W9: Revelations Lost and Found
Revelations lost and found
Speaking from the heart.
Love for the asking
Desire burning brightly
Entranced by the truth
As resounding echoes sound
Time for acceptance
Dim light flooded the hospital corridors now that the sun had set, a sign to visitors that it was time to let the patients sleep. Most complied with nursing staff directives to leave for the evening, though a few stragglers remained.
Buffy entered through the open emergency room door. She rounded the corner to the main hallway before anyone noticed her naturally stealthy stride. Heading up the stairwell, she arrived on the small 3-West Observation Unit. Gunn had told her she would find Angel there, and Cordelia, of course, who was now designated as an overnight stay in room 3102.
There were too many things to say to wait until morning. Gunn wasn’t so keen on the idea of Buffy Summers bothering either one of his friends after all that had happened, but he quickly discovered the Slayer wasn’t very good at listening when the ideas were contrary to her own decisions.
Others argued far better reasons to go to the hospital than her, Gunn had said. Wes and Fred wanted to see Cordelia. They were family, not just old high school buddies and he had heard enough Patrol Tales from Cordelia to know the Slayer didn’t really fall into the category of a close friend. Even Xander had a legitimate argument about going first, being the ex-boyfriend.
Buffy stalked directly up to the six-foot-five Gunn, looked him straight in the eye even though she had to tilt her head back to do it, and told him, “I’m not just being selfish. Everyone wants to go. We’re all concerned about Cordelia, but I’m worried about Angel too.”
She remembered Gunn not being especially impressed with her reasoning. Explaining to him still didn’t get her the ready agreement she expected, “We’ve made a decision about what to do with the Trio and I want Angel to know about it before I go through with the plan.”
“I ain’t stopping you Blondie,” Gunn pursed his lips and held up his hands in the air in mock surrender. “Just saying Angel’s not gonna be in the mood to catch up on old times.”
For some reason, Buffy had the distinct feeling he was the type of person that didn’t easily trust other people. Unless it was something Cordelia had said. “The Geek Trio’s chained up in the basement. I’m not going to keep them locked up downstairs forever and after what happened earlier, it’s probably not a good idea to let Angel have another shot at Warren.”
Gunn had to agree, “I’m with you on that one. What’s the plan?”
“The others can catch you up,” Buffy told him as she headed for the door. “Check in with Wesley. He’s got news on that gizmo Fred’s been tinkering with.”
Now at Room 3102, Buffy pressed the handle releasing the latch, pushed the door open and stared inside. Cordelia lay still in the bed, the covers tucked around her waist, arms resting at her sides. A blue pump flashed digital red numbers in the dim light of the room silently infusing clear fluids through the IV taped to her arm.
The only sound in the room was the barely detectible creak of wood and faux leather from the chair in the corner. Buffy’s eyes darted in that direction, but saw nothing. It had to be Angel moving around.
She wasn’t surprised when he said her name from only a few feet away, but his next words were unexpected: “Visiting hours are over.”
It took a moment to adjust to the idea of it again as Buffy let her other senses reach out and try to envision the face and form of her ex-boyfriend. “I know, but I had to come. How is she?”
Glancing over his shoulder, Angel instantly found himself lost in his thoughts again as he counted up the number of times Cordelia had been in danger because of him. This wasn’t the first time he’d stayed at her bedside wondering if she would regain consciousness or recover from whatever mystic event was traumatizing her. There was no magick involved with Cordelia’s injuries this time, no demon to dispatch for necessitating her presence in the cold, sterile environment of the hospital.
The guilty party was all too human and it was his fist rather than magick that had resulted in Cordelia being rushed to the emergency room. Warren Meers was lucky to be alive. He wouldn’t be if it hadn’t been for the fact that he was in the protective custody of the Slayer at the time. She’d stopped Angel from snapping that deserving neck, a fact that he was still disgruntled about.
Warren Meers and his two cronies deserved punishment. He’d left it to the others to decide what that might be as every scenario he came up with involved a multitude of torturous methods to draw out their pain. Angel felt certain that if Cordy revealed anything else to him, neither Buffy nor any of the others would stop him from exacting an extremely permanent form of revenge.
“Cordy’s sleeping now,” Angel explained quietly. “She regained consciousness for a short time down in the emergency room, but has been in and out of it since then.”
“So you’ve talked to her?”
Shaking his head, Angel answered, “She’s been confused. Asking for me or Connor.”
Buffy moved toward the bed to take a closer look, her keen eyesight detecting the dark bruise across Cordelia’s cheek, even in the dimly lit room. She was stopped by Angel’s hand closing around her upper arm. This was more than just being protective: it seemed that he didn’t even want to take a chance she might disturb Cordelia.
Everything Angel said to her on the phone came flooding back. Making no further move toward the sleeping seer, Buffy simply told him, “Angel, you should come back to my house. Get some rest.”
“If I do that right now, Warren’s a dead man,” Angel growled and dropped his hand.
Knowing that Angel wasn’t kidding about Warren considering the fact that he had nearly killed the guy, Buffy decided she needed to lighten things up just a little. She didn’t like hearing Angel make comments that sounded like they were coming from Angelus.
“Connor seems like a happy little guy,” Buffy put a smile on her face. “Anya keeps asking Xander if they’ll ever have one.”
With a laugh, Buffy recalled Anya demanding, “Xander, I want a baby. Now. Let’s go make one.” No wonder Xander was eager to take his turn guarding the Trio.
Not to be sidetracked, Angel commented, “Warren’s lucky Connor is fine. We’ll see if he stays lucky as soon as I hear from Cordy what happened.”
Trying another tactic, Buffy explained, “Wesley says he has news. Something about a gypsy and a guy named Lorne.”
Unseen by Buffy, Angel’s mouth gaped in reaction to the mention of the Pylean’s name. “Wes called Lorne?” Inwardly, Angel kicked himself for not even considering the fact that Lorne was waiting at home for news on Connor and Cordy. He should have made that call or ensured somebody else did.
Buffy shrugged, “Yes, guess so.”
“Good,” Angel responded only to shift his attention to Cordelia again as her breathing pattern changed. She wasn’t sleeping as deeply as before. He focused on the steady sounds that reassured him Cordelia would eventually be okay.
It was quiet in the room, the only sounds distant voices from the nurses’ station. Buffy felt as if she was intruding, that she wasn’t part of this. Invisible or not, that bothered her. Buffy shifted positions as her thoughts turned to another vampire and the very confusing and somewhat disturbing nature of their non-relationship.
“Something you need to tell me, Buffy?” The question startled her and Buffy stared back as if she was a five-year old with her hand caught in the cookie jar.
Spike! No, he didn’t know about Spike, Buffy reasoned. How could he? Realizing he expected her to say something, she figured this might be the best time to spring the news on him, when he was so focused on keeping things quiet in here. “Yes, actually.”
Angel quirked an eyebrow as he silently reacted to her admission that there was something to be said. When Buffy had stopped him from killing Warren, he’d noticed that she was draped in a familiar scent. Combined with Dawn’s not-so-subtle hints earlier in the day, it proved that Buffy was somehow involved with Spike.
“It’s about the Trio,” Buffy announced having become used to calling the three geeks by their group identity over the past few hours. “They need to pay for what they’ve done, Angel, but it’s not going to be with their lives.”
He’d already come to the conclusion that would be the case. It was ensuring that the bastards were rightfully punished that concerned him. Dropping them off in front of the police station with claims of kidnapping would get them nowhere considering the circumstances. Though Cordelia probably had a legal case with the physical evidence to back her up against Warren, the punishment he would receive would be minimal compared to what he deserved.
“Where are they now?”
“My basement,” Buffy answered. “I have an idea. It’s a little off-the-wall, but since we can’t get the local authorities involved it’s the only thing I can think of that would substitute for prison.”
Angel could think of one circumstance he’d agree too right off the bat, “Planning to send them on a one-way trip to a hell dimension?”
Coming from Angel, it was a little too much of a reminder of their shared past for comfort’s sake. She’d sent him to hell in order to stop Acathla.
“Actually, Wes ruled that option out,” Buffy admitted with a tinge of pink showing on her cheeks. Then pointing out that it wasn’t her idea, “Fred suggested sending the guys to a place called Pylea, but they decided it was better to keep the Trio around in case there are problems reversing your invisibility. So we settled on an alternate plan. My, ah, contact is setting things up now.”
“Just do it, Buffy,” instructed Angel not even bothering for details, wanting this whole mess to be over so he could take his friends and family back home to resume their lives again. “Tell your contact to make damn certain the Trio know never to set foot in LA because if Warren Meers ever crosses my path again, he won’t have time to blink much less beg for mercy.”
Shuddering at the cold tone in Angel’s voice, Buffy stood in the half-open doorway looking a little shocked at his words. She wasn’t used to feeling uncomfortable or out of place in his presence. The invisibility had nothing to do with it. This was all about Angel being in super-protective mode over Cordelia and Connor, something Buffy realized she wasn’t a part of in any way, shape or form.
Noting the little frown on Buffy’s delicate face and realizing he had managed to hurt her feelings, Angel curbed his emotions. Cordelia would no doubt gripe at him for giving himself one more thing to brood about, but he wasn’t about to take back what he’d said.
Softening his tone, Angel asked, “Was there something else?”
“I just wanted to be here for you…if you needed me,” the words came out as a soft whisper.
Angel saw a hint of hope lighting those eyes. For what, he wasn’t quite certain. He’d come to comfort her when occasion demanded it. Was that all this was, Buffy’s attempt at reciprocation? Somehow, despite whatever was going on between Spike and her, he knew there was more to it.
“Go home, Buffy,” he pulled the door open wider. “I’m not leaving here until I’m sure Cordy’s okay.”
Starting to leave, Buffy paused in the doorway, resolving to take this opportunity to tell him, “Angel…there is someth—”
Cutting her off, Angel honestly didn’t want to hear the details, “If it’s about Spike, don’t bother. I already know.”
A hitch sounded in her breath before Buffy swallowed down her surprise. “Then I’ll see you…or not…later.”
The door closed behind Buffy Summers as she left the hospital room. Turning, she moved toward the stairwell at a run, throwing open the fire door uncaring that it banged forcefully against the wall as she darted down the steps.
An hour passed by as Angel sat unmoving in the straight-backed chair in the corner, having resumed his vigil after Buffy’s departure. The nurse’s aide came in once to check Cordelia’s vital signs followed by the night shift nurse who performed her duties with quiet efficiency.
Making an effort to rouse Cordelia to verify her level of consciousness resulted in yet another mumbled plea, “Angel…Angel…Connor…”
But it was followed by Cordelia’s eyelids flickering open and the response had Angel darting out of the chair to stand on the opposite side of the bed as the nurse asked her some questions and confirmed that she knew she’d had an accident.
“Where’s Connor?” He almost answered the question, but somehow held back.
“There was a tall, good looking guy here earlier,” the nurse told her, “but he left when visiting hours were over. We have a contact cell phone number on your chart if you want to call him.”
“I know it,” Cordelia struggled to sit up and the nurse quickly pressed a button on the siderail raising the head of the bed up to a comfortable angle.
Asking, “You want the light on or off?” the nurse prepared to flip a switch on the console next to the bed.
“Off,” Cordelia held up a hand. Her head hurt and the thought of light glaring in her eyes was not a pleasant one.
After a few more minutes, ensuring that Cordelia didn’t need anything else, the nurse picked up the unopened water jug on the bedside table and left the room. Having closed the door behind her to block out the hallway noise, the room was again plunged into near darkness with only the moonlight peeping in along the edges of the room.
“Cordy,” Angel sounded out her name hoping he wouldn’t scare her. Cordelia looked around, but the lack of light prevented her from zeroing in on anything resembling the outline of the vampire.
Just the sound of his voice brought tears of relief to glisten in her eyes. “Angel? Oh, God, you’re really here.”
She fumbled for the light switch, but couldn’t easily reach it. Preferring the darkness, Angel sat down beside her and pulled her hand down threading his fingers through hers. Cordelia immediately threw her other arm around his shoulder, the dark not preventing her from instinctively knowing him.
After pulling Angel into a tight hug and pressing her unbruised cheek against him, she huffed and then slapped a hand against his shoulder, “Don’t ever do that to me again! I thought they vaporized you.”
“They didn’t,” Angel began trying to think of a way to tell her that he was invisible. “Actually…”
Angel felt her pull back a couple of inches, the sound of her heartbeat quickening as she reacted with an instant sense of fear that something had happened to the baby. “He’s safe. Fred’s taking care of him while I’m here with you.”
“Andrew took him,” Cordelia grumbled at the thought of that annoyingly sweet bad guy snatching Connor out of her arms. “Where is he? Did you get the other two?”
“All three of them,” Angel confirmed as he cupped her uninjured cheek in his hand. “Don’t stress over it.”
A soft ‘pfft’ sounded followed by a grumbled, “Just wait until I get my hands on Warren.”
“He’s being dealt with,” promised Angel even if the method wasn’t his preference. Unless Cordelia told him something that would alter those plans.
Angel explained how they had found her in the garage, knocked out and bleeding from a head wound. “I couldn’t get to you, Cordy. The barrier prevented me from getting in the house.”
“Hey, it’s not everyday Willow Rosenberg comes to my rescue,” Cordelia grinned, her hand still entwined with his. Then she told him, “Warren was angry about his plans being screwed up. Guess he took it out on me.”
“Well, the bastard has a matching black eye to go along with the one he gave you.” Angel managed to get in a hard punch before Buffy stopped him from wrapping his arm around Warren’s neck. “Your face is bruised and the ER doctor used some fancy gluing technique on your scalp so he didn’t have to shave any of your hair.”
With her free hand, Cordelia reached back to feel the sore spot on her head. The hair on either side of the wound felt like it was braided together. “It’s not like I haven’t had bald spots before now. At least there are no demon spawn involved this time.”
Finally getting to the question he’d been torturing himself with for the past few hours Angel smoothed his hand down her back as he asked her, “Did he try anything else?”
Despite the dark, Cordelia sensed the tension there. Though she was certain given more time and opportunity, Warren would have lived up to his creepy innuendoes, Cordelia was happy to report, “No. Warren was too focused on finding out what went wrong with his little invention. Angel, they were planning to create an online auction where you could sell anything… starting with Connor. They were going to sell him to the highest bidder and use the money to fund their scheme to take over Sunnydale.”
Angel knew part of it from what they’d said back at the Hyperion. “Did they have time to contact buyers?”
“No, they were too busy trying to keep me in line and look after the baby,” Cordelia let out a little satisfied sound.
“You’ve always been a handful,” Angel leaned in a little.
Releasing his hand, Cordelia crossed her arms in front of her as she sat back. “Don’t go there, buddy.”
“Just stating a fact,” he found himself grinning like an idiot at the thought of even trying to handle Cordelia. If anyone handled anybody around Angel Investigations, that shoe was definitely on the other foot.
“Remind me to take the PTB off my Christmas list,” Cordelia quickly redirected their conversation. “My visions aren’t always clear, but that one made me think you were a goner.”
Angel had his hand on her shoulder again, his thumb rubbing a little circle along her collarbone. Though aware of the fact, he just couldn’t seem to stop touching her as if he needed to reassure himself that she was okay. “Don’t worry about it. It’s over, for the most part. You’ve been through enough.”
Lifting her hand to cover his, Cordelia pulled it down to her lap holding it between her own. “You’d tell me if something had happened to Connor, right?”
“I caught Andrew as soon as he stepped out of the house,” Angel assured her with a squeeze of his hand. “Connor’s fine.”
A pause followed just before Cordelia asked, “What about you?” Letting go of Angel’s hand, she lifted both and started feeling for injuries despite the darkness.
Her hands slid along the sleeves of his leather jacket to grab onto the lapels and pull it from his shoulders. She was slowly moving her hands across his chest when Angel grabbed her wrists. “There’s just one minor thing.”
“Is that why you’ve been hiding out in the dark?” she asked him. “Let me see.”
Angel quickly told her, “There’s nothing to see.”
“Aaaaaaangel,” she complained knowing that he was hiding the truth.
He responded automatically, “Cor-de-li-aaaa,” somehow knowing he wasn’t going to win this one. There wasn’t really an easy way to tell someone you cared about that you were invisible.
“Turn on the lights,” Cordelia demanded.
“I need to explain first. This might be a shock,” he told her. “The weapon they used made me…”
Cordelia butted in before he could finish explaining, “Invisible? I wanna see.”
“You know?” Angel was the one reeling in shock. Finally, he reminded her, “There’s nothing to see.”
“Exactly,” Cordelia nodded her head. “I wanna feel what I’m not seeing.”
Angel released her wrists and then Cordelia felt the bed shift under his weight. A moment later a click sounded as he flipped the light switch causing her to squint for a second before slowly adjusting to the light. Cordelia saw Angel’s jacket draped next to her and the depression in the bed covers next to her where she could feel his thigh pressed against hers, but he was most definitely invisible.
“To quote my kidnappers…cool,” she grinned at him. Experimentally, Cordelia poked Angel’s chest with her finger. Her hands spread out to wander over the shape of his torso that she knew well enough from her stints as Florence Nightingale, but curiosity kept her going.
Tugging the edge of his shirt from his pants, Cordelia lifted it up only to frown a little as the skin underneath was invisible to her view. As her hand skimmed the cool skin of his taut abdominal muscles, she asked, “What’s it feel like?”
Those soft fingertips and rounded nails rasping across Angel’s flesh stirred up an automatic response that had him closing his eyes and imagining Cordelia was asking that question for an altogether different reason. The answer he gave was just as involuntary, “Good.”
A soft snort followed as Cordelia’s hand dropped down to his thigh, “Dork. I meant what’s it like to be invisible?”
Angel cleared his throat when the realization hit that he had spoken aloud. Finally, he commented, “There’s one interesting side effect. Daylight doesn’t burn me to a crisp.” Then he noticed Cordelia’s eyes had dropped down to her hand as it moved along the invisible stretch of his thigh. An octave lower than normal, he managed to sound out her name as her fingers moved a little higher than before, “Cordy.”
“Hmm?” Cordelia mumbled distractedly as her touch slid along the smooth threads of his trousers. Caught up somewhere between amusement at touching something that was invisible and the knowledge that it was Angel’s body beneath her fingertips, she couldn’t seem to stop.
“I think you’ve explored enough,” Angel’s voice sounded its husky complaint though he made no move to push her hand away.
Making no apology, Cordelia simply grinned and moved her hand to rest in her lap. More seriously, she asked Angel, “This isn’t permanent is it?”
“Fred and Wes will have it fixed in no time,” he certainly hoped that was the truth.
“Good, that’s good. It’s just…,” Cordelia trailed off, looking thoughtful.
Almost afraid to find out what she was thinking, Angel finally asked, “What?”
Cordelia’s mouth quirked into a smile of pure mischief, “This could be fun.”
A short rap sounded on the door followed immediately by the entry of Cordelia’s nurse into the room. Angel jumped off of the bed, displacing the blanket and making the metal siderails squeak.
“What was that?” the nurse blinked as she glanced around, her eyes sliding across Cordelia and the bed. At Cordelia’s shrug, she further commented, “I thought I heard voices.”
Letting out a little laugh, Cordelia told her, “That was me just talking to my invisible friend.”
“Mmm, hmm. People who have head injuries shouldn’t joke about invisible buddies coming to see them after visiting hours are over,” she set the jug of ice water down on Cordelia’s bedside table and moved toward the closed bathroom door where she obviously assumed the unseen visitor was hiding. Knocking twice, the nurse called out, “Don’t forget your jacket on the way out.”
Spike and Buffy sat side by side atop a large granite bench serving as a memorial marker along the edge of Sunnydale Cemetery. It bordered the adjacent woods where they just had a meeting with the Gorana Beast that had taken the Trio into custody.
It was weird, Buffy decided, how strangely familiar being around Spike seemed to be compared to her awkward meeting with Angel at the hospital. That rattled her more than she cared to admit. It looked like there was too much water under that bridge, after all. How did she define what was left behind, friendship? That thought alone was upsetting and she already had plenty of confusion in her life.
The Hellmouth remained her obligation and Angel’s was Los Angeles. He didn’t just survive there without her. Apparently, he had a whole life going on that she didn’t even know existed. Buffy longed for a life that had nothing to do with slaying, a normal life, but she’d always imagined it with Angel no matter the distance still separating them.
Then again, what was normal? Sitting in a cemetery with Spike after demony on-goings felt almost— comforting. The idea was jarring enough to rattle her.
“So what’d they do?” Spike asked for the first time as he lit up a cigarette.
Buffy gave him an annoyed look. She’d told him not to ask too many questions. “I’d rather not say.”
Pointing out, “It’s not too late to catch up with them. I could ask the nerds myself.”
Seeing that he wasn’t about to let this go, Buffy kept the explanation as simple as possible, “They took something that belonged to Angel.”
Thinking about it for a second or two as he took a deep drag from his cigarette, he gave a short nod, concluding, “The cheerleader, huh? Angel always gets in a snit when that happens.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothin’.” Spike wasn’t about to remind her of the whole Gem of Amarra fiasco.
Buffy coughed at the smoke fumes until Spike rolled his eyes at her exaggerated attempt at waving it out of her face. He put the cigarette out on the corner of the bench, pocketing the butt for later consumption. She asked him, “So, you think this will really work? They’re not gonna escape tomorrow are they?”
She wasn’t certain she could trust Spike or his beastly buddy despite the vampire’s assurances. A year of imprisonment away from all things technological would be akin to torture for the computer geeks. Just the mention of it had brought a look of dread to their faces, quickly followed by whining and begging for mercy.
“Not unless they want their entire mint condition Star Wars Action Figure collection destroyed,” an evil grin spread across Spike’s face. “I’ll be holding it as collateral.”
Seeing that Buffy was smiling at him for the first time in… ever, Spike took it as a good sign and continued, “‘Sides, if they can escape the clutches of a Gorana Beast, they deserve freedom.”
“It won’t kill them, will it?”
“Chauncey?” Spike was surprised Angel hadn’t handled that bit himself. “Nah! The old devil owes me a bundle in Kitten Poker. Figured I’d call in the favor. He’s the guardian of a Nestor demon lair somewhere off Route 66 and needs some help with a little manual labor. Amongst their other duties, the geeks will be shoveling demon goo on a daily basis.”
As Gunn pulled the car to a stop in the driveway at 1630 Revello Drive, Cordelia felt anxious. For the first time since leaving the hospital, she realized this was going to mean a reunion with the Scooby Gang. Knowing Buffy was alive was one thing, but actually seeing again was quite another.
“This place gives me the wiggins,” she grumbled and climbed out of the front seat.
A hand closed over hers, the touch cool, familiar and supportive. “C’mon, they don’t bite. Though I suggest you don’t turn your back on Dawn,” Angel joked.
“Ha! Dawn likes me,” Cordelia smirked as she remembered the way Buffy’s younger sister used to try to get her attention by asking for fashion advice and makeup tips. “Or she did until I started dating Xander, her hero by the way.”
“Not anymore,” Angel told her as they moved closer to the door. A little worry crept back into his tone, “Spike’s got that honor for the moment.”
“Eew! Well, there’s no accounting for taste,” Cordelia’s nose crinkled. “Then again, living dangerously runs in the family. Lucky thing you’re invisible; I can’t tell if you’re pouting over it.”
Angel apparently stopped in his tracks because he tugged her back toward him. “I don’t pout.”
“Pfft!” Cordelia reached up to pat his invisible shoulder. “You own the patent on it, Mister Broods-a-lot. If it’s any consolation, you’re my hero.”
His pleased, “Really?” was followed by Cordelia rolling her eyes.
Gunn stepped up beside them, a look of wry amusement on his face. “We goin’ in any time soon?”
Before she could answer, Cordelia saw the front door open. Dawn stepped onto the threshold. After staring at them in wide-eyed silence for three or four seconds, she yelled over her shoulder, “They’re here.”
Cordelia watched as Gunn walked past them into the house. She squeezed Angel’s hand, trying to bolster her courage to get this reunion over with. As soon as she dropped Angel’s hand, she felt his fingers slide up her arm until his palm cupped her cheek.
“Am I being a dork about this? Geez, I am.” Cordelia wished she could see his face. Those dark eyes often told her so much, when she could read them at all.
“Never,” he indulged her before saying what was on his mind. “Thank you again for doing what you did for Connor.” The depth of his sincerity sounded as he added, “As heroes go, you’re mine.”
“Angel, I—.” She started to protest that anyone would have done the same, but felt the brush of his lips across hers. Like a whisper across her mouth, the soft caress was there and gone.
A squeal sounded from the doorway, startling Cordelia whose heart was suddenly pounding in her chest. Fred ran out, arms open wide to engulf Cordelia in a tight hug. “How are you? Obviously you’re okay since the doctors released you, but are you sore, achy, in pain? That bruise looks painful. I could make you a poultice I used in Pylea… except I don’t have the ingredients. You need jangaroot and bushelberries and I just don’t know what would substitute for that.”
When Cordelia finally got a word in, she promised, “I’m fine, Fred. Where’s Connor?”
Cordelia gaped, “You left him with Anya? Fred, she’s a former Vengeance Demon.”
“Oh, well, hmm,” Fred bit her lip. “I-I’ll be right back.”
She rushed past Dawn who assured them, “Anya won’t hurt the baby. She’s trying to talk Xander into giving her one for Christmas.”
Snorting, Cordelia tried to imagine Xander as a father. Realizing it wasn’t quite such a funny thing as she originally thought, she commented, “As long as Anya doesn’t think they come gift-wrapped and placed under the tree.”
“No, I’m pretty sure she knows where babies come from,” Dawn sighed deeply. “It’s not like we don’t hear about it every day.”
“Poor you!” Cordelia laughed as she hugged Dawn. “Hi, Dawny. Maybe it’s better that I don’t ask for the details.”
Dawn assured her, “It’s very…educational.”
“What’s that Dawnster?” asked Xander as he pulled her out of the way to get to Cordelia. Then he saw the bluish-black bruise on her cheek and his smile faltered. “Oh, God! Your face. It’s—”
A low rumble of discontent sounded next to them.
“It’s not so bad,” corrected Xander quickly, “hardly noticeable. The good thing about bruises is that they go away. And you’re a girl… girls can use makeup.”
His backpedaling had Cordelia laughing, her smile so wide that her face did ache a little. “Nice try.”
They walked into the foyer where Wes greeted her with a smile and a long hug. “You look like a squirrel has been making a nest in your hair,” Cordelia told him. “Your Rogue Demon Hunter look is edging on scary Mountain Man. Did you sleep at all last night?”
“I think so, for an hour or two.” Wesley didn’t look so certain. “Researching this problem has proven rather interesting.”
Buffy piped up behind them, “You’ll have to wait a minute for the rest of us to say hello.”
Turning around slowly, Cordelia stared for a second before saying, “Hello, Buffy.”
“Hey, I’m glad you’re alive,” Cordelia commented awkwardly. When she felt Angel’s fingers threading through hers again, she leaned slightly into him.
“Yeah, you, too,” Buffy looked just as pained by the conversation.
Cordelia saw the Slayer’s eyes drop down to where her hand seemed to curl up against the air. When Buffy looked up again, she was staring at the open space that Angel filled with his invisible form. It was obvious that she knew Angel was standing next to her. Cordelia waited for Angel to say something, but he remained silent.
“We were in the middle of making dinner so, I’m just gonna…,” Buffy pointed toward the kitchen.
Buffy moved so rapidly, Cordelia only saw a flash sweeping out of the room as Willow took the opportunity to say hello. She reached in to hug Cordelia only to knock into Angel first. “Oh, Angel, you’re here. Of course, you are. Here, I mean. Just hugging, honest.”
“Here’s Connor,” Fred called out behind them.
Anya stood next to her looking rather perturbed. “There was no harm done. I was just holding him. Can I help it if the baby seems to like troll stories? He seemed very alert and interested in hearing about the end of the battle.”
Chuckling, Xander pointed out, “He’s a little young for that, An.”
Cordelia figured her stories couldn’t be any worse than the ones Angel made up for Connor when he thought no one was listening. She held out her arms toward the baby, simply telling Fred, “Gimme.”
“Me first,” Angel complained and reached in to lift Connor from Fred’s arms. “There’s my brave little man.”
Gunn, Fred and Wes walked back into the living room, quite used to the spectacle of the vampire cooing over his child. The fact that he was invisible and Connor seemed to be suspended in midair gave them a moment’s pause, but there were other things on their minds now that Cordelia and Conner were back in the fold. Cordelia nodded at Wes when he motioned toward the dining room where his research was set up. His haggard appearance and impatient body language suggested whatever he had to say was going to be a doozy.
The sound of baby talk coming from the former Scourge of Europe caused quite a different reaction from Willow, Xander and Dawn. Slack-jawed, they stood staring at the sight as Connor bounced in the air. A toothless smile brightened his face, little legs kicking happily at the sound of his father’s voice. Cordelia had to laugh at their stunned faces and was suddenly sorry that Buffy had left the room.
“It’s my turn, you greedy vampire,” Cordelia complained as she motioned with her hands. “Give me Connor and let’s go see what Wes has to say to you before he has a coronary.”
Cordelia snuggled the baby in her arms and closed her eyes for a moment. Relief at having him back safe washed over her like a rainfall. He’d come into their lives so suddenly. While Cordelia hated his mother for her influence on Angel, she never once resented Connor’s presence. Maybe there was a slight twinge of jealousy or a little bit of hurt when Angel was so over-protective that he wouldn’t accept any help, even from her, but that hadn’t lasted long.
The nape of her neck prickled as Cordelia got the sensation of being watched closely. It didn’t take much imagination to figure out who it was. “What is it, Angel?”
A hasty, “Nothing,” returned.
“Pfft! Yeah, right,” Cordelia’s disbelief was apparent.
“I was just… thinking.”
Moving to take a seat at the dining room table, Xander cut in, “Don’t strain yourself, Dead Boy.”
A responding growl sounded so low that Cordelia was certain she was the only one to pick it up. Xander’s old nickname for Angel was a reminder of graveyard patrols and long nights of research in the library. “So what’s on your mind? It’s obviously not the nothing you say it is.”
“No, it’s something,” he admitted. “Just something that should wait.”
“Because it should.”
Wes cleared his throat. “Perhaps this is a good time to move on to the important topics of the day?”
“I’m back,” announced Buffy as she arrived carrying a tray of sandwiches and a bag of potato chips. “What’d I miss?”
Xander and Willow chimed in, “Nothing.”
Cordelia suspected it was a lot more than nothing. She wasn’t alone in that thinking, either. Before Anya, Dawn or Fred could correct them, Wesley informed Buffy, “I was about to tell Angel and Cordelia the findings of my research.”
“Just in time, then. Dealing with the Trio, I missed most of that myself,” Buffy said as she put the tray down on the only clear spot on the table.
“What’s to know? Just uninvisiblize him, already,” Cordelia gestured toward the ray gun that lay upon the table.
Adjusting his glasses, Wes looked toward Fred who smiled encouragingly and then shrugged, switching to a nervous frown. Cordelia wasn’t sure what all the silent signals meant, but it had to be trouble. Nothing was ever as simple as pushing a button.
“I’m afraid I have to recommend we delay reversing the invisibility process,” Wesley said as he squared his shoulders.
Less than pleased, Angel demanded. “Why?”
“Whilst I have every reason to believe that another exposure to the light beam will restore you to a visible wavelength,” Wes informed him, “I am concerned that doing so will have further side-effects.”
Wes touched his hand to the metallic casing as he explained, “The power source for the Invisibility Ray is actually an ancient mystical stone.”
“Jonathan found it in a junk shop,” Cordelia offered up what little information she had gleaned.
“The magick from the stone overloaded the electro-mechanics of the ray gun.” Fred reached for one of the sandwiches. “A new circuit pathway was accidentally created during the overload, turning the destructive laser beam into diffused lightwaves.”
Xander, munching on a handful of potato chips, gave a dramatic shout, “Presto! Invisible vamp.”
“What other effects, Wes?” Cordelia had heard the concern in his voice just as Angel had and wasn’t about to let it drop.
Telling them of the trip to the carnival and their meeting with the old gypsy fortune teller, Madame Bosha, he further explained, “We were told to look for the Eye of Dakronn to reveal the truth.”
“Truth about what?” Cordelia had to ask.
Fred shrugged cluelessly in response. “She was kinda cryptic.”
“So the power source,” Angel concluded, “is the Eye.”
“Yes,” Wesley nodded, “though it took me ages to verify it. The Eye of Dakronn is an ancient relic of the Kalderash Romany.”
Cordelia’s eyes darted toward Angel. She could feel his tension despite not being able to see him. Across the table, Buffy squirmed in her chair as she remembered, “Jenny Calendar was Kalderash.”
“Wes has a theory,” Fred’s excitement showed in her eyes as she met Cordelia’s gaze across the table.
“Actually, you might say that it is Lorne’s theory,” corrected Wes. “Angel, do you remember Lorne’s reaction to you before we left for Sunnydale? He said—”
“There was something different about me.”
Cordelia gestured in Angel’s direction, “Hello, invisibility!”
“No, he said it was something else.”
Wes and Fred exchanged glances again, which drove Cordelia to demand, “Just say it.”
“Lorne believes Angel’s soul is now permanent.”
“What?” Cordelia heard her own question echoed several times over. Nobody except Fred was in on this part of the discovery, apparently.
Angel sounded just as surprised, “How? Are you saying the Trio’s ray gun did this?”
“Not precisely,” corrected Wes rubbing a hand across his mouth and stubbled jaw. “I believe Lorne knows what he’s talking about. He wouldn’t say it if he hadn’t given it a lot of thought.”
“He’s got but-face,” Willow pointed out to Cordelia suggesting that was a bad thing.
“But,” Wesley added ignoring Willow’s interruption, “we remain uncertain as to the cause. Madame Bosha hinted that the Eye of Dakronn would reveal truth. She said nothing to indicate that it would have this kind of effect.”
Angel let out a harsh laugh, irony weighing heavily in his voice as he asked, “What is it that really has you worried?”
“If the Eye did nothing more than shed it’s proverbial light on the subject of your curse,” Wes shrugged, “then using the ray gun to reverse your invisible condition will mean nothing. We could reverse the process without any untoward effects.”
Cordelia realized what Wes was going to say next. The idea of it frightened her as much as the other news had given her hope. Wes held up a finger in point of case, “However, if the Eye’s power had something to do with cementing your soul in place, I fear exposing you to its power again might strip the soul away entirely.”
“So Angel has to stay invisible,” Cordelia took in a deep breath and let it out in one short huff. “There are worse things to be. Just think of the perks.”
Angel’s mouth was close to her ear, “Have some in mind?”
“Duh!” Cordelia slapped at his chest. “No more Angelus.”
Wesley’s quandary had kept him searching for other clues, but his resources here were limited. Combined with what he had back at the Hyperion, they might provide some extra data. Unfortunately, he had to tell them, “The fact is that we know very little about the methods the Kalderash used to invoke the original curse. We have only a variation of it that Willow has used before.”
“What about this Madame Botox?” asked Cordelia as she switched Connor from one arm to the other. “She seems to be a know-it-all. Maybe she can tell you more.”
“Lorne called about an hour ago,” Fred told her ruefully.
Then Wesley revealed what he had to say, “Madame Bosha has closed up her shop on the boardwalk. There was an envelope taped to the window addressed to Angelus.”
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