head, cutting him off before he could reply. "Make her care, Angel, make her remember. Heaven's knows what journey you two have reached in the road before you, but use it to save her, so she may save us."
Terence cleared his throat and Katie turned away, immediately lost in the nuances of the spell.
Angel waited, and when Cordelia shuddered, he moved, away from the cramped space between Mr. Weathers and Katie, and settling his weight in the leather next to Cordelia. She was sweating, her arms were crossed over her body, a desperate shield, and she was visibly trembling. He sat beside her, and took a breath, reaching around her carefully, pulling at her hands.
Her eyes fluttered open, glassy and bright. "Angel-"
Her body was hot, almost feverish, and she closed her eyes, struggling, but he continued to disentangle her fingers, pressing her into him, against his side. The blade bit into his thigh. He took that away too, settling it on the other side of him, away from her reach.
"We'll be there in five minutes, Cordelia. You can save the world then." His words were firm, gentle, soothing. She struggled, swallowing down the emotion, but he pressed a kiss to her temple, and she sighed, eyes fluttering closed, leaning into his caress.
Relief flooded through him when tentatively, she slid a palm up his chest, snaking up to the exposed skin between his open collar lapels. Her forehead rested against his shoulder, and she pressed herself against his form, her body hot against his cooler one.
And she was still trembling.
He spooned her to him, ignoring the other passengers in the limo, ignoring the crashes outside, ignoring anything and everything but the shaking Immortal in his arms.
He closed his eyes and breathed her in, thinking back through the years.
Cordelia slapping him to his senses.
Cordelia taking shots with him on an airplane.
Cordelia begging him to forgive her for Buffy's death.
Cordelia holding Oz's dead body.
Cordelia holding Xander's hand and sobbing into it.
Cordelia, standing on a bridge in London, completely unaware that he was about to step into her life yet again.
He pulled her in closer, his mouth brushing against her soft earlobe.
"Angel," she began shakily. "I can't stop it-"
"Shhh… just listen." She nodded hesitantly, and he smiled gently, speaking in low whispers. "Can you hear me?" Another nod. "I love you."
Her body went still, completely still, but he only continued to hold her, and she whimpered, burrowing further into his embrace, clinging to him.
When he looked up, he happened to catch Katie watching them, with eyes of observation only a Watcher could attain. With a hint of moisture in those eyes, she nodded.
When the tingle went over her body, the hot, feverish trembling went away, giving room for the anticipation, the furious high that took over her senses, made her smile, open her arms wide and reach up to the sky with the sword in her hand. Life, pure and simple. Death…. Hard and complicated.
Katherine waited, the sword in her hands pulsing into her, every second getting deeper, every second flooding more and more into her body. Her eyes were dark as night, watching the door, the click going through her body as it finally opened, and she walked in.
Their eyes met, friends, enemies, an aura tinged with darkness exuding through both of them. Katherine didn't see the others, she merely shifted the grip on her sword, and waited.
Chase Winters was her height, but less muscled. Her hair was shortened, and in her hand was a regular broad sword, not the usual saber she was used to fighting with. But the look was in her eyes, and Katherine knew, as well as Cordelia did, this would end now.
"Go," Chase said, her eyes never tearing away from her form across the dark, empty ballroom. "Stop the demon."
"ANGEL. This doesn't involve you. Do your part."
Katherine let her gaze flicker over to the vampire, who hesitated, and then finally agreed, moving away from Cordelia in a way that seemed almost painful to him, pushing the three people who had accompanied away from the two Immortals.
"Down the stairs, to your left," she offered.
Angel paused, but she only shrugged, and he continued on his way.
When they were left alone, her heart was pounding so loudly she wondered if Cordelia could hear it.
The other woman was silent, almost a statue as they locked eyes.
"I'm sorry, Kat."
Katherine cocked an eyebrow, moving sideways, immediately falling into the circular stand off pattern. She didn't say a word.
"I'm sorry we couldn't help you. I'm sorry we couldn't save your soul. I'm sorry I'll have to kill you."
She narrowed her eyes, the words doing their work. Bitterness and unchecked blame now flowed through her, directed at the younger Immortal. She took a breath, and walked to the table, reaching for a familiar short saber. The sword clattered, sliding to a stop when Cordelia's boot stepped on it.
"Look familiar?" Kat asked.
Cordelia reached down to pick up her sword, blowing her breath out as she tossed the broad sword to the side. "Thanks."
Katherine waited, as Chase shifted the sword in her grip, tossed her bangs over her forehead. She held up the demonic sword. Chase only pursed her lips.
"With this it's pretty much a one-sided battle, don't you think?"
Cordelia didn't answer, but reached for her trench coat, deliberately shrugging it off, and putting it on a nearby hook.
Her eyes never left the sword with the glowing blade, and Kat herself felt the pull, almost cried in pain when she flung it against the wall between them.
Cordelia's eyes widened in surprise, watching the blade embedded into the north wall, then shifting back to Katherine's.
Katherine picked up another sword, and her glare became ice cold.
"Kill the demon, or Kill me, Chase," she remarked. "But I'm doing this without magic."
To her credit, Cordelia barely flinched. "Works for me," she said breezily.
Katherine nodded, and two seconds later, the flip had come, and she twisted up, meeting the blade with her own.
The jolt was rough, but she absorbed it, dark blue orbs locking with the hazel.
It was time to finish this.
Words flowed together in rhythmic sync, over the din of chaos.
Angel almost smiled at the faded voices, hampered by the dark stone. Angelus loved this part. He continued to move slowly down the stairs, always making sure to always keep himself in front, guarding the two Watchers and the evil lawyer.
Of the three, Terence looked the most frightened, clutching at his books as he continued to walk on wobbly knees, pushing into Mr. Weathers, who looked concerned, but vaguely bored with the whole thing.
"Watch the scroll!" he hissed, grabbing Terence by the shoulder, making him yelp. "The senior partners'll have my head!"
"Oh, and I'm sure we all care so much about THAT," Katie muttered under her breath.
"Quiet," Angel snapped, almost snarling as he paused at the door, the voices on the other side getting louder. "That's just what we need. Sneaking up kind of entails being QUIET."
He waited by the door, as Kate leaned forward, listening, mouthing the words in an attempt to understand them.
"Ummm… Uncle `Gel?"
"You know that sounds really weird coming from you now."
"Sorry but… now would be a good time to interrupt-"
"We don't even know how many people are in there."
"Well, they're about to finish-"
Without another word, he pushed back, and then kicked through, splintering the door off the hinges.
In a quick survey of the situation, Angel realized two very important things: one, he was hopelessly outnumbered, and two, they were too late.
Spike, raising his hands and saluting from his throne, gave him a cheery grin.
"Too late, poofy!" Angel shrugged, the demon visage rising to his face as he ducked away from a Druid that came, sword raised high.
"Better late then never, huh, Spike?" To the Watchers and the lawyer he growled, "Find the spell."
"Terence, here's a good spot!" Katie grabbed him by the collar, propelling the Watcher backwards and sitting him in the corner, ignoring the way Mr. Weathers seemed frozen in place.
"Weathers, get your ass behind me or help me fight!" Angel growled.
But Mr. Weathers was frozen, staring at the huge statue in the middle of the room, that was rumbling, creaking, groaning, slowly, as if coming alive.
The druids kept coming, and Angel had a hands full, keeping the Watchers free, flipping one over his shoulder and slamming a fist into another's gut, grabbing him by the coat and sending him flying into the third that came at him.
"Druid vampires," he muttered. "I hate those."
A pivot on her part took Cordelia by surprise, knocking her off balance, and the blade out of her hands. Katherine barely had time to swing, before Cordelia used the momentum to launch backwards, into a make shift cartwheel, landing into a backward roll and grabbing her sword, back up on her feet in an instant.
Immediately, Katherine swung down, and the clang sent a jolt of pain up her arm, giving Cordelia the advantage, as she lifted a foot and buried it into her abdomen, sending Katherine sprawling back.
The mansion door flew open, and a small girl, no more than sixteen or seventeen burst into the room, pausing, a stake wavering in her hands.
"Uh… Are you Ms. Winters?"
Cordelia didn't have a chance to respond, as Katherine regained her footing, and the dance of footwork began again.
The small Latina girl looked hesitant, unsure. "Do you um… need some … I'm the Slayer? The Watcher's Council…."
"Great! Good to meet you!" Cordelia bit, swinging under Katherine, catching the blade before it came down on her shoulder, and pushing up, sliding it away from her.
"Need some help?"
"No, actually I'm good here," she responded, launching over Kate into a somersault, ending in a split and once again meeting the blade. "Why don't you try downstairs?"
Kat paused, breathing hard, looking at the girl. "Slayer?"
"Yeah. Down the stairs, to the left. Kill the blonde guy."
"Oh- kay." The Slayer looked hesitant, but moved obediently away from the Immortals, who now stood, waiting for her to leave.
"Chop, chop!" Cordelia said, motioning to the door. "Let's go!"
Kat rolled her eyes, crossing her arms as she waited. "Can't do this with an audience, you know?"
"Prefer to kill each other in peace?"
"Please," Cordelia said, impatience in her tone.
The Slayer again gave them a weird look, but went to the stairs, opening the door, and closing it behind her.
Kat took a moment to breathe, lifting her wet mass of curls and letting the air hit her sweaty neck. "That… was…"
"Yeah. And think: she's one of the more amiable ones."
"Weird. You ready?"
"Oh yeah." This time Cordy took the attack, and the fight continued.
"No- it can't be Venetian- ANGEL, ON YOUR LEFT!" Terence wiped at his face with a handkerchief, pushing it back into his pocket. "If it were then the whole dialect would be written differently."
"Plus, the English guy wouldn't have figured it out," Mr. Weathers said, crouching next to them, a crossbow in his hands.
Katie immediately reached over and snatched it away.
"Knowing you, you might intentionally miss and hit Angel," she said, pushing him toward Terence. "Help him. I'll take care of this."
"Listen, old lady-" Without a word, she snapped a hand across his jaw, making him slump back.
"Always hated lawyers," she mumbled, raising the crossbow, loading it quickly, and setting her sights.
Angel heard the whir and turned quickly, found the quivering shaft buried into the vampire's chest, exploding the next second.
"Anytime, Uncle `Gel." Taking the time to utter the words proved deadly, as a vampire took the opportunity to dig a stake into his stomach, not killing him, but making it very painful.
Angel grunted, falling to his knees in pain, waiting for the inevitable blow to his head, when suddenly a small female bowled over him, barreling into the vampire and bringing down a stake, dusting it.
At first he only blinked, digging the stake out, and staggering to his feet. The little Slayer stopped, turning and nodding a half smile before turning back.
Angel turned, and Katie only nodded, shrugging, going back to her translation.
He took a breath, eyes on the younger girl, so small…. So young for her occupation. But the little girl smiled as she continued to fight, and his own concentration wavered when he saw the flash of blonde.
Immediately he launched to the other side of the room, scooping up the British vamp and slamming him to the ground.
"Going somewhere, Spike?"
Spike grinned, dusting himself off, shaking his head and straightening.
"With all these bleedin' issues between us? Wouldn't dream of it!"
Angel stumbled back when Spike cracked a fist against his jaw.
Terence wiped at his sweaty forehead feverishly, moving the scroll and peering forward again.
"Are they on?"
"Yep," Katie nodded, finger affixed to her earlobe. "Start reading."
Mr. Weathers shuffled, and produced his photon light, shedding light on the scroll.
The words slurred in Terence's mouth, as his eyes looked up and he caught the statue, moving, breathing, groaning with unseen weight, causing the entire room to tremble. In the center of the diagram, it continued to come to life, screeching and screaming accompanying it.
The bringer of darkness.
Closing his eyes, he forced himself to look back upon the scroll, continued to mutter the words, letting Katie repeat them into the recorder.
"Jason says they might be of Corinthian origin," she said after a minute.
Mr. Weathers immediately tapped on his earlobe, relaying the information.
"Corinthian translator standing by," he said after a minute.
Terence waited, and with each passing second, the dread in his heart grew, as the statue began to move.
"We might not have time," he said after a minute. "It's rising and we still haven't stopped the endgame."
The chaos in the room was almost palpable, and Terence found the waiting almost unbearable, as the little Slayer staked as many vampires as she could and the two vampires, one blonde, and one dark haired, hurled each other across the room with the ferocity of animals.
Blithely, he allowed one moment to wonder about his own Immortal, before his ear twittered and the translations began to come in.
Sunnydale, CA 2010
Chase Winters gripped her sword, almost tripping on the slick asphalt as she stumbled out of the car, pulling on her black trenchcoat as she ran. Her heart was beating furiously and her body was drenched with sweat, as she furiously pulled her hair into a ponytail and kicked at the man hole.
She dropped into the hole, landing with a sickening squelch amidst the muck and the mire, but she barely paid attention to it.
Quickly, she began to move, not pausing, breathing hard, praying to any one who would listen that her charge would be safe.
She couldn't lose Faith, too.
Years, and she had almost lost all of them. The ring was no longer on her finger, taken off the moment he passed away, put on her neck, by his request. He hadn't wanted her to hold on, hadn't wanted her to pretend… he hadn't wanted her to spend her life in memories.
Pushing forward, she disregarded the sewage on her four hundred dollar boots, or the way the smell seeped though her black pants. All that mattered was getting to Faith.
When she was close, she began to hear things, and it made her sprint, the shouting, the thumps, and praying she wouldn't be too late, Cordelia charged through the splintered boards, and encountered Drusilla's crypt.
She paused, mouth dropping slightly when she barely took in the vampire, before she exploded into dust, and a bloody, weak, and tired older Slayer fell to her knees, the stake falling from her hands.
"Faith." Immediately she was on her knees, arms sliding around the kidnapped Slayer, hand tipping up to inspect her friend's bloodied face.
"I killed her," Faith said, almost numbly.
Cordelia gave a slight smile, fading away immediately. "Yeah, you kicked her ass. Are you okay? How's the baby?" Carefully, Cordelia slid her hand to Faith's abdomen, heart jumping slightly when she felt the pulse of life beneath her.
"She was gonna… try … wanted to feed off the baby…" Faith said, eyes still dazed as Cordelia gently helped her up. "I wasn't going to let her have my baby, Chase."
Her Slayer was weak, frail and tired. The kidnapping had taken place only six hours before, but Cordelia hadn't been there, and the pregnant Slayer had done what she could to protect Willow and Ruppy and her own child. But Faith was swollen with child, and in the end, Drusilla had taken the Slayer-
And Cordelia hadn't been there.
Faith's lips were cut, her right eye was covered in a bruise, swollen, and on her neck were two small bitemarks. She wasn't dead, not yet. Faith heaved in a whimper, sliding her arms around the Immortal and burying her head into Cordelia's neck, shuddering slightly.
Cordelia's eyes closed involuntarily at the gesture, her throat closing when the twenty-eight year old ex-Slayer took comfort in her lean, nineteen year old appearance.
Faith had fought by her side for years, and Cordelia had come to know her, regard her, and love her like family. If one damn person deserved a normal life, Faith was it.
"Cordy," she whispered against Cordelia's neck. "Thank you for coming."
"Let's get you out of here, Faith," she answered back, pressing her lips against Faith's forehead, felt the Slayer blow her breath out at the contact.
"Bitch almost killed me," Faith said, hand on her back as Cordelia helped move her toward the opening she had created in the crypt. "In the old days I woulda been able to take that psycho easy."
"In the old days, you weren't the size of a house," Chase answered automatically, moving with her, guiding her through the splintered boards. "Watch the step, Faith."
Faith's fingers tightened on Cordelia's shoulder, and the Slayer froze, eyes jerking back to the crypt.
"He's coming," Faith whispered. "FUCK."
"Spike. Oh, shit. He's gonna find her dead and he's gonna-"
"Spike… Spike…" Cordelia swallowed, and then looked back to the crypt. The steps were discernable, the British accent bouncing off the walls in the midst of the drips of the water.
Immediately, all options began to swim through Cordelia's head. Spike… stronger and much more effective after chipping came out, running rampant in the war and twice as evil.
If he found out Faith killed Drusilla, and if Cordelia ran without killing them, then he would spend the rest of his undead life tracking Faith down. Faith, who was pregnant, who was getting older, who was no longer fighting.
"Faith, take my sword, and go through the opening, up the manhole, in my car, and leave."
"Go. I'll handle him."
"Without your sword?"
Cordelia clamped her lips together, swallowing. "I'll be fine. Just go."
"Cordelia, fuck that. I killed the bitch, I'll kill him too-"
"Faith. You're pregnant. Nine months. You're on maternity leave, permanently. GO." Cordelia shoved her in the direction, ignoring the flash of anger, and fear in Faith's eyes.
The blonde vampire stepped through and Cordelia stepped forward, picking up the stake and weighing it carefully in her arms, as he paused, looking around the room. His cold blue eyes met hers, and Cordelia smirked, shrugging.
He sniffed, with his animal senses, and Cordelia moved to stand in front of the open hole, covering it with her body.
"Sorry to break it to you, Spikey, but she's kinda dead." Cordelia flipped the stake to him, nodding to the pile of ashes.
The lean body of the vampire wasn't particularly intimidating, but that was part of Spike's charm. The vampire was dangerous because of his unassuming nature. The vampire who liked to have fun, reveled in his lack of conscious and even went so far as to fall in love, was so dangerous because he took nothing but love seriously, and in love, came all his passion.
He didn't seem to believe it at first, studying Cordelia as if he would have studied an ant, and turned, sniffing, finally regarding her.
"Cordelia. Love the hair."
"Wish I could say the same to you."
Cordelia wasn't sure how much Spike knew about her. He was smart, to have survived this long, he had known all about Buffy and even about Angel before he made his return to Sunnydale, but when Buffy died, many had taken for granted that Sunnydale was now free for the taking.
With Faith guarding the Hellmouth, that notion was quickly put out of their heads, and she knew that a few had even talked about one Chase Winters-
But they had yet to make the connection to Cordelia Chase. But Spike was no ordinary vampire. He paused, eyes roving around the room, and again he sniffed, looked toward the open door. "You expect me to believe the cheerleader killed Dru?" he chuckled.
"Then find her, but she's not here."
Her eyes bore into his, and her lack of fear was pivotal in making him believe. The self satisfied smirk fell and his body froze, and once again his eyes roved down to the pile of dust on the ground.
One second, two, and it sank in.
Pure heartbreak, in its rarest form, was terrifying to watch. She had seen it once, had experienced it herself, and it was always the same. Some reacted by lashing out, as Angel had, some reacted by shutting down inside, as she did, no one was the same.
Unpredictability was what made the moment so dangerous.
It was clear the moment the vampire's eyes flooded with tears which way it was going for him.
The way the body began to shake, the way his hands curled into fists, the way his eyes locked on hers in pure, utter rage-
And her without a sword. GREAT.
"Where's that bitch Faith," he breathed, his voice barely above a whisper, cool, dangerous, barely contained, like a bottle shaken one too many times.
"Faith's gone. I killed Dru."
He ignored her, moving toward the opening, and Cordelia quickly moved, covering the hole, stalling. Faith, in all her pregnant glory, needed time to get out, and there was no way she was attacking a half mad vampire at this moment. She needed time… to figure him out… to see which way the ball would teeter.
"Oh, yeah. I killed her," she said, coming forward, making sure Spike saw no one but her. "Crazy ass psycho chick, that was all me, baby. With this here stake, didn't even bother to use my sword on her, because hell, don't want to taint THAT baby, and it requires a little too much effort."
"NO!" the vampire roared, and in his grief his strength was increased two fold, in a flash he was by Cordelia's side, and less than a second later she was flung against the wall.
At the impact, her head snapped against the wall and her mind splintered with the pain, the blood bitter on her tongue as she bit it with her teeth, almost gagging on the taste.
His fist landed in his face, breaking her nose with a snap, almost pushing the bone into the brain, and she felt the pain dizzy her, as he grabbed her by the throat and flung her to the other side.
To say it was a fair fight wasn't exactly… well… fair. In Cordelia's opinion, she had had very little warning before Spike attacked, and she told herself that she had come to rely on her sword way too much when he, with his lightning quick reflexes came out yet again, and she had a heel buried into her stomach in a terrific blow that brought her to her knees.
One part of the plan worked, however. He had forgotten completely about Faith.
Spike was surprisingly heavy, as he straddled her, hand clasped around her throat and squeezing the life out of her.
God, she hated being choked.
With a surge of strength she bucked him off, flipping him over and landing on top, but her mind was still aching, and her limbs were shaky, and the vampire took advantage, hauling her by the chin and jerking her head to the side, burying his fangs in her neck.
There was sharp pain, like a knife slicing through the skin as he tore at her, not caring about delicacy, purely intending to suck her dry. She struggled, but with the blood rushing out, her strength was quickly leaving, and she found herself concentrating only on the sucking sound that came from her ear, on the cold, heavy weight of the vampire, and the certainty that she would certainly die today.
As her eyes fluttered closed, a crash and a growl made them snap back open, and suddenly the weight was thrown off, and she could breathe again.
She tried to sit up, but she was too groggy, and instead she closed her eyes, letting the darkness take her.
When she came to, her eyes found a blurry version of Faith, and the pressure against her neck revealed to be a makeshift rag torn from Faith's own shirt, pressed against her wound in an effort to stop the bleeding.
"You are such a bastard," Faith muttered, her voice low, angry. "I told you I'd kill the little shit. But no, you have to get all self sacrificing, stealing MY thunder, telling him YOU killed Dru-"
Cordelia closed her eyes again, feeling the Immortality she had come to rely on take effect, pooling over her, working at her wounds.
"I'm pregnant, but I'm not helpless, Cordelia." Carefully, Faith helped her sit up, resting her on the wall of the crypt.
Her head still ringing, Cordelia was finally able to get a good look at the crypt. Completely empty.
"The initiative has him. Good thing your car has a ringer, Cor. Two minutes and they were here, ready to take away Hostile… some number or other."
Cordelia closed her eyes, swallowing down the blood that was still pooling in her throat, grimacing in disgust and spitting out. "Does he still think I killed Dru?"
Faith paused, and finally nodded. Cordelia blew a breath of relief, shoulders relaxing. "Good."
"Chase, this martyr shit isn't you."
"As long as he's alive, he's a threat to you, Faith. I've got nothing to lose. If he comes after me it's only a matter of time- don't you dare tell ANYONE you killed Dru."
"FUCK, Cordy I can handle it!"
"I don't WANT you to!" Cordelia stood, albeit shakily, taking the rag from Faith and holding it to her throat, craning it slightly and grimacing as the skin carefully knit itself together. "You've got a kid, you've got a life you've earned and I'm not going to let you screw it up."
"You think I'm gonna leave you, is that it?" Faith shook her head furiously, shoving at Cordelia with that Slayer strength that pushed Cordelia back into the wall. "Is that what you think? That I'm just gonna take off with my kid and the father and just leave you? FUCK that, Queen C. You're stuck with me."
"Faith, you're gonna take off with your kid and live out the rest of your life and be a good mother because that's what's best for HER."
"I'm the mom, I'll decide. You tell Willow to stay away?"
"And did she? NO. And hell if I'm going to. You're all I've got, Cordelia. You and Angel and I'm not letting either of you get all broody and shit on me. That's not fair. It's not fair to ME-" Her voice softened, and the Slayer's tone was choked as she whispered the last few words. "I love you."
Their eyes met, and Cordelia felt her own eyes flooding with tears. "I love you too, Faith." And the two brunettes reached for each other, held each other in a moment of gratitude and utter devotion.
Both Immortal and Slayer were trembling, and both began to sob.
Things were quickly escalating, and it was impossible to determine which way things were supposed to turn.
Angel ducked the punch, sent one of his own, and then swerved out of Spike's kick, all the while attempting to keep an eye on the statue that continued to rumble.
Hidden in the corner, the two Watchers and the lawyer were working feverishly, but they seemed no closer to the answer than before, and even Spike, the damned child of his who was forever switching sides for his own benefit, was starting to look uneasy as the figure began to come forth.
"You an idiot, Spike?" Angel seethed, using the smaller vampire's momentum to swing him past him, push him with furious force into the wall. In two seconds Angel was there, grabbing him by the hair, slamming him back face first into the bricks, bringing blood onto Spike's face. "You wanna bring about the end of the world? You don't know the first thing about chaos, boy." With a growl, he tossed him to the other side of the room, walking toward where the vampire landed in a furious heap. "Messing with Buffy, messing with Faith, messing with Cordelia – you got a fucking deathwish pal? Think you've got a free card that entitles you to screwing with my women?"
"Your women?" Spike stood, ducking under another punch and kicking up, directly into Angel's kidneys, sending him flying back. "You ponce. You think you owned them? They owned you, and that bloody soul."
"Love's bitch, `ey Spike?" Smashing an elbow into his face, Angel held the younger one still long enough to deliver another bone crunching punch into his face.
"You think this is about taking over the world, mate?" Spike only grinned, and with a burst of strength, he pushed back, tripping Angel, watching as he fell to the ground.
The ground beneath them began to move, and both vampires looked toward the stature. The plaster began to fall, underneath it shades of something green, and scaly began to emerge.
Spike grinned. "Who the bloody hell cares about the world, Angel?" he shook his head. "When there's nothing left to live for? Either way, that demon gets your girl, or Kat does. And you lose. You'll always lose."
Stumbling back, Spike turned, sprinting toward the stairs. Angel stood, fully prepared to go after him when the shriek made him freeze.
Turning, his found the game face emerging in full glory in reaction to what was before him.
The demon had risen.
The shaking of the mansion made it harder to keep her footing. Cordelia did the best she could, stumbling under the weight of the sword as Kat's blade connected with hers with increasing power, driving her to her knees.
Both women were sweating profusely, neither had trusted the other to say a word, and that was the first indication to Cordelia, whose mind was still running at a furious pace despite her desperate attempts to keep it clear of anything but the battle, that something wasn't right.
Most of the Immortals Chase encountered were talkers. She had come to recognize the type, warriors who talked, dug into your soul with words in an effort to throw you off, to look into their eyes, and not the sword, a crucial mistake. The battle was in the mind, but the extension was the sword.
Kat was a talker. But there was no talking now, only the stone cold look of resolve that continued as the relentless Immortal continued to parry and thrust.
The second indication that made Cordelia's heart twitch was Kat's eyes.
They glowed almost, turning a light blue that seemed almost hued to destroy, cold and calculating and not at all the warmth that Cordelia had come to expect. There was no broken heartedness, not angry or bitter resolve, no blame.
There was only hate. And then the fear came.
As Katherine swerved, ducking under the blade and skimming Cordelia's skin, slicing through her abdomen, not deep, but enough to make Cordelia's stumble back, fall to her knees.
Kat did not press the advantage. Instead she looked to her own sword, dropped it suddenly, and reached for the one buried in the wall.
Chase took in a hitched breath, unsure, stumbling to her feet and ignoring the scratch in an effort to concentrate on the battle.
Katherine was older, Katherine was stronger, and Cordelia was not concentrating enough to win the fight. Either way, it wouldn't take long now.
As the Immortal advanced, Cordelia braced herself, her heart shuddering within her as she swallowed, thoughts suddenly elsewhere.
On a pair of brown eyes, on a pair of cold hands. On a ring on a chain, and three words whispered that had filtered into her consciousness.
"I love you."
She closed her eyes, bowing her head, waiting for the inevitable.
It never came.
Cordelia's eyes opened, and instead she found Kat turned toward the door, as a vampire burst through, a streak of blonde that exploded into dust as Katherine beheaded him.
There was quiet in the aftermath, and Katherine dropped to her knees, suddenly fatigued, hand resting on her knee.
"Did you just kill Spike?" Cordelia managed.
Katherine was quiet only a moment. Her eyes met Cordelia's and the hate dissolved, moisture pervading the orbs.
"He killed Nick."
Dropping her sword, Cordelia's hand went to her stomach, grimacing at the wound, thankful that it was over… for now.
"Wow." Cordelia took in a deep breath, bracing herself on her knees. "That was kind of anticlimactic."
Katherine managed a smile.
Cordelia stood, always careful, moving toward the closed door when the rumbling began again.
"Umm… the demon-"
She turned when Katherine cried out, and Cordelia's eyes widened as the sword in Katherine's hand began to pulse, the green glowing suddenly flooding through Kat and shining brightly out of her eyes.
Gripping her sword, Cordelia stumbled back as Katherine fell to the floor, convulsing.
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Fifteen
Katherine's body was taken over completely. Convulsion after convulsion wracked through her body and Cordelia stood, helpless. She watched her writhing form, mouth agape as her head jerked toward the door that led to the stairs.
The definitive, tell tale roar that made the room vibrate sprung her into action, and carefully she stepped on the blade that was latched onto Kat's hand, keeping it steady while kneeling down, attempting and doing her damndest to stop the convulsions.
They were running out of time. They were SO running out of time.
The fear that had been prevalent before had given way to pure resolve, and she only grimaced, wincing in sympathy at the obvious agony on Kat's face, the possession more than taking its toll.
"Fight it, Kat," she whispered, keeping her hold on her shoulders firm. "I don't want to kill you. Or you me, for that matter."
The tingle that rushed through her took her completely by surprise, as she sucked her breath in and jerked her head to the door, only to find a familiar face with kind dark eyes enter the room, gripping a sword that was rare and different and only used by one man. When their eyes connected, she offered him a smile before jerking her head back to Kat.
"It TOOK you the hell long enough!"
Kat's body arched, and Cordelia fought it, bearing down, trying to keep her weight on her as the man and his companions moved forward.
"You're lucky we were in the neighborhood," the woman commented, her platinum blonde hair almost glowing in the flickering light.
Cordelia barely paid the thief any attention. "Amanda, you and- who the hell are you?"
Duncan McCloud flicked a thumb over his shoulder. "Methos. Old."
The dark-eyed man gave her a smirk. "Interesting little set up."
Chase and he exchanged a look, and she rolled her eyes. "Geez. He's another her, isn't he?" she snapped, glaring at Amanda, and finally, jerking her head to the stairs. "There's a demon in there. Kill it."
"Since when did we start taking orders from the little one?" Amanda asked, but only rolled her eyes as she stood, following the age old Immortal down the stairs, taking two at a time.
Duncan gave Cordelia a soft look, but there was no time for pleasantries or happy reunions, as Kat groaned under them, her eyes changing color and her breath gasping in, almost as if she was drowning.
"We have to kill the demon to stop the possession," Cordelia said, seconds before she was bucked off by Kat, landing with a jar on the wall.
The little Slayer was paralyzed for only a second, before the look of resolve that was so reminiscent of Buffy floated on her face and she attacked the ten foot monster head on. The ten tentacles proved too fast for her, and she was quickly disarmed and tossed back. Angel moved as quickly as he could, but he too, was repeatedly flung back as the monster rose from the statue, dark and tall and all consuming evil. Even the demon, the fearless Angelus that lay bound within the confines of Angel's soul, shivered and jolted within him, but the look on the vampire's face was of pure, utter resolve.
When Mr. Weathers attempted to run for the stairs, he found himself caught by the tie and hauled up to receive a close view of the demon emerged on Angel's face.
"Stay," Angel seethed, growling with a furious rumbling that was disheartening even in the pure evil of the apocalypse they were experiencing now. "And end the Game. Or I'll kill you myself."
With a furious push, Mr. Weathers was flung back into the corner, where Katie only grabbed him again by the tie and began reading off more letters of the translation.
"Can't you SEE THAT?!" Weathers snapped, eyes on the cloud of darkness that loomed over the rising demon who was inching slowly to the stairs.
"At this moment I have no time for demons, Mr. Weathers," she snapped. "Read."
Amanda and Methos had been dangerously close to cutting each other's heads off, him with his sword, her with her fan, when they were intercepted by her old lover, pushing himself between them and telling them to fight the urge within them.
Their inherent nature was dominant, and both had immediately turned on Duncan, but thankfully, her own love for her mortal ex-cop had seeped through when the dimwitted and stupid dolt she fell in love with called out for her to stop.
The hesitation had made all the difference, as Methos raised his sword to do away with Duncan and she ended up catching the blade instead, saving Duncan's life, and in turn, quite possibly saving her own. The love for the fight was still seeping through her veins, and the three Immortals had fed on their discipline to keep their swords sheathed as Duncan explained what he knew.
It had been hard to swallow at first, but after a couple hundred years doing what she did best, Amanda knew better than to not believe.
Vampires, Demons, spells. Sure. Why not? She wasn't ready for the world to end either- not with Nick still in it.
Besides, despite the close catfight the first and last time she had run into Chase Winters, and with very good reason- what the hell was she supposed to do when she knocked on her ex-lover's door and encountered Slut-Oh-Rama in nothing but a towel? - Amanda had something close to a grudging respect for the little rich prima donna, and hell, the chick had killed Cesar Montenegro- major balls there. Still, she was basing more trust on Duncan as she and the ever broody Methos approached the old house that was trembling and shaking.
She blew out her breath and craned her neck. "They always gotta shake."
Duncan had moved first, muttering about the `favor', and hell, this Chase chick really took people up on some serious favors.
"All I know, Duncan, is this girl better have really giving her the greatest sex of your life for you to call THIS a return favor."
"I second that," Methos had added.
When they entered, they had encountered the Chase chick, holding down another Immortal, who looked like she was going through a painful seizure.
Two minutes later, she and Methos were slowly descending the stairs, going TOWARD the evil roaring growling thing.
Oh yeah. THIS was smart.
The shrieks and growls weren't making this anymore pleasant, and she graciously let her Old Man elder go first, as he moved toward the door, took a breath, and turned the knob.
Wow. This was just a little chaotic.
Both swords were out in a flash, and Amanda was more than startled when the man in the leather jacket whirled, with what had to be the worst skin deformity ever.
"Who the hell are you?" He asked, seconds before he was flung to the side of the room by the REALLY gross thing.
"What the hell is THAT?!" her companion had sputtered.
"The thing I'm guessing we kill?" Amanda muttered to Methos, seconds before both let the blades shine and they attacked.
She cried out loud in pain, and Cordelia sucked in her breath, watching her as Kat kneeled, the hand gripping the sword looking swollen and painful. When her eyes met Cordelia's, she only closed them again, ignoring the other Immortal that was watching hesitantly, sword drawn.
"Don't attack her, Duncan!" Chase immediately said, rising to her feet, moving carefully in an arch around Katherine. "The sword- she's…"
"That's the sword?" She gripped his arm as they watched Katherine stumble, and when the roar came from the basement, Cordelia made her decision, even as her guilt ridden heart pounded its disaproval.
"Come on, we have to help stop the demon. There's nothing we can do here."
Katherine was drowning.
The flood was swirling through her mind and her body and she was paralyzed, fighting against it, losing the connections and every little thing that seemed alive inside of her was slowly being torn.
With each pull, each tear that came from within she found herself jerking. The sword on her arm burned, searing and molding into her flesh, making her throat parched and still her hands clenched around it, helpless to stop it.
Her dark blue eyes met Cordelia's hazel and she saw the moisture, as she choked and gasped for breath, and her own heart seared with every moment and second that passed as she watched in silent pleading as Chase pulled the other Immortal away, toward the stairs.
And with that, the ground flew up and Kat felt it slam into her head, bringing darkness.
Cordelia clung to Duncan's hand, a reflex that came with familiarity, as they descended the staircase, hearing the chaos coming ever closer.
When she took a breath, she sensed his gaze on her, and she turned, giving him a cocked eyebrow.
Oh, right. "Hi, Duncan," she said finally, offering him a shaky smile. He squeezed her hand, and tightened his grip, his longer sword stretched out in front of them.
"Are you ready?"
"Like old times?"
He grinned, and she couldn't help but give a shaky grin back, looking towards the door, and closing her eyes, taking a breath.
Without another word the pair burst in, and encountered the utter chaos. Her heart seemed to splinter when the vampire landed against the wall with an audible thud, and his name was torn from her lips as she moved away from Duncan, ignoring even the rising demon to inspect his face.
"Angel," she breathed, fingers gently moving over his bruised face.
His eyes were slightly glassed over, dazed from the impact. "Cordy?"
"Hey, dolt," she remarked, voice husky with relief. "Why don't you stay out of this one? Not really your fight."
He was about to protest, but Cordelia only shook her head furiously, leaning forward to press her lips against his, hard, and then stood, her sword in her hand as she joined the other three in watching the demon continue to rise.
"So… Little Miss Rich Bitch – and I mean that in an endearing way- any suggestions?" Amanda asked, stepping back slightly, reaching behind her and slipping out her metal fan, opening it with a snap.
"Four against one, those are pretty good odds, right?" Cordelia, shifting her gaze between them.
Katherine was visibly shaking, but she moved in through doorway, taking her place beside Duncan, the sword still pulsing on her hand.
Cordelia immediately swung her sword in her direction, eyes guarded. "Kat-"
"I'm okay…" Kat looked in pain, and her knees buckled out from under her, bringing her crashing to the floor.
The demon froze, watching the woman, and Cordelia stood, wavering between the obviously hurting Immortal and the beast that was quickly gaining control.
"Cordelia." Kat's voice was low, barely discernable. "I'm going to distract it- kill it when I do-"
A tentacle lashed out, sliding around Kat's body and whipping it forward, coming directly into focus with the pulsing heart.
"Mr. Weathers if you would STOP with the running commentary," Terence snapped, pulling his tie off completely as he kept his hand on his ear. "Katie – if we don't find it now we'll have five Immortals in the same room ready to kill each other," he said quickly, removing his glasses pulling them in his pocket, rolling his sleeves up. "Corinthian. Now."
Katie nodded, chanting breathlessly in the desired language, as Terence also began, this time in Gaelic.
This wasn't his fight.
Angel swallowed, fists clenched into balls of frustration as he waited on the outskirts, watching, jolting as Katherine was dragged into the demon, as the other Immortals he had only just met pulled out swords, each with the same glint that had become prevalent in Cordelia's eyes.
And the dance began, amidst the shouting and the roar, and most of all, amidst Kat's cries of pain.
The Immortals had frozen for only half a second, before the swords began to swirls and suddenly they were drawn into the fight, dancing around with spins and kicks as the fight within them got the better of one or two, and swords began to clang together as the Immortals struggled to keep their minds clear.
The demon within him urged him to move, to help, but Angel and the little Slayer that was now nestled under his shoulder could only watch. She jerked forward, and he caught her by the shoulder.
Shaking him off angrily, she lifted her stake. "Don't touch me."
"It's not your fight," he said automatically, voice hollow and not entirely convinced of that himself.
He closed his eyes to keep from watching Cordelia, and instead carefully took the Slayer and positioned her in front of the Watchers.
And with face in full demon visage, he remarked, "Any time you wanna stop the Endgame, guys."
A backflip was the only thing that kept her from getting gutted, thanks to the wild look in Amanda's eyes. Ignoring the out of control thief, she flew into a somersault, jerking the sword up and slicing through a tentacle. There was a high pitched scream before she was tossed back against the wall, her head aching with every jolt. But the tentacle remained off.
"GUYS! Come on!"
Duncan and Methos immediately stood in ready position, and Amanda went next, shaken out of her EndGame worry and with her catlike strength going in under Methos' cover to slice through another arm, only to get knocked out herself.
"Two down, eight to go," she muttered next to Cordelia, helping the Immortal up as Methos and Duncan continued to fighting off the flailing arms. "There's gotta be an easier way."
"Well YOU'RE the thief, Amanda, YOU figure it out!" Cordelia snapped, as the two started forward, glaring at each other, and lunging with the swords, seconds before Katherine screamed one more time.
It was pure, unfiltered agony, and it made them all pause, looking as the demon swirled and caught, and Katherine was suddenly dropped away from it, looking strangely like a cat, hair tossed forward, hiding her face.
There was completely silence as the demon receded behind her, and Cordelia's eyes widened as Katherine jolted her head back, and there was nothing but pure darkness where her dark blue eyes used to be.
"Okay, I'm thinking that's bad," Amanda said, stepping back.
Katherine stood, slowly, and Cordelia sucked in her breath, shifting her grip on her sword as she looked to where Angel and the Slayer were guarding the feverishly working trio. "Any time, guys."
"If you'd allow me?"
Methos struck first, but Katherine easily blocked the blow, barely a touch of her own blade and he went flying back, knocked hard against the wall, landing in a still heap.
Duncan came forward, stepping in front of the two women, guarding them.
"Chase, what's going on?"
"The sword … " Cordelia licked her lips, spotting the chandelier that was barely still hanging on the wall. "We can't fight against the sword."
"Yeah, I think that's pretty much obvious." Duncan raised his sword, eyes dark and cold as steel as he moved in a wide arc around the possessed Katherine.
Chase's heart was beating furiously as she sucked in her breath, at the demon that was now completely still, and at the every pulsating heart that seemed to grow and grow. Ever the entrepreneur, she jerked her head up the chandelier, pulling at the Raven's elbow and nodding up.
Amanda was evidently thinking the same thing. "Think it'll work?"
"Only one way to find out."
"On three?" Chase nodded.
"The guys'll have to keep Kat busy," Amanda muttered, reaching over and jerking up the dazed Methos. "Hey brood, go help Duncan." She shoved him toward Katherine, and in the two seconds the two Immortal Men and Katherine were distracted, the two women took their chance.
Fluidly, Cordelia raced toward the east wall, launching up and slamming into it, using her momentum to push off, and up.
Gloved hands proved crucial as she wrapped her fingers around the chandelier, barely managing to hang on after the added weight of Amanda made a coil snap.
But it was enough, their momentum soaring them over Katherine.
Cordelia grit her teeth, praying she had timed it correctly, and with nary a look at her companion, she let go, diving towards the demon, and slicing into the heart head first.
The high pitched screamed filled the air, and suddenly the burst of light flooded the room, and it blinded Terence for a full ten seconds, as he covered his face, continuing the chanting, quickly, always quickly.
There was no room for fear, and no room for anything but the words, and he lived and breathed them, consumed them for those seconds.
Oblivious to everything else, he never noticed when he began to convulse, when the fire burst around him, and when the huge ring that burst from around them flooded through the Immortals who were also dazed by the light, he never saw it at all.
Instead everything went black.
He took a step forward, but it was the little Slayer that held him back, with the strength that was so abnormal, keeping him away.
He growled, but she only held the stake tighter, pulling him back. "We have to take care of THEM!"
Angel's throat was dry, but the swallowing wasn't helping, as he fought to keep his eyes open against the brilliant light that flooded.
The first thing that she noticed when her eyes opened was the smell. Disgusting, rancid, and completely gross. Cordelia grimaced, and suddenly let out a muffled shriek when she realized the moistness she was half buried in was guts and blood.
"AUGH!" Beside her, Amanda jerked up, slipping in the muck and falling back into it, hands flailing out and catching Cordelia with it.
"EWW!" Cordelia slipped again, but managed to crawl away from the remains of the demon, exhausted, with a furiously beating heart.
"This is an expensive outfit!" Amanda muttered next to her, plucking at the entrails that were splayed across her body. "And I don't even want to GO INTO the whole HAIR issue I'm going to have."
"You don't have any hair." Cordelia gave her a semi annoyed look, trying to keep her grip on her sword as she stood shakily to her feet, meeting Duncan's gaze as he stood next to Methos.
"Katherine?" The woman in question was in a heap on the floor, face covered with her tumble of dark curls.
Cordelia stood, heart in her throat as her eyes caught Angel's form, helping up Terence, who looked dazed and tired. Moving forward, she knelt beside Katherine, instructing Duncan to help her as she rolled Katherine onto her thighs. The sword fell from Katherine's hands, still glowing slightly.
"Kat?" The Immortal was breathing, and Cordelia felt a smile of relief flood her face when Katherine opened her eyes slowly.
"That hurt like a mother fuck-"
"She's okay!" Duncan shifted under her, helping Katherine to her fear as she took in a breath, shaking her head as if attempting to clear it.
"Great! She can help with the therapy bills." To Amanda, Methos muttered, "Now I have been around a LONG time, but-"
"Is it over?" Katherine asked.
Cordelia stared into her eyes, unsure how to answer that. Things felt… different. Her fingers were no longer itching for her sword, she glanced at Amanda and didn't feel the overwhelming urge to tear her head off, but…
There was something in Katherine's eyes…
"It should be." Katie's hair was disheveled as she stood, leaning on Mr. Weather's for support. "It appears we found the correct spell."
"She's right, I don't feel anything," Amanda said distractedly, completely engrossed in trying to clean tentacle spew from her face. "It's over, it's done, can we go?"
"PLEASE," Cordelia said, barely glancing at her.
Methos cleaned his sword, and came forward nodding. "I hope not to see you soon, Chase. You're trouble. But if you're ever in the neighborhood, feel free to stop on by."
"You know I mean that completely myself. Not," Amanda said, winking, and walked after Methos, still attempting to clean her clothes. "And feel free to thank me for helping you save the world at any time with some of that cash of yours."
Duncan McCloud felt awkward as he stared at Chase. She looked different, tired, and coated with green slime, older in the eyes, but also in some way, in the face.
His old lover who had left after one week was someone he had never quite forgotten, and he felt the smile of fondness that slipped on his face fade away when her eyes turned away from him, caught and held with the vampire who stepped forward. Chase blew her breath out, and as Duncan watched, she leaned forward, her forehead resting suddenly on Angel's chest, as the dark haired vampire's hands slipped around her, his chin resting on the top of her head.
It was an intimate embrace, and it disturbed Duncan more than he wanted to admit, as Katherine, her strength rapidly increasing, gave a low sigh, eyes also glued on the sight.
Angel loosened his hold only slightly when Cordelia pulled back to study him. Her cheek had a bruise on it, quickly fading away. With a gentle caress, he slid his thumb along her jaw, wiping at some of the gunk that was still on her face.
"Are you okay?"
She bit her lip, nodding, hissing in as she gently placed a hand on the side of Angel's face, tilting it. "Does that hurt?"
"It's just a scratch."
"Chase." The dark, handsome Immortal distracted her, and Angel turned with her, felt her slip free as she walked away from him, towards the new man.
"Duncan." Her face held a genuine smile as she reached forward, clasped his hands. "Thank you."
"It was good to hear from you."
Cordelia had to smile. He was always so understated.
When his eyes flickered to Angel, who was now standing directly behind her, Cordelia sucked in her breath, suddenly remembering. "Duncan, this is Angel, Angel…"
The two supernatural beings regarded each other, and the Immortal looked away first, reaching down to pick up his sword.
"I should go. Make sure Amanda isn't trying to steal Methos' sword… again." Again his gaze swept to Cordelia, but he said nothing, only nodding, and walking away.
Mr. Weathers moved next, running out of the room with an intensity that was almost amusing.
Cordelia looked to Katherine, who was standing, leaning against the wall, eyes holding a distracted, far off look.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm…" Katherine trailed off, but gave her a grim smile, eyes moistened and tired.
Cordelia's eyes narrowed, but Katie distracted her, calling out to her as she and Terence moved to the stairs. "We'll meet you back at the hotel, Chase."
Katie paused, smiling with the younger Terence. "Happy to be of service."
Cordelia's hand slid into Angel's, as the trio remained in the room, tried, spent...
"Angel, if you don't mind I'd like a word with Cordelia alone."
Kate's voice was soft, almost clipped.
The vampire gave her a glance, and nodded, squeezing Cordelia's fingers before letting go, moving toward the stair case.
Nothing was ever fully finished.
In the law of ironies, Chase had come to regard and accept that.
Even as the last demon was killed and the End Game was calmed, she knew that there was still unfinished business, and it pulsed through her, because for once, Chase had no idea what the hell she was going to do.
Kat looked old, leaning against the wall.
"You didn't tell him."
"He already knew."
"I don't know if he did."
"He knows the nature."
Katherine was quiet, not moving as she swept her eyes over the room. "You didn't kill the demon, Chase."
The moisture stung the back of Cordelia's eyes as she answered, gripping her sword, never putting it down. "I know."
Katherine closed her eyes, shoulders deflated in a gesture of acceptance. "It's my fault, I guess."
"No. It was mine."
The older Immortal smiled grimly, shaking her head at the statement. "One thing you gotta learn, kid, not everything is your fault. Everyone has choices. Sometimes we make the bad ones, but we correct them."
"I'm not going to give up on you."
The words came out choked, but Cordelia held her ground, dropping the sword with a clatter on the ground.
"Pick it up."
"Chase, you don't have a choice. It's inside me, locked away, and if you don't kill it, it'll come about again. You knew this was the only ending."
Her heart was beating so slowly, pounding against her chest. Cordelia was trembling, grief and emotion flitting over her in disturbingly epic amounts.
"We should have been able to save you."
And Katherine smiled, a gentle, sad grin that made her features lighter, gentler. "Cordelia Chase, you don't get it. You will. Not my life. My soul. My life isn't what's important."
"Okay, Martyr, STOP RIGHT THERE. It's damn well important to ME."
"What do you care more about, Cordelia?" Kat finally clipped, reaching down to pick up the still glowing sword. "Me or the world?"
"I don't want to-"
"You can't die, Cordelia. You're Angel's Seer, right? That's a connection, a higher purpose." Kat's face hardened, and Chase stepped back, suddenly guarded as the older Immortal gave her a cold look. "Don't make me coddle you, Chase. End it. Do it or I'll kill you myself."
Big Bear, CA 1998
She was fighting for her life against the very man who had taught her to preserve it.
Cordelia was confused, scared, and angry. Her movements were choppy as he continued to lunge, this final test suddenly very real as Cordelia slipped back.
Every counter was harder, every blow that much more forceful and his eyes- oh God Winters' eyes.
This wasn't a test.
The truth was hidden in his eyes, masked with tortured rage, and full complete emotion that made the snap of his wrist hard, unmerciful.
Her mentor was fighting to kill.
Oh, God he wanted to kill her.
He came again, and again, it was all she could to do keep away from the swinging blade, to counter it with her own and keep moving back.
He knocked the blade out of her grasp once, and she vaulted back, narrowly missing the sword that would have slid into her gut.
Fear made her heart pound, rage made her twist, block the flat of his fast approaching sword with her heel, knocking it back, and a quick twist and her own blade had rammed into his side.
He fell to the ground with a groan, and immediately she ran to him, kneeling beside him, voice chattering as she asked with tear filled eyes if he was okay.
But he pushed her away with brutal force, looked deep into her hazel eyes, and spoke with unerring conviction.
At first the words didn't seem to sink in.
Her jaw fell open, and she only stared, unable to comprehend, shaking her head.
"DO IT!" The voice shook through her, but she only stood still, her entire body trembling as she saw the blood seeping from his wound, pooling on the floor of the great room, running, and running, and it was so red, and his eyes, Winters' eyes-
Her vision was blurry, but it never registered when she began to cry. "Winters. I can't-"
"DAMMIT CHASE." He was on his feet in an instant, grimacing against the pain, coming toward her, eyes locked on her in hypnotizing rage. "I need this. YOU need this."
She shook her head, disbelieving, and suddenly he had pulled her against his body, hauled her to him and kissed her savagely.
His mouth ravaged hers, tongue slipping in and Cordelia was shocked into submission for only a second, before she pulled away, hurt clouding her eyes as she wiped at her face, moving back, watching him with wide open eyes.
But his own eyes held very real pain at her rejection, his voice suddenly so very small and hoarse as he whispered, "You see? Do it or I'll kill you myself."
The sword came again, and she was locked into battle, her mind suddenly clear and free of conviction.
She knew, she knew all of it, the Immortal who spent years fighting his feelings was now consumed by them, driven mad- this was not the Winters she accepted as a mentor- this was a man with no future, and a man driven insane by his own convictions.
There was no choice.
He was desperate, and he would truly kill her.
The instinct locked in before she made the decision, and her eyes met his as it all came through: the clanging of the metal, the sudden twist, the well practiced turn and swing, the sword coming down in exactly the right place, and in the seconds before the sword hit the flesh, the peace in Winters eyes, before the sword sliced through and it was over.
Silence descended upon her as she dropped the sword in horror, looking at the body, her breath coming out on gasps, sobs convulsing over her body as she knelt against it, scared to touch the blood, so scared and unsure and alone.
The crackling in the air was unfamiliar, and she never saw the lightning until it was directly upon her.
And that was when all hell broke loose.
The first quickening had nearly killed her. The first time she took the head, her own mentor's life, had consumed her.
The look was the same, in Katherine's eyes. The tears were the same as they trailed down Cordelia's cheek, as she slowly leaned down, picked up the sword, offering a prayer for her own soul, that in setting Katherine's free, she might gain a little redemption in hers.
"I'm sorry, Kat."
Kat paused, and slowly shook her head. "Don't be sorry, Chase. Finish it. And save my soul."
The sound of the blades hitting together signaled the beginning of the end for one.
The waiting would always be the hardest part.
Angel waited, sitting on the dirty curb on the dirty street in the dirty district of the dirty city of the dirty world they had just helped save. His fingers knitted together, and his dead heart, in a curiously human sense, twisted inside of him.
The lightning hit the house behind him, and he closed his eyes, forcing himself not to look, hitching in his breath, and keeping his hands together, fingers straining against the others. There was acceptance in his heart, that in the road that lay before him, this would be something he would never get used to.
It was an uncertain road, one full of heartache and pain, and one he wasn't altogether sure it was best for either of them to take.
When he heard the steps behind him, he exhaled in relief, closing his eyes, covering his face with his hands as he felt the warmth beside him, as the figure slumped down next to him.
She was tired. Staring straight ahead of him, he asked bluntly, "Where's Kat?"
Quiet, and suddenly a sword was placed in his hands. Looking down, he knew his answer. Holding Kat's sword, he looked up at Cordelia, with her smudged, beautiful face, and her tired, wounded eyes.
He didn't have to ask, and she didn't have to answer. Instead, he only nodded in understanding, and stood.
She waited, watching him, and he moved, offering his hand, fingers outstretched, waiting for hers. She was quiet. After a minute, she closed her eyes and took a deep, ragged breath, before she knit her fingers in his and allowed herself to be pulled up, cradled gently into his side.
Her eyes closed as she slid her arm around his waist, into the curious cold that was Angel, and breathed in deeply, leaning against him.
"Let's go home," she said breathlessly.
Together, the vampire with the soul and the Immortal Seer walked into the night.
-- The Road Before Us: Chapter Sixteen
-- Sunnydale, CA 2001
He had once eaten a child that looked like this. Angel sat, carefully still, the child so small it fit into his palms. Shakily, he looked inside the house, where the others were, with the lights on, talking and laughing and welcoming Willow home from the house. Leaving him in the darkness, leaving him with the child… trusting him with the child.
Rupert Osborne stared up at him with his dark blue eyes, his head already a mass of red curls, unusual for a newborn. Alert, he only gave a yawn, before continuing his study of the vampire that held him.
Angel swallowed, giving another panicked look into the house, and then let out a shaky breath, carefully to stay completely still. It was just a baby. He had handled children before. Blinking, he shifted it closer, feeling the warmth of it, the new life pulsing through its body. The heartbeat was small, but fierce, and the little sigh Ruppy gave made Angel almost smile, as he cradled it into his left arm, and hesitantly reached for his face. With a big finger, too large to handle this tiny face, Angel gently traced the soft cheek.
Bewildered, confused… unquestionably happy.
His eyes moved down to the ring on his third finger. And married.
"Is this a broody moment for singles, or can anyone join in?"
The Immortal made him start, and on impulse, Angel pulled the child closer to him, narrowing his eyes.
"I'm not- I'm not brooding," he began in a lower tone.
Cordelia Chase- now Chase Winters, and also wearing a gold ring on her third finger, only gave a small smirk, as she moved out of the light and into the darkness with him, sitting beside him.
His own wonder for the child was put on pause as he, in turn, studied the Immortal's face, as she intently looked upon the first child borne to Willow and Oz. Mixed emotions fluttered over her, and he could sense them all. Wonder, joy, sadness, longing, a twinge of grief… Her eyes were dark as she moved a shaky finger over to grasp the yawning Ruppy's little hand.
"So how much of a big head do you think Giles is going to get when he finds out we named him after him?"
He offered a grim smile. "How much is he strutting like a peacock in there now?"
"Oh, a bit."
Immortal and Vampire fell silent, both watching the child, sitting side by side. Cordelia's hands were clasped together, her body was rigid. But her eyes were moist.
"Here. You … uh… wanna hold it?"
He offered the child to her, and she immediately recoiled.
"AUGH! No! I'm no good with children."
He cocked an eyebrow, giving her a passive almost glare. "Cordelia, I used to eat them."
"Okay, PLEASE don't share that ever again." She fidgeted, glanced at him, and just blew out her breath, motioning quickly. "Come on, before I lose my nerve."
Hiding the smile at her reluctance, he handed the child over. "Careful, the head-"
"I know, you dolt!" He just shrugged, and then fell silent as Cordelia carefully held the child, hazel eyes softening. The smile on her face was infectious, a welcome contrast to the haunted look she wore during the ordeal with Magdalene, reminiscent of the smile she had given him when she had paid him a visit to his mansion, two years before.
"This is amazing," he heard her breathe.
His own heart soared, and Angel smiled, sitting in the darkness with this Immortal, looking toward the house with all the lights on where his Slayer waited.
Hesitantly, he reached forward, placing a cold hand on her warm shoulder, and squeezed. She froze, but when their eyes met, she understood. A slight nod, a gentle smile, and then both members of the darkness looked back down at the child between them.
Nothing else needed to be said.
Chase Winters blew out her breath, looking at the bags that she had accumulated during her stay with Angel Investigations.
Now that it was over, the clothing had once again changed. Hair was long, no longer restrained, free flowing and framing her face in whispy tendrils. The business suit was comfortable, not tight like the black leather. The v-neck of the blazer sunk low, giving an ample set of her cleavage, but the dark blue tank stopped the eyes from seeing any further.
All in all, she looked like Chase Winters again. It was a familiar and disconcerting sight.
Her head was still ringing, and her heart still wore a blanket of somber sadness, but her eyes were unerringly clear as she reached forward, slinging the leather briefcase over one shoulder and picking up the rest, moving toward the door, and down the stairs. Her steps faltered as she watched the commotion, her face carrying a curious expression when the man with the glasses and the tie looked up, his face lighting up like a Christmas tree.
"Terence," she responded, stopping at the foot of the stairs and giving him an amused expression as he came forward, grinning merrily. "What are you doing?"
"I…" He looked back at the chaos, the open books and the clothes and briefcases strewn about. He turned back to her, a blush creeping up his cheeks, as she crossed her arms, an amused eyebrow rising up her forehead. "I'm afraid I can't be your watcher anymore."
Her smile faltered at the husky tone. "What?"
"He can't be your watcher anymore." Katie came forward, pulling on the black blazer, taking the scarf and adjusting it on her neck as she also came forward. "You're not supposed to know, Chase."
"That's Aunt Chase to you," Cordelia said, her eyes narrowing.
Katie managed a grin. "Fine. Aunt Chase. He can't be your Watcher anymore."
"I'm not going to accept some strange man just watching me, Katie."
"You don't have a choice. You are what you are, Chase. And we must do what we must do."
And so it had begun already. Every day, the reminder. She was frozen in place even as Katie's face softened, as she leaned forward and pressed a kiss on her cheek. Katie's old face held Faith's beautifully bright eyes, but her grandchild had only her feisty temper, not her understanding.
"I'll see you soon."
"No, you won't."
Katie took in a breath, shoulders slumping, sadness clouding her features. "For what it's worth… " she trailed off, and finally she said nothing else, ducking her head. "I chose what I chose."
"And you are what you are." Her head jerked up, but she nodded.
Cordelia's voice was clipped, not unkind, but firm, dismissive, and Katie, true to her calling, obeyed the Immortal. Turning, she motioned to the other Watchers, and walked out of the door, head held high, old body straight despite the obvious weight her position carried. But Terence stayed.
Chase turned, eyes tinged with dew drops of moisture. "Why aren't you leaving?"
"You didn't let me finish." He gave her a shrug. "I'm afraid I do not have the pleasure of being your Watcher, Ms. Winters. But I can be your friend. I've quit the council. I'm going to work here, with Angel Investigations." Long silence followed, as Cordelia processed the words. The glint in her eyes came with the understanding, and his smile broadened. "I don't want to just watch anymore."
She found herself smiling, reaching over and squeezing his hands, allowing no more emotion than that. "Nice to know you're not a total retard."
"Well, I still have much to learn. This scroll in particular." He held it up, waving it. "It's fascinating, and there's even references to the Vampire with a Soul and some word I haven't figured out yet, Shansh-"
The scroll was immediately snatched out of his hands. "We'll take that."
Mr. Weathers was back in his suit, adjusting his four hundred dollar tie and snapping open the thousand dollar briefcase to drop the scroll into it.
"I believe that belongs to us."
His eyes were cold as he regarded the pair. "Just business. Ms. Chase?"
Nothing had changed. That was the understanding that he was seeking from her. An acknowledgement that everything would go on as before. They were not friends. They weren't even business partners. But rivals. Enemies. And it was just business.
"Just business," she responded. "If you come in here again, I'll let him kill you."
The words made him smile. He stared at her a beat longer than necessary, before turning away, and in two seconds, he was gone.
"Do you think we'll see them again?"
"Oh, I know it."
Terence blew his breath out, looking at Lorne as he walked through the lobby, jiggling a pair of car keys in his hands. "You ready, Princess?"
"I have a ride."
"Now, why on earth would you want an impersonal limo when the Host himself is ready to offer his time?"
There was a numbness that beat inside of Cordelia's chest, bearing down upon her, making her eye the now nearly empty lobby of the Hyperion almost anxiously. Her heart shuddered within her as the numbness died away, and her eyes blinked back the tears as she realized she was only waiting. He hadn't come back since early this morning, and some how she knew… he was waiting for her to leave.
Things were too hard. It was too easy to just say good bye.
Terence shifted, clearing his throat. "Is there any way we can convince you to stay?"
Her eyes shifted toward his, and Cordelia allowed one soft smile of familiarity. "You know more than anyone, Terence, what my life is like. It's in London, not here. I've spent too much time away, as it is." She leaned down, picking up her briefcase and putting it on the counter, snapping it open, brushing back a stray bang as she rifled through the data pads.
"Here." She plucked one out and handed it to Lorne. "It's a copy of my will. Just in case." Lorne, surprisingly, only took the pad and slipped it in his pocket, reaching up to scratch as his horns again as Cordelia turned to Terence.
"I'm gonna miss my stalker."
"I hope to see you soon, Ms. Winters."
His eyes were red, a little moist, and the emotion he so rarely showed tugged at her soul, as she leaned forward, and pressed a kiss against his forehead. "Terence, do me a favor. Call me Cordelia."
And with that, she picked up her bags, slung the last over her shoulder, and motioned to Lorne, exiting the Hyperion the same way she came in.
As Chase Winters.
The plane was barely visible on the dark night. Cordelia stared at it, the wind ruffling through her hair, making more bangs come loose, hands in her pockets and she studied the world she was leaving.
"You sure you know what you're doing, kitten?"
She swallowed hard. "Butt out, Lorne."
"Just saying. You're looking back an awful lot."
She blew out her breath, pushing through a long sigh. "Lorne I've been looking back my entire life."
"Take one more look, sweetie."
Her hazel eyes were questioning as she met his eyes, and obediently she turned, and her heart jolted within her.
The figure came out of the darkness, stepping into the light of the Photon lamppost, which, faded and old, gave a dim illumination, but it was enough. The numbness and acceptance gave way to a heart beat that began to race, to a breathing pattern that was erratic at best, and to a mind that seemed to splinter at just the view.
When Lorne moved away, she didn't know, her eyes instead stayed trained on the vampire's haunting dark orbs as he came forward, meeting her halfway in the half light that was only bright enough to remove the shadow from her expression.
Awkwardness led a descent into silence, and Cordelia looked away, looking anywhere but the eyes.
"I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything."
Two souls, entwined at first by choice, thrown together by chance, and for one brief moment, lost in the depth of the other, now reached out, and found the wall that had kept them apart from the beginning.
In the past they had shared, lay the road that had brought them to this point, and in the road ahead was the certainty that it would never be the same ever again.
"It's never really over, is it?" Her eyes connected with his as he watched her, hands buried in his trenchcoat.
"No," he said after a moment. "It never is."
For some reason the words brought tears to her eyes, and disgusted with her own fraility, she took in a short breath, and looked away.
"So- I'll call you when I have a vision. Or I'll download it and send it."
The chirp from her coat pocket signaled it was time, but her feet wouldn't move, as again she kept being drawn into his eyes.
Death was in his eyes. Death was in her heart. Buffy. Xander. Willow. Faith. Giles. Oz. Travis. Katherine. Mr. Bellows. Spike. Drusilla. Nick.
And here they were, standing in barely visible light. Her heart jolted, and two seconds later she was buried in his arms, pushing her face against his trench coat and just breathing in, body trembling as she gave a short whimper. She allowed one second of warmth in his cold arms, before releasing her hold.
He wouldn't let her. Instead his arms kept her close, and his hands cradled her face, thumb tracing her jawline in a tender caress. Her eyes drifted closed as his lips brushed hers, once. The chirp came again and she pulled away, and this time, he let her.
Angel stood still, almost a statue, eyes never wavering from hers as she backed away, reaching to grab her luggage and finally, in a jolt of discipline, she moved quickly, jogging up the stairs and into the jet that would take her halfway across the world in less than one hour.
The silence was curious.
Los Angeles was never silent, but it seemed that at this moment, even the birds that were left were holding their song, waiting with baited breath as the place lifted off, not needing a runaway, before zipping away from sight.
He continued to hold his stance, long after the plane was gone, and had nearly forgotten about the Host when the green-skinned demon nudged him.
"Hey, yourself," Lorne said, watching him carefully. "You realize you're an idiot for letting her get away. I told you, she can't run. She's your seer. An Immortal seer. Ring a bell? Gonna be around for a while."
"I know," Angel said, never taking his eyes off the spot where the plane had risen.
"Then, why exactly did I bring her here and why exactly did you let her go?"
"I'm not letting her go," Angel said finally. "We're going to the same place. We just took different paths to get there, that's all."
He moved away from Lorne, and put one foot in front of the other, in exactly the opposite direction.
Sunnydale had suffered with the lack of the Slayer. The small little town was desolate, quiet. The remaining compatriots had taken it upon themselves to fight, but with no Slayer… But the little town had stood. Evil came in droves, but so did the good. It had survived.
He walked, one foot in front of the other, to the familiar spot, the spot he had once haunted, a shadow, darkness, afraid to be seen, afraid to admit the weakness to her: that he had failed her.
Hesitancy made him almost turn back, but he took an unneeded breath, and continued forward, moving past buildings and trees, corners, swing sets, and gardens where Buffy had once patrolled. Memories of a little blonde with the heart of a lion, a heart so open and free and a soul so strong, a light so bright at times the demon inside of him cringed.
But the soul… oh how the soul lived for the light in Buffy's eyes.
The gravestone was almost hidden by the weeds, and carefully, he cleared away the brush, working quickly, pulling at the weeds, until the stone that held the words `She saved the world a lot' appeared clear and for everyone to see. He stepped back, studying the grave, the welt of emotion that splintered into him painful at first, as the tears welled up and he blinked at them, wiping at his eyes to keep his vision clear.
"Uh… wow." He swallowed, hands knotting into fists in his trenchcoat. "I don't even know how to- God Buffy. Talking… I was never good at talking, was I?" Pushing the air out his dead lungs, he reached forward, hesitantly, until his palm lay flat against the stone. "You made me promise to take care of them. And I ran. I let you down, I'm sorry. I didn't know what you meant then… about her. About then. A hundred and thirty and I still didn't figure it out. But you know. Twenty five and you knew." He sucked in the unneeded breath as his eyes teared, and his voice began to crack. "I have no idea what you saw in me, Buffy. But I know what I am. And I'm grateful. And I love you. And I know… I don't know what I know, Buffy, but I know it's okay."
When his eyes fell on his hand, he could see the digits trembling, and the indrawn hiss that was barely audible made her presence known. He caught her scent, and he turned, unashamed of the glistening eyes, as Cordelia stepped back hesitantly, looking almost scared.
"I didn't know you'd be here, I swear."
"I knew." She paused, gave him an uncertain look, but he only shook his head, holding out his hand. Her gaze pinned on the outstretched fingers, and for a full second, she didn't move, until he moved back, reaching her and placing his hand against hers, tightening his fingers around her palm, leading her forward.
She was quiet as she stared at the graves, first at Buffy's, and then to one Xander Harris's, the gravestone tall and just a little lopsided, an accidental testament to her dead husband's awkwardness.
More than a hundred years since she had buried him, and he felt the emotion as her body began to tremble, and suddenly her hand was pressed to her mouth and she was visibly shaking, eyes clouding up as the tears began to spill.
The torrent of sobs came, overwhelming Cordelia's smaller body. Instinctively, he held her, as she pressed into his side and continued to sob, crumpling against him.
The moistness dripped down his own cheeks as she pulled away, never letting go of his fingers, her free palm pressed against the gravestone, and with a whimper, pressing her lips against the cold marble.
"I love you," he heard whispered against it. He waited, respectfully, kneeling at his own dead wife's gravestone and placing a bouquet of orchids at the site. It was respect, and love. He knew, somewhere, she was happy.
"I love you." The words were clearer, more enunciated, and the clarity in them made him turn, his own form freezing as he realized she was looking directly at him.
"It just… it seems WRONG to say it here…" she was fidgeting, her voice was hoarse from the crying but her old hazel eyes were never more clear. "But I don't know where else to do it." Her eyes flickered over the graves, her palm still on Xander's stone.
"Cordelia." His voice was firm, but his smile was gentle, and it seemed odd, to smile here, but … it seemed… okay.
It was more than okay.
His eyes flickered to the heavens, and then back to the Immortal standing opposite him, conflicted and standing in darkness.
The moonlight was shining through the trees, and moving forward, he took her hand, pulling her into it, so suddenly her eyes shone more brilliantly than before, and her hair glinted with her highlights, and she never looked more beautiful. In this light, in this graveyard, in this past, he chose to kiss her, pressing his lips to hers, gentle, soft, loving.
Wind flowed through their black coats, as her fingers slid through the short spikiness of a hairstyle that never changed, her body pressing against his as her mouth moved against his, sighing, breath warm against his cold, dead lips. When she pulled back, needing air, his fingers gently brushed back her offending bangs, and he smiled, and as she stared back with tear stained eyes, he knew she understood.
Hands tangled together, Cordelia gave one last look at the graveyard, and finally allowed herself to smile. Small, conflicted, but it was there.
"Let's go home."
She nodded, and he turned, sliding his hand around her waist, allowing her to rest her head against his shoulder as they walked away from the graves, and onto the open road that stood before them.
The lonely road they had each taken to arrive at this understanding looked smaller somehow, and that was okay.
The gravel crunched under their feet, the wind swirled around their bodies, and the heavens above them where unerringly clear.
It was more than okay.
London, England 2111
On the bridge, she was alone. But never had one person looked so intimidating, and never had Angel been so afraid of confronting one person. His hands were clammy, sweaty, as he moved forward, taking in her prone form that he had only seen from shadows for years.
As he walked, memories flitted over him, some painful, all involving her somehow. This was the road not taken. This was the one road he had not wanted to take. Not the one that would lead to her. Not the one that would lead to unlocking the pain that he had kept so successfully buried all these years.
But there was no choice, and inside his head, were the words, that could have come from Faith, or from Buffy, or even the Cordelia he once knew. It had been long enough.
Licking his lips, he pushed the word out of his throat. "Cordelia?"
Her body went completely rigid, and he waited, dead nerves on end as her hair swung forward, her eyes connecting with his, pure, unfiltered surprise in her hazel eyes.
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