Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.

Historical Note: The action in this story takes place before "The Ring".

Author's Note: I wasn't really going to say anything--so unlike me since 'Starlet'--but I really wanted to comment on trying to put this story together...

Hard. Difficult. The Tuesday after 'Cherub' was posted (I think that was, pretty much, the time frame) "The Ring" aired. Well, I was stuck because I couldn't go forward if I'm trying to adhere to the character/story chronology that exists within the show. I should go spoiley to avoid writing myself into corners, but I can't; so I had to get over THAT little feeling of having the rug yanked. Big time.

Episode after episode aired and I kept getting 'Jossed' (thanks, T). Then, 'Disruptor' took over my life and Wesley wouldn't get out of my head. Without Cordy's voice I couldn't move into this story. The outline was ready, but she just wouldn't show up. SO like her, ya know? The rest of the season ended on me and chewed up my plot in various places. When Forrest spoke one of my lines verbatim, I wanted to give up. (a tear forms... so long, Forrest...)

And, then the strangest thing happened. This story. It is, essentially, the same story I was going to write from the get-go. You'll notice much of the themeage of Buffy/Angel going on in it. 'Starlet' and 'Cherub', in addition to being about Cordy/Angel separation, are also about the demon world in transition and about 'Prophecy'. What Doyle did. Not what a scroll says, but what one individual's sacrifice did to set his friends' world on end.

Needless to say, Cordy finally decided to hit her mark. Wesley still wouldn't go away, but that's Wesley's terrier nature, isn't it? He's a scrappy guy, to say the least. And instead of feeling like Joss and David G were out to get me personally (because that would make me, like, seriously delusional), I realized they sorta put a stamp of validation on where I've been going and what I've been doing with their precious characters (which would still make me delusional, non?). So, here's a quick shout-out to the almighty Creative Team.

Lastly, I want to say how wonderful it's been to hear from you readers. I've been corresponding with some of you and others of you have just peeked in my e-box to say how much you're enjoying my efforts. Wow. Just, wow. So, this story is actually dedicated to all of you. I hope it doesn't disappoint because you've all put some mighty huge expectations on me. If I did this right, it's gonna get pretty intense. Just a warning to get that Kleenex box ready.

This is longer than any of my other stories and there are a tonnage of themes running through it. I figured you all wouldn't mind since the season is over and summer is here. (And you've been waiting sooooooo patiently.) There are OFC's galore, plot devices and all kinds of goo-gah. 'Aurora', as the end of the trilogy, should be the end of my arc, but I still might pick up some of the ideas later on. The standard disclaimer applies regarding affection AND, most importantly:

This wasn't written to offend; it is purely for entertainment. Mine, to help me beat stress. And yours too, from what you've been saying to me. The dialogue? The characters really do use their own voices.

OK. I've stalled long enough. gulp Here goes the finale of the trilogy... Curtain rising... Audience, hushing... Monitors brightening... Towers humming... Author, sans nails, seriously needs to start breathing again... e.c. 17 jun 00



The Ancient Lords communed with the silence, listening intently. The taller of the two, also the older, closed his eyes to concentrate more fully and his brow creased with disapproval. But the silence was adamant and, in the end, he reluctantly agreed.

When the younger Lord placed his hand upon his companion's shoulder in a show of consolation both beings paused to consider the gesture.

"Even within us, change has begun."

"And, if we are lucky, perhaps it will not have been too late."

The Ancient Lord snorted cynically. "'Luck', young one? Does the folklore of the Promised One influence you, as well?"

"Many things, Senior, influence me now." He took a moment to study the group at the memorial as a light late-evening breeze wafted through their shrubbery screen. "If Our own time is as limited as the Auguries have seen, I open myself to possibilities."

Considering those words, The Ancient Lord found he harbored envy for such open-mindedness. He related his feelings, self-reflecting as he did so on being able to even distinguish them at all.

The Young One allowed an optimistic smile to bisect his crooked mouth. "Do you believe he'll appear? Prophecy has rarely traveled so closely to conclusion. Will he reveal himself?"

A shiver of anticipation traced the Elder's spine. "After uncounted centuries he has yet to do so again," he sighed heavily to fight his increasing discouragement. "Why would this occasion demonstrate a difference?"

Nodding towards the subjects of their observation, the Younger answered, "because for the first time ever within Prophecy, we have a few of them on our side, Lord. The Warrior dies but they remain loyal to him; to his fealty."

"Our servant remains loyal; however, continued human involvement cannot be predicted." The Lord studied Whistler carefully trying to discern if even the diminutive creature was still faithful. "Do you think Rathrachemae will be revealed? Before its purpose is lost to The Warrior?"

"I do not think, Lord. I BELIEVE."

Reaching forward, the Elder cupped his hand above the Younger's chest, amazed by what he detected there, envious again. "Then I hope your faith is mighty enough for us all."


AURORA by Evan Como

Cordelia Chase, aspiring actress and almost-former office manager at Angel Investigations, paused to stretch, lifting her youthful face to the starry night sky as she did so. Somewhere, she knew, was the constellation for her birth sign and she tried to remember what her daily horoscope had been. It didn't matter, of course. That was the previous day and it was already in the early hours of a new one.

The midnight blue next day.

Taking a deep breath, she leaned back against the marble pillar base of Doyle's monument and let the stone's coolness seep through her poncho. The natural lumens seemed to float overhead as the earth made its silent revolution. Cordy couldn't actually remember when she last noticed stars in the Los Angeles night sky or the last time she even bothered trying to find them. There was always a reason to look outward, hardly ever up and the blinking lights of a jet as it rounded for approach to LAX disturbed both the view and her concentration.

Wesley Wyndham-Price flashed a half-smile of embarrassment as Cordelia glanced at him suspiciously.

"Why do you keep staring at me, Wesley?" Reaching into the picnic basket Angel packed, Cordelia pulled out the baked potato chips. Munching, she scolded him, "I've been back for almost a week already, you know."

"Me, too," Harriet Doyle chimed, attempting to rescue Wesley from an awkward situation. Both he and Cordy seemed different, but she couldn't place why that was. Studying him, she added, "I got back the night the police found the most recent body in those serial killings."

"Cordelia got back the night before," Wesley responded, impatiently waiting for Cordelia to offer the snack bag; but when she continued to ignore him, he plucked it away.

"How many does that make?" Whistler asked, amused by the working duo's exchange. (He couldn't blame Wesley for staring at Cordelia; she was absolutely radiant tonight.) Taking a bite from his sandwich, he swallowed before continuing, "eighteen? Since December? You like your murderers prolific here in the city of Angels."

Passing the chips to Whistler, Wesley responded, "You realize, none of us actually called Los Angeles home until recently. I don't think we should be considering L.A. ours yet."

Harriet nodded semi-agreeably as she sipped her Snapple. "Although, I think it's an unwritten rule once you rent, you're officially a resident. Sorry, Wes, Cordy. We're all transplants now."

"I guess that means me, too. Not that I rent, but since Angel's training I've lived here more than any other place." Whistler sighed, a little melancholy for mentioning Angel's name. "Hard to believe that was only a few months ago," he added solemnly.

"The fight against Lusus. Yes, Gali-- Gale told me about it." Twisting completely around, Wesley managed to avoid Cordelia's scrutiny to point up the hillside. "The battleground was just up there, wasn't it?"

A few on-lookers distracted Harry as they passed the memorial site. "I remember that time." When Wesley whispered their culture of origin to her, she smiled her appreciation. "I could certainly use you at D.S., Wes. You know, whenever Angel..."

She held her breath. "Sorry. It's still so hard to think of him as the same being who destroyed a giant, you know. He must be in awful shape right now."

"Actually, you can't really tell," Cordelia explained lackadaisically. "He almost looks exactly the same except the fever has him kinda rosy. It's a little bit strange. I mean, pale he looks so, like--"

"Striking," Whistler finished for her.

"I would venture more like 'distinguished'," Wesley corrected.

"Hello? Gay-fest, much? You guys!"

Cordelia's wide-eyed exasperation made Harriet chuckle softly. "Remember Doyle found 'something' about Angel, too, Cordelia. We all do. I, personally, find him sensuous. Those smoky brown eyes..."

As she let her comment drift, the four continued their picnic in silence, each to their own reflections regarding the absent chef.

After a short while, another group of demons passed along. One of the children handed Cordelia a length of plant along with a flash of his snaggle-toothed grin. When she graciously received the token, he excitedly ran off to rejoin his family who all waved at her from afar. Cordy professionally returned the gesture.

"So the legend continues," Harry commented. "I still can't get over how quickly Francis' story has traveled the globe. And now, with news of 'The Warrior's' heroic efforts to rescue imprisoned demons despite his own capture and illness..." She shook her head languidly, uncharacteristically forlorn. "Rosemary, Cordelia. It's a grand display of admiration to gift someone a branch."

"To their culture, 'aluthmanec'--hope. Actually, it's their offering of hope for Angel." Wesley exhaled sharply as he folded his arms across his chest.

Scooting over, as Wesley pinched the corners of his eyes beneath his glasses, Harriet leaned her head against his arm. "I tried, Wes. It was too much to take on with such limited time. The Visioner. Rathachemae. None of it--I couldn't even scratch the surface! Even you couldn't decipher the oral stories."

Whistler glanced briefly at Cordelia who was staring into her lap at every leaf she had nervously scraped from the now-bare branch. "Gale's Warrior--"

He paused before continuing. Knowing Angel had given him the capacity to recognize suffering as his three human companions tried to maintain their composure. "Gale's Warrior, the night Angel fought Lusus, explained his culture's version of Prophecy. That he believed Rathrachemae to be an object of immense intensity, blinding radiance--"

"Like the sun?" Cordelia huffed in disbelief. "Oh, THAT'S just great. Like, POOF! You're saved! Oops, our bad. You're DUSTED!"

"Cordelia," Harriet called softly. "Or a beacon." Casting her teary glance to the sculpture towering over them she choked, "oh, my God, Francis. What did you really do?"

"No way! Angel would have been killed, too!" Cordelia protested loudly, violating the bleak tone of their discussion. "It wouldn't have saved him! It would have--"

"Disfigured him." Wesley caught her eyes and nodded once. "Angel, in his demon persona, would have been much stronger than Doyle ever could have been. Yes, Angel would have been very severely wounded, but not something--given his immortality--he wouldn't have eventually recovered from."

Closing her eyes, Harry envisioned those wonderful eyes peering from behind a hideous mask. "His access to humanity--" she whispered with acute awareness.

"Or A human, in particular."

The three looked at Whistler as the full impact of his statement took on its true meaning.

He continued, "Gale's Warrior figured Angel would fall to defeat because his culture believed Rathrachemae was already lost. Angel should have never been able to defeat a Scythe demon, no matter how fine his fighting form was. The Powers That Be don't understand him, They've never understood him, and that scares Them." Looking around, Whistler lowered his voice conspiratorially, "They only have access to the demon, not to his soul. He's dying now, of course, but Their concern had been that, at some point, he would disappear from their view--like Doyle did right before he leapt or like Cordelia is to them now, even with The Gift."

"Then, They would have had to hope Rathrachemae would never come into contact with Angel," Harry ventured.

As Cordelia considered the comment, her dark curls trembled against her shoulders. "Harry, remember what you said, 'without Rathrachemae The Warrior falls'?" As Harry nodded, Cordy turned her attention to Whistler, closing her teary hazel eyes to him before nodding. "Without The Warrior, We fall, as well."


"Remember what you said, 'The good fight,' yeah? 'You never know until you've been tested.' I get that now."

Doyle reached back before swinging his arm around, then launched his fist with the hope of connecting with Angel's jaw. He wasn't overly optimistic about the attempt and when Angel quickly bobbed sideways, the blow never landed. The awkward move was used, instead, as a means to send Doyle onto his back.

"OW! What the hell?" Shaking his head rapidly, Doyle raised up on his elbows as the better brawler crouched to meet him.

Smiling at his friend, Angel asked, "what did you think, Doyle? I was just going to let you go out there and do MY job? No way!"

The casual smile became a less-attractive expression as Angel transformed into demon self before rising to leap at The Scourge's weapon of decimation. Cordelia's plaintive 'no' carried across the background noise as Angel reached for the device's electrical cord.

The pain wasn't half as bad as he anticipated. Angel had been burned before, but nothing like this. There was a clean, almost calming effect as the flesh began to melt from his skeleton. His strength waned with his concentration for a moment, and then...

The beacon fell dark.

Angel toppled from the platform to the deck below. The rapturous Lister demon families rushed him, their enthusiastic gratitude encircling him. As the first ones approached, their cheering stopped abruptly. And row after row of anxious beings hushed in horror, their faces filled with a mixture of pity and devotion as they took first sight of their gruesome savior.

Covering his hideous features with what remained of his arm, Angel searched upward to find his friends; to see Doyle take Cordelia into his arms and kiss her passionately, a blue light heralding the final consummation of his long-suppressed affection. Despite the gnawing pain, Angel attempted a smile, only to be reminded he no longer possessed the ability to display one. His guts wrenched when he lifted his hand and examined the bones devoid of their fleshy covering, charred. His naked fingertips clicked uneasily against his jaw.

Cordelia's scream diverted Angel's attention from what he had done to himself and he refocused his watery vision on her. She stood there on the cargo hold mezzanine, sobbing into her hands as Doyle was ripped from her embrace, yanked away from her--from both of them--by two monstrous mobsters. A second later he heard that sound--the unmistakable sound he had heard far too often over the course of far too many years...

Doyle's head twisted brutally away from his spine and the break resounded throughout the stifled room before the body crumpled, lifeless, to the floor.

"So, you see," Doyle concluded in his spirited Irish brogue, "it wouldn't have mattered in the end, Angel. I was a dead man either way you put it. Saving the Listers? I redeemed myself, man. And you stayed pretty."

Angel cringed. "Why didn't you let me help you? It didn't have to come to this. Any of this." Doubling over, he wrapped his forearm across his stomach and began to groan.

"...so I'm figuring, you'll be able to put the profits into a few mutual funds and, even though it won't grow in leaps and bounds like if we were day-trading-- Just think of the commissions you'll save that'll compound; not to mention not having to worry about figuring out capital gains... Although that's not really a problem until the IRS starts going after the undead. But, better safe than jail bound. Just ask my Dad about that! One day, when you're all better, you'll be in the position to move to better digs. You know, a nice prestigious location, more Beverly Hills adjacent. Although, maybe Beverly Hills won't be such the hot spot in the next century."

Angel sat across from Cordelia and attempted to make sense of her droning, but the scarring across the left side of her face distracted him. There was still a great deal of healing that needed to occur before the crusty scab beneath her non-existent cheekbone was fully healed. He began to grimace, reminded by the effort most of his own face was still missing.

As Wesley glanced at Cordelia's diagram, a facial tic rippled the muscles below his eye causing it to water uncontrollably. "She's qu... qu... quite th' Dow Joneser," he lauded about their associate with his British accent heavily slurred. When he jerked his head sideways to return her smile, the extensive track of stitches running across the shaved area of his skull were visible.

"What happened?" Angel gasped to the pair seated before him.

Wesley's tea sloshed over the edge of his cup as his left hand lifted it towards his lips. "Angel?" Taking a sip, he deciphered the cryptic question. "Oh, no worry. Soul's there. Did what you HAD t... to--"

"Yeah," Cordy impatiently cut him off, shrugging her apology as she continued, "I guess SOME people need their helping hands to be a little easier on the eyeballs."

Angel was at a loss for their non-explanation. "Cordelia," he wailed, "your face--"

After acknowledging his frustration, Cordy left the kitchen area to return with a full-length mirror from the bathroom. She leaned it against the apartment's supporting pillar before helping a shaky Wesley rise and motioning for Angel to come.

"See, Angel." She pointed to their reflections. "I wonder what the new one's going to be like," she mentioned into Wesley's good ear as she absently scratched behind hers.

"L... l... let's hope NOT satanic," he chortled. "Still take me to th' plane t'morrow?"

"Of course, Wesley. But you're still coming to watch Angel try to move Dennis? Right?"

"Moving Dennis?" Angel asked, bewildered. Looking into the mirror, he studied the three of them. All of them with their dark hair and height and appealing features, flawlessly beautiful as if there had been no horrific accidents. He couldn't take his eyes off Cordy's and Wes' reflections; it hurt too much to imagine he had been unable to protect them.

"Angel!" Cordy scolded. "You promised! You know I can't start moving in unless Dennis can, too. And I can't start economizing until we get him settled because he's MY ghost. He belongs with us!"

"I don't--"

"Get it?" Doyle shook his head in wonder. "You're the brightest guy I know, Angel, but sometimes you can be dense as a board. How do you see them? Not for what they are, but who. Like you saw me. Saw past the low-life half-demon scumwad who just trooped into your life and took you over. Made me feel like a human being for the first time in... YEARS. Almost a decade, man. You do the same to them and they're happy to return the favor."

Angel disagreed, "but you weren't what you thought you were. You were just confused." He looked at the duo and experienced an immense degree of loss. How much he missed them even now, and how much he would continue to miss them.

For all eternity.

Doyle patted Angel's bicep, distracting him from the somber thought. "It might not be as bad as you're expecting it to be--" When Angel cut a wary glance his way, Doyle dropped his hand and gaze. "Never could pull one over on you, huh, man? MIGHT not be though, Angel."

"I failed so miserably. Everyone. Everything. Such a waste of time." When the scenery changed, Angel reeled. The Coffee Spot only helped to emphasize what he already knew. "Tina. I failed her. I failed, Doyle. I couldn't even save one woman..."

"What failure, Angel?" Doyle shook his head in disbelief as he sauntered to the table the unharmed Cordelia and Wesley were seated at. After studying Wesley for a moment he set his vision, lovingly, upon Cordelia. Sighing, he continued, "I failed, Angel. What was I waiting for? God, she's so beautiful!"

"Oh, well..." he lamented, shifting his attention. "You didn't fail, Angel. Maybe you didn't do everything you could have--you just ran out of time. So, what little you have left, spend it with them. They need you."

Angel disagreed vehemently. "I ruined both their lives."

"You SAVED both their lives. BOTH of them. Mine, too. Promised One."

"Stop calling me that! I'm NOT the Promised One; just an insignificant piece of shit." Disgusted, Angel loomed over Doyle and visually pushed him into the empty chair next to Cordelia. "I never was any good to begin with and I never could be. Who was I trying to fool?"

Doyle eagerly reached for Angel, obviously dismayed after his friend swerved from the embrace. "Love, Angel. My God, man. It took me forever to realize what it really is and I died too soon after I found out."

When Angel began to back away, Doyle rose to lean an elbow against the high table. "It IS unconditional. Not an 'eye for an eye'. You give of yourself and you reward yourself just for the act-- No matter who. Even if it's only yourself."

"But I'm so not worthy." Angel began to retreat into the waiting shadows, away from the light and his friends and back to where he knew he belonged. But Doyle ran to whirl him around straight into the oblivious figure of Wesley who, like Cordelia, was desperately looking around.

"Dammit, Angel. You can teach so many others the lesson, why can't you learn it yourself? They're waiting for you, man. YOU. Because you belong with them, not there," Doyle lectured, sweeping his open palm at the umber- and charcoal-colored miasma attracting Angel.

"I don't understand," Angel responded, honestly confused. "Tell me what it all means," he begged.

Displaying that wry smile of his caused Doyle's bright blue eyes to gleam with mischief. "It's poetry, Angel," he replied cryptically. "Sheer poetry."


"...and this latest one makes number nineteen," Wesley answered as he tossed his burger wrapper in the direction of the wastebasket. The skyhook banked nicely off the wall before swirling around the inner rim of the container to nonchalantly drop in. When it became apparent to him Angel hadn't noticed, Wesley ditched the pride in his accomplishment.

Realizing he was ignoring Wesley, Angel struggled to direct his attention from Cordelia's activities. Sipping from a heart-rimmed white cup through a straw and with her curly brown tresses spilling from under a novelty kerchief, Cordelia looked much younger than her almost 20 years. Her lack of eye-contact granted him the privilege to keep gawking.

"I've been doing the same thing," Wesley cited. "I don't know why I can't take my eyes off of her. As if, in her absence, we have to make up for all the lost minutes we didn't see her. It's the oddest sensation because she looks exactly the same as she did before she went auto-show hostessing."

Angel contemplated Wesley's assessment. "She IS different, Wes. That's what we're trying to figure out. Or maybe we're different. You know, alot happened during those six weeks..."

Feeling his cheeks flush, Wesley let the subject drop. Blinking for a long moment, he could sense Angel's presence despite every attempt to ignore it. "Yes, perhaps we're different."

Laughing, Harry clapped her book closed and added, "we're ALL different, Wes, Angel. 'Things don't change, we do'." She continued to smile through a thought. "Who knew a Junior High School graduation motto would have such a prophetic effect on one's life?"

"Look, you two," Angel began as he rose before the office door actually opened, "You've both done more research and investigation on trying to find 'my cure' than anyone should have. Let's just call it and accept the inevitable. And, Wes, I think it's your turn to grab 40."

Wesley's fatigued senses seemed to automatically shut-down at the mention of rest. The morning Cordelia commented her mouth tasted like she was 'chewing on pennies all night', Angel had insisted they sleep in shifts to avoid being included in the vampire's uncontrollable and degenerative dream state. The spillage had taken on epic proportions--layers upon layers of visions overlapping and twisting through one another; the wisps being either excruciating horrifying or completely unintelligible.

But, when Wesley witnessed Whistler's arrival after rising from his chair, he couldn't help but follow Angel and Harry into the foyer. Sleep could wait its turn until his inquisitive nature was appeased.

"I told you I'd see you in the hall," Cordelia hissed at the little demon through her fake smile.

"I know, but..." Whistler stepped forward to accept Angel's outstretched hand. "Hey, Angel. I didn't expect for you to... well... you know..." Pushing his sportsman's hat a little further forward, he abandoned his attempt at decorum. "I didn't realize you were still up and around."

Angel took no offense. "Not earthy yet, Whistler. Cordelia's still convinced she's not going to let me die. What's up?"


Angel's brows crossed as Cordelia moseyed back to her desk and tried to appear busy. She had rarely been able to look that part, and the fact their last case closed the previous day didn't help. Sometimes she was just a terrible actress.

"Yeah. You're here, why?"

"No reason," Whistler's answer a lie when the door flew open behind him.

Angel's focus narrowed in concerned recognition. "Mahoe."

"Warrior Angel." The slightly shorter, broader-shouldered demon squinted at the vampire condescendingly. Other than the jaundiced tone of his pimpled flesh to give him away, Mahoe could have almost passed for human. His manners were distinctly demonic, though. Abruptly he ignored the agency's namesake and everyone else in the room. "Well, is she gonna or not?" he rudely interrogated Whistler.

"Do what? Whistler?" Angel studied the two demons carefully before turning his attention to Cordelia. "Noooooooooo...."

Rushing to Angel's side, Cordelia flashed her famous pageant smile. "Angel..."

But Angel brushed her aside. "You can't. Please, Whistler. She can't."

"Cordy?" Harry took the rejected younger woman by the shoulders and peered into her face, searching deeply for some understanding. "Oh, no. You don't have to do this. Remember what Whistler said last night..."

Cordy squirmed from Harry's grasp to back behind her desk. Ignoring the expectant faces of everyone around her, she merely picked up her cup and began to sip from it while resolutely peeking out of her window's blinds. From the corner of her eye, she saw Wesley approach.

The sideways glance she cut was so severe Wesley lost all will to advance any further. He quickly noted Angel's expression--the vampire's outrage was matched only by his fear--before speaking his mind. "Cordelia, you could have waited until Angel was gone," he admonished, barely above a troubled whisper.

As if on cue, the cup dropped from Cordelia's hand, exploding upon impact. Instantaneously, she lay sprawled on the linoleum in the center of the spill writhing in pain as the Vision for her new Warrior relayed its painful message.


"Warrior Angel."

The female Oracle motioned to the male, finding it difficult to look him directly in the face either. Instead of perfecting her ruse, she turned and ventured back through the archway to wait.

"Your visit... Surprises." The male bowed his head and absently adjusted a fold in his tunic before inspecting the vampire. "You are looking..."

"Like death." Angel almost completed the simple two-word comment before a barely-audible 'oh' escaped his lips. "You can't have Cordelia. She's human. This isn't her fight. She has no allegiance to you."

The male cautiously approached the perspiring visitor. "It was her option, her decision. She has accepted her role graciously and We are in her debt. Please relate to her our sincerest appreciation."

"HER decision? She's still a teenager! And you're, what? Hundreds? Thousands of years old? Hundreds of thousands? What does she know about making this kind of decision? You had NO right! I'll fight you--"

"HOW?" The female hissed as she stomped forward, her displeasure more than apparent. She smirked when Angel nearly lost his balance. "How can you fight at all?" she asked contemptuously. "And besides, I do not recall ever hearing such protest when she became YOUR Messenger."

The truth was brutal and Angel conceded to the destructive criticism.

The male was not without pity, though, and he stepped between his counterpart and the distraught lower being. "Her decision, Warrior Angel. And when she decides she no longer wishes to be Our Messenger, We will abide by that decision also."

"Then I'll have to make sure she makes that decision. Soon."

"That is your prerogative, but she is much stronger than you give her credit for. Her mind will not be an easy one to change, which is why We are grateful," the pair explained. Angel's silence confirmed their appraisal of his human Messenger's tenacity.

"While you are here..." the male began tentatively.

"Just say it," the female spat. "Get it over with. Now."

After swiping across his forehead with his palm, Angel lowered his fingertips to his hips and inspected the two beings, intrigued by the odd exchange. They were usually only really testy with him, never to one another.

"Your untimely demise has left the matter of your retribution up to discussion; and, it has been determined your debt will remain unpaid."

Angel accepted the statement humbly having long ago resigned himself to always being in arrears. He wondered, briefly, whether to ask about the exact reasons why he had been recruited into service for The Powers That Be. But ultimately, he realized as dread began to wash over him, there were far too many crimes to pick any few and an emptiness ushered every emotion away except one.


"No matter how often your decisions were impulsive, The Powers That Be have determined your intentions were forthright. Because of that, you will be allowed to die as Warrior with what little retribution you have made held in place against what awaits you when your existence ceases. As a general rule, you would be destroyed at this moment, but in deference to your humans we will allow you their customs regarding your ultimate demise."

"You're dismissing me," he deduced without emotion in his voice.

"Yes and no, Warrior Angel." The female's harsh features diminished as she reclaimed her position next to the male. "You are being released from duty. As Warrior. But mind you, what is left of your existence is in a precarious situation and still subject to Our control. We would suggest you not tarry with the matter of your parting. Even now The Auguries detect that which calls out to you and if you give in to this forbidden hunger, the crimes of Angelus will be ten-folded and your soul cursed. Do you understand?"


The male shook his head 'no'. "Far worse than hell, Warrior. Your human soul, sentient, held hostage by the ultimate demonic curse for all eternity. There is NOTHING you can imagine that could be worse."

Angel reflected on the statement, knowing the Oracle beings would never understand what could be worse even if he tried to explain it. With nothing else to discuss, he merely accepted their decree and exited.

"There. Are you pleased?" the female's voice was biting as she lifted her face and her palms towards the ceiling. "He has his final command."

The Elder Ancient Lord stepped from beyond the farthest arch. Although the antagonism disturbed him, he saw the reason there in the female's face. Her expression was no different than the one he had detected on Whistler all those months ago and he granted her the passion, begrudgingly.

"It is to be seen whether he has the strength to carry out his directive. He has failed so many times in the past that I hold no optimism for his follow-through."

The male Oracle being couldn't disagree. "Still... Lord, if he ceases to exist with his Warrior status still in tact, with his soul in place--" He caught the female's eyes and took her silence as encouragement to continue, "should We not only take that which We were created to govern?"

Astonished, the Elder Lord considered the two beings carefully. "Allow him to die a mortal man?"

"Reverse the fold of time," the female answered.

"And what will this prove?" the Ancient Lord asked incredulously. "We cannot erase all that has occurred these many months. What you are suggesting--"

"What we are suggesting, Lord, without disrespect, is that We remand him to the laws he lives by. The laws his soul attempts to obey."

"He is demon."

"We take only the demon. He still dies. But he dies mortal."

The silence roared in Their minds and The Others fought to express their own opinions on the subject--one that had obviously been in debate for quite some time. The Ancient Lord, overwhelmed, silenced Them all. "And what if He refuses this one Our judgement? Have you considered this, also?"

The Oracle male and female stood side by side against their Lord and nodded affirmatively. "Then his death will confirm all he has ever suspected," they answered in unison.


As Angel prepared to leave his apartment, it came as no surprise it was Wesley descending the staircase. He exchanged a quick hello before moving on to the library alcove to explore the desk there.

"What did the Oracles say?" When Angel didn't answer him, Wesley claimed a seat on the last step to watch the search. "Cordelia eventually explained it was her choice," he finally added.

Angel sighed and tucked a couple more papers into his envelope. "That's what they said, too." He glimpsed towards the ceiling before closing the drawer. "I know I wanted you to go back to Council, Wes--"

"I'll do what I can, Angel. You know I will. As will Harry. And Whistler promised, also. But, Cordelia is very headstrong. We both know that. I'm just afraid she won't allow me access to her life after you're gone."

That was discouraging. "As long as you let her know you'll be here for her, Wes, she'll come around." The disenchanted grin he offered did little to assuage Wesley's opinion. "Look, I've got to go."

"But." Rising, Wesley accepted there was no way he could restrain Angel if he really wanted to leave. Even near death, Angel could still be remarkably strong-- In very short bursts. "You'll... Be good?"

"Yeah." Wesley's concern was touching as the two walked to the tunnel entrance. "When I stopped feeding after Cordelia got back I, pretty much, lost my appetite. I think I can go the night without being chained. And the two of you can get some normal sleep."

Holding the grate up as Angel exited the apartment, Wesley also held onto his uncertainty. "I can wait here, you know. If you need me to."

Angel almost tapped the man's hand before stepping down. "No. Don't stay here. Why don't you spend the night at Cordelia's and I'll see the two of you there pre-dawn. I'll bring bagels."

"Rugelach? You know, Cordelia likes rugelach. The ones with the mini chocolate chips."

"Rugelach," Angel echoed as he dropped unsteadily onto the tunnel floor, wishing he had time enough to bake them, himself.


"He wants me to spend the night at your place and then he'll see us in the early morning," Wesley explained as he began to assemble his papers and the books he'd taken from the downstairs library. "You've really hurt him, Cordelia. I hope you know that," he added without turning around.

Cordelia tch'd after yanking her bag from her desk drawer and slinging it across her torso. "What's with you, Wesley?" she asked from Angel's office as she turned off the light in the restroom there, beginning to shut the office down. "You've had this whole 'Angel-vibe' going on since I got back and--"

"Ohmigod!" Cordy suddenly appeared at Wesley's side and he nearly fell over when she excitedly reached around his neck. "You didn't let him bite you, did you?"

After Wesley batted her investigative hands from his collar, she began her ridicule. "That demon chick. You DID do it with the demon didn't you? And she put some whammy hex on you to turn you demonlicious. Wesley!" she mock-scolded, cackling, "what if the Council could see you now? You know, I realize how much you want to be just like Angel, but no one's coming to interview you for 'Lifestyles of the Doomed and Lifeless'!"

"Fuck off, Cordelia." Wesley scooted his satchel back onto his shoulder and held the door open as she exited. "Your flippancy is tacky and I'm not going to allow you to get away with skirting around the repercussions of your actions. Key?"

After turning the latch, Cordelia leaned her back against the door's window with her arms barred across her chest. "You did it with a demon and you're the one who's got his head so far up a vampire's butt you can't remember what daylight looks like and you want to take everything out on me? Nuh-uh. Angel may not like my decision. He may not agree with it. But, eventually, he'll understand it and know it's right. I've got their Gift and they need me, Wesley. You're just jealous 'cause they don't need you."

When she caught up to him just before the building's front doors, Wesley offered, "you have this way of making the world seem as if it can't revolve unless you allow it to, Cordelia. And we're all caught up in YOUR magic and the wonder that is YOU. You have no clue what happened while you were gone. Angel misses you. And you're ignoring him. I applaud your sudden change of heart where maybe someone else's needs are more important than your own. Maybe eventually I'LL even understand why the decision you made was the right one. But, for right now, it is poorly timed and cruelly intentioned."

Cordelia blinked a few times. Wrinkling her nose, she rebutted, "I don't know what I ever saw in you, Wesley. You are just-- WEIRD! What does a movie have to do with demonic forces overtaking the city?"

Disgusted, Wesley swept past her, finally outdoors. The brisk dusk air felt good in his lungs as he drew an exasperated breath. "I hope you do a better job of acting when you audition for that play next week," he snidely remarked as she took a couple stairsteps before him.

She came to a standstill.

With her hands on hips, Cordy's full temper was engaged as she swiveled to finish spewing at him. "Oh, Wes. You can't accept that NO ONE wants you, can you? Council. Me. The PTB. I bet DemonGal left town because you weren't worth losing her looks over. Feeling wounded, much? But that's no reason to trash my acting skills."

"Your PRESUMED acting skills, Cordelia. Because if you really were any good, I wouldn't just be bleeding internally."


After sliding the envelope onto the coffee table, Angel leaned over and placed his lips gently against the apple of Cordelia's cheek. "Where's Wes?" he asked as he rose.

Her hair, bundled haphazardly into an elastic cloth on top of her head, exemplified Cordy's confusion as her head swayed from side to side. Nothing made sense.

She observed Angel exchanging a brisk handshake with Wesley before the taller man leaned forward for a warm half-hug. With his hand on the doorknob, Angel deposited his keys in Wesley's palm after joking about his box being a big-enough puzzle to keep Wesley busy for a lifetime. Then, the pre-dawn light drifting through the living room window brightened to fully illuminate the manila-colored packet lying before her.

That's when she shrieked.

As Angel began to pull the door, it slammed back into its frame. Irritated, he glared towards the living room ceiling and bellowed, "Dennis! We talked about this! So help me, I'll incant your transparent ass--"

But before he could finish the sentence, Angel detected the blur of Cordelia's figure as she rushed at him wielding one of her few coffee table books high above her head. He tried to move defensively away from the swing, only to feebly pitch directly into the advancing binding as it slammed across his face.

The sound was deafening as Cordelia's weapon of choice made contact and the thud resounded in Angel's ears as everything in the room skidded to a slow-motioned pace. The pain the strike produced was unlike anything he'd ever known--perhaps because he saw it coming. His lower lip razored across his teeth, an almost audible grating of flesh torn asunder. Unfortunately, he couldn't tilt his head fast enough to avoid swallowing the developing swell.

Wesley rushed towards Angel as the terror-stricken vampire began to drop forward. But Cordelia cut off his access and he was left to helplessly watch, horrified, as his friend slumped to the carpet where the wound began to discharge a putrid fluid--all dark-brown and filthy, of inconsistent viscosity after finally being depleted of its existence-maintaining properties.

Angel had fallen with his palm pinned between the carpet and his chin. Using his forearm to push up, dry heaves took control of his motor functions as he stared into his hand. The substance in its center was the only visual proof that made his anticipated death a reality--a clump of what had been, for one short year, Their blood.

His bond with Angel waned briefly before catching Wesley's breath. He would have done anything at that moment to put an end to the pathetic scene unfolding before him. But ultimately, any sacrifice wouldn't have made a difference, being no possible substitute for Cordelia or her apologetic care.

Through the clarity of their torment and with the stench of death permeating the room, it dawned on Wesley--all of it. How brave Angel had been while his body internally decomposed; how strong to deny the intensity of his cravings to provide some relief for the agony; how helpless now as his determination to end his existence had been dispersed by one misguided act of endearment.

Dennis began the clean-up almost immediately and Wesley stood there. Useless. Unneeded. Unwanted. Leaning against the door, he took his time to slither down next to them, so apart despite being in physical contact with them both. Angel there with his head resting against Cordelia's lap as she cooed, while Dennis swabbed at the hemorrhaging wound.

The absent protectress had reclaimed her charge.

A year. A year and nothing had changed in the least. Even the vampire was again at Death's door. Wesley was still irrelevant in a certain young woman's life and, as always, excluded from everything happening around him. At least, now, he had enough experience to recognize his dilemma instantly instead of requiring months for bleak introspection.

His mind a blank, but hardly quiet, Angel stared at the expanding rectangle of sunlight in the center of the room with longing. The only pleasant aspect of his freshly-spurred hunger was how completely it protected the two humans. Whatever was left of his digestive system contracted as his self-revulsion also grew--over having neither the strength to satisfy his hunger nor the courage to start crawling forward.

Cordelia smiled appreciatively in the direction of the hovering sponge as Phantom Dennis finished scrubbing. The room had dimmed considerably when the mid-day sun swept across the southern sky behind the outer wall they were resting against. As he rocked side to side in time with her, she turned to regard Wesley.

"That song. My Gramma liked it alot. She used to hum it, too."

Wesley stopped humming before he opened his eyes. "Hmmmmmm? Oh. It's a largo by Handel'. Obviously it's quite popular," he replied softly, relaxed.

His comment confused Cordy until she realized that, with a scattered voice not completely off-key, Angel had continued the tune. "Hey, Angel," she whispered, encouraged, "you're humming. I though you said you didn't hum. Whassup with that?"

The song abruptly ended when Angel adjusted against her legs. Her panic almost caused her to miss his explanation about how happy he would be if he wasn't feeling so miserable. "WESLEY!" she cried out as Angel's eyes rolled into the top of his head. "Ohmigod! You have to do SOMETHING! He's burning up!"

Sighing, Wesley retrieved the icy cloth from midair as Dennis immediately came to the rescue. "I don't know what you think I can do for him, Cordelia," he replied matter-of-factly, not immune to the worry apparent in her glistening eyes. As Angel's convulsing body flopped against the floor, he pulled Cordy's hands onto the vampire's chest.

"You can do magic," she sobbed, Angel's body continuing to jerk wildly despite her best efforts to hold him still. "There's GOT to be a spell for this. Right?"

Exchanging the towel for a fresh one from Dennis, Wesley shook his head regretfully. "I'm afraid Angel's quite beyond magic at this point, Cordelia. What he needs is a miracle."

Wesley gasped when Angel's eyes snapped open but his excitement subsided quickly after deducing Angel was far from coherent. Even though Angel's eyes were locked on Cordelia while she mopped his forehead, there was no recognition in their brown depths. The scene, already tragic enough, became unbearably so as Wesley's heart, laden, nearly ruptured after Cordelia naively questioned, "magic. Miracle. Aren't they both the same thing?"


Exhausted, Wesley handed a cup to Cordelia before joining her at the kitchen table. The tea was absolutely tasteless, but he didn't care. Sipping it was something far more productive to do than wallowing in frustration. He took a cookie from the center plate, impressed Cordelia had bothered to share her 'secret stash'.

"You should have let him die when he had the courage to do it himself, Cordelia. Angel's fever has decreased after the cold shower and fluids, but..." Wesley shook his head. After removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes, he directed his remorseful grey gaze to her in hopes she finally recognized the gravity of Angel's situation.

"You're just jealous because all he gave you were his keys and the box," Cordy replied venomously, biting her cookie with such vengeance the chocolate coating completely crumbled onto the table.

"I'm not always misguided by the pettiness you seem to think I possess an abundance of, Cordelia. His keys, huh? What's his car without him along for the ride or this apartment without him to make it a home? And that damn box... His possessions mean absolutely nothing to me. This isn't even about the tokens of his affection. My God. His quality of unlife has to be taken into consideration at this point."

"Oh, and you don't think that's not what I've been considering?" When Wesley heaved his doubt, she continued, "no matter how bad Angel feels, even one more day surrounded by the people who care about him has got to be better than ONE in hell."

"Hell?" When the tea and cookie went to war, Wesley had to concentrate to keep from experiencing the outcome.

Cordelia's accusatory facade eroded as she reached across the table to his hand. "Wesley," she began, "you didn't really think Angel's gonna be able to go where the real angels sing, did you? He's still a demon, no matter how easy it is to forget sometimes, and he's probably gotta go back where he came from."

After catching himself subconsciously nursing his lip, Angel readjusted his position and kicked the sheets away. He felt his temperature fluctuate from the simple activity and he lay back, completely still as it lowered. Trying not to concentrate on his voraciousness was an effort in futility as he began gnawing again.

Pushing the wound aside with his fist, Angel allowed it probably wasn't going to heal. That alarmed him to some extent, but not as much as it should have. He derived a sick satisfaction from the taste of the decay and, as a familiar voice wafted through his mind, he pondered the probability of hearing himself if he became his own victim.

"Good. I was going to suggest you just go ahead and chain me now," Angel spoke as Wesley stepped into the room. "Maybe just an arm. It won't take long and then you guys can go home." As Wesley took a seat on the edge of the mattress, Angel adjusted himself again. "It's not like I'm going to chew my way to freedom," he joked, trying to hide his mortification when the comment actually appealed to, more than disgusted, him.

"Wes? What's wrong? You should be used to this by now."

"Cordelia informed me you'll be returning to hell. Is that what the Oracles told you? I thought--"

"Nothing's changed, Wesley. They didn't have to say anything. I already knew, you know... Well, actually, I really don't know exactly what's gonna happen. I only know it's gotta happen soon. In fact, right now wouldn't be a such a bad time?"

Wesley grimaced at Angel's plaintive face. Angel, understanding as always, shrugged imperceptibly to Wesley's unspoken refusal.

"Just say it, Wes." Angel propped himself up against the wrought-iron heading while Wesley primped a pillow behind his shoulders. As he drank from the glass Wesley offered him, it struck Angel odd how sometimes he was able to understand human beings so well and other times he was so clueless. Examining the pained expression on Wesley's face, Angel would have preferred his usual density at that moment.

"What, exactly--" Wesley fidgeted and replaced the glass of water on Angel's bedside table. "--do you believe in?"

The tone of the conversation could have gone either way Wesley realized as the question left his lips. Angel exuded amused wonder--he was genuinely touched by the anticipated gesture. That provided some reassurance as Wesley added, "I thought I could help you set 'matters' straight?"

"Come to save my soul, did you?"

Wesley hadn't anticipated the refined Irish accent accompanying Angel's reply and he hoped he concealed his shock. "Please, Angel. Don't make light of the situation."

"Wes. Wesley. I appreciate the gesture, I really do. It's unbelievably kind and... And sweet. But I accept my crimes and I'm willing to do the penance for them. Whatever that may be."

"So, you're willing to ask for forgiveness?"

Angel weighed the question carefully. "No."

Concern, as Wesley grappled with the connotation of the simple answer, prompted Angel to continue, "I've done horrible things. Human. Demon. I'm not sure there is pardon for a demon. And even if there was..."

"You could ask, though."

"At the eleventh hour? All of a sudden 'I'm sorry' and everything is 'OK'? No. I think not."

The detection of Angel's journal nestled between the mattresses prompted Wesley to think of 'the box' and he began to lose his composure, reflecting upon how ill-equipped he was to actually persevere with what he was attempting to do. "Don't get upset. Just hear me out. If you believe--"

Angel's attention span torqued and he looked past Wesley. "Cordelia?" he called out, listening carefully.

The sounds of a Vision in process drifted in from the front room, recognizable by Cordy's muffled voice as she was seized by another painful episode. The expression on Angel's face morphed from concern to fury and when he returned his attention to Wesley, his gaze was steely, his attitude uncompromising. "I DON'T believe what you're trying to do. What God would do THAT to Cordelia? Do this to you?"

Wesley swallowed. "Do what to me, Angel?"

"Screw you so unrelentingly."

A moan squeaked out before Wesley hung his head in admitted defeat.

"Don't sit there and start praying for me now," the barely-recognizable voice seethed. "In fact, the only thing you should be doing--besides putting me out of my misery--is dissecting me."

"What?!?" Wesley, dazed, was also appalled. "Dissect you? Angel!"

"It's not fair their side has all the information. And, let's face it Wesley, I KNOW it's crossed your mind at least once. You know, if you could even do it. If it's possible. It would make a great addition to the notes you've been keeping on me."

"You're insane, Angel. I would NEVER--"

"THEY did it. Bits and pieces at a time." Absently scratching his forearm, Angel swallowed hard, savoring the distinct flavor of his saliva. "I was unconscious alot of it, but I know it was happening. Maybe there's something in me that could help the fight. Because demons are coming, Wes. Big demons. Little demons. Demons a la mode. Demons on the half-shell."

"But you're alive, Angel. It's like you're asking me to harvest the organs of someone who's still living."

"I'm not ALIVE. Do it. C'mon," Angel taunted. He leaned forward to stroke Wesley's arm emphatically. "Why won't you do it?"

Needing to flee, Wesley stood quickly and peered down his nose at Angel in an attempt to display his ethical superiority. "Because I have much more respect than that for the dead," he replied, unable to suppress the sorrow in his voice.

His eyes sparkling with derision, Angel laughed. "Alright," he conceded, "you want to save my dead ass and send me to heaven while the rest of you go straight to hell. Where's the logic in THAT, Wyndham-Price?" He waved his hand in dismissal. "Go, Wesley. Go take Cordelia upstairs so she can give Warrior Mahoe his almighty message."

Wesley acknowledged the young woman's faint cry as he briefly considered the definition of 'bravery'. "I'll be back down later--"

"To chain me? No. Don't bother. In fact, until you're ready to make an incisive decision, I don't EVER want to see you again."


The detailed message, complete with a circled Thomas Brother's Guide, lay spread across Cordelia's desk. As Warrior Mahoe examined it, he blatantly ignored the Messenger. His hostility continued to elevate.

Whistler snorted. "If you're going to be a Warrior, Mahoe, then you have to take on ALL assignments. You can't pick and choose because you're insulted when they don't meet your expectations. This still needs to be handled and you're the one who's gotta do it."

"I don't touch gnomes," he reiterated. "Send the vampire. I bet he doesn't have any standards as long as they're killable."

"Rookie," Cordy mumbled under her breath as she plopped into her chair. It only took a split-second to realize she'd been a teensy bit too loud.

Tossing Whistler aside, Mahoe roared as he rushed Cordelia's desk. Cringing, she expected the worst, only to find herself waiting for an attack that never materialized. When she cautiously opened one eye, she saw why.

Wesley was in the way.

"Move back, human, or I'll take you out, too!" Despite Whistler's hindrance, Mahoe lifted his brawny arms menacingly, his wrath causing his face to take on an orangey hue.

But Wesley, unperturbed, merely sighed after pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. "Go back downstairs, Cordelia," he suggested. When she didn't budge he sighed again, not the least bit surprised.

Dropping a shoulder, Mahoe managed to escape Whistler's grasp. His violent roundhouse only connected with air when Whistler backed up then under the attack, his shorter stature his advantage. In less than the blink of an eye, the massive Warrior crashed to the floor when his balancing leg was pulled from underneath him.


"You DON'T hit the Messenger, Mahoe. And you DON'T threaten humans! Got that?" Whistler straightened the collar of his vividly-patterned Qiana shirt
before nudging the still-growling demon. "Now get up and go do your job!"

Mahoe glared sideways at the insolent young woman who placed the instructions inside the map book before dropping them onto the floor. The toe of Whistler's shoe was a less-than-gentle reminder to cease the confrontation. After rising, he bent down and swiped up his imperative before storming out the office, leaving the front door wide open behind him as his only option for dissension.

"I thought you were supposed to protect me!" Cordy screamed at Whistler.

"Look, Cordy, he's been warned and after I report him he'll probably never try to attack you again."

"Probably?" she echoed, flabbergasted. "Thanks, ever so, for THAT confidence-building interjection."


"What, Wesley?"

"Not interjection," he corrected. "Adverb. Whistler used 'probably' as an adverb."

The sound she made was not unlike Mahoe's as Cordy rotated and stared down Wesley's throat. "Are you calling me STUPID, Wesley? Because I'M not the scrawny human being who stood in front of Humongour, The Furious. I mean, I appreciate the fact you were willing to take the first blow for me, but you were gonna get your ass pulverized."

"It might have proven far less painful," Wesley exhaled before retreating to the refuge of Angel's office.

Imagining the dejected human could feel Cordelia's animosity searing through his back as Wesley took his seat in Angel's chair, Whistler spoke quietly, attempting to calm her while she scowled through the louver windows separating the two offices. "Look, Cordy, Mahoe's NOT Angel. He's a real live, pure-blooded, DEMON demon despite the fact he resembles a human being. Bur'Turl demons are mean, but they get the job done. If there was any way I could have gotten you assigned to a different Warrior..."

After puffing an errant strand of hair from between her eyes, Cordelia refocused on Whistler. "You think I'm wrong, too. Don't you? I should stop being a Messenger."

"As an envoy for the PTB? No. As a demon who has some inkling of how heavily the odds are stacked against Our side? No. But, as someone who's gotten to know you and admire you and to... Well... Like you, you know, personally? I think when the opportunity arises for you to get out, you should." He interrupted when she began to voice her opinion, "even though you're part of the humanity this war will eventually affect, YOU have no place in this fight."

They stood for a moment, sharing the awkward silence. He could detect that while, perhaps, she wasn't weighing his words they were being filed away for future reference. That alleviated some of his concern as she turned away, granting him permission to leave.

Cordelia listened to Whistler shuffle through Angel's office on his way downstairs. When the stairwell door opened, she half-expected to feel a wave of the vampire's presence sweep up and throughout the offices. Holding her breath, she closed her eyes and waited.

And waited. Then, frustrated, she gave up.

The connection she and Angel once shared--the same one that broke 7 weeks prior--had yet to return. She just couldn't feel him anymore; not from the outside, not from within. And, despite the acceptance of a new Warrior, her feelings of loss for Angel's presence weren't lessening.

The former offices of Angel Investigations were just ordinary. Sure, she had done a nice job of furnishing them on the agency's initial meager budget and, with the blinds open to the midday, there was a sunny ambience. But gone was the uniqueness, the wonderful enchantment that had always made it a pleasurable place to wake up and come to.

Because Angel wasn't there.

Taking her chair, she surveyed the outer office she had once shared with Doyle. It was pleasant to remember the devastating paper-wad fights they had engaged in or the silly conversations over countless cups of coffee. Or the endless hours they had put their minds together over how best to motivate Angel out of his funk-of-the-week. She missed the rank attempts at flirtation that still caused her to smile whenever she looked over at his desk.

The desk that Wesley moved into.

Wesley had become an acceptable substitute. No. Replacement. And once the ex-Watcher finally started getting his act together, he had become way more useful. Business was better with the addition of Wesley. Evil-fighting was easier because he had the expertise to help Angel out with that kind of stuff.

And Wesley seemed to make Angel content. Wesley made Angel happy.

Even though Cordy was still wary whether Wesley was ready to put a stake in their boss, he seemed to really care about Angel. Alot.

The corner of Cordelia's mouth creased when Wesley got up to return downstairs. She knew she should apologize for the harsh things she had said, but in her heart she felt he deserved them.

At least for a little while longer.


He studied the pacing vampire. Angel, though of diminished vitality, was still recognizable as the creature Whistler had trained to defeat Lusus. That beautiful, tormented predator was stalking before his eyes and he held his immortal breath against the unknown.

"TAKE THAT GODDAM GIFT OUT OF HER HEAD!!!" Angel ranted. He stopped, panting unevenly. A fingernail was rabidly chewed away while he stared at the little being.

Angel's voice seemed to reverberate throughout his form and Whistler waited for it to subside. "They've tried, Angel," he explained honestly. "But either it won't come out or she won't let it go. And, until that happens, as long as she's willing..."

After listening to something Whistler couldn't hear, Angel prompted, "it's all been a lie, hasn't it?" he asked quietly while thumbing the side of his nose. The action left a smear from his finger's erratic oozing after having lost its nail at the quick.

Whistler looked at Angel quizzically. "No, really Angel. They've tried--"

"I... I... I... was so easy. Such an easy target." Angel's shoulders heaved as he lifted his face to the ceiling, his questioning tone heavily cynical. "Would it have been so hard to do this alone? I could have. I should have made myself try harder. Just ride out the loneliness long enough and maybe I could have gotten used to it again..."

Attempting to console Angel, Whistler slowly approached the deteriorating being for some visual explanation but before he could touch Angel's arm a wave of pain shocked through his system and made him sway. The intensity of the rebuff scared him to no end.

"...but, no. When Doyle showed up... Anything to keep from spending time in my own dismal company. I wonder how often you all had a good laugh at how simple I made it to walk in and just take over. And then Cordelia?" He bit another nail, spitting it at Whistler condescendingly. "Wasn't she the icing? Someone I already knew. I HAD to protect HER. I thought I was protecting Doyle, too. I thought he was MY Promised One."

Whistler's quick confirmation of Wesley's descending figure didn't distract Angel's tirade. By now, the being was too immersed in his thoughts, oblivious to anyone else in the room.

"Yeah. I fell for the 'oh, you can show us how to be better demons, Angel' schtick, too. Anything. To keep from being a demon myself. Sure, I'll show the demonic world how to gain access to humanity. Here, it's EASY! You just try to be polite. And then you make people trust you like this-- I let The Powers That Be right in through the back door. Made it soooooo easy to do. Taught them how to do it. 'Here they are, just go ahead and start your massacre.' With ME leading the procession."

"What's going on?" Wesley whispered to a shrugging Whistler. "Angel? What's wrong? What can I do to help?"

Angel blinked. Two painful times and stared at Wesley without recognition. "What's rehabilitation for a criminal! I wasted humanity with a soul--popped in from hell to finish the job. Looks like the End of Days was just waiting for me to take my place in front." When he tried to take another nail, Wesley held his forearm. "You better suit up, little human; I think it's gonna be rough."

Wesley disregarded the initial painful shock of his reach only to have the vampire, by sweeping away too quickly, careen recklessly away. Instinctively moving forward, he secured Angel before they stumbled back farther and, looking into Angel's eyes, he detected the worst.


Angel spoke, his voice rancid, directly into Wesley's face, with concentration so severe Wesley cringed. The vampire, wild-eyed and tremoring, chewed ferociously on his opened lip. As Angel wrung the hem of his tee shirt--the wife-beater soaking wet, discolored with rusty stains--Wesley listened to hear what Angel was listening to; searched to follow his shifting focal points.

But his efforts were futile.

"YOU tried to save me by dangling salvation in front of me--as if it was ever available to ME? No one's death redeemed MY sin. I am Sin," Angel whispered before re-exploding, "I was created for one thing and one thing only--to destroy mankind. I was a fool, human, to think I was anything else. A demon? NO! More. EVIIIIIIIIIIIIL! I was mastered from the bowels of ancient hell to destroy this place. You. And your kind."

Wesley shook his head as he pushed Angel into one of the leather club chairs. "No, Angel. That's not you. You were born human and possessed as demon."

"He did that far-away thing when he was training for Lusus, too," Whistler spoke near Wesley's ear as they waited for Angel's spasm to end. "Scared the shit out of me. Think I should get a stake handy just in case?"

"Please, Whistler. Just go get Cordelia," Wesley pleaded, never lifting his eyes as he rent Angel's tee in an attempt to bandage the bleeding thumb. "We can't afford to have him lose what little sanity he has left."