Angel straightened at the sound of Wesley's voice. Gently, Wes closed the door to Cordelia's room behind him.
"Is she okay?" Angel asked.
Wesley shook his head. "There's nothing more we can do for her."
Angel stared at the closed door, trying not to feel the wrenching sensation that had just wrapped around his heart. "Are you sure?"
"We've done everything we can." Wes spoke gently and Angel could feel the other man's eyes on him, but kept his attention stubbornly focused on the door. "Spells, medicine--nothing has worked. Whatever it is, it's killing her by inches, and we can't get rid of it without killing her." He touched Angel's elbow and Angel finally looked at him. The pain in Wesley's eyes mirrored his own. "We're running out of time. If this thing is born…"
He didn't need to finish the sentence. Angel said quietly, "I know."
Wesley's hand shifted, squeezing Angel's arm. "She wants to see you."
Angel nodded. He gathered himself, schooled his face to neutrality, and opened the door.
Cordelia lay in the bed. If he hadn't known it was her, he wouldn't have recognized her. She was agonizingly thin, her skin drawn against her bones like shrink-wrap. The huge mound of her stomach, and whatever grew within it, was the only thing about her that still looked alive.
He sat on the bed next to her, lifted her hand in his. Her bones felt light and fragile in his grasp and he was afraid to squeeze too tight, even for reassurance, for fear of breaking her.
"Angel?" Her voice was barely more than a breath. Her eyes turned toward him, dim. He wondered if she could see at all anymore.
She smiled a little, giving him just the faintest hint of her old, vibrant self. His eyes burned but he refused to let himself show any emotion in front of her. She didn't need to add the weight of his pain to her own.
"Don't let this happen."
He bent closer, unsure of her words. Her breath touched his cheek. "What do you want me to do?"
"This thing, whatever it is, it can't be born. I'm dying, anyway. Please. You know what you have to do."
"No, Angel." Her voice cracked in her attempt to make it forceful, strong. "Don't wimp out on me now. If I die now, it goes with me. If we wait, it might be too late."
He knew she was right. He lifted her hand to his lips, giving himself a chance to look away from her, to gather himself again. "What do you want me to do?" he asked again.
"I think you know." Her fingers tightened on his, the pressure barely perceptible.
"Cordy, please. No."
"I can't think of any way I'd rather die."
"I can't do it."
Her grip on his hand clenched down hard, suddenly. "Don't sit there and tell me you don't want to. We both know it's a lie."
He let his eyes meet hers, let her see the agony they held. "That's the problem."
She blinked, her gaze clearing. There was a hard spark in her eyes, a look that brooked no argument. "What are the options? You could shoot me, or stab me, or cut my throat. Pills, or if somebody can figure out how, you could inject air into a vein or something. I hear that's painless."
"Listen to me, Angel. Do this for me. I want to die in your arms. And I don't know why, but something's telling me it has to be this way."
Angel swallowed hard. The lurching need inside him--more like lust than anything else--made him sick to his stomach. The demon in him wanted her as much as the man did.
She pulled him a little closer. "Do you love me?"
He just looked at her. She knew the answer; there was no point saying it out loud. Finally he forced out the words. "All right."
She gave a small, decisive nod. "Good. No need to tell the others. I already talked to Wesley."
He looked toward the door. They would be waiting, when it was over. He wouldn't have to deal with the aftermath alone. That was, at least, something.
Shifting, he stretched out on the bed next to her. The bulk of her body was too much for him to navigate around, so he carefully rolled her over, spooning himself against her back. She moved a little, probably as much as she could, nestling against him as he settled his chin on her shoulder.
"It'll hurt," he said softly. "A lot at first. Then it gets . . . better." He kissed her softly, just below her ear. "Pills would be easier."
"No. It has to be this. I don't know why."
"All right." It distressed him how much her scent had changed. He could smell her dying. Carefully, he put an arm around her, pulling her into him. He let his lips touch her throat, felt the pulse beating hot there. Kissed her there. Then closed his eyes, let the demon rise, and bit.
She jerked against him, reacting to the pain, but she was too weak to pull away or fight him. Nevertheless, the demon instinct made him clutch her closer as his teeth clenched hard and the blood began to flow. It poured hot into his mouth and he swallowed convulsively, the sweetness of it a jolt to his system after years of only animal blood. It tasted odd, though, probably a result of the strange pregnancy. He didn't have control enough, right now, to think about it.
He took her past the point of no return, when he could have stopped and she could have still lived. Past the point where he could have Turned her. Drank until the flow faded to nothing. Then he pulled his teeth out of her throat, pressed his forehead against her shoulder and wept.
They were waiting outside when he finally came out: Wes, Gunn, Fred and Lorne. Just waiting. He couldn't look at any of them.
Wes was the first to speak. "Is she…?"
"What about the child? Could you tell?"
Angel looked up then at Wesley, puzzled. He hadn't thought of that. "No. I don't know."
Wesley nodded and went back into Cordelia's room. Angel stared at the door as it closed, unable to even allow himself to think about what Wesley might be forced to do now.
Fred's voice pulled him back to himself. "Angel."
He turned, looked at her. He felt bleak and broken somehow. Sick to his stomach. Fred was looking at him with gentle pity.
"It was what she wanted." She reached for him and he resisted the urge to flinch away from her touch. She clasped his elbow. "It's okay."
He nodded, looked toward Gunn. He could tell Gunn was trying, but there was a strained look on his face, edging toward disgust. "You've got a little--" he said, gesturing vaguely in front of his own mouth.
Angel scrubbed the back of his hand across his mouth and stared at the smear of blood. Suddenly he felt hideously ill. His stomach clenched up and his face went cold.
"Angel, are you okay?" said Fred.
He stared at her, not entirely sure what his body was doing. Then he turned and bolted back into Cordelia's room, past Wes, who was prodding Cordy's lifeless body with a stethoscope, into the bathroom. He got the toilet lid up just before the blood started coming back up.
He heard the footsteps behind him, and knew they'd all gathered around the doorway. He wanted them gone but he could do nothing, seized by paroxysms as he vomited up gouts of blood, thick and black and strange. It wrenched out of him until there was nothing left, and still his body twisted around his empty stomach, convulsing him in useless bouts of dry heaving.
Hands touched his shoulders. Fred had knelt next to him and she massaged him gently, first his shoulders and then down his back. The spasms eased.
"Shhh," she said. "Just breathe--oh, I guess that won't really work. Just relax, close your eyes, it'll stop. Somebody get him some water."
Something about her touch eased him. He heard the water running and a moment later she was lifting him back away from the toilet, pressing a cold glass against his lips. He rinsed his mouth out and spat.
"Well," said Lorne, breaking the tense silence. "Thank God you made it to the toilet. That would have been hell to get out of the carpet."
"Are you all right?" Wes asked.
Angel turned toward the doorway. Fred was still patting him, while Wes regarded him with concern.
"Yeah, I think so." Gently, he set Fred's hands away. "Thanks, Fred."
"Sorry." She backed off. "I used to get drunk a lot in college. At least you didn't need anybody to hold your hair."
"Has this ever happened to you before?" Wesley asked.
Angel rubbed his face. His skin still felt damp, clammy. "Not for a long time." He gave Fred a rueful look. "I used to get drunk a lot, too. And back then I did need somebody to hold my hair." He looked past Wes, to the huge, rounded bulk of Cordelia's body. "It was the blood. Something wrong with the blood."
"Because of the pregnancy?"
Angel shook his head. "No. It's more than that. It wasn't human." He pushed to his feet, walked into the bedroom. "She said she didn't know why she needed to die that way. Maybe she wanted to be sure we knew."
Gunn had followed him, the others trailing behind. "Knew what?"
"Whoever that is, it isn't Cordelia. I'm not even sure it's human."
Light and joy, peace and beauty, as far as the eye could see. And from her perch within it, Cordelia looked down. Saw Angel with his head in the toilet, regurgitating the blood of her heavily gravid doppelganger. Heard him come to the conclusion that the woman he'd just drunk was not, indeed, the real Cordelia.
"Oh, my God, Jesus, Mary and Joseph," she said, inasmuch as she could say anything in this ridiculous place. "It is about time you morons figured it out."