Cordelia managed to hang onto her sanity while they saw the Lister demons off. She'd held onto it the whole drive home. She'd said goodbye to Angel and Doyle and shut the door to her apartment. Alone, she finally succumbed to the brief bout of hysteria that had been bubbling up inside her ever since she'd seen Lilah's dagger come down. Ever since she'd seen the thing that had tried to gain access to their dimension. Even now, she was chilled to know it was out there. Even now, Wolfram and Hart were in the midst of planning Darla's return. How to drive Angel to his moment of perfect despair. Well, damned if she'd let that happen! Taking control of herself, Cordelia stepped away from the front door and delved deeper into the apartment.
She knew what was going to happen, she told herself. Maybe by knowing the end results, she could avoid some of the pitfalls that had led to that final, horrible, climactic moment in the future. Maybe she could somehow avoid it entirely. Circumvent what she knew was meant to happen. The same way the future version of herself had managed to save Doyle.
Hm…too bad Future Cordy of hadn't left some clues. On the way home, Doyle had told her that Cordelia version 2001 had stopped by briefly to pick up a change of clothes and some toiletries for the night they'd all spent at the offices. Now Cordelia walked through the apartment, turning on lights as she went, and noticed the absence of a few things. But it wasn't until she got to the bedroom that she stopped, heart thumping at what she saw.
On the bed, propped up against the pillows, there was a nine by eleven sized manila envelope. Cordelia approached it with trepidation and picked it up gingerly. The envelope was thick, packed full. With shaking fingers, she tore the paper along the crease at the top of the bulging envelope and turned it upside down, spilling the contents on the bedspread.
There was no note, no explanation, but she didn't need one. The long, white envelopes that fell out were explanation enough. There were a dozen in all; each bore a simple title on the front in blue ink. The handwriting was, of course, her own. But she'd never sealed these envelopes. She'd never written on them. Not her.
Among the scattered envelopes, several had landed face-up, and Cordelia read their fronts with a growing sense of excitement and hope. "Angel" read one. "Winifred Burkle" read another, and it was near the one that read "Shanshu Prophecy". Cordelia knew that some of the other envelopes, the ones that had landed face-down, would have the names Charles Gunn and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce written on them. And maybe Lilah Morgan. But the thickest envelope by far, much to her delight, had landed right in front of her, face-up. Cordelia read the three words on its front, triumph in her soul.
"Wolfram and Hart".
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Outside, the Time Keeper remained cloaked in the shadows of an awning across the street, his eyes on Cordelia's window. At his side, his successor looked faintly annoyed. Though the younger demon was, on some levels, simply a newer version of his predecessor, he suddenly felt as different from him as night was different from day. Where he was devoted only to his duty, the more senior Time Keeper seemed to have lost some of his drive.
He was also a little resentful that his predecessor had yet to relinquish the gauntlet. The device still rested on his arm, where it had been - except for recently, of course – for thousands of years. And now, here they were out in the dark, stalking some mortal. His restlessness grew.
"I do not understand why we are here," the younger demon said at last.
The elder Time Keeper didn't respond for a moment, keenly observing the apartment window until the light went out. Then he nodded, as if a question had just been answered. "I just wanted to see something," he said.
His replacement shook his head, the movement made massive by the span of his horns. "What does it matter?"
"More than I thought," the elder demon answered, appearing bemused.
"The human should not have been allowed to alter events," the younger Time Keeper argued. "Now we must remedy the change."
The elder Time Keeper turned on his soon-to-be replacement. "No, we won't."
"The affairs of mortals are none of our concern!" the younger said. He was angry, and his anger stemmed from confusion. All he'd ever known was to protect the timeline. But now, on the cusp of the time when he was to take over the duties, something was changing. "We cannot involve ourselves in the petty, day to day workings of these linear, narrow-minded mortals!"
"Then why are we keeping time at all," the elder asked, "if not to preserve the petty, day to day workings of the linear mortal? Why do we labor to regulate time, if not for them? We are not bound by their physics; it is not for our benefit." With an impatient nod he indicated Cordelia's apartment window. "That human up there was willing to give up her life, and everything as she knew it, in the hope that she could save a friend. Just for the possibility of a better world. How many of our kind can you say have risked as much?"
He pinned his potential successor with a demanding glare, and the younger demon lowered his eyes. When he raised them again, a good degree of attitude had been replaced by the questioning light of uncertainty. "We have always worked to keep the timeline pure. It is what we do. We don't take sides."
The elder Time Keeper gazed back at him. "Maybe we should." When shock registered on his successor's face, he sighed. "Calm yourself. I am not suggesting that we forsake our calling. I am merely questioning whether there could be more purpose to our presence here than we ever thought. I have long wondered about the ultimate result of our endeavors. I have often tried to imagine the ending to this story." His thoughtful expression began to turn to intrigue, and he cast mischievous eyes on his would-be replacement.
The younger demon looked confused, but interested. He was, after all, made up mostly of the Time Keeper before him. The intrigue was inherent. "Story?'
The elder nodded. "Life. This tapestry of events woven through time. It is like a story in a book. For an eternity the book has been on a shelf, and while we've guarded it and kept it safe, we've never read it through to the end." He leaned closer, a dare in his expression. "Don't you ever wonder where it leads?"
Of course he did. The same curiosity burned in him, and his predecessor knew it. Outrage was forgotten in the face of the possibility of learning the answer to a long-held question, and the young Time Keeper looked up and down the street as if to make certain that no one was listening. He leaned in. "Do you really think we can?"
The elder demon's eyes lit up. With flourish, he held up the arm that bore the gauntlet and pressed the button within. "There's only one way to find out."
He stepped closer, and the two of them huddled against the wind as the gauntlet powered up. The breeze grew into a gust that buffeted them, whispering over their smooth scales to slide up and ruffle the awning. The air filled with electricity, and the glass of the storefront trembled. Then there was nothing but the wind.
~ Fin ~
I'd do it for you, if I could.
You will be missed.