"And this should be the last of it," the deliveryman said to Wesley. "Just need your signature here and here." Wesley signed the proffered clipboard and the man hesitated in the doorway, an uncomfortable silence between them.
"Oh, of course," Wesley stammered, reaching in his back pocket and pulling out a $20 bill.
The man held his hands up and shook his head. "Nah, it's taken care of, even the tip. Which got me to thinkin', what kind of company replaces everything in your house for free? This has gotta be the biggest one time haul we've done in a while."
"What can I say?" Wes smiled weakly. "They take care of their own."
"I'll say," the man agreed. "You ever need somebody on your maintenance crew, I'm your guy." Wesley took the man's business card and closed the door with a wave.
Wes leaned back against it. Not only had he earned a complimentary dry out at Palm Springs’ finest detox center, he’d also scored a newly redecorated flat. Leave it to Angel to overcompensate.
The insane Slayer had merely taken him hostage, beat him up, doped him up, tied him up, and trashed his apartment. She hadn’t intended that he continue to use the vials of the drug she’d left behind. Little did she know that she’d tapped into something Wes didn’t know he had even needed: an immediate and euphoric end to his pain.
The morphine, if that’s what it had even been (heroin would be more likely, Wesley knew, but somehow morphine addiction sounded more poetic and less like being a junkie) had not only taken the edge off in the days after his rescue - it became an absolute pain block. Pain from Leah’s beatings, pain from a sudden rush of memories he hadn’t known he’d lost, pain from seeing Fred, once again, with another inferior man. Wesley hadn’t known he had been in so much pain, really, until it had disappeared. The drug provided such utter relief it shocked Wes to his core how easy it was to administer a small injection and glide through what remained of his life as though on air, the usual aching pit in his stomach finally, blessedly gone.
Angel checked on him once and knew. Next Wes knew, the men in white jackets were escorting him to a black limousine for an all-expenses paid ticket to 28 days of recovery.
Now, here he stood in his clean, new life with his clean, new stuff but something about his fabulous parting gifts on the dime of Wolfram & Hart made Wesley feel uneasy.
He walked over to the glass topped side table with the cellophane wrap still entwined around its chrome legs and plugged in his new Vtech phone; the minute he did so, it rang. The caller ID read UNKNOWN, but he answered anyway.
"I'm looking for a Mr. Wyndham Pryce," a thin, reedy male voice hissed on the other end.
"You've found him. How may I help you?"
A pause. "This the son of Roger Wyndham Pryce? The boy who's running the artifacts and antiquities research department?"
"Yes, the son – not the boy," he replied testily. "I've left Wolfram & Hart. I can provide you with the name of my replacement if you like."
"Replacement?" the man said with an annoyed snort. "I don't want some replacement. Your former employers have something that belongs to me and I want it back."
"Sir, Wolfram & Hart stores many things, I'm sure quite a few that aren't in the possession of their rightful owners. I'll be happy to walk you through the necessary paperwork to file a claim with them –"
"Nonsense!" the man snapped. "I won't file a claim. I was told to contact you and that you would be able to assist me."
"Well, I'm afraid that's impossible. I don't work for the company any longer and any clearance I once had to their facilities has been removed." Wesley hesitated. "Exactly who gave you my name?"
The man chuckled. "Interested parties, son. I assure you, I would be able to make it worth your while. You being unemployed at the present time."
"Thank you. I have a generous severance."
"But you don't have the girl, do you?"
Wesley's blood ran cold. It must be someone from the security team testing him to see if he would try to break into the vaults for a price, use the knowledge he had attained, become a renegade. Truthfully, he wanted nothing to do with the company or its CEO ever again, no matter what the price.
But Fred. To bring up Fred seemed impossibly cruel and unnecessary.
"Pity on her choice of companion," the man continued. "But that's not your fault. Perhaps a different outcome can still be arranged."
Wesley gripped the phone. "See here. I don't know who you are or what exactly you're suggesting, but you stay away from Ms. Burkle. She's an innocent and only remains employed at that place out of the kindness of her heart."
"I do not doubt her kindness. Her innocence, however?" the man laughed lowly. "I suppose it depends on your definition."
"You stay away from her," Wesley repeated through gritted teeth.
"Calm down, man. My interest lies with you. I merely wished to demonstrate how much I know, how much I am capable of assisting you in return for the favor of a meeting."
Wesley had seen the vaults, knew only a fraction of what they held, the horrors that many of their contents could inflict given the right set of ingredients or magicks. He wouldn't think of turning over one of the artifacts to a threatening voice on the telephone while he was still employed with Wolfram & Hart, never mind now.
However, the man had brought a variable into the equation and despite Wesley's recent treatment for addiction, he still could not shake his compulsion to all things Fred.
"I am prepared to offer proof," the man added.
Wes sighed. What would be the harm in a meeting? If anything, he could warn Fred against a powerful new enemy that could be identified and eliminated with his help. He could finally have a reason to call her, something he hadn’t found until now.
"Where and when?"
"Ah, excellent. You are familiar with the sanctuary in downtown Los Angeles, I imagine? Another former colleague of yours is there?"
"Yes, Caritas," Wesley said with relief. No harm could befall him at Lorne's place.
"That's the name. Meet me at Caritas at six tonight. We'll have a nice chat you and I, and you can see if we may strike a mutually beneficial agreement."
“You’ll need to tell me how to find you?" Wes asked quickly, before the man could hang up.
"No need, son," the man replied with a chuckle. “I know who you are."
“Hey boss,” Eve knocked on Cordelia’s hospital room door. She tapped her wrist. “Tick tock.”
“Go away, Eve.”
She leaned against the doorjamb, hand on her hip. “How much longer are you going to be here?”
“As long as it takes for her to wake up again.”
“Angel, you’ve got a job, remember? There’s a case coming up, a big one. You are really going to want to know all about…”
“I don’t care about any cases!” he shouted. “All that matters is Cordelia!”
“If you say so,” she sighed and sauntered away.
Angel persuaded the doctors to let him take Cordelia to his penthouse by evening, rather than let her languish for another minute in that hospital room.
Well, as much as "persuading" could be called picking her up and taking her out to a chorus of protests.
Now in his bed - Cordy in his bed, though not like he'd ever imagined it - he thought she looked more peaceful. Or perhaps he just wanted to assuage his guilt.
He pulled a chair next to the bedside and watched her critically. What the hell had she seen that had made her yell like that? Something about him needing to stay away from "it," how "it" would destroy them all. What "it?" Frustrated, he pushed himself out of the chair and walked over to the windows, gazing out helplessly as though they'd manifest some answers.
"And for my next trick…"
He heard a weak, but lovingly sardonic voice come from the bed.
He whipped around. "Cordelia?"
"That's me," she said, in a tone that tried to be breezy but failed miserably. "It's really me, Angel, I promise."
Relief washed over him and he crossed the room to her side, hugging her so close he practically pulled her out of the bed.
"Whoa," she mumbled. "Your hugging has so improved while I've been gone."
Angel drew her away from him so he could look at her dear face, her smile, and her eyes brimming with tears. "You just get the extra special ones now."
“Looks like I came back just in time," she said softly, and pulled him close as well.
They stayed like that for a few minutes until Cordy began to squirm.
"Still gotta breathe, big guy," she said from the depths of his chest.
"Oh, right, I'm sorry, here," he lay her back down and stepped backward. "What do you need? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Maybe you want a shower, there's a bathroom right around the corner, great water pressure."
"Okay, now stay," she added with a giggle. "Please stay. Although I guess you got that command down pat." Her expression turned serious. "I know you sat with me - a lot - during my mother of all dirt naps. That means everything to me."
"They said, that you were in pretty deep," he said, feeling all of sudden shy and nervous around her. "That you wouldn't be able to tell."
"Oh, I could tell," and from the look on her face and the tone of her voice, he didn't doubt it.
"So," he said, trying to be casual. "How do you feel?"
"Honestly? I'm a little woozy and..." She looked around, suddenly aware of her surroundings. "Hello plush bachelor pad! Wow, did we blow up the Hyperion one too many times and score some insurance money or something?"
"Uh, we aren't at the Hyperion."
"Well, even private hospitals aren't this swanky." Cordy looked at him warily. "So forgive the obvious post-coma routine, but where am I?"
Angel exhaled heavily, realizing that he couldn't dodge the truth from her.
"Wolfram & Hart."
Cordelia stared at him for a moment, her mouth half open in stunned surprise. Then slowly, the corners of her mouth twitched up and she began hooting with laughter.
"Right! Good one!" she giggled. "Way to mess with the Blackout Chick."
"You're serious," she realized, her eyes growing wide. "Oh, my God, we're prisoners. They - they're forcing you to do their bidding! Angel!" She snapped her fingers and waved her hands in his face. "You can beat this! You're stronger than this!"
"Stop," he said calmly, taking her hands in his, glad to see that she hadn't lost her penchant for the dramatic. "We're not prisoners. Well," he considered that. "Not technically. I'm here - we're here - willingly."
Cordelia watched him doubtfully. "Yeah, sounds it."
"No, really," he said. "I took this place over and we're fighting it from the inside, doing some real good."
"Keep telling yourself that, champ," she winked. "It just might stick. Me, I've already seen what you've been up to. I just wanted to hear what you'd say about it."
Angel stared at her. “Wait, you know we’re at Wolfram & Hart.”
“You know why then.”
“Sure. Connor,” she said softly. “Saving Connor.”
“How do you know?”
"Kind of my bonus prize," Cordy mused. “I got the Cliff's Notes on everything I missed."
Then he realized. "I knew you had a vision!"
"Whoa, yeah. Can't say I really missed them."
Angel frowned. "Whatever you saw made you scream."
Cordy bit her lip. "Let's just say it was vivid."
"And Buffy…she's got something to do with this?"
Cordelia looked at him blankly.
"Cord, you screamed right in her face."
"Oh, that," she dismissed. "Nah, that's just my gut reaction to seeing you with Buffy again."
He smiled in spite of himself. "It is so good to have you back."
"Well, don't get too comfy, we've got a lot of ground to cover." She looked at him fondly. "Boy, the questions you must have brewing under that unplucked brow. It's broodier than usual."
"There's only one that's important," he said, hesitating before he asked. "Do you really remember everything?"
She grew quiet and shifted her head to one side, in obvious thought. Finally, she looked up at him, her eyes very bright and lucid.
"Yeah," she nodded. A small smiled played on her lips. "It really worked then. That's wild."
"What's wild? Cordy," he grabbed her shoulders. "Talk to me.”
“First things first.” She plopped her hands in her lap as she sat up in the bed. “Angel, I am so sorry.”
“For what?” he asked. “You have nothing to apologize for."
“No?” she raised her eyebrows. “The whole rise above, get my body hijacked, give magical birth to a Demi-god, and nearly cause an apocalypse joy ride we were on?”
“Cordy, that’s not your fault.”
She smiled wanly. “Really kind of was.”
“No. No way,” Angel shot back.
“Yeah way. This way: With me pretty much buckled down to the passenger seat of my own body, I had a lot of time for pondering. I realized that my big journey? My whole rise-to-a-higher being thing? So not a divine purpose gig," she shook her head. "I was so selfish."
"How can you say that? The visions? That pain you went through for us? For me?"
"For me," she corrected, looking at him. "I was so desperate to be anybody that didn't look like the PMS head cheerleader. Vision girl, whatever it took. But not for anyone besides myself and definitely not for the mission." She drew a shaking breath. "I would've become practically anything if it got you to keep me around - as long as it didn't mess with my perfect size six and flawless complexion.”
Angel shook his head. "Cordy, this is nuts."
"Okay, you caught me, size eight," she grinned faintly. "But everything else is true, Angel." Her expression turned serious again. "The Powers That Be are definitely not down with the half-assed commitment phobes like me. So I got what I deserved."
"No one would deserve what happened to you," Angel muttered. "Especially not you."
"Yeah, I think around the evil yet realistically painful childbirth the Powers agreed with that," she said wryly. "That's when they inked my deal."
His brow furrowed. "Deal?"
"Call it a dream state," she shrugged. "Pretty-pretty voices from on high told me that if I just let go, they'd cut you a break." Cordy reached up and touched his face with a loving hand. "So I did. First unselfish thing I ever really did, too.”
"Cordy," he whispered, terrified that she'd evaporate into thin air.
"But what they didn't count on was you. All of you. None of you let me go. So thank you," she said softly.
“You mean you would’ve died? The Powers would’ve let that happen to you?”
“But - they - did - ‘nt,” she enunciated. “They couldn’t. You tethered me here. Way to go, boss.”
“So what happens now?”
Her trademark Cordy grin shone brightly. "In return, presto, voila," she looked around and waved her fingers to demonstrate a magic sleight of hand. "We get this."
"Uh," he looked around with her. "I don't see anything."
“Duh, you’re living it. I think officially it’s called a ‘temporal stitch.’ Unofficially, I call it ‘if-we're-very-good-kids-and-don't-fuck-it-up-we-can-live-happily-ever-after-or-something-close-to it here.’"
"I run the LA branch of my worst enemies," Angel said evenly. "Buffy's investigating us nine ways to Sunday on behalf of the new Watcher's Council, Fred's sleeping with Spike, a young Slayer's dead, I'm a stranger to my own son, and three of my best friends have quit and aren't speaking to me," he finished. "This is your version of a happy ending?"
"Hey, not like we had much to work with before this, bucko," Cordy said warningly. "I'd take it if I were you." She squinted at him. "Fred's really sleeping with Spike?"
"Yes," he sighed. "They're living together, actually."
"Wow," she marveled. "What frickin' bizarro world did I wake up in, anyway?"
"That's what I'd like to know. Cordy," Angel shook his head again. "I don't know what to do with any of this."
"You live it," she said softly. "Hopefully we all make better choices so we can keep on living it. Look Angel, the Powers That Be owed me one, and I didn't waste it. You can’t either.”
Angel looked at her wildly. “But - but what happens? If we don’t make better choices?”
“Then like your favorite black shirt that got impaled and mended too many times, this fragile little stitched up reality unravels. All bets are off and whatever was supposed to be takes over.”
"Well, what the hell is that?" Angel demanded, feeling hysterical.
Cordelia lifted her hands in the air. "At this point? Who knows? Hell, we could all be dead," she laughed nervously and immediately stopped. "Uh, yeah. Not really funny, sorry."
"So all we have to do is just wait," he said, trying to be reasonable. "You'll get a vision, see what's on the other side of this reality so we know what we're dealing with and why are you shaking your head at me now?"
"That's the other part of my deal. No more visions."
He swallowed with difficulty. "It doesn't matter. You're here, that’s all I care about. Cordelia,” he took her hands in his. “You have to know that I don’t need you for what you can do, the powers you have or don’t have. I need you - for you. The hell with the mission. I need you for me.”
“Wow,” she whispered and one hot tear splashed on her cheek. “You have so improved with the speeches, too. That’s - I needed to hear that. Hopefully I’ll remember exactly how good that made me feel.”
He looked at her quizzically. “Cord, why wouldn’t you remember?”
“You’ll see,” she glanced nervously at the clock on his bedside table. “As for now, this message is gonna self-destruct like thirty seconds ago. Angel, I wish..." She smiled through her tears. "God, there's so much more. Oh, the hell with it. One for the road?"
And without further hesitation, she pulled him forward and pressed her lips against his.
For a long moment, he couldn't move, couldn't register anything beyond the fact that he finally had the kiss from her that he'd always wanted. Full of love, passion… and the overriding twinge of desperation, which he tried with all his might to kiss away.
"Talk about being worth the wait," she murmured, breaking the kiss slowly. “Speaking of, you’re going to have to wait a while to get one of those again. We will get back here, Angel, somehow. I swear not even the Powers can stop me. I’m gonna fight to come back to you.”
She snubbed her nose against his and lay down again, her eyes dancing.
"By the way: you're welcome," she chirped before closing her eyes.
"No," he whispered, moving his hands wildly to her throat to check for a pulse. It pounded reassuringly against his fingers, strong and firm. Then what…
Her eyes opened again. "Well, hello salty goodness. You’re gonna need some serious oxygen after I’m through with you.”
A lump formed in his throat as he tried to smile at her.