Shadows on the Moon

Story Blurb: "Hello, I'm Cordelia Chase. We have met, haven't we?"

Title: Shadows on the Moon

Author: Ironbear

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series and characters thereof belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and Kazui Entertainment. Everyone else belongs to their respective owners, except for my own original characters.

Summary: Ten months after falling into a coma following her giving birth to Jasmine, Cordelia wakes up. Again. And boy, is she ever not happy...

Type: Drama, Romance, Urban Fantasy

Chronology: BtVS post "Chosen"; AtS just past the end of "You're Welcome"

Pairings: Cordelia Chase and Xander Harris

Author's Note(s): Seriously AU from the climax of "You're Welcome" and makes zero pretense of adhering to Buffy Season 8 Chronology. (In case it's escaped you somehow, the Buffy comics 'verse doesn't exist in any of my universes.)

Just a short story to ease back into posting with. More to come once my other, longer, recent works are done being proofed, beta read, and worked to final draft stages.

Shadows on the Moon

by Ironbear

"All you need in life is a little luck. And a stick with sharp pointy bits." ― Everything worthwhile I've learned in life, I learned from Cordelia Chase

Friday, February 6, 2004: Angel's Suite, Wolfram and Hart Los Angeles; Late Evening -

With an almost desperately pleading expression, Cordelia turned to face Angel.

"I can't stay, Angel," she said, her voice breaking slightly and her eyes threatening to well up. "This isn't me any more. You – you can say good-bye to the rest of the gang for me, and explain everything once you understand."

Spreading his hands, Angel stared at her. "And that's going to be never," he said, "Because I don't understand." Walking toward her, he put his hands on her shoulders, adding, "I need you here," with his voice going hoarse.

Cordelia turned her face away, then back to look up at him with tears in her eyes. "Don't make it hard, Angel," she said, her voice as desperate as her eyes on his, "I'm just on a different road... and this is my off-ramp. The Powers That Be owed me one, and I didn't waste it. I got my guy back on track. "

"Cordy, there's just – "

Smiling, Cordelia reached up to touch his face gently. Cupping his cheek with her palm, she said, "We take what we can get, champ, and we do our best with it. I'll be seeing you."

Stepping back away from him, her hand fell back to her side as she smiled up at him through her tears, then she turned and walked away toward the door to his office, her shoulders hunched as if expecting a blow. Her head dropped for a moment, then lifted and she turned and walked quickly back to Angel.

"Oh, what the hell. One for the road?" Cordelia said, smiling up at him. Rising on her toes, she threw her arms around his neck, kissing him with an almost desperate hunger.

The ringing of the telephone was an irritant, and then an annoyance.

"Dammit, I told Harmony not to interrupt us," Angel said as he broke off the kiss, sighing. "You know, um... I don't... I don't need to get that."

Giving him a wry smile, Cordelia nodded. Reaching up to straighten his tie, the smile broadened slightly, but her eyes took on a new depth of sadness. "You so really don't," she said, nodding. "But you will."

Sighing again and shaking his head, Angel smiled an apology down at her, and turned to head to his desk.

From behind him, he heard Cordelia's voice say, "Oh... and, you're welcome."

Frowning down at the phone for a moment, Angel finally puzzled out which button to push to get the right line, and picked up the receiver.

Jabbing at the button he threw back over his shoulder, "This shouldn't take more than a moment," and then he spoke into the phone. "Hello? Angel speaking."

A feminine voice on the other end of the line said into his ear: "Hello? Mr. Angel? Beverly at the Gilbert Sullivan Care Facility. You asked to be apprised of any changes in Miss Chase's condition? No matter how minute?"

"Well, yeah," Angel said, frowning down at the phone console. "I did, yes."

Excellent. the voice of Beverly, whoever she was, said. "You'll be happy to know then that Miss Chase has awakened and is asking to see you and the others."

Angel blinked, feeling stunned. Deja vu? Wasn't this the exact same phone call and conversation he'd had just a day or so before?

"Yes, I know. She's... "

"The doctors and long term care nurses are with her now," Beverly said. "I'm sure that given your interest, you'll want to waste no time in heading over here to see your friend, so I won't keep you."

"She's... but that's impossible. She's standing right – " blinking again, Angel took in the vacant place between his desk and the door where Cordelia had been standing. And he hadn't heard the door open and shut, either, nor footsteps... he was certain of that.

Yeah yeah – thick shag carpeting, but hey: vampire hearing.

"I'm sorry. Yeah," Angel said, slowly, "You're right. I- we'll be there right away."

The hell?

"Seriously, Poofster, the hell?" Spike said for what was probably the fiftieth time since Angel's hasty call had gathered them all in his office.

Thank God he'd been able to order Harmony to stay back at the office, despite her going into pouting overdrive. Both of them together? He'd have to stake them, and then himself...

Himself, because staking Spike might give him a moment of perfect happiness, and there wasn't any point in taking chances.

Sighing and rolling his eyes, Angel said, also for the fiftieth time, "I don't know, all right? I. Just. Don't. Know."

"As ah, irritating as I know that Spike's harping upon this must be," Wesley said, "I fear that I must echo his concerns. If Cordelia has woken up here and now, then – "

"Who the hell was that at the offices the past few days?" Gunn said, nodding. "'Cause it sure the hell looked and sounded like Sunnydale Barbie."

"Tasted like her, too," Spike said cheerfully.

"Don't even start with that, Spike," Angel said, glowering at him. ''Cause you? About one remark shy of a staking right now."

"Oh! Maybe it was an astral projection form of her," Fred said, her eyes brightening, "You know! Like Prue Halliwell on Charmed."

"Pretty sure that astral projection doesn't work like that, Blue Bell," Lorne said, sticking his hands in his pockets.

"Since we're here, we can just ask," Angel said, pushing open the door to Cordelia's long term care room.

No doctors or nurses. An empty room with a freshly made up bed and a pulled back privacy curtain. Angel stopped in the doorway for a moment, blinking, before stepping the rest of the way in. Hadn't this been a double room a few days ago? Two beds?

The opening door to the bathroom area cut short that line of thought as Cordelia Chase stepped out into the room, growing and running a comb through her hair. She winced as the comb apparently hit a tangle, and then looked up, freezing in place as she saw them.

As did they...

Cordelia Chase... but not the 'looking like a million dollars fresh out of a coma' Cordelia of a few days ago. No, this Cordelia Chase looked almost as one would expect a girl who'd been in a ten month coma to look like.

Slender not quite to the point of near emaciation, lank hair, no fingernail polish, and chapped lips. Circular adhesive bandages on the forearms where the IV tubes had been removed. Bruised looking circles under the hazel eyes.

Bright hazel eyes, full of life and vibrant intelligence in that gaunt looking face.

Bright hazel eyes, sweeping over the group of them, and lighting up happily as they went across Fred, Wesley, Lorne, and Gunn.

Bright hazel eyes, freezing momentarily as they stopped briefly on Spike and a hint of a frown creased the brow over them...

Bright hazel eyes that narrowed and went suddenly arctic cold and rimmed with frost as they fell on Angel and riveted him in place.

'Uh oh,' a quiet voice in the back of Angel's mind said. 'That is not the face of a happy woman. Nor one who is overwhelmed with joy at seeing you, pal.'

Angel was forced to agree with Quiet Voice. Very much not happy. And he really hadn't a clue as to what might be causing that.

"Cordy?" Fred said, practically bouncing on her toes. "But but but – "

Apparently unable to form a coherent sentence out of all of the buts, Fred squealed and bounced forward, arms open, to sweep Cordelia up in a hug for the second awakening in several days. Only to freeze in mid bounce after two long steps when that icy hazel gaze fixed on her and riveted her in place.

"So really not in the most huggy of moods, Fred," Cordelia said, "Sorry."

"Cordelia?" Angel said. His voice came out sounding a bit plaintive to his own ears, and he winced at the tone of it. "But- I was just... I mean, you were... " he trailed off, spreading his hands helplessly. "I don't understand."

"I know. And believe me: we are so going to need to have a long talk about that. All of this," Cordelia said, nodding at him. "But not right this second. I'm a freaking mess."

"Gotta say, Barbie," Gunn drawled, sticking his hands in his pockets and looking her up and down, "You do look kinda like what the cat dragged out of a coma, girl."

"Gunn!" Fred said, gasping and looking appalled. She slugged him in the shoulder and he winced, jerking away from her.

Cordelia's head jerked back like an affronted cat, and then her lips twitched as she stared at him. Then she laughed, and finally, the full thousand watt Cordelia Chase Pepsodent beauty queen smile flashed out at him. And for just a moment, all of the split ends and cracked lips and puffy eyes and black circles vanished or became unnoticeable.

"God I missed you guys. Don't ever change on me, Gunn," Cordelia said, beaming at him. She nodded vigorously, adding, "And, tell me! Mystical comas, not so great on the complexion. Who knew?" Whirling on Angel, she glared at him. "What. The company health plan wouldn't spring for the deluxe long term care? With, like, conditioner and moisturizing? Jeeze. I'm going to need six weeks of beauty spa just to get back to the break even point. Jerk."

"Ah... " feeling a bit lost, Angel trailed off.

Throwing a fast glance around the room, he saw that everyone else was in more or less the same boat. Wesley was frankly staring with his mouth dropped open. Lorne looked both dazed and nonplussed, which wasn't a good look for him. Ditto for Fred. Everyone except for, oh, hell...

Everyone except for Spike –

Smirking, Spike vamped out and stepped forward, saying, "Sorry, cheerleader. Something that needs to be checked on first. Don't worry, this'll only – "

The frosty hazel glare that Cordelia turned on him did not stop Spike in his tracks.

The hand that grasped him by the throat and lifted all five ten of him six inches off the floor until his toes were dangling and kicking did.

"I don't think so, rapist," Cordelia said, her eyes locked onto Spike's.

Spike hit the wall beside the open door and went through it in a shower of sheet rock dust and chips, particle board fragments, and splintered studs. And hit the wall past that and left a Spike shaped dent in it before he slumped and slid down to land sprawled and dazed looking on the hallway carpet.

Stalking forward like a lioness, Cordelia stepped across the room and out through the door past the Spike shaped hole in the wall. Bending from the waist, she grabbed hold of the tails of his leather coat and peeled it off of him like a pelt.

Stepping back with it, she let it dangle by the collar from her left hand as she looked down at him. "Robin Wood is going to want his mother's coat back, I think," Cordelia said, her eyes narrowed.

"Hey! You can't just – " Spike began as he came boiling up off of the floor.

"Oh?" Cordelia cocked her head and the look in her eyes froze him again partway up. "I just did. And you need to be out of this vicinity."

Spike opened his mouth again, and she cut across him, her voice like a knife across silk. "No. You need to be out of this building," Cordelia said.

Snarling, Spike stood, glaring, and began to brush himself off. "Damned right I do." Looking past Cordelia's shoulder, he said, "All yours, Poncey. Have fun," before turning and stalking off down the hallway.

Turning on her heel, Cordelia stalked back into her room past an incredulous looking Angel and a frankly gape mouthed Fang Gang.

"How in the hell could you let him hang around, Angel?" Cordelia said finally, nearly exploding at him. "Harmony I can almost believe, but Spike?"

"He, uh, it just, I mean... " Angel spread his hands helplessly, "Have you ever tried to get rid of Spike? Seriously? He's like athlete's foot."

After a moment, Cordelia's lips began to twitch at the corners. "Well, you could have staked him," she said, grumbling.

"Hey, he's kind of a hero now I understand," Angel said, shrugging.

"Oh, you have no idea," Cordelia said, shaking her head. "We have so much to talk about that you are so not going to enjoy."

"Ahem." Wesley cleared his throat a bit hesitantly, and said, "Well, Spike's methods might be a bit unconventional, but he did bring up a point that does need to be settled. We did, after all, see and interact with you over the past few days. How do we know that you you are – "

"Me really? Good question," Cordelia said, nodding. Glancing sharply at Angel, she raised one no longer perfectly manicured eyebrow and said, "Remember my so-called demon powers?" Her right hand began to glow white. "If you try for a taste test, you go through the wall that Spike hit. And the one beyond that, capsice?"

"Whoa, hey," Angel said, stepping back with his hands up, palm out, "Never even crossed my mind. Really."

"Good," Cordelia said, nodding. "Because I am so seriously pissed off at you that I can barely see straight, Angel. All of you, really, but you in particular."

"Hey! What did we do?" Fred began, only to trail off at Cordelia's look.

"Uh, then how should we... " Gunn blinked at her, looking nonplussed.

A soft whistle drew everyone's attention to the so far silent Lorne. He raised a hand hesitantly, looking oddly like a child getting attention in class. A very odd looking red eyed and green child... "Uh, hello? Anagogic demon? It occurs to me that I might have a suggestion?"

Smiling Cordelia looked at him with her eyes starting to twinkle, unlike the frozen looks that Angel and Spike had gotten. "Really? You didn't seem to do so well with that last year. Or the year before that."

"Well, yeah," Lorne said, nodding. Looking her dead in then eyes he added, "And, crumbcake, I am so, so very sorry about that that you can't – "

Holding a hand up, Cordelia stopped him. "It's okay, Lorne. Really. I'm pretty sure my uninvited guest was blocking you. Her and that Skip character."

Lorne nodded, smiling a bit hesitantly. "The conclusion we came to, yes. So... anything, sweetheart. A Capella is fine."

"Well, sure," Cordelia said, biting at her lower lip gently. "Uh, and hey – if it actually sounds good, you'll know I'm still evil, right?"

"Hey! Don't even joke about that, Cordy!" Fred said, glaring at her.

"Who's joking?" Cordelia said, arching her eyebrows. Sighing, she said, "Give me a minute to think here... " After a long moment, she brightened suddenly, and said, "Oh! I know."

Closing her eyes, Cordelia began to hum softly under her breath, then tapping her foot. After a long moment, she nodded and began singing softly while tapping out a rhythm on her thigh with the hand not holding Spike's coat:

"I should have known, you would bid me farewell... there's a lesson to be learned from this and I've learned it very well. Now I know you're not the only starfish in the sea... " She trailed off right at about the point where Angel was tempted to cover his ears. A long coma, mystical or not, and long disuse had not done Cordelia's singing voice any good.

Hell, he was convinced it was her just because of that.

As if she'd heard his thoughts, Cordelia's eyes opened again and she glared at him briefly before turning expectantly to Lorne. "Well?"

"Oh, cupcake," Lorne said, shaking his head slowly. "Red rubber ball or not, the morning sun is rising for you. And again, I am so very – "

"Hush." Again, Cordelia stopped him with an upraised hand, shaking her head. "You have nothing to be sorry for."

"It's something you say when a friend has been badly hurt, I'm told," Lorne said, smiling back.

"So, then... " Wesley raised an eyebrow, looking between them.

"Oh yes, it's her. Really her this time," Lorne said, nodding. "With a lot of changes, but her: Our Cordy girl, Princess of Pylea in the flesh."

"Welcome back," Gunn said, breaking out into a wide grin. "But if you're you, then who was... " he spread his hands, looking confused.

"Someone playing games, I'm thinking," Angel said, starting to glower.

"Oh, you have no idea, Angel," Cordelia said, her eyes narrowing and her voice dropping dangerously low and soft. "That's all this has been is games. Going all the way back to the fucking beginning, and I am so god. damned. tired. of. freaking. games."

"Oh, I can imagine," Fred said, looking bewildered but nodding and gamely offering her support. "But, uh, back to...?"

"Back to the very damned beginning," Cordelia said, her expression grim. "And oh boy. Those goddamned Powers owe me."

"I ah, can only imagine," Wesley said, frowning. "But when you say the very beginning, what exactly do you mean by that?"

"Later." Cordelia shook her head. "Later for that. Now? I am achy, chapped, weak, freaking starving, and I've got split ends on my split ends. And on top of that, I've woken up miles away from where I should be, and too damned late to do anything."

Growling softly under her breath, she shook her head again, and stepped forward. Reaching into the inside coat pocket of Angel's suit, she deftly plucked out his wallet and stepped back, flipping it open with an air of long practice.

"Hey! Wait a minute!" Angel said, reaching belatedly for his coat front.

"What. The company can't afford a shopping spree?" Cordelia said, her eyebrows going up as she separated Angel's company credit cards from the others. "Hrmm. Visa... ooh! I see Evil does use MasterCard. Nifty." Tossing the wallet back to him, she added, "Because Wolfram and Hart? They so owe me too. Paying for my becoming presentable is the very least they can manage. Me? I'm going shopping. And to the beautician. And the hair stylist. And lunch. Or breakfast or whatever the hell. And then to a bar."

"Oh! I know a couple of really neat places, Cordy," Fred began, only to trail off at Cordelia's look.

"By myself. Sorry, Fred," Cordelia said, giving her an apologetic and wry looking half smile. "I really need some me time. And some alone time to sort some things out. And think."

"Oh, well," Fred nodded energetically, smiling at her to let her know no offense was taken. "Sure. I get that, really."

"Do you?" Searching the other girl's eyes, Cordelia nodded finally, and cocked her head. "Yeah. You would, wouldn't you?"

"Hey, cave girl here, remember? Was so convinced that nothing was real that I locked myself in my room, hid under tables, and scribbled on the walls when I got back?" Fred grinned at her, nodding energetically. "Oh yeah. You go do what you need to, hon."

"Yeah," Cordelia said, grinning back. "Oh gods – so glad this is L.A. wth twenty-four hour shopping and beauty parlors and everything."

"City that never sleeps," Gunn said, "Screw New York. Hey – you gonna be all right, Barbie?"

"Yeah, I really am, finally," Cordelia said, smiling at him. Turning, she scooped up a bundle of dark green cloth and a pair of slippers from the room's side table. "At least they left me some scrubs. Thank God. I was so not looking forward to hitting any stores wearing a backless gown."

She vanished into the bathroom with the scrubs and Spike's coat. After the door shut behind her, everyone looked at each other, more than a bit shell shocked.

"I think I need a drink," Gunn said, finally.

"Me too," Fred said, nodding.

"I concur," Wesley said, frowning thoughtfully.

"I believe," Lorne said, "We have a quorum. Angelcakes?"

"Huh?" Blinking, Angel tore his gaze from the closed bathroom door and looked at him, starting slightly. "Oh yeah. Some Irish whiskey sounds good about now, I think." Pausing and looking contemplative for a moment, he added, "Maybe with an Everclear chaser."

Saturday, February 7, 2004: Angel's Suite, Wolfram and Hart Los Angeles; Evening -

Looking at her, Angel seated himself on the edge of his desk as Cordelia paced slowly around the room. She paused at his office window, gazing out at the view.

Wow. She no longer looked quite so much like a cross between a Biafran refugee and a terminal cancer patient.

Not quite up to her usual, or even her older standards yet, not anywhere near, of course. But still... she had her hair treated, conditioned to within an inch of its life, looking silky smooth and styled. Dark hair now, once again, and cut short to curl around and frame her face. None of the blonde streaks and highlights of a year or so before.

Gone was the backless hospital gown and the unflattering scrubs.

In their place, she wore a medium light gray pantsuit with a herringbone pattern, over a black velvety looking high collared and long sleeved blouse. Silk four in hand tie patterned in black on black. There was a neatly folded black silk handkerchief in the breast pocket, and an elegant looking matching gray, black banded fedora topped the ensemble off, perched at a jaunty angle on the dark chestnut hair.

She now looked... not quite like a million dollars, but definitely at least a thousand and change.

"Thanks," Cordelia said. Turning away from the window, she swept a bemused looking gaze across the office, and crossed to his desk, holding the pair of credit cards out to him.

"Keep them," Angel suggested, waving them away.

"Oh, hell no," Cordelia said, tossing them onto his desk. Tossing her head slightly, she gave him a scathing look. "Because Wolfram and Hart? So not on the list of people I want to owe anything more than I can't help."

"Ah," Angel said, nodding. "But you'll need – "

"Money?" Cordelia looked at him for a long moment, and then nodded. "I managed to get hold of someone at my grandfather's lawyer's office. I should be able to access my trust fund in a day or so, they tell me. Early by a year, but they know someone and they swear they can get it pushed through. And one of them met me at the beauty shop and brought me a complimentary debit card to tide me over."

Angel boggled at her for a moment, and then managed to close his dropped jaw. "Trust fund? Your grandfather? Uh – "

"Uh huh. The IRS couldn't touch it when they took everything else, because it was from my grandfather, not daddy," Cordelia said, nodding. "And that so should have been the very first sign, if anyone had been paying attention."

"Your grandfa – "

"No, wait. That's not really fair. Xander was paying attention, but then, he always did," Cordelia said, looking contemplative. "But I wasn't listening to him. Or speaking to him much, really."

"Okay," Angel said, shaking his head. "I'm lost here."

"You really are," Cordelia said, giving him an amused look. "You shouldn't even be here, Angel, so no wonder you're lost. But that's a whole separate matter."

"Ah... yeah," Angel said, nodding.

"Anyway, my grandfather? William Randolph Chase, the Second? And my grandmother: Rachel Westin," Cordelia said, arching her eyebrows at him expectantly.

She didn't have long to wait. Angel's jaw dropped again, and after he closed it, he blinked and said, "You're one of those Chase's?"

"Yup. Sure am," Cordelia said, smiling. It wasn't a very nice smile. Missionaries saw smiles like that on the faces of the native women they were thrown to... "Kind of makes you wonder why I ended up completely dead broke and with nowhere to go after my daddy lost everything to the IRS, huh? And living in a roach hole of an apartment, and starving between auditions."

"Well, yeah!" Angel said, still more than half stunned. "I mean... " he spread his hands, helplessly.

"Does me too. Or it would make me wonder," Cordelia said, her voice as frozen as her eyes had been at the clinic, "If I hadn't remembered everything when I hit the higher realms after Jasmine came back down wearing my body like a meat puppet. Everything."

"Okay, now I'm really lost," Angel said, almost plaintively. "I don't understand."

"Me either. But I will, I promise you," Cordelia said. She seated herself perching on the arm of one of the overstuffed guest chairs. "No wonder David Nabbitt looked at me so funny when we were first introduced. He must have come to the conclusion I was disinherited or something. Or one of those little rich girls you see working in offices or coffee shops as a protest or something."

"So all of this time, you could have... "

"Called grandfather and said, 'Hey! Help!' and had either him or one of his personal assistants rush over with cash and checkbook in hand? Or my grandmother? She would have taken me in in Manhattan in an instant." Cordelia snorted, and then snickered. "Oh yeah. Hell, Xander asked me why I didn't," she said, "After that thing at the boutique when he found out about the IRS and I just looked at him like he was insane. Didn't know what he was talking about."

"So... " Angel scowled, and then stiffened on the corner of his desk. "The Powers?" he said, incredulous, and almost growling it.

"Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner," Cordelia said. "Got it in one."

"But... why?"

"Don't know yet. And believe me, I am really curious about that," Cordelia said, her eyes narrowed. "They broke us up, you know?"

"Huh?" Angel nodded, "Well, yeah, when they made you disappear on the highway, just before – "

The look he got from her froze the words in his throat.

"Me and Xander, Angel. Get with the program," Cordelia said. "I said: Back to the very damned beginning."

"Wait, Xander Harris? Not uh, us?" Angel said, blinking. This conversation was beginning to give him whiplash. "And how do you know that?"

"Us? Sorry Angel, but I do love you. As my best freaking friend. Best I ever had, even if I am starting to wonder a bit about that," Cordelia said. "But after Angelus? Get real. Remember: I was there. I saw what happens when your soul goes bye bye. Living technicolor."

"Ah. Well, yeah," Angel said, sighing heavily. "But... I thought that maybe... I mean, it's not sex. It's - "

The words froze in his throat again at that look, and the expression that went along with it.

"Perfect happiness, moment of. I know." Cordelia sighed, shaking her head. "So, I can't fall in love with you because hey, perfect happiness, soul goes bye bye, and we know the end of that story. Or, maybe it doesn't?" She laughed, the sound coming out halfway to broken sob. "Hi there. I'm Cordelia Chase. Have we met?"

"Ah, okay, you lost me on the last curve there," Angel said.

"I'm going to settle for a man who doesn't get a moment of perfect happiness just from me being in love with him?" Cordelia stared at him. "I deserve better than that, Angel. I don't settle. And you deserve better than that."

"Right. You really do, and I know that," Angel said, nodding. He smiled grimly, and added, "And I can't ever have that. I have to settle."

He reran that through his mind even as it was coming out of his lips, and his brain winced. Meaning: he had to settle for her, and oh boy, that was not what he had meant...

Cordelia's coolly amused look was back, as she followed the play of emotions across his face. Probably reading his mind from his expressions.

"But I'm not someone to settle with. Or for. I want it all, Angel. Storybook love, handsome prince," Cordelia said, "A black knight on a fiery steed at the speed of light. A hearty hi-yo Silver away. Flashing blades under the stars of Barsoom, standing against the Dhole on the shores of the Waingunga, and a forever after." Sighing, she gave him an almost indecipherable look from under her eyebrows and the brim of that fedora. "And, while you're a freaking gorgeous man, like, totally made of salty goodness – no offense, but I'm not Buffy Summers. Room temperature doesn't do much for me. Not every woman in Sunnydale is a necrophiliac."

"Ouch," Angel said, wincing. He gave her a pained and wounded look.

"Sorry. But only so much," Cordelia said, her eyes narrowing again. "Told you I was pissed off at you."

"I see that," Angel said, nodding, "And I understand that, partly. But, partly... "

"You didn't see, Angel," Cordelia said, standing from the chair arm to pace angrily across the room. "You were – are – my best friend, the big brother I never had, and you didn't see. Didn't look. I mean," she gestured irritably, "You knew me from Sunnydale, Angel. Back at the very beginning. And you didn't see that a lot of that wasn't me. And then when Jasmine came down wearing my body... the way she dressed, the way she talked... everything? Didn't even occur to you – or anyone, that I wasn't right."

"Well, yeah, maybe there were a few things that were a bit off," Angel said, shrugging, "But seriously, no more than any of the other times you changed over the years... " he knew it was a mistake as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Really.

"Changed! A bit off?" Cordelia glared at him, outraged. "Angel! That thing wearing my freaking body slept with Connor! You know, the kid who's diapers I helped change? You thought I'd changed that much into someone who could... Arrgh!" She trailed off into a harsh growl, her eyes flashing at him. "I so don't even know why I'm bothering to talk to you, you- you cretin."

"But you changed, Cordy," Angel said, starting to get more than a bit angry himself. "I watched you change, after Doyle, even before that! How was I to know that you didn't keep on changing?"

"Oh, I don't know. Gee, Angel, you're the detective," Cordelia said, her eyes flashing at him. "Or were. Now?" She gestured angrily around the office, and said, "I'm so not really sure who the hell you are. But you're not Angel."

"Dammit, Cordy," Angel slid off the edge of his desk, starting to pace also. "I had reasons for this."

"I know. We'll get to that," Cordelia said, nodding. Looking thoughtful, she tapped her chin with a fingernail, and then brightened. "Spin the bottle. Lorne's memory spell, after I came back."

"Huh?" Angel blinked, holding up a hand. "I remember the spell, yeah. But – "

"When I was seventeen I already knew about vampires. And demons. I drove my car over a bunch of them to save Jenny and Willow at the end of our sophomore year. You knew that," Cordelia said, rolling her eyes. "And I had a boyfriend who'd been helping fight them for several years. And I didn't ever even mention Sunnydale or wonder what was happening there, or where they were? Or my parents? Jeeze."

"I... ah," Angel deflated slightly, "Yeah. You're right. I guess I was a bit distracted."

"Yeah. That I can understand and forgive, really," Cordelia said. "Between Connor and Holtz and getting sunk in the ocean? Oh, yeah. Distracted is a good word."

"Yeah." Angel stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered over to his window, and spent some time looking out over the view. "I'm not sure that we really get the storybook loves, Cordy," he said.

"I did once. I lost it for a long time mostly from being an shallow idiot," she said. "And then from being manipulated out of it later."

"You said that before," Angel said, not turning from the window. He could see her reflected there, anyway... "How do you know that?"

"Saw it. Funny thing about the higher realms. Time is a fluid thing. And you really can see for miles and years from up there... Funny thing about being an Ascended being, too," Cordelia said, her expression wry. "It comes with a degree of Intellectus, the ability to just know things. And then there's the All Mind, kind of a collective memory dump of all of the other Ascended. Loads of knowledge, if you can just sort it out. And I had loads of time... "

"Ah. So you were able to see all of... " Angel made a vague gesture.

"Everything, Angel. I saw everything. And when I did, I looked back farther," Cordelia said, scowling. "I saw that Whistler guy manipulating us, even. Back in Sunnydale."

"Whistler?" That did make Angel turn, frowning. "Not Skip?"

"Skip's a part of it, yeah," Cordelia said, nodding. "And everything else. Skip was being manipulated too. And Jasmine. You don't get it. We're all just bit players in the Angel drama. It's all designed to forge you into The Champion, Capital-Duh. Make you ready for the final acts. Well, I'm hanging up my script."

"You're leaving us," Angel said. It wasn't a question.


"I don't want you to." It wasn't a request, either, really.

Just a statement of fact.

"And again, duh." Cordelia smiled at him, a genuine one this time.

"I need- we need you, Cordelia," Angel said, a hint of desperation creeping into his voice. "You were always the heart of us."

"You're gonna have to get a transplant then. 'Cause I can't be your heart any more, Angel. I have to find my heart, and it's so not here," Cordelia said, her voice getting an edge of desperation now. She shook her head. "I can't stay here. You don't belong here. And the guy I think of as my big brother and best friend wouldn't be any part of all this."

"Connor – "

"Yeah. Connor. And I get that," Cordelia said, nodding. She bit at her lower lip, studying him. "And yeah, even why you'd do damned near anything to save him. I would too. Almost anything... But you raped your friend's minds and took away all of their memories and didn't give them a choice. You have no right to do that."

"I did what I had to, Cordy," Angel said. He felt his face settle into stubborn lines.

"Right. What you had to do. And that's not a choice you have a right to make for other people."

"Dammit, Cordelia," Angel said, scowling. His voice was harsh, he knew it, and he couldn't help it. "If you saw everything, you saw it. He was over the edge and he was going to kill you and himself and a whole bunch of other people. I had to stop him, and I couldn't... " he trailed off, spreading his hands, "Couldn't let him go on like that."

"So you took the deal and you fixed it. And I get that," Cordelia said, nodding, "'Cause I would have done the same. But I would have let Gunn, Fred, Wes, and Lorne make their own choices. And you."

"I – "

"Gonna tell me it wasn't an option?" Cordelia's gaze was speculative, and remote. "Or that you couldn't have insisted on it as a condition?"

Sigh. "No."

Cordelia nodded. "It's why I can't and won't stay. I can't ever believe you won't do it again, and I won't be a part of it."

"It's not that easy, Cordy," Angel said, scowling at her.

Her response was a pitying look. "Duh. It never is. But it is simple. Easy and simple aren't the same thing."

"It's not simple either," Angel said, still scowling. "It's... " he spread his hands, "Seriously, immensely complicated."

"I get that, yeah."

"Do you really?" Hazel eyes looked at him, and Angel made a sharp gesture, not quite dismissive... His scowl deepened slightly as a thought struck him. "You called Spike a rapist, back at the hospital."

"I did that thing, yeah," Cordelia said, tilting her head and studying him intently.

"What did you mean by that?"

She shook her head, smiling slightly. "Ask Spike. Ask the hero."

"Or you could just tell me," Angel said. It huffed out of him in a frustrated expulsion of breath.

"I could. I won't. So not my story to tell," Cordelia said, nodding. The hazel gaze turned enigmatic, and she added, "You're supposed to be a detective. Start detecting, for once."

"Dammit, Cordy!" Angel glared at her. If he could just break that calm, that cool, enigmatic reserve...

"No. Dammit Angel," those eyes flashed at him, and Angel was struck by the thought that maybe breaking that reserve wasn't such a good idea. Might not be healthy... there was suddenly a deep seated pain in those eyes that was only matched by the simmering rage underneath it. "You so totally need to figure out who the hell you are, Angel. You were a hero, a Champion. Not for those damned Powers, but for people. We help the helpless, remember that? Now?" Cordelia gestured around the office and gaze incredulously around at it, and then back to him, riveting him with that gaze. "What the hell are you now? Who the hell are you helping? What the hell is this?"

"Hey!" Angel said, stung. He'd just had this discussion with Wes, Gunn, and the others. It hadn't gone all that well, he remembered... he was suddenly struck by the irony: before they'd been trying to talk him out of resigning, and now he was what, preparing to argue for what he was doing? With his oldest and closest friend? "We're doing good here," Angel said, shaking his head. It sounded lame even to his own ears. "We have a chance to do good, to change things... "

All of his justifications ran out under that pitying gaze. Sand from an hourglass.

"Jeeze, Angel," Cordelia said, rolling her eyes. "Are you listening to yourself? Do you even listen to yourself any more? Vampires don't have reflections my coma atrophied ass."

"We don't!" Angel said, blinking. "Uh... what do you mean?"

"Arrgh!" Cordelia balled her hands into fists by her side, rolled her eyes up to the ceiling as though searching for inspiration. Or divine intervention. Or maybe a lightning bolt... She turned away for a moment, then back to him. "Good lord. You're freaking Willow. I should have seen it."

"I'm, ah... what?" Angel blinked at her again, feeling whiplashed. And more than just slightly dull. Good lord: this was the only woman, only person he'd ever known that could do that to him so completely and consistently.

"Reflections, Angel," Cordelia said, shaking her head. "At least try to stay with me on the curves. Willow never had much of a self image. She always defined herself by how other people saw her. Nerd, geek... Xander mostly. And me. Then Oz, then Tara. Buffy... she started defining herself by what Buffy saw, and Buffy needed a witch and a 'big gun', so that formed her image. You – you do the very same damned thing."

"Okay, and now I really don't understand what you're saying here, Cordy," Angel said, scowling at her again. He seemed to be doing a lot of that during this conversation... "And gotta say: it's pissing me off a bit."

"Good. You should be pissed," Cordelia said, nodding. "Pissed off is good: maybe it'll shake you the hell up and make you start looking around."

"Pissed off is not one of my better moods," Angel said, straightening slightly.

"No. You do depression, moping, and brooding so much better," Cordelia said, her lips starting to twitch.

Staring at her, Angel felt an answering twitch in his own. A pained breath of a laugh huffed out of him, and he said, "I don't mope."

"I see you didn't deny the brooding and depression," Cordelia said, her eyes starting to twinkle at him. A breath of a laugh huffed out of her as well, and she shook her head, smiling, "Jerk."

Sticking his hands in his pockets, Angel shrugged. "Mind explaining that statement?" he said, mildly.

"Jerk? Or the other one?" Cordelia said, arching an eyebrow, and Angel huffed out that pained laugh again. "Simple. You don't have much of a self image either, and I so don't know why I never saw that before. You define yourself by your roles... Monster, Detective, hero, Champion, Agent for the Powers, Father, Buffy's Protector – " she gazed around the office again, "And now by whatever the hell this is."

"I... " Angel shook his head, looking at her. "Not that easy. I have a contract."

"Sucks to be you."

"And there's Connor," Angel said, feeling exasperated.

"Sucks to be him."

Snorting, Angel gave her a mild glare. "Not an ounce of sympathy there, huh?"

Warm hazel eyes met his without flinching. "Empathy, lots. Sympathy? You used up my supply when you decided to steal my friend's memories and drag them into this along with you."

Ouch. Wincing, Angel looked away from those eyes, that even gaze. "I can't do this without you."

"You can't do it with me, either," Cordelia said. "I won't do it with you. I can't be a part of this, and I won't be a party to it."

"Again, not that easy."

"I know. You need to figure out who you are, Angel, and then be that thing," Cordelia said. That cool hazel gaze met his evenly, still unflinching. But then, she never was one to flinch, much... "You're two hundred and seventy-seven years old, counting your human age. Don't you think it's about time you did?"

Nodding, Angel turned back to his window, and his view. After a long moment, he said, "Last time I turned away from you after one of your awakenings, you vanished on me."

Cordelia laughed, tossing her head. "I'll leave by the door this time. I promise."

Angel smiled at her reflection. "So... Ascended? You de-Ascended to come back?"

"No. Blame Willow," Cordelia said, "I'm not really happy with her about all of that, but since I so wasn't supposed to ever wake up, I'm not completely unhappy either."

"Willow?" Angel blinked, frowning at her reflected image.

"Sunnydale? May 20 of 2003? I know that murderous creep Andrew told you about it," Cordelia said. "And then there was that Dana girl."

Angel winced – not one of his favorite memories. The frown becoming a scowl, he spun and crossed the room to Cordelia, taking her by the arms. Lowering his head to hers, he took a deep whiff, breathing in deeply of her scent.

Cordelia looked up at him with an enigmatic expression, smiling slightly.

"You're a Slayer," Angel said, his voice shocked. He let go of her arms abruptly, stepping back.

"Duh." Cordelia snickered. "Willow and Buffy have a problem with making choices for other people too. Just like you."

"But... how?"

"Funny. All that time in Sunnydale, Giles, and then all the time here with Wes," Cordelia said, sighing heavily. "And neither of them ever thought to check and see if I might be a Potential Slayer. Not even after that exhibition with the... what did you call it? Photographic reflexes thing?"

"Yeah," Angel said, feeling stunned. "So, you, uh... " he gestured vaguely.

"Apparently, Slayer healing even fixes mystical comas and brain damage from visions and having a Power rip herself out of you in her birthing," Cordelia said, her voice arid. "Who knew?"

"Wow." Angel shook his head, smiling slightly. "I guess that if we'd known, we would have. It fixed Faith after she broke half the bones in her body and all that brain damage."

Nodding, Cordelia said, "I remember that."

"But... " Angel shook his head, feeling that he probably looked as confused and boggled as he felt. "And half demon?"

"Aspect of a demon, not half," Cordelia said, biting at her lower lip. "Remember the mind reading thing with Buffy back in '99?"

"And that doesn't conflict with the, uh... " Angel made a vague feeling gesture.

"Oh, you have no idea," Cordelia said, huffing out a laugh. "And no, maybe. Supposedly, Slayers have a demon aspect of their own. Or essence or something. Although I so have my doubts on that... the First Evil was playing as many mind games as the Powers were. As far as I'm concerned, anything Buffy and Giles think they figured out over the course of that year is suspect."

"Ah." Angel nodded, thinking furiously.

Cordelia shrugged. "I plan on looking into a lot of things, including that."

"So... what now?"

"Well... " Cordelia shrugged. "I have to get that coat back to that Wood guy," she said. "And I guess I need a Watcher to show me the ropes and watch my back."

"Ah." Angel scowled, not at her, but at his view. "Somehow, I can't picture you being happy with the new Council."

"Nope. Me either."

"Well, there is – "

"No. Not Wesley, either," Cordelia said, her reflection smiling at him. "Don't worry. I have someone in mind for the position."

"Ah." Angel nodded at her reflected image. "So, if it wasn't you, then who was that before?"

"Who knows?" Cordelia's image shrugged at him. "One of the Powers playing more games. Or one of their agents? And really, Angel. She didn't even talk like me either. Plus, after being screwed over that thoroughly without a vision warning us it was coming or even a word, can you really picture me agreeing to act as an Agent of the Powers That Be? And agreeing to convince you and the others to go back to their schemes for you?"

"I guess I really didn't think it through," Angel said, frowning.

"Oh yeah," Cordelia said, nodding. "Like I said: Hi, I'm Cordelia Chase. We have met, haven't we?"

"She was... " Angel sighed, spreading his hands, "Convincing. And there were other distractions."

"Yeah. Lindsey and his stupidity." She made a snorting sound. "'Got my guy back on track,' my eye. And – oh, 'they owed me one' my ass. They owe me so many they're gonna be in arrears 'til doomsday."

"I'm sure you'll figure out a way to collect," Angel said.

"I so will," Cordelia said, nodding. "Eventually."

"So... this is good bye?"

"It is for us," Cordelia said, cocking her head in the window reflection. "I have some things to take care of. And, first, I'm going to round up Wes, Gunn, and the others and we're going to go out and have some food, some drinks, and catch up on things. A lot of drinks. I plan to get so very stinking drunk that Wes or Gunn has to pour me into a cab and carry me into a hotel room."

"Ah – "

"Just the five of us."

"Not six?" At Cordelia's look, Angel made a vague gesture, and said, "Not Harmony?"

"That's not Harmony," Cordelia said, scowling. "That's the thing that's wearing her body after a vampire killed her."

"Well, she did visit you all the time in the clinic..." Angel dropped that line of argument at Cordelia's alarmed look and switched topics. "I wasn't going to ask, or invite myself," Angel said, scowling at the reflected Cordelia. "I was just going to ask... "

"I won't say anything," Cordelia said. Her reflection gave him a disconcertingly steady look. "Besides, what's the point? They wouldn't remember or know what I'm talking about, right?"

Wincing, Angel nodded to her reflection. "Yeah."

"Oh, Angel?" Cordelia paused with her hand on the doorknob, looking back at him.


"Fix it. Don't make me come back and fix it," Cordelia said, her gaze on his back cool and remote. "Because you really won't enjoy it if I do."

He watched the door close behind her in the reflection. She didn't turn and look back.

Angel had no idea how long he stood looking out the windows into the Los Angeles night, out across the vistas of his city.

He only knew that suddenly, what seemed like a long, long time later, there came a brilliant, incandescent flash of not quite light and everything around him went suddenly white.

That turned him away from the windows, his mouth falling open and both eyebrows going up.

That was... it was almost... it reminded him of...

Oh crap. It was.

Just like that night in the kitchens of the Hyperion Hotel, when they faced off against that invasion of Sluk demons and Cordelia –

Angel was never really aware of leaving his office, nor the long elevator ride down. No memory of the trip from there to the mezzanine. Or of getting out of the elevators and running out into a nearly deserted office tower and looking wildly around. Seeing only wide eyed, shocked, stunned and babbling lawyers and secretaries and paralegals milling about.

Human ones.

It wasn't until he met an equally wild eyed and near to babbling and freaked out Lilah Morgan heading up that it really, seriously sank in and he started tracking again. Apparently, she'd been consulting with Eve when everything went all white on them...

They encountered a shell shocked looking Rutherford Sirk and Knox from the science labs down in the lobby, just staring around wide eyed.

"What the hell happened?" Lilah snapped as the pair came running up to them.

"They just... " Sirk shook his head, looking dazed. "All of them headed out the front doors, Gunn and the others and that Chase woman. And then she... she said something and turned back. And walked back into the center of the lobby."

"And – " Knox swallowed hard, looking around, "And then she started to glow white, and levitated off the floor. And then there was this huge, blue-white actinic flash and when my eyes cleared, she was gone."

Angel nodded slowly. It was about what he'd expected.

Once they started looking around, all of them, they discovered what Angel was already suspecting that he could have told them –

Every single demon in the entire building, with the exception of Angel, and a seriously weirded out Spike, was just gone. Lawyers, staff, secretarial pool, clients and all. And probably not Lorne either, but he'd left with Cordy and the others just after the white event, and couldn't be asked.

All of them. Reduced to a thin sheen of ash on the carpets and chairs.

Including Harmony, or the vampiric thing that had worn Harmony's body. And Eve.

Eve was no great loss, but Angel was startled to find that he'd kind of miss Harmony...

It took her longer than a few days to get things sorted out and start to really get settled back into the world of the living. It took her closer to a month.

First there were lawyer visits and consultations and endless meetings and paperwork involved in getting her trust fund released to her. And her inheritance... it seemed that her grandfather hadn't survived the past several years.

Failing health and a heart attack, nothing demonic or dramatic. Just old age and ill health.

Of course the IRS took a huge chunk of that, even without considering the ridiculous amounts of inheritance taxes. Paying off her dad's back taxes and IRS debts and fines...

Cordelia considered fighting it, and then decided she had better things to do than lawyers fees, courtrooms, and endless wranglings and battles with the tax people and their lawyers. She did make a note, however: that was the very last thing the Government was ever going to take from her without fighting her tooth and nail for it.

Didn't matter. A huge chunk from an obscenely huge chunk still leaves a hell of a lot. Not counting the lake house and property at Cachuma, and elsewhere, and the investment portfolio, she probably wouldn't ever have to work at anything ever again.

Only need to work at things she really wanted to do, and she could live with that. Enjoy it, even.

It was the way that it should be done.

Her apartment was gone, of course. It had been rented out even despite the best efforts of her very own favorite ghost roommate to discourage renters. Cordelia had a suspicion that Dennis might have been a bit too dispirited, pardon the pun, to really give it his best shot.

At least he hadn't given up and gone into the light. She wasn't sure what she would have done without that familiar anchor. Things were already too too unreal as it was.

She almost felt bad about convincing the existing tenants to move out hastily. But not too bad. She did pay them way, way too much money to break their lease and vacate immediately. And they did accept it.

She would have taken no for an answer. Really. Probably.



It turned out that Angel, Wes, and the others had had the foresight, or possibly the hope, that it took to store all of her furnishings and belongings and to have packed them away at the hotel. For just in case...

Seeing the boarded up, abandoned, and decaying Hyperion nearly broke her heart.

Nearly, hell. It did.

On the spot, as she stopped in the once elegant lobby gazing about herself with a stricken expression, she made a mental note to have her grandfather's lawyers look into acquiring the hotel and the property. Her lawyers now... And into finding someone who could restore it and put it back into the condition it once was in. Better than, even.

She wasn't completely sure what she could do with a hotel of her very own, but even as she thought that, with Wes and Gunn carefully avoiding her stricken eyes and accusing gaze, she had the glimmerings of an idea.

Chase Investigations. We help the helpless.

Had a nice ring to it.

She even had a glimmering of an idea for a partner, if she could talk him into it. Plus, there was a certain former LAPD cop who knew about the supernatural, and might need a job.

And even a thug for the supernatural muscle, what little she couldn't handle...

Hey, a vampire with a soul so kind of goes with that concept. And Spike was apparently stalking the streets of L.A., trying to help the hopeless on his own.

As far as redemption went, well... she was Cordelia Chase, Bitch Queen of Sunnydale. She was deadly certain she could make and keep him miserable enough to make him earn it. Assuming she didn't lose patience and just burn him down where he stood...

Wes, Gunn, and Fred helped her move all of her belongings back home. And yeah, sure, she could have afforded a much fancier and nicer apartment. Or a penthouse even. She didn't want one.

This apartment was hers, and it had her ghost and her friend living in it.

Dennis was freaking ecstatic. He swore he'd never really given up on her.

No more awkward pantomimes and one sided conversations. She got him a whiteboard and dry erase markers along with a blackboard and chalk. And a computer with an internet connection. And then taught him how to use it, and how to read and send emails. And instant messaging and chat rooms and forums... she wasn't sure what exactly she was turning loose on the online world, but hey: it made Dennis happy.

And that was what counted.

She was going to hate to leave him again, even for the relatively short time she had in mind, but it couldn't be helped. At least now they could communicate.

A lot of that month was eaten up with getting all of her documents and paperwork straightened out. Apparently, they'd all vanished with her body when it went up in a shaft of light or whatever, leaving her jeep on the highway. And her jeep was a loss, of course... Getting her birth certificate, social security, driver's license, passport, bank accounts and all of that sorted out wasn't hard. Just tedious and time consuming.

She replaced the jeep with a Mercedes convertible. Her one real indulgence. Two. Her second purchase was a Jeep Compass, because she liked the look and the color, and hey, a sporty powerhouse of an all wheel drive Sports crossover SUV always came in handy, even in L.A..

And of course there was the clothes shopping – a whole new wardrobe – and some new furnishings and household stuff. And a computer of her own, so she wouldn't have to share with Dennis. And a huge, seriously humongous, wide screen flat panel TV.

She spent a lot of time on the internet, searching. And a lot of time on the phone, having other people search for her. Paid people, and very, very discreet and very very good ones.

She thought hard about a puppy and a cat, and decided to hold off for awhile. They wouldn't mesh with some of the traveling she had in mind, and it wasn't good to leave pets in long term kenneling. Later...

And, of course, there was the endless therapy. Apparently, even Slayers don't come back from a ten month coma in fantastic shape and full bloom of health. No wonder Angel had been able to kick Faith's ass so easily. And it was a testament to just how tough and dangerous Faith was that she'd held her own so well, if she'd been feeling like this...

Getting back into the kind of shape she wanted to be in, and dealing with the cosmetic damage, repairing her moisturizing and conditioning and all... that took an additional six weeks.

She killed a lot of that time reading. Stuff from her childhood, that daddy used to read to her way back when she still believed in ever afters. The Princess Bride. Both Jungle Books. John Carter... all of the things she would have sneered at in high school if she'd seen one of the geek brigade with a copy of. Now, she devoured them all and haunted used books stores looking for more of the same. The Dresden Files, Steven Brust, Joel Rosenberg... one find led to another.

Killed some more of it with a long talk, and a longer face to face consultation with David Nabbitt.

She had no visions, and she didn't miss them. And a good thing, too.

She had other plans in mind for the immediate and near future that didn't involve storming the gates of Heaven and beating some stupid Power to death with Angel's forehead.

Finally, she figured she was as ready as she was ever gonna get. Anything more was just dithering...

Oddly enough, the New International Watcher's Council had a publicly listed address and phone number. In Cleveland, Ohio, of all places. Well, supposedly there was a Hellmouth there.

She didn't visit or call.

But shipping the coat there to one Robin Wood, by FedEx, was the last thing she did before leaving L.A..

Wednesday, April 14, 2004: Golden Peacock Hotel, Malawi, Africa; Afternoon -

It was in a hotel bar in Lilongwe that looked like something out of Casa Blanca, with the lazy ceiling fans, archaic elegance, and tropical suits and everything. And despite having seen most of the last year of his life from the upper realms, she almost didn't recognize him...

The eye patch was new. So were the scars. And so was the lean, rangy, slab shouldered build, and the weathered deep sun burned in outdoor tan. Even seeing it happen and watching him grow into them hadn't prepared her for the differences.

The crinkly laugh lines around the corners of the eyes, eye, were the same though. And so was that crooked, lopsided grin.

The fact that it looked like no new laugh lines had been added, and hadn't been for some time, well... that was new. So was the look of old, deeply buried pain. The kind of pain that never ever really goes away, it just becomes a part of you, as familiar as an old friend. Only not of the friendly.

She was oh, so very familiar with that kind of pain. And oh so very tired of it.

Gone were the Hawaiian shirts and salvation army pants and other clothing disasters. New were the worn, khaki safari shirt and sun faded cargo pocket jeans, and the hunting vest with its cartridge loops filled with shiny brass and copper. Something big, from one of the African calibers. .375 H&H, maybe, she judged...

Looked good on him, she decided, as did the worn hiking boots and the battered safari hat on the bar next to his left hand. So did the beat up distressed leather bomber jacket carelessly draped over the high back of the bar stool, she'd bet.

A slender and very, very dark girl with languid animal grace moved to intercept her as she approached. She looked no older than fourteen, and probably wasn't... Almost moved to intercept her –

Cordelia froze her in place with a look and a bright flashing smile that never reached her eyes. And a flat icy gaze that said, clearly and distinctly: 'That far, no farther. Do not.'

The girl didn't.

Yes. Still got it.

"Hey sailor," she said, sliding onto a bar stool next to him as he half sat, half leaned on a stool of his own facing the bar TV in the upper left. "Buy me a drink?"

He turned on her slowly, scowling. Or starting to scowl... the scowl froze partway onto his brow, as he froze partway turned toward her.

Freeze frame. Full stop.

Cordelia had always heard about, read of, looks that can stop your heart. She'd never really seen one, and had never really believed in them. Until now.

And then...

And then that cold brown eye thawed and turned back into molten chocolate on her, and the look of half distracted irritation went away, sliding off like it was on greased rails. And the lopsided grin slowly broadened and went more so, and just as slowly went all the way up to the eyes. Eye.

And then her heart started beating again and dropped back down into her chest. And her breath caught in her throat as that molten chocolate gaze drank her in, all of her, like he'd been three weeks in the desert and she was cool clear water...

And she realized that she was doing the same back to him.

"Well, damn," he said, new smile lines starting to form. "Of all the bars in all of the world, you just have to walk into mine."

"That's an old riff, Bogie," Cordelia said, tossing her hair and grinning. "Don't play it again, Sam."

"You know that he never really said that, right?"

"Well, duh," Cordelia said, still grinning like her face was going to split open.

"Wow." That suddenly warm brown eye just kept drinking her in, like it couldn't get enough of her and wasn't ever going to stop until there wasn't a drop of her left. "They said you were in a mystical coma kind of thing."

"I was," she said. "I got better."

He nodded. "So I see." Motioning with his off hand, he said something out of the side of his mouth, low voiced, that sounded like Swahili and sent the slender dark girl scowling and scurrying back over to her table with the others.

"So, what are you doing here, Cordy?" Xander Harris said, his voice halfway to incredulous.

"Oh, just looking for a Watcher. And an ex-boyfriend, soon to be current," Cordelia said. "Someone suggested I might find him here."

"Really?" Xander blinked at her, and then half stood craning around and looking all over the bar. "You sure?"

"Yeah. Tall guy, just about so high. Kind of beat up and weathered looking. Eye patch, three day Indiana Jones kind of stubble, and got kind of a scruffy hero look to him," Cordelia said, nodding seriously. "Seen him anywhere?"

"Not in a long, long time, Cordy," Xander said, his voice and expression just as serious. "But I'll keep my eye out for him."

"Well, don't strain anything, dork," Cordelia said. "You do only have the one, you know."

Xander snorted, then snickered, and then threw his head back, laughing. "Okay, gods, Cordy... it's so damned good to see you. Angel... they said... I thought... "

And then he was off the stool and somehow she was swept off of hers and into his arms. And, oh, wow. Brain melt...

She'd forgotten just how well that man could kiss.

At some point about an eon later, she came back to herself and her brain unmelted again, to find both arms wrapped around his neck, one heel hooked behind his thigh pulling him in impossibly closer, and her entire body moulded into his like she was trying to meld with him. And well, duh. That was kind of the idea... not that there'd been any actual thinking involved in that or anything.

"They said they didn't think you were ever going to wake up," Xander said, his voice husky. That single brown eye bored into hers like it was trying to read her soul.

"They were wrong."

"I see that." That crooked smile slid back onto his lips, slowly, and he said, "I came by once to see you, before heading to Africa. Even tried the traditional cure, but I guess I have too much frog and not enough prince in me."

"Duh. I could have told you that," Cordelia said, looking up and laughing with her voice gone just as husky..


"You so need a bullwhip and a fedora with that outfit, dork," she told him, seriously.

"Tried. They told me it was against regulations," Xander said, snickering softly, "Not to mention good taste or some such nonsense."

"Just goes to show what they know."

"I'm telling you. No appreciation for the classics."

"So. You going to ever actually buy me that drink, dumb ass?" Cordelia said, her eyes twinkling.

"Well, actually," Xander winked down at her. Not too far down, because at just about six foot even, he wasn't that much taller than she was... "I was thinking more of grabbing a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread, throwing you over my shoulder, carrying you upstairs, and having my way with you."

His head dipped slowly, tilting in an ancient and familiar motion as hers tilted up and angled just so, until his lips touched hers.

Brain melt again.

When it cleared, finally and she could talk again, she cocked her head and said, "Oh. You were, were you?"

"Well, yeah." Brown eye to hazel, and a gaze as deep as the Marianas trench with that crooked grin going suddenly all the way lopsided. "Objections?"

"Hrmm." Cordelia chewed gently at her lower lip, searching that one eye intently. There was something she needed in there, had to have, and she needed to find it desperately. There... Yup. Definitely there. "Nope. Not so as you'd notice."

"Good." Xander gave her a quizzical look, and said, "Ex and soon to be current?"

"Huh?" Cordelia blinked up at him, and then said, "Oh! Well, duh. I'm in the market, and you're available. And you know I always get what I go shopping for."

"Ah. What makes you so sure I'm available?"

An incredulous look was all the answer she gave him, that and an archly raised eyebrow.

"Okay, so, that one was a gimme," Xander said, "Yeah."


At some point, they were probably going to start feeling awkward standing here grinning at each other like a couple of jackasses, with her arms around his neck and his around her waist, in a public bar with people gaping at them. Probably, probably... nah.


Sometime about half past never, more likely.

"So. Now that you're done shopping, what'd you have in mind for your new purchase?" Xander said, his tone light and his gaze quizzical.

"Oh, well, there was talk of ravishment and way having, I thought," Cordelia said, grinning up at him.

"Gee, you mean you only bought me for my sexual services?"

"You wish, dweeb," Cordelia said, feeling her own grin going feeling starting to go all crooked and lopsided on her. "I really do need a Watcher. Really. And a partner. I'm starting a private investigation business."

"Oh, you are, huh." Xander frowned slightly, and said, "I already have a job." Then his eye widened as the full import of her statement apparently hit him.

He stared down at her, that one eye wide and startled and looking deeply into her, searching, and she nodded, looking up at him seriously.

"They'll manage without you," Cordelia said. "I need you more. And I have the stronger claim. Older one, too."

"You do, huh?" Xander said, his voice thoughtful.

"Yeah. I really do." She bit at her lower lip, searching his eyes still. Eye, dammit. And damn that Caleb, anyway, for half ruining that beautiful milk chocolate gaze... "All the way back to kindergarten."

"Partner, huh?"

"Yup." Cordelia's eyes were deathly serious boring into his. "Hunting partner. A sword at my back under the hurtling moons of Barsoom. Side by side on the shores of the Waingunga against the Dhole. Running beside me at the head of the Seeonee pack. Forever after."

On occasion, that dopey looking half grin could be as incandescent as her thousand watt beauty queen smile. Freaking blinding, even...

"Well... they keep telling me that a Watcher's place is with his Slayer."

Suddenly she just knew that finding that partner wasn't going to be an issue.

"It so really is," Cordelia said, her voice going husky again. Cocking her head slightly, she looked up at him. "Your Slayer, huh? I kind of like the sound of that."

"Well, you told me once that you were gonna dress up like a Slayer and put a stake to my heart," Xander said, his smile going all lopsided on her again. "Took you long enough to get around to it."

~ Finis ~