Anodyne

Author: Starlet2367
Posted: 05-10-2002
Email: starlet2367@comcast.net <mailto:starlet2367@comcast.net>
Rating: PG-13 for some bad words.
Feedback: Please. You have to ask?
Disclaimer: They're not mine. But they sure are fun to play with.
Summary: Post-ep for New World.
Thanks: To Carm for doing her very first beta ever (go, Carm!) and to Ebonbird for the one-word title and for keeping me and Cordy honest.

 

"And then the sea creature rose up, and with its remaining tentacle...." Groo's hand flew through the air to illustrate.

"Cordy!"

Her wandering attention was suddenly riveted on the opening door. "Angel?"

He stumbled over the threshold, one hand clutched to his chest, the other clenched around the doorframe. "Cordy," he repeated. And then he collapsed.

She leapt off the couch, leaving Groo sitting, hand in the air, on the pink velvet pouf.

"Oh, my God," she cried, feet flying over the pentagram-stained floor. "What happened?"

His coattail, which flared around him like bat wings, bunched beneath her knees. Under her hand his fingers were alarmingly cool.

"Connor," he groaned. "Shotgun."

She paled. "Shotgun?" Her gaze flew to his hand, covered with blood, then to the front of his shirt, darkened with it. "Oh, my God. Connor shot you?"

"Yeah...Connor...." His brows pulled together in confusion. "No. I mean...."

Groo made it to the door. "Angel. You do not look well."

Angel coughed, spattering blood in a fine mist. "Don't miss a trick, do you?" he gasped.

Cordy stumbled to her feet. "The couch," she said. "Get him to the couch!"

"But, Princess, are you sure moving him is...."

"Dammit, Groo, now!" she barked, and ran from the room.

Groo helped Angel to his feet. "You are weak. I will carry you."

"No." Angel shook his head woozily. "Thanks." He lunged, letting momentum carry him instead, and collapsed on the cushion Groo had just abandoned.

Gunn and Fred ran out of the office and into the lobby. "Oh, Angel, you're hurt," Fred cried.

Groo clapped her on the arm. "You do not miss a trick," he said, sounding the words out like a student at a foreign language fair.

Fred, glasses askew, blinked up at him. "Uh, thanks. I think."

"Definitely seen ya look better," Gunn noted. "Here." He put gentle hands on Angel's shoulders. "Cordy's gonna want your coat off."

He helped Angel slide the leather duster off, grimacing when he saw the 4-inch hole in the back. "Unless you know a demon with a tail *and* a leather fetish, I'd say this coat's pretty much a goner."

Angel dropped his chin to his chest and closed his eyes. "Funny. Just the other day, Lorne was telling me...." He drifted into silence.

Cordy ran back into the room, first aid kit in hand, and skidded to a halt next to Angel. "You got his coat off. Good," she said. She dropped the kit onto the couch next to him and elbowed Gunn out of the way. "Oh, my God. He passed out." She shook his shoulder roughly. "Angel, can you hear me?" she shouted.

He opened one eye. "Loud and clear," he said wryly.

"Thank God." She knelt between his legs, grabbed his shirt with both hands, and yanked. It ripped down the placket, scattering buttons.

He grunted. "Dammit, I liked that shirt."

Trembling hands pushed the ripped material down his arms and off, then tossed it into a blood-stained heap on the floor. "I'll buy you another," she promised. "Can you lift your arms?"

He tried and winced. "Ow."

A line appeared between her brows. "Plan B, then." She glanced up at Groo. "Get me the scissors. In my desk drawer."

Fred reached for Gunn's hand. "What happened?"

Gunn shrugged.

"Shotgun," Cordy said. "Something about Connor. I don't know the details." She took the scissors from Groo and slit Angel's t-shirt open from waist to neck. She eased the shirt off his chest, flinching when she saw that several of the pellets had actually exited.

"God," she breathed. "How close were you?"

"Twenty feet, maybe," Angel said, letting his head fall against her shoulder.

"You idiot," she said, peeling the cotton gently off his arms. When she got to his back she bit her lip. "And I repeat: You *idiot*."

The t-shirt was ripped clean through and the charred edges clung to the open wound. She pulled it gingerly away. "This is really bad, Angel," she bit out. "What were you thinking?"

"Connor," he whispered. "They were...shooting at...."

"Okay, shhhh," she said, voice softening. "We'll talk about it later." She glanced at Gunn who stood, staring grimly at the raw, shredded meat that was Angel's back.

"Guys," she said, backing out of Angel's embrace. "I need you to move him upstairs. Put him face down on the bed. We have to get the pellets out before he heals over them."

Gunn nodded and pulled Angel to his feet. "Think you can make it?"

Angel's glance slid from Gunn to Groo and back again. "Alternative is for you to carry me?" At Gunn's nod, he grimaced. "I think I can make it."

"Right," Gunn replied, mouth twitching.

Cordy stood, first aid kit in hand, toe tapping impatiently on the terrazzo. "And while you guys stand here yapping, Angel's turning into a metal detector's wet dream."

"We're goin'," Gunn said.

They started slowly up the stairs, Fred on their heels. Cordy ran ahead, opening the door to Angel's room. It was still a mess: cracked walls, broken plaster and in the middle, the unmade bed. She kicked aside the brushes and buckets and grabbed a plastic tarp to spread on the mattress.

"Put him down," she said, pointing to the tarp. "It's about as unclean as you can get, but at least it'll keep the blood off of the bed."

Gunn and Groo guided a sheet-white, trembling Angel to the mattress. Groo stepped back, but Gunn stayed at Angel's side, holding him upright.

"Fred," Cordy said. "Go get some blood. There's vodka under the sink. Make a Bloody Mary and mix it really strong."

"I get a drink?" Angel asked, mouth stretched thin. Pearls of sweat beaded his upper lip.

"Yeah. Because you were such a good boy and got a hole blown in your back," she retorted. "Shoes off," she said, crouching and unlacing the heavy boots. She pulled them free and dropped them with a clunk.

Fred handed Cordy a tall glass, full of red liquid.

"Here," she said, giving it to Angel. "Drink it all." She held his hands steady while he gulped greedily.

After he got about half the glass down he stopped. "Enough," he said. He set it on the bedside table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Fine. We'll just save the rest for later," Cordy said. She and Gunn helped him lie down face first on the bed. "Fred, make sure he's comfortable. This may take awhile. Gunn, move that garbage can over here."

Groo stood to the side, hands hanging loosely, as he watched the rest of the crew complete their tasks.

Cordy popped the lid on the first aid kit. What had started out as a high-end kit had grown over the years to include supplies that no hospital had ever imagined using. But this procedure didn't require any special potions or unguents, just a pair of surgical pliers, a cast-iron stomach and a steady hand.

"Anyone prone to fainting at the sight of blood, leave now," Cordy said wryly. Hardly a group you had to worry about that with. But the room was feeling slightly claustrophobic. "Angel, you know this is gonna hurt like hell," she said, pulling on her gloves and taking the pliers and a small, very sharp knife.

He grunted into the pillow.

She opened the alcohol and poured it over both instruments to sterilize the metal, ignoring the way it puddled in the small garbage can. There'd be a lot worse stuff in there before the night was over.

"You gonna need someone to hold you down?" she asked, already knowing his answer.

There was a pause, then the shake of his head. "No," he said. "Just you."

She looked up. "Everybody out."

"Princess," Groo said, suddenly realizing what Cordy intended. "Surely you cannot...."

She smiled. "I'll be fine, Groo." She glanced at Fred. "Why don't you and Gunn take Groo downstairs. Get some dinner or something. I'll call you when this is done."

She let out a deep breath when she heard the door close behind them. "He means well," she said, almost apologetically.

"Uh huh," Angel remarked.

"He just doesn't understand...." She blew her bangs out of her eyes with a huff. "You feeling the alcohol yet?"

"A little."

"Just a little?" she asked, sitting next to him and brushing her fingers gently over his shoulder. "You want me to bring the bottle?"

"No. Just get 'em out before they become permanently attached."

Cordy nodded. "Gonna have to work fast."

"Fine. Great. Whatever," he said, wincing as he bent his elbows and rested his hands by his head. "You got enough room?"

She nodded. "Plenty."

She leaned over his bare back to get a closer look at the wound. It was ugly. About 4 inches wide, a nasty spatter of holes made by a shell full of pellets, most of which had gone in, but hadn't come out. Buried down in layers of muscle, she was going to have to extract them one piece at a time.

She drew a deep breath to steady herself. "Okay. Gotta clean this off so I can see what I'm doing," she said, reaching for a large, needless syringe and a bottle of distilled water. "You ready for a little fun?"

"Aren't I always?" he asked, glancing back at her.

She wrinkled her nose. "Oh, yeah. You're Mr. Fun Guy. The personification of fun," she said, loading the syringe with practiced hands.

He snorted.

She capped the water and put the bottle back down on the table. "Here goes nothing?" she asked, holding the syringe over his back.

He nodded, mouth grim.

She gently dispensed the water over the wound, cupping her gloved hand around his waist to steady him when he jerked. Then she set the syringe aside and took a piece of gauze. She wiped the wound carefully, and the gauze was quickly drenched in blood, bits of t-shirt and other things she really didn't want to consider.

From what she could see so far, a couple of pellets had gone wide, but weren't very deep. The rest had concentrated in a pretty tight circle in the middle of his back, just behind his heart.

"You're lucky they weren't silver," she said sternly. "You'd be dust."

"I guess. Right now I almost wish they had been."

"I can imagine." She grimaced. "Well, I can't, really. But you know what I mean." She dropped the first piece of wet gauze to the can with a plop and started on the second. By the fifth, she could see the wound clearly. "Looks like it stopped bleeding."

"The side benefit of missing dinner," he said wryly.

She snorted. "Speaking of, you want another dose of vodka before I start?"

He nodded and rolled gingerly to his side. "Probably a good idea." He picked up the glass and drank the rest in three deep swallows. "That Fred. She mixes a hell of a drink," he said, rolling back onto his stomach.

"Maybe she and Lorne should open a night club," Cordy said, straightening the tarp underneath him.

"Scary thought," he replied, drawing his hands up next to his head again.

Cordy picked up the knife, the tweezers and a handful of gauze. "You ready?"

"As I'll ever be."

"Scoot over," she said. "I'm coming up."

He slid toward the middle of the bed and grunted when she straddled his hips. "You been eating more than usual?"

She huffed. "I can walk away right now. You'll be rattling like a box of BBs for the rest of your unlife."

"I meant it as a compliment."

"No wonder you have such crappy luck with women." She dropped the gauze and the tools on the tarp next to his head, where she could reach them easily.

"Thought you were trying to make me feel better, not worse."

"You started it." She picked up the knife, rested her left palm gently on his shoulder and took a deep breath. "I'm gonna start with the ones on the outside and work my way in," she said, dipping the knife toward his upper back where the first of the pellets had gone wide.

"Good plan."

She slid the knife deftly over his skin, opening the first entry hole wide enough to get the tweezers in.

Angel hissed.

"Okay?" A thin line of blood welled up on the puckered flesh. She brushed it away with a piece of gauze.

"Peachy."

She laid the knife down, picked up the tweezers, and went hunting for the pellet. It was only about an eighth of an inch deep, not even into the heaviest part of the muscle. It slid out easily and she dropped it over the edge of the bed and into the garbage can. It landed with a flat little ping.

Angel went silent as she worked her way around, clockwise, cutting as little as possible and digging only as much as she needed to. "I have to say, working with you has certainly improved my nursing skills," she said conversationally.

"Always glad to help," he muttered around clenched teeth.

"Maybe I should buy one of those little uniforms for times like this. You know, the white dress, little apron with the red cross on it?" She dropped another pellet into the can. "I bet I'd look great in one of those hats."

"If you're trying to jump-start my libido, it's working."

She snorted. "I've got a pair of tweezers buried in your back, and you're thinking about sex?" Another pellet pinged. They were getting to the harder part now. Best to keep them both talking so they'd forget the fact that he was hurting like hell and that it was only gonna get worse.

"I'm a vampire. Pain always makes me think about sex," he panted.

"You're a sick, sick man," she said, wincing as she opened another long ribbon of flesh with the scalpel-sharp knife.

He grunted. "That hurt."

"Oh, please. I can hardly be the first to comment on your perverse nature."

"I meant the knife."

She shifted on his haunches. "Man, this better not take too long. My legs are gonna cramp."

Angel gasped when she scooped out three pellets at a time. "God. Are we there yet?"

"We've barely even started," she said with a sigh. She set the tweezers aside. "I should have told Fred to leave the vodka."

"I'd have to drink a whole lot of vodka...."

"Not for you, dumbass," she huffed.

"Oh, right."

She went back to work, and for nearly 40 minutes she pulled shotgun pellets from his flesh. They grew silent as the grisly task took more and more of their attention.

Angel was tense with pain, his lips bloody where he bit them to keep from screaming. She shifted, trying not to put too much pressure on his back.

"You're fine," he said.

"No, it's okay," she muttered absently, feeling her quads burn as she balanced above him. She wiped sweat off her face with her blood-spattered shirtsleeve. "I am gonna need a massage when this is all over, though," she said, rolling her head from side to side.

"Too bad I've lost the feeling in my arms," Angel slurred. "Otherwise, I'd volunteer."

He sounded like she felt, stretched nearly to his limits. She took another breath. "Only a few left," she said in her best cheerleader's voice. "Can you do it?"

"Can you?"

She took a breath, shook out her hands. "I'm good."

"Okay. Finish it."

She wiped him down with another piece of gauze. "These are the deepest. Looks like they hit a couple of ribs. There's some bone and stuff in here." She paused. "And I can't believe I just said that."

"Cordy Chase, MD." Angel hissed. "Jesus, do you have to dig those things so deep?"

"Sorry, sorry," she said, wincing when she hit bone. "The bones shattered, but they're already healing. Not too bad, considering."

"So you say."

She scooped out the few remaining pieces of metal then set the tweezers down. Her fingers had cramped around the handles and her mouth twisted in pain as she worked them loose. The blood flowed back in, leaving behind a pin-prickly haze.

"Gonna rinse you off." She reloaded the syringe then squirted a cooling jet of water into the wound, washing out the blood and the debris. It already looked better, Angel's magical healing powers being what they were. But she still liked to do things a certain way. "A little Neosporin for good measure?" she asked, drying the wound carefully.

It was a game they played. She bought the stuff in economy-sized tubes, and he let her slather it on, despite the fact that they both knew it didn't work on dead flesh.

"Sure. If it'll make you feel better."

She opened the tube and squirted a glob onto her fingertips. "Strangely enough, it does." She coated the wound liberally then pulled a large gauze pad from the first-aid kit and ripped it open. She placed the gauze gently on his skin and taped it down.

Then she slid off and stood next to the bed. Her legs trembled with fatigue and her wrists and neck were cramping. As far as Angel-injuries went, this wasn't the worst, but it came pretty damn close.

He was sweaty and trembling, but she could tell he was starting to calm down, which made her feel a whole lot better. "You okay? You want another drink?" she asked, stomping her feet to get the circulation going in her legs again.

"'m fine," he mumbled, rubbing his face against the pillow. "Jus' tired."

"Get some sleep, then," she said, peeling the gloves off and stroking his forehead gently.

"'kay," he said. "Nurse Cordy."

She laughed quietly and reached over him to collect the knife and the tweezers. Then she went to the bathroom and dumped them in the sink.

She returned to the bedroom, collecting the rest of her supplies and putting the kit back together. Angel snored softly as she worked, relaxing her even further. It was only when she bent over to pick up the garbage can and saw the hundreds of pellets and the wads of bloody gauze that she realized how hellish the last hour had been.

She slid to the floor and rested her head on her knees.

"Hey," he slurred, brushing his hand across her shoulder. "You okay?"

"Mmmm," she replied, because she knew the lump in her throat was too big to talk around.

She felt his hand on the back of her neck, and it felt so cool and real and solid that she rolled her head back and trapped him against her.

"Cordy," he whispered. He shifted on the tarp and the plastic rattled.

"Yeah?" She bent her head forward and wiped her eyes with her fingertips.

"Come up here."

"But...Groo. I mean, I've gotta tell the others...."

"Shhh," he said. She heard the plastic rattle again then saw it float down to land on the floor next to her. "They'll figure it out eventually. Come on, you're wiped out."

She sighed then pushed herself to her feet. "I need to go clean up."

"Leave it," he said.

"But my hands...."

"Wash 'em later."

"Angel...."

His hand swung out and grabbed her wrist, his fingers encircling her slim arm like a loose bracelet. "Shhh," he said again, pulling her down. "Come on. Take off your shoes."

She gave up. He was right. She was tired. And she wasn't ready to leave him just yet. She kicked off her shoes.

He rolled onto his side and opened his eyes. "You're really gonna stay?" he murmured.

She slid in next to him, sighed when she turned on her side and snuggled close. "Despite my better judgment, yes."

They hadn't been together like this since the night Fred nearly lost her head to those clacking demons. Some nights, even now, she'd close her eyes and hear Connor's butterfly-breath, feel Angel's hand beneath hers.

Angel wrapped his arm around her waist and spooned her tightly against him. She felt his lips on her hair like a breeze and she closed her eyes and simply breathed.

"I'm glad you're okay," she said after a few minutes.

"Mmm," he said. "Much better now." His fingers stroked her stomach absently.

Even through the burnt, bitter smell of charred wood and the crisp odor of new paint she could smell him. Sweat, blood, and the comforting, indefinable scent that was Angel. Tucked against his bare chest, wrapped in his scent, she drifted off.

"Cordy."

She twitched awake at the sound of his voice. "Hmph?"

He sighed. "Thanks."

"We aim to please," she said, blinking sleepily. "Too bad the other guy didn't."

He chuckled into her hair then went quiet again, his breathing slow and regular.

Her eyelids were too heavy to keep open, so she let them slide shut, let his breathing take her under.

Angel stretched, tucked a foot over hers and twined their legs companionably. "Cordy?" he mumbled again.

"Mmm...." She was drifting, floating.

His thumb strummed her ribs. "Nobody heals me like you do." His hand slipped under the hem of her shirt and his cool palm rested softly against the bare skin of her belly.

"Mmm.... Feels good," she slurred.

He sighed, long and deep, buried his face in her hair. "So tired...." His words were a whisper in the quiet room.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew there was a reason she shouldn't be here, like this, with him. But she just couldn't seem to.... Couldn't seem to....

She slid off the deep end and met him in the silence.

End.

Title: Anodyne
Author: Starlet2367
Posted: 05-10-2002
Email: starlet2367@comcast.net <mailto:starlet2367@comcast.net>
Rating: PG-13 for some bad words.
Feedback: Please. You have to ask?
Disclaimer: They're not mine. But they sure are fun to play with.
Summary: Post-ep for New World.
Thanks: To Carm for doing her very first beta ever (go, Carm!) and to Ebonbird for the one-word title and for keeping me and Cordy honest.

 

"And then the sea creature rose up, and with its remaining tentacle...." Groo's hand flew through the air to illustrate.

"Cordy!"

Her wandering attention was suddenly riveted on the opening door. "Angel?"

He stumbled over the threshold, one hand clutched to his chest, the other clenched around the doorframe. "Cordy," he repeated. And then he collapsed.

She leapt off the couch, leaving Groo sitting, hand in the air, on the pink velvet pouf.

"Oh, my God," she cried, feet flying over the pentagram-stained floor. "What happened?"

His coattail, which flared around him like bat wings, bunched beneath her knees. Under her hand his fingers were alarmingly cool.

"Connor," he groaned. "Shotgun."

She paled. "Shotgun?" Her gaze flew to his hand, covered with blood, then to the front of his shirt, darkened with it. "Oh, my God. Connor shot you?"

"Yeah...Connor...." His brows pulled together in confusion. "No. I mean...."

Groo made it to the door. "Angel. You do not look well."

Angel coughed, spattering blood in a fine mist. "Don't miss a trick, do you?" he gasped.

Cordy stumbled to her feet. "The couch," she said. "Get him to the couch!"

"But, Princess, are you sure moving him is...."

"Dammit, Groo, now!" she barked, and ran from the room.

Groo helped Angel to his feet. "You are weak. I will carry you."

"No." Angel shook his head woozily. "Thanks." He lunged, letting momentum carry him instead, and collapsed on the cushion Groo had just abandoned.

Gunn and Fred ran out of the office and into the lobby. "Oh, Angel, you're hurt," Fred cried.

Groo clapped her on the arm. "You do not miss a trick," he said, sounding the words out like a student at a foreign language fair.

Fred, glasses askew, blinked up at him. "Uh, thanks. I think."

"Definitely seen ya look better," Gunn noted. "Here." He put gentle hands on Angel's shoulders. "Cordy's gonna want your coat off."

He helped Angel slide the leather duster off, grimacing when he saw the 4-inch hole in the back. "Unless you know a demon with a tail *and* a leather fetish, I'd say this coat's pretty much a goner."

Angel dropped his chin to his chest and closed his eyes. "Funny. Just the other day, Lorne was telling me...." He drifted into silence.

Cordy ran back into the room, first aid kit in hand, and skidded to a halt next to Angel. "You got his coat off. Good," she said. She dropped the kit onto the couch next to him and elbowed Gunn out of the way. "Oh, my God. He passed out." She shook his shoulder roughly. "Angel, can you hear me?" she shouted.

He opened one eye. "Loud and clear," he said wryly.

"Thank God." She knelt between his legs, grabbed his shirt with both hands, and yanked. It ripped down the placket, scattering buttons.

He grunted. "Dammit, I liked that shirt."

Trembling hands pushed the ripped material down his arms and off, then tossed it into a blood-stained heap on the floor. "I'll buy you another," she promised. "Can you lift your arms?"

He tried and winced. "Ow."

A line appeared between her brows. "Plan B, then." She glanced up at Groo. "Get me the scissors. In my desk drawer."

Fred reached for Gunn's hand. "What happened?"

Gunn shrugged.

"Shotgun," Cordy said. "Something about Connor. I don't know the details." She took the scissors from Groo and slit Angel's t-shirt open from waist to neck. She eased the shirt off his chest, flinching when she saw that several of the pellets had actually exited.

"God," she breathed. "How close were you?"

"Twenty feet, maybe," Angel said, letting his head fall against her shoulder.

"You idiot," she said, peeling the cotton gently off his arms. When she got to his back she bit her lip. "And I repeat: You *idiot*."

The t-shirt was ripped clean through and the charred edges clung to the open wound. She pulled it gingerly away. "This is really bad, Angel," she bit out. "What were you thinking?"

"Connor," he whispered. "They were...shooting at...."

"Okay, shhhh," she said, voice softening. "We'll talk about it later." She glanced at Gunn who stood, staring grimly at the raw, shredded meat that was Angel's back.

"Guys," she said, backing out of Angel's embrace. "I need you to move him upstairs. Put him face down on the bed. We have to get the pellets out before he heals over them."

Gunn nodded and pulled Angel to his feet. "Think you can make it?"

Angel's glance slid from Gunn to Groo and back again. "Alternative is for you to carry me?" At Gunn's nod, he grimaced. "I think I can make it."

"Right," Gunn replied, mouth twitching.

Cordy stood, first aid kit in hand, toe tapping impatiently on the terrazzo. "And while you guys stand here yapping, Angel's turning into a metal detector's wet dream."

"We're goin'," Gunn said.

They started slowly up the stairs, Fred on their heels. Cordy ran ahead, opening the door to Angel's room. It was still a mess: cracked walls, broken plaster and in the middle, the unmade bed. She kicked aside the brushes and buckets and grabbed a plastic tarp to spread on the mattress.

"Put him down," she said, pointing to the tarp. "It's about as unclean as you can get, but at least it'll keep the blood off of the bed."

Gunn and Groo guided a sheet-white, trembling Angel to the mattress. Groo stepped back, but Gunn stayed at Angel's side, holding him upright.

"Fred," Cordy said. "Go get some blood. There's vodka under the sink. Make a Bloody Mary and mix it really strong."

"I get a drink?" Angel asked, mouth stretched thin. Pearls of sweat beaded his upper lip.

"Yeah. Because you were such a good boy and got a hole blown in your back," she retorted. "Shoes off," she said, crouching and unlacing the heavy boots. She pulled them free and dropped them with a clunk.

Fred handed Cordy a tall glass, full of red liquid.

"Here," she said, giving it to Angel. "Drink it all." She held his hands steady while he gulped greedily.

After he got about half the glass down he stopped. "Enough," he said. He set it on the bedside table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Fine. We'll just save the rest for later," Cordy said. She and Gunn helped him lie down face first on the bed. "Fred, make sure he's comfortable. This may take awhile. Gunn, move that garbage can over here."

Groo stood to the side, hands hanging loosely, as he watched the rest of the crew complete their tasks.

Cordy popped the lid on the first aid kit. What had started out as a high-end kit had grown over the years to include supplies that no hospital had ever imagined using. But this procedure didn't require any special potions or unguents, just a pair of surgical pliers, a cast-iron stomach and a steady hand.

"Anyone prone to fainting at the sight of blood, leave now," Cordy said wryly. Hardly a group you had to worry about that with. But the room was feeling slightly claustrophobic. "Angel, you know this is gonna hurt like hell," she said, pulling on her gloves and taking the pliers and a small, very sharp knife.

He grunted into the pillow.

She opened the alcohol and poured it over both instruments to sterilize the metal, ignoring the way it puddled in the small garbage can. There'd be a lot worse stuff in there before the night was over.

"You gonna need someone to hold you down?" she asked, already knowing his answer.

There was a pause, then the shake of his head. "No," he said. "Just you."

She looked up. "Everybody out."

"Princess," Groo said, suddenly realizing what Cordy intended. "Surely you cannot...."

She smiled. "I'll be fine, Groo." She glanced at Fred. "Why don't you and Gunn take Groo downstairs. Get some dinner or something. I'll call you when this is done."

She let out a deep breath when she heard the door close behind them. "He means well," she said, almost apologetically.

"Uh huh," Angel remarked.

"He just doesn't understand...." She blew her bangs out of her eyes with a huff. "You feeling the alcohol yet?"

"A little."

"Just a little?" she asked, sitting next to him and brushing her fingers gently over his shoulder. "You want me to bring the bottle?"

"No. Just get 'em out before they become permanently attached."

Cordy nodded. "Gonna have to work fast."

"Fine. Great. Whatever," he said, wincing as he bent his elbows and rested his hands by his head. "You got enough room?"

She nodded. "Plenty."

She leaned over his bare back to get a closer look at the wound. It was ugly. About 4 inches wide, a nasty spatter of holes made by a shell full of pellets, most of which had gone in, but hadn't come out. Buried down in layers of muscle, she was going to have to extract them one piece at a time.

She drew a deep breath to steady herself. "Okay. Gotta clean this off so I can see what I'm doing," she said, reaching for a large, needless syringe and a bottle of distilled water. "You ready for a little fun?"

"Aren't I always?" he asked, glancing back at her.

She wrinkled her nose. "Oh, yeah. You're Mr. Fun Guy. The personification of fun," she said, loading the syringe with practiced hands.

He snorted.

She capped the water and put the bottle back down on the table. "Here goes nothing?" she asked, holding the syringe over his back.

He nodded, mouth grim.

She gently dispensed the water over the wound, cupping her gloved hand around his waist to steady him when he jerked. Then she set the syringe aside and took a piece of gauze. She wiped the wound carefully, and the gauze was quickly drenched in blood, bits of t-shirt and other things she really didn't want to consider.

From what she could see so far, a couple of pellets had gone wide, but weren't very deep. The rest had concentrated in a pretty tight circle in the middle of his back, just behind his heart.

"You're lucky they weren't silver," she said sternly. "You'd be dust."

"I guess. Right now I almost wish they had been."

"I can imagine." She grimaced. "Well, I can't, really. But you know what I mean." She dropped the first piece of wet gauze to the can with a plop and started on the second. By the fifth, she could see the wound clearly. "Looks like it stopped bleeding."

"The side benefit of missing dinner," he said wryly.

She snorted. "Speaking of, you want another dose of vodka before I start?"

He nodded and rolled gingerly to his side. "Probably a good idea." He picked up the glass and drank the rest in three deep swallows. "That Fred. She mixes a hell of a drink," he said, rolling back onto his stomach.

"Maybe she and Lorne should open a night club," Cordy said, straightening the tarp underneath him.

"Scary thought," he replied, drawing his hands up next to his head again.

Cordy picked up the knife, the tweezers and a handful of gauze. "You ready?"

"As I'll ever be."

"Scoot over," she said. "I'm coming up."

He slid toward the middle of the bed and grunted when she straddled his hips. "You been eating more than usual?"

She huffed. "I can walk away right now. You'll be rattling like a box of BBs for the rest of your unlife."

"I meant it as a compliment."

"No wonder you have such crappy luck with women." She dropped the gauze and the tools on the tarp next to his head, where she could reach them easily.

"Thought you were trying to make me feel better, not worse."

"You started it." She picked up the knife, rested her left palm gently on his shoulder and took a deep breath. "I'm gonna start with the ones on the outside and work my way in," she said, dipping the knife toward his upper back where the first of the pellets had gone wide.

"Good plan."

She slid the knife deftly over his skin, opening the first entry hole wide enough to get the tweezers in.

Angel hissed.

"Okay?" A thin line of blood welled up on the puckered flesh. She brushed it away with a piece of gauze.

"Peachy."

She laid the knife down, picked up the tweezers, and went hunting for the pellet. It was only about an eighth of an inch deep, not even into the heaviest part of the muscle. It slid out easily and she dropped it over the edge of the bed and into the garbage can. It landed with a flat little ping.

Angel went silent as she worked her way around, clockwise, cutting as little as possible and digging only as much as she needed to. "I have to say, working with you has certainly improved my nursing skills," she said conversationally.

"Always glad to help," he muttered around clenched teeth.

"Maybe I should buy one of those little uniforms for times like this. You know, the white dress, little apron with the red cross on it?" She dropped another pellet into the can. "I bet I'd look great in one of those hats."

"If you're trying to jump-start my libido, it's working."

She snorted. "I've got a pair of tweezers buried in your back, and you're thinking about sex?" Another pellet pinged. They were getting to the harder part now. Best to keep them both talking so they'd forget the fact that he was hurting like hell and that it was only gonna get worse.

"I'm a vampire. Pain always makes me think about sex," he panted.

"You're a sick, sick man," she said, wincing as she opened another long ribbon of flesh with the scalpel-sharp knife.

He grunted. "That hurt."

"Oh, please. I can hardly be the first to comment on your perverse nature."

"I meant the knife."

She shifted on his haunches. "Man, this better not take too long. My legs are gonna cramp."

Angel gasped when she scooped out three pellets at a time. "God. Are we there yet?"

"We've barely even started," she said with a sigh. She set the tweezers aside. "I should have told Fred to leave the vodka."

"I'd have to drink a whole lot of vodka...."

"Not for you, dumbass," she huffed.

"Oh, right."

She went back to work, and for nearly 40 minutes she pulled shotgun pellets from his flesh. They grew silent as the grisly task took more and more of their attention.

Angel was tense with pain, his lips bloody where he bit them to keep from screaming. She shifted, trying not to put too much pressure on his back.

"You're fine," he said.

"No, it's okay," she muttered absently, feeling her quads burn as she balanced above him. She wiped sweat off her face with her blood-spattered shirtsleeve. "I am gonna need a massage when this is all over, though," she said, rolling her head from side to side.

"Too bad I've lost the feeling in my arms," Angel slurred. "Otherwise, I'd volunteer."

He sounded like she felt, stretched nearly to his limits. She took another breath. "Only a few left," she said in her best cheerleader's voice. "Can you do it?"

"Can you?"

She took a breath, shook out her hands. "I'm good."

"Okay. Finish it."

She wiped him down with another piece of gauze. "These are the deepest. Looks like they hit a couple of ribs. There's some bone and stuff in here." She paused. "And I can't believe I just said that."

"Cordy Chase, MD." Angel hissed. "Jesus, do you have to dig those things so deep?"

"Sorry, sorry," she said, wincing when she hit bone. "The bones shattered, but they're already healing. Not too bad, considering."

"So you say."

She scooped out the few remaining pieces of metal then set the tweezers down. Her fingers had cramped around the handles and her mouth twisted in pain as she worked them loose. The blood flowed back in, leaving behind a pin-prickly haze.

"Gonna rinse you off." She reloaded the syringe then squirted a cooling jet of water into the wound, washing out the blood and the debris. It already looked better, Angel's magical healing powers being what they were. But she still liked to do things a certain way. "A little Neosporin for good measure?" she asked, drying the wound carefully.

It was a game they played. She bought the stuff in economy-sized tubes, and he let her slather it on, despite the fact that they both knew it didn't work on dead flesh.

"Sure. If it'll make you feel better."

She opened the tube and squirted a glob onto her fingertips. "Strangely enough, it does." She coated the wound liberally then pulled a large gauze pad from the first-aid kit and ripped it open. She placed the gauze gently on his skin and taped it down.

Then she slid off and stood next to the bed. Her legs trembled with fatigue and her wrists and neck were cramping. As far as Angel-injuries went, this wasn't the worst, but it came pretty damn close.

He was sweaty and trembling, but she could tell he was starting to calm down, which made her feel a whole lot better. "You okay? You want another drink?" she asked, stomping her feet to get the circulation going in her legs again.

"'m fine," he mumbled, rubbing his face against the pillow. "Jus' tired."

"Get some sleep, then," she said, peeling the gloves off and stroking his forehead gently.

"'kay," he said. "Nurse Cordy."

She laughed quietly and reached over him to collect the knife and the tweezers. Then she went to the bathroom and dumped them in the sink.

She returned to the bedroom, collecting the rest of her supplies and putting the kit back together. Angel snored softly as she worked, relaxing her even further. It was only when she bent over to pick up the garbage can and saw the hundreds of pellets and the wads of bloody gauze that she realized how hellish the last hour had been.

She slid to the floor and rested her head on her knees.

"Hey," he slurred, brushing his hand across her shoulder. "You okay?"

"Mmmm," she replied, because she knew the lump in her throat was too big to talk around.

She felt his hand on the back of her neck, and it felt so cool and real and solid that she rolled her head back and trapped him against her.

"Cordy," he whispered. He shifted on the tarp and the plastic rattled.

"Yeah?" She bent her head forward and wiped her eyes with her fingertips.

"Come up here."

"But...Groo. I mean, I've gotta tell the others...."

"Shhh," he said. She heard the plastic rattle again then saw it float down to land on the floor next to her. "They'll figure it out eventually. Come on, you're wiped out."

She sighed then pushed herself to her feet. "I need to go clean up."

"Leave it," he said.

"But my hands...."

"Wash 'em later."

"Angel...."

His hand swung out and grabbed her wrist, his fingers encircling her slim arm like a loose bracelet. "Shhh," he said again, pulling her down. "Come on. Take off your shoes."

She gave up. He was right. She was tired. And she wasn't ready to leave him just yet. She kicked off her shoes.

He rolled onto his side and opened his eyes. "You're really gonna stay?" he murmured.

She slid in next to him, sighed when she turned on her side and snuggled close. "Despite my better judgment, yes."

They hadn't been together like this since the night Fred nearly lost her head to those clacking demons. Some nights, even now, she'd close her eyes and hear Connor's butterfly-breath, feel Angel's hand beneath hers.

Angel wrapped his arm around her waist and spooned her tightly against him. She felt his lips on her hair like a breeze and she closed her eyes and simply breathed.

"I'm glad you're okay," she said after a few minutes.

"Mmm," he said. "Much better now." His fingers stroked her stomach absently.

Even through the burnt, bitter smell of charred wood and the crisp odor of new paint she could smell him. Sweat, blood, and the comforting, indefinable scent that was Angel. Tucked against his bare chest, wrapped in his scent, she drifted off.

"Cordy."

She twitched awake at the sound of his voice. "Hmph?"

He sighed. "Thanks."

"We aim to please," she said, blinking sleepily. "Too bad the other guy didn't."

He chuckled into her hair then went quiet again, his breathing slow and regular.

Her eyelids were too heavy to keep open, so she let them slide shut, let his breathing take her under.

Angel stretched, tucked a foot over hers and twined their legs companionably. "Cordy?" he mumbled again.

"Mmm...." She was drifting, floating.

His thumb strummed her ribs. "Nobody heals me like you do." His hand slipped under the hem of her shirt and his cool palm rested softly against the bare skin of her belly.

"Mmm.... Feels good," she slurred.

He sighed, long and deep, buried his face in her hair. "So tired...." His words were a whisper in the quiet room.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew there was a reason she shouldn't be here, like this, with him. But she just couldn't seem to.... Couldn't seem to....

She slid off the deep end and met him in the silence.

End.

 



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