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finding my reprieve (it's right here in your arms)

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Angel wasn’t supposed to….

Doyle had said that a lot in the beginning.

Wasn’t supposed to. The list was endless.

Mostly though it all rounded back to: Angel wasn’t supposed to die.

One minute she’s a perfectly normal - though down on her luck - human being and the next she’s in a mansion with a serious try-hard vampire douchebag watching her best frenemy’s boyfriend get turned to dust and …. Well as Alonna likes to put it: wham, bam, soul - all redemption and none of the sin.... For the most part, Cordy just starts sentences with a beaming We help the helpless, and tries to ignore the pesky blood-thirst thing that is part and parcel of the deal Fate or the PTB threw down on her just because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When the dust settled and the sun started burning her skin, she called the one person that had a clue.

“Teenage girl with a Destiny?” Buffy leaned into the phone and Cordelia tried to ignore the Angel-shaped frog caught in the Slayer’s voice, “Welcome to the club.” There was a long pause and Cordelia wondered if there was going to be some kind of wisdom attached, some secret that Buffy had known all along but couldn’t reveal. “It sucks,” the phrase hid no laughter, even though it seemed like it ought.

A few days later a box appeared at Cordy’s dusty apartment, inside was a stake, a fuzzy sweater, and a postcard that said: You can be Treasurer.

A nineteen year old with an empty trust fund, a spunky half-demon sidekick, and absolutely no clue definitely shouldn’t open a detective agency in Los Angeles.

But a newly-turned vampire equipped with a soul and the life-debt of the guy who just so happened to die next to her, an annoying half-demon walkie-talkie to the PTB, an angry set of siblings with serious daddy issues, a malcontented and wanted-by-the-FBI Slayer, a washed-up Watcher, and a recovering cultist ….?

Well, all things considering, probably also shouldn’t have opened a detective agency.

But at least she wasn’t alone.

Right?

 

 

 

“What if it had been like… a nine year old kid?”

Cordy shrugged, “Fuck if I know. I just work here.” Well, technically she owned the building. And the business was legally under her name since Wesley was hiding from his dad or the Council or whatever, Doyle didn’t have a social security number, and Gunn’s words had literally been fuck that. But sometimes it really did feel like she was just part of a machine, just a tiny Monopoly piece on a gameboard too large for her to see properly. She’d heard a couple of 20-somethings at a nicer human bar talking the other week, when Anne and Doyle had dragged her out as if the three of them could ever really feel normal again, and was struck by that phrase: the machine. Something about cubicles and data entry and Debra’s parking spot and then that phrase, said with such exhaustion and inevitability, I just feel like part of the machine you know?

That night she’d dreamt that she was running running running on a hamster wheel and there was no end in sight. She’d gotten an email from Buffy the next morning.

To: deadincordlay
Disturbance in the Force. Faith says talking in your sleep again??? Willow says try yoga. Dawn says put some melted chocolate and cinnamon in your blood.

To: girls_girls_girlz
Weird dream. Dawn is…. So gross.

To: deadincordlay
did you die?

To: girls_girls_girlz
Is this a pop quiz on my own life????

To: deadincordlay
In the dream. Did you die?

To: girls_girls_girlz
I was running on a hamster wheel.

To: deadincordlay
Call me if you dream that a vamp kills you and you are actually another person and it’s actually a memory of another Slayer and you live on a Hellmouth with a sister who steals your clothes and then drops spaghetti sauce on them

To: girls_girls_girlz
Judge when YOU’RE dead and carrying around the soul-curse of some dude that had the balls to die in front of you.
ps - Dawn was right. I’ll never doubt her again.

To: deadincordlay
Truce?

To: girls_girls_girlz
Fucking dreams, man.

To: deadincordlay
fucking dreams

For the record, adding chocolate and a metric ton of cinnamon to blood warmed up on the stove (not the microwave) (the microwave was a rookie mistake!) almost, almost, felt like the memory of hot chocolate on a winter morning.

(Dawn was probably a genius.)

Alonna ducked under Faith’s roundhouse and groaned a little, throwing a wild punch with her right arm that Faith easily avoided, slapping her hand away playfully.

“God, can’t we talk about like… anything else?” Alonna huffed, blowing a tendril of her curly hair out of her face and winking over at her shoulder at Faith.

“Like how that punch was weak?” her brother called out from the other side of the Hyperion counter, delicately attempting to repair the spring mechanism in his favorite crossbow that had been crushed by a particularly rotund demon a few nights before. He kept having to bat Cordy’s hands away as she picked up the intricate parts he had spread out on the counter next to where she was sitting cross-legged, daring the phone to ring, and twirled them in her fingers.

That Rodentius Demon they’d tracked the night before had turned out to be living quite peacefully as a retired old lady’s pet “poodle” with no ulterior motives other than companionship. Yeah, they’d have to keep their eye on things for a while, but financially-speaking it wasn’t the most beneficial night out ever.

“Or how sparring and training should be done down in the basement as I have repeatedly reminded all of you,” Wesley called out from his office.

Alonna rolled her eyes and dropped her stance, just as she was about to shout something back, Faith tackled her to the ground and began tickling her, Alonna’s giggles rising until Faith finally collapsed down on the ground next to her.

Cordelia watched them on the floor and grimaced a bit, she was going to have to join Alonna at one of LA’s finer fast food establishments in order to make ends meet if things didn’t pick up soon. Or maybe Lorne would let her do some waitressing a few afternoons a week at the bar.

“Good job, kid,” she jostled Alonna with her elbow.

“Yeah, ‘cause a vamp is totally going to tickle you to death,” Gunn drawled sarcastically.

Between Gunn’s gruff big-brother attitude and Wesley’s absurd British-ness, an outsider could almost presume that they didn’t absolutely love Alonna’s antics. If that outsider was blind, deaf, and completely oblivious.

“Is that possible?” Kate shifted on her feet, looking even more confused. She was still standing awkwardly a few feet from the entrance, having just strode in and blurted out her previously ignored question.

Cordelia looked over at her, owl-eyed, “You’re joking right?”

Kate shrugged, “I’m taking a lot on faith here you know.”

“Yeah watching me get shot six times in the chest totally puts you out on a limb,” Cordy grinned.

“Didn’t I jump off a roof right in front of her?” Faith called from the floor.

Kate shook her head, “But seriously. Wrong place, wrong time. Nine year old kid? Then what?”

Cordelia hopped off the counter and turned towards the garden courtyard, dismissing the conversation out-of-hand. She was done talking about it, the curse the soul the vampirism, all of it. Okay, so she got a shit deal, she glanced over her shoulder at Faith playing with Alonna’s hair and Kate’s furrowed brow and the tray of cookies Anne had brought in before work, so did most people if you looked hard enough.

When she was human, Cordelia preferred to be in-doors as often as possible, away from inanimate objects and the possibility of bugs and near people. She also had never had a particular preference or feeling about flowers or gardens or grass or anything that wasn’t in a mall, if she was being honest.

Vampires, turns out, can smell more than just blood. Sweat, dirt, the metal of air conditioning, the stale scent of a running refrigerator, the molding blueberry from a muffin three weeks ago lost somewhere in the office, the toilet water ten yards away. It was the worst thing about all of this, and if she still had the power to vomit, she probably would - the whole digesting-blood thing was clearly different than digesting-food.

You don’t think you’ll miss the act of peeing until it’s just one more normal, human thing that you don’t do anymore, an instinctual habit that does you no good and makes you feel a bit like you are missing a limb or forgot to turn your hair straightener off.

Outside - not outside in the city which was… she tried to focus on anything but the smells of the streets of LA while she was hunting or investigating or just, wandering through the alleys and streets. But outside in the little courtyard in the center of the Hyperion, that was something else entirely. She started working on it the first day and soon it became a bit of a secret project just for her. It’s not like she needed much sleep these days. After a few months it stopped smelling like mildew and began smelling like life, clean and green and fresh.

As a human, she hadn’t cared much for flowers or gardening or nature, but as a vampire - it was her one refuge.

The moment the door to the lobby shut behind her, Cordelia’s nostrils flared. She wasn’t alone. Her private space had been fucking invaded by….

“Oh it’s just you,” Cordy sagged her shoulders a little and turned away from the interloper to begin deadheading the yellow rose vine that inched it’s way around the doorframe.

A husky voice came out of the shadows after a few minutes, “I need your help....”

“I think that was pretty obvious,” Cordy frowned at the dead roses at her feet and then kicked them into the undergrowth. Under the fragrance of roses and the Japanese maple in the center of the courtyard was the musk of natural decomposition, striking just the right balance, delightfully free of human stench.

“With a … a body.”

Cordy turned towards the woman with a snap, “A dead one, I presume?”

Jhiera tilted her head in assent.

 

 

“I hate her,” Cordelia grumbled, washing her hands in the sink for the fifth time in the past hour.

“Could have been worse,” Kate said, her voice coming through the office speaker phone and then piped down into the basement where Cordelia was holed up with Wesley and a rotting corpse. “Could have been human.”

Above, Gunn snickered and Anne hummed under her breath.

Cordelia turned back to Wesley, bent over the demon woman, scalpel in-hand and a medical mask over his nose. Jhiera stood quietly beside him, watching his every move with narrowed eyes.

Cordelia sighed and snapped on another pair of surgical gloves, “Tell me how that would have been worse? If it was a human that died, we could have just let a professional perform the autopsy.”

“Also. One of my girls would not be dead.”

“Yeah, explain again what that means, exactly? This girl is clearly not Oden Tal,” Doyle’s muffled voice came through the speakers. Jheira didn’t answer and like with most things concerning the princess and her girls, Cordelia didn’t press it. The shaky truce between the two women formed just little over a year ago relied primarily on them staying out of each other’s business. Every once in awhile Jheira would slip Cordy some intel regarding a rival demon gang or family, and periodically Cordelia and Anne would slip a wayfaring half-demon girl Jheira’s address, knowing that she’d protect them regardless of the personal cost.

Usually, they took care of their own dead bodies. But this time was a bit different. This time, the killer was most definitely human. And that wasn’t something either one of them was really prepared for.

Half-demons passed for human so often in LA that it seemed a small miracle that the majority of the human population hadn’t clued in to the underworld around here. The obliviousness was what Dawn Summers referred to as the “Muggle effect” - people just preferred to blindly close their eyes to what the world was obviously showing them. Seemed like Kate’s killer wouldn’t have cared even if he had recognized that his latest victim wasn’t quite human - he’d still carved her up nice and pretty to match the pictures Kate had reluctantly showed them of the other five girls.

It all seemed very similar, but they had to be absolutely sure, hence the home-autopsy.

Wesley let out a grunt of satisfaction and pulled a small bit of plastic from the woman’s stomach.

Jhiera and Cordy stared at him and the small item firmly held in the metal tweezers until Anne cleared her throat pointedly.

“Hey um, Kate?” Cordy said hollowly. “I think we found your serial killer.”

 

 

 

“Sneaking into a morgue and dissecting dead people is so not my idea of a Friday night,” Cordelia hopped across the alley to land on the opposite rooftop beside Jheira. Her hands would smell like flesh and formaldehyde for a year, probably, and also there’d be no stopping the dreams on this one.

Even after a professional had looked over every body and sewed them up to look like people again, those five girls Cordelia had just had to go digging through had hardly resembled humans let alone girls anymore.

Dealing with psychotic, serial-killing humans was so NOT part of her job description.

Jheria jogged across the roof, Cordelia keeping pace, eyes turned towards the horizon with a worried sort of air. “What do you usually do on a …. Friday?”

They leaped across another alley in unison, Jheira rolling into a somersault a bit like a toddler in a tumbling class, almost like she was enjoying herself.

“Which version of me?” Cordelia picked up the pace slightly, catapulting herself off of her hands and flipping in the air over the next alley, daring some sort of Peter Parker-type to be in the alley below to catch her tricks on camera.

“I don’t understand the question,” Jheira stopped short, looking at her quizzically.

Cordelia panted as she jogged backwards to where the other woman had stopped, grinning. She didn’t need to pant, but there were still things about humanity she hadn’t quite lost the habit of doing.

“We should do this all the time,” Cordelia threw her arms wide and threw her head back to look at the night sky, corrupted by the light pollution around them. She dropped her arms and grinned at Jheira, “I mean, Faith is an alright sparring partner, but she can still break, you know? I wouldn’t run across rooftops like this with her in tow.”

Jheira smiled softly back.

They ran in silence - aside from a few outbursts of laughter - all the way back to the Hyperion, the rising sun hot on their heels.

 

 

“Traps are always a bad fucking idea,” Gunn crossed his arms over his chest, every line in his face saying: I may not be the oldest person in this room, but I am definitely gonna fight ya’ll ‘cause see this foot? I put this foot down. Respect the foot. It was a rather common expression in the lobby of the Hyperion.

Anne and Alonna exchanged glances, but didn’t say anything, just continued to sip their tea and swing their legs in unison over the counter.

Faith looked up from where she was curled on the floor, playing with a wicked-looking dagger, “We’re like … superheroes. What could go wrong?”

“Death!” Doyle waved his arms around, “Destruction! Maiming! Blood!” He paused for emphasis, then whispered, “Death.”

“Yes, well that’s very---”

DEATH!” Doyle interrupted Wesley with another emphatic hal-whisper, pointing his finger at each of them in turn.

Alonna snorted and Faith tried half-heartedly to kick Doyle with her mis-matching neon socks.

Kate shook her head, “This is not seriously how you make decisions.”

“If you’re wondering whether we have an opening for a beleaguered mom-type to tell us that we’re ridiculous and to clean up before mom gets home, we’re not,” Alonna snapped her gum at the end of her snark in five rapid cracks.

“It doesn’t pay,” Anne intoned solemnly, doe-eyes fixed on Kate. “You really aren’t missing much.”

The lobby buzzed with a half-dozen voices all speaking at once.

“I will do it,” Jheira said quietly to Cordelia as they watched the argument unfold from just inside the courtyard doorway, already past the let’s argue about this plan part of the evening and ready to start throw caution to the wind.

“No,” Cordelia grabbed her arm and turned Jheira towards her, “You can’t do that, there’s too many people relying on you.”

The heat from Jheira’s ko sparked between them for the smallest fraction of a moment, before Cordelia dropped her arm and took a small step back.

Later she would wonder what would have happened had she stepped closer instead, just there, with the scent of night-blooming flowers in the air and her makeshift family just a few feet away.

“As do you,” Jheira replied in a low voice.

“Did anyone hear me when I said no?” Gunn shouted over the din of overlapping voices.

 

 

“Everybody’s got someone,” Cordelia told Jheira seconds before pricking her with a sedative and leaving her curled up in the van. “Doesn’t mean that’s how we decide who dies.”

The last bit only she heard.

But it wasn’t really meant for anyone, anyway.

 

 

To: girls_girls_girlz
Ever had to work with the police to take down a serial killer?

To: deadincordlay
Is this the part where you ask for backup?

To: girls_girls_girlz
Nope. Just wondering if you have any bright ideas.

To: deadincordlay
Don’t get dead?

To: deadincordlay
Don’t get deadER?

To: deadincordlay
Dawnie says: “make sure they provide compensation”

To: girls_girls_girlz
Who? The serial killer’s union?

To: deadincordlay
The police, smartass

To: girls_girls_girlz
thanks for the assist, wise one

To: deadincordlay
Humans aren’t really in my job description. They’re supposed to be saved, not the thing I save people from.

To: girls_girls_girlz
Let’s not think about it too hard, might cause an existential crisis.

To: deadincordlay
Good luck, Madam Treasurer.

 

 

What she’d remember is that he smelled like sick, that his skin against her skin felt like a thousand needles rubbing her raw, that she’d thought she understood evil, but maybe never understood anything at all.

What she’d remember is the rubbery feeling in her legs when his drugs entered her bloodstream and how she knew that a human would never, ever survive that high of a dosage, this dude was seriously an idiot - or knew exactly what she was

What she’d remember is feeling human and frail and helpless and breakable and it wasn’t something she EVER wanted to feel again.

She wouldn’t remember the knife that ran through her stomach like butter, but he traced the scar from her appendectomy and it felt a bit like he erased her childhood with just the flick of his wrist.

She wouldn’t remember laughing in his face, but Jheira would tell the story of it so many times that it would almost feel like a memory, Jheira’s hand in hers, the scent of them mingled together to become one, almost like there was no beginning to them at all.

What she’d remember is slurring, “Didn’t I tell you to stay in the car?” and wondering why Jheira looked so scared.

 

 

“So that was Kate,” Cordelia collapsed down on the bed in the room Jheira had squirreled away to sometime after the ensuing madness after they arrived back at the Hyperion.

Jhiera looked at her curiously, she was lounging in the windowsill, one foot completely straight against the other side of the window a good foot above her head.

“I mean, she called. From the station. The guy gave a full confession,” Cordelia closed her eyes and pressed her forearm into her forehead. She still felt a little wobbly from the wackadoo drugs that monster their mark had slipped in her drink at the club. “He’ll be in prison for the rest of his natural-born life she says.”

There were parts of the Hyperion that smelled like ghosts.

Yes, ghosts had a fucking smell, of all things. Like dried flowers and abandoned dreams and mist.

This room smelled like…. Like Jheira. Like fresh, warm, living things.

Almost like the courtyard, like the underlying life of the courtyard, without the sickeningly thick scent of blood and flesh and sweat that humans excreted with every breath and movement.

“Thank you,” Cordelia finally whispered after a few minutes-hours-days of silence.

Sometime later, Jheira moved silently from the windowsill and stretched out on the bed next to her.

“Just,” Cordelia cleared her throat, “Just professional courtesy, right? Saving me.”

The air grew warm and something unfurled in Cordelia’s chest that she didn’t even know had been tight and stretched before. Just before she fell into a dreamless sleep, she felt Jheira’s finger trace the scar of her childhood appendectomy.

 

 

 

“I hate her,” Cordelia washed her hands for the third time that day. Her skin was starting to dry out. Fred said that scientifically shouldn’t happen, but she hadn’t done any proper tests and it’s not like they had a control subject. (It’s not like they’d been able to get Fred to come out of her hotel room since leaving Pylea either, but that was tomorrow’s problem.)

“No you don’t,” Anne said with a wink at Gunn behind Cordy’s back.

Kate’s voice came crackling through the speakerphone on Wesley’s desk, “Did you get that intel from Jheira yet?”

“I don’t fucking appreciate you sending my goddamn girlfriend on a recon mission without asking me first!” Cordelia shouted up at the ceiling, pulling on another pair of surgical gloves with a snap.

The basement made her grouchy, it had to be said.

“It’s not my fault your girlfriend doesn’t tell you about her travel plans before taking off in the middle of the night,” Kate sighed. “All I said was that I heard the copycat might be your guy’s brother and they grew up in Nevada City. I didn’t know she’d take it upon herself to go up there on her own.”

Cordelia looked down at the body on the table and sighed, “Time to go foraging for plastic again.”

 

 

To: deadincordlay
Advice? What do you get a girlfriend that has everything?

To: girls_girls_girlz
Last year I got Jheira a new automatic crossbow

To: deadincordlay
I …. Don’t think Tara would like a crossbow

To: girls_girls_girlz
Oh. Idk? makeup?

To: deadincordlay
We used to be good at this.

To: girls_girls_girlz
Nah, we didn’t. Ever buy Angel a bday present?

To: deadincordlay
Too busy saving the world

To: girls_girls_girlz
Destiny

To: girls_girls_girlz
Bring her down here. Free hotel. Anne can take you to Disneyland.

To: deadincordlay
No slaying?

To: girls_girls_girlz
No promises

 

 

When did you know?

Cordelia closed her eyes and hummed, When did I know what?

That you loved me, Jheira’s voice sometimes felt like it came every single particle of air in any room she occupied, as if her body wasn’t enough to fully encompass all that she was.

On the roof, because lying didn’t do them any good, it was impossible to do with Jheira and it didn’t suit either of them to try. And it was the truest statement she’d ever made.

The first moment, Jheira answered her own question unbidden.

Sometimes, she liked to ask questions she herself felt the need to answer. It was something of the royal in her, Cordelia figured, something of the Oden Tal girl that should have become a slave but changed the world instead. A need to hear one’s thoughts spoken aloud in order to make them real.

When I opened my eyes in that van you left me in and I realized I couldn’t live if you died, Jheira curled herself into Cordelia’s form, burrowing her face into Cordelia’s neck. It was like waking up, falling in love with you.

For Cordelia, it had been like a good night’s sleep after years of nightmares, silence where there had been constant noise, freshness where there had only been decay. Falling in love with Jheira had been like slipping into darkness when the whole world had been a blinding, burning light.

She didn’t say anything else, just held Jheira close and breathed in the fresh scent of her hair and their roses in the courtyard.

 

 

Cordelia picked up the phone, somehow the only person in the office even though it was like three in the afternoon and the place should have been crawling with her people, “Angel Investigations, we help the helpless.”

“Cord-Cordelia? It’s Jheira.”

Cordelia stopped doodling on the papers strewn across Wesley’s desk in surprise, “Heya… um. Hi. Hello?”

“I have need of you,” her voice came through the phone muffled, almost whispering. That wasn’t a good sign.

“Please tell me there isn’t another dead body,” Cordy thought back to their last case together, it had been almost six months since she woke up and found Jheira gone… back to her girls and whatever it was she did with them.

A lot had happened since then, but just hearing Jheira’s voice through the phone, muffled as it was, and Cordy could nearly smell that fresh scent of growth and green and fresh air she remembered.

“Not… yet.”

Cordelia pulled the handset away from her face, looked at it in surprise, and then brought it back up to her ear, “You’re smiling, aren’t you?”

Silence.

Oh this was going to be good.

 

 

“Hey Kate, you working on a human trafficking case right now?”

“Yes… wait. How did you know that?”

“You’ll never guess who got a lead on it for you.”