Cordelia had always imagined herself invincible. Through high school, she had, in her way, been untouchable. Princess in the tower with guards of money, power, her quick tongue, and her beauty.
Then graduation came, and the tower fell. No money, no power, no home or purpose. She still had her mind and her face, her body, and she was still obviously royalty . . . just momentarily displaced from castle life, Snow White in the woods. That was still invincibility in its way: she had to survive until happily ever after.
Then Angel came and gave her a purpose again, and taught her how to be a grownup. And so she no longer had to rely on the inevitable prince to save her from her non-lustrous life; she was capable of saving herself. She didn't need the castle walls to protect her anymore.
Coming back from coma land had only proved her theory. She should have been dead, but she lived. Honestly—like some god could take her down. As if.
What she had never expected was to be the cockroach alive after nuclear winter. Invincibility was one thing, but she was human – mostly, anyway – and had never even considered the prospect of true immortality. But after the fight – the fight – she was left standing. Alone.
Cordelia searched the wreckage for survivors for days. She found Angel's sword the second day out – burnt, bloody, but still intact – but discovered no sign of its owner. After uncovering Gunn's body the sixth day, she stopped looking.
The Powers were silent on the matter. They had been silent on all matters, in fact, since the Vision that woke her from her long sleep.
No money, no power, no purpose. No family. Cordelia buried Gunn, packed Angel's sword, and left Los Angeles.
With her skinny résumé, Cordelia found menial work that severely tested her attention span. She was mostly hired on looks, because that currency still passed like cash. Waitress, secretary, sales clerk. She never stayed at a job for more than a couple of months, and she blew through cities nearly as fast. Santa Fe, Aspen, Denver, Austin. Less than six months, and she had worked her way halfway across the country. Tupelo, St. Louis, Indianapolis. She could fit all her things, save Angel's sword (too long) in one suitcase. Detroit, Philadelphia, Cincinnati.
In every city, she found the underground and poked around for Angel, Spike, Illyria. Most people at least knew of Angel and Spike (a few knew Illyria, but they were, as a rule, terrifying). A few even knew who she was. But no one had any information of her friends' postwar whereabouts beyond conjecture. Not that there wasn't tons of that; demons were as gossipy as housewives. Angel was dead. He'd been picked up by an intelligence agency, and was locked in a lab somewhere, being poked and prodded and dissected. He had left the dimension to hunt down the Senior Partners.
Lots of stories and absolutely no evidence. Every time she left a fact-finding mission, Cordelia swore to herself that it would be the last time she stuck her nose where it no longer belonged. And then she'd go out the next night, the next city, beating the bushes to see if anything slithered out.
She is living in a hotel (not because she's not planning to stay – though she won't. But she never plans on leaving. – but because they feel strangely like home). She never unpacks; her suitcase lies open on the floor, spilling her clothes and cosmetics onto the thin, horribly-patterned carpet. Angel's sword leans against her bedpost. She can't decide which is weirder: keeping a weapon by the bed, or keeping something of Angel's by the bed.
She doesn't care. She's grown past worrying about what people thing—all she cares about now is what is right, and what she feels. And keeping the sword nearby feels right.
She never makes it to the meeting.
"I'm flattered," he says, "but maybe you should let me buy you a drink before we start with pet names."
The eyes are different, sparked with lust and humor. And he's smirking, his mouth turned not in wry humor, but in a wolf's grin: he's hunting her. Not maliciously, not even avidly, but in the back of his mind he's thinking about running her to ground.
If her heart wasn't broken before, it breaks now.
Except for the drowning pain in her chest, Cordelia feels strangely airy, ethereal. She is above the world as it spins on beneath her, unaffected and unchanged by her presence.
Cordelia withdraws her hand from the man's shoulder as if it had grown hot. The great brow creases, catching her expression.
"Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—"
"I'm sorry," Cordelia says, feeling the words settle in her belly like rocks to the seabed, "I thought you were someone else."
The man waits a moment, dark, wrong eyes searching her face.
Finally: "That's okay. I mean—are you okay? You look kind of spooked—"
"I'm great." Her fingers dig into the taut leather of her handbag so hard that her joints ache. "I just need to—"
The man stands, and fans one of his huge hands in a gesture of welcome and offering, a pulpit preacher or game show host.
"Why don't you sit down; I'll get you some water."
Most of the carnivore has left his expression, and he looks earnest and familiar. Cordelia says no, she's really okay, and then lowers herself to the proffered barstool.
Cordelia likes him. He's the kind of guy she dated in high school: the best athlete, the best looking, the best in bed. He makes her laugh, and he cares about her; he takes care of her.
Cordelia isn't sure if she needs to be taken care of, if that's even what she wants anymore, but she's comforted that he tries. That he makes it a priority. It's really, really nice to be a priority.
He doesn't say anything about Shakespeare, and Cordelia knows by the way he's looking at her that it hasn't even crossed his mind.
"Seeley?" she says before tact kicks in.
"I think my mom found it in a book. It's Irish, I think."
Cordelia feels like laughing, or crying.
"Irish," she says. "Of course it is."
He stays true to his word, and takes her back to her hotel. He follows her up the stairs even though he hasn't been invited. He may have said something about wanting to see her home safe, but the sounds just rush by her muddled head, overstuffed and far away. She doesn't so much invite him in as she does drag him, and she doesn't bother with locking the door or undressing at all before pulling him onto her bed. Seeley follows her lead willingly, chivalry giving way to eagerness, to big hands prowling her body for zippers and buttons. Emergency exits. Cordelia is drunk, and he could be taking advantage, but she wants to be taken advantage of, so it's not the same thing at all.
About how he's dead and gone and nowhere now. Dust in the wind.
But when she makes love to Seeley, she doesn't think about Angel. It's not because she's a selfless, virtuous person – puh-leeze – but because her head is full of other things. Good things. Here things. Now things.
She should be grateful – and she is, really, to Seeley who just wants to take care of her, who was so proud and happy that he could help – but she's not. She takes calls, she files things. Not that different, really, from her job at Angel Investigations.
Except it is different. It's another world. Her smile might just be lipstick.
The squints are mostly okay with her. She gets a little annoyed with Brennan because the woman is more or less totally without social graces, but Seeley likes her so much that Cordelia makes an effort. Zack reminds her of Fred, which makes her sad, but she tries to push the warm fuzzies into the periphery. There's no place for that anymore. She likes Hodgins a lot if he can cut out the conspiracy theory crap; the rest of the time he's funny and sweet, and sometimes they'll have drinks and he'll make her laugh. She likes Angela best of all, and she becomes Cordelia's first real friend since leaving Los Angeles. They shop and gossip and have alcohol-soaked girls' nights that no boys are allowed to ever, even though they're the main topic of conversation.
She likes Sid, not least of all because of his cooking, and even gets along with Rebecca, after a long, frosty trial period.
There are people all the time. Normal, everyday people. It's normal and safe. What people do.
It was a lazy Friday afternoon, and Angel Investigations was dead. Cordelia expected tumbleweed to roll through the lobby shortly.
Angel had his huge body jaguar-lounging in his office chair: limbs dripping with loose-muscled ease from the seat too small to contain them. His feet were up on his desk, and he'd been staring aimlessly into space for a good ten minutes now, having since abandoned his pretense of reading.
"That King Beard thing?" Cordelia asked. She was slowly straightening the office, collecting loose files from desks and swatting at dust bunnies hovering on cabinets.
Not so very long ago, she would have bolted out of the office with lightning speed the moment they still had no customers come three o'clock. It was Friday, after all.
Now, the thought didn't even cross her mind. She liked the quiet, and the extravagance of their new office, and how comfortable things were when it was just her and Angel, like she didn't even need to say anything to be heard.
"Lear," Angel corrected, and she heard rather than saw his smile.
"Okay," Cordelia said. She came and sat on the ledge of his desk; Angel moved his feet to give her more room. "What about?"
"Nothing," Angel said. "I was just thinking about it—"
"You were just thinking about Shakespeare? You're such a dork."
Angel ignored her. "I was just remembering how you used to have that license plate, Queen C—"
Cordelia's interest piqued. "Was Book Cordelia a queen?"
"She was. A princess, then a queen; then she led an army—"
"Well boo to that. Like I'd get all fighty. I've got you menfolk around for the heavy lifting part of battle, remember?"
Angel smiled. "I remember."
"So this King Lear Cordelia. Does she get a happy ending?"
A brief pause, and then: "She does."
Cordelia believed him for a while, then looked it up – not in a book. Whatever. That's what they had the Internet for – curious about what other fabulous exploits her literary alter-ego had. When she read the truth, she realized for the first time that Angel might love her.
She tucks him in at night, and she watches him play. She goes to little league games and PTA meetings. She packs his lunch.
Most of the time, she can look at him without wondering what Connor looked like at that age.
"You have a sword," he says. His voice is low and raspy and causes a hard tug between Cordelia's legs.
"Yeah," she says. It had been leaning against the headboard, but now it's on the floor, knocked from its sentry by the intensity of their lovemaking.
"By your bed."
Cordelia is afraid that he'll ask about it. Ask why, or where it came from. She's not afraid of what he'll think of her, but these things are hers, and she doesn't want to give them up.
"After I left the service, I kept my gun on my nightstand for six months," Seeley says after a long beat.
Cordelia relaxes, and settles back against him.