Subtlety >> Vengeance

C/A spice: Medium/Strong

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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, sliced up through skin and muscle, skidded up along bone past her eye into her hair, and opened her scalp. Blood gushed from the wound, all over Angel's hands and clothing. He grabbed her, kept her suddenly nerveless body from pitching forward onto the pavement. "Take her!" he bellowed as everyone else piled into the Plymouth.

Wesley and Gunn held Cordelia across their laps in the backseat as Angel practically dove behind the wheel. He cranked the engine, at the same time shouting, "Compress the wound! Hold it shut!"

His only thoughts were for Cordelia, who quietly passed out from the blood loss.

No matter how fast Angel drove, it couldn't have been fast enough. Because as he sailed through traffic, ran lights, ramped up over curbs, and drove over sidewalks and down back alleys to get Cordelia help, there was a starnge and wholly unexpected horror happening within him that he could not outrun. The sight and smell of Cordelia's blood called to him, tempting him to pull over and satiate his hunger, to take release in her blood, her misery.

What the hell is wrong with me? he said furiously to himself. I've had more control of myself than his for ages! Besides which, this is Cordelia! How am I even thinking these thoughts?

Was Lilith responsible? Had she hit him with some kind of spell before they'd sped away?...

As the bloodlust moved through him, he floored the GTX. At that moment, despite every shred of self-discipline he could muster, Cordelia's blood smelled better, more delicious, more heady, than any other human's blood he'd ever encountered. Angel scowled, enraged that anything or anyone could make him entertain these thoughts, especially about one of those closest to him...

Wesley tried to reason with him. "Angel, if the police see us--"

"Then we'll have a police escort." Angel snapped. "I won't hurt her."

"Hurt her?" Wesley asked. "What are you talking about?"

"I won't let anything happen to her." Angel said.

* * *

"There," he said, nodding toward a tall building several blocks away...

"Angel, listen to me," Wesley said urgently. "Lilith knows one of us was injured. This hospital may be the first place she thinks to look."

"Right," Gunn said. "Listen, I know this guy who knows a guy who can hook us up with a magical healer. Quality work, good rep, no questions asked."

"And if she dies first?" Angel asked. So soon after overcoming whatever sorceress temptation he'd been bombarded with, Angel wasn't about to gamble when mere seconds could make all the difference.

"We have options," Wesley said.

"No, we don't," Angel snarled. "Cordy's life is at risk."

The look in his eyes was apparently chilling enough to silence every other objection.

At the hospital, Angel screeched to a stop at the emergency room's unloading dock...

Vaulting from the convertible, Angel took Cordelia into his arms-- some small part of his mind exulting as he felt none of the bloodlust from minutes earlier-- and moved fast...

"She'll be okay." Angel said, to himself more than anyone else.

You're wrong, the Hand hissed in his mind. There is a way. You can avenge these deaths and balance the scales for all you have done and been responsible for.

"The cost," Angel said softly, looking out at the carnage, the bodies, the flickering orange flames. "It's too high."

"Angel?" Cordelia asked, her eyes wide with concern. "You're talking to me, right? I mean, who else would you be talking to?" She hesitate, then cleared her throat. "That came out way too Travis Bickle."

Angel wasn't listening to her. The Hand was speaking again: ...Seize the power that is rightfully yours, Angel, embrace me, make your world a perfect place where a thing like this can never happen again...

"I can't win," Angel said... He could defend the world from countless outside threats... but how could he save humankind from itself, when the species seemed so hell-bent on self-destruction.

The realization came to him: I can't. Not without the hand.

Angel reached into his pocket and took out the snake torque. "It's not an ending, it's a new beginning... one we won't be a part of, if Lilith gets her hands on this."

"Angel, don't do anything crazy." Cordy warned. "Tell me you're not thinking about putting that thing on!"

Angel does end up putting the thing on. It's a painful process and it digs straight into his chest. Angel drops to his knees, Cordy starts crying.

"Angel?" Cordelia wiped tears from her face. "Are you all right?"

He shook his head, still growing acclimated to the new energy flowing through him. "I... Yeah, I... I think I am. I really think I am."

"Won't matter," a nonhuman voice said from behind him. The three of them spun toward it, to see the first of ten demon warriors approaching them...

Angel said, "Cordy, Elain, run," but then two things happened: Elaine turned and bolted as fast as she could for the nearest cover, and Cordelia narrowed her one uncovered eye and picked up a fallen sword.

"Nowhere to run to," she said. "I'm tired of running, anyway."

The demons rush at them, but Angel takes them out in seven seconds flat.

"Too bad there aren't more ot them, huh?"

"More of what?" Cordelia asked hesitantly.

"Lilith's demons!"

"Oh, I uh... thought maybe you meant that mondy creepy thing you just stuck in your chest. Like, ewww, by the way."

"So now what do we do?" Cordelia asked. "Are you gonna take that thing out? It's not safe. It corrupts people. And I'm looking at you right now and I'm not sure I'm seeing gool old-fashioned brood-boy at all. You look like you enjoyed all that a little too much for my comfort level."

"Oh, I wouldn't go that far," Elaine said, practically purring as she moved past Cordelia, giving Angel a way thorough-- and not terribly subtle-- once-over. "I thought your little display was pretty sexy."

Cordelia scowled at her. "That is so wrong on so many levels."

Angel drives Cordy and Elaine out in the middle of the desert to wait for something.

Angel had reasons for not telling either of the women what they were waiting for; and because of his decision to withhold that information, he'd been forced to endure Cordelia's progressively more heated demands concerning where they were going. Cordelia reminded Angel that they were partners, that they were all in this together, and that ever since he'd let that "Hand thingee" push its way into this body, he'd been acting like a "cocky butthead."

He'd smiled then, and the only thing he would say on the subject was, "It's a surprise."...

"Hello?" Cordelia said.

He glanced over to his companion, who was hugging herself against the desert breezes, and smiled dreamily. "What's up, Cordy?"

Her gaze narrowed as she stared at him in what he took as frank disbelief. "What's up? I'll tell you what's up! You're not acting anything like yourself, that's what's up you doofus! How dare you drag us all the freakin' way out here with no clue why!"...

He touched her shoulder and said, "Don't worry. This is all for the best."

"What's all for the best?" Cordelia screamed.

"What's going on? I thought we were taking the battle to that witch!"

"We are," Angel said. "Well, I am, anyway. You'll be there with me in spirit."

"Say what? Look, you'd better explain yourself, buster, and you'd better start--"

"Now," Angel said, turning away as he heard the low steady rumble of an engine from the impenetrable darkness ahead...

It's David Nabbit in a helicopter.

Angel looked to Cordelia-- and saw she was crestfallen.

"You're sending me away," Cordelia said in a low, disbelieveing tone.

"You and Elaine," Angel said calmly. "Wish I could do the same with Wes and Gunn, but--"

"You're sending me away," Cordelia said, the heated passion returning to her usually melodious voice, giving it a shrill edge.

Angel nodded to David. "You might want to cover your ears."

Again, the tirade, this time even more inventive than before, complete with optional anatomical variations regarding exactly what Angel could shove where if he thought she was going along with this...

"I've got a nice Chardonnay on the plane," David said. "Angel said your throat might be dry..."

"He's just hoping I'll shut up and follow orders." Cordelia grabbed Angel's arm. "You can't send me away. I can help."

"You can get killed," Angel said bluntly. "Or maybe Lilith will do to you what she did to Gunn. I cn't risk that happening, and I won't be able to focus on taking this war back to its source unless I know you're safe."

"So that's the plan?" Cordelia said. "You're going after Lilith?"

Angel nodded. "Well... eventually. I'm gonna have to even up the odds a little, first."

"But you might need me!" Cordelia pleaded. "What if you need something looked up? I've gotten awfully good at that. And, you know, hey, when it comes to looking ahead, no one can beat what I've got."

Angel nodded. "I'll just have to get along without Vision Girl."

"Great," she said. "Now I'm a Marel superhero."...

Cordelia huffed one final time, punched Angel hard in the shoulder, then reached forward and hugged him close.

"You get yourself killed, I'll never forgive you." she said.

As far as I'm concerned, that was the best line in the book :-)

Coronach and Wes helped Angel out of the pit, and he fell over on his side, tired and worn. Cordelia went to him, kneeling and placing her arms around him. Wes and Gunn came and set their hands on his back, while David and Coronach could only watch.

This was power.

This was perfection.

Angel knew that, now. The power and perfection of the love they shared as a family was straonger than anything they might ever oppose.

I liked this part.

"Seeing the Hand go bye-bye?" Gunn added. "The thought of that thing never buggin' any of us again? I agree with Wes, it's a beautiful thing."

Cordelia shrugged. "Yeah, I mean-- what dumbass would even want to go near that piece of junk in the first place?"

Angel cleared his throat.

"You don't count."


"You know what I mean," Cordelia said. She put her hand to her throat in an exaggerated, theatrical style. "Oh look. Here's my snake torque. How do you accessorize with something like that? She frowned at Angel. "Okay, maybe with your feminine fashion sense you'd find a way, but that's not the point."

Angel's head snapped around as he set his hands on his hips. "Again with the 'hey!'"

Lilah looks at the scars on Cordelia's face from the demon.

A strange glint came into the lawyer's dark eyes as she surveyed the younger woman's ravaged face...

"Wolfram and Hart will, of course, cover any expenses and damages sustained or incurred during the course of this incident," Lilah said, her ton making it clear the offer was not up for negotiation. "In terms of Ms. Chase's needs, we have a variety of mystical healers on retainer-- human, nonhuman, whatever you peopel would be most comfortable with. Just let us know, and we'll handle all the arrangements."

"Now hold on," Angel said, pressing in on Lilah and causing her to take a quick, cautious step back in retreat.

Cordelia had heard enough. "Back off, buddy," she said, placing her hand on Angel's broad chest and easing him away. Then she got up in Lilah's face and forced her to make eye contact.

There was a twinge of sympathy, of compassion in the lawyer's eyes-- and Cordelia was certain now that Lilah hated revealing this side of herself.

"Let me break it down for you," Cordelia said. "I'm not going to end up owing you or anyone else. I'd rather spend the rest of my life looking uglier than brood-boy in fully fang-face mode than have that hanging over me. Is that clear enough for you?"...

"Brood-boy?" Angel muttered, his jaw clenched in a failed effort to disguise his pout.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Cordelia said, heading back toward the office. "Doesn't anyone work around here?"

That night, Cordy fell asleep on the office couch. The guys gather around her, moving swiftly and silently. Gunn gently removed her shoes, Wes put a blanket on her, and Angel kissed her forehead. Without waking, Cordy murmured, "Shoo. Scat. No, I'm sorry, Mr. Trump, we don't take those kinds of cases. Not for all the-- really, that much? Sure, I'm free Thursday..."

Exchanging smiles, her friends left her to her dreams.

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