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When I Had Laid It On The Floor

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Halloween, 2001

Angel throws open the sewer door and tosses his bloodied axe into the basement. He lifts his blood-soaked scabbard over his head, and checks the hilt of his broadsword. It’s cracked away from the sword’s tang, but he thinks he can fix it. He props it just inside, grabs hold of the Eben demon’s wattle and hauls it into the Hyperion’s basement.

It’s dead, for now, but won’t stay that way until he performs the incantation necessary to dispose of it. He’s pissed and tired and all he wants is a hot shower, a bag of blood, and- although it’s only been All Hallow’s Eve an hour or so- this day over with already. Dropping the demon on its face, Angel trudges upstairs and into the dark lobby of the Hyperion.

Without turning on a light, he rummages under the counter, collecting emergency candles and the big container of Morton’s salt for the spell he researched earlier. He moves into the office to gather the herbs he needs. The lighter’s on his desk and he reaches for it, knocking most everything over with the soggy sleeve of his jacket. Unopened bills and half-finished case files cascade to the floor.

He sighs, sets the candles and salt on one of the leather chairs in front of the desk, stuffs the herbs in his jacket pocket, and picks up the mail and papers from the floor. He shuffles them together into a pile and pulls open the top drawer to stuff them in.

Cordelia’s smiling up at him, from the framed picture he couldn’t bear to look at anymore.

Angel reaches in and strokes the wooden frame. He looks at himself, on one side of her, and Wes on the other. He and Wes are both smiling, but their eyes are on Cordy. Today is a year. He’s blind without Cordy. And he misses Wes helping him with these stupid spells.

There’s a thump downstairs, and when he listens, the Eben’s heart is racing. Something clatters and Angel remembers his weapons. He groans. He’s exhausted without Gunn at his side. A thud reverberates up through the floor and into his legs. He slams the drawer shut, scoops up the candles and salt, and goes to kill the damn thing yet again.

He braces himself as he rounds the bottom basement step. He’s expecting the swing of the axe and he ducks, the air whistling as the metal passes his ear. Dropping the candles and salt, Angel tackles the Eben around the waist. The ax smacks Angel’s hip as it falls from the demon’s grip. The demon hits him with a two-fisted blow between his shoulder blades and Angel’s arms open.

They both scrabble up, their feet sliding in the spilled salt. A candle snaps under Angel’s boot and his foot flies forward. He twists, trying to turn the fall into a leap that will take the demon down with him, but the Eben sweeps its leg out and hits both Angel’s legs at the calves. Angel plummets to the concrete floor onto his back.

He scissors his legs, arches his body and springs up, but he’s given the Eben too much time. The candle wax sticks under his boots as he tries to spin. The demon’s first blow hits Angel at the base of his neck, just above his shoulders and puts him on his knees. The second blow drives his hands down; the Hyperion seems to shiver beneath his palms.

Stunned, he is unable to rise, and unwilling to fall.

The salt is gritty under his fingertips. He can see every individual grain. A shattered candle lies between his spread hands, its wick exposed. Blood drips from a cut above his eye, trickles down the plane of his nose and gathers at the tip. The drop of blood falls so slowly that Angel watches it bell at its heavy bottom. It strikes the wick, ringing in his ears like metal on concrete.

*

He wakes at the foot of the basement stairs, surprised he’s alive to do so. He rolls over and sits up, waiting for his shoulders to protest. When they don’t in particular, he climbs to his feet and starts up.

His body’s had time to heal. He stretches his arms up and rotates his shoulders. Even his fatigue has lifted, a weight he’s grown so used to; he feels physically lighter without it weighing him down.

The desk top lamp throws a welcoming path of light across the lobby. He can almost pretend Cordy’s in there, swinging her foot and flipping through the latest issue of Elle while she waits for him. He hesitates in the doorway for a few seconds, but then pushes through his memories and into the room.

Angel peels off his jacket and snags Cordy’s picture out of the drawer as he sinks down onto the office chair. It gives and creaks under his weight. He’s surprised to see the clock reads just after one in the morning; he’d been certain he’d lost an entire day. If it’s still Halloween, he should remember her in some way. Carefully, he stands the picture frame up. There’s a bottle of bourbon in the second drawer down, collecting dust since she died.

He spins and grabs two shot glasses from the shelf behind him. He doesn’t wipe them, just blows in each as he sets them down next to the bottle, uncorks the bourbon, and pours a shot into each. He hesitates, thinking he should lay out two more, but that doesn’t feel right to him. He was there at Buffy and Darla’s deaths during the year. He knows…he knows every moment.

But Cordelia. He can’t get right with that; can’t make it make sense. A car wreck in the rain. No witnesses. That doesn’t work for him. It never will. He lifts his glass and taps hers. “God rest your soul, Cordelia Chase,” he says into the still air, and drinks his shot.

If the Eben had finished him, he could be drinking it with her. Without her and the rest of his team, the mission is hollow. He pours another shot, taps her glass, and throws it back. He’d been careless tonight, not on his game; he’d let his depression direct him. Now the Eben’s back out there on the streets.

He reaches over and drinks Cordy’s shot. She wouldn’t want to be drinking with him after that screw-up anyway. He’s glad the Powers saw fit to spare him once more. He has to die a good death before he sees her again, an honorable death, a redeeming death. It’s the only reason he continues to fight.

Out front, the courtyard doors rattle. Angel tilts his head, waiting. There’s no wind tonight. Kids, he figures, breaching what they think is an abandoned hotel.

The doors rattle again and someone’s knocking. They can see the light, he realizes.

As he approaches the door, a cold draft envelopes him. It almost has weight. It’s gone before he can really decipher the sensation, and then he’s slapping back the dead bolts and opening the door to the single male he knows is standing there.

The guy stops in mid-knock, his fist raised. “Um,” he says. He’s forty, maybe, lanky and dark. A Submariner Rolex on his left wrist, below the rolled cuffs of his custom shirt. Italian leather belt. Dress shoes.

Angel raises his brows.

The man’s gaze travels over Angel’s blood-stained shirt. “Is this 1481? The Hyperion?”

Angel nods.

He points his finger at Angel’s shirt and traces the blood spatter. “Is that…” he says, but then he chuckles and touches his own forehead. “You had me there. Great make-up.” He glances over his shoulder, into the courtyard and then focuses again on Angel. “I just wanted to make sure Cordelia got in okay. I was going to bring her all the way, but I stopped up the street for coffee, and when I came back to the car, she was gone.”

He leans forward on his toes, trying to look past Angel, but as he does, his fear rises, overflowing as a savorous cold sweat. He steps back. “Is she here?

Angel’s brain seems slow. He can’t understand what this man’s asking. “Cordelia?”

The man steps back again, his mouth turning down and his eyebrows going up. He raises his hands, palms forward. “Look, man…”

“Cordelia Chase?”

“Yeah, man, I think that’s what she said. I don’t know her, I just picked her up…”

Angel stops himself from going through the door.

“I mean, she was standing outside this party I was at in Los Feliz, and y’know, at the end of the drive, and I asked her, did she need a ride, and she said yes, and gave me this address, but then y’know, I stopped for coffee, because I live…” He swallows, his hands still up. “Y’know, I live out in the OC. But then she was gone and y’know, I just wanted to see if…”

“What did she look like?”

“Um, brunette, really, really pretty hair, thick you know?”

Angel lifts his fist and the man drops his right shoulder, thinking he can duck away. As if.

“Like, um, five-seven, eight, brown eyes. Curves. Gorgeous.” He shrugs, his eyes shifting from Angel to the outside stairs as he thinks. “Um, curves?”

“Cordelia Chase is dead. She died last year.”

“Okay. Okay, man. Someone’s playing a joke on you then, but not me, I swear.”

Angel runs through people in his head. Lilah would be his number-one pick, but she’s not curvy. Not like that. She could’ve hired a Cordy look-alike, though. “If you see her again? Send her my way.”

“Okay. Can I go?”

Angel sweeps his arm at the courtyard gates, standing ajar, and the man scurries away.

He stands outside on the porch for a long time, his hands in his pockets, trying to convince himself the man hadn’t smelled like Cordy.

 

Halloween, 2002

 

An echoing crash from the lobby has Angel on the second floor balcony in seconds. The front doors are still rebounding against the walls. Wesley’s face is turned upward, his mouth open, seeking him. There’s blood on Wesley’s cheek and a crossbow in his hands.

A girl pushes past him. “Billy came this way, I know it.” She’s short and slender. Cocoa-skinned. Her hair swings in an arc when she turns back towards Wesley. “Is that his blood on your face?”

“No.”

“Did Billy touch you?”

“No, Jessica,” Wes says, his tone irritable.

She frowns at him.

“Go check the office and the kitchen. Through there,” he says, pointing with the bow. “I’ll check the courtyard.”

Wesley still hasn’t seen him. Angel walks down the stairs and onto the landing just inside the courtyard doors. He recognizes the two men Wesley is huddled with on the porch as part of his crew. Wes sends them off in different directions.

The hair on Angel’s neck stands up. Someone’s watching him. He steps back, and catches movement at the top of the stairs. He pelts up in pursuit, hearing the girl run into the lobby.

“Wesley!” she shouts. “Upstairs!”

Angel concentrates on the chase. The man in front of him runs nearly silently. He’s got a funky, erratic pulse that sounds like it’s on mute. He’s nearly odorless. He’s having fun. Billy, Angel assumes. He’s headed into the back hall, where the service elevator doors stand open, the cables disappearing into darkness.

Angel can cut him off. He skids into the threshold of the cross hall, leaving Jessica and Wesley on the balcony.

“Jessica! Where is he?”

“Here,” Jessica shouts to Wesley from near the end of the hall. Good. Angel can trap Billy between himself and them. Then Wesley can explain what the hell is going on.

He collides with Billy at the intersection, and they both go down rolling, arms and legs in a tangle. They hit the hall wall between elevators with a tremendous thud.

Jessica screams.

“Get out of the way,” Wesley demands, angry.

Angel draws back and then bashes his head forward into Billy’s. Billy’s head rocks and his eyes widen, but he smiles.

“This should be good,” he says.

Angel frees one hand and hits him in the ribs.

There’s a click and the displacement of air and Angel’s bicep lights up in burning pain. There’s a wooden bolt sticking out from it.

“You bitch!” Wesley growls.

Angel grimaces, and swings his fist again. Billy twists and grunts under him, turning. Angel can see Wes; his bow is aimed at Jessica, whose crossbow is re-loaded, and pointed at him and Billy.

Angel punches Billy again and rips himself from Billy’s grip, flailing up, drawing Wesley’s attention from Jessica. He opens his mouth, to yell at the girl. The word RUN explodes in his brain instead as Billy catches him hard under the jaw; his teeth clack together, and then Billy’s rising under him, clawing, thrashing, throwing him off.

He rolls. The bolt catches on the carpet. Angel yanks his arm up, and falls backwards, into the elevator shaft. He somersaults, and snatches at the cables, but can’t even feel them, let alone grab them. Dim light flashes on his face and not fifteen feet down, his feet hit first. His knees absorb the force, but then something rolls under his feet and he ends up on his butt, sitting on top of the elevator box. He feels around and comes up with the bolt.

He throws it at the wall and stands.

The light is peeking from the open door above his head. He leaps into the second floor hall. Wesley and Jessica aren’t near, but he can hear doors being opened. There’s resentment in the air, and the slow boil of petulance.

He follows the demon’s uncertain scent, only now tainted with fear.

When Angel catches up again, on the third floor, he doesn’t fool around. He runs headlong into a flying tackle onto Billy’s back, crashing them both through a moldering hallway door into one of the suites. Billy’s silent, but stinks of terror.

Angel snatches at Billy’s shirt, wrenches him up, and tosses him away again. The floor shakes.

Wes is bellowing. The Hyperion is pounding with a pulse of footsteps and heartbeats and shouts. Wes’s crew is on the stairs. Billy crawls up onto all fours and then stands on shaky legs. Angel’s listening to Wes, coming down the hall. Currents of fury wash off Wes in waves that lap at Angel and hold him still.

Angel stands ready, but he’ll let Wes take Billy if he can. Billy stumbles back, into the connecting room, his hands out. Wesley rams into him, and they fall. The rotten floor splits open under them. Angel moves and grabs. There’s bits of carpet backing and drywall and an arm in his hands, but Wesley’s still falling.

He jerks Billy up and twists his neck viciously, without thought, not aware he has until the snap-crackle penetrates into his brain, more vibration through his fingers than sound. He flings Billy sideways with one hand, at the same time stretching with his other, reaching for Wesley’s out-flung hand…and catches it.

Wesley swings down, nearly dislocating Angel’s shoulder in the process. Angel grunts and shifts fully onto his belly, bracing himself on the crumbling edge. He tugs and pulls. Wes kicks up like a swimmer against the air, until his other hand lands next to Angel’s face.

Wesley’s face is red with exertion and outrage. Angel nearly drops him when he snarls, “Fucking cunt shot you.”

“I’m okay, Wes,” he manages to say.

“There’s no place for bitches in this business.”

He’s saying the words, but his eyes are tortured. Angel has no idea what’s going on. He grabs the back of Wes’s shirt and heaves him up. He’s shaking. Angel wraps his arms around him and holds on.

*

Feet on his desk, Angel tips back in his chair, considering the color of the rye whiskey in his glass. He’s letting his insides consider most of the rest of the bottle for him. Wes is on the floor, propped up against the bookcases, his chin on his chest, his eyes half-closed. A leather-bound copy of The Book of Kells is open on his lap.

He looks up sharply, as if a thought has just occurred to him. Angel waits, but Wes is having trouble making his lips form the right shapes. Angel goes back to figuring out if the rye is the color of oak or mahogany.

“Why…didn’t Billy’s blood affect you? Affect Angelus?” Wes finally says.

Angel swivels a little in his chair. He leans his head back and considers the color of the ceiling instead, sifting through all that Wesley’s told him in the past hour. The fact that the ceiling’s not white, but off-white makes thinking of it as white a problem. Kinda like Billy not being a real boy. Kinda like Angel himself. He sighs, thinking of how Billy’s blood did nothing more to him than sharpen his senses and pump up his reactions.

“It sounds like Billy was all about the anger, Wes. He got off on watching it. For me, it was all about the pleasure. And the pain.” He swivels again in his chair. Back and forth, choosing his words. “There’s no anger left in me, Wes, or hate. It all burned out a long time ago.”

Wes doesn’t reply. Angel lifts his head to check on him. Wesley’s fingers are tracing the ornate Latin scrolls of the page under them. Angel drops his head back and shifts to figuring out just what color the ceiling could be called. Cordy would have known. Two years ago today. Wes turns the page in his book. Thank you, Angel thinks, for not letting me lose another.

The swing of the outside door catches him by surprise. He’s on his feet, though, and snatching up his short sword from beside the office door even as he registers a single, thumping beat and a deep, male voice calls, “Angel?”

He slows himself as he steps out into the dark lobby, into the cold draft blowing in. It caresses his neck and sends a chill down his back that tickles right down into his balls. His hackles rise. A stocky man is peering through the gloom, leaning into the entrance, one hand still on the door. Angel watches the man find his bulk and focus.

“Angel?”

“Yes,” he says and walks forward, still on the balls of his feet. It’s late, after midnight already, but the hopeless come knocking at all hours, don’t they? “I’m Angel.”

The man comes on in, but stays on the top step, leaving the door open behind him. He’s big and reeks of law enforcement. “Is this the old Hyperion Hotel?”

“It is.”

Wes is standing behind him now, between the office and the reception counter. His heart is a rapid, light counter beat to the cop’s pounding bass. Angel’s glad to have him at his back again.

“I picked up a girl, a little while ago. She was hitching down on Los Feliz and I couldn’t just leave her out there.”

Jessica, Angel thinks. Was that what happened to Wesley’s crew after they left him to his madness?

“Yeah,” the cop says, when Angel doesn’t say anything. Sweat beads up on his upper lip and temples. He licks his lips. His right hand is hovering near his hip. Angel can smell the oil on the gun tucked at his back. “She asked me to bring her here, I think. 1481, right?”

Angel nods. Not Jessica. She wouldn’t be coming back.

“Said she needed Angel. You’re a PI, right?”

“Sometimes.”

“Yeah, I seen you around before Katie lost it.”

“Where is she?”

“Katie?”

“No, the girl you picked up.”

He’s looking over Angel’s shoulder now, scanning the room, the staircases. His eyes stutter over the weapons cabinet. “I don’t know, man, that’s why I came in. I got out of the car to walk her up to the door, and she just disappeared on me. Thought maybe she went around back or something.”

Angel’s chest hollows out and drops three stories into his belly, landing like lead. His feet are carrying him across the lobby, even though he feels like he’s standing still. He stops below the cop. “What was her name?”

“Cordelia, I think she said. I didn’t ask for ID. I’m off-duty.”

“Angel,” Wes says.

“I know her,” Angel says, cutting Wesley off in mid-thought. “Brunette? Brown eyes, five-seven, curvy.”

“Yeah, that’s her,” the cop says.

“She may have gone on into the courtyard, we usually meet out there. I’ll find her.”

“I didn’t even hear her door shut; don’t know how I couldn’t have seen her.”

“The wind’s really blowing tonight,” Wesley offers. His voice is amazingly calm and a sharp stab of love spears right through Angel’s reserve. “Better check to make sure she closed it good before you drive off and it opens on you.”

The cop’s mouth turns down. He cocks his head and squints at Wesley, like he hadn’t noticed him standing there before. “Well, you tell her hitching’s dangerous. She got lucky, tonight.”

“We will,” Angel says, trotting up the steps, his arm out in an ushering motion. The cop backs away, turning into the open door as Angel rushes him. “Thank you.”

He’s outside now, retreating. “You’re welcome.”

“Good night,” Angel says. He notices that although it is windy out, as Wesley said, it’s Santa Ana wind. It’s warm.

“Good night,” the cop calls over his shoulder.

Angel closes the door. He bolts it and then puts his forehead on it, his eyes closed.

Wes shuffles his feet and sets the Book of Kells down with an audible thunk on the reception counter. Angel can feel his interest revving into gear. “Angel?” he says.

Angel thumps his head on the door and then turns, leaning back on it.

They are silent. Even though they have been estranged these past two years, the bond remains intact. Angel hadn’t expected that. Wes waits for him to collect his thoughts.

“Last year, an OC yuppie said he picked her up outside a party and she gave him this address. Disappeared when he went into the coffee shop. I thought…” Angel clears his throat, acknowledging the red thread of hate that tries to strangle his vocal cords, and the lie buried in his soothing words to Wes not ten minutes ago. “I thought Wolfram and Hart was just yanking my chain.”

“When was this?”

“Same night.”

“All Hallow’s Eve. You don’t think…”

“That Cordelia needs me?” Angel drags himself to the round chaise and sits. The whiskey seems like a bad idea now. He pinches the bridge of his nose and the ache forming there. “Yeah, Wes, I do.”

“Lilah…”

“He smelled like her. And so does the cop.”

“Angel, I witnessed her cremation. I actually, well, I actually checked before they slid her into the oven. To make sure it was really her. I know of no spell or incantation or any form of… of… anything that could bring her back from ashes.”

“Wes, I know you’re sleeping with her.”

“Cordelia? Angel!” His tone is deep with censure.

“Lilah, Wes. You’re all over each other.”

Wes hangs his head, his mouth flattening. He’s had laser surgery on his eyes and the scruffy beard he’s sporting suits him. He’s grown into his manhood, walks with a confidence he didn’t own two years ago.

Angel’s seen him at work with his crew. Wes is a leader; he’s earned it. Angel doesn’t blame Lilah one bit for seeing the sense of gathering Wes in under her manicured thumb. But Wesley’s his, when it’s all said and done, and Angel knows now that’s never going to change.

Angel flaps one hand at him, dismissing Wes’s withdrawal. “Just…ask her, will you, Wes? Keep it subtle.”

Wes straightens, pulling his shoulders back, and meets Angel’s eyes. “I will, Angel. Cordy meant a lot to both of us, I won’t let her be used like this.” He checks his watch. “However, it’s too late to call Lilah casually and…” He looks up. “I have an idea we can research. Shall I make coffee?”

“I will,” Angel says.

*

The coffee’s strong, and hot. The heat slithers into his belly. Angel hasn’t thought to make coffee in a long time. He was surprised to find beans still in the office. He places Wes’s cup down, settles across from him at the counter, and drinks. He rotates one of the open books Wes has spread out and skims the page. The coffee fans out in his system and warms his muscles. His hunger stretches and stirs.

He doesn’t bother to keep blood on hand anymore. He feeds when he thinks about it, stealing small amounts. Another thing he’s forgotten: the feel of the beat and breath of one person. Two or more creates a cacophony he can shut out, but one… He tends to listen.

Wes’s heartbeat is fast and soft. Angel can’t even pick out the murmur he knows is there. He still smells faintly of stress and sweat. His breath is shallow. Angel wonders if his ribs hurt. Wes seems to feels the shift of Angel’s attention to him. He yawns loudly and flips a book closed, then picks up another and drops it in front of Angel.

Angel sees the theme immediately. “A ghost?” he says. “C’mon, Wes, the hitch-hiking ghost story? Even if it were true, Cordy’s anything but trite.”

“It fits, Angel. She died on Halloween on Hillhurst at Los Feliz Boulevard. She gives the driver her name and an address, and now your name. She seems as real as a living person to them. And she leaves something behind.”

“Her scent.”

“Yes. In the classic tale, the girl disappears or is dropped off at the cemetery she’s buried in, but in variations, she’s taken home. While she didn’t technically live here, I don’t think it can be denied that at one time we all felt at home here.”

The Hyperion was, undeniably, home from the start. Cordy and Wes had had their reasons for wanting their own spaces, not the least of which, he was sure, was the tendency of Angel’s homes to become targets of destruction.

But there’s something else.

Angel taps his fingers on the book, embarrassed.

“I didn’t mean to assume…”

“No. It’s just, I kind of…Cordy’s here, Wes.”

He looks comically surprised, and half-stands, looking past Angel, up the stairs.

“No. Not here.”

Wes frowns and sits, confused. “I don’t understand.”

“I kind of stole her. Her ashes. I scattered her in the courtyard.”

“Angel!” Wes says, standing again. His mouth works but nothing comes out. He darts around the counter, crosses the lobby, trots up the steps, opens the glass doors onto the courtyard and disappears into the night.

Angel watches him go, and then turns back to the books. Here’s the Lexington Ghost, and the Chicago Ghost, and here’s the Ballad of The Suffolk Wonder, a hoary song already when he was young, about the ghost who gave his love a horseback ride of forty miles when he was already a month in the grave. The only ghosts Angel’s ever run up against have been too fleshless for horseback riding. Even the horses have been fleshless. He sighs and drains his coffee.

“Is there anyone else out here I should know about?” Wes asks from the doorway.

Angel keeps flipping pages, looking for the good stuff, what to do to call a ghost forth. He wants to know what happened to Cordy. If she’s around, he might as well ask in person. If she’s tied to Wolfram and Hart, a summoning spell might reveal information he can use to get to her.

“I say, Angel, it’s rather grimy in here.”

“It is not,” Angel says, but when he turns to refute Wesley’s observation, the lobby is lit up by the lights over the reception counter. The red and green floor tile is streaked with black dirt. Leaves have blown in and settled in the curves of the steps and even along the bottom of the round chaise.

The chaise itself looks older than he remembers, and patchy, faded from the sun. There are small circular blooms of black mold along the back. The banister of the staircase is dull and the carpet along the steps is actually torn part way up. Tattered. Dark with stains.

“I don’t usually come down during the day,” he says in his defense.

“And you don’t turn on the lights at night?”

Angel shrugs. Why would he? He only reads in the office or in his room.

“You didn’t answer, is there anyone else out here? Darla?”

“Scattered her off Big Sur.”

“And…”

Angel shakes his head. He won the argument to have Buffy cremated, but Dawn wanted her buried next to Joyce and Angel left her there.

He gets up, his legs restless. Hs chest feels tight. He puts his hands in his pockets and surveys the filth. The place really does need a good cleaning. “Maybe you’d like to work out of here, Wesley. I could stay out of your way.”

Looking grim, Wesley closes the doors and then sits on the top step. “I’m not sure I have a crew anymore, Angel. Thank you, again, for helping me corner Billy here. If he’d escaped… I can’t imagine. His affect on men… ”

Wesley’s staring at his feet. Angel’s been there, so he keeps his mouth shut, leaving the invitation open.

“Let’s do something that would affect a ghost.” Wesley says, jumping up. He comes back to Angel’s side and scans the books. He closes three of them, stacking them to one side, before he finds the one he wants. “We’ll do a simple summoning spell. I need salt and candles. Have you got sage? And dallywort?”

“The herbs are in the office, where they’ve always been,” Angel says, already searching for the salt. He hasn’t actually used the candles since some time last year. “I have extra salt and candles in the basement, I’ll be right back.”

“Where’s the…ah, here it is,” Wes says from the office, his voice muffled.

Angel bursts through the basement door and down the stairs. He knows the case of salt is to the right, sitting on a pallet near the hotel’s furnace to keep it dry. He bounds off the bottom stair into the room and stops dead.

A round carton of Morton’s lies on its side, the salt spilled out in a sweeping heap. Candles are scattered around it, some crushed to pieces.

A cool draft swirls up, wrapping itself around his legs, over his waist, around his chest. It strokes his cheek and runs fingers through his hair. His axe, crusted in black blood, lies on the concrete floor in a drift of sooty ashes.

He follows the smear of black that trails from the ashes to the open sewer door, where his broadsword is lying next to his back scabbard. The scabbard is greenish white, covered in mold.

“Angel?” Wes calls from the lobby. “Did you…” He pauses, sounding strange and breathless. “Did you have any luck?”

Too fast, his pulse. And soft, so soft, Angel can’t hear his murmur. He remembers Wes’s faint counter-beat to the cop’s pounding rhythm. He takes a deep breath, trying to soak Wesley in.

He should be on Angel’s clothes and skin. There’s nothing but the Hyperion there.

“Wesley,” he says. He thinks his own heart might explode, it hurts so much.

Angel takes the stairs four at a time, following Wesley’s beat. Leaves crackle under his feet, loud as gunshots as he hurtles up the lobby stairs. He pounds down to the end of the hall and stops to listen. Wesley’s echoing, between here and the office.

Angel decides to start on the third floor, work backwards from Billy. Up the next flight, the interior stairs, the walls leaning in tight, dust and mold filling his nose.

Onto the next floor. This is right, and Wesley’s pulse, rapid and louder. His scent is stronger. There’s blood. Angel body slams doors and overturns chairs and dressers in his rush. He can’t remember exactly where – but he knows he was up here. With Wesley. Five rooms before he finds the right one, hinges torn off, a crushed door on the floor.

Billy’s sprawled in the doorway of the connecting room. His head is at the wrong angle and his eyes are glazed over.

“Wesley!” Angel shouts.

There’s the gaping hole in the floor beyond Billy. Angel springs over him and looks down through it. Wesley is lying on his back in the center of the ruined room below, one leg twisted beneath him, his arms splayed wide.

“God damn it!”

Angel drops through the hole, and onto his knees beside him. “Wes,” he says. Although he can hear it, Angel fumbles his fingers up under Wesley’s jaw and feels for his pulse. It’s fast but steady.

There’s blood on his face and his leg, but no puddles, no bleed out. Angel touches him, feels his limbs and straightens his leg. His cell phone’s underneath his foot. He doesn’t wake. Angel’s pushing buttons on the phone, trying to see if it has power when Wesley walks into the room through the second floor doorway in front of him.

Angel’s eyes widen. Maybe he’s stark, raving. Maybe Wes’ll just stake him and end it.

Instead Wesley crouches beside him.

“That one,” Wesley says, pointing at the End button.

Angel grasps the safety line of action. “That says End, I want to start it up.”

“Illogical, isn’t it?”

Angel hits the button and the phone hums in his hand. “911?”

Wesley glances at his body and back to Angel, his eyes dark. Angel can practically see the shadows of big thoughts breaching in them.

Angel shakes his head. “The world still needs you, Wes,” he says and punches the necessary buttons. Before he can over think it, he adds, “The mortgage is drafted out of my accounts, it should be paid up current. And my will’s in the office safe. There’s a guy, down on Pico, who’ll do you a death certificate. The Hyperion’s yours.”

Wes frowns. “Where are you going, Angel?”

An operator says, “911, what is your emergency?”

Angel stands, holding the tiny phone to his ear. He crosses his other arm over his chest and tucks his hand into his armpit. He’s cold. “I need an ambulance, 1481 Hyper…”

“Hello? What is your emergency?”

“I need an ambulan…”

“I’m tracing your call. If you are in immediate need of assistance please tap on the phone.”

Angel taps on the speaker once with his finger.

“If you can help us with your location…”

“The Hyperion…”

“Are you in a vehi…”

Wesley’s hand moves- the Wesley on the floor. Angel glances over to see Wesley’s reaction, but he’s not there. He rotates, taking in the room, but he’s gone. Wesley on the floor, however is waking up. Angel drops again, and takes Wesley’s hand. “Hey. Hey, Wes.”

He shifts his head and groans. His eyes creak open. “Angel,” he whispers.

“Tell her where you are,” Angel says and presses the phone to Wesley’s ear.

After what seems a month, Wesley croaks into the phone. The operator’s chatter stops. Wesley sips up a breath of air and says, “1481 Hyperion Avenue,” just loud enough to carry into the speaker.

“Yes,” he says. “An old hotel. Third floor.”

“Room 317,” Angel supplies.

“Yes. Room 317. No, it’s… abandoned.” His eyes meet Angel’s. “I’m alone.” He takes another taste of air. “Hurry, please.”

Angel withdraws the phone and closes it. He crosses his arms over his bent knees and lays his chin on them. Wesley blinks at him.

“My ashes are in the basement.”

Wesley’s eyes well up, a tear spills free and trails down his temple. Angel stops it with his finger, and then strokes his hand firmly over Wesley’s head. He sets the cell down on the floor and stands. He can hear the sirens already, drawing closer, moving fast.

He doesn’t know what to do. His ashes are in the basement. He puts his hands in his pockets.

“Cordy,” Wesley whispers.

“I don’t know, Wes,” Angel says, but Wes is looking past him.

He turns and there she is, looking at him with that little smirk that says he’s a dumbass. He smiles at her and she smiles back.

“You need to do that more often,” she says.

She walks past him to Wesley. Angel turns on his heel, following her movement. He doesn’t touch her, but she seems real enough. Her scent drifts from her, but so does something else, a cool breeze of brightness that brushes over him.

She kneels and leans to kiss Wesley on the forehead. Her fingers trail along his cheek bone as she straightens. “We’ll be seeing you, but not now. I’ll keep your seat warm.”

“Take care of him, Cordy,” Wesley whispers.

She smiles and glances up at Angel. Her eyes. Angel has forgotten how beautiful she is- how she shines.

“Oh, I intend to, Wesley. We’ve got work to do.” Cordy kisses him again and stands, holding out her hand to Angel.

Hands still in his pockets, Angel trembles. His ashes are in the basement. He hears the ring again, in his ears, as his blood fell onto the candle wick. Metal on concrete. How light he’s felt this past year. He feels light. He looks down at Wesley and Wesley nods, just a tuck of his chin.

I’m not really here anymore, Angel tells himself as he steps forward and reaches for Cordy’s hand. His feeling of lightness expands, like the sun eating him up from the inside. He’s scared; it’s unbearable, this losing himself. But then her hands settle in his. It’s her that’s here now, and that’s all. There’s no floor under his boots. The hotel fades to mist around him.

Cordy grins up at him.

Her hands are warm. Her fingers thread through his and draw him closer. He can feel her. In him. Around him. Their separate edges blur, but she’s still she and he’s still he.

Angel gathers her in and kisses her. He wants to show her what he felt for her and never expressed.

Cordy opens her mouth under his in answer, giving every bit of relief and love right back to him.

He’s not afraid.

He’s not afraid to mate his tongue to hers, to lose himself in her mouth.

Her back is firm under his hands. He slides one hand down her waist, over the curve of her bottom, pulling her in closer. Her hips rock up as she responds, pressing against him.

He hardens, swelling against her softness. He explores, holding her close, stroking her. Her breasts; heavy, lush curves in his palms; her nipples rise to his touch, his kiss. Cordy. Under his mouth, against his lips, on his tongue.

She lengthens her body and he follows. Her hands knead and squeeze and calm his long untouched skin, his raging grief, his very boundaries of being. More so than any enemy he’s ever faced, unfettered love is terrifying.

He draws back, closes his eyes. His ashes are in the basement. He’s been dead for so long that he can’t fathom how to do this. How does he leave his life, the rules he’s lived by, the safety of his loneliness?

She touches his face, kisses his eyelids, his ears, his neck; her hand is on his chest. She seeks his mouth. He gives it.

With a decisive touch, Cordy has him on his back. Her hands settle on his hips, her weight settles on him, bringing him to full arousal. He throbs under her; his focus pulled there. She slides on him, rubs, rides his length without taking him. He rocks with her, oh, God, Cordy. His hands find her back, her thighs.

She deepens their kiss, renews her assault on his mouth, and simply absorbs him. Her hand’s hot on his neck, urging him closer. He wants… he wants to please her. He shifts and she shifts and suddenly she’s opening to him and he’s buried in her heat. He throws his head back, thrusting deep, as she cries his name.

He surrenders, merges into her, shudders between her cells, touching and being touched. They entwine, leave themselves in each other, but she is still she and he is still he and this…

Entangled in her, Angel captures Cordy’s mouth again. She kisses him back, searing and soul deep. They rise. Rise faster. Angel twists and swirls her over and over, light as mist, as air, as sunlight, spinning them together, as she guides them up. Into the heavens.

* * *

Lilah doesn’t come to the hospital, but she sends her regards in the form of a lawyer who helps Wesley muddy the investigative waters of the LAPD.

Gunn shows up when Wesley goes home. They share Chinese and tell each other war stories and Gunn says that he’s glad that they ended up together, Angel and Cordy. Wesley agrees.

Jessica brings spiked hot chocolate. She confesses she was more afraid of the ghost than of Wesley. What ghost, Wesley says, the lie sounding flat. He told me to run, she says, pointing at her head. I heard him in here.

There is no ghost in that hotel, Wesley says.

I asked, she says, everyone says it’s haunted.

He lies awake in the dark and thinks about the merger of souls he witnessed. The give-and-take and eventual acceptance of a long life lived and then lain down.

It felt like hours to Wesley, that negotiation into death.

He can’t forget Angel’s tear-streaked face when Cordy touched him. How they faded into streaks of distinct light, all twisted about like a vine. How they rose, streaking out in a flash of brilliant, swirling, brightness that stung his eyes and took his breath and literally stopped his heart, just as the EMTs came running in.

Wesley claims the Hyperion on a drizzly, grey Wednesday in late November. He finds Angel’s ashes in the basement and scatters them in the courtyard. He stands there for a long time, watching the rain tamp them into the earth.