Title: Purge

Author: Niamh

Rating: I like to err on the side of caution - let's say R for language.

Spoilers: Uh, everything up to "Apocalypse Nowish" is fair game.

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.

Author's notes: This came to me as an unexpected partner-piece to "Cleanse." Who knows where it came from? I sure don't.

***

How could she?

I mean, I have a pretty good idea how *he* could, but I wouldn't have expected it from her. Never from her.

How *could* she?

I don't want to believe it, even though I'm seeing it with my own two eyes. It's there, right in front of me. It's right there.

Right there.

But I can't believe it. I can't. I don't want to.

I had come, not because of those taunting words...

("Do you really think she's safe with him?")

...not because of those words, but because I needed to see her. I needed to see her and feel her hands on my broken body, patching me, healing me, making me whole again. It feels as though she's always had that way about her - I can't remember a time when Cordy didn't patch me up. I know such a time existed, but it feels so far away, it barely seems to matter anymore.

I came here seeking shelter, seeking some kind of solace, seeking something that would give me a reason to get up and get back into the fight. I find strength in her. So many times in the past I've found strength in her smile, her wit, and - for a while - I found strength in the tired shadows of her eyes. I found strength in her mortality, fueled by my own fear.

How could this have happened?

Anger - raw, pure, unadulterated - surges up within me, only to be doused in an instant by sorrow and disbelief - it's amazing how quickly that can happen. I tilt my head back and scream. It sounds almost like the howling of a wolf - there's melancholy in the wolf's howl, if you've ever really listened to it. There's melancholy, pain, and a million other unnamable things.

I turn and run, heedless of the all-over ache that has settled in my bones. It won't be there for long, but I find myself hoping it will linger. If my physical pain lingers, I won't be bothered by this other ache. It's much easier to ignore physical pain.

This is only physical. It's the psychological and emotional pain that will kill you.

I know this from experience.

I'm running from rooftop to rooftop, some small part of me amazed at the distance I'm covering and the time I'm covering it in. My legs pump and propel me, every thump, every jolt, every shock my body undergoes sending more pain through me. I push myself further and further, harder and harder, until I reach the rooftop of the Hyperion.

It isn't until I hear something hiss and sizzle that I realize I have come all this way through fire as it falls from the sky.

I'm a lot of things, but I'm not suicidal. Not yet.

I duck into the hotel. I wonder if the others have made it back. I wonder if any of the others are still alive.

Suddenly, for an instant, I feel completely alone. Somewhere inside of me lies the knowledge that the others did *not* make it out alive. I know this on a deep, almost primal level. I'm familiar with evil. Evil doesn't leave survivors, it leaves refugees instead. I was tossed like a rag doll off of that roof - there's nothing saying that the others didn't suffer a similar or (please, no) a worse fate.

I stand in one of the hallways of the Hyperion's upper floors, leaning against a wall for support - the wallpaper is faded and peeling, the sconces on the walls are chipped and no light comes from them. There's so much work to be done up here - renovations, redecorating... I had always thought a sort of muted art-deco look would go with the rest of the place. Not too gaudy, but -

My eyes catch the window. Fire is still streaming down from the sky.

My disjointed thoughts come to a screeching halt and I lower myself to my haunches, still staring at the glowing sky, transfixed. Of its own accord, my mind vaults back to Pylea. I think of Fred, hiding in her cave, afraid of the world outside. I smile grimly - she had the right idea. There's always something out there with the potential to hurt, maim, or kill us. And we're always faced with a choice; we can either stay inside our safe caves and slowly go insane, or venture out into the unknown and take our chances.

I glanced up at the cracked walls. How long before *I* began writing on them?

Suddenly, footsteps. The smell of defeat - it smells of sulfur, smoke, and blood.

"I told you, English, I *heard* something."

Gunn. Wesley. Not dead.

"Angel!" Wesley's outburst belies his appearance. I've surprised him. His hardened exterior shatters for a moment, and I see him again - the Wesley I used to know. I'm almost as surprised to see him as he is to see me.

Surprises abound lately, don't they?

"Angel, how long have you been here? We've been -"

"And how in the hell did you get this far without bleeding out?" Gunn is staring in disgusted interest at my neck.

"Doesn't matter," I say, pushing myself back to my feet. "Everyone accounted for?"

Wesley purses his lips. "We still have no word on Cordelia or -"

"They're fine. Safe." Safe. Right.

Wesley nods, noting my tone. "Well, we'll need to pool our resources - Connor should be-"

I hear his words, but can't pull it together enough to understand them. Instead, I lumber past them both and head down the stairs. My legs are weak beneath me, and if I don't drink something soon, I'll be more useless than I already am right now. I push my way into the small kitchenette, stumbling toward the refrigerator and yanking the door open. There's blood inside. I grab a bag and tear it open with my teeth, gulping the cold, thick liquid down greedily. I can feel it dribbling down my chin just as acutely as I can feel the others' stares of disbelief mingled with the faint tug of disgust.

"As I was saying, Angel..."

I shake my head, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. I'm a little better - I'm not going to fall down anytime too soon, which is an improvement. "No, Wesley. It's just us."

Wesley blinks, and for a moment he's once again transformed into the Wesley I once knew. The Wesley who wasn't fucking Lilah Morgan's brains out, the Wesley who hadn't nearly bled out in a deserted park, the Wesley who hadn't misinterpreted my son's future...

The father will kill the son.

False prophecy or not, the idea was an appealing one. It might still come true. I look around suddenly. "Lorne?"

Gunn jerks his chin towards the stairs. "He'll be down. He got pretty banged up."

"Looks like you did too. Where's Fred?"

A pained look crosses his face. "Don't know yet. We were just about to go scout around for her when I heard you upstairs."

My eyes dart to a nearby window. Fred's out there, in this. "Let's go."

Wesley's hand is on my arm. The old Wesley has vanished again, replaced with this newer, more somber version. "Angel, you can't possibly..."

"I'm going with you." I now have something else to focus on - something beyond the seeming indestructibility of... whatever that was, something beyond my own temporary physical discomfort, and something beyond the sight of my son on top of Cordelia. My stomach lurches at the memory, and I feel for a moment like I'm going to vomit.

He was *fucking* her.

My tone brooks no argument. "I'm going."

"No you're not. Me and English are going out. You need to do something about that gaping wound - like covering it the hell up, just as a for instance."

So much for my tone brooking no argument. They leave and I'm left alone. My hand drifts up to the wound in my neck; it's sticky and my fingers come back red. I do need to patch this. I need to get cleaned up. I need to do a lot of things. My feet lead me back upstairs and I shuck my clothes in the bathroom. For once, I'm glad that I can't see myself right now. I don't want to see myself. I've seen enough of myself.

**hips moving slowly, her body spread out before him like an offering**

Hate, cold and black, bubbles up in my chest. This is not righteous anger, this is not vengeance, this is not indignation... it's hate and it's as hard and as cold as lead.

This is what I get for needing; this is what I get for loving. Anger flows through me once again, and once again it's flooded with despair and anguish. The water is flowing freely through the showerhead and somehow I've made it inside. My back pressed against the frigid tile, I slide down until I'm sitting. I sit there, letting the stinging needles of water pelt down on me - my mind is numb. The world as I've grown accustomed to it is ending outside, and I'm sitting in a shower, a notch above catatonic.

The logical side of my brain suggests that I learn how to prioritize. The illogical side of my brain, however, still doesn't understand what just happened. That's the whole problem, I guess: I don't understand.

I don't understand how this happened. I don't understand how - when I tried so hard - how this could happen. I don't understand the point of this. She couldn't have been sent back for *this* purpose. Why was she sent back at all? Why, if she couldn't have been sent back intact?

Is this some kind of punishment? Is Cordelia being punished? Am I?

The realization strikes me with such force, I'm almost startled.

It's not a punishment. It's not about me, it's not about Cordelia, it's not *about* any of us. What's going on right now, all of it transcends the immediate. As sickening as it is, as nauseated as it makes me, it's not important - relatively speaking. And the only way I can effectively fight what I'm supposed to fight is by moving beyond the immediate.

Moving beyond the immediate means that Wesley's right - we are going to have to regroup. As distasteful as that seems, it's clear to me now that it's the only way any of us stand a chance of defeating... whatever that thing is.

What's out there right now is far more important than any of us - any of our small, petty problems. The small and petty world will still exist if we can fight what it is that's out there, and that small and petty world will be a whole lot more attractive than this one.

But allowing myself to do this, to feel this way, to indulge this hatred and anger and... It's counterproductive. As much as this hurts, as much as I want to curl up and die right now, there are more important things to do.

Yes, there are far more important things to do.

Slowly, I push myself to my feet and resume my shower. My neck is still sore and tender, and the hot water pulsing down on it does little to relieve the pain. I refuse to let myself be consumed by that though - pain. It happened once; I won't let it happen again.

*** The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

~ Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"