Disclaimer: Still not mine.
Author's Note: I'm getting these chapters out as fast as possible, I promise! Anyway, there were a suprising number of reviews last chapter...and it was awesome. Keep 'em coming, mates! They truly are inspirational. And on to the story! I hope you enjoy.
Cordelia's moment of disorientation was interrupted by a blond blur hitting her with full vampire speed. Its arms wrapped around her in a bone-crushing hug.
"Oh my god, Cordy, they totally told me you were dead! I had to go to your funeral and everything. I was like so sad!"
"Harmony!" she said sharply, prying the vampire's arms off of her. "Where's Fred?"
"Probably in her lab or drooling over Wes. You know they..."
"Oh, sixth floor. She's got the whole thing for her scientific stuff."
Cordelia was off like a shot, Doyle not far behind her. She poked the call button on the elevator several times, and of course, Harmony had to comment, "You know, I heard pushing it a bunch of times doesn't make it go faster, but I sorta always thought..."
She dashed up the stairs, feeling each second as it ticked by. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she was running out of time, and she couldn't seem to move fast enough. About halfway to the sixth floor, she kicked off her heels so she could run faster, leaving them in the stairwell for someone else to find. She wasn't sure where Doyle had disappeared to, and she hated to be away from him now that she finally got him back, but she couldn't wait. Her friend's life was hanging in the balance, and Doyle would be able to take care of himself. She noted that Harmony hadn't followed her, and decided that Doyle had probably stayed with her to keep the vampire from following. Or, more importantly, annoying. She was grateful.
Cordelia reached the sixth floor and pushed through every door she could find. In her head, she'd always had something she pictured as a blinking red light that said 'urgent' right below it. That light was going insane, blinking so fast that it seemed simply lit up entirely.
Finally, she went through the right door.
Just in time to see the hole in the sarcophagus open up and Fred breathe in.
By the time Cordelia had tackled the scientist to the floor, she knew she was too late. She scrambled off of her and slumped against the side of a table, still next to Fred on the floor. Fred started coughing up a fit and she started wracking her brain for some sort of mystical Heimlich maneuver, but nothing came to her. Unless they could figure out some way to help her, Fred would be devoured from the inside.
When Fred's coughs ceased, she looked at Cordelia like she had never seen something so miraculous. Cordy had to admit, even in their line of work, a human coming back from the dead was rare. Much less two part demons.
Just as she thought of Doyle again, the door cracked open and he walked in. Seeing her on the floor, he immediately rushed to her side. He crouched down next to her and put his hand on her shoulder. "Did you..."
"Too late," she cut him off. "By like a second and a half. Doyle, this is Fred. Fred, Doyle."
Doyle offered his hand, but Fred was still staring at Cordy. The first thing she could bring herself to say was, "I...I went to your funeral."
And soon, I'll be going to yours, she thought before she banished the idea from her brain. So she had failed to save Fred this way. There were other ways. There had to be. "Yeah, well, Doyle and I got a second chance. Apparently the good guys need help so bad that we were recruited from beyond the grave."
Once Doyle's presence had sunk into Fred's mind, she grasped his hand and shook it. "Doyle...Angel and Cordy told me about you. Never really thought I'd get the chance to meet you, what with you being dead and all." She released his hand and got up, brushing herself off. Cordy and Doyle joined her.
"We should get to Angel," he said quietly. "It's not gonna cure itself, if you know what I mean."
Cordelia simply nodded and started walking toward the door, but Fred didn't move. "I don't. Know what you mean, that is. What's going on?"
"That dust you just breathed in?" Cordelia said, preferring to stare at the floor, instead of seeing Fred's face when she spilled the beans. "It's poisonous. It's going to hollow you out so some ancient demon can take your body."
"That sounds a whole lot like..." Fred trailed off.
"What happened to me," she said, closing her eyes. "But it hasn't won yet. Come on, let's get to Angel."
"Okay, who in the hell is the tramp?" Cordelia asked, pointing at the blond woman she'd just seen making out with Angel. The blond had taken care to place the desk between herself and the clearly furious seer, but she didn't seem to realize that she wasn't entirely the target of Cordelia's rage. Angel was.
"Cordelia, this is Nina. Nina and I..."
"Nina and you what, Angel? How long have I been dead? A week?"
"Three weeks, two days, eleven hours, forty-two minutes..." Angel said quietly.
"Oh, well that's just fine then," she muttered, ignoring the thought that, if he knew her death down to the minute, it probably meant he really did care. "It's not like I was important enough for you to mourn for me even a little bit. Not like your precious little Buffy, who you were brooding over for years before she even died."
"You don't understand, Cordy, it's..." He turned to Doyle. His mind was still fully boggled over the return of the other original members of Angel Investigations, not to mention being caught in a compromising position by the woman he definitely still loved. "Doyle, can you help me out here?"
Doyle shrugged. "I'm with the lass. You know, probably better than I do now, how incredible she is. Least you could do is give her a month to remember her."
"Exactly!" Cordelia said, gesturing to Doyle. "I gave up everything to help you and, sure, never asked for much in return, but I thought it would be implicit or something that I'd want to be remembered." She sighed and looked out the window, swallowing to prevent herself from crying. "At least by you."
"Hey, guys?" Fred asked, waving her hand a little to get their attention. "Not that I don't think this is real important and everything – and by the way, Cordy's right – but I think I've got a more pressing issue."
Cordy took a deep breath and turned to Angel. "Get Wes. This is his area of expertise. Plus, from what I hear..." Her eyes flickered to Fred. "He should be here anyway."
Angel went about calling Wesley to the office while Nina excused herself. "It was, um, nice to meet..." she started to say, but the death glare she received from Cordy shut her up quickly, and she was gone with a quick wave to Angel. Wesley appeared a moment later and went straight to Fred's side. His eyes settled on Cordelia and he opened his mouth to start speaking, but Angel spoke before he could.
"Yes, Cordy and Doyle are back." He met Cordelia's eyes, but she looked away almost immediately. "And we are as happy as we can possibly be without losing our souls over their return. Except apparently, something's wrong with Fred. Cordelia?"
"Yeah." She spoke directly to Wesley, certain that he would know better than anyone about these things. "There was a sarcophagus. She touched it and then breathed in something out of it. You can't tell yet, but it's highly toxic and it will grab ahold of her like a parasite and turn her into a vessel for some ancient demon that's been dead for a zillion years. You want to be researching Illyria."
"Will it hurt?" Fred asked, almost too quietly to hear.
Cordelia's eyes instantly filled with tears. She had been too late. If anything happened to Fred, she would blame herself forever. She wanted more than anything to lie to her friend. But that wouldn't help the situation either, even if it would alleviate some of her fear. After a moment, she nodded. "Excruciating."
Wesley's arms had tightened around Fred the instant he realized she was in danger, but there was one thing he had to be sure of before he could begin his research. "I'm sorry, and no offense intended to the recently and not-so-recently departed among us, but...has anyone touched them? We are sure they're not the First that we heard about from Sunnydale?"
"I've touched them both," Fred volunteered. She was trying to sound positive, but her voice was shaking badly. "So, research?"
"Yes, I'll be back shortly with my..."
Everyone in the room could do nothing but stare in horror as Fred coughed up blood onto Wesley's face. Her eyes rolled up in her head and she collapsed. Wes caught her...barely. He wondered at how quick his reflexes were, despite having the blood of the love of his life all over him.
"We need to get her to medical," he said, looking around the room at the stunned faces of his colleages.
"I'll take her," Spike said from the doorway. He had entered without anyone noticing, and heard most of their conversation. "Welcome back, cheerleader, Doyle," he said, with a nod to each of them. A detached part of his brain knew he'd have to come up with a nickname for the Irish demon. Otherwise everyone would suddenly want to be called by their proper names. "You go get your books, Percy, and I'll meet you back here as soon as I have something from the docs."
Wesley hesitated, then gently placed Fred into Spike's arms. Spike was off like a shot, up the stairs before they could really process him being gone. The ex-Watcher departed a moment later for his own office.
"Since when is that bleached menace on our side?" Doyle asked.
"Since he fell in love with my ex," Angel answered, clearly displeased by the idea.
She belongs to our white-haired warrior now... The words of her new favorite power echoed in Cordelia's head, and she almost smiled. It appeared she was done being jealous over Buffy, as far as her relationship with Angel went. Of course, that thought brought back images of him and The Tramp, and that wasn't something she needed.
"Get everybody else in on this, Angel. I'm gonna..." She looked around the room, desperate for an excuse to be out of his presence. Her eyes settled on her bare feet. "I'm gonna go get my shoes."
She wandered out of the room, lost in her own thoughts, leaving Angel and Doyle alone.
"Good to have you back," Angel said. "You're not mad about..." He looked to the door.
"You and Cordy?" Doyle asked. "No. I was dead, and who could blame a guy for falling in love with a woman like her? But this new thing? I understand why she's hurting. That was mighty quick to be moving on."
"That wasn't moving on," he replied. "It was solace."
"Doesn't matter in the long run, man. I'll explain later, but Cordy's officially off-limits for you. Until then...I should find her." He offered Angel his hand to shake, but Angel was having none of that. He pulled Doyle into a tight hug.
"I missed you," he said. "Now go find her."
Doyle went, and he found her in the stairwell, sitting next to her discarded heels. He was not surprised to find her crying. He sat on the stair next to her and awkwardly wrapped an arm around her shaking frame.
"This about Fred or Angel, Princess?" he asked. He had to know which one to comfort her over, and they were both likely to have a starring role in her mind at the moment.
"It's all of it! Fredis gonna die, I'm almost sure. And god, how could Angel move on so quickly? It's not a lot to ask, is it, Doyle? To be remembered by the person you gave up everything for?" Cordelia searched his eyes to see if he thought she was being selfish, but she found no judgment there.
"No, it's not. Anyway, if it makes you feel better, you're the better person. Because I gave up everything for you, and you remembered me just fine. I was honored that you kept me in your thoughts all this time."
"Of course I did!" she whispered, turning so she could throw her arms around him for a minute before pulling away again. "But he has to really love me, right? Otherwise the Powers wouldn't be so worried about him losing his soul with me." It occurred to her how selfish she was being. She knew Doyle had the full-on warm and fuzzies for her, and he deserved better than to be her shoulder to cry on about Angel. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't make you listen to all this."
"Hey, don't worry about it, okay? You want me to tell you I'm not jealous? Can't say that, because I am. Can't pretend I don't have feelings for you because you know better. But that doesn't mean I can't be a good friend to you, no matter what you choose." He paused to take a deep breath, then soldiered on. Hell, he had been a martyr once; he was sure he could do it again. "And no matter who. Truly caring about someone means being happy if they're happy, even if they aren't with you."
She met his eyes again. "Listen, Doyle, I'm sick of being part of some stupid supernatural soap opera. So much of everything that's gone wrong in the past few years could have been avoided if we just didn't keep secrets, so I'm gonna lay it out for you because dancing around this kind of thing has never gotten me very far. I am in love with Angel. But I have feelings for you too. And I don't know what they are or what they mean, but they've been there, laying dormant or whatever, since before you died. But you have to know, part of me will always be in love with Angel." She sighed. "And part of me will always be making out in broom closets with Xander Harris. And part of me will always be teasing you about whatever comes to mind. Point is, I don't think we ever entirely get over the people we've..." She hesitated, not wanting to say the word that was coming to her mind because she didn't know how accurate it was. She definitely loved Angel, but had she loved Xander? Did she love Doyle? So instead, she settled on, "...been close to. And maybe I want to explore this, but it will be a while coming. Because unlike Angel, I need time to mourn."
Doyle placed a soft kiss on the top of her head. "I understand, Princess, and I can wait. But we should get back, yeah?"
She nodded and allowed him to pull her to her feet. She quickly put her shoes back on and then they made their way back to Angel's office.