Title: A Necessary Hurt.

Setting: Season 1 -- To Shanshu In LA.

Rating: PG.

Genre: Angel, Cordelia and Wesley gen fic. A schmangsty h/c episode filler and character study.

Summary: Angel takes Cordy and Wes home from the hospital, with much introspection and the inevitable angst. Fluffy Angel wanted to come out and play, and Wes and Cordy needed some love. This is the result.

Disclaimer: 'Angel: the Series' and all associated characters are the property of Joss Whedon, ME et al. and do not belong to me. I make no profit from this.

---

The hospital smells of pain. Pain, loss, despair and death. The ICU is infused with the scent of blood and sweat, the psych ward with torment and meds. I hate it and all the anguished sounds that come with it.

The staff have a jaded quality about them, as though they've seen too much horror in their lives. I feel emotionally exhausted, and I've only been here for a few days. The nurses and doctors and orderlies and cleaners, they all look as though they've been here a lifetime. Too long shifts, too little rest and too heavy demands have left them empty and stark. The patients at least will leave this place, one way or another.

A tired looking nurse in her mid-twenties runs me through my duties, and I listen with the half-attention of a man underwhelmed by the world he lives in. Or not, but the undead jokes don't seem to fit this occasion. The nurse recites the instructions in a mono-tone, the occasional sigh a testament to how many times she's had to do so and how each takes a little more of her soul. She was an attractive girl once, I easily note, but she's marred by her work. Small, cruel lines stray from the corner of her eyes, and her complexion has taken on an unhealthy pallor. I can't help but pity her, and all her student dreams gone to seed.

I accept the bottles and tablets she hands me as she explains their function, impressing upon me the importance of regular doses. If she is in any way suspicious that the man she's speaking to has two employees in the hospital at once, she doesn't show it. That I am the only party capable of their continued care post-discharge doesn't seem to bother her either. I should be worried by that fact, if not a bit indignant, but right now I can't seem to summon the energy to get past the crushing need to be with my friends. To get them out of here and back to safety as quickly and cleanly as possible. Back where they belong.

The protective concern I feel for them is disconcerting, as was the overwhelming surge of fear I felt when twice I thought I'd lost them. That terrible phone call when my world had crumbled from beneath me. Cordelia, in the hospital, out of her mind with pain. Seeing her lying there hopelessly, with nothing I could do and no help I could give. She hadn't even known that I was with her.

And then again, watching a fireball shoot through the shattering windows of my office block. Knowing without a shred of doubt that Wesley was inside. That blaring noise of car alarms in my ears as I ran through the falling debris, flames licking up my ankles. Finding him broken and limp on the staircase, then pale and unresponsive in the hospital.

I need this concern. I need this crippling fear that they'll come to harm again. I need to care. Without that, I'm lost, wandering without a single tie to bind me and nothing to pull me along. Cordelia and Wesley were right before. I was feeling disconnected from the world.

I need something to fight for that isn't mythic destiny or the faceless public. Something that's not just an insubstantial and distant hope, as fleeting and undefined as atonement or redemption. I come to reflect their highest aspirations of me when I can't even impose an image upon a mirror. They make me their champion.

I know now that they themselves are my connection, that they are what I need to keep me going. They are my connection to the powers as much as they are my connections to life, and I'd been taking that for granted. I'm a selfish, ungrateful, undead bastard, I know. I just couldn't see what was right in front of me.

Even so, Wolfram and Hart shouldn't expect a thank you card. A simple slap in the face would have sufficed. It didn't need them both almost dying to bring me to this realisation, although I guess nothing short of that was really going to do it so well.

The pride I feel is even more unexpected, but like the concern, it is not entirely unwelcome. Cordelia's determination to get right back up again. That despite the deepest depths of sorrow and suffering she has seen, she wants nothing more than to go straight back out there and face it. Wesley's unflinching acceptance of his condition. That despite the cost to himself, he wants to be back by my side. Both of them, fighting for my cause.

The nurse pauses as my eyes glaze over and mistakes my silence for confusion. I hurry to assure her that I got it the first time. That I was just... thinking. She smiles then, and it's with something vaguely approaching warmth that she tells me just how lucky I am. I have no answer for her, and she rests a hand lightly on my arm.

I'm 'lucky' to be getting away with my charges so easily. Cordelia is baffling the doctors with her apparent instantenous recovery. The many meds I'm being supplied with for her are to cover all the bases in anticipation of a relapse, and I'd had to fight hard to convince them that she had no previous history of violent psychotic episodes. That there were no psychiatric issues with her at all. They'd given me an unconvinced raised eyebrow and insisted on signing her up for further therapy and check-ups that I know we'll not be attending, but I could do nothing to stop them from prescribing various sedatives and drugs without arosing further suspicion. I just nod and hum gravely when they instruct me of her care. The signs to look out for and where to go for help.

Wesley's prescriptions are different. This is real and serious, whereas I can roll my eyes and laugh off the concern for Cordy. His isn't something that I know more about. They are the authority here, and I have to listen carefully.

I don't know whether to be relieved or dissapointed that his injuries are not of a mystical nature. At least it's something I know I can handle. It's real and tangible, and your common, everyday medical care will help. At the same time, there's not going to be a quick and easy recovery. The physical damage is going to hold Wesley back to a much greater extent than Cordelia's emotional trauma, for a time at least.

The nurse breaks out into another warm smile when explaining Wesley's care. I suspect that the novelty of such an uncomplaining patient has ingraciated Wesley significantly. Cordelia's bitch-tastic remarks have earned her those long suffering looks and barely patient tones that the nurses gave me when I first got here, but they don't see it for what it really is.

Anyone who's known her as long as I have would recognise straight away that her comments are half-hearted at best. She doesn't like to be so vulnerable, and she's covering it with an attitude I know she doesn't feel anymore. I notice that she's not said a single word to Wesley about how he looks, or flashed so much as a curling lip at me for my ineffectual fussing. It's something she keeps in reserve but no longer treats us with, unless as part of an all encompassing shield that she pushes us both behind. It's a big, flashing 'leave me alone' sign for the strangers and the first thing that convinced me to get them out of here fast. The second was the uncomfortable look I caught Wesley giving the nurse, so unused to the attention that it makes him nervous.

The last thing they need is the agitation, and I can't stand to see their queit resignation. Wesley is hating every moment of being here, and Cordelia has seen enough of hospitals to last her a lifetime. The way my teeth grind everytime some doctor comes to look them over tells me that getting away from this place would probably be in my best interests too. Not to mention those of the doctors themselves.

Just one more time. One more condesending look or scolding lecture. One more embarrased look or gasp of pain from Wesley. One more nurse forcing her aid on Cordelia as she tries to get up from the bed and refuses it. One more cup of that God-awful excuse for coffee they serve here, and I'll be growling and snarling and carrying them both away over my shoulders.

I've already had the staff all glaring and muttering when I stand smouldering in the corner, telling me firmly that I have to let them work when I try to intervene. I hear what they say, of course. Over-protective, stubborn and rude. I don't care. Let them think that of me, as long as they don't direct that at my friends. They deserve the best, and anything but gentle and patient and careful is not good enough.

The doctors are reluctant to let the two of them go, but I know that now is the time. This place is driving us crazy, and we're past the point of benefiting from being here.

I can tell that Wesley's working up to signing himself out if I'm not careful, even despite his state. I think he knows he can't cope on his own, regardless of the protests he thinks I want to hear. He's ashamed for needing my help, but I can't seem to find the words to explain to him how stupid that is. I'm not good at his stuff, but I need him to let me help. I don't like that he feels he should refuse it, so I cover it with rational excuses. Guilt tripping him into letting me by bringing up work. Thankfully Cordelia doesn't let me get too far with that, and I can hide behind her brutal but concerned demands instead. I'm a coward, I know, but she always did have the advantage over me. She's good with the touchy-feely stuff.

The tests are still being thrust upon Cordelia, even though they're yet to find anything. I don't think the doctors like the idea of not being able to explain her symptoms, like she's defeating them somehow by not providing them with an answer. They want to keep her to be sure. I'm not sure why she dislikes them so much, but I can see how upset she gets everytime they demand more information. Prodding and poking and taking blood. The tension is building in her like a spring after all that stress from the visions. She's desperate to get away and to her own space, like a caged animal being monitored in a zoo.

The aftershock headaches are not helping her plea to be discharged, and on top of everything, they're grinding her down even more. She gets antsy, which makes Wesley get antsy and fidgety, which cranks up my worry factor, which completes the whole circle by annoying Cordelia further. Sometimes it is like watching children, in that they're so closely connected. I can almost predict their mood swings. But then maybe I've been around them too long.

No one's getting any rest, no one's healing properly, and I'm inhereting the headaches. I think that the head nurse must have caught the desperation in my eyes, because she finally agreed to let me take them home, on the strict insistence that I not leave them on their own.

"Mr Angel?"

The nurse really is giving me a funny look now, and she won't settle until I roll of her instructions from memory. She seems satisfied by that, and with a brief flicker around the room, pulls me discreetly to one side. She advises me of her opinion on car travel for recently bed-ridden patients, and I agree on a subtle approach to dosing the two of them up before we leave. I want to avoid the inevitable arguement, and with a practised ease, the nurse saunters gracefully over to them, distracts them and delivers the meds.

---

Cordelia has a slight frown on her face as she sleeps, curled tightly against the side of the backseat. The tense lines of pain do not ease as she rests, nor does the pale exhaustion apparent in her skin. She has seen all the pain and horrors in the world, and it has left her battered. Her silky hair now hangs limply around her face, the lack of make-up revealing just how young she really is. She is just a girl, and I often forget that.

I think back to her in her bed, tugging at her cuffs, whimpering weakly, staring ahead at things only she could see. Lost in her own terrible visions. That delicate tremble to her lips that remained even as exhaustion ate away at her, piece by tiny piece. The way her hair had spilled across the pillow in tangled tendrils, clinging and limp with sweat. I'd wanted to burn down the world for her, if only to make the torment finally stop.

I looked in the rear-view mirror again and she sighs in her sleep, burrowing further into the seat. Her brow creases into a deeper frown, and then she is still again.

We have to help them.

It breaks my heart. I'm not sure why. She wants so deperately to do something about the things she's seen, but I get the impression that she's not stepping back from this the way that she should. I get that, I do, but I want so badly to tell her that she doesn't need to feel so involved. The visions are not her punishment. They're for me.

She feels responsible for the things in the visions. The bad things that happen that she can't prevent. I've told her that sometimes people are just cruel. They do things to each other that have no bearing on our own lives, and the fact that she's seen them doesn't in any way make her part of them. She can't help everyone, but I think she feels guilty anyway. Like she's supposed to remember the thousands of faces that exploded through her mind at once and somehow find a way to get to them. Having the visions doesn't make the events happen, but I don't think she's quite ready to accept that. It's something I plan to help her with.

Sometimes I wonder if she saw Wesley. She doesn't talk about it, and I won't push. She's had the privacy of her mind and body well and truely invaded these last few days, and she's entitled to her space. But I still wonder.

That doesn't have to be the reason why she talks to him the way she does. There's no debt owed between the two. She would have been just the same with him even if she hadn't have seen the horrors she had, but doing so after crawling from her own bed not hours before only strengthens the proof of their bond. Like the way they'd both become distressed if the doctors threatened to separate them. It had been allowed in the end, the doctors conceeding to them in the service of their own best interests, trying to minimise their exposure to stress. They're both just lucky that the nurses hadn't caught them bickering about trying to get Cordy back into bed. They'd have had the sedatives out in no time flat. It's normal for them, but the people here don't know that. The arguement had escalated over who was the most reckless about their health in a rather rough and brutal display of mutual affection, and had ended with them both asleep on the bed.

If not for Cordelia's lingering exhaustion and her recent tail-end headaches, I'd have said she was fully restored. She's hiding the hurt, though, and I'm concerned about what the eventual fallout might be. If I can get her away from here, away from threats she percieves as having to protect us and herself from, maybe I can break down her walls. But she won't let me in if she's still spending her days on edge and prickling.

I think having Wesley to take care of is helping her with that. When it's just him and her, I see her relax back into her natural state. As soon as a strange breaches her little bubble, she's back to momma bear mode. I can relate. And I'm glad that the two of them get on so well, even if it doesn't seem that way from the outside. Granted, there's some element of shared experience in there, but there's also a growing friendship that I'm proud to have been a part of creating.

Thank God it had gone both ways. I don't know what I would have done if Wesley hadn't been there. Could I have gotten help from elsewhere in time? She was dying right in front of me. She'd had hours left, days at the most.

It was from that point on that I knew I could count on Wesley for anything. I'd felt guilty as hell, sure. The guy had barely opened his eyes and I was laying it on him. Hardly time for a 'how are you feeling' before I had to load his shoulders again with a 'Cordy's in trouble'.

I didn't have to explain much. He got that look on his face and I knew. Wild horses were not going to keep him from her bedside, injuries or no injuries.

Part of me wanted to stop him. He wasn't ready for it, and he was in pain. But a bigger part of me was urging him on. A selfish part, maybe, but I needed her to be okay. I needed him to know how to fix this.

And he did. There was a sickening moment or two when it looked like he might say he didn't know how, or that there was nothing he could do. Maybe the Oracle had been wrong or lying. Maybe Wolfram and Hart had swapped the scroll and somehow provided a fake. Maybe the text was invisible, or required a long translation, or was hidden in the endless reams of script. Maybe Wesley just couldn't read it.

But he came through, and all those 'what if's and dreaded scenarios were banished. I need to remember not to take that for granted. He can't know everything, and I think then more than ever he felt the crushing burden of that responsibility. I'd tried not to pressurise him, God I had, but he's not stupid. He knew I was relying on him, and while I hate to put him in that position, it really was all up to him. I don't like to think what would have happened if it hadn't worked.

The car goes over something and jolts, breaking my concentration. I flick my eyes to the mirror again but it doesn't seem to have disturbed them. Cordelia nestles more contentedly and not so much as a twitch passes over Wesley's face. The meds knocked him out pretty solidly, as we'd known they would, and I'm glad that now I don't have to keep arguing with him about where he's going to stay. He wants so much not to be any trouble that I think he's doing us a kindness by allowing us to take him home. He knows I wouldn't be able to rest without being around him, just in case, and I think Cordelia's pretty much brow beaten him into staying with her.

When I think about him struggling to breath around the words on the scroll, of his narrowed squint as he tried to scan the tight script, I know I'll not be leaving him alone for a long time to come. When I think of Cordelia fighting back tears when she saw us there for the first time, I know I'll not be leaving her on her own either.

I pull up gently to the curb outside Cordy's apartment, but I leave the gas running for a while longer. I have to just sit for a while, and I think my brain's only just catching up and absorbing this. We've made it back, and we came so close.

I have to force myself not to repeatedly check the darkness for threats, and it takes me five minutes to convince myself that it's safe enough to unlock the front door. I tell Dennis the nightly report and feel much less stupid than I used to when talking to thin air. The anxious vibe seems to relax a little, and I see him folding back the sheets he's prepared for them both.

I thank him as he takes the bags from me that I'd brought from the trunk. They float serenely to their respective rooms, Cordy's overnight bag disappearing through her bedroom door and Wesley's stuff settling by the sofa. Dennis seems to understand, even without me having to say anything, and even with him unable to do the same. I like that, and am grateful. I think he knows how much the futility of words means to me. I never have to explain.

When I reach the car again, I find that neither of them have moved, but for some reason, they look different in the half-light of the street lamps. They are fragile and pale and lost, and I suddenly feel every single day of my 250 odd years. It's hard for me not to view them as children, although I know they'd both hate the comparison if ever I made it. There's an acute saddness that they need my attention like this, a sadness to such an extent that even watching them sleep seems so poignant. They want so much to be respected, independent individuas, and one day has taken that away from them.

My own emotional dependence on them needing me, almost as a justification for my continued existence, is also distressing. It shouldn't need to be this way, but it is. I deseved to feel obligated rather than free-living, because that's what my atonement is about. Otherwise there's nothing to keep me from falling.

A car passes behind me with a soft rumble, its headlights momentarily spilling across my team. The bruises and dark circles stand out breifly before being blanketed once again by the shadow.

This is my fault, and I know it. They wouldn't be in this danger if it weren't for me and everything I stand for, but I know they don't accept that. Doesn't stop me from feeling it, even though they assure me again and again of their own free will. This is what they do and what they want, and I don't get to take credit for that.

Butter it up however you want, but they were targeted to get at me. I'll not voice this though. Let them hold onto their beliefs if it helps.

My sorrow for them is intense but brief. They don't need this right now. They need me to take charge and be in control. They need me to take care of them and take away some of the worry. They need me to tell them it's okay.

And I do. I lift Cordelia gently from the seat, one hand beneath her knees and the other around her shoulders, trying not to jostle her too much. She moans and shifts as I pull her against me, but I don't think she really wakes up. Her arms go around me automatically and she clings, her face buried against my chest. I clutch her a little tighter and whisper to her. She relaxes slightly. I have to fight down the urge to cry for a second, but then she's quiet again, and I take her into the apartment.

She's so light and breakable in my arms. So very small. She curls up tightly again when I lay her on her bed, and I pull up the coverlet to tuck it around her. Stroking her hair and hushing seems to calm her, so I sit by her for a minute until she settles. Her eyes scrunch up a couple more times before her breath evens out. I place a light kiss on her forehead before I leave.

Dennis turns the light down as I go, pushing the door ajar as he knows I like to do. That way I can hear her if she needs me. I give him another smile of thanks, then go to fetch Wes.

When I approach the car for the second time, I can see that he's already awake, casting around anxiously as he tries to remember where he is. The look of sheer relief on his face as he sees me makes something constrict in my chest. I hurry round to reassure him, pulling the car door open.

"Oh good," he says as I get to him, "I thought you'd gone."

I have no idea what he's talking about, of course, but I smile at him anyway, humoring his disorientation. That fact that he recognises me as something safe in the midst of his medication-induced confusion pleases me on some level that I'm distinctly ashamed of.

"It's okay, I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

I reach over him to unbuckle his seat belt and he watches my face intently, those earnest blue eyes pinning me like no others do. He's totally out of it, and yet for a second, he seems frighteningly lucid. There's something very old in Wes, for all of his insecurities.

"Are we in trouble?" he asks me gravely, his voice lowered and scratchy from the smoke.

I can see the very slight dampening of his hair just around his temples. The sweat isn't beading just yet, but I can smell the pain returning. I want to kick myself for leaving him this long, but there's nothing I can do about that now.

"No, Wes. I'm gonna take you inside now. Come on."

His brows knit like he doesn't understand what I'm doing, but he lets me do it anyway. I slide an arm around to help him out. A look of intense concentration passes over his face when he stands, like he needs every bit of his attention focussed on staying upright. I hold onto him and lock up the car, still scanning the dark bushes on the other side of the street.

I don't know why I get like this around them, but it's like the frustrated paternal instincts I have, the ones I'll never get to use, get stirred into overdrive at the slightest provocation. These stray, affection-starved humans work me up in a way I can never get worked up for myself, which I guess is another good thing about this. I can't afford to take any more risks, and I need to care about whether or not I come back. There's a recklessness in me that may never quite go away, but I'm aware of it now more than I ever was. I think a little of the complacency has gone now that I have them, because I don't ever want to leave them. It keeps me sharp.

So yeah, this is a necessary hurt. One that I'll embrace fully and solemnly. It's why I can deal with the lost and scared look Wesley is giving me right now, and how I can be sure that I'll keep smiling at Cordy even as her youth drips away. They've accepted me and this life, and I need to accept that the toll they take is mine. If I didn't, I'd forget the reason, and that's not something I can ever afford to do.

He leans heavily on me as I wrap his good arm around my shoulder, and it takes us a slow but patient few minutes to reach the living room. By the time I lower him onto the sofa, he's trembling finely. He says nothing to me. Has been quiet since I pulled him from the car. He's not really seeing anything right now, but I talk to him anyway, just in case.

I go to the kitchen to prepare the next round of meds as I've been instructed, listening to the gentle sounds of Dennis rustling things around. He's here to help me take care of them, and when I look back over my shoulder, I can see him rearranging the cushions of the sofa. I don't think Wesley notices, but I'm sure Dennis knows it's appreciated.

A glass of water makes its way to Cordy's room and I hear it settle on the nightstand. She's already tossing and crying out in her sleep, but I'll stay with her all night. The meds for the headaches sometimes help with that, and it's something I intend to try again tonight. I'll leave her to work her way through them for a little longer before I wake her. Then she can get some real rest.

I still have to tell them about what I've done. About the thing in the box, and the price of securing the scroll that saved Cordy's life. I took a man's hand for that cure, and I have to wonder if I'd do the same for any other reason. Wolfram and Hart hurt the ones closest to me to get just that sort of reaction, and I let it work. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. There has to be a balance between cold efficiency and emotivism, and I hope I can strike it right. If I let myself be played like that too often, my rash decisions could start turning down-right irrational, letting the darkness back in by default.

Then I look at Cordelia's sleeping form through the doorway, and at Wesley as he weaves on the couch, and I know I can't do a damn thing about it. I can tell myself over and over not to get too involved, like a foster carer trying not to get too attached to a puppy, but in reality it doesn't work like that, and I'm already in way over my head. They've lured me in with this spell and I crave it. I'm addicted to this whole thing.

I can tell them now that they don't need to worry. I was more connected to life than I'd thought to admit, and what I want more than anything is to stick around. Sure, some splinter or other will find me eventually, but then I've always known that. Even immortals never really live forever. But I'm not looking to find that end. I hope they know that now.