Title: Cleanse

By: Niamh

Rating: Hmm. Probably somewhere between PG 13 and R. Sexual situations, and one naughty word.

Disclaimer: These characters are the property of Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Mutant Enemy (Grr! Arrgh!), and Twentieth Century Fox. They are being used without permission; no profit will come from this infringement.

Spoilers: Post "Apocalypse Nowish." Anything in Season 4 is fair game. Slight references to Season 2 of BtVS as well.

***

He sleeps.

I stare at him, awed at the youthfulness that comes with slumber. At least one of us can sleep; he's injured - he needs all the rest he can get.

It suddenly occurs to me how ridiculous this is - fire is falling from the sky, there's something out there that won't stop until we're all killed. Connor will be lucky if he lives long enough to heal.

I'll be lucky if I live long enough to heal.

God, I feel so dirty. There aren't words for how completely filthy I feel. It's an internal filth, and while I know that it's not something water can wash away, I feel the most undeniable need for a shower. I need to feel hot water scalding me. It won't wash everything away, but I crave the sensation nonetheless.

I push myself off of the mattress where I haven't been sleeping and pad silently to the tiny bathroom. It's almost as filthy as I feel. Not a comforting thought. I turn the water on and note that while it's more of a trickle than a stream, it's hot enough. The water here seems to know only extremes - showers are either skin-peeling steam-baths or teeth-clenchingly cold. It's a bit late for the cold shower, not that it would have helped. Cold showers are only any good when we're so far gone with passion and lust that only something physically jarring will help.

So what's supposed to help when there's *no* passion and *no* lust? What washes away despair?

I step under the showerhead and feel the air hiss between my teeth. It's hot; it's nearly hot enough to pierce through the fog that feels like its overrun my mind lately.

God, what in the hell have I done?

I can still feel him on me, the clumsy, fumbling hands indigenous to all eighteen year old boys. I can still feel him inside of me, our joining nothing more than a pantomime. There was no heat, no passion, no desire. There was nothing but Angel's son and me.

Did I mention how filthy I feel?

I scrub at my skin, glad to feel the scratchy washcloth against my skin, even if the soap is so strong it's taking off the first layer of skin. Doesn't matter.

God, Angel.

I feel sick suddenly, unable to wipe from my memory the look in his eyes the last time I saw him.

The slightly unhinged chuckle reverberates off the walls and comes back to me once I realize what I just thought. It wasn't too long ago that I had no problems with forgetting. I wonder what made me want to remember in the first place; remembering isn't all it's cracked up to be.

It all came back so fast - like a sucker punch or a tidal wave. It hit me and smothered me, the memories taking up so much space in my head that they all meshed and melded into each other.

Then I saw those eyes - they *knew* me. Anyone with an ounce of sense or self-preservation would have run. Angel doesn't know what I saw. If he's lucky he won't ever know. Right now he doesn't understand. Hell, I don't blame him. I barely understand it.

I remember ascending. I remember being up there, and there was this... sensation, like I'd been imbued with divine knowledge. There was no line between past and present, like I'd been everywhere at once, forever.

I felt first-hand the terror of every single one of Angelus' victims. Considering the guy had a pretty extensive career, that's a lot of victims - one hundred and forty some-odd years of them. I felt the terror in every nameless face and it was contrasted with Angelus' pure enjoyment in that terror. I felt the way Miss Calendar's heart pounded in her chest as she tried running from him the night she was killed. And I felt the satisfaction that welled up in Angelus' chest as he set her body out on Giles' bed before uncorking the wine and scattering the rose petals.

I was *there*, inside of them, around them - all of them.

I know what he did to Buffy and what he dreamed of doing to her. I've never been president, or even a dues-paying member of the We Love Buffy Fan Club, but knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt the things that Angelus had wanted to do to her... I'm glad she sent him to Hell when she had the chance.

Speaking of Buffy: I know what she went through. And I don't mean that in the pseudo-sympathetic "I know what you're going through" kind of way. I mean it in the "I was under your skin, inside your head, heart, and soul" kind of way. I know exactly how he made her felt. And you know what? Not even *he* knows how he made her feel. Angelus had no idea how close he had pushed her to the edge. Knowing it would have satisfied him far too much. Knowing it would have given him the advantage.

I had to tell him. I had to let him know what I saw and felt. I owed it to him.

Wow. I'm amazed at how completely hollow that sounds, even inside my own head.

What he doesn't know is that I was also there the night he got his soul back. Both times, actually. I felt his disorientation, the sudden flood of memories. It was like waking up from your worst nightmare, only to find out it was all true.

I was there the first time the realization hit him: he was a monster. He was everything his father believed him to be, and worse. Yes, I am now better acquainted with Liam's father than I ever really thought I wanted to be - and, just to keep things clear, I didn't really want to be. I felt Angel's shock, his disbelief, his disgust. Oh, I felt the disgust in spades.

I also know how very close he came to insanity during the years he'd wandered, nearly collapsing under the weight of his guilt-ridden soul.

And then he came to Sunnydale.

Then, hey, lost the soul again. And was brought back. Again. And again I felt the confusion, the disorientation...

And then, the profound love, right before the one-hundred demon years of torture and anguish.

It's a miracle this guy still speaks in complete sentences.

I was there, and I felt it all, and while I'm haunted by nightmares about it all (and more besides), I know Angel, inside and out. I know the cracks in the fa├žade. I know why he broods. I never understood before. I know what he is and what he has the potential to be - good and bad. I also know, without a shadow of a doubt that I still love him. Unfortunately, I also know what that love will bring, and I know that I *can't* act on that love. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

What Angel doesn't realize is that it's all too much to process right now. The Powers of Poorly-Timed-Irony knew that. I remember now - Skip accompanying me to the surface, like any good PTB guide would. He told me that things would be fuzzy at first, and that - slowly - details would come back to me.

I'm not sure he had any idea things would have gone this badly.

"You remember those headaches you used to have?"

"Couldn't very well forget them, no matter how much I'd like."

"Yeah, well they're cake compared to what your mortal body would go through if you kept all of your memories intact. Madness. Complete madness. Even with your half-demon status, you would not be able to withstand the --"

"Brains go kablooey."

Skip blinked. "Well, yeah. Essentially."

"Wipe the slate clean then."

I don't know why it didn't occur to me to write a note or something - tell them that it was all part of the plan. I was just so damned relieved to be home, I guess I wasn't thinking clearly. Wow, that's a first.

I also don't know why the PTB thought keeping me in amnesialand was a good idea. I'd say it was because they have a hell of a sense of humor, but I know better. The higher-higher beings' aren't really much into the ha-has.

I was left here, stranded, not knowing who my friends were, not trusting anyone except for Connor. Go me - trust the person who, in his short time back to this dimension, has managed to betray everyone who had ever cared about him.

And now I'm back. I'm back, and trying to figure out exactly what the *fuck* I'm supposed to be doing now, because there's something out there that isn't going to stop until we're all annihilated. I know I'm supposed to be doing something, but I can't, for the life of me, remember what that is. Though I'm pretty sure that what I just did isn't what I'm supposed to be doing. Ah yes, couldn't forget about that, could I? The urge to bang my head against the tile wall is growing by the second.

I need to move beyond this. I can move beyond this.

I can almost feel something - it could be resolve - strengthening inside of me. I have to move beyond this.

I am Cordelia Chase. I am a Champion.

It's time I started acting like it again.