"You know," Cordelia complained as she snapped the last manacle into place, "chains never used to be a part of my life. I never even wanted them to be."
Wesley grunted, completely involved in checking the chains around Angel... Angelus' ankles. Cordelia had been on quite the verbal rampage for the last half-hour, ever since Rebecca Lowell had exited rather abruptly, without even helping them haul Angel's unconscious -- and heavy -- body to his bed.
"Then this whole Slayer thing started," Cordelia continued, expanding on the theme Wesley had heard before -- notably, the last time they'd tied Angel to his bed. "And then I had werewolves to babysit on full moons, and vampires to keep off me, and I went to L.A. to get away from that. And here I am, chaining up my boss. What is so very wrong with this picture?"
She contemplated the manacle, apparently decided it wasn't quite heavy enough, and went for some more chains. "And you know what? I bet we don't get bonuses for it *this* time, either."
Wesley was in full agreement about the chains; at his gesture, Cordelia handed him another length. He tested it, then started wrapping Angel's legs. "I'm sure that when he wakes up, Angel will be properly apologetic and make amends as best he can."
"If Angel wakes up. As in, if he doesn't wake up and Angelus is still running the show. Angelus isn't going to pay us bonuses. Angelus will use us as a morning snack. All-you-can-eat-breakfast bar, here at Angel Investigations."
Wesley rolled his eyes without looking up. "You have the most delightful way of phrasing things," he told her, trying to keep his voice controlled. She'd had a bad enough night; if fussing made her feel better, as it seemed to, who was he to argue? "Once the Doxymal Miss Lowell slipped him wears off, I'm sure Angel will wake up, soul intact."
It would, perhaps, have been more convincing if his hands hadn't been shaking.
"Whatever." Cordelia studied the restraints one last time, then dusted her hands off and backed away from the bed. "Okay, Angelus, Angel, whoever's line it is, wake up and break out of that."
"Oh, yes, by all means, give him ideas," Wesley commented dryly.
Cordelia made a face at him. "Get over it, Wesley; even Angelus is going to be out for a while. He fell down an elevator! Maybe Buffy should have tried that..." Her voice trailed off in consideration before she shrugged and headed out of the apartment.
Wesley took another few minutes to finish his task, then snapped the last padlock in place and stood up to inspect the restraints one last time. Then, with one last anxious look at the vampire, he followed the still-absent Cordelia up to the office. "Cordelia, I don't think Angel should be left alone for very long...." he started.
"Fine, then go back down," she said, without looking up from the thick Yellow Pages, open on her desk. "I need to find someone first."
Wesley sat on the corner of the desk, eyebrows raised. "For whom are you looking? May I be of assistance?"
She shrugged, still without lifting her eyes from the phone book. "Maybe. Know any priests who make housecalls?"
"A priest?" He had to stop and think; after being thrown across the room and the associated physical and emotional trauma, his mind still wasn't quite functioning at the highest levels. "Last Rites? I hardly think...."
She snorted with all the scorn that she could muster, which was considerable. "Please. I'm thinking Dead Boy down there is a little past that."
She didn't seem inclined to elaborate any further; Wesley stared at her, his brow creased in confusion, until his eyes touched on the empty bottle of water by her side. "Ah. Yes. You're going to make good your bluff. The holy water."
"Got it in two." Cordelia scribbled notes to herself, then closed the phone book with a heavy 'thud'. "Next time Angelus shows up, I want heavier artillery than my acting skills and your fists."
Wesley colored and began to bristle, but Cordelia wasn't paying attention. She was thinking out loud again, he told himself, thereby bypassing any rudimentary sense of tact she might somehow possess. And, as usual, she was quite correct, if somewhat pessimistic. "At least our customers will walk out of the office blessed," he sighed in acquiescence, twisting to check the names she'd found. "But we'll have to keep Angel away from the coffee."
"He can live coffee-free for the rest of his life, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, if he wakes up, he's not allowed to do anything involving even potentially mood-altering chemicals for as long as he lives."
Wesley started to comment on the likelihood of Cordelia being able to enforce that dictum. But one look at her face, lips drawn tight, eyes hard and flat, made it suddenly seem quite likely. In fact, he almost felt sorry for Angel. Almost.
It was almost two in the morning now, far too early to start calling churches, so he assumed she was rummaging for something else in her desk. And had found it; she sat back up and slapped the objects she'd recovered onto her desk.
A cross. A penknife. And a stake. With that same grim expression, she started sharpening.
"Cordelia!" It came out more sharply than he'd intended. "Just what do you plan to do with that?"
She didn't bother to look up, kept her eyes focused on the wood peeling away under the sharp blade. Her movements were practiced, economical and skilled. "If he wakes up Angelus, I plan to shove this stake so far into his heart it'll go through the mattress. Then I plan to scatter his ashes off Santa Monica Pier in broad daylight. And then, I plan to burn this office down, just to make sure he's really, *really* dead."
"Cordelia..." Words failed him at the sheer, matter-of-fact resolve in her voice. "I know this is...."
"No." Her head snapped up as she cut him off yet again. "You don't know. You weren't there."
He blinked. Her face was alive now, eyes blazing with some emotion he didn't quite recognize, some odd mix of fear and rage and determination and grief. It was strangely familiar... Ah. Yes. Buffy's face, when she'd faced him down over trading the Box of Gavrok for Willow.
"Cordelia...." he tried again, gently, laying a hand on her arm.
She shook him off. "You weren't there, Wesley. You didn't see what he did to Ms. Calendar. To Giles. To Buffy. Not that I care so much about Buffy, but... It was wrong. So wrong." She returned to her stake, hands moving in quick, angry strokes. "I thought I knew all about evil, you know? I didn't. I didn't know anything until I met Angelus. He likes it."
Her hands had stilled, and she stared down at the stake through unseeing eyes. Wesley dared to try to touch her arm again, bare above her brief halter top, and she let him this time. Or just didn't feel it.
"He likes the pain," she said quietly, distantly. "He likes to know he's hurt you, likes that whatever he says, whatever he does, is ten times worse because he's doing it with Angel's face. With Angel's hands. He gets off on it, on being everything that Angel that never would."
"I know." His hand tightened on her arm as she opened her mouth to object. "I do know, Cordelia. I didn't have to see Angelus in action to know the effects of his time in Sunnydale. I saw them well enough whenever he and Mr. Giles were in the same room. Whenever Buffy looked at him. I know. But, as it has been pointed out to me, you cannot blame Angel...."
"You think this is about blame?" Her turn to interrupt again, obviously. Her eyes were focused and incredulous as she looked up at him. "I don't blame Angel, I never did. Angel didn't do anything... Well, okay, except for sleeping with Buffy, but, you know, guy. It was Angelus. I knew that, even if no one else did."
"Forgive me, then," Wesley said carefully, nodding towards the stake, "but you do seem to be quite prepared to take Angelus' sins out on Angel."
"Oh, if he wakes up Angelus, you'd rather just let him wander around loose and start killing people again?" she sneered. "Yeah, that'd be good. Not."
He bit back his surge of irritation, kept his voice level with an effort. "I was hardly suggesting we let him roam free; I believe, in fact, that's why he is chained up downstairs. But I have no intention of simply staking him without searching for alternatives. Without trying to save Angel."
"Fine." She nodded, eyes flat and cold again. "You've got until he wakes up to search. After that -- Angelus is dust for good, this time."
Wesley stood slowly, unsteadily, not quite able to believe what he was hearing. He knew Cordelia could be quite relentlessly practical when it came to demon-slaying, but this... "You would give up on him so easily. Your friend, your employer... And you would simply stake him, without a thought?"
She actually smiled. A strange, twisted little smile. "Oh, I'd think about it. Every night, probably. You think I don't care?" He didn't answer because, of course, that was precisely what he did think. "Well, I do. You're new guy, Wes; I've been around for four years. I used to hang out at the Bronze and try and get Angel to pay attention to me, using every damn weapon in my arsenal, and believe you me, I had a lot. He knew what I was doing and none of them worked and he was still nice to me."
She was on her feet, pacing now, with the energy and force of a Valkyrie set in motion. "Even when I found out what he was, I didn't care. I never cared. You know why not?" Her eyes met his, challenged him. "Because he was good to me, to everyone. He saved our lives even when some people didn't bother to thank him, much less be nice to him."
That hit a bit too close to home, although he was rather certain she was referring to Xander instead of himself. "Quite true," he acknowledged out loud. "Which is why I cannot understand..."
"Because he's my friend!" She whirled on him, stake raised as if she was prepared to bury it in his chest. "You don't know what losing him will do to me! To my life! He's all I've got, Wesley, he's the only damn person who cares about me. Do you think I don't know how pathetic that makes me? That the only person who cares about me is an undead creature of the night? But he saved me when I came here, gave me my job, gave me my life, made me not alone--"
Her voice broke and she turned abruptly away. There were tears now, Wesley saw with shock, trickling down her perfect cheeks. She didn't appear to notice.
"I lost Doyle," she said quietly, her arms wrapped around herself, the stake clutched, forgotten, in one hand. Her words were a little-girl's voice, coming from a woman's grieving face. "And if that body downstairs wakes up Angelus, I'm going to lose Angel, too, and I'm going to be alone. But I'll do it anyway, because he asked me to, and I promised I would."
She didn't hear him, didn't acknowledge his tentative step towards her. "Buffy didn't love him enough to save him, she just wanted her Angel back and the hell with anything else. Giles wasn't strong enough; it wasn't his fault, he just wasn't." Her head suddenly came back up, and she met Wesley's eyes defiantly. "But I'm strong enough, and I love him enough, and I won't let him live as Angelus ever again! He'd rather die, and I promised he would. I'll do it alone, you just watch me; I probably should anyway."
"After all," she suddenly sniffled, turning away as that awful, twisted smile returned, "what are friends for?"
Wesley stared at her back in silence, not trusting himself to speak. Just when he thought he knew Cordelia, just when he thought he had her figured out.... She surprised him. Amazed him.
Because she was wrong. He did know what Angel meant to her. Oh, he couldn't lay it out in words, but when she was in danger or frightened, her eyes went to Angel first. At every small triumph in her life, it was Angel she looked to for approval. His voice could calm her out of terror, his arms were the ones she looked to for comfort and support when one of the visions ripped through her mind. She and Angel stood together, as Wesley watched from the outside.
Yes, he knew what Angel was to her. And he knew that she was willing to give it up, to live with the knowledge all her life that she'd killed the one person she loved. Because she loved. And because she'd promised.
"You're right, Cordelia." She flinched at his voice, before the words sank in and she half-turned to look at him. He held his hands out in surrender. "You're right. Should Angelus awake, there is only one option."
Her body relaxed, just slightly, but he saw it. And grieved for her. She nodded, firmly, and sniffed again, pulling composure around her like a blanket. "Good. I'm glad we got that settled." She walking past him to the elevator, picking up her cross on the way, and he didn't try to stop her.
"But Cordelia," he told her back, "you're wrong about one thing."
She turned back, one hand on her hip, all attitude and challenge. Queen C, live and in person. He knew better than to believe it now. "Oh yeah?"
"You won't have to do it alone. And you will not be alone after."
Her lips tightened again, and tears threatened, but she didn't lose control. "Don't think I'm buying that line. That's what all you guys say."
She waltzed into the elevator, and he pretended he didn't see her lean her head back against the wall, closing her eyes as it sank out of sight.
He'd give her a few minutes to recover herself, a few minutes to be alone, he thought. There were a few names to add to her list of priests, a stake hidden behind the water cooler that might be useful.
Then he'd go downstairs and they'd wait together, to see what Angel would wake as. They would not speak, because Cordelia guarded her heart jealously, and would prefer to ignore how much of it she had just spilled in front of Wesley. He would respect that, as he respected her.
I will not leave her alone, Angel, he vowed silently, in case that bruised, battered soul could hear him. That is what I promise you.
Thanks to Chris Kamnikar for betareading.