"It may not be the way I would have chosen
When you lead me through a world that's not my own
But you never said it would be easy
You only said I'd never go alone..."

Cordelia found herself puttering around Angel Investigations with no clear idea of what she was doing. There was always paperwork (if they had a case, which wasn't that often), or dusting (not that she enjoyed it, because seriously, there wasn't something more important she could be doing?), or tearing through every entertainment newspaper and newsgroup in search of the perfect auditions.

But she was just sort of drifting through the office this morning, checking the whiteboard to see if they needed coffee, rearranging a few files on her desk, checking for messages (none), and finally wandering into Angel's office. She settled down in his chair, idly letting it swing back and forth.

"You always did need a throne, princess," Doyle commented from the doorway.

Cordelia grinned at him. "It does suit me, doesn't it? Guess I'm just looking for the right place in life."

"You are, at that." Doyle came further into the office, hitching one hip onto Angel's desk. He was wearing the deep blue shirt that always made his eyes so gorgeous, and that godawful brown leather jacket she hated, and he was looking at her with so much affection that that it made her heart hurt.

She smiled at him again, and leaned her elbows on the desk. "Have you ever had deja vu? Only not exactly deja vu, because I'm pretty sure we never had this conversation, but like deja vu? Or is it just that we've spent so much time here that it's always going to seem like we've never left?" She frowned, reviewing her words. "And that made no sense. At all."

Doyle chuckled quietly. "Sure it did. Well, to me, anyway, but that's probably not saying much."

Cordelia laid her hand over his, where it was braced on the desk. "It's saying a lot." She took a deep breath, one that brought with it a trace of whiskey and aftershave. "So, this isn't real, right? Because the office is, you know... gone. And you... You died. You left us."

He shifted his weight and turned his hand over, his fingers intertwining with hers. "I did, yeah. Didn't mean to leave, but... things happen." He shrugged one shoulder. "And I'm sorry 'bout the visions and the splittin' migraines. But choosin' between kissing Angel and kissing you? Gotta say, I died a happy man."

He grinned with that familiar little eyebrow pop, and she laughed in spite of herself, swatting his shoulder. He tried to duck, but not very hard, laughing as she made contact. "God, even dead, you're still annoying," she pretended to pout.

"I try my humble best." He chuckled at her for a more few seconds, then sobered. "I really am sorry, Cordy. Didn't mean to do it until it was done, then it was too late to take it back." He shrugged again. "Too late for pretty much everything. Story of my life."

Cordelia patted his hand, but that didn't seem like enough, so she stood up and hugged him, feeling his arms wrap around her in return. She couldn't quite remember if she'd ever hugged him when they were both alive, and that made her sad.

"It's okay, Doyle. It really is. I'm helping people now, just like you and Angel, and that's okay. Really." She stood back enough to fix a mock glare on him. "But if you could go tell the Powers That Be to either dial down the headaches, or give me better pain killers, that'd be way of the good."

He smiled a little, but shook his head, his arms tightening around her. She let him pull her closer. "Sorry, princess, this is the only freebie you get."

She frowned. "What? This is a vision? Without the brain-melty special effects? No way."

"Afraid so. And I'm runnin' out of time." He slid off the desk, but didn't let go of her. "Listen, Cordy. Your boyfriend, Lindsey -- he's a pivot point, more than either of you will ever know. The future is all out of whack right now, and the decisions he makes -- that both of you make -- could change pretty much everything."

Cordelia blinked, absorbing that. "But no pressure," she said finally.

Doyle grinned crookedly. "Nothing's ever easy. Anyway, no one can see which way this'll be ending, but there's one really important thing you have to do, princess. You've got to wake up."

And yet another unexpected twist. "Wake up? That's it? The fate of the universe rests on me not getting enough sleep?"

"Well, not only that," Doyle acknowledged, "but it's an important first step. If you don't, nothing else matters. Wake up, Cordelia."

She bit her lip, studying her friend. Almost-boyfriend. Partner. "If I do, I'm not going to see you again, am I?"

Doyle hesitated, then shrugged one shoulder again. "Never can tell, princess. Told you, the future's in flux."

"You're totally lying. You always sucked at lying." He looked away guiltily, and Cordelia tried to smile, but the tremulous effort collapsed quickly. "I miss you, Doyle. I know it may not seem like it -- boyfriend and stuff -- but I miss you. So much."

He nodded. "I know that, Cordelia. But it doesn't change anything. Not what was -- not what's going to be." He grinned again suddenly, and leaned forward to kiss her, quickly and sweetly. "No matter what happens with the lawyer, you loved me first. I'm not gonna forget that any time soon. Or ever, really."

She sniffled once, fighting back tears, then reached deep, and pulled out one of her million-dollar smiles, the one that had always staggered him just a little. "Good, because if you ever do forget it, I'm coming after you, buster. I've got an in with the Powers That Be."

"I'm shakin' in me boots," Doyle assured her, laying on the brogue just a little heavier, before he kissed her again. The last time. "Go find your future, Cordy, and try to make it a happy one. And tell Angel to stop with the bloody brooding!"

"Yeah, like that's ever worked."

"Well, it's worth another try." Doyle looked at her like he was memorizing her face; she gazed into his eyes for as long as she could. "Out of time, princess. Wake up."

His face dissolved into a familiar rush of images, pouring through her brain like water. She tried to grab them, even as she braced for pain that didn't come, and she woke up gasping, shoving tangles of hair out of her face. She was in Lindsey's condo, in Lindsey's bed, and she turned to reach for him -- but he wasn't there.

The sheets were rumpled and cool, like he'd been gone a while, and her stomach sank. Oh, god, maybe the curse of sex on the Hellmouth did extend to L.A. Maybe it was just going to follow her around wherever she went and she'd never, ever be able to have sex again, which would suck, because last night had been....

She took a deep breath, thinking about last night, about how tender and loving and, god, hot Lindsey had been. She'd fallen asleep wrapped so close to him she was practically part of his body, and damn it, she refused to believe he'd gotten up from that and turned evil. -Er. Again.

"Coffee," she told herself firmly, her voice echoing a little in the empty room. "He went for coffee and a newspaper, because he hasn't read the LA Times for two whole days, and he's going into withdrawal. And he was trying to be nice and not make me wake up."

Wake up.... The words echoed inside her head this time, and she sat up straight as the vision came flooding back to her. Doyle. Wolfram & Hart. Lindsey. The closet. Demons. Demons in the closet? Doyle. Lindsey.... She scrambled out of bed, and into her clothes, trying to dial her cell phone as she hopped on one leg to get the other into her jeans.

Angel's phone rang three times before he answered. "Cordelia? Is everything all right? I got this weird message from--"

"No, everything is not all right!" Cordelia snapped, overbalancing against the bed, but finally getting her jeans over her hips. "My stupid boyfriend has gone and done something really stupid and I'm going to kill him if we both survive, and someone needs to come get me right now before--"

The front door suddenly splintered and slammed open, and Cordelia barely smothered her shriek as something thundered into the condo. Her voice almost lost in the tumult as she screamed quietly into the phone, "Angel! Help! I'm at Lindsey's, help!"

She hung up the phone before Angel could answer, because who knew how good the hearing on whatever these things was, and looked frantically around her for weapons, for exits, for someplace to hide before she died...


Wesley burst out of the elevator and searched for unit numbers, trying to find Lindsey's. Which, of course, turned out to be the one with the splintered doorjamb and the door hanging loose on its hinges. He started to plunge immediately through the door, but caught himself at the sound of three impatient demonic voices drifting out -- the dialect sounded familiar, but could have been one of a half-dozen demonic species, all of them highly dangerous. This was obviously a time for strategy; he couldn't help Cordelia by getting himself killed immediately.

But he couldn't help Cordelia at all from outside. Angel was on his way, but even a vampire could only move so quickly through the tunnels. Wesley had to buy him time. He'd actually given a quick thought to calling the police, but they were even more unlikely than Angel to arrive in time -- and far less likely to be helpful.

He leaned his sword against the wall, within easy reach, and cocked the crossbow in his other hand. Leveling it at the door, he moved carefully to the opening and through into the entry way. Nothing there but some bags, torn apart; he recognized the remains of Cordelia's overnight bag. A guitar stood behind the door, miraculously untouched. No signs of any demons.

Wesley eased down the short hallway, trying not to make any noise, although it was highly unlikely he'd be heard over the crashes and smashes of wanton destruction. Lindsey's couch had already been reduced to shreds, his television a broken heap of former high-tech. Wesley flinched as a lamp came flying across the room from his right, shattering against the far wall, and almost nailing the gray Krakanth demon that had appeared from the kitchen.

The demon bellowed a curse at its patrol, waving the shattered remains of a blender, and its cohorts screamed back. The Krakanth, as quick to battle each other as the enemy, dove across the living room; the screaming and thuds that followed left little doubt of the ensuing fight.

He was unlikely to get a better chance. And perhaps he could draw one or more of them out of the condo long enough to offer Cordelia an escape. Assuming she was alive...

Wesley shook his head against the unwelcome and unhelpful thought. He took a deep breath and leveled the crossbow, then stepped out into the living room. It took only a moment to aim and pull the trigger, and the Krakanth on top of the pile of battling demon screamed, a bass vibrato that shook the windows. It reared back, clutching at the crossbow that had just entered its heart (right below its left hip if Wesley was remembering his anatomy correctly, and oh, he hoped he hadn't just shot the wrong sort of demon in the ass).

A moment later, it tumbled to the side to sprawl with a crash on the ruined carpet, limp and dead. Wesley didn't wait; he dumped the crossbow and raced back through the front door, seizing his sword and spinning around. He was just in time to meet the charge of the Krakanths.

Only the fact that they could not get through the doorframe together prevented him from being immediately overwhelmed. Only one could attack him -- but that one outweighed him by several hundred pounds, and had skin as thick and tough as an elephant's hide. Wesley hacked away at the demon's neck, barely ducking the ponderous blows. But inevitably perhaps, one boulder-like fist caught his shoulder and slammed him sideways into the wall.

He somehow kept his grip on his sword and tried to stagger back upright, just in time to see both demons descending on him with blood in their tiny black eyes. The musles of the one in the lead flexed as it reached out for his arms, ready to tear him apart--

Before it was distracted by the enraged scream from the condo behind it, and a sword blade ripped through its cohort's side.

Cordelia ripped the blade back out as the injured Krakanth turned on her with a howl. "Sorry, did that hurt?" she said through her teeth. "Here, let me see if I can help with that!"

Her technique was horrible, Wesley noticed absently, taking advantage of the first demon's distraction to take a hack with his own sword at its neck. She swung the sword more like a baseball bat, but at least she kept the edge flat. It carved a chunk out of her opponent's hip, and then the first demon was swinging back with its fist flattened, and Wesley was too distracted to spend any more time critiquing her performance.

They could not win, he knew after only a few moments. Although, to be honest, he'd known that going in. No damage done to the Krakanths seem to accomplish anything more than enraging them, but one solid grab or hit would take either of the humans down. He ducked one such swing, and spared a glance in Cordelia's direction; she was twisting agilely out of the way, and hacked at her opponent's knee. The sword skittered off the thick hide, and Cordelia staggered, just in time to avoid a heavy hand that swiped just above her hair.

"Got a plan?" she panted, taking another swipe at the thing's hamstring, and scoring a shallow slice.

"Sorry, fresh out." Wesley dove to the side as a gray fist came crashing down, then opened and snatched at his ankles. He pulled them out of the way, scrambling crab-like along the floor until he fetched up against something solid.

"I've got an idea," Angel said above him. "Cordelia, get down."

Wesley rolled to the side and out of Angel's way as the vampire lunged at the Krakanth demon. His broadsword carved into the demon's shoulder and the Krakanth howled, smashing a fist into Angel's side. Angel rolled with the blow, landing on his feet and attacking again, snarling in full game face. This time, his sword found the demon's neck, and viscous green blood spurted over Angel's coat and the wall as his blade cut halfway through.

"Angel, look out!" Angel spun at Cordelia's warning as the demon's body dropped, but couldn't avoid being grabbed by the last Krakanth's huge fists. The demon lifted him off the floor and shook him, bellowing in rage, before tightening his hands and pulling. Angel shouting as the demon begin to rip him apart.

Wesley dove forward without thinking, swinging desperately at the demon's side. Cordelia came at it from behind, screaming furiously and hacking away at the hamstring again. More green blood doused the carpet and the Krakanth's bellow turned into something like a scream, shaking the walls. Angel planted his boots in the Krakanth's gut and kicked hard, staggering the huge demon and turning it away from Wesley.

"Now, Cordelia!" Wesley shouted, and she was there, thrusting her blade two-handed into the demon's body just below Wesley's, straight into its heart.

The demon shrieked one last time, then finally fell with a heavy thud that shook the floor like a minor earthquake.

Wesley staggered until he sat, back pressed to the wall and holding him up. Angel dropped to the ground beside the demon's body, catching his non-existent breath before he pushed himself halfway to his knees. "Everyone all right?" he asked, more than a little painfully.

"I'll live," Wesley answered, once he was reasonably sure that was the truth. "Cordelia?"

I'm good," she said between deep, panting breaths, leaning against the wall with her sword dangling from one hand. "Thanks to you guys. How did you get here so fast?"

"Wesley was already on his way when you called," Angel said, finally making it back to his feet. He offered Wesley a hand up and Wesley waved him off, perfectly content to sit until his muscles stopped screaming. Angel went over to Cordelia instead and studied her face, still bruised from the fight in Sunnydale. "Are you all right? McDonald left a weird message this morning, saying that you needed a ride. Nothing about Krakanth demons, though. What the hell were they after? Why the hell did he leave you alone?"

"Because he's an idiot," Cordelia said through her teeth. "Because he decided to run off and deal with Wolfram & Hart on his own, and when i get him back, he is so going to pay. Damn it, this is so not good."

Angel shook his head. "If... Lindsey--" He had to force himself to say the other man's name politely, Wesley noticed. "--isn't here, why are there Krakanth demons? Has he pissed off someone else?"

"I have no idea," Cordelia said absently, "but god, who knows? It is Lindsey."

"Now, why do you get to say things like that and I don't?" Angel asked, more than a little sulkily.

"Duh. My boyfriend. Although that's gonna be questionable if he doesn't walk back through that door pretty soon...." Her voice trailed off. "Oh, crap. The vision. God, he really is in trouble."

She spun on Angel. "We have to go get him out! Now!"

Angel and Wesley exchanged looks. "Cordelia..." Wesley said carefully. "It's not as simple as just marching inside Wolfram & Hart and tearing down walls until we find him--"

"Sounds like fun to me," Angel muttered, "except for the finding McDonald part."

Wesley gave him a quelling look before refocusing on Cordelia. "Why did he go back to Wolfram & Hart in the first place? He had to know leaving would be... well, exceptionally difficult."

"You mean getting out alive," Cordelia said, crossing her arms and glaring.

"Yes," Wesley admitted. "Lindsey is quite big on plans -- surely he had one?"

Cordelia snorted. "I bet he had three, but that doesn't mean they worked! Or there probably wouldn't have been elephant demons tearing his condo apart."

"Krakanth," Wesley and Angel corrected her.

"Whatever! So not the point. The point is, we have to get him out! The vision said, Doyle said--"

"Wait. Doyle?" Angel demanded. "You had a vision about Doyle?"

"More like hosted by." Her face softened briefly and she laid a hand on Angel's shoulder. "I promise I'll tell you all about it. Soon. But right now..."

She closed her eyes, concentrating. "He said Lindsey is a, a pivot point. That decisions he makes are going to change things. Decisions like, oh, running off to Wolfram & Hart, like that's going to change anything in a good way. Um, then there was the actual mix-tape vision -- big gray demons, Lindsey in an office, some old dude looking pissed, a key... the closet."

Her eyes popped open. "The closet!" She spun without another word and disappeared back into the condo. Wesley and Angel exchanged glances, then Wesley followed Cordelia as Angel began hefting the bulk of the Krakanths and dragging them to the doorway. Those were going to be a problem to dispose of.

Cordelia went straight through the wreckage to the bedroom; Wesley tried not to look at the tumbled sheets and watched Cordelia instead as she flung open the door to the closet. "When the demons came in, I hid in the closet. Lame, but I didn't have much time and hey! There was a sword in there. But there's also a fake wall, with a door; it was locked, but I saw a key...."

"This one?" Wesley asked, picking up a small silver key from the nightstand.

"Yes!" Cordelia pounced, then ducked into the closet. Wesley watched over her shoulder as she opened the small, locked door built into the back wall, then flung it open. "Jackpot!" she crowed, displaying stacks of CDs. "Check out the names -- those are client names. These are Wolfram & Hart files, like the ones he had on Tyler! That's how he got them!"

"Backups," Wesley mused, flipping through another stack. "Yes, I think Wolfram & Hart would want these back rather badly. And Lindsey would have thought they'd provide enough leverage to get him out alive."

"When he called, he said your stuff was in the closet," Angel contributed from the outside hall, dumping the second demon corpse at the doorway with a dull thump. "You know, we could hide these better if someone would invite me in."

"Oh, right. Come in, Angel," she called, adding in a quiet snarl, "Lindsey can just deal. Right, so he left the key, he wanted me to find the discs. Except the evil lawyers from hell decided just to take them instead. Lindsey really isn't much good at stealthy." Cordelia's triumphant face fell. "So, they'll keep him alive until they're sure they've got the discs back. Right?"

Wesley patted her shoulder. "Yes, of course," he said, almost sure he was telling the truth. "They wouldn't risk losing these."

"Well, they're going to lose them." Cordelia's chin went up in the way that boded no good for her enemies. "The de-encrypt thingies were in Lindsey's bag in the front hall."

"Torn apart," Angel said from the doorway. "I found lots of broken CDs."

"Damn it." Cordelia threw up her hands in frustration. "Okay, we'll have to call Willow, queen of backing everything up. Again. I bet she's going to be all grumpy about doing yet more decrypting. We so need our own computer geek."

"I'm sure Willow will understand it's for a good cause," Wesley said as he reached for his mobile, looking for the correct number in his call list. "What do you intend to do with the files when we have them?"

Cordelia paced a few steps away, then back. "First, we need my laptop. Then, we need a Kinko's. Angel, call Gunn and tell him to meet us."

Angel lifted his eyebrows, but fished his phone out of a deep pocket to obey. "Where is he meeting us?"

"Wolfram & Hart." She crossed her arms and glared at the corpses of the demons. "Some evil old guy is about to make room in his schedule."

Comments welcomed at perri@neon-hummingbird.com or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated September 29, 2009.


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