1Title: Aphelion

Author: Marcy (DHCgirl)

Rating: PG

Email:

Content: C/A

Series Summary: Aphelion, Heliopause, Perihelion.

Summary: In the moonlight she was beautiful. The soft, silver glow lent her skin a subtle sheen. But twilight didn't do her justice. Not really. In the darkness Cordelia was a mere glimmer of what she could be. Warm and humming. Painted with light.

Spoilers: Takes place after Billy.

Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.

Distribution: Take it

Notes: Umm… I'm hoping to make this into a series. We'll see how this goes.

Aphelion:the point in the orbit of a planet or comet that is at the greatest distance from the sun

"That looks familiar," Cordelia said, pointing to a blacked out streetlight on the corner of the intersection. Her finger shifted to the left until it hit the abandoned hotdog cart with the weather worn umbrella and missing wheel. "That's fuzzy." Again to a leaky fire hydrant. "And I have absolutely no recollection of that whatsoever."

Angel shrugged and hopped down off of the curb. "Two out of three ain't bad," he said, as he walked across the street. They had been hunting forever for the site of Cordelia's vision and he was now firmly locked in the mindset of 'progress is progress'.

Cordelia tagged quickly behind. "Since when did we start counting 'fuzzy'?" she asked, trotting up behind him. She had insisted on going with him, and though he went through the motions of feigning annoyance, he secretly liked the company. Besides, what she had seen had been unclear at best; a shaky, splintered picture of evil doing. They would be forced to drive around looking for anything that struck a chord of familiarity. And for the past hour, that's exactly what they had been doing.

Angel surveyed the rundown alley. It was a section of South Central referred to as the Cul de Sick, and with good reason. Liquid of indiscriminant origin trickled down in oily rivers, tracing patterns in the sidewalk's thick layer of filth. An alluvial fan of waste.

The buildings were all uniform in their dilapidation, but one stood out. Someone had taken the pains to secure it from the outside, nailing planks to the windows in crooked x's, too extensive to be the mere safety precautions of a condemned complex. "This has got to be it," Angel proclaimed, and then was immediately confronted with problem number two. Cordelia's vision had shown a desperate man, invoking black majiks to convert his girlfriend into a zombie. It had not, however, revealed an entryway.

"What's with the pause?" Cordelia placed her hands on her hips and tapped her foot impatiently, a gesture that told Angel he should choose his next words carefully. He knew she was already anxious; it had taken them too long to find the place. Her visions came with an expiration date, and it was clear that they were inching closer to that mark. And that she felt it.

But still he shrugged, resignedly. "It's all boarded up."

Her expression let him know that his reasoning was unacceptable. Her features pinched together in a mask of incredulity. "So? Smashy smashy," she said, shadow boxing the barrier on the front door. She finished it off with a quick jab to its knotty midesection. Brute force was the most obvious thought; it just wasn't a good one.

"And alert all inside to our presence?" Angel shook his head. "No. We have to find another way in."

He walked deeper into the alley beside the tenement and began to search around the base of the building, sifting through rubbish. Piles of the garbage flanked two large, neglected dumpsters. Angel was left to sort through day old pizza boxes and soggy paper bags.

Cordelia stayed put. But Angel hadn't assumed she'd jump at the chance to go dumpster diving. Still she tried to be helpful through less down and dirty means, the inner workings of deep contemplation revealed by her scrunched expression. And then an epiphany flashed across her face.

"We could --"

"Nope." Angel cut her short, tossing a leaking Hefty bag behind him.

Another moment of consideration. "Oh! What about --"

"Uh uh." Another bag.

Cordelia frowned, tightly. Her idea well had run dry. "Damn. Well then how are we gonna get in?"

Angel sighed. "I'm working on it, Cor." His search was proving fruitless, except, of course, for the actual fruit. Half eaten, rotting. He let out a frustrated growl and dropped the trash he held. He shook out his hands, which were now caked with a mixture of spoiling mayonnaise and wet coffee grinds, and took a step backwards.

"We really need to pick up the pace," Cordelia urged, her 'we' meaning him. And he was pretty sure that her 'pick up the pace' was a poorly masked 'Hurry the hell up'. She looked up at the sky, where small, spotty areas of pink where beginning to peek through the black sheet of night. "And not to add any pressure, but it's almost daybreak."

Angel ignored her, his eyes ticking from boarded window to boarded window. One window towards the center on the second story had escaped the carpentry spree; free from boards and nails and left wide open. Once again someone else's ineptitude would save them from their own.

"Go stand on that dumpster," he instructed, pointing to the larger of the two that sat right beneath the window.

Visibly excited at the prospect of a plan, Cordelia jumped into action. "Gotcha," she said, making a fast break for her post. She stopped suddenly, and Angel could tell she was now reconsidering the requirements of her role. "Wait. Ew."

"That window's open," Angel explained, shooting an anxious look up to the sky. More specks of pink pricked their way through, and the sky plumped with the onset of dawn, like a dam about to bust. "I'll pull you up from there."

For someone who had been so desperate for a fast course of action, Cordelia really wasn't getting behind this one. "Pfft. And just how do you plan getting up…" she trailed off as Angel leapt high into the air, grabbing the rung of a busted fire escape and brachiating up and into the window. "Okay then."

"Cordelia!"

"Right. Dumpster. On it." This time she made it there. "Literally," she grumbled in disgust, as she knocked away bits of garbage and hoisted herself on top of the large, steel frame. Her heels made a loud clacking as she shuffled her way around the rim and to the side closest to the wall.

In the meantime Angel had latched a tight hand around the window ledge, positioning himself above her. He hung impatiently and waited for Cordelia to get into place. She stretched her arms up, and with a small hop caught his on the first try.

She twisted and wriggled in his grips, inching up his wrist in search of a better hold. "Good thing I'm not – oof – afraid of heights or anything. I might have been a burden." She continued to shimmy up him like a rope. The vampire, held only by hand, bobbed along with her.

"Yeah," Angel grunted as he hoisted her up to the windowsill. "Good thing."

Cordelia grabbed the splintering frame, and swung her leg up and over. It wasn't the most graceful entry, but soon they were both inside. And not a moment too soon. Morning made its presence known, the new day's sun nipping at Angel's exposed hand. He reached up and snatched the window's tattering shade, yanking it down hard.

And then it was dark.

The contents of Cordelia's suede bag clanked and rattled as she swung it around to her front. After a moment of blind fishing she pulled out a flashlight, snapping it on. "Let there be light," she whispered, sending the long thin beam across to the rear wall.

The room was small and unfurnished; twenty square feet of cobwebs and dust. "Well, this place has a certain…nonexistent charm."

Angel nodded in silent agreement. The more the light exposed, the more Angel wondered if the boards hadn't simply been a safety precaution after all. If he owned the building, he'd board it the hell up, too.

As Cordelia continued to illuminate the space Angel realized that her search hadn't revealed a door. She had recognized it too, shooting him a confused look before sending the light on a dizzy hunt for an exit. The results were the same: the room was sealed shut. Angel stood wondering about the point of a room with no way out.

And apparently, Cordelia, too. "What is this? Did we enter an apartment and end up in a Japanese Puzzle Box?"

The beam continued its trail along the interior. And then something caught Angel's eye.

"Wait. What's that?"

Cordelia pulled the light back to wall directly in front of them. In the bend where the wall met the floor, there was a small slat of wood. It was a different color than the rest of the floor. A light, natural tan against the moldy brown. It was attached with two crooked nails set only half way into the wood, and rang of a cheap fix. "One of these things is not like the other," Cordelia said, knowingly.

Angel began to walk over to investigate.

Cordelia's hands on his waste stopped him short. The tips of her fingers applied the slightest bit of pressure against his skin, and he felt himself lean back.

"What?" he whispered, harsher than he meant to. She shot him an annoyed look and then motioned to the ground.

Her tiny flashlight illuminated his footstep's aborted destination, a large patch of disintegrating floorboards. Years of neglected rot and decay had rendered them porous and vitiated and, it was obvious, extremely vulnerable.

"Better yield the floor to the girl who won't fall through it," she said, nudging him out of the way. "Wait here."

Angel wanted to protest, but she had a point. Cordelia was considerably lighter, and fighting with her would just fritter away more time; something that was now at a premium. So he stayed put, focusing his energy, instead, on unremitting worry.

"Careful." The warning got a scoff. He knew it would.

He watched on tensely as she made her slow passage to the opposite side of the room, the floor creaking a symphony under her footsteps. One board proved especially flimsy and snapped with a sharp crack. She froze. Her head ducked slightly and she made a pained, yet hopeful face of clenched teeth and squinted eyes. When she felt it was safe, she continued to the end, hopping onto the sturdy final beam as if it were the finish line of an obstacle course. She let out a breath of relief upon safe passage, and spun to give him an 'I'm okay' nod. Angel went to respond and realized that he too had been holding in a lungful of air.

Cordelia crouched on the floor, studying the piece of wood. She ran a finger across its edges, before settling on a grip. As she tugged away with obvious difficulty, her olive colored blouse hitched its way up her back, slowly exposing her tattoo. Angel watched as the inky corona peaked over the horizon of her low-rise jeans.

He had never noticed before, but the compass-rose sun wore a lopsided grin. Cordelia bounced on the balls of her feet, and it began a rapid cycle. Sunrise, sunset. Sunrise, sunset. With each new dawn it flashed its taunting smile.

Things were shifting. He could feel as much. His eyes were fixed on the hypnotic sun and before he knew it, he had taken a step forward.

And then another. Floorboards bowed under his weight, letting out a sharp squeak.

"I said stay put," Cordelia scolded as she continued her struggle. "God, you can be so clingy." A final tug and the stubborn piece of wood snapped free.

Angel froze in obedience. Then his brow furrowed. "Clingy? You think I'm clingy?"

She ignored him, tossing the dislodged slat aside, and peered down into the newly exposed hole. She immediately tensed. "This is worse than we thought."

He began forward, rushing an explanation. "I mean, if you ever need space, all you have to do is say the word. Say the word and I am --"

"Angel."

She didn't really think that, he thought solemnly as he trod a tentative path across to her. She couldn't. After all, she was the one who clung to him. She would coax and tug, hang on him until he broke. There was no way she thought that he was the clingy one. But if she did…

He crouched down beside her. "I'm just saying --"

"I got it. 'Space' and your Splitsville. Now can you please redirect your anal retentive attention to towards the peephole of badness?"

Angel studied her for a moment and then slowly complied. The hole dropped two stories down, exposing the basement floor. Cordelia had been right to worry. Mobs of vampires swarmed below, preparing an elaborate latticework of scaffolding that seemed to be going higher than it should've be able. In the center a young woman was strapped to a large, octagonal iron plate, embossed with a series of scratchy runes. Her bright red hair was fraying out of her loose set bun, and her face was streaked with a mixture of dirt, blood, and sweat. She fought violently against the restraints until one of the workers delivered a hard backhand to her cheek and she was knocked cold.

Angel frowned. "Maybe we should have paged the others."

"Yeah, well we didn't," Cordelia countered in her 'sorry to inform you' voice. "So this is gonna have to be a take down for two. Any ideas?"

He looked around the room. No exit had materialized in the past few minutes.

"Well, no doors. So the element of surprise is shot." Cordelia sighed and he knew she was thinking that he should have just broken down the outside doors when he had the chance. He was thinking it too. "Those aren't exactly your strong suit anyway."

She was less than thrilled with this assessment of her capabilities and shot him a skeptical look. "Pfft. I am the walking embodiment of stealth. There is no way that--" Cordelia stopped suddenly. Angel turned to find her eyes glued to her shoulder. On it rested a dirty hand. "Oh for the love of…"

Angel was suddenly yanked backwards, landing hard on his back. The floor crunched on impact. Two vampires hovered over him, sneering. He grabbed the closest one and pulled him even closer, kicking him off balance. Two pats to the side and his other hand found Cordelia's wooden slat, which had splintered and sharpened during her struggle. He took the vampire out with a single blow.

Cordelia swung at the second one, managing to clip him on his jaw. He hissed and recoiled, and then struck back, swatting the flashlight from her hand.

Angel ripped his shoulder back and plunged the makeshift stake into his chest. He exploded into ashes between them.

"Thanks." Cordelia looked down at the resulting dust piles, appreciatively. "Well, that's two down. Not a bad start."

Angel picked up the discarded flashlight and pointed towards the newly opened exit: the propped trapdoor on the floor. He flashed her a triumphant smile.

She grinned back. "An unexpected turn of luck. Go us."

Angel eased his way down the stairway. He tapped each stair cautiously, testing its bearings with different amounts of weight. By stair five Cordelia had had enough. She brushed by him, and quickly clunked her way down, landing at the bottom with a resounding thud that made Angel wince. He stood for a moment, in annoyance, and indecision. Then he followed in suit.

The stairwell emptied out into a narrow hallway, which stretched either way for three doors before cornering out. Cordelia looked at the two options, shrugged and went right. The walls were covered with a yellowing floral paper that was peeling in more areas than it wasn't. The hall was dimly lit, thanks to a flickering light sconce, exposing a wealth of divots and other imperfections in the path ahead of them.

"You need to be more careful," Angel warned her, reclaiming his spot at the head of the line. When she rolled her eyes he continued. "This whole building looks like it crumble at any moment. If you don't watch where you're going, you're going to get hurt."

And with that caveat, Angel fell through the floor.

He landed square on his back with a solid thud, sending years of dust and mold billowing into the air.

When it cleared he saw Cordelia, crouched at the edge of the hole, looking down at him.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

Angel groaned. He was still trying to figure that out for himself. There was a sharp pain in his lower back, towards the right, and he tried to roll off of it.

"Yeah," he called up to her. Angel reached beneath him and pulled out the culprit. He looked at it and sighed. "This stake broke my fall."

"Aren't you guys supposed to, like, land on your feet?"

He eased his way up, and brushed himself off. "I'm not a cat, Cordelia."

"Well obviously," she countered. "Like a cat could fall through a floor." She had flicked on her flashlight, sending down an obnoxiously bright beam. He dodged the light with his arm as it repeatedly tried to tag his face.

"Cordelia," he hissed. A one-word response to both the comment and the light. She got the picture, clicking it off.

He looked around for the first time. The stake in his back had not been a cruelly ironic anomaly. The large room was filled with weapons of all kinds. Metal racks hung on all four walls and housed an impressive arsenal. It was obvious that the place had played base camp before.

From above Cordelia complained. "Hey, are you gonna jump back up here anytime soon?" But he was still inspecting the racks. It looked like someone was getting ready for a war. Stakes, flamethrowers, grenades. And like they could probably win. "Angel?" He heard her call again.

But another set of voices caught Angel's attention; faint murmurs of activity coming from the next room over. He went to the door and opened it slowly. Angel stuck near the wall as he made his way down the short hall that funneled into a larger room. At the halfway point he halted in recognition; it was the basement he had seen from the peephole.

He had found their way in.

Angel jogged into the weapon's store, and back towards the pile of debris his crash landing had created.

"Hey, Cordy. I think we might just get to test out your element of surprise aptitude after all."

When she didn't respond he called again. "Cordelia?"

Angel searched above him, but she was gone.

In a matter of seconds he was up and out of that hole, and running down the hallway. Angel's mind was no longer his to control. It filled itself with images Cordelia; bound and bleeding. On the brink of death thanks to him. Having always found anger to be the preferable emotion to fear, Angel focused instead on her infuriating ability to be captured.

He smashed through the first door he came upon, finding the room empty. The next three were the same. He turned the corner to find the adjacent hallway much brighter than the first. Long, halogen light fixtures had been installed above each of the door jams. The doors themselves had been removed.

Angel looked into the first and to his great relief found Cordelia.

Iron manacles fastened to the wall bound her hands directly above her head. She had a shallow gash on her left arm that ran shoulder to elbow, and a fresh bruise was beginning to blossom on her temple. Two lanky vampires were watching her from the sidelines, tapping out arrhythmic patterns on nearby furniture and placing bets on her blood type. But in true Cordelia form she looked more annoyed than anything else.

And then she changed.

Cordelia began to moan: deep, guttural noises. She swayed back and forth before finally doubling over. Her captors, caught off guard by her sudden turn for the worse, began bickering and casting blame as they tried to assess the problem. They circled around her, confused. The taller one poked her with a wooden dowel he had been using as a drumstick. With each jab her groans grew louder.

Angel's first instinct was to storm in and rip their heads right off, and he could do that (he really, really could) but something inside told him to wait. And sure enough after a moment he watched as her hands slipped unnoticed up the chain rope of her restraints. When the vampires were close enough, her hands tightened and she kicked herself up off the ground, planting a set of hard feet into their chests. Angel stepped out from behind the doorframe. Two stakes snapped out from his sleeves and into the backs of the stumbling duo.

She didn't look surprised to see him, but Angel expected as much.

"Took you long enough," Cordelia complained, shaking her bound arms above her. Angel pulled the chains right from the wall and he cracked the cuffs like eggs. She raised an eyebrow and reached a hand over to jingle the set of keys that hung a foot away.

"Sorry," he said. "But I think I found a way in to the main room."

"Great," she said, rubbing her wrists. He shot her a worried look, but she fired back a smile. "I'm good. Now lets go get our whacko." She snatched up her bag from the chair in the corner of the room and slung it across her chest before giving him a 'what are we waiting for?' look.

Captured to confident in two seconds flat. Angel wondered if it was dizzying being Cordelia Chase.

The two walked out of the room and back towards the basement. Angel looked over at Cordelia and smiled. It was a relief having her back. Safe. And he couldn't ignore the thought that tugged at the back of his mind. That he felt better with her by his side.

"I am so hyper aware of this floor right now," Cordelia said as she inched her way up to the large, Angel shaped hole. Angel wanted to say an 'I told you so', but he was too busy being hyper aware of the floor. He hopped down first, because he could, and then readied himself to catch her.

At the basement opening Angel looked around the corner, while Cordelia stood on tiptoes and peeked over his shoulder.

This section of the basement was different from the weapons room. The ceiling above, which, Angel figured, would be the back wing of the first floor, had been removed, the room stretching up another room's height. The back windows were slathered with a thick coat of black paint, which shielded the worker bee vamps.

As they continued to connect the large steel latticework, a new figure emerged from behind the large platform that held the still unconscious redhead. He wore a long, black cloak and pulled back the hood to reveal a stony face. His hair was a light brown with flecks of gray at the temples. And although it had been at the mercy of a muss inducing hood it had escaped the fate and remained impeccably groomed, slicked into hard angles. He weaved in and out of the tall metal bars, inspecting the progress with apparent approval.

Suddenly, Cordelia began to pat Angel's back in a hurried tattoo of recognition. "Oh my gosh, Angel. Do you know who that is?" she asked.

"I'm gonna guess the bad guy," Angel ventured.

"Yeah, well, by night anyway. By day he's Roland Brenner, CEO of BrennerBase Electronics, and virtual gazillionaire. He just bought out his two closest competitors, with serious AntiTrust repercussions. It's in all the papers. And guess who was lead council in the ensuing Court case."

Angel snapped around to face her. "Wolfram and Hart," he said, as if it were the final piece of the puzzle. "Well, it would explain the impressive vampire entourage." And the stockpile of weapons. And the mini prison on the floor above them.

As Roland once again disappeared behind one of the platforms, Angel turned his attention back to the vampires. From this new vantage point, he could see just how intricate their project was. Scaffolding circled the margins of the room, adding another level. A first floor substitute. By the assorted tools on the floor - hammers, wrenches, and blowtorches - he could tell it had been newly erected.

"So what do we do now?"

It was a good question. And like most of them that day, Angel didn't have an answer. "I don't know. We need to find a way in there."

"Well, duh." Cordelia rolled her eyes. "I was searching for specifics, Bubba."

"I'll think of something," he promised.

Angel watched as Roland reemerged, followed by two bulky vampires who hefted something that resembled a giant concrete birdbath.

Roland hopped up onto the platform that held his girlfriend. He studied the woman for a minute before brushing the hair out of her face, and tucking it gently behind her ear. He reached out and took her hand, turning it over and placing a soft kiss on the palm. And then, in one blurry second, he slashed it with a knife he had been concealing in his other hand. He straitened her arm, allowing small droplets of blood to splatter into the well of the stone statue.

Angel felt Cordelia shudder. "We have to do something," she said.

"We will," he assured her. "I'll get us out there."

Suddenly Angel was being jerked out into plain view. A tight hand had the collar of his jacket and was pushing him forward. Angel turned to find the vampire guard had his seer in a stronghold as well.

Cordelia looked worried. And rightfully so. "Angel."

He shrugged. "Well, this is one way to make an entrance."

She wasn't impressed. "Caught and exposed? I could have gotten us caught and exposed!"

Hearing the commotion, Roland jumped down from the dais and made his way over. "Who is this?"

Their captor sneered. "I found them snooping around the back," he said, shoving the two forward.

"We weren't snooping," Cordelia lied. "We're…umm…Chimney sweeps. But upon further inspection of your building I realize that you, like an increasing amount of American homes and… tenements are chimney-less. Don't worry about us. Just the pitfalls of a dying profession. So we'll just be on our way…"

"We're here to stop you," Angel said, firmly. Cordelia groaned with frustration, as if she had won them their ticket out of there and he had just chucked it in the nonexistent fireplace.

Roland looked Angel over, bored and disinterested. "I'm not doing anything wrong," he defended, simply.

"Last time I checked, kidnapping was a crime," Angel countered, hitching a thumb towards the stage.

Cordelia jumped in, pointing an accusing finger. "And not only that, but with the undead henchmen and the zombification there is big time moral turpitude here, Buster!" She leaned in towards Angel, and cast her voice low. "You were late for lunch yesterday so I watched The People's Court," she confided.

Roland continued his preparations unfazed. He pulled out a hunk of a purple, chalky substance, and traced a line that looped around various components of the platform. "I am simply doing what needs to be done. I'm a contracts man and Stephanie has broken hers." He looked at the girl with a deep frown, as if not saddened but put-upon.

"Are you this creepy in board meetings? I don't know how you broke into the Fortune 500."

Roland paused. He eyed Cordelia wearily, as if only then registering her presence. "And I was just supposed to let her leave, is that it?" He shook his head. "I will not be left alone. Not again." He reached into his cloak, and pulled out three satin bags, sealed with taut drawstrings.

Cordelia's eyes glazed as though she was thinking of something just off in the distance. Maybe a piece of her vision. She gave Angel a quick worried look. "There are plenty of fish in the sea," she tried, "And you're in LA! It's totally fishy!"

Angel looked around him. Cloaked man. Bound woman on a metal plate. "Tell me about it…"

Roland looked down at the satchels, his hand clenching tightly around them. "You only get one!" His voice rose for the first time. He paused for a moment and evened it out. "Everything else is a waste of time, energy, and existence. It would be better to die than to accept less than the paramount."

"So I'm thinking a single's mixer is out of the realm of possibility."

And once again Roland didn't signal the vampire mob to gut them then and there. Angel was getting the impression that he was a man who deeply enjoyed the sound of his own voice. "You should never settle for second best. To settle is to lose. And I am not a loser."

Angel knew that it took everything inside Cordelia to prevent her from commenting. Her cheeks reddened under the weight of tactful restraint. He decided that he should jump in.

"So you do this. You cast your spell. She won't be the same; she'll be reduced to a mindless drone. She won't be the woman you love anymore. Her will is gone."

Roland's mouth stretched in a slimy smile. "I'm not after her will." He drew open the first satchel and emptied its powdery contents in with the small pool of blood. It hissed and snapped on contact.

The reaction sent Angel forward, a knee jerk response to threat. Roland made a quick and dangerous motion towards Cordelia.

"What would you do? If you lost her?"

Angel stopped dead.

He stood, wordlessly. The answer seemed tangled in his mind, somewhere just beyond him. "I…"

"Hey, Captain Observation, we're not together," Cordelia chimed in, stepping up behind him. "And if we were, he wouldn't resort to Scary Possessive Guy tactics. 'Cause evil maniacal tendencies? Kind of a turn off." She was getting comfortable shooting insults from behind him. Just at ease enough to send Roland off the edge. Angel shot furtive glances at the snarling vampires that surrounded them. Just relaxed enough to get them both killed.

A beat. The circle twitched in anticipation. Angel waited to see what the next move would be.

Luckily, Roland was the type to indulge. "Love is a sacrifice, dear. It is a massacre. And it is meant to be."

"No it's not. Love doesn't send us to bad places, it pulls us from them. But if you think it's static, than you're seriously deluded." Cordelia looked around and then mumbled, "Which, right now, is probably a good guess."

He seemed to finally be hearing her, so she continued.

"People change and they move on. It's sad, sure, but you just have to deal with it." Somewhere along the way she had shifted gears. Her words were gentler, and delivered with what came across as genuine sympathy. "And turning them into the walking undead is not dealing with it." Even the last bit seemed to be offered in the kindest of tones.

Roland lowered his head, considering her words. Angel was amazed. She actually seemed to be getting to him. But Cordelia had that kind of effect on a person. She could reach them at their lowest point and drag them kicking and screaming up to her light. She had been blessed (or cursed) with second sight, but this was her true gift. And it had been one she had given herself, wholly responsible for her own evolution. Angel hoped that she could spark the same reformation within him. He liked to believe it had already begun.

After what felt like forever Roland's head rose suddenly, his jaw newly set. "I just wanted to hold on." His words came out slow and even.

Behind them Stephanie began to roll in and out of consciousness.

"Roland. Please." She slurred her plea.

He flushed at the sound of her voice. Something flashed in his eyes. Anger. Hatred. Betrayal. "You told me you loved me!" he screamed. And with that any progress Cordelia may have been making bowed to a stronger set of emotions.

Roland began to recklessly dump in the rest of the ingredients, shaking the bags empty and tossing them to the side. Puffs of smoke and snaps of fire stormed inside the sculpture and a thick, black funnel started to cyclone in the center.

Angel grabbed the nearest thing he could find: a wrench by his left foot. He hurled it hard. The figure burst into pieces and a large chunk of the concrete hit Roland on the side of his face. He stumbled back, stunned. Shock was quickly replaced with horror when he saw the contents of the well scattered on the floor.

Roland dropped to his knees, and began wildly sweeping the powder into a sloppy pile with his arms, trying to salvage his spell. "Get them!" he shouted, and the circle of vampires closed in around the two.

They sprang all at once, as if released from an invisible tether.

As he fought, Angel searched for Cordelia amidst the throngs of vampires. She had grabbed a stake from her bag, and was putting it to good use. He was relieved to see that their training sessions were paying off, as she weaved in and out of attackers. It was almost like a beautiful dance. Only Cordelia Chase could lend violence a charm.

As the fight continued he marveled at their synchronicity. Fighting in tandem, compensating for each other's mistakes. They were like a well-oiled machine. And then something deep inside him said he should keep thoughts of 'Cordelia' and 'Well-oiled' at safer distances.

He had almost forgotten about Roland until he heard Cordelia's panicked call. "He's getting away!"

Angel ducked a punch. "I'm not leaving you!" He didn't even look at her. It wasn't open for discussion.

"Angel!" Something about the way she said it made him turn around. A credit to his fluency in her inflections. She now had her flashlight in a tight fist. "Space!"

Angel landed one more blow onto his opponent before launching himself beneath the scaffolding in the peripheries.

Cordelia cocked her arm and heaved the flashlight up to the painted window above. On contact it shattered into a hundred black fragments that rained down like confetti.

The morning sunlight rushed in, around a lame wooden X; an assault of warmth and light. A fusillade of rays picked off the retreating vamps one by one until all were dust.

Angel watched from the safety of his hooded spot as it hit Cordelia, splashing up and over and swathed her like a second skin.

In the center of the room, amidst the ashes and destruction, Cordelia stood strong. She looked damn proud of herself. But she had every right to be.

Angel pulled his attention away and left her to her self-adulation, running the shadowy course until he was out of the window's reach. With a burst of supernatural speed, he was soon right behind the staggering Roland.

"Not so fast."

Angel snatched the CEO by the back of his cloak. But instead of putting up a fight, he crumbled.

"She said she'd be with me forever. She told me she'd stay." Angel found himself looking at a different man. The steely eyes that had once appeared arrogantly self-assured now looked lost. "But nobody ever does," he croaked. "Everyone Leaves. For a better life. For a brighter future."

Angel followed his gaze out to the platform where the two women now stood together. Stephanie was slowly getting her wits about her as Cordelia attempted to cut her free from the straps. When her tiny Swiss army knife wasn't working, she reached for a blowtorch.

He found himself mesmerized. He had always known that Cordelia was pretty. Even beneath battle-matted hair and doused with demon slime she maintained a regality. But it was in the sun that she looked her most beautiful. Her most content.

Right.

Angel shook himself out of his daze. Roland sputtered and sagged, a small stream of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth. His head rolled slowly until he was looking right at the vampire with his dull, gray and now powerless eyes.

"In the end, your time with someone is just anticipation of their exit."

From his place on the stone bench, the sky looked impossibly black.

It had felt like just moments before that the sun had sunken down, freeing him from his cage. It had lingered for a while; a misty purple gloaming, a ghost of sunlight Angel could indulge in. But now the Hyperion's courtyard was dark.

It had turned on him quickly. Or maybe he had just been out there longer than he remembered. Time, along with just about everything important in the world, had a tendency of getting away from a person.

Angel closed his eyes, and let the wind sweep across his face. It was getting colder, and while it had no real effect on him, he still registered the change.

When the police had arrived at the building they were met with a disturbing scene. Roland had slipped himself something during the chase; a get-out-of-jail-dead, failsafe pill. With a cloaked corpse, and a bewildered girlfriend who still wasn't sure what was happening, Cordelia was left to cook up a wild yet convincing story about a man seduced by an internet cult with the entrance fee of a blood sacrifice. The order of the Wolf, Ram and Hart.

Still, Roland's words haunted him. He knew it was because, deep down, they held a ring truth. His memory was filled with people who had ultimately failed him. Or whom he had failed. Angel was painfully aware that he had trudged through his very long life leaving a wake of abandoners and those abandoned.

He had to wonder if it was the futility of it all that was getting to him. Winning the day no longer seemed like enough. In the grand scheme of things he felt thoroughly beaten; staggering, mud on the face, and trailing the also-ran.

"Another successful breakdown, shakedown, takedown. A nail biter at points, but once again we Nick and Nora'd our way out of a sticky situation, emerging victorious." His eyes snapped open when he heard her voice, but not in surprise. "We should, like, do this for a living."

Angel turned his head to find Cordelia standing behind him. She had changed into her purple and white knit shawl, correctly anticipating the cold. Despite the easy smile she wore, he knew she had come out on official business. They shared a deep-set desire for utility, and both searched for purpose in a world that at times seemed pointless and chaotic. He had chosen to save souls. She had chosen to save his.

Since she walked into his life she had made it impossible for him to revel in misery; a fly in his disappointment. Normally he tried to dodge such interventions, and take his small comfort in the familiarity of grief. But now he found himself sitting and waiting, hoping to once again be awakened by her laugh.

When he didn't give her the response she was fishing for, she walked around and plopped down next to him. "I know sometimes you have trouble with that tricky gradation of emotion, so lemme clear this one up for you. This is a happy time." Cordelia's delivery was flip, but her eyes told a different story. She was worried about him.

His mouth twisted into a compliant smile. "I am happy." A thinly veiled disguise.

But of course she saw through it. "Nu uh," Cordelia countered, her index finger ticking left to right like a metronome. "You have been mopey ever since we got back. Is this because I called you clingy?" Angel's tight smile fell. He had forgotten about that.

"It's not that. It's just…"

In the moonlight she was beautiful. The soft, silver glow lent her skin a subtle sheen. But twilight didn't do her justice. Not really. In the darkness Cordelia was a mere glimmer of what she could be. Warm and humming. Painted with light.

It left him in a curious position. A creature of the night waiting for the sun.

His hands fumbled in his lap. What if he were to reach out and grab one of hers? It was a brief notion that sprung in his mind and then fell by the wayside.

She seemed suddenly intrigued by his silence, cocking her head in amusement. "What?"

He had always assumed that she was riveted to his side, firmly and fatally. "Angel, what?" But maybe he was the one orbiting her.

He felt her hand on his neck, and it was a warm and comforting reprieve from the cold. But it was short-lived and aberrantly unsatisfying, and left him wondering. Was she losing her touch? Or maybe under the scrutiny of a microscope the magic was breaking down.

Angel was beginning to realize that their relationship wasn't as clear as thought. He had placed them in boxes. Categories that didn't quite fit. Expectations that might not be real. He was suddenly desperate for a kind of assurance. She had promised to stay with him, and Angel wanted to know if that was something he could count on. Or would she be another casualty of the twin evils that haunted him. Companion-ment. Abandonment. "Do you think he was right? That there's no such thing as a second love?" He found himself asking instead.

She eyed him for a moment, clearly thrown by the question. "Well, I usually make it a point not to get my life counseling from a psychopath, but either way you're asking the wrong person," she said finally, easing herself up off the stone bench. Taking a moment, she pulled her wrap tighter; resistance buckling under the cold of night. She slowly moved from arm's length and became another thing he couldn't touch. With a small sigh she began back to the Hyperion. "I never had a first."

Cordelia had always been there. By his side. But now he was on the edge of the cliff, about to make the fall without her.

As he watched her step through the door and out of sight, Angel felt something he hadn't in a long time;

How far apart they truly were.

Next in the Solar Series: Heliopause