Author: Dazzle (RhinestoneDazzle@aol.com)
Archive: Wherever you want
Spoilers: Through the ATS third-season episode "Birthday"
Summary: Angel is both terrified and overwhelmed in the aftermath of Cordelia's near-death and new demonic identity. Fifth in the Prism Series, which follows Cordy and Angel's developing feelings throughout the previous year.
Thanks: To Inamorata for the great beta-read and encouragement
The symbolism of purple: transformation, mystery, cruelty, mourning, enlightenment
I run up the stairs three at a time, aware that Gunn and Wesley are panting behind me, trying to keep up. But I have to see her -- I have to make sure that Cordelia's still alive, that what we saw wasn't some weird fluke, that she's really okay --
And I come into my room and see Cordelia floating a few inches from the ceiling and sipping a grape Nehi soda.
I have to be hallucinating. Maybe I'm the one the Powers are testing. Or maybe the combination of sleeplessness and terror finally broke whatever fragile sanity I might have left.
"How did it go?" she asks brightly.
"It went -- just great --" Gunn says between deep gasps as he and Wesley stumble in behind me. "Some more bad guys have exited this world for other, warmer dimensions, thanks to Cordy-O-Vision."
"Well, that's a relief," she says. "Now we can figure out how I get down from here."
My brain is buzzing with the quick, garbled explanation she gave us -- Cordelia's part demon now, and she doesn't seem to have any more idea what that means than I do. She's got abilities none of us can predict or understand; in the car, Wesley said we'd just have to watch and see. But what it all boils down to is -- Cordy's going to live.
Lorne is standing beneath her, my son in one arm and his own grape soda in another. "Do you think we should maybe load up her pockets with stones?" he asks. "You know, for ballast."
"Maybe just feed her a lot of ice cream and fried food," Gunn suggests, then ducks Cordy's foot as she kicks at his head.
"Very funny," she says. But she's beaming down at him as she hands Wesley her soda, like being suspended a few feet above the ground is the best thing in the world.
Wesley is shaking his head as we all circle beneath her. 'I can't think of many demons that have the capacity to defy gravity."
"Well, thank goodness," says Fred, who's sitting on the foot of my bed. "If demons could generally fly, we would generally get creamed."
"Cordy?" The name sounds strange -- no, it's my voice that's strange, cracked from exhaustion and strain and disbelief. "You're really okay?"
Cordelia tries to reach down and touch me; when she can't, she just smiles at me, a sad smile that belongs to a much older woman. It fills my soul, and it breaks my heart. "I kinda have a helium thing going on," she says. "But except for that -- Angel, I'm fine. I'm okay."
She's okay. Except for floating. "Let's try the direct approach," I suggest. And then I take hold of Cordy's foot -- then her calf -- then her thigh -- then her waist -- then her shoulders, tugging her whole body down until she's in my arms.
Oh, God. Cordelia in my arms -- warm and breathing and holding me and alive, so alive --
Her weight settles onto the floor; I can feel it in the way her embrace changes, becomes more solid and real. She chuckles softly, as though through tears. "Back down to earth."
"That's a relief," Lorne says. "I thought we were gonna have to rent you out to Goodyear."
"Please try not to compare me to a blimp," Cordelia snaps back, but there's no anger in it. She's still smiling, still holding me close. "Oh, yay, gravity's back. Angel saves the day again."
Cordelia steps back from me, beaming, because I saved the day.
I spent hours and hours watching her lie there dying, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do, and I knew it and still I had to sit and watch her --
I push her away from me savagely. The violence of her shocks her, stuns the others. I can't believe it myself, but I can't stop. "Cordy, what the hell were you thinking!" I shout.
"Angel, are you HIGH?" she cries. She's tugging her little sweatshirt around herself, scared and mad, and I don't blame her, and I still can't stop.
"You were dying!" My voice cracks on the last word -- so much for the tough-guy routine -- but it keeps spilling out of me. "You've known you were dying for God knows how long, and you couldn't even tell us? We didn't even have a chance to learn what was wrong with you, or find out how -- how to help you --"
"I'm okay, okay?" Cordelia's fear and hurt is changing into pure Cordy wrath; deep inside me, I feel something twist in anger, grow stronger for it. "I didn't need you to help me."
"You got lucky," I snarl.
"Lucky? What about floating-and-demonic spells lucky to you?"
Wesley steps gingerly between us. "Ah -- perhaps we should consider this in the past --"
I shove him out of the way -- not as hard as I did Cordy, but hard enough for Gunn and Fred to start edging their way toward the door. "I'm -- we're your friends, Cordelia. You owed us the truth."
Cordelia's hands are on her hips, and her face is flushed. "Trust me, the truth is overrated. Like, I could have lived a LONG time without knowing that you think of me as a -- what was it -- spoiled rich girl? Is that what you told the Powers about me?"
And how the hell did she hear that? It doesn't matter. "If you think that comes even close to comparing to not telling us that you were -- not giving me even a chance to save you -- "
"That's because I knew you couldn't!" Her eyes go wide even as she says it -- I know she regrets it instantly, but it doesn't matter. I feel cold and sick and a hell of a lot deader than usual.
Cordelia stands there awkwardly, her hands balled in her sweatshirt. The others all look as though they wish they could melt into the carpet. And I'm the jackass in the center of it all, the guy who just threw a fit and now can't think of a damn thing to say. The useless idiot who couldn't even save her.
Connor starts crying, and the sound is more welcome than it's been since the very first time I heard him, moments after he was born. Lorne starts bouncing him gently and says, "Hey, tiger cub, let's you and me go downstairs and let your old man cool down --"
"The old man's cool enough," I say, and hold out my hands for my child.
The others hesitate, and I hate them for it, and I hate myself even more for deserving it. "I'm fine with him," I say, slowly and deliberately. "It's the rest of you who need to go." As I say the words, I'm only looking at Cordelia.
Lorne hands Connor to me, and I cradle him close, checking his diaper. I hear the others walk out, rather than see them. And to judge by the soft footsteps that linger in the hall, Cordelia is the last to leave.
I wake up in the middle of the night -- not startled, but alert. Mentally I replay the sound in my mind, then look over at the other side of the bed. Connor's awake. He didn't cry, but he's started making noise, testing me to see what it takes to wake the dead.
Somewhere between the moment Cordelia left and the moment I finished changing Connor, I realized how long it had been since I'd slept for more than 10 minutes at a stretch, or in a bed, or without being afraid that Cordelia was about to die. I started to put Connor in his crib, but then I knew how badly I needed him near, to hear his breathing and his heartbeat. So we piled up in bed together for -- I glance at the clock -- a couple of hours, before the Amazing Bottle-Drinking Machine woke up, apparently ready for action again.
He gives a little cry -- just one, trying out his voice. He blinks at me in the darkness, maybe as surprised to wake by my side as I am to wake by his. The baby books all say he should always sleep in the crib, but this once I didn't listen, and I'm glad. I may be a hot-tempered jackass, or a ineffectual man who couldn't save his -- his best friend, but all that's a little farther away right now. I put my hand on Connor's tiny round tummy, feel the warmth of his living body within his terry-cloth sleeper.
"What's the matter, big guy?" Connor blinks up at me, frowns in something that's not quite distress and puts his fist in his mouth. "I figured you were hungry. You're growing fast, aren't you?"
A quick check of the fridge reveals that I'm out of bottles up here; I think there are a few already mixed downstairs. I'm still not ready to deal with the others, but at 3 a.m., Connor and I are probably on our own.
With my son on my shoulder, I go quietly down the hallway past Lorne's room, past Fred's. There's a light on downstairs; we usually have at least one lamp lit during the night, in case of midnight customers or feedings.
And as I get closer to the lobby, that dim light lets me see Cordelia, curled around the circular sofa in what has to be the world's most awkward position for sleeping. She is asleep, though, so if I wanted, I could get Connor's bottle and go upstairs again without ever letting on.
But the sight of her -- both the uncomfortable way she's lying and the simple, beautiful rise and fall of her breath -- make me go to her side. "Hey," I say quietly, shaking her shoulder with my free hand. "That can't feel good."
"Hmmmph -- wha?" Cordelia sits up and blinks at me in incomprehension. Then she remembers that she wanted to talk to me, and she grins. Then she remembers that she's mad at me, and the smile's all gone. "Took you long enough."
"Why are you -- Cordy, if you don't feel up to driving home --" Oh, God, she's still too weak to drive, and I pushed her, and -- "You know there's rooms, there's beds --"
"I feel fine," she insists, then stretches and grimaces as her back pops. "I didn't mean to sleep down here. I thought even you couldn't be stubborn enough not to come back downstairs after a few minutes. Guess I guessed wrong." Her eyes are dark as she scowls at me. "But you're finally here. So, did you come down to yell at me some more?"
I feel like hell, but for once, discretion isn't the better part of valor. I say it gently, but I say it: "Did you stick around to lie to me some more?"
Cordelia wants to go ballistic at that, but she can't. She's too tired -- even in the shadows, I can see the gray-purple smudges beneath her eyes. And, angry as she is, she knows my question's a good one. "Angel -- don't be mad at me," she says at last. "You don't understand what it was like."
She looks like the 21-year-old girl she is right then -- uncertain, sweet, still afraid. I sit down beside her. "Tell me."
"I didn't know for sure I was dying," she says. "The doctors would say -- well, they'd say one thing, and then the next week they'd say something totally different. They obviously didn't have any idea what they were talking about."
"I know it had to be confusing," I answer. Connor wriggles against me, still hungry, but for the time being, he can be appeased with a pat on the back. "But Cordy -- I mean, obviously they did know what they were talking about. They said you were dying, and you were." Cordelia was dying. She was lying on my bed still and silent and dying --
"I guess," she says miserably. "I mean, I really didn't know from the doctors -- the last few months, I didn't even read most of my test results. But sometimes I wondered. I used to think maybe I could feel it happening."
"Jesus, Cordy." I take my own terror of the last several hours, stretch it out over months, and try to imagine how it must have been for her. I can't. "But even if you were just scared, you could have told us. Even if I -- even if I couldn't save you, I at least could have -- tried to help you not be afraid." Only that. But at least it would have been something.
"Angel, I didn't mean that, about not being able to save me. I didn't mean it. Please don't think I meant it." Cordelia puts her hands against my chest; her words do less to calm me than the feel of her skin, so warm and alive against mine.
"You meant something."
She sighs and looks skyward -- for advice? Trying to take flight again? Instead, she says, "Angel -- I wasn't scared that you couldn't stop it from happening. I was scared that you would."
"What? Of course I would have stopped it, Cordy. It was killing you --"
"And how would you have stopped it, huh?" Cordelia's on her feet in an instant, pacing in front of me. The words pour out of her, but she's saying this to herself as much as to me. "There's only one way you could ever have stopped it. And that would have been to get rid of my visions. You would have had to take them away from me, and I didn't want that."
"The last time you were in danger --" A memory of Cordelia's face, frightened and burned, swims up out of my memory, floods my thoughts, is gone. "-- you were willing to give up the visions then."
"Only because I was scared. But once I had a chance to think about it some more, to realize what it means to me and to you and to all those people we help -- I knew that would have been wrong. I had to keep the visions, Angel. I had to keep being your Seer. You could have taken the visions away from me, but if that meant I wasn't your Seer anymore -- then you wouldn't have saved me. Not really. I had to believe that it was gonna turn out okay, because we were doing the right thing."
She's so young. She still thinks it could be that simple. "You still should have told us."
Cordelia quirks her lips. "You're telling me that you would've done what I wanted? Let me keep the visions?"
"I don't know," I confess. "But at least I could have just -- been there for you. You had to be so scared, Cordelia. And I lean on you so for so much. I want you to be able to lean on me too." Me, somebody's stable rock and comfort and anchor. Okay, it's not likely. But it would be nice to try sometime.
She sighs. "I know I can lean on you if I have to, Angel. But the last few months, I didn't know which way to lean. I wasn't sitting up nights terrified about it. I was so amazingly not thinking about it, at ALL. You know me. If I don't want to go there, my brain doesn't go there. End of story."
Cordelia's just saying it to make me feel better, but it works, because at last, it's the truth. The thought of her alone and frightened these past months -- I'm glad it's just an idea, and not reality.
But just when I think the mood has lightened, Cordelia frowns again and swats me on the arm. "Ow!"
"I believe we have a certain rich-girl comment to discuss?"
Oh, hell. "Cordy --"
"Don't you Cordy me. And don't even think about pleading baby-bottle duty. Connor's halfway asleep again." I glance down and see this is true. Way to fall down on the job, little man. "Why did you say that?"
I think about what I said in that chamber, and my stomach drops as I realize the depth of what I confessed in there -- what I admitted out loud for the first time ever. Haltingly, I ask, "Cordy -- what did you hear?"
"That you think I'm a spoiled little rich girl the Powers couldn't even be bothered with," she says. "Or something like that."
I study her face carefully. She's angry -- not as angry as she's putting on, but angry enough. But she's not holding anything back. I wish I had taken a breath, so I could let it out. Cordelia didn't hear. She doesn't know. "You know that's not how I think of you," I say, because that's the simplest way of putting it.
"If it isn't -- " Hell, she actually believes I might have meant it, at least a little. "-- then why did you say it?"
I ask myself the same question, then answer her slowly. "I thought that -- if I pretended you didn't matter to me -- then they wouldn't take you away to hurt me."
"You thought they were doing all this to hurt YOU?" Cordelia's shaking her head, half in amusement, half in disbelief. "Hello, it was MY head that was going to explode! Do you honestly think the whole universe is only out to get you?"
I open my mouth to protest, but then I stop. I start thinking -- Wolfram & Hart, Holtz, Kate, Drusilla, the Council of Watchers, the First Evil, the gypsies --
Cordelia gasps and claps her hands to her mouth. "Oh, my God! You do! Because it -- well, it kinda is."
We stare at each other for a long minute, and then we burst into laughter. Connor wakes and starts bawling, and I cuddle him close, but I'm laughing too hard to get into the kitchen. The universe is out to get me. Of course. Explains it all. Why didn't I see it before?
As always, it takes Cordy to see it for me.
She's giggling and wiping tears from her eyes as I get up. "Come on," I say between laughs. "Let's get this guy his bottle."
We get into the kitchen and finally get Connor his formula; Connor can't quite grip the bottle himself yet, but it's clear he'd like to try as he hungrily gulps down his meal. "Sorry we made you wait," Cordelia whispers as she leans down and kisses his head. "Mmmm. That smell right at the top of his head. What is that? Just pure babysmell, I guess. Why does that smell so great?"
"Don't know." Standing here in the dim light, with Cordelia strong and alive and by my side, and Connor warm and healthy in my arms, I feel the last tension drain out of me. "Hold him, will you?"
"Huh? Sure." Cordelia holds her arms out, and I hand over both baby and bottle. She gets the right grip right away, and Connor doesn't miss a beat. "Why do you --" Her voice trails off as I wrap them both in a hug. "Oh," she whispers, and rests her head against my chest -- leaning on me, just this little bit, just for this moment, and it's enough. Connor shifts slightly between us, and Cordelia's cheek is soft against my skin.
For so long, I've fought for intangible things -- rightness, salvation, redemption. All part of my mission and my duty. But at this moment I realize how good it feels to know that everything you're fighting for -- everything you love -- can be contained in your embrace. Held safe in your arms.
Continue on to 'Orange'...