The green demon, who calls himself Lorne, dabs a drop of strange liquid on Cordelia’s tongue. Cordelia doesn’t have any reason to trust a green thing with horns, but everyone else does, so she closes her eyes and lets him do it.
Twenty-one years of memories pound into her skull all at once. Skip was right about one thing; the visions do feel like Candyland compared to this.
Too bad he’d lied to her about everything else.
Cordy opens her eyes, to say what happened to her once she ascended, but something else opens its eyes at the same instant. The something is rotten, infested with maggots, horrifically powerful, and a creature that should never be seen by human eyes.
When it looks at Angel, Connor, and Lorne, it doesn’t see part of Cordy’s family. It doesn’t even see a group of strangers who claim they know her. It sees slaves to bend to its will, loyal zealots to serve in its army, and a source of food should it grow hungry.
When a sharp pang of hunger settles inside Cordelia’s stomach, she realizes that thisthingis inside her. This thing, which only wants to expand, consume, and ultimately destroy everyone and everything Cordelia has ever cared about has become part of her. In one last ditch effort to save them all, Cordelia turns away and runs down the nearest hallway.
Footsteps follow her, and she can’t let herself wonder who they belong to. She cannot think past the constant stream of how, and why, and oh God please no, no, noin her head.
A voice, commanding and ancient, invades her mind. Slow down, it demands. Cordelia, who does not take orders from anybody, especially whatever evil thing is inside her now, unwillingly acquiesces. Her own body betrays her, and her limbs slow down to a brisk walk.
Cordelia would cry, but the thing inside her is blocking her tear ducts. She would know Angel’s voice in any time or place, even if she had been struck blind and he was speaking a language she had never heard before. Her soul is that deeply connected to him, that irrevocably, permanently his. Right now, her soul is beating against the cage of her body, screaming to get out, to get to Angel one last time.
The thing inside Cordy turns her head to face Angel. “I can’t,” it says, using Cordelia’s mouth. She feels abject horror when she realizes that this thing won’t even let her speak, but, externally, she must appear calm. “Angel, I-I’m sorry,” it continues. He has no idea how sorry she truly is, how sorry she will be, for unleashing this monster, for making a mistake that led them to this moment.
“You remember,” he replies.
“I remember all of it,” the thing says. Angel’s lips twitch upward into the familiar close-mouthed smile that always melts Cordelia’s heart, but the thing inside Cordy doesn’t allow her to react with an answering grin. He trusts you, it tells Cordelia triumphantly. The thing forces Cordelia’s gaze to the ground and widens her eyes in a mocking mimicry of the anxiety Cordy feels at its latest pronouncement. “All of it. And I have to be alone. Please? For a while. It’s too... I—”
As the thing forces Cordelia to start walking away, a part of her knows that it’s right. She should be locked in a cage, away from Angel, away from anything this monster clawing at her insides could hurt. But selfishly, that isn’t remotely similar to what Cordy actually wants. What Cordy wants is to throw herself into Angel’s arms, to seek comfort in the only person who has ever had the ability to make Cordelia feel wholly, completely safe even while the world fell apart around her.
“Cordelia?” Angel asks.
The thing turns her body to face him. Something inside Cordelia breaks when she sees that vulnerable, hopeful look on his face.
“Were we in love?”
She recalls the conversation in the garden, where she’d asked that question and Angel had been unable to answer because he could only speak for himself. How she had forced him to admit, after some hesitation, that he had harbored feelings for her but hadn’t had the chance to meet with her before she left. She remembers everything else too. Every other conversation she and Angel have ever had, every time he tried to protect her from something (whether it was a demon or just a sleazy casting director), every time he was the friend looking out for her, and every time he made her heart race just like it’s racing now, thumping loudly and persistently against her ribs.
An-gel, An-gel, An-gel, An-gel…
Cordelia feels so much, more than her body can contain, and it pours out of her in a torrent of heart-wrenching sobs that make her body collapse onto the floor.
“Cordy? I, uh, I know it’s kind of overwhelming, but I’m dying for an answer here.”
Cordy laughs. “Pfft, you’re already dead, moron.” Then, she realizes that she spoke her own thoughts. “Oh my God! I can talk!” She beams, relieved that she regained control of her own body.
Angel crouches down next to her and places his hand carefully on her shoulder. “Cordy? Honey, you’re kind of scaring me.”
Her smile fades away at Angel’s worried expression. How can she begin to explain this monster inside of her? She can still feel it, angrily spitting acid in an attempt to burn her throat and keep Cordy from revealing the secret only she knows. But despite that, Cordelia can speak against it.
She takes a deep breath and steels herself for Angel’s reaction. “I think I might be possessed.”
He makes a choking noise. “Possessed? B-but how? When?”
“Lorne’s spell did something. Woke something up that’s been inside me since I came back. I haven’t felt quite right since I came home, like something’s been… off, I guess. I thought it was just the amnesia, not remembering who I am. But now I know, it’s, it’s…”
“It’s what, Cordy? A demon?”
Cordelia bites her lip and shakes her head. “It’s worse. It’s so much worse.” She’s had at least part of a demon inside her since her last birthday, but that made her float and gave her the ability to heal or destroy with a glowing light. This new thing made her want to devour her loved ones. “It’s got bigger plans, and a bigger appetite, than any demon I’ve ever seen. No offense, but I’m pretty sure Angelus wouldn’t even be an appetizer for this guy. It could eat everybody in the tri-state area and still have room for dessert.”
Really now, Cordelia. I want to make the world better, but I need energy to do that. You should be honored that I chose you.
“Cordy! Cordy! I love you, please wake up!”
When Cordelia comes to, Angel is clutching her arms in a bruising grip and staring at her with panic written all over his face. The others are behind him, carrying weapons and standing in tense, battle-ready postures.
Connor pushes himself past Lorne to get closer to the pair on the floor. “Cordy, what happened? Your eyes were rolling back in your head.”
How sweet, the thing tells her in a syrupy tone. Connor already loves you, and underneath that hard exterior, he’s just a scared, innocent little boy. Manipulating him will be the simplest thing I’ve ever done.
Cordelia wrenches herself away from Angel. “Shut up!” she screams. “Shut up, I can’t take it anymore!”
She beats her fists against her head, trying to drive out the thing’s condescending laughter. It doesn’t work, and Angel forces her arms against her sides, easily pinning her down despite her constant twisting in an attempt to get away.
“Stop!” he shouts. “You’re only hurting yourself!”
Cordy grits her teeth through the worst of the roaring laughter, waiting until it recedes enough to look Angel in the eyes, but it still doesn’t fade entirely. His eyes are filled with an endless chasm of pain on her behalf, and Cordelia crumples, pressing her face into Angel’s shoulder as she cries.
“What the heck was that?” Fred asks. “It didn’t look like a normal vision.”
“Not a vision at all,” Cordy mumbles. “The evil entity possessing me decided that it just had to chime in with its two cents. Not that anyone gives a crap about its opinion.”
“I’m sorry, did you just say you were possessed?”
Cordelia lifts her head away from Angel’s shoulder at Wesley’s shocked question. She nods tiredly, and Wesley's mouth sets into a grim line.
Gunn frowns, and his grip tightens on his axe. “There’s gotta be something we can do, right? We get this demon out of Cordy, and then we kill it. We just need to figure out how.”
The thing inside her smirks. Foolish, arrogant boy, believing he could destroy an Ancient One. I could eradicate his existence with a flick of my wrist.
Cordelia grimaces when the thing inside her threatens Gunn. “I don’t know if we can get it out,” she admits. “I don’t know what kind of damage it could do if we did.”
“Cordy thinks it came back with her from the higher plane, and that the memory spell Lorne did woke it up out hibernation,” Angel explains. “Whatever this thing inside her is, it’s worse than any demon we’ve ever dealt with before.”
For the last time, I am not a lowly demon! I am the prophesied savior of mankind! Show me the respect I am entitled to!
Cordy blinks in confusion when she realizes that she’s standing upright. How did that happen? And why are Fred, Gunn, Wesley, Lorne, and Connor backed up against the far wall, staring at her with terrified expressions on their faces? Why is Angel holding his hand to his cheek, as if she just slapped him?
That thing made her slap him, Cordy realizes, when she recognizes the telltale sting against her palm. And it used her throat as a microphone to yell at all of her friends. Her throat feels raw from the possessing creature’s rage. Cordelia lifts her hand to her mouth, to prevent any more words from escaping. If she talks, she isn’t sure if she will be the one who speaks.
Lorne shakes his head in disbelief. “Boy, the thing that hitched a ride back with the Princess has some serious mojo. I guess it doesn’t like being called a demon, huh?”
Cordelia shakes her head. The motion makes her dizzy, and she sways to the side. Angel puts his arm around her, completely disregarding the fact that, from his point of view, she just attacked him less than a minute ago.
Angel must really love me, Cordy thinks, and the thought makes her feel warm inside, as if she’s just a normal girl who isn’t sharing headspace with whatever monstrosity decided to take up residence in her body. The thing inside her snarls, but Cordy pays it no heed.
Wesley frowns and pinches the bridge of his nose. “What if it isn’t a demon? It did return with Cordelia from the higher realms. The very idea is preposterous, but perhaps it’s one of the Powers’ agents, or even a Power itself.”
Cordelia shivers in dread, and the thing inside her becomes ominously silent. Wesley’s theory is similar to what Skip told her, when he convinced her to leave with him on that freeway. He had told her that she had “outgrown” her ordinary existence and become a higher being, and Cordelia had been idiotic enough to believe him. He had said that that her true calling “transcended” the entirely human need to tell her best friend how much she loved him, and Cordelia had reluctantly pushed aside her innate selfishness for the good of everyone else.
It’s too late for regrets now, but Cordy wishes she had acted like a self-centered coward instead of the person the last three years working with Angel have shaped her into becoming.
Angel squeezes her shoulder to get her attention. “Cordy, do you think Wes is right? Do you think it’s one of the Powers that Be?”
“Yeah, I think—” I think it wants to devour and control everything in the world, starting with me. I can feel the corruption poisoning every cell in my body, but somehow it believes that this is for the greater good, and that scares me more than if it just wanted to wreak havoc.
Her mouth opens and closes, but Cordelia is unable to get the words out. No, she tells herself. I won’t let this thing silence me.
“I think we need to figure out how to get rid of this thing as soon as we can,” she blurts as quickly as she can, while she still can. She turns to look at Angel. “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep it under control.”
“All my books are at my apartment,” Wesley informs them. “I don’t know if we will find anything useful in them, but I’ll bring back everything I have, just in case.”
“I’ll go with you,” Fred volunteers.
The pair quickly leave, and Gunn crosses his arms over his chest, looking displeased as he watches them go. If the circumstances were more normal, Cordy would be more concerned about the tension that is obviously brewing between Fred, Wes, and Gunn. But a Power that Be is inhabiting her body, so Cordy can’t feel anything but annoyed by a relatively minor interpersonal conflict.
She closes her eyes, feeling exhausted with everything. Her friends, and all of their complicated emotions. This Power, and its sickening, cryptic plans. Herself, and the tenuous grip she holds over her own being.
Cordy just wants to sleep, and she doesn’t want to wake up until she’s herself again, minus everything else.
“Do you need anything, Cordy?” Connor asks warily, probably afraid of setting off another attack. “I could get you some tea, or I could bring you back to the warehouse with me if you want. It would probably be a good idea for you to get some rest."
Say you want to go with him, the thing inside her demands. Connor is the only one you can trust to keep you safe.
Cordy shakes her head, because she knows that isn’t true. She trusts Angel, first of all. And she knows that Connor only wants to protect her, but she can’t do anything that might play into this Power’s scheme. If it wants her to leave with Connor, she definitely shouldn’t.
She forces herself to meet Connor’s eyes. “Connor, the biggest favor you could do for me right now is to go home. Alone.” Connor flinches at her words, and Cordy feels like the biggest bitch in the world. But that doesn’t mean that she can take it back.
“I don’t know why, but this thing that’s possessing me wants me to go with you,” she adds, trying to soften the blow. “It wants to use you for some nefarious scheme, and I don’t think you’ll be safe around me if it takes control again. I don’t hate you, Connor, I just…”
“You just need me to leave,” Connor finishes. “Forever.”
“For the time being,” Cordelia corrects. “Just until all this crazy stuff with the Power that Be blows over.”
“I guess I can understand that,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. But the insecure look on Connor’s face makes it clear that he doesn’t understand anything. His abandonment issues mean he can only view this as a rejection, not as Cordelia doing the one thing she can to keep the closest thing she’s ever had to a child out of harm’s way. “I’ll leave, if that’s what you really want me to do,” he mutters sullenly.
“It’s what I really want to do,” Cordy says.
Connor’s entire posture slumps, and Cordy feels immense, purposeless remorse at the gesture. He gives Angel a dark glare, and then he storms down the hallway and out of Cordelia’s line of sight.
Cordelia sighs. “I really screwed that one up, didn’t I?”
Lorne offers her a sympathetic smile. “I think you did everything you could, Princess.”
“If Connor’s in danger, telling him to leave was the right thing to do,” Angel reassures her. “Someday, he’ll understand that."
“I hope so. I just feel kind of crappy that I made him look all miserable like that, you know?”
If you didn’t want him to be miserable, you should have just obeyed me. Connor would have been happy fulfilling his purpose. But instead, you had to make things more difficult for yourself. Mark my words, Cordelia, you will pay for your insolence.
Cordelia trembles at this devastating promise, and Angel catches her before she can fall to the ground. She spasms futilely in his arms for a few seconds until Angel’s frantic, repeated calls of her name break through her consciousness. She awakens with a sharp gasp, looking straight into Angel’s worried face.
“Girl, your eyes were rolling back in your head again,” Gunn tells her. “It looked like something straight out of The Exorcist.”
“I think we need to take Cordy out to the lobby so she can sit somewhere comfortable for a while,” Angel says. He pauses to brush a strand of hair away from her face. “She’s been through a lot.”
Cordelia feels light as a feather when Angel lifts her into his arms. She doesn’t know if it’s because of the tender way he carries her or because of the possession wearing down her strength. Either way, Cordelia’s arms tighten around him, seeking out something real and solid, something that will keep her from floating away with the slightest gust of air.
An-gel, An-gel, An-gel… Her heartbeat returns to a normal rhythm when Angel sits down on the loveseat, and a content smile appears on her face when he pulls her into his lap. Even now, when her continued existence is merely a hypothetical, being with Angel still makes her happy.
She hears the noises of Gunn and Lorne settling down across from her and glances over at her other friends.
Gunn leans forward, his elbows on his knees and his face twisted into a sympathetic expression. “God, this sucks, Cordy. If I could find the thing that did this to you, I’d kill it in a heartbeat. You know that, right?”
“I know. It’s too bad that this Power or whatever is being so cryptic. And that Skip is off galivanting wherever, because I’m pretty sure he’s involved in this too.” She pauses and sighs at her own role in this mess. “He’s the one who got me to ascend in the first place.”
“I could try reading you,” Lorne offers. “Remember how I did a psychic link back when Wolfram and Hart were giving you those fake visions? You wouldn’t even have to sing for me.”
The monster inside her giggles like a gleeful school girl, and a few tears slide down Cordelia’s face. She’s surprised that she can still produce those tears. Since her memories returned to her, there have only been a few brief periods when Cordelia wasn’t actively crying.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. Whatever is possessing me is super thrilled with the idea of you trying to link to it, and anything that makes it that happy can’t be good for anyone.”
Or it could be good for everyone, it points out. I only came here to help.
Yeah, I’m not that much of an idiot, Cordy retorts. You shouldn’t have possessed me if you wanted someone who would believe whatever crap you decided to spew.
The thing grumbles incoherently, and Angel’s hand cups her face, smoothing out the tension in her clenched jaw. “Is it talking to you right now, Cordy?”
“It’s always talking to me. Lying or plotting or making threats.” Her voice drops down to a whisper. “I’m terrified, Angel. I can’t stop freaking out about what it might do if it completely takes over my body. I’ve never been this scared before.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this scared before either,” he admits. He leans in closer. “All I know is that whatever I have to do, whatever I have to fight, I’ll do it. I’m not losing you, Cordy. Not now and not ever. I can’t.”
Cordelia can’t think, not when Angel is this close to her, close enough to practically touch her soul. Even the foreign presence in her mind is reduced to sputtering gibberish. All Cordelia knows is that his mouth is barely an inch away from hers and that even that miniscule distance is suddenly too much. Her gaze wanders down to his lips, and she wonders for about the millionth time what it would feel like to actually kiss him, to kiss him when they are both themselves and she isn’t just trying to rid herself of visions.
Their whole world is in crisis, but she needs to know before it’s too late. Before this thing takes her over and doesn’t permit her to know.
Angel doesn’t see that Cordy’s attention has wandered away from her immediate problem. He furrows his brow, clearly considering something deeply.
“I guess I could try to go to the Conduit again. It didn’t work last time, but it’s not like we’ve got many other options. Unless there are other oracles that I don’t—”
Cordy presses an index finger to Angel’s lips. “I know the timing for this couldn’t be worse, but I need you to shut up, okay? For at least a minute.”
He nods, and Cordy takes her finger away. She closes the gap between them and squeezes her eyes shut in anticipation.
For a second, Angel freezes in shock, but then suddenly, the world tilts on its axis. He makes this noise, something between a moan and a growl, and then he returns the kiss with wild, reckless energy. The volume of foreign gibberish in Cordy’s mind increases, but she can barely hear it over her own drumming heartbeat and the thought she knows is hers, the one that pleads Oh god yes, more, more, more…
At some point, her hands end up tangled in Angel’s hair and he ends up pressing her against the back of the couch with his entire body. She doesn’t recall the sequence of events that led them to that position, but she isn’t going to question anything that feels this satisfying and miraculous.
Angel pulls away, presumably to allow Cordy to breathe, but then he leans down again immediately, kissing both of her cheeks in quick succession.
Ah, now there’s the dork I know and love, Cordy thinks fondly.
Angel is grinning like an idiot by the time he actually pulls away. “I love you,” he declares happily.
Cordelia grins back just as stupidly. “I love you too.”
Angel dives back down for another kiss, and the thing possessing Cordelia immediately throws a melodramatic hissy fit.
My plans! My beautiful plans! All for waste, all for naught, all gone to ruin! And all because someone refused to make the necessary sacrifices! You will answer for this betrayal! Your entire loathsome species will suffer for this disgrace!
Cordelia can’t help herself. She snorts, but it doesn’t stop there. She chuckles, and then it turns into peals of hysterical laughter. Angel slowly backs away with a perplexed expression on his face that makes Cordy only laugh harder.
“Kissing!” she yells, slapping her hands to her knees. “A frickin’ Power That Be, all mighty and all powerful and that that hooey, threw a temper tantrum like a toddler! Over some PG-13 kissing!”
Angel’s lips twitch, and he fails to fight back a smile. “Seriously? Kissing?”
“I know, right?”
It was not merely kissing, it was thoughtless interference with the destiny of mankind. And for the record, I am not a toddler. When I gain my full powers, I will crush the both of you like ants, which is exactly what you deserve for your immaturity.
The smile falls away from Cordy’s face as the warning seeps into her mind. It floods her, drowning her entire body in the darkness of despair, and it makes the Power’s influence grow stronger within her. But then Angel brings the light back by covering her hand with his own.
“Hey, whatever that thing just told you, it’s not gonna happen, okay? We’ll find a way to fight this, together.”
Logically, Angel has no reason to possess that kind of faith. They’re facing a menace they’ve never encountered before, and logically, there’s plenty of reason for doubt and fear. But if Angel can believe, Cordy can try to believe too.
“Together,” she agrees, turning her hand over so that Angel can intertwine their fingers. He does, and Cordelia allows herself to relax.
The door opens, and Fred enters, carrying a giant stack of books. Lorne rushes to help her set some of them down on the counter before the stack topples over.
“Dang, Fredikins, how many research books does Wesley have?” he asks, picking up one from the top of his stack.
“Enough to fill up his entire backseat, and some in the trunk.” She sets her stack down and blows a strand of hair out of her face. “What did I miss while I was gone?”
“Not much,” Gunn says, walking over towards the counter. “Apparently, the demon Power whatsit thingamajig possessing Cordy really hates it when she tries to mack on Angel.”
Fred hands him a book. “Well, I guess that gives them a good reason to mack, then.” She smirks knowingly. “Not that they needed another one. But seriously, did y’all actually figure anything out when me and Wes were gone?”
Lorne sighs, moving to help Wesley as he enters the room with his own enormous stack of books. “Well, apparently, the Power whatsit is planning to use Connor for some evil scheme, so he’s staying away until we have this situation under better control. And so far, our only possibility to find out anything is Angel going to talk to the Conduit again. That didn’t exactly prove useful last time, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.”
“I could go to the Conduit right now,” Angel says.
“Do you think they’d let me go with you?” Cordy asks, focused entirely on Angel. “The Power, or whatever it was, had completely possessed me until you followed me into that hallway and brought me back under control. If you leave without me, maybe it will come back, and then…”
And then you’ll have to kill me, Cordelia thinks, certain that the others are thinking that too. After her unfinished statement, they avoid looking at each other, and they all seem to take an extra effort to avoid glancing in her direction.
“The, uh, the Conduit isn’t exactly hospitable, Cordy,” Angel recalls. “The last time I went there, they spent more time tossing me across a room rather than giving me any answers.”
She scoffs. “Is that supposed to make a difference to me, Angel? Especially now?”
“No, of course not, not when you compare it to… to the alternative.” Angel swallows heavily and balls his hands into fists as he considers the scenario he can’t directly reference out loud. He pats down his pockets to make sure he has his keys with him and stands up. “Well, I guess there’s no time like the present.”
Cordy stands up and takes Angel’s hand before he leads her outside. “See you guys later,” she tells the others. They offer their goodbyes, and soon Angel is ushering her into his car. She can see that something is making him tense, so before he starts the engine, she grabs his arm and waits until he turns to look at her.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” she asks.
“Nothing, really.” She narrows her eyes, and Angel relents. “Just that thing you brought up earlier. The worst case scenario, if this thing eventually takes over. It’s hard for me to picture myself doing that, being the person who would, well…”
“Believe me, I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen. Just like I know you do everything in your power to make sure you don’t lose your soul. But we can’t just pretend the worst case scenario doesn’t exist. I need to know if it comes down to that, that you’ll do the right thing.”
After a drawn-out pause, Angel nods in reluctant acknowledgment of her point. Cordy can read him well enough to know that he’s still due for an epic brooding session and decides to lighten the mood before it suffocates both of them.
“Hey, just think about it this way. To keep myself from going evil, I have to stick to you like glue 24/7. That doesn’t sound too bad, now does it?”
Angel ducks his head shyly, but it doesn’t hide his goofy grin at all. “Having you stuck to me like glue sounds pretty great, actually.”
She nudges his shoulder playfully. “Awesome, now let’s get on the road to the weird cave place.”
Angel huffs out a laugh and starts to drive. On the way there, Cordy turns up the radio and sings deliberately off-key in order to make him laugh. A few minutes later, Angel joins in with his own awkward monotone, and Cordelia laughs as well. The weird thing that hitched a ride with her from the higher planes is still present, sitting like an inconvenient, stony lump at the center of her being, and Cordy can’t forget the danger that it represents. But with Angel at her side, love isn’t something that must be kept locked up inside your heart and hope is more than just a lost cause. With Angel, and with the support of her family, Cordelia has reason to believe that she can survive this difficult time and make it to a future that will be better for all of them. Even in the midst of darkness, Cordelia sees the light, and she has faith that it will lead her to a brighter, more beautiful tomorrow.