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ACiS: Prologue

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Cordelia let out a sigh as she stared down at the pale body of a woman that lay on the bed below her. Short hair, much lighter than its natural color, framed what appeared to be a peacefully sleeping face. After a few moments, she forced her eyes away from the comatose woman. Floating a little higher, she let her gaze meet that of the woman hovering near her.

"Okay, I'm listening," she said reluctantly.

The other woman brushed a few strands of honey-colored hair out of her face before shrugging her shoulders slightly.

"What more do you want to know?" she asked with a shrug. "I died. Someone higher up gave me a job. I came here to make you an offer." She paused for a moment. "You still haven't given me your answer."

With a bittersweet smile, Cordelia once more glanced down at the empty shell that wore her face. After a moment, she let her gaze move back to where the other woman floated.

"Let me see if I get this straight," Cordelia finally said. "If I tell you to go to hell, then I'll be stuck like this for who knows how long?"

Her question was answered with a single nod.

"And if I agree to take your offer, then I get to pick one of six points in my life, go back in time, change one or two details, and pretty much relive my life from that point?"

Once again she was answered with a nod, though this time there was a slight smirk as well.

Cordelia bit her lip. "Will the future end up the same as this one?"

The other woman shrugged, and Cordelia couldn't help but let out a sigh of annoyance. Still biting her lip, she glanced down at her physical body one more time. As her mind weighed the consequences, her heart was already singing out its answer. A determined light appeared in her eyes, and she slowly let her gaze move up again.

"Anya, you have a deal."

*

Cordelia Chase stood in the middle of a frozen highway, her attention focused on the demon that stood beside her.

Cordelia shot Anya a look, her eyes answering the former demon's unspoken question. The other woman held up her hands in a gesture of surrender as she struggled to keep from smiling.

"Not enough would be changed?" Anya asked knowingly. "Let's try the next point in your life then."

A slightly younger Cordelia lay unconscious on a bed, a ghostly version of herself standing nearby.

Anya raised an eyebrow. "Would you rather have made the choice not to become part demon?"

Cordy snorted, her eyes twinkling with dry amusement as she met Anya's gaze.

"And have my brains blow out of my skull?" she asked wryly. "I think not."

The former demon shrugged a bit before snapping her fingers.

Cordelia Chase stood in the Pylean throne room, dressed in the clothes of a princess as she gently ran her hands over piles of gold.

"Whatever the deal might be, I don't want it."

Anya raised an eyebrow as she glanced at Cordelia, a slightly surprised expression on her face.

"You wouldn't want to stay as a princess?" she asked. "Give the gorgeous hunk the visions and have lots of mind-blowing sex?"

When Cordelia didn't answer, Anya shook her head. "Sheesh, you really aren't the spoiled brat who caused me to lose my powers anymore..."

She trailed off as Cordelia glared at her, and - still shaking her head in surprise - Anya snapped her fingers.

A handsome face, contorted with pain, appeared in place of the Pylean throne room. Two burning hands grasped at a cable, struggling to save the lives of all those around him.

Cordelia froze, her eyes focused on the familiar face that was before her. Memories that had long ago faded from her mind sprang back with a vengeance, making her decision for her in an instant.

"Let me guess, you want to see what the other two points are?" Anya asked, an unreadable tone in her voice.

Cordelia's voice was hoarse as she spoke, her face shining with startled realization. "No, I don't think that I do."

She turned toward Anya, barely even noticing the bemused expression on the other woman's face.

"If I choose this point... will I be able to save Doyle's life?"

Anya let out a quiet burst of laughter, her eyes suddenly twinkling merrily. "It looks like Joyce is going to win that bet after all," she said lightly.

Cordelia's eyes narrowed slightly as she stared at the other woman, an unamused expression making its way to her face. When Anya noticed the fact, however, she quickly held up her hands in a symbol of peace.

"Hey, I'm not saying that I was lying to you about all this," she said hurriedly. "If you want to relive your life in a world where the cute half-demon guy doesn't die, then your wish is my command. The bet was just a friendly wager among a few of the Sunnydale dead. Not that it was really a bet, since there apparently isn't real money made specifically for the dead, but it still..."

Anya trailed off as Cordelia once again glared in her direction, and she quickly glanced back at the image that was frozen in front of them.

"If you're sure about this, then here's what you have to do..."

*

Cordelia floated in midair for a moment, her gaze slowly drifting over the scene that was frozen around her. A younger version of herself stood to the side, deep sorrow already beginning to etch itself onto her face. Angel was near her, trying desperately to reach the edge where she still stood. And Doyle...

Her eyes moved to the Beacon, where he was hanging on with all his might. His skin had already begun to burn, and Cordelia felt a pang of regret that she wouldn't be able to spare him that. He would still be alive though, and that's all that mattered.

Biting her lip slightly, Cordelia focused her mind on one goal. She slowly made her way over to where the twisted pieces of metal and magic hung, her breath catching in her throat as she stared at the face that had haunted her dreams for years.

"With all the crazy stuff that's been going on lately, I'd forgotten just how much I missed you," she whispered.

She hesitantly reached out, focusing her mind entirely on touching his face. Half expecting her hand to sink through him, Cordelia couldn't help but smile as she felt warm skin under her fingers. With a bittersweet smile, she stared into his frozen red eyes.

"You told me that we would never know if this face was one I could come to love," she said, her eyes not moving from his face.

Cordelia slowly ran her fingers over the patches of greenish skin and spines that were mixed in with human skin. She quietly leaned in, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Here's our chance to find out."

She gently placed a kiss on his lips, not noticing the brief flash of white light that sprang from her to him. As she reluctantly pulled away, there was a determined light shining in her eyes. With one last glance around the darkened room, she reached out and moved Doyle's hands away from the cable. Then, with a deep breath, she pulled it apart.

In an instant, Cordelia found herself standing directly behind her younger self. She licked her lips nervously as she took in one last deep breath.

"I hope this was the right choice," she said lightly, "because if not... I'm screwed."

With a hopeful smile, she walked directly into her nineteen-year-old self... and her body disappeared in a flash of light.

*

Tears burned in Cordelia's eyes as she watched the scene in front of her while shock coursed through her body. She couldn't truly comprehend what was happening, not with everything moving so fast. One minute everything had been going fine, and the next...

Doyle's face contorted with agony as he struggled to reach the cable that hung below the Beacon. His hands desperately clutched it, pulling with all their might.

And then it stopped.

Without warning, the beam of light being emitted from the device disappeared. Cordelia stared in shock for a few seconds before comprehension dawned in her eyes. It was over. Somehow Doyle had managed to stop the Beacon before it had killed him.

Doyle.

Her eyes flew back to where he hung, a startled gasp escaping her lips as his body grew limp. His grip slipped from the loosely suspended metal, and he slowly began to fall. Before she even realized what was happening, Cordelia heard herself screaming at Angel... and then he was turning away from her, running toward the edge of the platform. Without pausing, he leapt to the floor below.

Cordelia stood still for a moment, her heart pounding and her breath coming in short gasps. After a few seconds, however, she felt herself be pulled out of reverie. With a startled gasp, she took off running herself. Without even truly being aware of where her feet were headed, she suddenly found herself kneeling on the ground beside Angel and Doyle.

A shiver of fear ran up her spine as she stared at Doyle's pale face. Her skin - though that of a human again - was covered in serious-looking burns. Her eyes wide and fearful, she turned her gaze to Angel, who was gently cradling the other man in his arms.

"Is he... ?"

Cordelia didn't say the word - couldn't say the word - but Angel knew what she meant. He quickly shook his head as he lifted Doyle from the ground, his eyes shining with worry.

"No, but we need to get him to a hospital."

Her head jerked toward him, a surprised expression on her face.

"But what about the... half-demon thing?" she choked out.

Angel shrugged helplessly at her before starting to move.

"We just have to risk it," he said. "If we don't, he won't make it."

*

Cordelia started as a cup of coffee was gently placed in her hands, and her gaze quickly moved up from her lap. Harry stood before her, an apologetic expression on her face. The older woman quietly took the cup back, her eyes narrowing slightly at the way Cordelia's hands were shaking.

"How are you doing?" she asked.

Cordelia shrugged slightly before giving Harry a smile and gratefully taking back the offered coffee. "Sorry, I just wasn't paying attention."

Harry shook her head before sinking down into the chair beside Cordelia. "I'm sure he's going to be fine," she said gently

Cordelia shrugged again, her eyes focusing once again on her lap. There was a lost expression on her face as she sat there, her hands still shaking slightly as they gripped the cup.

Harry started to speak again, but she held her tongue as Angel slipped into the waiting room. He glanced at Cordelia for a moment before shaking his head and slowly making his way over to her. As she glanced up at him, he gave her a gentle smile.

"He wants to see you."

*

As Cordelia disappeared down the hall, Angel let out a tired sigh and dropped into the chair she had vacated. After a few seconds, he glanced over at the blonde woman sitting near him.

"When did you get here?" he asked.

Harry shrugged slightly, her eyes troubled. "I was just walking in the door when you called," she explained. "I came as soon as I heard the message."

Angel nodded in understanding, and the two of them sat in silence for a few moments.

"What happened to him?" Harry asked suddenly.

At the sound of Harry's quiet question, Angel reluctantly turned his gaze toward her. "Have you ever heard of the Scourge?" he asked after a moment's pause.

*

Cordelia tentatively slipped in the door, her eyes avoiding the bed that lay to her right. The quiet sound of laughter forced her to look in that direction though.

"And here I was thinking that you'd be happy that I lived," Doyle said lightly.

Her eyes flew toward the bed, the tears that she had been holding back suddenly falling freely. As she caught sight of Doyle's face, the burns on it covered in white bandages, she choked back a sob.

Doyle immediately sat up a little, grimacing slightly as he did. "I was only joking with you, princess," he said quickly.

He gently patted the bed beside him, an uncertain expression on his face. Cordelia merely nodded and slowly made her way over to where he lay. She gingerly sat down, a few tears still streaming down her face as she looked at him.

Biting his lip slightly from the pain, Doyle cautiously reached his hand up and wiped a few of the tears from her face. Cordelia smiled lightly at him, her lip trembling ever so slightly. Then, with a quiet sob, she gently leaned down so that her head was laying in his lap.

Doyle froze for a moment, a shocked expression in his eyes, before he hesitantly moved his burned hand so that it was laying on her hair.

"It's going to be fine, Cordy. Everything's going to be fine."

Neither of them noticed the faint bluish glow that appeared on his hand exactly where her tears had touched his skin. A gift was being returned to its rightful owner.