Title : She Dreams In Red
Author : hold_that_thought
Summary : Cordelia still has layers.
Rating : R
Spoilers : Through Angel Season 4
Feedback : Greatly appreciated (APostModernSleaz@aol.com)
Archive : More than likely okay, but please ask first
Disclaimer : The characters used within are the property of Mutant Enemy, Twentieth Century Fox, and of course Joss Whedon. It's their sandbox, I'm just playing in it.
Notes: Thank you to my wonderful betas, little_bit, Nongenius, and Soda, for not running away screaming.


Cordelia used to love reminding people - namely, Xander Harris - that she had layers. That she was more than a shallow, rich girl with killer fashion sense. But she never imagined her layers would become so...literal. Wolfram and Hart had kept their word, set her up in a beautiful room with all the amenities an evil law firm could afford. Cordelia's body lay on a fat, fluffy bed with satin sheets and a down comforter. Her face was still, manicured hands clasped loosely over her stomach; she looked like she was asleep. Or, at least, that's what Angel said every time he came to visit her. Calm, serene Cordelia.

That was the first layer.

Inside, beyond the peaceful smile and silken sheets, something black and cold still wrapped itself around her bones. It rattled inside her chest, slid down her spine, and insinuated itself into every part of her. And her mind, the bright mind that had always supplied quick quips and last-minute saves, it had fractured. Gone bad. A cacophonous mess of nightmares and memories of the horrible things her body had done without her permission, a screaming that never quieted.

So it probably wasn't a big surprise that Cordelia chose to spend her days outside of the polished skin and the broken mind. Residual demony powers left her able to project most of her consciousness out, and after a couple weeks' practice, she was able to move freely around the Wolfram and Hart monolith.

It wasn't a bad existence, really. She got to keep tabs on the people she cared about. Watched Angel check in on Connor from time to time and get settled into his role as boss man. Saw Gunn start wearing suits and getting the respect he'd always wanted and deserved. Fred, geez, she'd invented some gizmo that no one in her department even had a name for yet. Even Wesley seemed better. Of course, having most of his recent bad memories magically wiped out helped a lot on that end...but still. She'd even managed to get up to Oxnard once and check on the displaced Sunnydale residents, though the excursion had left Cordelia so drained she'd spent the next week stuck near her body, unable to summon enough energy to do anything but watch her own chest rise and fall in even movements.

Okay, so it wasn't exactly the two-Oscars-and-a-poolboy scenario Cordelia had imagined for herself at twenty-two. But she was happy.

Angel didn't know that, of course. When she'd tried to communicate with him, it worked about as well as it had on her birthday when that last painful vision had knocked her clear out of her body. Which is to say, not at all. Never the type to give up and call anything a lost cause, Angel kept the parade of mystical experts coming. A necromancer, an acupuncturist, an herbalist...once, there was some creepy swami who'd announced that the only way to wake Cordelia up was to rub a raw potato on her left foot every hour on the hour for two weeks. She was relieved when Angel chose to politely ignore that suggestion.

Cordelia didn't mind, if it gave Angel something to focus on besides losing Connor. At least, she didn't mind until the last one. The visit started out like the rest. Cordelia lay on the bed, unmoving, and hovered in the corner, watching, as the short woman with the necklace of crystals lit some incense and chanted in Latin.

"Well?" Angel said, impatiently drumming his fingers on his hips.

The woman closed her eyes. "She's...she's...she's not in here."

"Duh," Cordelia smirked.

"She's...there!" Her eyes snapped open and she pointed straight to where Cordelia was, in the corner across from the bay window.

"Oh, shit, you can see me?"

Angel's eyes followed her outstretched hand to where Cordelia floated, and for a moment everything froze as his eyes locked onto hers. But it soon became obvious he was looking through her, as always.

"Hey, lady, can you really see me? Or was that a lucky guess? I mean, I don't wanna use the phrase 'crazy fraud' lightly...."

If the woman heard her, she made no sign, just turned to Angel and smiled. "The reason your friend here hasn't woken up is because her...well, herself...her élan vital, her spirit, has become detached, thrust out of the body. All we need to do is reunite the soul with the vessel and she'll be as good as new!"

The vessel? Oh, god, she meant her body. They wanted to force Cordelia back into that twisting, screaming....

"Angel, you have to listen to me. I'm happy, okay? I'm fine, I'll be fine, just don't let them do this to me!"

She floated behind him as he rushed down the hall, barking orders at the underlings.

"Yeah, no, Mackenzie, Madame Polyagrava said she needs myrrh...you can finish collating those contracts later. Go, now."

Within ten minutes, the necessary ingredients were assembled and the spell was underway. Cordelia helplessly watched as her body was anointed with sandalwood oil while Angel stood wordlessly by, as if too afraid to even hope that this time....

In theory, incorporeal beings were unable to feel anything, good or bad. The rules always seemed to go out the door when Cordelia was involved, because she soon felt some vague tingling, followed by a searing wrench as she was drawn over to the bed, past the peaceful smile and silken sheets, back into the mind she'd been forced to share with something that had left some of its corruption behind, inside of her.

Then her world went black.

***

Scrabbling, scratching, inside to out...I can hear it. Taste the blood of all the people it's going to kill, smell the burning flesh....

It never left.

Who never left? I left. Didn't I?

Clawing, like a spider. The itsy-bitsy spider....

"I believe she's coming to."

We're special, Cordelia. You, and I, and Connor. Stop fighting me, Cordelia. We're one, now. This is how it has to be. Shh....

"Cordy? Cordy, can you hear me?"

My boy, my boy, my...no...Angel.

"Angel?" The word feels clumsy in her mouth, and her eyes won't open. Why won't her eyes open? They don't want to, they want to stay....

Then light. Everything is white, and then tan and brown come in. A worried face.

"Yes, Cordy, Angel. Do you...are you okay?"

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old. "I'm Cordelia."

A smile. "Yes, yes you are. We got you back."

Oh god, something's really wrong here, Angel, something's wrong with me. You have to help me! "Some like it hot, some like it cold...some like it in the pot, nine days old?"

"Uh...."

"Mister Angel, the transition back into the body is very taxing, it may take some time before she's...adjusted. The best thing you can do is let her rest. Now, about my payment?"

"Of course, Madame Polyagrava. Cordy, can you hear me?"

Blood, thick and warm, covering my hands, running down my arms. My fault, I did it, I made the blood appear. "Hear you."

"We're gonna let you rest, but there's a phone here if you need anything. Just...pick it up, and I'll be here within a few minutes, okay?"

And if I can just tell Angel its name, everything will be okay, but it won't let me tell anyone its name. It won't let me do anything but.... "Okay."

It's coming. The beginning of a new world. I'm coming....

One, two, three pushes and she's standing. Maybe it's standing. It feels...wrong. Something shiny on the wall, can she touch it? The woman in the shiny thing is scary. Her eyes are too bright, too bright, they're horrible. Cordelia doesn't like those eyes. She reaches out to make them go away, and they do, and little pieces of brightness tinkle to the floor around her feet. Broken.

The shiny is broken like she is, now.

Broken things need to be put back together again. The biggest piece fits in her hand like it was meant to be there. The first step in putting a broken thing back together.

Thick, warm blood is running down her arms, her fault again. Because she's found something to cut through all her layers, tear them down so she can re-build Cordelia.