Summary: Willow, Buffy and Faith are concerned about Xander, and ask someone to intervene with him. Second story in the "Slayer Central" series.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters--they belong to their creators and/or owners. The song lyrics are from "Angel," written by John Secada and Miguel Morejon.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: About a week after "Chosen," and after the events in my prior story "Slayer Central." (spoilers for seventh season BtVS and fourth season Angel).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@hotmail.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

EMPTY GLASSES

Buffy walked to the front of the room and stood next to the training dummy. She turned to the quietly watching audience of newly minted Slayers and commented, "You've all been in training for a while now, learning how to fight for your lives. When we fought against the First and its minions, you all fought as hard as you could, not holding back at all--and I'm proud of all of you for it." The Slayers smiled at Buffy, and she let the praise sink in for a moment before she continued: "Which makes me hate to have to tell you this, but it's necessary." She turned to the dummy and pointed as she added, "Xander put this together for us--the frame is made of high quality wood, four inches thick, and the padding is thick and strong enough to stop a .38 slug from penetrating to the wood underneath. It is capable of absorbing punishment that would kill any human being without suffering noticeable damage."

Buffy waited for her audience to absorb the description of the qualities of the dummy, visibly relaxing her stance and adopting a neutral expression. Abruptly, she burst into motion, whirling around and delivering a spinning kick to the head of the dummy. A loud crack echoed through the room, and the head flew back ten feet to smack into the wall with a soft thump.

Buffy landed on her feet and noted that she had the complete attention of the occupants of the room. She smiled and joked, "Fortunately, Xander is known for his ability to repair decapitated dummies." The comment provoked some nervous laughter, and Buffy continued, "Any one of you could do what I just did without pressing your limits, and if you really put your mind to it you could reduce that dummy to a pile of padding and splinters during a commercial break. Not a problem, if you're beating on a dummy or a demon. If you do that to a human being, he dies--quickly and painfully." She looked to the back of the room, and Faith met her eyes without hesitation and nodded once. Buffy smiled sadly and concluded, "The one law that we must all hold sacred is that a Slayer must never kill a human being--even an evil one--unless it is absolutely necessary in order to protect your life or the lives of innocents or your teammates. We walk a dangerous path, and following that rule is going to be the most important thing you can do to avoid straying off that path into disaster."

Buffy paused again, and was pleased to see that the Slayers remained attentive--they were taking the lesson seriously. She was about to continue when she saw Willow slip into the room through the back, looking concerned. Buffy frowned and called out, "I'm going to take a break now--pair off and practice the throws that Faith demonstrated earlier." The Slayers got to their feet and paired off, while Buffy caught Faith's eye again and inclined her head in Willow's direction. The younger Slayer nodded, and followed Buffy over to the doorway, where the three women exited together.

The training room had once been the hotel's grand ballroom, and the lobby was only a short corridor away. Buffy, Faith and Willow walked quietly out to the lobby--which was otherwise empty--and Buffy turned to Willow and asked, "What's wrong? I've seen that expression on your face before, and it's never good."

Willow walked over to a nearby armchair and sank into it, while Buffy and Faith sat on a nearby couch. Willow was silent for a moment, and her voice was just above a whisper as she replied, "I'm worried about Xander."

Buffy involuntarily glanced toward the grand staircase, looking in the general direction of Xander's room. "He's seemed OK when I've seen him--a bit quiet, but considering everything he's gone through--" "I know what you mean, Red. I've been trying to find time to get him alone, but there's something. . .missing. He's friendly, helpful, and generally as good to have around as ever, but it's like someone's turned out the lights inside." Faith shook her head, looking frustrated, and added: "I don't know him well enough to ask him what's wrong, and even if I did--"

"--there's the little issue of needing to do the whole groveling apology thing before you asked him what's wrong?" Willow's tone was neutral, and Faith nodded, visibly ashamed. Willow smiled and added, "Been there. Done that. Had my passport stamped full with 'welcome to the Land of Grovel.'" Faith snickered, and Willow grinned at her and concluded, "I'm glad you're concerned about him too, Faith--but he won't talk about it. I asked him flat out what was wrong, and he smiled at me and said, 'I'm fine, Will. Gotta go--those training dummies won't build themselves.' "

"We all have our ways of dealing with grief--maybe this is just how Xander's dealing with it." Buffy was feeling rather guilty that she had overlooked Xander's pain, but she wasn't alarmed enough yet to stage an intervention. She frowned and suggested, "Maybe I should have Giles talk to him--he's been through losing someone close to him- -"

"Buffy, we all have." Willow's comment stopped Buffy's thought in mid- sentence, and she flushed in embarrassment as Willow continued, "I saw how he was when you died, Buffy--it was different. Something else is eating at him. . .and I don't think Giles is the one who's going to get at it. Giles is great for telling you that you've screwed up royally, you need to fix it, and he still cares about you. Xander hasn't screwed up--he's just hurting."

"Yeah, you're right--but where does that leave us? Someone should talk to him--we can't just let him sit in his room and brood when he's not building stuff here." Buffy scowled angrily, unwilling to abandon Xander to his pain.

Faith grinned suddenly, causing Buffy and Willow to direct annoyed looks at her. Faith smiled apologetically, and hesitated a moment before suggesting: "I have an idea for who to send to talk to him." She explained quickly, and the others looked at each other and nodded. Faith grimaced and commented, "I suppose I get to be the one who asks."

"Oh yeah," replied Buffy.

"Definitely," replied Willow.

"Crap." Faith sighed, and headed for the staircase.

* * * * *

Xander lay on his bed, looking at the ceiling. The white paint had started to peel, and he decided that this room had not been seriously renovated in fifty years. * I could strip the paint, and put on a few fresh coats--something with a little less lead in it. Black is a nice color--no, that's a bit of a downer if someone stops by. Maybe dark blue--*

He heard a soft knock at the door, and the half-formed thought drifted away as he frowned in mild annoyance. Willow had been visibly concerned about him earlier, but he was fairly sure that she had believed his reassurances that everything was all right. * She's got enough to worry about right now * He thought about ignoring the knock and feigning sleep, but decided against it as the knock came again, louder and more insistent. He sighed and went to the door, opening it without ceremony. He blinked in surprise upon seeing who was waiting on the other side, and it took a moment for him to recover and ask, "Is something wrong, Angel? Give me a minute to get cleaned up and I'll--"

The vampire looked vaguely embarrassed, and Xander was about to ask again when Angel replied, "No emergency--things are quiet, or at least as quiet as they can get with thirty-five Slayers running around here. I just thought--well, I thought you could use some company."

Xander snickered. "Who was it: Buffy or Willow?"

"What do you mean?" Angel asked, looking away down the hallway, then back at Xander. "Why can't I just be stopping by wanting to know how things are going with you?"

Xander snorted. "Angel, I'm missing one eye, not both of them--and there's absolutely nothing wrong with my memory. Now, who sent you?"

Angel sighed. "Faith--the three of them were worried about you, and--"

"I'd already blown off Willow, Faith is still feeling too guilty to talk to me, and Buffy was afraid that it would end up with us yelling at each other for the ten billionth time?" Xander interrupted, looking at Angel with his one good eye with an intensity that brought back some rather unpleasant memories for Angel.

"Yeah, more or less." Angel frowned, and added, "Look, they sent me because they thought I could help, but we both know that you've never had much use for me. If you want me to leave, I will--I'll tell them that you reassured me that you were OK and that they don't need to worry."

"And they'll believe this, instead of assuming that we couldn't stand to be in the same room together and coming up with another plan to deal with my *problem*?" Xander's tone was sardonic, but Angel was certain he saw genuine amusement in Xander's eye as he concluded, "We both know that's not going to happen."

Angel shrugged. "No solution is perfect."

"Yeah, but it always scares me when they spend too much time together- -they might send that big green friend of yours up here next to get me in touch with my inner Wayne Newton." Xander shuddered, then shook his head and said, "OK, why don't we shoot the breeze for a while so you can at least be convincing when you tell them there's nothing wrong with me--but I want you to answer a question honestly for me."

Angel raised an eyebrow, surprised at the request. "All right, but only if you do the same for me--a question for a question."

Xander hesitated a moment before replying, "All right. When you were playing Faith with your fake Angelus act, and you two ran into me in town, why did you slug me?"

"Because I didn't want Faith to know that I wasn't evil--" Angel began, noticing the glint of anger appearing in Xander's eye. He paused, then reluctantly concluded: "--and because I'd wanted to deck you for two years and I knew I could do it then without Buffy getting on my case."

Xander's mouth tightened, and he waited a moment before commenting, "OK, I thought as much--what do you want to know?"

"If you had known that Willow was going to succeed at restoring my soul, would you still have lied to Buffy about it?" Angel's voice was level, with only a hint of pain in his dark eyes as he asked the question.

Xander paled and looked down for several seconds before looking back up at Angel and answering quietly: "Yes." Angel's expression remained calm, and Xander turned away, muttering, "Look Angel, maybe this was a bad idea--"

"You did the right thing, Xander." Xander blinked, and turned back to see Angel watching him with a compassionate expression. Angel nodded, and added, "Not that I don't still have the urge to tear out your ribcage and make a hat out of it over the whole thing--but you were looking out for Buffy: she had to fight with everything she had to defeat Angelus, and you knew it. The fact that you hated my guts doesn't change that." Xander looked relieved, and Angel smirked and asked, "I don't suppose that's what was really bothering you, was it?"

"Ah, no." Xander looked down again, then back up at Angel--causing him to realize that he was still standing on the other side of the threshold from the vampire. "So, should I invite you in?"

"Well, that would be the polite thing to do," Angel replied, glancing behind Xander into his room, "but I've got a better idea. Come on." He turned and walked down the hallway, and Xander left the room to follow.

* * * * *

The lights came on, and Xander stared for a moment before turning to Angel and commenting, "Nice."

Angel grinned and replied, "There are a few perks involved in owning a high class hotel, even if it is a bit long in the tooth." The lights had revealed a small lounge, with four small tables scattered around the room and a full-sized bar with half a dozen stools. Angel walked behind the bar, and began reaching for glasses as he explained, "I didn't even know this place was here until the whole mess with Jasmine happened and we needed to see how much space was available for storage. We cleaned it out, but we never ended up using it for anything before we defeated Jasmine. I decided that it shouldn't go to waste, so I went out with Wesley and Gunn last week and made a few acquisitions to stock the place." He looked up and asked, "Any preferences?"

"Whiskey, if you've got it." Xander was looking around at the decor, and turned back to see Angel putting two shot glasses and a bottle on the bar surface. He looked at the label and whistled. "Bushmills Black Bush--that's a bit more pricey than I'm used to." He watched as Angel poured shots for both of them, and took a sip from his. He brightened and added, "Not that I'm complaining."

Angel chuckled, then sobered and raised his glass: "To Anya."

Xander raised his own glass and touched it to Angel's as he echoed, "To Anya." They both downed their shots, and Angel filled their glasses again. Xander raised his glass again and muttered, "To Spike, who was a no-good bastard--but he died as one of us."

Angel was surprised, but he echoed, "To Spike," and downed the second shot, as did Xander. He filled the glasses again and waited, but Xander seemed disinclined to call for a third toast. After a few moments, he looked down at the bar and commented, "From some of what Willow told me, I'm amazed that you let Spike last as long as he did."

Xander flushed, and he replied, "It wasn't for lack of trying on my part. He left just after the worst of it, and when he came back. . .it was different, and Buffy wasn't going to let anyone kill him anyway." He paused, then asked bluntly, "Was he always this much of a pain in the ass?"

Angel looked up and nodded, commenting, "Spike was always a bit too human for Angelus' taste--he had no real interest in ruling or controlling anything. All he cared about was getting the things he liked and protecting Dru and himself--and heaven help anything that got in the way of either. You saw what happened when he decided what he wanted was Buffy. On the occasions when what he wanted was the same thing that you wanted, he was the best ally you could hope for-- unless you were competing for that something, in which case the best plan was ducking for cover."

Xander frowned, and took another swallow of whiskey before looking back at Angel and commenting, "You know--it's funny how it all ties together. Spike comes back to town and kidnaps Willow and me just when we were trying to back off of the whole Fluke thing. Cordelia and Oz find us doing something we shouldn't--Cordelia almost dies." He finished his drink and poured another before Angel can react. "Cordelia breaks up with me and attracts the attention of a vengeance demon. Vengeance demon screws up and ends up human--bingo, I've got a prom date." Xander shook his head in disgust and muttered, "Between Spike's and my idiotic romantic choices, we sure screwed up a lot of lives in a short time."

"Tell me about it," replied Angel, downing his own shot and pouring another. Xander gave him a confused look, and Angel explained, "Spike convinced Buffy that we couldn't see each other any more, because we would always want each other and could never just be friends."

Xander snorted. "Great, Peroxide Boy tells her that and she listens. * I * say it ten thousand times and she--" Xander stopped, chuckled, and shook his head in disbelief as he commented, "Listen to me--I'm sounding like Giles. Sorry."

Angel shrugged. "There are people you'd be less fortunate to sound like." He sighed and added, "And both of you were right--we did need to be apart, at least until things had changed for us." He looked down at his glass and whispered, "We've both moved on."

"I want to see her."

Angel blinked at Xander's whisper, and looked up to see the haunted look on his face. Angel smiled supportively at Xander and replied, "I wish you could see Anya too, Xander; for that matter, I wish I could see her--it sounds like she turned out to be--"

"Not Anya." Xander blinked, and he looked down at the bar again, his eye focused on the dark liquid in his glass. "Not Anya."

Angel stared, and the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. He reached out and put his hand on Xander's shoulder, causing the young man to look up. Angel smiled sadly and added: "I should have realized the news about Cordelia would mean more to you than to the others. . .you reacted so calmly at the meeting that I let myself forget--"

"We were talking about important things, Angel--I didn't want to get in the way." Xander closed his eye for a moment, then opened it again and looked at Angel as he continued, "I haven't seen her in four years, Angel. I've heard rumors and heard repeated phone conversations about her--I know what she's been doing, the risks she's been taking, the pain she's suffered--and I never took the time to make a three hour drive to stop in and say, 'How are you? What have you been up to? Anything I can do to help?' What's the worst thing that could have happened--a few insults, a slammed door in my face if she was in a really bad mood? I couldn't have handled that? I * owed * her more than that, Angel. I hurt Anya in ways that were unforgivable, but I told her that--I did the best I could to make up for it. I didn't do that for Cordelia."

Angel heard the note of self-loathing in Xander's voice and shook his head in negation. "Xander, she was busy with her own life and you were busy with yours. There was nothing stopping her from making that three hour drive--or from picking up the phone and seeing how you were doing. I've spent more than a few evenings with Cordelia and the others where we've had a few too many, and your name has come up. Wesley's not a big fan--you might want to do a little fence mending there. Gunn and Fred don't believe most of the stories about you, and Cordelia. . .she's been known to throw a few insults in your direction--but the occasion she's brought up the most is how you paid off that prom dress for her. She didn't--she * doesn't * hate you, Xander--don't ever think that." Angel remembered something else and smiled before adding, "She appreciated the wedding invitation--we were a bit preoccupied for her to send a note with her regrets for missing it."

"I kind of figured that--just as well she didn't come, under the circumstances." Xander sighed, and got his feet, swaying only slightly. He looked at Angel and quietly requested, "Can we see her tonight? I know the place you have her isn't exactly a regular hospital, but--"

"Of course we can." Angel smiled at Xander, genuinely moved by his concern for Cordelia. He looked at his watch. "The sun's down. I'll call a cab--it'll be out front in a few minutes."

Xander nodded and downed the whiskey with a fluid gesture, and waited as Angel made the phone call.

* * * * *

The ward was very quiet. Angel knew from studying the reports that he had demanded Lilah provide that the clinic dealt with any number of magical conditions that drove their victims stark raving mad, but the wards that contained those patients were magically soundproofed to a degree that modern science would be hard-pressed to duplicate. This ward was for the comatose patients, and it was relatively empty.

Angel led Xander through the maze of beds with the ease of experience, and walked to an unmarked door. He opened the door, and the light clicked on automatically. Cordelia was the sole patient in the room, and she lay on the bed in eerie stillness, the IV tube in her left arm trailing off into an odd-looking machine that hummed and chirped occasionally. Angel turned to Xander and explained, "It monitors her condition, and feeds her with a low-level healing potion that keeps her from getting pneumonia or bed sores, and keeps her physical condition from deteriorating too much from being out of it for so long. When she wakes up, she'll be in a lot better shape than a run-of-the-mill coma patient."

Xander noted that Angel said "when," and saw the vampire's face twist in pain as he said "coma patient." Obeying an impulse, he reached out and squeezed Angel's shoulder, then pulled up a chair next to the bed. Angel stayed back--this moment was for Xander.

Xander reached out and held Cordelia's hand: it felt cool, but he could feel the faint pulse throbbing in her wrist. He smiled at her and whispered, "Hey, Cordy. Better late than never that I come to visit, huh?" He stopped, and took a breath before continuing: "You should have been there--we finally got rid of the Hellmouth--blew the damned thing up and took about a zillion of the nastiest vamps anyone's ever seen with it. Buffy went in with Faith and about thirty Slayers--great story on how *that* happened--and they fought it out for the heavyweight championship of Hell. When it was over, we all ran like hell and *poof*--no more Sunnydale or Hellmouth. Most everyone had cleared out of town by then, and I know your folks weren't living there any more, so you don't have to worry about that."

Xander paused, as if expecting her to react, but Cordelia remained silent. Xander coughed self-consciously, and continued: "We went straight to the Hyperion afterwards--it's wall to wall Slayers there right now. When you wake up, there are going to be all kinds of girls you can give fashion advice to and generally keep them out of trouble. You'll have plenty to do, and we really need you back, Cordy. We *want* you back, Cordy." Xander's eye closed convulsively, and a tear ran down his cheek as he whispered, "Please come back."

Xander felt Angel's hand on his shoulder. He looked up and apologized, "I'm sorry, Angel. Pointless thing to do, I know."

Xander saw Angel smile ruefully. "I know. That's what I told myself after I did it, the first time I saw her here."

Xander shook his head in frustration. "It just doesn't seem right, Angel. She lived through the shock of the whole evil pregnancy thing-- why won't she wake up?"

Angel pulled up a chair and hesitated a moment before replying: "The experience damaged the connection between her soul and her body--she received treatment before her body was too far gone to contain her soul, but there's lasting damage that keeps her conscious mind from actually functioning. These treatments won't help her with that-- unless we can find a healer powerful enough to repair the damage, she'll have to recover on her own." He looked at Xander bleakly and added, "No one knows how long that might take--she's not completely human any more. It might be decades or even centuries before she wakes up--if she ever does."

Xander bowed his head, then looked back up at Angel: "So her spirit is still here?" Angel nodded, and Xander pressed, "Then shouldn't there be some way to communicate with her?"

"I was wondering when one of you heroic types was going to realize that."

Xander and Angel turned to the open doorway and saw Lorne standing there with a bouquet of mixed zinnias. He stepped forward and put the flowers in a vase before reaching out and brushing a strand of hair off of Cordelia's cheek as he whispered, "Hello, Princess." Lorne sighed, then straightened and noted the stares being directed at him. He raised an eyebrow and asked, "Haven't you ever seen someone bring flowers to a sick friend before?"

"Lorne, are you saying that there's some way we can get through to Cordelia? If so, I think I speak for both Xander and myself when I say that it would have been nice to hear about this before." Angel's tone was terse, and Xander nodded curtly in agreement.

"No need to get testy with me--we've all been rather busy lately, and Cordelia needed time to adjust to her medical treatments before we tried any serious magic with her--wouldn't do to kill her by trying to communicate with her, would it?" Lorne sounded annoyed, and he received an apologetic smile from Angel and a shrug from Xander. "OK, then. You two raised my hackles with that little bull session in the lounge, and I decided to follow you here, since I had intended to talk to you about this anyway, Angel, and Xander is also a concerned party. The approach I have in mind involves the presence of those with very close ties to the afflicted person--and the vibes I'm getting from you say that you two are the genuine article."

"What about Wesley and Gunn?" asked Xander. "They've been closer to Cordelia than I have the last few years."

"Different kind of ties, Xander." Lorne smiled at the young man, and turned back to Angel as he stated flatly: "The people involved have to have been in love with her."

Angel and Xander both flinched, and turned to each other. Xander found his voice first, and whispered, "I'm sorry Angel. . .I didn't know."

Angel shrugged, and replied, "There's no way you could have known. The timing was never right, and there were other problems." He frowned and asked Lorne, "What about Groo?"

"No way to reach him other than an extended expedition to Pylea, which is a bit drastic at this point. His absence might make the whole thing fail, but it won't hurt Cordelia. I think we should try." Lorne spoke calmly, looking back at the silent figure on the bed. "But it's up to you--I can't do it without you."

Angel turned to Xander, who only hesitated an instant before nodding once. Angel nodded in reply, and turned to Lorne. "What do we have to do?"

"Sit on opposite sides of the bed from each other, and each of you hold one of her hands." Lorne replied, and watched as Angel moved his chair to the far side of the bed and clasped Cordelia's right hand, while Xander continued to hold her left hand. Lorne smiled, and commented, "Good," as he moved to the foot of the bed. "Now I sing a song that evokes the feelings that you two have about Cordelia, and if all goes well, a portion of her essence will be summoned which can interact with us. It's not going to be bells and whistles--she'll be recognizable, and she may make a gesture or two, but she won't be able to speak."

"Are we going to have to sing too?" Xander asked, tensing visibly.

"That would be ideal, but I know from experience with the Big Guy over here that it's not his favorite thing to do, and if I'm not mistaken you're not fond of the idea either. If you feel uncomfortable, it'll detract from my efforts, not assist them." Lorne replied, and added, "I think my own abilities will be enough--what I need you to do is think of your time with Cordelia. Picture some moment that epitomizes your relationship with her, and focus on that while I sing." He looked at both of them and asked, "Are you ready?"

Xander and Angel nodded, and closed their eyes in thought. Angel remembered seeing Cordelia open her eyes after being cured of the madness caused by her empathy running wild, and her determination to help the people whose pain had nearly destroyed her. Xander remembered how--after his foolish use of the love spell had nearly killed both Cordelia and himself--she had walked away from her clique and proudly announced that she would date whoever she damned well pleased--"no matter how lame he is." Xander winced at the memory, and smiled at the determination that Cordelia had shown that day. Lorne glanced at both men, and began to sing:

I, I can't read the future But I still want to hold you close Right now, I need that from you So give me the morning Sharing another day with you Is all I want to know

And baby I, I've tried to forget you But the light of your eyes Still shines like an Angel A spirit that won't let me go

Lorne paused before beginning the third verse, and was surprised when Angel joined him, singing in a low, clear tone:

And I, I didn't want to tell you Things I didn't wanna know myself I was afraid to show But you, you gave me a reason A reason to face the truth, oh yes you did To face the truth, face the truth Face the truth

Lorne and Angel paused, and began the fourth verse--only to be joined by Xander:

And baby I, I've tried to forget you But the light of your eyes Still shines, shines, shines like an Angel A spirit that won't let me go Won't let me go, let go of my heart

As the three finished the fourth verse, the air began to glow above Cordelia. Xander and Angel both turned to Lorne, and he nodded to indicate that they could stop. They did, and there was absolute silence in the room as the light coalesced into a life-sized image of Cordelia. The image was faded, with little visible color, but Cordelia's dark eyes sparkled as she turned to Lorne. She favored him with a sad smile, and her expression was one of simple pleasure at seeing an old friend. Lorne smiled in response and whispered, "Good to see you too, Princess."

Cordelia nodded once in acknowledgment, and turned to Xander--who was watching her with an expression of stunned disbelief. "I'd forgotten how beautiful you are, Cordy," he whispered, squeezing her hand as he stared at the vision floating above the bed.

Cordelia smiled at him, and Xander recognized it as the one she had used when she didn't want to go to the effort of saying, "Well, duh!" Her eyes fell on him, and Xander saw her expression twist in sadness as she saw his recent injuries. He noticed, and he shrugged. * This stuff happens * Cordelia nodded, and composed herself--the look she gave him was an odd combination of affection and irritation, and Xander remembered it well, having missed it terribly over the past five years. He met her gaze and whispered, "Come back to us when you can, Cordy."

Cordelia grinned briefly in response, and turned to Angel. Angel had turned away involuntarily--he was feeling deeply ashamed of the mistakes he had made that had led to Cordelia lying in that bed, and he was not sure he could face her. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cordelia's lips moving, and it took him a moment to read her lips and discern her message:

* Look at me, you big jerk! *

Angel winced, but obeyed the command. He straightened and forced himself to face what he was sure would be condemnation from Cordelia. He waited, and was moved to see the genuine warmth in Cordelia's expression, and the light in her eyes. He swallowed hard, and said simply, "Cordelia--I don't know what to say. I'm sorry."

Cordelia seemed to absorb that, and was still for several seconds before her lips began to move again. Angel watched intently, and it was only a moment before the message was clear:

* Promise me you won't give up hope, Angel. *

Angel blinked, and his voice cracked as he replied, "I won't. I swear it, Cordelia."

Cordelia's expression went solemn, and she nodded once more before seeming to look at all three of them. As the image began to fade, she grinned, and the expression was pure Queen C, except for the sadness that remained in the eyes until the image faded completely into non- existence.

The room was silent for a moment, then Xander squeezed Cordelia's hand once more and released it as he stood up. He walked over to Angel and put his hand on his shoulder as he called out, "Come on, Angel--let's let her rest. It's been a busy day for her."

Angel nodded slowly and stood up, looking at Xander as he whispered, "Thank you, Xander."

Xander nodded and quirked a smile. "Let's get back and open that lounge up again--and invite a few more friends this time. I'd like to talk about Cordelia some more." He looked back at the still form on the bed and added, "We'll have a lot to say to her when she comes back."

Angel smiled in agreement and led the way out. Lorne and Xander followed, and the door closed behind them, leaving the room in darkness.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.