Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
A/N: This story was originally published on Stranger Things under one of my old pen-names (Rio), way back in 2004 or 2005. I'm putting all my stories up here so I have them in one place - hopefully, it will help anyone trying to find my older stuff.
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"There's been no improvement, then?"
"No. If anything, he's getting worse. I don't know how much longer he can go on before, well, before he does something stupid."
"You don't really think he'd..."
Wesley sighed wearily. "I really don't know, Willow. All I know is I've reached the end of my tether and I thought perhaps, with your prior experience of dealing with this sort of thing..."
"I can't bring her back, Wesley," Willow looked down ruefully at the swirls of cream in her grand latte. "I learned my lesson last time. Some things just aren't meant to be meddled in. That way badness lies."
"I know, and I'm sure that, wherever she is, Cordelia is a great deal happier than she ever was in Los Angeles. But it's tearing him apart. If he could just see her, talk with her, even on the spiritual plane, perhaps it might help him find some measure of peace." The young Englishman looked troubled. "If he doesn't, badness will be the least of our troubles."
"But surely he has to be all happy-go-lucky for that to happen, right?" Willow asked, anxious to believe that there was no threat of Angelus. Once had been more than enough.
"Regrettably, no." Wesley took off his glasses and began to polish them on a napkin, in a gesture which reminded Willow poignantly of Giles. She didn't think Wes knew just how much he'd become like the older man. He probably wouldn't believe her if she told him. "Angel ceased to be Angelus because he gained a soul and a conscience. He got back his humanity, if you will. Now, I'm very much afraid he has lost it again. He no longer cares about anyone or anything. It's only a short step from that to actively hating the world again. About the best we can hope for is that he'll have the courage to stake himself before it reaches that point... or else one of the rest of us will have to."
"But you think seeing Cordy will help?" Willow was sceptical. She knew Angel and Cordelia had become close, working together in LA for so long. She found it hard to believe that her death could have hit him so hard, though, harder even than Buffy's had last year. For herself, her feelings about Cordy's death were confusing. A part of her kept refusing to deal with it. She hadn't exactly seen Cordy that much since she'd moved to LA, and it was easy to pretend that she was still there, just a phone call away. She'd always been so vibrant, so unassailable, even in kindergarten. It was hard to take in that someone so vivid could have been snuffed out at just twenty-one.
She looked over at Wesley. The toll it had taken on him was obvious. He'd not only lost one of his best friends, he'd had to hold the rest of their little band together in the wake of that tragedy. It couldn't have been easy for him.
"Yes," he said now, after a moment's thought. "I really believe it would help him." He shrugged and smiled ruefully. "He misses her so much."
"Alright," Willow said. "I'll do some research and see what I can come up with."
"Thank you, Willow. I really do appreciate this."
The hotel was silent, eerily so, when Wesley returned from his meeting with Willow. He looked around at the gloomy shadows of the lobby and thought, not for the first time, how they hadn't fully appreciated her light until they were plunged back into the darkness. Fred came down the stairs as he stood there, rapt in thought, the glass of blood in her hand untouched.
Noticing that, Wesley looked up at her. "He's still not eating properly?" It wasn't really a question. They all knew the distraught vampire consumed barely enough to stay alive these days.
Fred shook her head, her pretty face clearly concerned and showing signs of her own grief. She had bonded with Cordelia early on, idolising the other girl, envying her poise and style and the power she held over Angel's heart. Cordy, for her part, had more or less adopted the gauche young scientist, alternately mothering her and treating her like a makeover project. Some of her more avant garde fashion experiments still had a special place in Wesley's memories and he was pretty sure Gunn wouldn't be forgetting them any time soon, either. It wasn't only Angel who had lost something precious when their Seer had been taken from them. But right now he was the one who needed help the most.
Wesley tried to bury himself in work for the next couple of days, but it was difficult when there was so little work to bury himself in. With their warrior pretty much out of action these days, not to mention no visions to guide them, they were once again dependent on whatever wacked-out crazies walked through their door. Not that there weren't enough of those wandering around, but it was surprising how seldom they got around to paying. Angel didn't surface, of course, no doubt still holed up in his room drawing picture after picture of a certain dark-haired beauty. Wesley shook his head. It wasn't healthy. Obsessing over her to the exclusion of all else. It was, however, Wesley reluctantly admitted, definitely part of the Angel modus operandi. Obsessive was practically his middle name.
When the phone call came, it was something of a relief. "Angel Investigations. We help the helpless," he said automatically, feeling a twinge in his chest as he remembered Cordelia's habitual, even wilful, misreading of that motto.
"Wes? That you?"
"Yes. Willow? Have you found something?" He could hear the eagerness creeping into his voice, but was powerless to stop it.
"I think I might have. I also found someone who should be able to help. Can the two of us come round tomorrow night? Can you make sure Angel's there?"
Wesley cast a sardonic glance up the stairs. "I think that's pretty much a given. Do I need to prepare anything, obtain any potions or such?"
"No, it's okay. I've got everything we need. I just need you there, all the gang. As many people who knew Cordelia well as you can gather."
"I'll get right on it," Wesley said, hardly daring to hope that it might be possible.
"Tomorrow, then," Willow said. "See ya then."
"Indeed. Goodbye. And... thank you."
"Thank me after it works," Willow said, and he heard the click as she hung up the other end. He replaced the receiver and stared down at it for a moment.
"Oh, I will," he said softly. "We all will."
"So, you gonna tell us what we're all here for or what?" Gunn paced restlessly up and down the lobby, making Wesley feel dizzy just watching him.
"It's a sort of ceremony," he said vaguely. "Something to help Angel deal with his grief."
"You aint got no shrink comin' down here, I hope. 'Cause the dude's in bad enough shape without regressing him through his past as well."
"No shrink. Just an old friend." The bell rang and Wesley jumped up out of his seat. "I'll get it," he said, practically sprinting across to the door. Gunn and Fred exchanged a look.
"Honey, I know it's exciting to see me, but there's no need to pant, really," came the familiar sardonic tones from the doorway.
"Hey, Lorne," Fred called out.
"Hello, sugar. My, my, the gang's all here," the flamboyant demon said as he sauntered in. "What is this? A party?"
"Ask Wesley," Gunn said. "It's a big ole secret from us lesser beings."
"Really, Gunn, there's no need to get all snooty about..."
"Hey, I aint never got snooty in my life. That's your department, English."
"Boys!" Fred said, injecting a warning tone into her voice that made the two men turn to look at her in astonishment and Lorne break into a grin.
"Looks like you picked up more from the princess than just her fashion tips, sweetheart. Love that whole forceful vibe you got going there."
Fred blushed. "Well, they were being childish," she said.
"Get used to it. That's pretty much what guys do," Willow said, watching from the open door with some amusement.
"Willow," Wesley said, a little embarrassed at being caught on the hop, so to speak. "I didn't hear you arrive."
"Obviously," she said, before turning to usher in a little old lady with bright red hair and a turquoise spandex jumpsuit. The group did a collective double take. "Guys, this is Madame Fleur. She's a professional medium."
"A medium what?" Gunn whispered to Fred. "That mama's an extra large if ever I saw one."
"Hush," Fred said, standing on his foot.
"Hello, darlings," said Madame Fleur, mincing into the centre of the room on impossibly high-heeled sandals. "Which one of you delightful little boys is Angel? Oh, please tell me it's the cute little green one in the sharp suit," she said, turning to Willow. "No? Oh, well, never mind. You can hold my hand later anyway," she said, reaching over and pinching his cheek as he watched her in bemused silence.
Gunn sniggered. "I think that's the first time I ever saw the Incredible Hulk here lost for words." Wesley covered his mouth and coughed as he tried not to smile at the demon's gobsmacked expression. They certainly didn't have little old ladies like Fleur in Pylea.
"Angel's not here yet, Ms. Fleur. I was planning to go and fetch him down once we're ready to proceed." He shot an anxious glance at the upper balcony. "Frankly, I'm not sure how he'll react to this idea, and it might be wise to present him with a fait accompli, as it were."
"Of course, sugar-pie. Won't take us long to set up, anyhow. Willow here knows what to do, right, dear?"
"Sure thing, Madame Fleur. I'll start getting the stuff out." She was walking over to the bag she'd brought in even as she spoke, and started pulling out candles and bowls and various bags of unknown substances. A mere ten minutes later she'd transformed the lobby of the Hyperion into something out of a gothic film. A circle of candles had been placed around the room, and sprinkled with some strange powder that made them glow pale blue and smell like trees after the rain. In the centre of the room stood a sort of shallow cauldron on a collapsible stand. This contained a mixture of holy water and various oils and would be lit just before they started the ritual.
Fred had watched transfixed as the overhaul took place and now she stared at the finished picture in amazement.
"Are those magic candles?" she whispered in awe to Madame Fleur who stood nearby watching Willow make some final adjustments.
"What? Oh, no, sweetie, they're just regular old candles from a regular old hardware store. The truth is," she said, lowering her voice conspiratorially, "all this," she waved her hands around to encompass the various occult paraphernalia, "isn't strictly necessary. True magic comes from within and doesn't need any trappings and such, but it keeps Willow here happy and it does look awfully pretty, doesn't it?" Fred stared after her as she teetered off on those gravity-defying heels.
"There's something strange going on here," she muttered to herself. "I just wish I knew what it was..."