BITTER PILLS

S J Smith

Disclaimer:  Joss never calls, he never writes.  I'm thinking the relationship is over.  And you just know he'd win that lawsuit, so I can't claim 'em as mine.  The lyrics are from Chris de Burgh's "Broken Wings".    

Rating:  PG

Spoilers:  Possible for the end of BtVS season 7 and AtS season 4

A.N.:  This is part 5 of the series, Postcards From the Edge.  If you haven't read the previous stories, you need to know the End of Days happened, Spike sacrificed himself for Angel, Cordelia was mentally shattered when the demon was taken from her and afterwards, Angel, Connor and Faith went on a road trip to heal themselves.   If you want to read the entire series, you'll need to start with D. M. Evans' "Save Me".  My story, "Wasteland" comes next, then D. M. Evans' story, "Pain to Kill", then my story, "Nowhere to Run".    

A.N. 2:  Angel's P.O.V.

Thanks to D.M.E. for all da readin'.   

* * *

…far away, I can hear your voice

I can hear it in the silence of the morning.

But these broken wings have let me down

They can't even carry me home.

* * * * *

I almost didn't want to come home.  Parked in front of the Hyperion, Faith, Connor and Pushy all curled together in the back seat, I thought long and hard about getting out of the car.  I guess we all did.  Connor was the one who led the way, picking up that cat and carrying him through the courtyard. 

Faith and I followed, her taking my hand and swinging it, giving me a cheery smile meant to reassure me, I think.  Or maybe she wanted reassurance herself.  Whatever it was, we both got to admire Fred's unexpected hug attack on Connor.  Pushy squirmed almost as much as my son, trying to get free from the embrace and I heard Gunn saying, "What's that?  A cat?  Damn, I hate cats!" 

"Welcome home, Angel," Faith said, squeezing my hand tightly. 

I remembered the last time I'd walked through the foyer doors after an adventure.  It was hard to think back to that time but I didn't have to say anything, just gape in open-mouthed astonishment at the "Welcome Home!" banner strung across the second floor railings and the balloons, tugging at their strings in attempts to escape to the ceiling.  Fred made us all wear party hats and Faith had to convince Connor that the confetti that Lorne threw into the air wasn't some sort of spell component.  The souvenirs we'd bought for everyone were passed out and admired and Gunn, Wes, Fred and I managed to keep to ourselves the fact that the last time there were souvenirs, Cordy was part of the group.       

We wound up talking all night, sharing our adventures.  Pushy, living up to his name, figured out Fred was a soft touch and spent most of the time curled up in his lap.  Gunn seemed jealous of the attention the cat was getting.  Faith pulled out the tapes she'd made and Connor insisted we watch the one from Knotts Berry Farm.  My protests fell on deaf ears.  Or maybe they were just drowned out by the shouting from Connor and Faith then later, by the laughter from everyone over my reaction to the roller coaster.  I knew I should've destroyed that tape when I had the chance. 

The recording Faith had made on Harney Peak was enough to make up for it.  Fred wasn't the only one crying by the end of it, though Gunn claimed he had something in his eyes – "Damned cat hair." 

We took turns telling them about Deadwood and the Wisconsin Dells, the video rolling in the background, a visual punctuation for the stories.  Wesley was fascinated by the House on the Rock, making Fred rewind the tape and pause it to study a sword he claimed was the lost weapon of a famous Slayer. 

It was early morning before things started to quiet down.  Sometime during the evening, Faith had tucked her bare feet into my lap and had leaned back against Connor.  Fred, despite her interest, was fighting to keep her eyes open.  Gunn had lost that battle already, his arm flung over his face and faint snores rasping from his mouth.  Wes wasn't much better. 

I sent everyone to bed, telling Faith to take my room for the day – Connor shot me a look when I said I wasn't tired yet but didn't protest.  He just clapped me on the shoulder and led Faith up the stairs.  Gunn herded Fred, stifling a yawn.  Wesley paused on the steps as the others made their way up.  "What is it, Wes?" I asked.

He let out a breath before saying, "I just wanted to say that it wasn't your fault, Angel."  He looked behind him, making sure the others were out of range.  "What happened with Cordelia, well, none of us saw it coming."

There was a pause between us.  I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep from twiddling my fingers together.  Finally, I broke the silence.  "How is she, Wes?"

He flinched and turned his gaze away.

"That bad."  I shook my head, wanting to pace the lobby. 

"No, Angel," Wesley said quietly, his voice holding me in place.  "She is not any worse. And she seems to like the home.  I went to see her yesterday and she showed me her flowers."  His smile was wistful and a little sad.  "She doesn't remember me nor what we meant to each other.  She does remember my name now.  I think, if you went to see her, it would be a good thing."  He paused, opening his mouth then closing it again.  "She does love the flowers you send her."

"Go to bed, Wes," I said, softening the words with a faint smile.

He patted my shoulder clumsily and climbed a few steps.  He stopped and turned back to me.  "Oh.  You might want to know about her other visitors." 

"Who?"  I felt my whole body tense.  If someone threatened Cordelia, especially when she was like this, I would not be responsible for my actions.

"Willow, Xander, Dawn and Buffy.  I met them as they left."  His eyes glittered though his expression remained neutral when he said, "I had a chance to speak to Buffy."

"What did you say to her, Wes?"  My voice sounded frosty even to my own ears. 

"Very little, actually.  She seemed rather subdued and uncomfortable around me."  Wesley hesitated, shooting me a glance.  "Did something more happen, Angel, that I'm unaware of?"

"I sent her some post cards," I said.  "All right, a lot of post cards."

"I doubt post cards would have that sort of affect on her," Wesley said, eyeing me more closely. 

I stared back, all but daring him to push.  What Buffy and I had said to each other, what Willow had told me, none of it was anyone's business but ours.  "Things happened in the battle, Wes," I finally said, tossing him a crumb.  "Things were said."

"Ah."  He drew out the exhalation, a faint, worried frown creasing his forehead.  "I see."

No, he didn't but that was all right, too.  "Wes, you're tired.  Go to bed."  I waved him up the stairs. 

"Yes, well, good morning, Angel," Wesley said, patting a yawn. 

I waited until he was at the top of the stairs before turning away, nearly running into Lorne.  "You were listening?"

"How else am I supposed to get the dish?"  Lorne smiled. 

Exasperated, I said, "There isn't any dish."  All I wanted now was to go beat on something.  My practice room sounded like the best place for that, since there probably weren't any demons stupid enough to be sticking around in L.A. after everything that happened.  Besides, it was dawn.  I could feel it, even though I couldn't see it.  Vampires always know when the sun's rising. 

"Not what I'm thinking, Angel-cakes."  He sauntered after me and I whirled around.  Lorne held up his hands placatingly.  "Hey, when you're bleeding that much emotion into the air, I'm thinking things aren't all peaches and cream.  I mean, you and the kids got to go out and experience the world.  You come home and the boy is more at ease with you than I've ever seen."  Lorne flashed me a look.  "He's even been polite to me."  He swung his nightcap, careful not to spill, "Me, Angel-cakes, and we all know how the boy feels about demons.  Especially with that little mix-up over the confetti."  Lorne paused before taking a drink.  "I mean, before that little vacation of yours, he probably would've gutted me."       

"Maybe he's grown up a little," I said, my voice soft and tired.  I still wasn't used to talking as much as all of us had done this night.  "Maybe we all have." 

"Not that I'm complaining," Lorne said.  "Connor and Faith both seem a little less likely to explode.  And you," he peered at me.  "How are you?"

"Considering everything?"  The question took me by surprise.  I had to think on it. 

"Considering everything."  He drew out the last word, popping each syllable.   

I thought about it.  "I'm okay," I said finally, searching deep inside myself. 

"Just wanted to make sure you knew that."  Lorne grinned.  "Good night.  Or whatever.  You people keep the strangest hours around here." 

"Good night," I said in reply, walking to the basement door.  It was quiet down there, away from everyone.  The air contained a whiff of Cordelia's perfume from when we'd sparred down here and the plastic flowers she'd brought me so long ago were still nestled on a small table.  I had to close my eyes against the memories they brought back.  Someday, I'd be able to look at them fondly.  Now…now I wanted something to punch.

Workout clothing was still fresh in the cabinet drawers and I changed quickly.  Old habits die hard and, despite the fact that I don't really have to, working out with Cordelia and before that, Buffy (don't think of her, don't think of either of them) had gotten me into the routine of warming up before actually working out.  Despite my desire to pummel the bag, I found myself stretching my body in the familiar figures of Tai Chi.  Lost in the feeling of my body's movement, lost in memories I tried to repress, I didn't hear the tell-tale padding of bare feet on the stairs or even across the floor. 

"Hey."

The sound of Faith's voice snapped my eyes open and threw me off balance.  She smirked at my surprise, one hand planted on her cocked hip, the other waving at me.  "Didn't think I'd be able to embarrass you twice in less than twenty four hours."

I shot a glare her way and grabbed a towel, wrapping it around my neck.  "I thought you went to bed."

She shrugged in that fluid way she has, making her rich brown hair bounce on her shoulders.  "Couldn't sleep."  Faith gave me another knowing grin.  "Looks like I'm not the only one."

I sighed.  "Too many thoughts."

"Too many memories?" 

When had she gotten so perceptive?  I tried to mask my surprise at her insight but it was too late.  "Aw, Angel, c'mon," she said.  "Being back here," her wave took in the hotel, not just the room we were in, "it's gotta bring back memories.  Good and bad."  Faith crossed the room and picked at the flowers.  "Plastic?"

"They won't die," I said automatically. 

"Huh.  I guess not."  Lounging back against the cabinet, Faith shoved her fingers into the back pockets of her jeans and flipped her hair out of her eyes.  "You know, I got pretty good at the listening thing while in jail.  You can talk."

"There isn't anything," I let the sentence trail off and shook my head at her knowing expression.  "All right, Faith, it's hard."  I found myself standing in front of the punching bag, taking it into my hands.  The leather was the same temperature as my palms.  "I keep expecting Cordy to come down those stairs.  I can hear her voice, echoing around the lobby.  Catch her scent in this room." 

Faith glanced around, her sloe eyes coming to rest on me again.  "Yeah, well, you have to expect that, right?  This was her home, too." 

"I know."  The words came out in a gusty breath.  "I know," I said again, a little more in control.  "And I miss her.  She was…she was my best friend, Faith.  I would've done anything for her."

"Yeah.  I get that."  She walked to the other side of the punching bag, her fingers resting on it above mine.  I could feel her warmth seeping into my skin.  It felt both strange and familiar, like a drug and I craved that warmth almost as much as I did blood.  I rested my forehead against the bag, blotting out the image of her face.  "You know, from what Fred told me, she loved you, too." 

Did we?  Was it love?  "She said…Cordelia said that she couldn't love me.  That we had been in love but she experienced everything Angelus did," I squeezed my eyes shut tightly but the words still had the ability to wound, "while she was a higher being.  She said she couldn't love me because of him." 

"Did you ever think it might've been the demon inside her telling you that?"  Faith's hands slipped down to cover mine.  "Seems to me the whole goal was to bring out your Big Bad, Angel.  What would that demon do to hurt you?  What knife could it twist?"  She squeezed my hands, her voice soft.  "It wasn't Cordelia talking, Angel.  It was the demon.  Cordelia wouldn't have said anything like that to you.  She'll tell you that herself, some day."

I wondered but a part of me accepted the comfort Faith offered.  Her heat was enough to nearly scald my skin and I could feel the rhythm of her pulse in her fingers.  "Thank you," I finally whispered, twining my fingers with hers. 

"Hey," Faith said, her cocky smile firmly in place, "it's nice to be able to pull someone back from the edge for a change."  She untwined her fingers from mine and pushed at the bag, knocking it into me gently.  "You still gonna try to work out?"

"I'm still."  I rotated my shoulders, the flesh there move over bone and muscle, unable to put into words what I felt.   

"Ready to bust outta your skin?  Yeah, I know that feeling."  Faith raised her hands, balling them into loose fists.  "Wanna chance at the title?"

I lost sight of her for an instant, seeing Cordelia – Buffy – instead.  Can I do this, I wondered. 

"Sure you can," Faith said, startling me.  I hadn't realized I'd spoken out loud.  "Just like you told me.  Take it one day at a time."  She caught my wrists.  "There are people who need you, Angel.  You may not be ready for 'em yet but they need you."  This time her smile was bittersweet.  "Me, Connor, your friends upstairs, we all need you.  And you don't have to always be the strong one.  You can let someone else hold you up once in a while." 

"You offering?"  The question came out muffled and strained. 

Sliding her hands up my arms, she pulled my head down, standing on her toes to plant a kiss in the middle of my forehead.  "You know it."  Wrapping her arms around me tightly, she said, "I can't let my big brother down, can I?"

I choked out a laugh, returning her embrace and saying to her dark hair, "That makes your relationship with my son icky and incestuous."

Faith chuckled, the sound of it almost as warming as the touch of her living flesh against me.  "Never said I wasn't a little kinky."  She pulled back, her hands still on my upper arms, searching my eyes. 

"Let's not go into that," I told her, mustering a smile. 

"Aw, and I heard you were into that sort of thing."  Swatting at me playfully, Faith took up an open stance, feet apart, hands raised.

"Do I have to turn you over my knee?"

She slapped my mock-threatening fist out of the air.  "You're too slow."

"You keep thinking that," I said, curling my lip in a sneer, snatching at her. 

Faith dodged out of the way.  "Oo, I'm scared," she said, circling me.  "Show me your worst."  She kicked at me and I caught her ankle, pushing it higher.  She let the force of my push spin her through the air and landed, a bright grin showing through the hair curtaining her face.  "Is that all you've got?"

For answer I threw a combination punch at her face, midriff and chest.  Faith blocked them at the same lightning speed, countering with her own strike at my throat.  I snapped my head back out of range but her momentum kept her coming, a second blow skimming my stomach.  I rode the thrust, doubling over her fist and grabbing her thighs as I went down.  I pulled and she curled, somersaulting backwards out of my grip.  The exchanges came faster; feet and elbows; knees and hands; head butts and tackles until I could no longer smell Cordelia in the air, only Faith's scent, that familiar, dangerous tang of a Slayer overlaying Faith's own sweet spiciness. 

Suddenly, somehow, her hand was pressed on my chest where my dead heart lay and mine were wrapped around her throat.  Her pulse beat hard in my palms, her heat searing my breastbone.  With a smile both slow and seductive, Faith asked, barely sounding winded, "You give?"

"Do you?"  I grinned back.  

"If I had a stake, you'd be dust right now."  Faith shifted her weight slightly, her eyes narrowing.  

"You don't have a stake."

"If I did."

"But you don't.  And I could break your neck."  I felt something nudge my inner thigh.

"That's my knee," Faith said cheerfully.  "I could nail you.  Which, considering you don't have any blood flow down there, or anywhere, for that matter, shouldn't hurt.  But B told me it did and I've used that little move myself, so I have it on authority that you'd be going down."

"That's a good threat."  I loosened my grip on her neck.

"Thought you might like it."  Faith shoved me backwards without any real pressure. 

"Actually, I wouldn't but given the circumstances," I said, walking across the mats to get her a towel. 

"It's not like you're using it anyway."  Her grin was pure evil.

I straightened, glaring at her.  "Now that was below the belt."

Faith raised a shoulder in a negligent shrug.  "Just calling it the way I see it, Angel."  She caught the towel I flung at her, laughing at my reaction.  "Look at you.  You're angry."

"A man's masculinity is nothing to make fun of," I grumped. 

"Aww."

"You're not sounding as if you care."

"No skin off my nose."  She thumbed it cheekily. 

"And they say Angelus is evil." 

Her laughter peeled out, ringing around the room.  "Look at your lower lip!"  Faith pointed at me.  "Now I know where Connor gets that pout."

"I'm not pouting," I said, emphasizing it. 

"You are so pouting," Faith said, "I beat you at fighting and you're pouting.  It's a good day to be alive."  She danced in place, sticking her tongue out at me.  "I got you."

"You're about to lose that tongue," I said warningly. 

"Your son likes it too much," Faith said sweetly, wiping her face and neck.  I shuddered, not wanting to think about that.  Faith, enjoying my reaction, went on.  "Do you know what I can do with my tongue?"   

I raised my eyes towards the ceiling.  "I don't want to know but I can guess." 

"You're just jealous," she said teasingly then realized what she'd said, her eyes opening wide.  "Angel, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean, you know."  Her fingers twisted together and she took a step towards me. 

I raised my hand to ward off her apologies.  "It's okay, Faith.  Really."  When she opened her mouth, I shook my head.  "I am a little jealous.  It's true.  What man wouldn't be?"

She ducked her head, her sweaty hair clumping together in strands to obscure part of her face.  "Thanks," she said shyly. 

"Hey," I said, "You've helped us more than you can know, Faith.  I should be thanking you."  She lifted her gaze to meet mine, wonderingly.  "I mean it." 

Her eyes glittered and she rubbed at them with the towel.  "Sweat," she said.  "Got some in my eyes." 

"Why don't you go back to bed," I said, holding out a hand. 

Faith took her position against the cabinet again, leaning on it.  "If you don't mind," she said, stealing glances at me, "I think I need a little more time, here.  If that's okay."

"You're all right?"

She waved me off.  "I'm fine, Angel.  You just go get some rest.  It's gonna be another long day.  Night."  She laughed softly.  "Whatever it is."

I climbed the stairs out of the basement, finding Connor asleep in the lobby, somehow curled on that round couch.  When I woke him up, he reminded me that he couldn't sleep in his room, that it room smelled of Cordelia.  Wish I'd thought of that earlier.  He wouldn't want to be there, I knew.  Later today, we'd clean another room for him and one for Faith.  I wasn't sure what should be done with Cordelia's things.  Should they go into storage or should we keep them here?  Maybe they'd help Cordelia remember who she was but would the home accept them?  I wondered if her parents might want them.  I couldn't remember Cordelia ever bringing them up or saying that she'd heard from them.  Wes would tell me if her parents had been to visit her.  I wondered if he'd told them about how brave she was, how much we all loved her.  I wondered if they cared.  Surely they would, they were her parents.

I went into my office, closing the door behind me.  The chair looked hard and uncomfortable but I still couldn't sleep.  My thoughts still dogged me, keeping me awake.  I dropped into the chair, dragging out an address book from the center drawer of my desk and flipping it open.  I remember getting everyone's phone numbers once, their numbers, their families'.  Just in case. 

I flipped to the 'C's.  I know I did.

But the page that came up had an 'S' emblazoned on it. 

Even though I'd never contacted her there, her dorm address and phone number were written in and crossed out.  The Revello Drive address and number, were printed underneath.  I hadn't needed to take the address book with me, the addresses I needed to send the postcards were still in my head.

I stared at the number, at the address and slowly turned my gaze to the telephone.  Should I call, let her know we were home?  That we'd made it back safely?  Let her know there would be no more cards?  Or should I just let it be?

I sighed, leaning forward in my chair to pillow my head with my crossed arms.  I'd think about it all later.  I wasn't afraid to talk to her, that wasn't it at all.

And I told myself I didn't lie.  

* * * * *

In broken dreams that keep me from sleeping

I remember all the things I said.

Well I've broken all the promises

I said I would be keeping,

They're gone, like leaves they fell.

For it's so hard when you're far away

All I needed was a shoulder I could cry on,

Now these broken dreams have woken me,

My love, will you carry me home.    

Oh, when I left, I believed that nothing would go wrong,

I thought the whole world would be waiting for my story.

Take me back, my love, I need you now,

Come back and carry me home.

Take me back and heal these broken wings,

Come back and carry me home.