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Thank You, Again

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It had been a long day, but a good day.  Angel felt more himself than he had in a long time.  Cordelia was back, they had defeated Lindsey and saved Doyle’s name.  He felt like he’d actually done something.  For too long he had gotten trapped in the business end of things here at Wolfram and Hart that he forgot what it was to actually be part of the fight.  To finish the day with a talk, was good.  It was, tinged with more regret than he liked, but in the end, Cordelia restored him to himself.  He would get back on his path, he would find his shanshu and he would make a difference.  Just as they had said they would in the beginning.

“I, uh… just wish I could be there to see it.”  


Cordelia’s words seemed to echo in his mind and he felt his chest contract. He had just gotten her back, she had been right, he needed saving, more, he needed her. She was his heart, she was their heart. Everything had gone wrong from the time he let her go. No, he realized it wasn’t that he’d let her go, he’d sent her away. He had thought he was being selfless, sending her off with Groo so she could be happy. What it was, was cowardice.  Rather than discuss their feelings, what had happened at that ballet so long ago, he would send her off. It had all gone wrong after that. Hadn’t they just discussed that?  The missed chances?  Now that he had hope again, now that he knew he could get back on track he was not going to lose her again.  His head came up and he stared at her, willing her to look him in the eye.


“What do you mean? You’re not…”  He couldn’t even finish the thought.


This was breaking her heart. Cordelia would have done anything to stay. Well, almost anything. It probably would have been an option, but it was more important to her to save Angel. The choice given was simple, at least for her.  She couldn’t let him continue down this path. It hurt to watch her friends slowly falling to paperwork and becoming consumed, absorbed, by the Senior Partners.  So in the end, she’d give up everything for him, for a chance to save him.. Part of her realized she had already made that choice, long ago.  Her eyes lifted to his and she tried for a sad smile.


“I can’t stay. This isn’t me anymore. You can say good-bye to the gang for me, explain everything once you understand.”  She prayed he did understand.


She couldn’t mean it. She wasn’t leaving them, him.  Now now.  He could feel his demon rising, the animal like urge to keep her. She was the only one that accepted him as he was. She loved him, he knew it, all of him. What he was, what he could be, and she didn’t try to dismiss what he had been. It spoke to his demon as much as his own unbeating heart. His demon growled, wanting to claim her if it would keep her there. He pushed it down, knowing that wasn’t the way and walked over to her.  Staring down with his hands shoved in his pockets.


“That’s gonna be never. I’ll never understand you leaving. I need you.  Here.  Now.”  Flowery words weren’t going to work and he was no good at them.  So he went for straight truth.


She couldn’t do this. She thought she could, but now that she had to say good bye she knew she couldn’t. She couldn’t do this and survive, her soul was being ripped in half. Everything had been for him, and now, now when they could possibly have a chance, she had to leave?  Shaking her head she went to stand up, trying to take a step back from him and finding she couldn’t. Silently she cursed the Powers. They should have known.  About Jasmine, about her ascension about everything. It shouldn’t have come to this. It wasn’t anger for herself, it was the feeling they had abandoned their champion, they had put Angel in this position and while she would do anything to get him back on track, hadn’t she just proven that, she shouldn’t have had to.


“Don’t make it hard, Angel. I’m just on a different road… and this is my off-ramp. The Powers That Be owed me one, and I didn’t waste it. I got my guy back on track.”  She smiled again, a false smile but it was all she could do to try and convince him.  


“Cordy, there’s just—”  So much to say, he couldn’t get it out.  It was stuck, like a knot in his throat.


She knew what he wanted to say, she knew it and hoped he knew she felt the same. The only problem was, she couldn’t bear to hear it. She just couldn’t. Not now. She took that step then, but towards him, close enough to feel him, she always could. He didn’t have heat coming off of him, he didn’t breathe so there was no breath on her, but she felt him, as real and solid as anything else. No, more so. He had always  been more real to her than anything else.  While he might have held onto her to ground himself, he had always been grounding her.  Lifting a hand she cupped his face and tried for a smile.


“We take what we can get, champ, and we do our best with it. I’ll be seeing you.”


There, she did it. She said good bye. It was probably the best performance of her life, and she was never prouder of how stoic she was being. Turning she headed for the door. She knew within three steps that she’d never make it and shook her head, the tears threatening to spill. Turning she rushed towards him.


“Oh, what the hell. One for the road? ”


She was leaving him, and he couldn’t stop her. She wouldn’t let him. He would have told her, everything. Laid his heart and soul out for her, let her know that he couldn’t be here without her. That his Shanshu meant nothing, without her, but she wouldn’t let him. Knowing that it would have changed everything. Part of him wanted to blame her for that. What was so important that she had to leave him? Whatever it was, he knew she wouldn’t be leaving if it wasn’t important, he had faith in that. Even as he fought to stay still, to not follow her.  His entire body had tensed with the need to stop her.  Then she turned and his arms opened for her before she even got there. A flicker of hope that she was staying, though he knew that wasn’t it.  It was meant to be a goodbye kiss he knew it the moment their lips touched, but he refused to let it be just that. He put everything he had into the kiss. Every emotion and need, every missed chance, every unspoken word.  He was hoping, praying silently to the powers that it was enough. If he’d done anything right in his long life, they wouldn’t take her from him.  Not this time. 


He didn’t hear the phone, filtering it out of his mind, wanting this moment to be forever. She pulled back and then he heard it, seeing her glance to the desk.


“You know, um… I don’t…I don’t need to get that.” He tried, hoping to somehow just sink back into each other, to make the moment an eternity.


She knew what it was as soon as she heard it. It was her cue. The Powers reminding her that her time was up. She’d obey, she’d leave, she had done what she came to do, they had held up their end of the bargain. She was still planning on giving them an earful when she got backt, however.  They may not understand human emotion, but they were going to get a crash course. Stepping back she smiled sadly, giving her hands something to do seemed imperative and so she fixed his lapel.


“That you have to get.” She swallowed.


He looked down at her, a feeling of dread like nothing he’d ever felt flooded him. He couldn’t let go of her, he was sure if he did, she was lost to him. The moment he let her out of his arms, she would be gone.  She was already pulling back and reluctantly he let go of her to get the phone. That quickly she had moved to the door, watching him.


“Oh… and you’re welcome.” She whispered, and was gone.

*************

There was light, blinding both eye and soul, and she closed her eyes against it, until finally she had become a part of it again.  Cordelia looked down at herself, she wasn’t wearing the white gown she had been the first time or even the second time she met up with the Powers. She was in that stupid hospital gown from Wolfram and Hart. With a frown she looked up to see them standing across from her. Quietly watching and boy did she have plenty to say to them.  Her hands went to her hips and she narrowed her eyes at the twins, who seemed more interested in the water bowl in front of them.


“Someone want to explain? I did what you said, I didn’t tell him about me, at least not the truth, and I got him back on track. So now what? Or was that goodbye punishment enough for me? Look I get that emotions might be foreign to you guys, but they are a lot more dangerous than you think.  And you shouldn’t be just, just, playing with them!”


“You are not being punished. You are being rewarded.”


“You both are.”


The look of confusion was quickly replaced by a narrowing of the eyes.  She knew better.  These two had an odd idea of punishment and reward.  They had weird ideas on a lot of things.  Not to mention the fact that they still hadn’t looked up at her.  That’s when it hit her.  They were keeping an eye on Angel, she took a step towards them, hands falling to her sides.


“You didn’t believe I could do it! That’s it isn’t it?  You thought he was too far gone!”


“There was concern that the champion had gone too far off his path.”


“However we granted your request that you try and reach him.”


Finally they looked up at her.  The unmoving and emotionless looks she had grown accustomed to, though still didn’t like.  Her own face fell into a look of surprise, that quickly morphed into one of anger.


My request? Excuse me, but you owed me, big time! As a matter of fact I would say you still owe me! If you had a little more faith in your champion he wouldn’t have gotten so far off track!“


She had been trapped, given little to no choice to what happened.  Not to her friends, not to Angel and definitely not to what happened to her own body and soul!  It was a violation and allowing her 24 hours as some solid spirit thing in order to at least give her friends a chance wasn’t some favor!  It was, to her mind, a crumb of what she deserved.


"We realize this. We also heard his request.”


“And we have granted it.”


Cordelia blinked, his request?  Who he?   Wait, they must mean Angel, but, what request did Angel have time to make?  She was thoroughly confused and opened her mouth to ask but then there was a hand on her head and she felt weak, tired. Images flooded her mind and a whisper that she would understand, given time, and then just like that, it was gone. She drifted back into the void.


The light had receded, she remembered that, there had been nothing but darkness, and images flying through her brain.  Yet now there was some light battering at her eyelids. She felt groggy, still not fully in her own body and with a groan she raised her hand to cover her eyes.  It was almost impossible, her arm felt like it was leaden, like she didn’t have the strength she needed. Slowly she blinked and opened her eyes. Above her were lights, bright lights, and she felt sick. Shouldn’t heaven be nice or something? Maybe a beach but not this! It looked like, the ceiling, in the hospital. Realization dawned on her and she tried to sit up, but suddenly there was a nurse there pushing at her, trying to get her to lay back down. She panicked and pulled at the IV, another nurse was there and suddenly she was overwhelmed, people talking over each other, to her, and she felt weak and sick. She had to get out of there.  Was it a reset?  Did she have to do the whole day over??  She couldn’t, she didn’t have the strength.  The doctor entered and frowned as he came over and sat on the edge of her bed.


“Ms. Chase! Please! I have called Mr. Angel and he is on his way.”  It was the worst thing he could say.  


“What? Angel? No no no no nononono! He can’t see me like this! I’m not supposed to be here!”


She renewed her attempt to disconnect herself, the doctor barking orders to get a sedative and a nurse trying to quickly take care of the IV before blood went everywhere. He didn’t understand, how could he, she didn’t!  She was confused, panicked she knew but she had said goodbye! She had done what she was supposed to and she had made her exit. A pretty damn good one too! She pulled at the thin sheet and blanket to try and get up but found she could barely move her legs. The flurry around her died and she stiffened then slowly looked up.

*************

Angel glanced back and found Cordelia gone. His eyes closed in pain. It hadn’t been enough, he hadn’t been enough.


“Thank you.”  He whispered, hoping somehow, she could hear him.  His attention back to the phone.


“Yes? Yes I’m here.  Wait, what?  But she was just here, I… ”


Confusion furrowed his brow but as the words sunk in, the truth hit him and he looked around his office.  He couldn’t smell her in the office anymore, not even the lingering scent she had seemed to leave everywhere she went.  There was nothing to say she had been there, nothing on the chair to say someone had sat there, nothing.  She wasn’t there, it hadn’t been real.  Not really.


“I’ll be right there.” He growled and hung up, leaving his office.


Angel rushed down to the med bay, Cordelia had shown signs of waking up they said. Which made no sense since she had just been there with him! He still didn’t understand what was going on but he was getting a clearer picture. She must not have woken up, or she had died and come back. It wasn’t his first time getting a visit from someone that shouldn’t be around anymore, so he knew that her goodbye was not her choice. That her time had been limited, again.  Which also meant if she was waking up, truly waking up, he was going to make sure no one and nothing was taking her away again. He had pushed through the nurses and luckily by the time he got to the room they knew enough to let him through. He stopped, everything stopped. There she was in the bed, she’d never actually gotten up. She couldn’t have because the Cordelia he was looking at was not the one he’d spent the day with. She was thinner, weaker. He could see bags under her eyes like bruises, her cheeks hollowed out, her hair a mess. Still, he couldn’t believe she was still there. He could smell her, hear her heartbeat and frantic breathing.  Her eyes slowly raising to his and he could read the confusion and the fear in them.


“Uh, hey.” She tried.  She had no idea what was going on, and was afraid to even take the chance that they would see each other, only to be torn apart again.


“Hey.”  He breathed. 

 It was real, how could he have thought what happened before was real?  Her smell, it was here, as well as the smells of the hospital.  The smell of death receding even as he noticed it.  Walking slowly to the bed the doctor got up, motioned to the others to back away.  Angel barely noticed them as he sat down in the place the doctor had vacated. His eyes never left her, he didn’t dare.  Afraid she would disappear again.  Lifting a hand to her face, he brushed hair behind her ear and then slowly smiled. This was real, she was real and solid.  Pulling her into a hug he let out a shuddering breath, the first he’d taken in so long. His words coming out thick and low as he held her.


“They heard me, thank you. Thank you.”