Note: The story takes place post-Billy but pre-Quickening in the AtS universe.
Warning: In the US today one quarter of all American women have been the victim of assault by the time they reach adulthood, that probability increases the older the woman becomes.
The team at Angel Investigations is highly protective of Cordelia, however when she is most vulnerable she is left more or less to fend for herself. This came of a thought of what would happen if the worst did happen to occur and how would she and the rest of her 'family' handle such a crisis. Nothing is explicit herein nor does the actual assault even take place within the story itself, however, the subject matter might be distressing to some so please be warned.None Goes His Way Alone*
* a line taken from the poem "A Creed" by Edwin Markham
Cordelia would be waiting for them to return from the latest hunt. One blindingly painful vision, three Tahlmar demons and a lot of blood later, Angel, Wesley and Gunn purposefully strode along the sidewalk toward the hulking edifice of the Hyperion. It was curious, or would have been to an unseasoned observer, that the trio went about their business in the darkened streets and alleyways without drawing notice to themselves. They barely attempted to conceal their weapons as they kept up a steady pace, their bloodstains and abrasions would be disregarded until they were back in the hotel where their personal angel of mercy waited to hover over them in condescending glory despite the agony in her own head.
The sounds of their footfalls resounded off the tiled foyer as they crashed through the doors in an unrelenting flood of sweat and testosterone. The thunderous sound of their steps faded finally, followed by the clash of weapons falling into a disorganized pile of wood and steel on the scarred desk that faced the entrance. Three pair of eyes scanned the downstairs quickly, searching for a familiar dark head and patronizing eyes to no avail.
"Cordelia," Angel called into the stillness of the monstrous hotel. His voice echoed slightly but brought no reply. "Cordy?"
A familiar head peeked out over the banister, a shy but bright smile directed at the trio. "Cordelia went home. She said she was tired and wanted to go to bed early."
Angel smiled in reply. "Thanks, Fred. Was she okay? When she left, I mean."
Fred's head bobbed companionably, her smile brightening even more. "Oh, sure. She said she was fine."
Angel paused a moment, taking in that bit of information. Cordelia telling him, or anyone for that matter, that she was fine was like waving a red cape in front of a charging bull, it didn't lessen the roiling emotions running through his head but it did give them a target. "So she said that she was alright?" he quizzed.
"Uh huh. She sat on the couch for a while after ya'll had gone but then she decided she wanted to go home and sleep. You know, it was kind of like when one of the…" Fred looked down to meet the pained expressions of the men below her and shook her head quickly to dispel the abstract thought. "Never mind. She said she would be fine."
While Wesley moved to his books and Gunn plopped down onto the couch, Angel considered the ramifications of Cordelia's departure. She might simply have been tired and wanted to sleep in her own bed with Dennis' pampering presence, or she might not have wanted them to see how badly she was handling the post-vision side-effects. If her appearance when they left her behind that evening were any indication, she was trying to hide how badly the visions were affecting her. His concern egged him to pay her a visit after he cleaned up, but memory stopped him as he got flashes of remembrance filled with an indignant Cordelia who merely wanted to be left alone to her misery. Maybe he'd leave her alone for the rest of the night, he thought, and then check on her in the morning. Mid-morning visits weren't exactly his forte but he did have a few alternatives.
"Wes, I need you to do something tomorrow morning."
Looking up with a pleasantly expecting expression, Wesley looked up from the notes he was compiling on the evening's demonic encounter. "Yes, Angel?"
"It's Cordelia. Go by her place before work and check on her. If we go over there now…"
Gunn cut off his statement. "If we show up on her doorstep pesterin' 'er, we'll need more backup than when we went after the green scalies. You know how she gets when we keep after her with the worry. Probably she left so we couldn't keep askin' her if she was okay. An' pesterin' her in the daylight isn't gonna make it any better."
"Gunn does have a point, Angel," Wesley said, idly fingering the gold leafed pages of the book that lay on the table in front of him. He too was concerned but knew all too well what Cordelia's reaction would be to his appearance at her doorstep the next dawn. "Perhaps a phone call would be more prudent."
Angel looked from one face to another, even Fred seemed to be in agreement that they shouldn't bother the woman in question but his concern wouldn't allow that. If she'd stayed at the hotel, been there when they returned so that he could see for himself that she was still alive and more or less well… Well, that would be a wholly different scenario, the fact was that she wasn't there and he was too worried about his friend to put her emotional comfort or her pride before his need to assure himself that she was indeed all right. "She'll get over it."
Wesley shook his head slightly. Their concern for the seer grew by leaps and bounds with each vision the PTB sent her way, their worry for her safety and health paramount to anything else, even the quest that each vision sent them on. He would do it, go by her apartment, argue with her spectral roommate to allow him entrance, regardless of the anger it was sure to produce in the young woman. He might even pay a visit to her on his way home and relieve a bit of his own building anxiety.
"Alright, Angel, I'll go."
"Good." He strode past them all, heading to the kitchen and the pig's blood that sat chilling in the refrigerator there. He could relax a bit knowing that Wes would check on Cordelia. Taking one of the tubs of viscous liquid from its shelf, he closed the door with a dull thud and turned toward his living quarters. Sleep would be a welcome relief… after a shower to relieve his skin of the sticky remains of demonic entrails and excretions that it had collected during their fight.
Once he departed the Hyperion for the evening, Wesley approached the apartment building cautiously. He had been on the receiving end of Cordelia's raucous ire far too many times to remain unwary of it, but obviously not often enough to avert his visitation. She was far too precious to them for any of them to ignore her obvious distress, even if she chose to ignore it herself.
Taking the stairs two at a time, he paused on her landing, lightly knocking on the door to her apartment. He anticipated Dennis' refusal to let him in and had already prepared a speech for just such an occurrence. What he had not anticipated was the opening of the door by the invisible hand of Cordelia's ghostly roommate.
The apartment was dim, the curtains pulled shut against the streetlamps and flashing neon of the street, only a single lamp shone dully from one corner of the living room to illuminate his path. Curiously, he searched the shadows for his friend, not finding her in any of the usual places.
"Cordelia? It's Wesley… We were, well, we were concerned about you," he called into the deathly quiet of the room. He paused, waiting for an answer, a shriek of indignation, or even just a resigned sigh, but none were forthcoming. "Cordelia?"
Another door opened on the far side of the room. Thanks to his numerous visits to the apartment, Wesley was able to identify the room as Cordelia's bedroom, obviously the most likely place for the exhausted woman to be. Not giving a second thought to why Dennis was being so helpful for a change, he crossed the room and stepped through the doorway.
The bedroom was even dimmer than the living room had been, shrouded in deep shadows and unclear edges. The bed loomed blackly up from the deep gray of the floor, mounds of pillows and blankets tangled in inky confusion. If there was a person hidden among the cloth and down, Wesley was hard pressed to confirm it. He stepped closer to the bed, trying to make his footsteps as silent as possible so as not to wake or startle the girl who was surely resting among the tangled mess.
In a sudden flash of pale moonlight, the curtains were drawn aside by an unseen hand, leaving the bed awash in cool blue illumination. The full moon brought depth and form to the mysterious shadows, allowing him to spy a hand poking out from beneath the blanket. The rest of her body was hidden from view among the linens and Wesley very nearly turned to go so that he wouldn't disturb her when he noticed something distinctly wrong about the visible hand.
Cordelia had gone for a manicure the day before, he remembered because she had presented her hands to them all afterward, explaining that she would have nothing to do with their weapon sharpening session. Her fingernails, lacquered and buffed, had been an extension of her own attempt at perfection. The fingers he saw now were splayed across the sheet, scratched and bloodied, the nails torn and broken. For someone who had gone straight home without taking part in their demonic battle, they were a significant sign of wrongness.
Eyes widening, he edged around the bed, trying to decide where her head might be hidden. Not exactly certain he wanted to survey the rest of her unaccounted injuries nor wanting to surmise how she had come to have them, he gingerly reached for the blanket and gently pulled it away from her face.
"Good God, Cordelia, what happened?" Too shocked to maintain his composure or hide his distress, his voice rang out loudly in the quiet room although it was in reality no louder than a strangled whisper.
He was immediately sorry for his outburst when the sound caused the woman to jerk awake, her eyes fearful and her arms and legs scrambling to put as much distance between herself and whomever had invaded her home.
"Shh…" Wesley purred, kneeling quickly so that she would be better able to see his face. "It's only me, Cordelia. Wesley."
Slowly the fear drained from her face leaving her frighteningly pale in the aftermath of her waning distress. Scooting back against the headboard, she drew her legs up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and resting her chin on her knees. She looked up at Wes through the fringe of her dark lashes as he slid onto the edge of the bed, one hand reaching out to brush her ankle through the fleece of the sweat pants she wore. Her jerk in response to his touch caused him to snatch his hand away, not wishing to cause her any more distress.
"Cordelia?" he murmured. "Cordelia, what happened?"
Her eyes slid away from his face, focusing on the dim corner before she could bring herself to speak. When she did at last open her mouth, her voice was raw and harsh, rasping painfully. "I was coming home, or trying to anyway. My head was foggy from before… and my balance was off… I should have stayed at the hotel."
Wesley watched her closely, waiting for her to say more. "Cordelia…"
"I should never have left, okay, I know it was a stupid thing to do," she sounded so miserable and alone that it took all the will power Wesley could muster just to keep his hands from reaching out to offer her comfort.
"Whatever happened, you're not to blame. You know that."
"Wesley, I knew I should have stayed there and waited until you had all come back, I knew it. I just wanted to come home and sleep it of though, you know? But I… I never even heard him come up behind me, I was using all my concentration just trying to stand up straight." Suddenly she raised her head, directing the full force of her gaze at Wesley. "God, how stupid could I be? I know what's out there. I know how dangerous it is to walk around at night alone. How could I be so stupid?"
Torn as how to progress, Wesley dared not drop his eyes lest she think he was in agreement with her self-depreciating statements. "No, you weren't being stupid, Cordelia. No one should have to worry about being attacked. No one, least of all you."
She chuckled sardonically, her voice hardening. "Why? Because the PTB sends me these brain-frying private versions of their 'most wanted' list? Because I'm Angel's precious seer? What does that matter to anyone but us? And what will it matter to anyone when Angel gets his humanity back?"
"You're more than that, you know that you are. Angel told you as much when Billy was causing you so much torment. The visions don't mean as much to any of us as you do yourself." He stopped trying to convince her of her own importance to the group when she winced in pain. "What happened, Cordelia? You need to go to the hospital, to let a doctor examine you."
"No, I'm not going anywhere."
"No," she insisted, drawing even further into herself.
"Alright, alright, no hospital," he agreed, "but we do need to contact Angel." He watched her closely, not knowing what kind of reaction to expect from her for suggesting they contact Angel. He knew that regardless of her desires, there would be no way to keep her experience from the man whose life she had bodily invaded. She had come to mean far too much to him, with or without her visionary insights.
A sudden panic flooded through her mind. She hadn't thought about having to tell Angel. Surely there was some way to get around it, some important but heretofore unmentioned errand that would take her out of LA for a while. If she knew where her parents were… No, they wouldn't be any help; after all they'd left her to fend for herself after the IRS fiasco. And she had no one else to turn to but Angel. Surely there was someone…
"You know, I need to drive down to Sunnydale for a few days… There's this thing…"
Wesley stopped her before she could finish formulating her plan. "You can't run away from it, Cordelia. It will follow you where ever you do go."
She closed her eyes, relishing the pounding headache that throbbed at her temples. At least she knew how to deal with that particular pain, even if the pain medication she bought with such regularity didn't help. Drawing in a trembling breath, she tried to steady her racing heart. Angel had to be told, so did Gunn and even Fred. She understood that on an intellectual level, it was her emotions that weren't cooperating.
Wesley took her silence and shuddering breath as a sign that he could call the office and summon the one man who he thought might be able to talk some sense into the young woman. That was, if the vampire didn't first hunt down who ever had done this to her and feast off of them, disregarding the impact the action would have to his redemption. Wary but determined, he reached for the phone only to discover its cord had been yanked from the wall.
"Dennis wanted to call the office, I didn't want him to."
Nodding in understanding, Wesley moved to the living room and the phone that was there, all the while trying to fabricate in his head the words he needed to relay to Angel. When it came down to it, there were no right words; there would be no easy way to break the news that in their quest to help the group of strangers that the Tahlmer demons had been attacking, they had let down the one person who, quite possibly, meant the most to them.
to be continued…