Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.

Historical note: The action in the story takes place after "Parting Gifts". Wesley Wyndham-Price is presumed to be off rogue demon hunting, trying to figure out, what exactly, they are.

Authors note: 1) If you, cannot under any circumstances, accept that true affection can exist without sexuality, then you will be extremely offended by this story. You have been warned. Continue at your own risk.

2) The dialogue expresses the FICTIONAL character's opinions, not mine.

That said, this story began as something completely different, about 6 pages shorter. I have about half a dozen of these things in various stages of outline on floppy or handwritten on college rule when the ideas pop into my head. Likewise, there are Post-Its and ATM receipts scribbled with pieces of dialogue and vocabulary words all over the place. But, I digress...

Until the show returns from hiatus (episode 11 has yet to air as of this date, 01-15-00), the ideas that I've expressed may or may not follow what The Buffy/Angel teams have in mind. At some point, I might decide to rewrite this story to fit in with the show's natural history. If not, then the companion pieces to "Starlet" will denote that I've continued to go off on my own strange, little tangent.

And, finally, without getting all Peter David about it, I'm having a great deal of fun writing these stories. The world that Joss Whedon has created has sparked my imagination, creating a wonderful diversion from the normal routine of commute, work, sleep. David, Charisma, and Glenn have portrayed their fictional personas with brilliance, a shining complement that inspired casting and imaginative writing never fail to entertain.

Enjoy! Please feel free to e-mail me with your comments. I'd appreciate the feedback. By the way, yoyo, I've returned from my journey off the face of the earth... at least for a little while. Mr. Pocket Thesaurus will return to his shelf. I laugh to think that while Mom would beam with pride over how she's been insisting that I write, wouldn't she just be appalled over the subject matter? ;)e.c. 15 jan 00

-0-

STARLET by Evan Como

The sculpture garden view was magnificent. Positioned on a foothill sweeping up from the Los Angeles basin, it was possible to see the Pacific Ocean during the day from its crest. The evening panorama of the amber city lights sparkling under threads of a low-lying marine layer created an unearthly vision--a man-made display of light and motion as the floating sky hovered above the constantly moving traffic.

Los Angeles never seemed to sleep when it could drive.

The cemetery below the garden was a peaceful scene, of empty sites laying in wait, burlap drapes covering their excavated earthen mounds, and graves set with markers identifying the names and dates of significance for the remains of the long departed. Daytime would mimic the dark's activities of life acknowledging death, saying farewells, paying homage; just as the garden reproduced a memorial setting for those not human.

In the surrounding trees the early morning birds began to wake, chirping their first songs of the new day. Angel could feel the air bristle as it signaled the coming dawn.

He sighed. "I'll have to be going soon."

A pleasant camaraderie existed between Angel and his two companions as they consoled each other. There were other beings huddled in similar groups throughout the setting and strolling visitors observing the serenity of the hallowed grounds. Birdsong mingled with disconsolate voices and hushed tones of reverent conversations.

Cordelia and Harriet snuggled together, trying to keep warm. Even in the moon-bathed light, the contrast between them was obvious--Cordelia's dark hair almost reflected the stars. Harriet seemed oblivious to night as if no matter where she stood the sun was always directly overhead, laughter just beneath her demeanor.

"I had no idea what this place was." Cordelia glanced around the park trying not to seem too obvious as she guessed that she and Harriet were probably the only two human beings present.

Harriet smiled at Angel and reached for his hand. "I'm so happy you and Cordelia included me in this. I think Francis would be really grateful, Angel. I doubt that he could have ever imagined being honored so highly." She leaned up to kiss his cheek tenderly. "Thank you so much for doing this for him."

"It's the least I could arrange," he replied. He wanted to say more, but was finding it difficult to express himself under the circumstances. "He saved my...life," he added softly, a mixture of guilt and gratitude keeping his voice at just above a whisper.

Reaching into her oversized bag, Cordelia removed a take-out coffee cup haphazardly filled with a clump of alyssum and set it on the edge of the monument the trio faced. The sweet smell of the tiny flowers carried on the air, the token seeming not exactly out of place given the Spartan lifestyle that Doyle maintained. The three mourners stood in silence as the scent surrounded them.

"I don't get it." Cordy was puzzled. "I don't see Doyle's name anywhere. How is anyone supposed to know that this is for him?"

Harriet pulled her coat's collar closer to her neck. "Demon lore is really quite fascinating, Cordelia. Names are unimportant in the grand scheme of what will eventually be Francis' saga. As the story begins to circulate, only the most important facts will remain--that a large demon family was rescued by a half-demon man who sacrificed his own life for theirs by destroying a genocidal weapon."

Cordelia regarded the sculpture. "So, then, whoever hears the story will see this hand crushing what looks like a burst of light and they'll know what it means?" Harriet nodded and Cordy added, "but it seems like such a waste. What happens to Angel's part in the drama? After all, Angel got the whole salvation boat afloat to begin with..."

Harriet regarded the tall, striking figure focusing on the grass at the base of the sculpture's marble pillar. "Angel is vampire, Cordelia. He has no place in demon lore."

Angel could feel the electricity charge the atmosphere, making the demonologist's words all the more meaningful.

Harriet rubbed his arm. "It's just the way things are. Vampires don't exactly have the best reputation among demonkind. There is a strict code of ethics that demons tend to follow that has remained, practically, in tact since the beginning of their existence. To most demons, vampire culture is considered amoral. Actually, to most demons, humanity is considered amoral. Demons have a difficult time with most societies outside of their own.

"They're a discriminating bunch," she added with a shrug.

Angel looked up, uncomfortable with Cordelia's intense scrutiny. "In the end, though, they'll also remember that Doyle got to kiss the girl."

"Me? I'm a part of the story, too?"

Harriet hugged Cordy, marveling at how effortlessly Angel changed the subject. "How could I forget the girl?" She swept Cordy's hair behind her ears in a grandmotherly display of affection. "He not only kissed the girl, but she was a beautiful girl..."

Cordy suppressed an outburst of laughter that escaped as a girlish giggle as she relished her potential fame. "And don't forget that the beautiful girl--who happened to be HUMAN--kissed him back!"

"Well, there's no guarantee that she'll be human in the legend; but yes, the beautiful girl kissed him back." Harry sighed, enjoying a memory. "My God, that man could kiss."

"And you didn't even get the blue-light special," Cordelia responded, unable to contain her enthusiasm for the topic, not wanting to. "That was no discount smooch."

Angel watched the two women, amused by the contented looks on their faces. "OK, then. I guess we just had the eulogy." When they faced him expectantly, his amusement gave way to discomfort. "What are you looking at me for?"

"Oh, then he never got around to it." Harry turned to Cordelia for verification.

Cordelia gestured her lack of knowledge. "He mentioned an attraction, but I don't think he was actually going to do anything about it."

Looking at the unmarked monument, Angel took a step away from it, confusion over the topic of the conversation causing him great concern--concern that he didn't actually know Doyle all that well, though not for the lack of trying. As the pitch black of the night sky developed to dark blue, he let the subject fade as well.

"I'm going to leave now."

Harry tried to feel a small amount of regret about making Angel so uncomfortable; but Cordelia's giddiness was infectious and she decided to apologize some other time. When she motioned to her confidante that they should leave with Angel, Cordelia reached to nudge the floral cup closer to the sculpture's hand, a strange expression passing across the pretty girl's face.

Harriet, noticing her change in mood, attempted to lighten their departure. "I hear that a kiss wasn't all you got from Francis, Cordy."

Angel replied, "Cordelia got Doyle's sight from The Powers That Be." Cordelia's silence caused him to add solemnly, "but she's only had one premonition...and nothing since. That's been almost a month, now."

Harriet took Cordy's arm in hers as they walked, pulling her close. "Maybe the gift is manifesting itself in other ways. It's a demon attribute and it might need to find a different way to work for Cordelia." She paused, concerned about the younger woman's darkening disposition. "It could be making her intuition stronger."

Cordelia broke the cuddle and stopped on the walk, almost causing the mutant couple walking behind them to fall into her. She scowled at them as they passed quickly. "Maybe I don't have 'the gift' after all. Or, maybe it was just a one-time thing and the PTB took it away from me because the real messenger is still on his way." She tried her best to hide her wounded self-esteem behind anger from being reminded of her continuing doubts that, perhaps, the PTB just found her a poor replacement.

-0-

Angel could feel as dread began to get the better of him. It was a claustrophobic feeling that would have made him stop breathing--that is, if he actually was breathing. Trying to remain calm was impossible so he settled for numb. He couldn't believe that Cordelia was leaving.

She explained how she got a movie role. In less than the 48 hours since he had last seen her, she had been called to and auditioned for a part. "Terrence Norwalk, the producer, has a friend who is a director who is a friend of the director of this commercial I auditioned for" was how she explained the chain of her good fortune. Angel tried to be excited for her, but he had expected her career shift would have been more gradual.

"What kind of part in what kind of movie?"

Finished with packing, Cordelia picked up her overstuffed box, hugging it in front of her as she spoke. "It's a teen horror flick. Can you believe it? So, like, type-casting, ya think? Anyway, I'm pretty sure I get killed before the end, but it's cool 'cause I get lots of screen time. Maybe. Actually, I haven't seen the whole script--just my audition pages. Terry--Mr. Norwalk--kinda told me the plot, but after I heard that I got the part, I tranced."

Angel merely nodded. Cordelia squinted at him, realizing that he wasn't as happy for her as he was trying to look, but she appreciated his effort. He had come such a long way with her help, she knew, but she refused to allow his wistful look make her feel bad about finally pursuing the reason she had come to Los Angeles for in the first place.

"So, anyway, I know that you're probably expecting a week's notice, but we start shooting this week and I have to fit my wardrobe today and meet the makeup guy for a cast of my face..." She felt all tingly.

"Oh."

"Don't get all melodramatic, Angel. You're a big vampire and you'll get along just fine without me." She turned and leaned into him, barely brushing his cheek with hers, expressing an air kiss. "We'll talk and stuff. It's not like we'll never see each other again or anything, right?"

Angel walked behind her to the entrance of the office and opened the door. She wasn't outside and he already felt her absence, knowing that once she left, more than likely, she would be as lost to him as Doyle. As Buffy. His heart twisted; misery threated to overwhelm him. He didn't want her to leave.

But, before he had the chance to say a word, she was halfway down the corridor. He stared behind her, trying to remember what shoes she was wearing--because things like that were important to Cordelia. When she finally exited the building, Angel closed his eyes and stood against the door's frame trying to maintain his composure. He kept repeating 'brown strappy platforms' to himself, but the mantra wasn't working.

"Waiting for someone?"

Angel opened his eyes to a familiar voice, looking down to see who had actually spoken to him.

"Whistler, right?"

"Good memory. But, most of you vampire types are pretty good with names and faces." He reached up and tapped the side of Angel's head with his index finger. "Still got all of 'em up there?"

The sandals were all but forgotten as Angel's victims began to take their place in his consciousness. Guilt pushed Cordelia away from him, no matter how hard he struggled to remember the print of her skirt or how many bracelets she was wearing on each arm.

The scruffy man, pleased with Angel's expression, continued, "good. I was beginning to think that you were spending your free time girl watching. You remember how much trouble that got you into the last time." He didn't expect his comments to hit so hard--at least not visually, and he paused.

Angel sighed, finally inviting his demon acquaintance inside with the silent wave of his hand. "I seem to also remember that you were the one who pointed that girl out to me in the first place," he replied sarcastically.

It was difficult not to notice the empty desks where Doyle and Cordelia used to sit as Angel led Whistler to his office. He closed the blinds before he sat at his own. The unlit office offered little in the way of comfort and he abandoned himself to his thoughts.

"You're my new liaison, I take it."

Whistler eyed Angel suspiciously, unsure of what exactly was going on in the other demon's mind. "You could say that. I've been sent to get you back to business. You've been slacking off and the Powers That Be are concerned that you're falling behind on production."

Angel closed his eyes as he listened. He listened to Whistler drone on about his new responsibility to 'The Cause'. He listened to the voices of his victims cry for mercy. He listened as Cordelia said her goodbye--a layer of the humanity she had preserved in him dissolving each time he replayed her exodus in his mind.

-0-

After returning from taking Harriet's luggage to his car, Angel sat on her couch in front of the TV, half-listening as she spoke to him while she flitted from room to room.

She was still in a hurried state, trying to make sure that she wasn't forgetting anything. "It's so great that you could take the time out to get me to my flight, Angel. I figured since we haven't had a chance to get together in so long that we can kind of kill two birds with one stone."

Angel absently stared at the screen. He was tired and couldn't remember the last time that he just sat down and did something as mindless as watch TV or even why he would do such a useless activity.

"Angel?"

He blinked, suddenly aware that he had been ignoring her. "You said something?"

Harry took a seat on the sofa next to him and raised the volume on the set. "Isn't that Cordelia? Walking down the red carpet with that mogul-looking guy?"

Angel looked at the screen, vaguely aware that he recognized the pretty young woman. Cordelia was glamorized with her hair twisted high on top of her head, her decollete graced with a stunning diamond necklace.

They sat silently, completely enthralled with Cordy's appearance. Terrence Norwalk spoke to the emcee as if they were old friends. Cordelia was just behind him, smiling and radiant as if she had been on camera all of her life.

Harry slowly slanted towards Angel, stopping just short of resting her head on his shoulder. There was something that was making her lightheaded and she realized that something was Angel, himself. Her desire of wanting him to make physical contact finally gave her understanding of the literature she had read on vampire victims--that the survivors never seemed to connect their attacks with horror, someway anesthetized to the gruesome act.

She shifted away, stealing to the opposite end of the love seat. Angel turned to her movement with a sad, drowsy look about him and she wondered if he knew what his body chemistry was doing. Extremely uncomfortable with her thoughts, she pushed them aside.

"Wow, she must have on a half million dollars in clothes and jewelry," Harriet remarked in awe. She smiled uneasily, trying to picture herself wearing a designer dress and that many diamonds. "She didn't tell you that she'd be at this awards program? I wonder who that guy is."

Angel returned his attention to the screen. "I haven't spoken to Cordelia since she left." His skin prickled from the shadow of loss, grief that he hadn't the time to concentrate on since Whistler's arrival. "The guy is Terrence Norwalk; early 40's; director turned producer/grew up in the movie industry; living at the same address in Bel Air since he was a child--the house was completely rebuilt after the '64 fire; very good track record with his teen-focused films."

Harriet studied Angel's reaction, concerned and even more uncomfortable. "You checked him out? That's a little obsessive, don't you think?"

"I'm good at obsessive." He chewed on a fingernail, fascinated with Cordelia's appearance on the program. "Just wanted to make sure he was legit."

They watched as Cordelia modeled her dress for the cameras.

"I was going to suggest that you've lost weight, but I realize that's not what's changed. You haven't been around humans in quite some time, have you?" She wanted to smooth the crease disturbing his dark features, but maintained her distance. "There is a 'brutality' in your eyes that I've never noticed before."

Angel turned his face away self-consciously. "I've been fighting a lot. Almost every day since Doyle's memorial."

Harry nodded. She expected him to add something else, but he didn't. "Francis told me that you fight."

"He told you that I don't walk away unless the other demon doesn't?"

She sat in silence, sympathizing for him, aware of the gravity of Angel's statement. Harry wondered if Cordelia had been a pageant contestant, she had never seen anyone hold the same smile for such a long time. When the happy couple left the podium to travel the red carpet's length into the auditorium, she muted the set again.

"My new liaison with the Powers That Be keeps me busy. When I'm not fighting, I'm training." He paused to consider her comment. "Do I really seem that different?"

"You seem very... Well, distant. Like how Francis described your personality when he first met you."

Angel struggled to help with the conversation, but the truth was that he couldn't remember the last time he talked to someone other than Whistler about something other than finding, fighting or obliterating evil forces. "My life is very different without Doyle and Cordelia. I guess I'm human companion-less for the first time in quite a while." He tried to smile, but the effort felt unnatural.

Harry wanted so badly to administer a hug, but caution kept her hands folded on her lap. "I realize it must be difficult without them, Angel. I understand. But I wonder if Francis' death created a false bond between you and Cordelia. Perhaps, it's just as well she didn't stay."

Dejected, he slouched into the cushions, prompting her to continue her thoughts. "I've learned a lot since my breakup with Francis," she said, trying to find words to comfort Angel's bewilderment.

"What I've mainly realized is that the people you need in your life are usually there when you need them the most and when they're no longer needed, its best that they go. Like the two of us--Francis and I had bliss for those first couple years we were together. God, you would have never believed that love could be so amazing."

Angel watched Harriet's face, alight with animation at remembering her marriage to Doyle. He wanted to embrace the emotion that she felt. He missed...love.

"And then, to suddenly have all that happiness taken away. At the time, I thought, 'how unfair!' But now I can look back and realize that maybe what Francis had to go through, he had to do on his own. It was difficult to surrender the marriage--to watch the wonderful man I loved turn into a self-loathing hermit because he couldn't accept what he was."

She looked deep into Angel's brown eyes, searching for the person that had become her late ex-husband's best friend. "He became this creature with OUR history--as if everything that we had in a little over two years was supposed to sustain him for the rest of his life.

"And then when he told me about Cordelia, I could hear it in his voice how much he adored her. I think that affection helped him heal. Like, before you can love someone else, you have to find something within yourself to love? It didn't matter to Francis that Cordy didn't know what he was inside, only that she smiled at him."

"He could listen to her talk about herself for hours."

The memory seemed to warm him, finally revealing the man she had been waiting for. She turned Angel's face towards hers, connecting with him, the contact being more intense than what her studies could have prepared her for.

"When Francis sacrificed himself instead of letting you commit suicide, I believe he finally came to the understanding that, demon or human, he valued his self-worth enough to be able to pay the ultimate price. You may have shown him that; but, in the end, I'll always believe that his love for Cordelia redeemed him. That what he felt for her was enough for what remained of his life."

-0-

Cordelia stood on the balcony outside of the mansion's guestroom, surveying the beautifully landscaped front lawn, its daytime beauty almost apparent by the architectural lights. The security guard that had removed her diamonds pulled slowly through the arcing driveway in his armored car, a motorized gate closing gracefully behind his truck.

The elegant Kevan Hall dress that she had worn was already hanging in the closet, taking its place next to the ever expanding wardrobe of trendy items that her new career demanded she wear. She had thought to sleep in it, but imagined that the hand-sewn beading would rub against the Pratesi linens on the bed, either ruining the dress or the sheets.

She overlapped the collar of the plush velour robe up to frame her face, still feeling glamourous even without makeup and despite her hair being gathered into a cloth elastic on the top of her head. The feeling was probably caused by the Manolo Blahnik mules that she refused to remove--they were the most exquisite shoes she had ever worn, embellished with jewels and embroidery, the fine calf lining having already molded to the exact shape of her feet.

She closed her eyes and listened to the pace of her pounding heart still racing from the night's excitement. There was only one thing that would make the night complete... A light knock on the door disturbed her reverie.

"Come in."

Terrence Norwalk, his jacket draped across his forearm, stepped into Cordy's room. With his tie and the first two buttons of his shirt undone, there was a relaxed attractiveness about him that defied the years indicated on his face. He smiled at Cordelia, studying her as if there was something else to discover. He covered the vanity's chair with the Richard Tyler coat before joining her outside.

It seemed natural enough to Cordelia that he was there. While she was no stranger to intimate moments, this was the first time she found herself actually feeling like an adult in one. She tried to conceal her nervousness. Over the almost two months that she had occasionally been spending nights in this room, Terrence had never once knocked before. It occurred to her that she had accepted, perhaps, he wasn't interested in her romantically and despite his presence, she still wasn't sure of his feelings for her.

Terrence pushed a tendril of hair away from her eye, brushing her cheek as he withdrew his touch. He noticed her reaction. "You were amazing tonight," he finally said, trying to break the tension between them. "Everyone wanted to know who you were."

Cordelia managed to smile, hiding her uncertainty over what, exactly, wasn't happening between them. "You told them that I was your newest discovery? An actress of such amazing talent that you picked her out of a commercial audition?"

Terrence laughed heartily. He lifted her hand and pressed the back of it against his mouth in mock gesture. "Oh, Delia! I certainly didn't pick you out because I thought you could act! No, sweetheart. I picked you out because you have presence. When I reviewed that insurance video and noticed how much charisma jumped out of the monitor as this egotistical girl bantered on about where SHE wanted to stand, I was impressed. Of course, you would have been killed if you hadn't ignored the director anyway and changed your camera position seconds before that lighting array fell. But, honestly, that wasn't talent. That was star quality."

Cordelia was sure that her experience with adversity was the only thing keeping her sudden disillusionment from showing outwardly. Although Terrence may have felt he was praising her in some way, his comments felt anything but complimentary. Inside, she felt as if her heart had been plunged with a stake--a huge, blunt one with lots of splinters; the shoes began to pinch her toes.

He suddenly pulled her into his chest, squeezing enthusiastically. She tentatively began to return the hug, but he let her go before she could complete the exchange.

"What do you want from me?" Suddenly feeling light-headed, it seemed as if the glass of champagne she consumed two hours previously was finally taking effect.

Her question seemed to shock Terrence out of his jovial mood. He paused for a moment to consider not only the question, but the tone of her voice. Her robe had parted slightly during their embrace, the neckline of the oversized wrap falling back to reveal her lovely neck and modest sliver of cleavage. It occurred to him that he had never taken the time to notice how pretty she was-- even more so without 'movie star' hair and makeup--or how the magnetism she exuded seemed too complex for someone her age.

While Cordy waited for his answer, she turned her head towards a sound from the street, in the direction of the familiar motor that she heard turn over. The convertible's driver flicked his lights on just before making the u-turn in the direction of Sunset Boulevard. Just before the car's taillights disappeared, a spasm wracked her body with awareness of how cool the outside temperature actually was.

"Delia?"

Cordy clicked the French doors shut as she and Terrence returned to the warmth of the room. She disregarded the clasp to lock them, knowing that the being who would dare intrude on her would never be able to enter anyway. She tried to concentrate on her mentor's words.

Terrence pulled her robe together and pinched the point of Cordelia's chin affectionately. "You asked me what I want from you? Remember?"

She nodded, fatigue taking control of her motor skills.

"As a man, I would be lying if I told you that I didn't find you extremely attractive. But, my role in your life right now is to get your career off the ground--not to be your lover. If that's to happen, it will come in due time. I know that you're still very young, but there is this determination you have that even some people my age don't possess--and probably never will. I just don't want to rush into anything that would be unfair for the potential in our relationship."

He kissed her gently on the lips.

"One thing, though."

Cordelia began to feel colder than she had on the terrace. She wanted to wipe her lips, to erase every trace of self-righteousness that Terrence Norwalk had deposited on them in lieu of real affection. Her stomach turned and she knew the champagne had nothing to do with that feeling.

He regarded the sleepy young woman in front of him, desire for her striking him with an intensity that he had never experienced before. It took all of what little stamina he had left not to take her body into his. He knew that he should never have kissed her; the smoldering sensation of her lips lingered on his own as if burned by the fire within her.

He led her to the edge of the bed to help her rest. His ego let him believe that his kiss had suddenly made her so weak. Kneeling on the floor in front of her, removing her shoes as he spoke, he remained oblivious to the hidden meaning behind his action.

Cordelia wanted to go home. She wanted to curl up in her own bed and cry on her own pillow. More than that, she wanted to be able to pick up the phone and whine to Doyle about how rotten the night had turned out. In the real world, however, one out of three of those wishes would never occur again. And, as she listened to Terrence Norwalk on bent-knee ask her to give up her apartment, she vowed with silent words that she would never relinquish control of her destiny.

-0-

Angel studied his interrogator. Whistler actually looked no different than he did when they first met less than 5 years prior. In fact, Angel was pretty sure everything about Whistler was exactly the same, right down to the condescending tone in his voice. Whistler had a way of making him feel like a child and perhaps he was in comparison, because the diminutive demon had yet to reveal anything about himself to Angel other than his purpose for being there.

"I'll have you know that evading the truth is almost the exact same thing as lying, vampire. So here's your last chance to answer the question. What did you do last night?"

"...and, like, why you've decided to start stalking me?"

When he noticed Cordelia's tall, slender figure suddenly appear in the doorway to his office, Angel believed that he was daydreaming. The tone of her voice and the body language that accompanied her words reminded him exactly of the last time he had seen Buffy standing in the exact, same place. He was willing to dismiss her presence as a hallucination until Whistler stood to face her.

Rising from his chair a little too abruptly, Angel could hear the excitement in his voice as he spoke her name.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough with the small talk, Angel... Something smells awful in here! And why's it so dark?" She walked over to the window, flipping open the blinds and pushing the sash up. "Obviously you've been missing me since you showed up outside my producer's house last night. I saw you drive away. I know you've probably just been having one big old brooding hootenanny since I've been gone, but you didn't need to start decomposing, too."

Fresh air and sunlight flooded the room, causing Angel draw his forearm across his face defensively. The ambient mid-day light was too harsh--he wasn't used to it anymore.

Cordelia tried not to express her shock when she noticed what he looked like. Instead, she focused on the short, wiry creature invading her personal space. "Is this the new guy?" she asked, contemptuously, pointing at the fellow.

"Whistler." Angel edged to the window to close it and the blinds. "Whistler, Cordelia. She used to be my..." he paused when it occurred to him that he almost said 'friend' instead of 'assistant'. He left the sentence incomplete and, instead, wrapped his arms tightly around his torso and leaned against the wall for support as he concentrated on the flying insect that Cordelia let in.

Whistler eyed the brunette from head to toe several times. He let his unimpressed opinion of her show clearly on his face. Leering at her, he knew that the power of intimidation was firmly in his possession. He pointed back at her. "You must be the 'old girl'. Didn't I see you on TV last night?"

Cordelia glanced in Angel's direction for some sign of support. Realizing that he wouldn't be offering any, she let Whistler's snide remark pass and her vanity get the better of her. "You saw me? How'd I look?"

Whistler backed away from her, continuing his visual examination, and wrinkled his nose. "Well, it's obviously true that people on TV don't look as good in person."

Caught completely off-guard, Cordelia had to remind herself to inhale. She squinted at Doyle's replacement, putting as much revulsion as possible into the reaction. "You know, Angel, you need to speak with the Puppetmasters about getting you a better class of demon sidekick."

Angel watched the pair square off at each other in between focusing on the office intruder. Melancholy nagged at him as he thought, 'if Doyle were here he would have firmly bet on Cordelia being the victor in this battle of wills.' But, Doyle wasn't there, and the Cordelia that was standing before Whistler seemed a different person than the one Doyle had come to love. He decided not to interfere.

Whistler pretended to lunge at Cordy and she backed away from the stink-eye contest. "Aha! You blinked first!"

Cordy, not one to accept defeat so easily, pinched her nose and shouted, "that stench! It's you!" She tried to work her way around to Angel, but Whistler cut off her path. Angrily, she added, "YOU REEK!"

She scrutinized the odd being. He was much older than Doyle for sure, although she couldn't figure out by how much since she wasn't really sure how old Doyle had been. She was sure of one thing, though; Doyle had never smelled this bad even after an all-night binge. There was a warm grandpa smell about Doyle that she suddenly missed--that combination of Bay Rum, hair pomade and the clove gum he chewed if he drank at lunch.

"Hey, Angel. Now that I have a pretty good idea what you were doing last night, should I show out your game or you wanna do that?"

Cordelia began to protest as Whistler moved to take her arm. She jumped, frightened, at the violent sound Angel made when he pummeled his insect victim against the wall. She could have sworn she heard him growl.

Nothing about the offices seemed the same as she had remembered. Her old desk was covered with a layer of grime, the forlorn plant she had left there looking as if death had claimed it moments after her departure. The whole scene reminded her of her movie's set. All that was missing were giant cobwebs suspended from the lighting fixtures. With a quick glance up, she thought she detected one being formed.

In the hallway, she turned to face Whistler with what little courage she could muster after seeing Angel in such decayed condition. "You just can't go around treating Angel like he's some piece of..." she concentrated hard, "...some kind of action figure! He's got feelings!"

She stomped her foot and continued, "he's got a soul you know. You just can't expect him to show up day in, day out without some words of encouragement. Look at him! He's a wreck. He should never have put that shirt together with those pants in a million years. You've worked the style right out of him!" She shook her head as she looked down at Whistler in profile, trying to pull off the superiority she didn't feel. "That's very, very sad."

"Are you done?" Whistler was annoyed beyond words. He found the girl silly, like most humans. He had no time--They had no time--for her intrusion.

"Oh, wait! And another thing... Angel's not stupid! Don't treat him like he's stupid. He knows stuff--lots of stuff. He knows languages and spells, and how to make people feel better about themselves. Doyle treated him right. Doyle knew all the right things to say and Angel still got the job done. You could stand to learn how to work with Angel from the way Doyle used to do things."

"Did Doyle ever do this?" Whistler slammed the door in Cordelia's face. As he returned to Angel he added, "if not, then I've got no reason to study his work habits."

Angel was standing in the same spot where Whistler had left him. His eyes were closed, his lips forming silent words as he bounced gently against the wall. Whistler had expected Angel's state to improve as they worked more closely, but instead the morose vampire had seemed to deteriorate into an existence teetering on minimal coherence. Having never noticed Angel so introverted before caused him to worry that Cordelia's sudden appearance had disrupted the progress that he had been making.

"Angel."

He stopped moving and blinked at Whistler, ready to listen.

"OK. I think she's gone for good. Don't stalk her, alright?" He couldn't tell in the dim light if Angel had nodded. "These human relationships of yours are taking away valuable time that we don't have. Do you understand?"

He moved closer to Angel and sat on the edge of his desk to really inspect his ward. He did not want to admit that Cordelia had been right about Angel's outward appearance which seemed a manifestation of something much more unsightly going on within. Having been warned what to watch for, he knew that he needed to be more attentive to the vampire's behavior.

"Angel, your precious mortals are going to get massacred if you don't get back on the ball. Our side is having a hard time catching up..." he paused in thought for a moment before continuing, "...and I know that you've been handling more than your share..."

It was difficult for Whistler to comprehend, but he visually detected a mood shift. Angel was suddenly more attentive, his posture less guarded as he relaxed his arms to rest, folded, across his chest. Whistler shook his head in disbelief that he needed to become a vampiric motivational speaker.

"I'm trying," Angel replied. His voice was barely audible. He could still detect Cordelia's lingering perfume in the rank air. "I think I've got a pretty good kill record..."

Fishing for compliments? Whistler continued to shake his head until he realized Angel was mistaking the negative movement as his reply. "Good record? AMAZING record! But, we've got to start going all out for quantity. Humanity is trying to figure it all out, but it's too late and way too little. I just need you to let me make the decisions about where you need to be and when you need to be there. You're the fighter and I'm your trainer."

Whistler's brow knit as he tried to think of what else he needed to include. It came to him, "in about twelve nights you're going to meet Lusus, a freak of nature unlike any you've ever come up against. But, after you're through with him, you can rest for a while, have a vacation."

Angel considered the directive. Putting a Who and all-around time frame to his duties gave him a better sense of purpose. He didn't doubt that Lusus would be difficult to oppose, but he also knew how much more effective he had become from the nightly conflicts since Whistler's arrival. "Alright. So, we're a team now?"

Whistler had to agree. Reflecting on their conversation that was what he had, indeed, suggested. He nodded affirmatively.

Angel immediately clamped his hands around his associate's shoulders, a wicked grin twisting his mouth. "Then, Teammie, you're going to the shower!"

Whistler had forgotten how much he hated water but concentrated instead, on how much more he hated Cordelia. She had proven herself to be insightful about Angel's intelligence. He would never underestimate the vampire again--or the young woman if their paths should ever cross in the future.

Another thought occurred to him as the warm spray beat against him unmercifully. There WAS something odd about the combination of Angel's shirt and pants but he was loathe to determine just what that something was.

-0-

Terrence Norwalk stood just behind Afton Cross as they reviewed the night's shooting by video monitor. The object of their scrutiny was Cordelia, just as it had been almost 3 months prior, when Afton had been helping a friend cast a commercial. He had shown Terrence the potentially deadly accident's video tape for a scene idea in their movie, never realizing that Terrence would see something special in the lucky-to-be-alive young actress.

"So, what do you think of your protege?

Terrence regarded the director of his film. "I don't know, Aff." He was genuinely unsure. "Is she...overacting?"

Afton set the footage in motion again. "Look at Paulette. Now look at Callie and Tate." He looked behind him to see Terrence nod. "OK. Now when we look at Cordy--there!" He pointed for emphasis. "Do you see it, Terry?"

He looked back again, aware that Terrence was absolutely fixated on the beautiful young woman's performance. He had seen him awestruck before, but this was something else. He pressed PAUSE before turning around to face his boss.

"No, Terry. That's not overacting. When I review Cordy's reaction shots, I see--horror. Real terror. I really don't want to know what she's looking at. That's pretty amazing since the animation department hasn't even finalized the creature's appearance yet."

Terry turned his attention to the younger man before him. "So, the problem is?"

"The problem is that no matter how much I ask her to dial down the fear factor, she still looks way more scared than your stars. So, that said--do we keep shooting until she looks as jaded as the other three, or do we just drop her closeups altogether?"

Aff reset the monitor to replay again.

"What exactly are you asking me? You're the director here and I trust your call."

The director grinned, shaking his head. "Oh, no you don't, dude! It's your relationship, your call."

"There's nothing going on between us." Terrence watched the footage again, just as mesmerized by Cordelia's presence, trying not to dwell on the fact that they really didn't have anything other than a working relationship. Her facial expressions did stir fear in him, although, he was pretty sure it was because she was so much better than he had anticipated. "If we drop her closeups, what happens?"

Surprise was apparent on the younger man's face. While he could expect his producer to agree with his assessment, he didn't expect his lovesick friend to even consider the proposition. "I shoot the group scene a few more times with Cordy blocked a little outside optimum light. That way, the other three are guaranteed not to be upstaged."

Terrence nodded, weighing Aff's comments.

"Or, we could just do her reaction shots in post-production. In studio... It wouldn't cost as much as trying to get them here and with some digital editing, you'd barely notice the seams."

"But we're still talking budget..."

Aff nodded. He felt bad for Cordelia. She really had an affinity for the script, bringing out everything he needed in her minor character. He, obviously, wasn't the only man on the set who adored the ingenue.

"Well then. Your suggestion sounds just fine. Just go for it and let's get this wrapped up by 3AM. It's cold out here and the grass guys are going to start resodding at dawn." He regarded the monitor one last time. "Yeah, Aff, you just do whatever you have to and get this one in the can. She can have all the reaction shots in the world when she stars in the sequel."

Aff laughed. "Sequel? You realize the Emmy character dies in next week's staging, right? Or do you want me to get the Creative Team to start a rewrite on the ending?"

Terrence feigned poor memory, then shared his director's good humor. "Rewrite? Talk about overruns! This isn't real life, man, it's the movies. It's not like the dead actually have to STAY dead. The fun part of this teen horror fluff is coming up with the plot devices that resurrect characters like Emmy." The two men began walking back to the set.

Laughing harder, Terrence added, "now, whether or not she stays human is a whole new storyline, altogether..."

Cordelia leaned against Doyle's monument, trying to steal warmth from the styrofoam cup between her palms. She anxiously watched as Terrence and Aff broke off their meeting. She didn't think the discussion was about her performance, she KNEW it was. And even though they seemed to be laughing, she doubted the outcome was in her favor.

Everything about this location shoot felt wrong to her. It seemed sacrilegious that the studio should be occupying this place. The generators were too loud, the lawn was in shreds and she could hear Cammie and Tate somewhere off in the dark behind her making out on the lawn. She stood next to 'Doyle' more for his protection than her own.

Paulette and two of her friends were screaming hysterically and as they chased past Cordelia, the cup spilled from her hands. The hot liquid held in midair for a moment before it dropped to the earth to shower the alyssum that had taken hold next to the marble. She bent down to tend to the withered plants, the tears in her eyes making it difficult to see their condition.

"Here, I think you might want to use this." Harriet knelt in front of the distraught young woman, holding a tissue for her just in time to keep the jacket's sleeve clean. She took another one from her pocket and dabbed at Cordy's eyes, impressed with the stability of the theatrical makeup.

Cordy sobbed uncontrollably, falling into Harry's comforting arms. "I killed them. They're dead because of me."

Harriet stroked Cordy's hair, asking her to explain, afraid of what her confession meant. Upon realizing all the fuss had been over the tiny flowers, she laughed and pushed Cordelia back where she could make eye contact.

"Oh, Cordy. These flowers are just like weeds. You didn't kill anything. In fact, your coffee may have just helped another dozen plants germinate." She pulled Cordelia's hand to the tuft and drew their fingers through the blossoms. "You see? They're seeds. Renewal. All life changes, sweetie. Some things really do die; sometimes we just perceive that they do."

Even though she continued to sniffle while exchanging news of their activities over the past months, Harriet's words helped the starlet calm down. Relaxing on the grass, they conversed enthusiastically like long-lost sisters until Cordelia seized, pulling at her hair to alleviate her pain.

Harriet was concerned over what looked like an attack of some kind. "Cordy? A vision?"

Cordelia took a deep breath and released it slowly. "Not really a vision," she confessed, "I keep pushing whatever it is away."

She rode another wave of strong emotion as it rippled through her. It was the same premonition she had received the night of Doyle's memorial--the same one she'd received more than once a week since leaving Angel except now the feelings were much stronger. She wasn't quite sure how much longer she would be able to disregard it by the sheer force of will power.

She hoped, at least, to make it through the shoot.

Cordy whispered, her voice betraying her panic, "I know it's bad, whatever it's trying to tell me... Really bad."

Harriet put her fingers to Cordelia's lips to silence her. "Whispers can be like prayers, Cordelia. Be watchful who may be listening."

Cordy nodded in understanding. "So, if I don't see it maybe it won't happen?" She turned her attention, having heard her named called for positioning, and the women pulled each other up. "I knew it! I just have to keep rejecting until until The PTB realize that I'm just not their human satellite dish anymore." She embraced Harry, and ran off to the cameras.

Harry leaned against the monument, scratching her back against one of the spokes of light, watching as the crew returned to their jobs. It seemed quiet, even with all the commotion and she reflected on just what it was she came to the garden to say.

She told Doyle all about her trip, the cultures that she had been collaborating with on the anthropology of nomadic ogre tribes of the Middle Ages. Her co-workers were from all over the world, each with their own opinions on how best to attack their subject, and all with a version of Doyle's heroism.

It had amazed her, at first, how global the demon world had become. News that used to take generations to be handed down was suddenly the topic on everyone's minds. As expected, the names had been changed to suit the storytellers, but the facts had remained curiously in tact.

Harry paused to shudder. She was not one to give into fear. Doyle's presentation had come as a surprise, but she had never been scared. Perhaps, she thought, youth had been her ally along with an overly exaggerated belief in the power of love. But, with age had come wisdom and trepidation.

The saga wasn't just a heroic tale anymore. It had taken on a grander proportions layered with prediction and wonder.

"It seems that they're allowing you your human half as well as including Angel as the vampire that he is," she related. "Cordelia has become the center, though. She is the 'jewel' of folklore, the 'prism' of prophecy, the 'huntress' in myth. They REALLY love that tragic romance element." She tried to find Cordelia amidst the lighting and filming equipment. Unable to see her, Harry bowed her head, trying to ease her apprehension enough to finish.

"You dramatically changed my life before, Francis; and, now you've done it to hers." She touched the bronzed hand of the sculpture, yearning for the comfort of his touch. "I should have come back sooner, shouldn't I? But I didn't know. You--WE didn't talk. Maybe I could have stopped you from setting these dynamics into motion, Love."

"But, what's done is done and now someone needs to figure out what it all means. I'm not saying that it's going to be easy, or if it's even something that I'll be able to do. But, I've got to try, Francis. Every single culture tells of The Visioner, the one who knows every sign. That's who--or what--I've got to locate."

She had taken every culture's version of folklore in their native languages during the last month of her trip. Translation was tedious; many of the original meanings of some of the most important words had evolved throughout the centuries to make a large portion of her work an effort of futility.

"Every culture speaks of 'rathrachemae'--the guardian." An odd sensation began to restore her, fueling her new objective. "'Without Rathrachemae, The Warrior will fall.' Angel is The Warrior, Francis, because you made sure he remained one. It wasn't a mistake you took his place to save those families because it seems that YOU were the one who was eventually going to do exactly what you did. The problem is that you did it much too soon." -0-

Whistler studied Angel from his perch, impatient for the finale of his duties. Less than ten hours until dusk, less than ten hours until Angel would meet Lusus.

He had been with Angel constantly since Cordelia's unexpected visit. True to their pact, Angel followed every instruction Whistler gave him. Whistler, for his part, had bathed regularly, even brushing his teeth on occasion. It was an uneasy relationship made even more so by the fact that Whistler was wearing Angel's oversized clothes because the hygienic vampire had incinerated every piece of his wardrobe.

Whistler now understood why no one ever volunteered for vampire duty. Throughout the duration of living with Angel he had developed a respect for Doyle, silently commending the half-human that he knew so very little about. Still, he couldn't help but wonder if Doyle's sacrifice had been something more; a dignified way of ending his service to The Powers That Be; a polite excuse to end his association with Angel.

The vampire's prowess had improved exponentially each week they spent together, but with unwanted side-effects.

Whistler thought back to the previous night's clash and trembled. Angel's fighting was erratic, varying from foe to foe depending on what he was up against. But more than that, it depended on Angel, himself. Some nights he would take his opponent down as quickly as possible. Other nights, he would throw in bits of ritual, some sorcery, changing the pace of each skirmish to suit his mood.

Whistler didn't care much for the torture, though. When Angel used the technique, he was far from miserly with it, being especially cruel last night. There was a savage viciousness in the way that Angel had prolonged his opponent's death, taunting the creature, making him suffer in ways that Whistler had thought unimaginable.

Whistler finally called an end to it, watching in horror as Angel disemboweled the helpless fiend and calmly walked away.

When they returned to the apartment, Angel paced for hours still in demon face. It had been his routine after each recent fight--Angel roaming the apartment, unable to stop moving, overexcited and anxious. Whistler watched the behavioral signs, wondering if he hadn't missed an important one that had let Angel slip past his intangible restraint yet again.

After his fourth feeding, Whistler was sure that he would have to put his charge down. Angel eventually calmed, though, methodically tidying the apartment before he showered.

Less than five hours until sunset. Less than five hours until Angel would meet Lusus on neutral ground as envoy for the Powers That Be.

Whistler looked down on him from the top of the apartment, peering through the elevator's wrought-iron cage. He watched as Angel, nude and still damp, stood in the center of the room to perform his Tai Chi movements for another few hours. He remained in his self-appointed cell, fearful of the aura that was affecting him so profoundly, studying the athlete as he danced by himself to meditate with his entire being, the muscles beneath his taut skin shortening and lengthening with each sinuous motion.

Finally exhausted, when Angel curled into one of the leather club chairs it allowed Whistler to eventually pad down the stairs slowly, noiselessly. In an effort to be discreet he wrapped a throw over Angel's bare limbs but accidentally touched him, wrenching the vampire from a moment of restful slumber. Whistler could do nothing more than apologetically attempt to smooth the terrified features of the disoriented creature.

Angel mumbled to himself in any number of languages, internalized and shuddering, drifting in and out of troubled sleep. There were pieces of nightmares that he climbed out of screaming and moments when he rested, finally calm. Those moments were few.

Sitting back on the ottoman and studying Angel so closely, Whistler knew he would be glad to be done with this assignment. There was too much humanity in this one--what was already there, that wasn't completely torn from him upon his Becoming. And then there was the soul a Gypsy curse had placed on him--restoration of the soul that provided the awareness to know that the life he had been dispatching on a nightly basis was still life, no matter what.

He had grown to admire the focus--Angel's all-consuming craving for redemption that permitted him to sacrifice his sanity so easily without question of The Cause; that he would meet his fate so bravely without complaint.

Whistler's own moral code made him believe that Angel needed to pay for his crimes against the humanity that he now fought to save. But, that same credo also agreed that cruelty in any form is unacceptable. Angel had proven himself noble and Whistler prayed that The Ones Actually In Control would see that and ease the torment. But, he also believed that lessening the restriction would cause greater harm. So this one, he knew, was damned either way.

In less than two hours Lusus would be determining Angel's destiny and for the first time in his demonic life, Whistler felt the ancient heart within his chest ache, his welling eyes burn. Closing them against the tormented beauty before him, he was saddened beyond reason that after all this time he should know such affection only to have its immortal life severed from his custody.

With dread, he roused Angel and the warrior serenely rose to prepare himself for the night's campaign.

-0-

Cordelia closed the balcony doors as she stepped inside. She surveyed the room carefully then walked to the closet. There, she feathered the clothing, remembering by touch when and why she wore each garment. Finally, she bent down to pick up the Blahnik mules and clutched them to her heart.

Feeling dizzy, her head throbbed and she reeled from another painful attack. She fought against the beckoning vision with everything that she had, knowing that if the pain continued at this intensity, she would have to submit to its message.

"With the wrap party going on, we didn't have time to pack your things." Terrence stepped into the guestroom, concerned over Cordelia's sudden absence from the gathering downstairs. "Are you ill?"

Cordelia eased her agonized expression away with her most pleasant smile, ever the actress. "I'm fine. I just came to get whatever I left. I'm going to leave now."

Terrence laughed, misunderstanding her. "The servants will do that. In fact, I'll have them start now. I had no idea that you would be so impatient to start our life together." He moved towards her with open arms, attempting to meet her mouth with his.

"Life together?" Cordelia squirmed away, still clutching the shoes.

Terrence cleared his throat. "I know about the other men--Harry, Dennis, that fellow Angel that you used to work for. But, it's OK, darling. You can let them all go now. Shooting is over and we don't have to hide our relationship anymore."

Even through the fog of her otherworldly migraine, Cordelia understood the importance of his words--that he had invaded her privacy. The only way for him to have known about Dennis, her ghostly roommate, is that he had been listening to her calls home. When she realized that her new career kept her out of the apartment for, sometimes, days she left messages on her machine so that the apparition wouldn't get too lonely.

She frowned. "You've been spying on me?"

"At least it gives me some understanding of why you didn't want to let your apartment go. I must say that, other than going back to Angel Investigations after the awards ceremony, you've been very discreet. That shows a lot of maturity on your part. I have amazing investigators and they couldn't even find these men. In fact, your ex-boss just seemed to evaporate. Let's see, so you can start using the gym off our bedroom..."

"You've been having me followed?" Cordy fought a wave of nausea. She panted, trying to hold everything in control.

"Of course. You don't think that I'd let my precious investment roam the streets without supervision, do you?" He flipped the hair from her shoulder. "I was thinking we could cut it, maybe go blonde--it didn't work for Julia Roberts but you might be able to pull it off..."

Cordelia was in too much pain to listen to his monotonous banter and she was trying too hard to keep from blacking out. Until a numbing shock caught her breath, she had almost allowed herself to give into the vision, thinking that what she had been avoiding would have warned her about Terrence.

The shoes dropped from her grasp. Anger sharpened Cordelia's focus. "What did you just say?"

Insufferably smug, Terrence repeated himself, "this Doyle character, Delia, from what I've read, was a low-life piece of scum. It's a good thing that he's dead, I would hate to have scandal ruin your promising career. Of course, I'm not implying that you two were sleeping together--even if you were I wouldn't want to know. Still," he paused for a moment to think. "It just might be a good idea if we take it a bit slow until you've been tested."

A voice that didn't sound like hers rose from somewhere deep in the back of Cordelia's throat and she snarled at the man who didn't seem as attractive as he once did. "You think that you know me, and you know my friends and that having me followed that you know what my life is all about? Lemme tell you something, Mr. Psycho-Obsesso, you don't know shit!

"That Doyle character that you just trash-talked happened to be the sweetest guy in the world and he knew how to have a conversation. You know how to have a conversation, don't you? One person speaks and the other person listens until they trade places."

She picked up her oversized bag and threw it over her shoulder, slugging him off balance with it. He looked at her, speechless for the only time since their first meeting. "Another thing, Mr. Norwalk, the name isn't 'Delia', it's CORdelia and my friends call me Cordy. But, please, don't bother calling."

He laughed at her insolence. "If you think that you can walk out that door without serious repercussions, then you're delirious! I can end it all right now... the In Style layout, the Vanity Fair Showcase. Why, I'll cut you from the film. I'll snip every minute of you out of it."

Cordelia turned to the door; she didn't have to consider Terrence's words. "Small men resort to threats and, frankly, I just don't date small men." As she passed through the door, she nodded to Afton who had been standing there to witness most of the argument. "Bye, Aff."

"See ya, Cordy."

Terrence stood in the center of the room and looked his friend. His laughter was in marked contrast to his face flushed with anger. "She is THE MOST stupid girl I've ever picked out of the crowd, Aff. She didn't even wait until final edit."

Afton watched his long-time associate pace. "So, you're serious about cutting her out?" He knew the answer to that question without the affirmative reply. "Then I'll let the special effects guys know we're going straight to video. There's no reason to waste the effort until I have the Creative Team rework the storyboards without Emmy to see what's left. By the way, I've never seen any of the others get that furious."

"That wasn't anger, Aff. That was drama. They're all the same. Every single one of them." Terrence shook his head as he walked from the room. "She won't be famous at my expense. She'll get zero help from me."

Afton Cross reviewed the set before him. He had seen the same scene played out many times before. Most of the women, after having their moments of 'drama', simply moved down the hall. Others were less forgiving and moved out immediately. But, every single last one of them, Afton mused, had left the guestroom empty.

Everyone except Cordelia.

He walked to the spot where she had been standing and, involuntarily, checked the lighting before he picked up the pair of shoes. They were still warm from how tightly she had been holding them. A smile crossed his face as he regarded their brief association; genuine admiration growing in addition to the affection that was already there.

In that instant, he realized that this would be the last time he would ever see this room or this house. Cordelia didn't need Terrence Norwalk, and neither did he. He tucked a shoe in each of his jacket's pockets, realizing that he had the ending to the screenplay he had been working on since graduating film school. And, as he toured the Bel Air mansion for the last time, he contemplated on how many other men Cordelia Chase would inspire to take such a leap of faith.

-0-

Angel sat on the grass with his back against the memorial's pillar. His arms were wrapped around his legs; his forehead rested on his knees. He was spent and it had taken what little strength he had in reserve to crawl down from the tournament's arena higher up on the hill above the garden.

The fight with Lusus had been not only difficult it had been strange. He had fought the giant in front of an unseen audience that he could barely sense. For most of the battle, Angel struggled to just remain even with his opponent, but despite his training, they were unevenly matched in size and skill. The spectators found the competition thrilling, nonetheless.

At a critical point in the match Angel fell to his ultimate defeat. He watched, time slowing to a stand still, as Lusus raised his weapon and took aim at his heart for the kill. Motion and sound seemed to fade away as Angel lay pinned against the unknown obstacle holding him in position for the impaling.

Despite the hours spent in reflection, Angel still had no idea what prompted him to look away from the weapon of his destruction. An shock of light imagined outside of his peripheral vision had directed his attention downhill. Almost at that same instant, he remembered the lilting Irish accent that Doyle used as he said to him so often, "you can't get luckier than 50/50 odds, Angel. I would bet my Mum at 50/50."

Angel capitulated, realizing that he had been putting too much effort into winning the fight instead of just going with his strengths. He was more agile. As vampire he was swifter and, most importantly, virtually immortal except for his Achilles' heels...

The split second of clarity was all that Angel needed and Lusus--for all his size, strength, and experience--botched the kill, providing Angel with an opening for victory.

But victory had taken everything out of him. Trying to recover, Angel wondered if, in fact, the immense peace that he felt was due to his actual demise. He thought what if he had merely dreamed his triumph to avoid the fear of being witness to his own execution. Without some way to judge his existence--a dead mortal man would grieve for his silent heart--it was almost tempting to risk dawn's verdict.

Unlike Doyle, though, Angel was too much of a pragmatist to press his luck. He mused that if he really had ceased to exist he was now beginning his next immortality in an afterlife filled with existential confusion, surely a prison more cruel than the demon hell he'd already returned from once.

He lifted his head when he realized that the gentle touch ruffling his hair was not the breeze. He heard himself say her name with too much enthusiasm, only to wonder if he had the answer to his question yet.

50/50 odds.

"Hey. I didn't think you'd ever look up. I thought you were, like... Well nevermind about that."

She tousled his hair again, trying to keep it from lying flat against his head when she realized that he hadn't used a styling product. She wrinkled her nose in dismay. "Is there any room by this monument for a heroine to get some quality pining in?"

He spread his arms wide, unwilling to relinquish his spot. "I was here first, take what you can get." When Cordelia contentedly accepted the invitation and snuggled under his arm, Angel smoothed her hair and rested his cheek on the curve of her forehead. She smelled nice--human.

"So, now you're not only going to be a movie star, you're going to hone in on Doyle's spotlight? You are such a publicity hog!" Her warmth was revitalizing; it felt good to tease her.

"Well, since I just got myself cut out of a major summer release, I have to get those 30 minutes where I can."

"15 minutes. It's 15 minutes, Cordelia."

Cordelia felt comforted by the demon and she realized that her head didn't hurt anymore. In fact, the pain had stopped shortly after driving out of the Westside. "15 minutes is squat, Angel. It's the millennium, my man. I should, at least, be able to double my time. By the way, why aren't you dead?"

Angel raised his head and they studied each other for a moment. "What does that mean?"

Cordelia answered by pointing at her vibrant hazel eyes. "But, just because it might--MIGHT--mean that I've still got the gift, that doesn't mean that I'm staying. Who knows, maybe I won't be completely blacklisted and I'll get a national commercial. That pays residuals, big time! So, I'm just letting you know right now not to get too reattached to me because when my star rises again, I'ma jet."

"You're giving me notice before I've even rehired you?"

Cordy shoved him. "You HAVE to rehire me. Who's going to run interference between you and that putrid slave driver you've been stuck with?"

While waiting for his answer, Cordy stopped and finally noticed him. Besides his flat hair, he was scarred and he was filthy. "You're fighting in your good clothes? Angel!" She was appalled when she tested the fabric of his pant leg, unsure if she was correct.

"Oh, my God! That Wooster guy lets you fight in THESE clothes? You realize, of course, that these are trashed." She snapped at the nubby knit of his sweater, shaking her head in disgust. Maybe you could start fighting in jeans and a sweatshirt. You wouldn't look so hero-ey while you're doing the whole saving humanity thing, but still... It's not like money grows on trees."

"It's Whistler, not Wooster. And, he doesn't smell--that bad--anymore."

She saw him smile, knowing that she'd won him over. He needed her and he welcomed her back into his embrace.

Angel squeezed her without thinking. She didn't seem to mind, having started to sing to herself. There was no such thing as a moment of silence in Cordelia's presence and he laughed to himself when his thoughts drifted to Doyle's reaction of him not only holding Cordelia, but of holding onto her at his late friend's memorial.

"What?"

"So, did Doyle really want to kiss me? I'm just having a difficult time wrapping my mind around that revelation."

Cordelia turned and looked up into his face. "I don't think he actually wanted to kiss you. Harry and I were just funnin' you. You know, Angel, you were Doyle's hero; and he was there to listen, but you never really said much. It seems like he did want to make a connection and just didn't know how to express himself. Maybe he was just so used to holding onto all of his secrets for so long that they just got buried too deep inside of him. Kinda like the way yours are, but he couldn't go out and smack someone around when he needed a release."

When she leaned up and tenderly kissed the bruise under his eye, she finished, "sometimes though, Angel, a kiss really is just a kiss." They smiled at each other. "Oh, and by the way, why don't you ever call me Cordy?"

She turned back around and found a comfortable place against his chest. Angel smoothed the top of her head with his lips, letting them linger at her hairline. The sound behind, "welcome back" wedged in his throat as he tried come up with a polite way to explain how much he disliked her nickname.

The tall, thin cloaked-one watched the intimate scene from the security of the foliage. He turned to the small man who accompanied him, sure that something different about him.

"He was not expected to do so well. His victory against our opposition has bought us must-needed time. You trained him well, 'fiel'."

Whistler scrutinized the entwined pair. "I showed her out myself." The young woman's sudden appearance made him extremely angry. "They must be lovers," he thought he said to himself, not realizing that his liege could hear him.

The Ancient Lord regarded him for a moment, his interest in The Warrior temporarily put aside. "His heart belongs to The Slayer, still. In the end, as it always is, devotion to his Beloved's safety is of more concern to him than our cause. She is the pinpoint of light in his otherwise dark existence."

When the explanation failed to soothe his companion's agitation, The Ancient Lord raised his hand to cup it over the center of the demon's chest. Amused wonder caused the corners of his thin lips to turn up in a wry smile.

Whistler, without experience to define his emotions, realized that he had been discovered. He fell to his knees and bowed his head, embarrassed. "I have allowed myself to become contaminated, Ancient One. Destroy me now, if it pleases you."

With a sweeping gesture, The Ancient Lord lifted Whistler from his prostrate position back on to his feet. He shook his head as Whistler complained that Angel had changed him. "Angel did not change you any more than The Slayer changed him. Both were catalysts for what already existed within. Sometimes, dear minion, the teacher learns from the pupil.

"We stand witness, our kind, to unconditional morality without compassion and we have to purge our long-held reluctance to remain unchanged. Every weapon available must be used against those who would attempt to will prophecy to their advantage." He turned his attention back to the vampire and the beautiful young woman in his arms.

"But, he tricked me! He made me feel these things when I thought that he'd gone mad. He's a liar and..." Whistler, realizing what he was admitting, fell silent.

The Ancient Lord, not one to divulge more information than was needed, closed his eyes and communed with The Others.

"You would risk all for him? Perhaps, Whistler, he will inspire you to a great unselfish act, as well. But, he did not lie to you; he is everything that you witnessed and kept to yourself. He had to find his internal strength through isolation. If Doyle had not taken his place, he would not have had to endure the insanity you beheld..." The Ancient Lord sighed, thankful that all seemed as it had been before. "Perhaps it is just as well that these things occurred as they did. Disfigurement would have meant little to him--what is vanity to a vampire?"

The soft contact of Angel's clothing almost prompted Whistler to answer the rhetorical question but he kept his silence.

"Deception takes many forms, Whistler. You would be wise to remember that as a lesson, also." The Ancient Lord's demeanor became less kind as he placed a hand on his shoulder. "At any rate, you may do well to keep an eye on these two. You will make sure that they grow no closer. And until she is gone, you might consider how best to retrieve the gift that the half-breed had no right to bestow upon her."

Whistler measured the instructions, finding them unreasonable. "So then, I'm stuck with him? It's all Doyle's fault!" He motioned at the monument. "He created that bond between them and threw his sight away while he was at it. Those jobs aren't an easy assignment."

The Ancient Lord preparing to leave, increased his hold on the puny creature's shoulder. It pleased him to see Whistler writhe under the painful grip. "She is human, Whistler. We have access to the gift, but none to her. That places us in a vulnerable position. But, for the moment, I think it may be best to allow you time to comprehend these new emotions of yours. Let him go back to his own preoccupations as well. But, believe me when I say to you, even granite can be crumbled under pressure. When you return to them, APPLY SOME."

After the Ancient Lord disappeared, Whistler returned his attention to the monument to find that Angel and Cordelia had gone. A cold wind nipped at him through the shrubbery and prompted his downy pelt to gently ease from his follicles while he burrowed into the soft comfort of the composting undergrowth in order to catch a few hours of sleep before the cemetery opened.

He could look out and see the monument when he reclined. In the soft, pre-dawn illumination its contemporary majesty contrasted against the other, more gothic-styled sculptures in the garden. The chronicle of Doyle's deed hadn't meant much before he worked with Angel, and he wasn't exactly sure what it meant to him now. But he knew that Angel was much, much more than just The Warrior.

There were too many thoughts coursing through Whistler's mind. When it finally occurred to him why he was having such a difficult time trying to doze, he concentrated on how much he hated Cordelia. Despite her firm place in legend, he vowed that he would never forgive the young woman for introducing that smelly little flowering plant to what used to be his favorite resting place, trying to decide the best way to annoy her the next time they met.