The phone rang. Angel picked up again.
"Angel? Oh, my God, itís Cordelia!" she shouted. "Iím in... where am I? Iím in a homeless shelter!"
"Cordelia, if you really need an advance on your salary..."
"Not that way in a homeless shelter," she interrupted.
"Iím interested," Angel said. "Itís just that Whitney Tyler reminded me of someone I met... a long time ago."
"Anyone we know?" Cordelia asked.
Angel hesitated. "No. This was a long time ago."
"As in, before the invention of the automobile?"
Cordelia shrugged. "Ancient history."
Angel felt uncomfortable. Memory of the young woman aboard the Handsome Jack was one of many he no longer wanted to remember. That young woman and hundreds like her were reasons he was in L.A. now. "Right. Nothing interesting."
Cordelia gave him a high wattage grin and her full attention again. "Oh, do I sense dish in the offing? An old, unrequited, love? A secret tryst? She made a sour face. "Or someone you put the bite on before you got reunited with your soul and now regret?
Angel blinked. Even after all these years Cordeliaís lack of social graces could surprise him at times. She prided herself on telling it like it was, even if she sometimes missed the big picture.
"Just be warned," Cordelia went on, "If this is one of the maudlin, self-recriminating, poor-me-I-used-to-be-such-an-evil-vampire moments, Iím really not interested."
Still, there was something vaguely secure about Cordeliaís lack of tact. It seemed eternal, something that could always be counted on.
"That whole act," Cordelia said, "is just too entirely much like the maudlin, self-recriminating-poor-me-I-never-wanted-to-be-the-Slayer mantras I used to have to put up with from Buffy. I mean, you were what you were, and you are what you are, and youíll be what youíll be."
* * *
"And if you'd come back and I was dead? Ripped to pieces or hanging from the nearestĖ" Cordelia looked up-"metal thingy?"
"I'd have felt bad," Angel assured her. He took the box Doyle had carried in, dropping to his knees and shaking the contents out onto the pavement.
"That's not good enough," Cordelia said.
Angel hesitated, knowing it was hard for Cordelia to actually see that they had other problems at the moment. He looked at her. "I'd have felt really bad. Probably the most bad I've ever felt."
Cordelia smiled. "You mean that, don't you?"
Angel nodded. "Yeah."
Close to the Ground
"I could do this," Cordelia Chase said. She walked into Angelís office from his downstairs apartment, waving a glossy magazine in her hand. Angel glanced away from the TV. She seemed to be showing him a society section - dozens of small photos of L.A.ís social elite were flapping at him.
"I really could," she went on. "I mean, what are the qualifications? To be pretty? Look at me."
Angel did. Even wearing a casual tank top and track pants, the brunette was definitely pretty. Angel thought she had, even in the short time since graduation from high school back in Sunnydale and moving here to L.A. seemed to grow into herself more, becoming more elegant and lovely with each passing week.
* * *
"This could be my ticket to the big time," Cordelia said. She threw the blanket off and jumped to her feet. "My break. You get in good with Jack Willits, and then introduce me. Heíll recognize my potential - Iíve heard heís brilliant that way." She crossed the room and threw her arms around Angel, enveloping him a backbreaking hug. "Angel, thank you!"...
"My pleasure," he said.
"Security consultant," Angel said. "It wouldnít be full-time; Iíd still work here... Iíd just live there."
"So youíre actually considering this?" Cordelia asked.
"I didnít say that. Iím just telling you what the offer was -"
"I think you should take it," Cordelia said.
"Seriously," Cordelia said. "Think about it. I mean, after all, they are your kind."
"Just because theyíre demons doesnít mean -"
"I meant young and good looking," Cordelia said. "Who knows, they might even convince you there are other colors besides black."
* * *
After Doyle had left, Cordelia asked, "Is it hard? The torture, I mean."
"Itís - emotionally draining."
"Is that because you find it difficult to hurt another living being, or just that youíre out of practice?"
"Actually, youíd be surprised how easily it all comes back. Like riding a bike, I guess."
"Or dragging someone behind one... did you find anything else out?"
"I donít now - like his name?"
"Rule of torture number one: never personalize your victim. If you start thinking of them as a person, you can be objective about what you need to do."
Cordelia looked at Angel and arched her eyebrows. She waited.
Angel sighed. "His name is Maarl."
"I knew you couldnít pass up a chance to get some high-quality angst."
* * *
"...it collects all the souls of the people who are killed by the quake. Then it basically... compresses them. It takes a thousand human souls to make one new Tremblor, apparently because their bodies are so dense."
"Tell me about it. My chair is toast." Cordelia put the last book on the shelf and straightened a mace that was hung next to the door. "So instead of sex, they have to kill a bunch of people and use this ritual to squish their souls into a new demon. Sounds like the Play-Doh factory I used to have."
"Sounds like my sex life..."
Cordelia laughed, then covered her mouth. "Sorry, I keep forgetting you actually have a sense of humor."
"Itís a common mistake."
* * *
There was a woman with long, dark hair standing in front of a wall of pumps. She turned at their approach.
"Hi, Angel!" Cordelia said brightly.
"Cordelia? What are you doing here?"
"You tell me - itís your subconscious." She looked down at herself, then up again. "Oh, and thanks for not imagining me naked. Or covered in blood."
"Not going well for your guy, is it?"
Cordelia spun. A woman - slim and fit, with shiny brown hair pulled back into a ponytail - stood looking at her from the top of the stairs...
"Donít worry about my guy," Cordelia replied. "He can take care of himself."
[Etc. etc. & etc.]...
"Do you like seeing your boyfriend get his head handed to him?"
"Heís not my boyfriend.," Cordelia replied.
"I can see why," Barbara said. "Seems to have a good build, but those facial deformities kind of spoil the look."
"For you information," Cordelia snapped, "heís... well never mind what he is. Why do you care?"
[Etc. etc. & etc.]...
"Okay, heís a vampire, all right? Cordelia said. Barbara looked at her, eyes like saucers. "Oh, like you arenít hanging around with a dead guy of your own."
"I guess we do have that in common." Barbara said. "Dead guys."
"Older dead guys, if you want to get specific." Cordelia pointed out.
"But you donít..."
Cordelia made a face. "Of course not! Not that heís not hot. But still."
"Oh, my God," Cordelia said and dropped into her chair. "Youíre serious, arenít you?"
"I wonít let him hurt you, Cordelia."
She looked into Angelís dark eyes for a moment and saw the determination there. While she couldnít be sure of much of in her life, she knew that if push came to shove, Angel would be there to shove back, to risk his life for her. She could count on him. "I know."
* * *
"She was only interested in the image." Angel said.
"Angel, you are your image," Cordelia said. "And I donít mean that in a phony L.A. way. You may define your entire existence by the fact that youíre a vampire. But youíre more than that. Youíre one of the good guys. You say you help the helpless and you do. Thatís who she saw. And thatís real."
"...You canít be everywhere at once, Angel. Canít save everyone. Youíll go crazy if you try, and Iíd really rather not be around for that."
Angel turned back toward his office, but paused and reached up to scratch his head. He turned to regard Cordelia. "Itís just something the troll said."
Cordelia nodded. "Trolls, a very reliable source of information. Go on."
"Well, thereís so much evil in the world and what am I really accomplishing? A chaos demon here. A harpy there; it all seems so pointless when you look at the big picture."
Cordelia stared at him. "Okay, is this where Iím supposed to give you the pep talk? Go, Angel, go?" She halfheartedly waved a fist in the air. "Look, youíre doing what the Powers That Be want you to do. Every day you sacrifice a great deal for customers who canít pay - and thatís okay, kinda."
Angel gazed into his coffee cup as if he were in a trance, or trying to read his fortune there.
Cordelia leaned toward him. "Hey."
He looked up.
"Weíre all making sacrifices for the good fight." She told him. "Personally, I canít handle any more sacrificing? Hello! Itís eight p.m. and Iím not going home soon. And the pay? Witness of my cutting of coupons."
"Youíre doing a good job, Angel. Youíre helping people."
* * *
"Itís going to be dawn soon. Are you going downstairs?" Cordelia asked.
"No." he answered at length. "I havenít been sleeping too well. Think Iíll stay here until Iím good and tired."...
"Not to go all Oprah or anything but... anything you want to talk about?" she asked.
Again there was a lengthy pause before he responded.
"Good night, Cordelia."
She sensed his need to be alone. "Good night, Angel." she said quietly, leaving him to the darkness.
She checked her reflection in the glass. Sheíd had her dark hair done late that afternoon, just in time for the play tonight. Sheíd also had her nails done. The red dress - to be worn before and after the performance - was new as well... The dress and nail appointments were unexpected bonuses from Angel that morning. Even though vampires have dead hearts, they kind of understand the things a woman needs. Who knew?
"Doesnít look like your guyís going to make it."
Irritably, Cordelia turned to face her speaker.
Jo Dead Hamilton peered through the window and folded her arms across her breast...
"Heís not my guy." Cordelia corrected sharply. If Angelís anybodyís guy, heís Buffyís. And obviously youíve got me confused with Watch-and-Wait-Frantically-Girl, looking out the window hoping for a guy to show up. Nope. Gave that up sitting by the phone on Friday nights."
Jo Dead shot her an apologetic look. "Sorry. Didnít mean to scrape a nerve there."
"...I was hoping to see my boss. That's not like pathetic guy-waiting. He promised he would be here if he could get away."
* * *
Your father, your family, betrayed you. Let me take care of you...
Your mother never cared about you, either. She pretended to because it helped her to preserve her image in front of the other women. She pretended to be your family.
In the darkness of her mind, Cordelia was convinced that what the voice told her was true. Her parents had concerned themselves with their own wants and needs. Cordelia had only been an accessory to them. And in that moment, all the pain and anger sheíd carefully locked away inside herself spilled loose inside her heart and her mind.
For one soul-searing moment, Cordelia felt totally alone in the world...
Everyone should have a family, Cordelia. Join me and we will make those people who have pretended to be your family hurt for the way they have treated you... Youíve never belonged to anyone the way you could belong to me Come to me. Let me show you the truth. You never need to be alone again.
Cordelia reached for the offered hand. It was horrible to be alone. She knew what. Sheíd spent her life primarily alone despite all the hangers-on sheíd had at Sunnydale High. In the end sheíd had to turn to Buffy and her friends for company. And that had let into Xanderís arms for a while. Maybe that hadnís been meant to be, but for a time it was true. Since sheíd been in Los Angeles, there hadnít been anyone who care about her.
No one, the voice agreed, reading her thoughts.
No one, Cordelia thought, losing herself to the painful loneliness, no one - "Except Angel," she said aloud. She stared straight into the womanís face. "Angel has been there for me since day one."
"Quiet," Angel said. "She's on." Cordelia had suddenly come onto the screen, and Angel found
himself leaning forward, almost as if he might reach out and touch her. That was his
Cordy on a national television show, the girl he'd know since she was a spoiled high school
princess and had watched grown into a beautiful and confident woman. At the moment, though, she
looked lovely but a little peaked. Then she was speaking, and the room settled into a hush.
"... a guardian angel like Kirsten has to look in on me from time to time, that's for sure." Cordelia was saying. "Someone to keep me out of trouble."
* * *
Angel paked in the alley behind Kristen's apartment building for this nightly pilgrimage. He couldn't say exactly why he was so obsessed with finding this young woman. Obviously the impact her disappearance was no doubt having on Cordelia was part of it. For a long time - too long, he knew, now - he had hurt Cordelia, and Wesley and Gunn, by turning his back on them...
But it seemed like he'd just gotten his family back when Cordelia had gone off to be on this TV show, and her week's enforced absence just pointed out to Angel how much he'd missed her. Her wit was caustic and knew no boundaries. She would say anything that popped into her head to absolutely anyone. She had grown past the stage where she did it specifically to be mean, and now there was, he believed, atually an innocence to the way she didn't bother with the kind of self-editing that other people di. And he missed that. He missed the sound of her read laughter, the arch of her voice when she was annoyed, the shriek when she was startled. He even - though he hated to admit it to himself - missed the way she and Wesley bicked like adolescent siblings or some elderly couples he'd known.
Soon, he thought. The game can't last forever, and then she'll come back...
He climed the stairs as quitely as he could, and when to Kirsten's door. As always, he felt a sudden wave of anxiety when he reached for the knob. One of these days he might open the door and walk right in, and that would mean he was too late, watever had taken her away had killed her.
But not tonight. He opened the door, tried to go in, and was prevented from doing so by the invisible barrier that prevented vampires from entering unbidden. He had never felt such relief over that stupid rule in his life.
He'd been frustated by it more than once in his Angelus days, when cahsing a tasty morsel who slipped away from him by dashing across her own threshold. But now he was glad that it existed, one of the inviolate rules of vampirismm because it confirmed for him that Kirsten yet lived. As long as she did, he could find her. As long as she did, he hadn't let Cordelia down.
* * *
He backed away from the door before she reached it, so she wouldn't think he'd been watching her. By the time she ented, his back was turned. "Hi, Angel," she said brightly.
"Oh," he said, trying to sound stateled. "Hi, Cordy."
"What are you doing" she asked.
"Me? Just... um... thinking."
"Because standing there in the middle of the floor, facing a blank wall, is where you do your best thinking, right?"
"It's a good thionking spot. Nothing to distract me, you know. Good for serious contemplation."
"What are you really doing?" she demanded.
"Okay," he said. "I was watching you."
"I knew it!" she said triumphantly...
She has me pretty well trapped, Angel knew. "Okay," he said again. "I missed you, all right? Happy now?"
Cordelia crossed the floor and put her arms around Angel in a strong, friendly hug. He returned it, glad she was back safely once again.
"Yeah," Cordelia said. "Definitely. Happy now."
Stranger to the Sun
Cordelia came to his side and crouched beside his chair. She rested a hand on his arm. "I'm
"So am I."
"I mean about you. I mean, I'm worried about Wes, too, of course. But you... you're kind of freaking me out here."
"I'm okay, Cordelia. Just concerned about him, that's all."
"Don't think I don't kow you, Angel. There's more going on here than you're telling me."
He turned to face her. Her concern was evident in her dark eyes and grim expression.
Then Angel made a decisive gesture with one hand, scowling. "I won't do this. Not for them."
Gunn and Wesley simply watched Angel, unsure of what to say -- but Cordelia immediately stood up and faced him. "What you need to do, mister, is to quit posing and acting all, all, all tough. Of course we're going to do this." Angel started to protest, but Cordelia cut him off. "The world's at stake, Angel. Again. Look, if we don't do anything, then either Wolfram and Hart get the Serpent's Hand and do horrible things with it, or Lily Pierce keeps it and does horrible things with it. And damned if I'll let either one of them use it."
What seemed like an incredibly long silence fell as Cordelia and Angel kept their eyes locked. Finally -- and very slowly -- Angel nodded. "All right." Cordelia grinned as Angel turned to Gunn and Wesley. "Let get to it."
* * *
On his feet and running, Angel had almost caught up with the group and was on the verge of cracking a smile of triumph when he noticed Cordelia begin to stumble.
Elaine let out a piercing scream and pointed. "Her face! Look at her face!"
Spinning Cordelia toward him, Angel was instantly assaulted by the sight, smell, and sheer amount of Cordelia's blood...
The demon hadn't missed Cordelia when it stretched out for her...
The blade's tip had touched Cordelia's right cheek right beside her mouth, slcied up through skin and muscle, skidded up along bone past her eye into her hair,