| Disclaimer: "ANGEL" is a trademark of Twentieth Television © 1999. |
Author's Note: This story was written in the two week period between Hero and Parting Gifts. After Parting Gifts aired, I debated taking this story down due to similarities in some of the dialogue in this story to the aired (and canonical) episode, but decided to leave it out here in the world despite the fact that it renders my little fanfic universe that fraction of a centimetre alternate universe. This is, of course, always the danger of writing fan fiction for a "living" series, and I hope you can still enjoy this vigentte despite the fact that it no longer fits seemlessly into series canon.
When Fortune Turns Her Wheel
by Tara O'Shea
2nd draft: 09.12.99
They destroyed it.
Rieff was the first. With Doyle's scream still echoing through the sudden stillness, the boy drowned it out with a scream of his own. Leaping up toward the descending beacon, he uncoupled the chains and sent the beacon crashing to the floor of the hold. As Cordelia buried her face in his shoulder, Angel could only stare as the demons took up anything to hand—crowbars, boards, their fists—and smashed the beacon, ground its circuitry beneath their heels. All the rage and anger and fear and sorrow came pouring out in violence against this thing created to eradicate them.
As the ring of metal on metal, the crunch of glass, the shouts and muffled sobs started to subside, Angel ushered Cordelia back on-deck, where the captain waited.
"What the hell—" he began, but Angel ignored him.
"Just go. Go now." Angel kept on walking, down the gangplank and across the concrete pier until they reached the van. The Quintessa pulled up anchor, and started to pull away from the dock as he started the engine. "Cordelia, I'll drop you at your place. There's something I need—"
"I know where you're going," Cordelia said as she fastened her seat belt and stared straight ahead at the lights of the freighter disappearing into the night. "I'm going with you."
"Cordelia, you're in shock—"
"What am I supposed to do? Go home?"
"It's been a long night—" Angel began.
"I'm going with you." She repeated. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were rimmed with red, but she wasn't crying. Her hands were folded in her lap, and he could see her trembling slightly, but her eyes were blank. Hollow.
"What's it say?" Cordelia asked as Angel lit the torches, revealing the inscription carved into the marble archway.
"It's Greek. It's The Gateway for Lost Souls." He looked down at the flames. "Cordelia, I don't know if they'll let you in. Doyle said that they accepted me because I'm a warrior fighting on their side, but he couldn't follow because he was just a lowly messenger. So stick close, and don't say anything."
"Okay." Cordy nodded.
"We beseech access to the knowing ones," Angel said to the blank white doorway as he lit the herbs in the brazier. The flame leapt to life, casting a warm glow on the dank chamber. The archway glowed, and Angel grabbed Cordelia's hand as they leapt through.
The blinding glare died and he found himself back within the cold marble hall. Cordelia was an uncharacteristically silent presence behind him as he found himself facing the Oracles. Angel didn't know if they appeared to him in Grecian robes because that was how he had pictured the Delphi when he was a boy, shirking his translations to play hurley in the field with his father's stable hands, or if this was their true form.
"You are becoming a nuisance." The male oracle glared at him, though his sister merely smiled that cat-like half-smile.
"And what have you brought us, mighty warrior?" she asked, dark eyes glittering, while her brother looked Cordelia over from top to bottom as a farmer would a horse—or a slave.
Angel held out the rose gold torque, and waited to see which of them would accept it. Neither moved forward.
"Tenth century Scottish gold. Rare."
"Hmmm," she gestured and the heavy necklace flew across the space to land in her hand. "I have one." It dropped to the floor with a ring like the sound of a bell.
"I come in supplication—"
"You come because you want something from us," Brother said, eyes narrowing. "We are not at your beck and call."
Angel took a deep breath. Finicky and unpredictable? These two make a great case for Lithium for Deities, Angel thought with an inward grimace. "There was a mistake—my friend, Doyle. He... his visions lead us to fight the Scourge, a demon army—"
"Mistake?" the female oracle purred. "You believe that the events of this night were... an error?"
"Without him, how will I know where the Powers that be need me to be? Doyle's visions—"
"Provisions have been made," Sister assured him.
"He was doing your work!" Angel protested.
"He was a lowly messenger," Brother reminded him.
"He is my friend."
"And he gave his life that you might live, and continue your duty. Would you waste that precious gift?" Sister admonished him gently.
"But if I could just get to the first mate before he betrays us to the Scourge, or even just had some kind of gun or bomb to destroy the device—"
Brother was having none of that. "We reordered time for you once. We will not do so again. If it has happened it was meant to be."
"Bullshit," Cordelia said, and Angel stepped between her and the Oracles.
"Cordelia—" he whispered in warning, but she stepped around him, and walked right up to Brother.
"Let me get this straight—Buffy gets to come back from the dead. Angel, who by the way for the first hundred years of his life killed a heck of a lot of people, gets to come back from Hell. Angel and Buffy get the whole Superman-flying-around-the-world-backwards-to-save-Lois-from-the-Earthquake thing so that just in case Buffy dies, she wouldn't. And the guy who has been the mouthpiece for these all-mighty Powers That Be, who doesn't have vampire reflexes or strength, who doesn't have a Scooby gang, or Watchers, anybody to look out for him at all—a guy who is just trying to do the best job he can at helping people, and helping us help people.... someone who was kind, and generous, and put himself on the line for complete strangers because... because he knew..." Her voice started to break as the tears gathered in her eyes. She dashed them away impatiently. "Goddammit."
"Cordelia, " Angel took her arm, and meant to pull her back, but she wrenched her arm away from his grasp. This is the only way she's going to grieve, Angel realised with a start. So long as the Oracles didn't decide to turn her into a toad, she had every right to rail at the injustice of it all.
"No! Why Doyle? Why did he have to die? You're Oracles, right? You're supposed to have Answers to Questions. So I want to know why."
"He was the Chosen One of prophecy and legend."
"That's the best you two Clash of the Titans rejects can come up with? He fit the profile of some demon fairy tale?" She laughed bitterly, on the brink of hysteria. "Choose somebody else. Choose somebody who has a fighting chance. Or do only slayers and immortals get to have the universe re-ordered for them? Not us poor mortals?"
"The Auguries say—"
"I don't give a damn what the auguries say," Cordelia spat. "You didn't have to stand there and watch, too stupid to move, too stupid to say anything. Too....too.... to stop him. You didn't have to listen to his..." her voice broke, "sc-screams." She took a deep breath, anger pushing past the pain. "And you don't have to go home, and go to work, and go on with your life and pretend you're not dying inside."
"It is not our place to grant life and death—" Brother fumed, but Sister held up her hand to silence him.
"Did you love him?" she asked, her head cocked like a bird eyeing a worm. Angel flinched.
"Love," Brother muttered beneath his breath, his face twisted in a mask of scorn. "You and your silly obsession with petty emotions of lower beings—"
"If I said yes, would you do it? Would you give him back?" Cordelia's voice was very soft, and she started trembling, the tears running unchecked down her face. "I don't know. That's the thing—I don't know, and now I'll never know. I know he's my friend, and I was finally starting to like to idea of maybe... you know, and I'll never know if I could have fallen in love with him, or how he really felt about me. I'll never know what it might have been like to kiss him and not...not for the last time, but for the first time."
"This one—" Brother gestured to Angel with a wave of his gold-brushed hand, "sacrificed every drop of human happiness and love he has ever known for another." His eyes were cruel. "What could you possibly give us?"
"Nothing," she said, honestly. "I don't have anything. I can't fight demons on my own, or save the world. My family and so-called friends don't seem to have even noticed I left town, or much care. I'm broke, human—and now except for tall dark and brooding here, I'm alone. He was the only person I've met here who liked me for me—who didn't know me from before, who didn't have the Sunnydale baggage. And now he's gone. And it's not fair."
"The universe has never been 'fair.' This audience is concluded." Brother turned his back on her, and in a blinding flash Cordelia and Angel were flung backwards into the antechamber, where the torches sputtered and the shadows danced.
"No! You bastards!" Cordelia jumped to her feet and pounded on the marble archway. "Come back. You have to fix it.... you have to..." she slid down to her knees, nails raking across the smooth surface. Angel knelt down on the cold stone floor and gathered her into his arms, stilling her, wishing that he could give her the human warmth she needed right now instead of cold dead limbs wrapped around hers. "He can't be dead. He can't be dead. He... they have to..." she said into his shoulder, and then lost all her words.
He held her while she cried, rocking her back and forth and whispering into her hair as her body was wracked with the sobs that she had held back until there was no hope left at all. One by one, the torches sputtered and died.
Angel woke to the smell of ammonia and the growl of the vacuum cleaner overhead. Pulling on some clothes, he stole a glance at the clock. He had dropped Cordelia at home barely eight hours earlier.
She was attacking the tops of the shelves with the brush attachment of the decrepit vacuum cleaner that a previous tenant had left in the closet before he moved in, wearing jeans and a tee-shirt, her hair pulled back and up out of her way. A dingy pair of keds sat on the stoop, along with her purse and a jean jacket. He didn't think he'd ever actually seen her without make-up before. She looked about fifteen.
In one corner was the mop and bucket that hadn't seen any action in three months, and he could see the shiny spots on the floor where the linoleum was still wet. Although the windows in the office were thrown open, it was almost pitch dark. The sky was grey, thunderclouds blocking out the last of the late-afternoon sun.
He pulled the plug out of the wall, and she started as the motor died, and she saw him standing in the doorway, orange extension cord in hand. "Cordelia, what are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" She gave him a "duh" look. "This place is filthy. I mean, what kind of image are we trying to project here? No wonder we have no clients. The size of the dust bunnies alone would scare them off."
"Cordelia , stop."
"I can't," she said simply. "If I stop, that means I have to... " she trailed off. "I just... I couldn't sleep. I stared at the ceiling of my bedroom for five hours. If I stay still for too long, I can't stop... remembering."
"So what now?"
"We go on."
"How?" she asked, but he had no answer for her. Instead he bent down and picked up the video cassette sitting on the corner of her desk, next to the camcorder.
"...when the chips are down, and you're at the end of your rope you need someone that you can count on. And that's what you'll find here —someone that will go all the way, no matter what. So don't lose hope. Come on over to our offices and you'll see that there's still heroes in this world. Is that it? Am I done?"
Cordelia winced as she heard herself from off-screen. "I don't know. I'm not getting every man. I'm getting weasel. We don't want weasel."
"I don't know. I think people will be pouring in as soon as they hear about our low rats."
Angel stole a look at Cordelia, who remained curled in a ball staring at the phantom on the screen.
"I could take another crack at it."
"I don't think so."
"Weasel factor, huh?"
She leaned forward and clicked off the set. She pushed herself off of the green couch, and slipped on her shoes. "I need to get some air."
"It's raining," was all Angel could think to say.
"So I'll get wet." She shrugged, and closed the door behind her. He could hear her footsteps, and the heavy outer door, and then he was alone in the office. He leaned forward, and popped the tape back in the VCR. As the picture sprang back to life, he could see Doyle looking beyond the camera, at the Cordelia of that morning. It had been barely twenty-four hours earlier, yet it felt like a thousand years.
"Doyle, I didn't mean it like that. I'm sorry. I'm just... I feel kind of hopeless with him down there doing the non-profit brooding. It's not like he has a heart. How could it be so broken?"
He paused the tape, and rewound it again, all the way back to the beginning. Then he turned off the TV, and the VCR, and got up and walked to the filing cabinet. He opened the top drawer and took out the bottle of Scotch that Doyle kept there for emergencies.
I should do this with whiskey, he thought as he unscrewed the lid. But sometimes you have to use what you have. He poured a double, lifted the glass in silent tribute, then tipped it back.