"Sole Survivors"

 

an original fan story by Julie Fortune

 

This story is a work of original fiction; however, it is set in the universe of Angel, created by Mutant Enemy productions and the Warner Brothers Television Network. I make no claims to any copyrights regarding these characters. This work is written entirely for my enjoyment and the enjoyment of friends. Please e-mail the author with comments.

 

Please do not reproduce or copy without the author's permission.

 

 

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Author's note: This is a very specific "missing time" piece from during and after the episode "Billy," an episode I found especially riveting and powerful  Even in the context of Angel's demonic universe, the subject of male-on-female abuse rings frighteningly true.   WARNING:  Contains episode spoilers.

 

Special thanks to E. Bird for helping me avoid a BIG error of fact ...

 

 

 

Billy Blimm was dead, and that was a good. Cordelia didn't hate very well, although she could hold a grudge like nobody's business; at the end, when she'd watched Billy die, she'd still felt a little sick about it. Would she have killed him? Yes. Would she have enjoyed it? No. And in the end, maybe that was the only important thing.

 

Well, that ... and the fact that Angel hadn't wigged out on her and turned all stalker-psycho-abuser like all the other men Billy came in contact with. Which she still feared, a little. But not enough to let him know it.

 

"You took cabs?" he asked her. They were in the Batmobile, cruising back to the Batcave, and it was a nice night even by California standards -- cool evening breeze, a few stars shining through the blaze of city lights. "Cordelia, how much?"

 

"Oh, I don't know -- there was the cab to Lila's apartment, then the one over to that other Blimm idiot's place, then out to the airport ... " She thought about it. "More than the current bank balance. Because we haven't actually gotten paid for saving the world in a while."

 

"I take that personally," Angel deadpanned.

 

"As the person who writes the check that keeps a roof over our heads, gee, me too."

 

"Sorry about that. Hungry?"

 

"Starved. Unfortunately, we have about two bucks and there are no drive-in blood dispensers, so I'm thinking hotel food."

 

"Almost home anyway," Angel sighed. "Fred really liked the ice cream, you know? Except for the demon attack part at the end. Maybe I should get some more ice cream, we're down to our last gallon."

 

"Maybe you should get a part time job as a bouncer and pay for some ice cream. Not to mention some fish sticks and vienna sausage, which is so gross I can't believe I'm saying it." Cordelia sighed and leaned her head back against cool leather. Wind feathered her hair, and she thought just for this one moment she was as happy as she was capable of being. Except for the hunger.

 

"It's making me queasy, and that's an achievement," Angel said. He flicked her a sideways glance when he thought she wasn't looking. He'd been doing that more and more, she'd noticed. Looking. As if he'd never really seen her before, or she was changing right in front of him. "Cordy?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"I'm still okay. In case you were wondering."

 

"You mean, am I worried about you going all stalker-psycho-abuser on me? Nah. Been there, done that, have the I-survived-Angelus souvenir keychain. Besides, I don't think you hate women, not even deep down. You just hate yourself."

 

He chuckled. He had a nice laugh, genuine and oddly childlike, and it made her smile. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

 

"You're welcome." She covered a yawn as Angel pulled the car into the garage. Gunn's truck was still here, and Wesley's car. Maybe there was still time for a late-night snack after all. Fred would be up for it, so long as there were tacos.

 

They walked into the lobby and Cordelia headed for the kitchen, then stopped when she realized Angel wasn't following. He was standing frozen, chain raised, looking up toward the banister and the second floor.

 

"What?" she asked. All the warmth and humanity had drained out of his face, leaving it cold and pale and eternal. And scared.

 

"Blood," he said, and bolted for the stairs. She pounded up after him, not seeing anything much at first and then the overturned furniture, drops of blood, smears of blood on the walls as they raced to the back stairs, up to the third floor. Oh God. Fred. Wesley. Gunn. While she'd been laughing and joking and thinking about fish sticks ...

 

Angel flung out a hand to stop her. He was standing in an open doorway, looking in, and she couldn't read the emotion on his face. After a few seconds he called, "Fred?"

 

And Fred came out, moving slowly, limping. She fell into his arms and Cordelia saw the puffy bruise on the side of her face, the bloody lips, oh God no ...

 

"Where's Wesley?" she whispered, and then louder, almost a scream. "Wesley!"

 

"Stay there," Angel said. He gently peeled Fred off of him and handed her over; Cordelia took hold and it was like holding an ice cube, Fred was freezing even though the hall was warm. She took off her jacket and wrapped it around Fred's thin, shivering shoulders, wrapped her arms over that and held her tight.

 

"You're safe," she told Fred. "You're safe now. It's okay."

 

"No," Fred whispered. "It's not."

 

When Angel came out, he was carrying Wesley like a broken toy, and Cordelia screamed into a muffling hand at the sight of the bloody scratches on his face, the swollen bruises. "Gunn's still in there, he's out cold. I don't know if he has a concussion but I wouldn't be surprised."

 

"Should I -- " Cordelia asked.

 

"No!" He looked at Fred. "No. Stay together."

 

"But -- "

 

"Blimm got to them," Angel said. He sounded tired and beaten. "Somehow, I don't know how, he got to them."

 

"I'm sorry," Fred whispered. She was crying silently now, tears spilling down her face. "I'm so sorry, I didn't want to hurt them, I didn't want to -- "

 

"Shh, it's okay, it's okay," Cordelia soothed, but it wasn't, not really, she couldn't imagine -- couldn't believe -- Wesley? Not Wesley. She knew him. And Gunn ...

 

Fred was crying too hard to speak. Cordelia led her back down the stairs.

 

###

 

"He's okay," Angel pronounced later, after taking a close look at Gunn. "What did you hit him with?"

 

Fred was still crying, but not as much; shaking like a leaf, though. Cordelia gave her a cup of hot tea and watched the girl spill it all over herself.

 

There were bruises on Fred's shoulders. On her arms. On her neck.

 

"A -- a chair leg," she said. "He -- he told me to. Because we w-w-were trapped in there. Wesley had an axe."

 

Angel sat back in his chair and looked at her, at Cordelia, back at her.

 

"What about Wesley?" Cordelia asked. "Is he -- "

 

"He's got a concussion, at least, and he's not going to feel very good for a while. But he'll live." Angel focused on Fred. "Are you okay?"

 

"Sure! Just -- just scared is all. And -- "

 

"Bruised," Cordelia put in. "And cut. With pulled muscles and a strained knee."

 

Angel was trying to find a way to ask. Cordelia took pity on him and turned toward Fred. "Angel wants to know if Wesley raped you," she said flatly. "Did he?"

 

Fred gasped out loud and looked away. She was shaking even worse, if that was possible. Cordelia held on to her hand, felt Fred cling with desperate strength.

 

"N-no," Fred whispered. "But -- but I think he wanted to. I think he would have. Or maybe he would have just killed me?"

 

Her voice rose, like that was the cheerful part. Cordelia felt sickened, sickened and angry and worse, betrayed. Betrayed by Wesley, even though she knew he couldn't help it. Betrayed by Gunn.

 

Betrayed by Fred, as if it was even her fault, except that seeing what had been done to her made it all real in a way that the wounds of strangers hadn't.

 

"Fred -- " Angel didn't know what to say. He groped for something, and came up with an inadequate, "I'm sorry."

 

"Quit apologizing for your entire stupid male demographic and do something useful," Cordy snapped. "Find something to tie them up with."

 

"What?" Angel looked completely taken aback. Cordelia met his eyes.

 

"How do you know," she said, "that they won't do it again?"

 

###

 

Cordelia thought, and Angel agreed, that Fred shouldn't be exposed to any more. They settled her in her room, tucked safe in bed, and waited for Gunn and Wesley to wake up. She shot looks at them now and then, but they seemed peacefully unconscious. She wondered if they were going to be uncomfortable, with their hands and feet tied up. She'd tried not to make the knots too tight, but didn't dare make them loose, either.

 

Angel played a card. She dragged her attention back to the game.

 

"Gin," she said, and spread her cards on the table. Angel sat back with a groan. She reached for the score sheet. "You owe me -- ooo! Eleven thousand six hundred and forty-nine dollars."

 

"Do not." He gathered up the cards and feathered them together with an ease that reminded her he'd been around when cards were still a newfangled invention.

 

"Cheater."

 

"I do not cheat," he said, and one-handed shuffled. "Not since I was ... seventy? Eighty? Anyway, if I was cheating, how come you're up eleven thousand dollars? Your cut."

 

She reached out for the deck and froze as Wesley's light, cool voice said, "The unkindest cut of all, betrayed by a friend."

 

She looked up at Angel for reassurance, and then they both got up and went to Wesley's side. He was awake and bleary, and his swollen, bruised face looked horribly painful. His eyes were clear, though. She'd always loved his blue eyes, never more than now.

 

"Wesley?" she asked him gently. "Are you okay?"

 

He focused those beautiful eyes on her and said, in Wesley's gentle British voice, "Do I look okay?"

 

She didn't like the dark undertone. "Wes, just relax -- "

 

"Oh, yes, just relax while you fuck me over." She flinched. There was a special venom, both in the word and the rage behind it -- from Wesley, who did not, ever swear. "This is your doing, isn't it, Cordelia? You cowardly bitches always stick together, running, hiding, whispering. I should've made Fred beg for it, I would have if she hadn't been a cowardly little slut and hit me from behind. No, I'm wrong, what does it matter whether she begs for it or not? I'll just do it, and then I'll do you too, just you wait. Just you wait. You'll beg, all right. Beg me to chop that lying little head off that slutty body."

 

Cordelia had no memory of moving but suddenly she was standing three long steps away from him, pressed against Angel's cool, hard body. He was holding her hand. She didn't remember him taking it.

 

Wesley exploded into violence, fighting the ropes, panting and screaming, screaming horrible things that she didn't want to hear, couldn't stand to hear.

 

Angel said nothing. Did nothing. When she looked at him his face looked like a chalk Halloween mask except for his burning eyes.

 

"We have to stop this," Cordelia whispered. She was shaking all over, cold, freezing. "Oh God, Angel, how do we stop it?"

 

"I don't know if we can."

 

Wesley went limp against the ropes. He was shaking with rage, and there was fresh blood on his lips.

 

He grinned. That predatory stare never left her.

 

"Slut," he said. His voice was velvety-smooth and seductive. "I could've had you when you were in high school, but I didn't want you, you filthy diseased whore, because you had a mouth like a buzzsaw and you never knew when to stop talking, did you? I'll bet you screwed half the school, didn't you, while you were playing the virgin to me -- "

 

Angel let go of her hand and walked toward him. He stood right over him, staring down with those dark, violent eyes, but Wes didn't seem to even notice him. His entire attention was locked on Cordelia and she felt naked and alone, so very alone.

 

"Hey," Angel said softly. "Wes?"

 

"Look at yourself," Wes said to Cordelia, as if Angel wasn't even present. "Look at how you dress, you can't think we don't notice, even Angel notices, and then when we respond even a little bit to what you're waving in our faces you whine, don't you, nothing's ever your fault, but this is all your fault, isn't it, Cordelia, it's all your -- "

 

Angel hit him, once, hard. Wes went limp.

 

"Please shut up," Angel said.

 

###

 

Hot cocoa. Cordelia held the mug in her hand and even though the ceramic was ouchy-hot she couldn't seem to feel it past the first tiny layer of skin. She was an ice cube. An ice queen. God, how could he --

 

"Cordy." Angel, who'd brought the cocoa -- even made the cocoa, that was some kind of milestone -- crouched down next to her and tried to look her in the eyes. She avoided. "Cordelia."

 

"Do you think that's what he said to Fred?" she asked him without looking up. "No wonder she's a basket case. And me all out of baskets."

 

"I need you to start going through the books. Find out if there's some cure, some spell, something. Okay?"

 

"Not down with the looking-up now," she said. Her french-manicured fingernails had blue cuticles, she was so cold. "Am I a tease, Angel?"

 

"Stop it."

 

"Well, am I? He said you noticed. Do you?"

 

Angel didn't answer. She finally looked up, and when she did, he reached out and took the hand that wasn't wrapped around the mug. Boy, you know you're in trouble when Angel's hands feel warm, she thought.

 

"Of course I notice you, Cordy, I'd have to be even more dead not to," he said. "You're beautiful. You're funny, and sexy, and strong. Men are going to notice you, and that's okay, that's good, that doesn't make you a tease. Neither does what you wear, or what you say."

 

She felt a tiny frown gathering between her eyebrows. "Then what does?"

 

"What you mean by what you wear and what you say," he said. "Look, I need you researching. Can you do it?"

 

She sighed and drank a sip of cocoa. It was hot enough to burn her tongue but warmth flooded into her as she swallowed, and the rich taste of chocolate warmed her in different ways.

 

"Sure," she said. "Just as soon as I change into my nun outfit, okay?"

 

He did something that she'd never, ever known him to do -- she'd never even seen him do it to Buffy.

 

He kissed the back of her hand, like right out of the stories. It felt, well, incredible.

 

"Wes loves you," he said. "Don't forget it."

 

She nodded, suddenly short of breath, and watched him get up and walk back over to where Gunn and Wesley still slept. Oh boy. That hand kiss was what she'd begun to term, in her head, a Close Angel Encounter. And CAEs were both good and bad. Good because, well, he was a hottie, no getting around that even if he didn't have a pulse. Bad because he didn't have a pulse, he sucked blood, and let's face it, not the most reliable boyfriend material in the universe.

 

She sat there watching his strong broad back for a long time before he said, without turning around, "Research?"

 

"On it," she said brightly, and moved.

 

###

 

Billy Blimm's family tree was, well, bizarre. Not the official Who's-Who version, but the one she pried out of his slightly-less-satanic cousin, the one with the big apartment and cool pool table. No money for cab fare, so she used the phone and managed to convince him to start dishing the family dirt.

 

"Billy's mother was, well ... different," Cousin Ick -- she'd forgotten his first name -- Blimm said. "I don't know how much I can say -- "

 

"I'm very discreet," she said. "Promise."

 

"Look, if this gets back to Billy -- "

 

"Trust me, it won't. How was she different?"

 

"Well, for one thing, she had these red eyes. Not bloodshot, red. Wore sunglasses for all of her trips out in public, you know, started a whole fashion trend that way. And Billy didn't get along with her."

 

Cordelia, drawing doodles on a blank piece of paper, wrote down sunglasses and mom hates Billy. "Is that where Billy's thing came from? You know, this thing with women?"

 

"Probably. Although to be fair, Billy's mother wasn't a wild fan of men, either. Including Billy's dad. No mystery to any of us that she died young."

 

"How young?"

 

"Billy must have been about four or five. They were already at each other's throats, couldn't put the two of them together in a room. He'd attack her, I mean attack, with whatever he could put his hands on."

 

"Wow. Anything else you remember about Billy's mother?"

 

The cousin hesitated, and then said, "The smell."

 

"Smell?"

 

"I was really young, but I remember she always smelled like honey. That's weird, huh? Hyper-sweet. Not like a perfume, but like -- like she just naturally smelled that way."

 

Cordelia dutifully wrote down honey. She said, "Anything else?"

 

"Not about her," he said. "Let's talk about you, gorgeous."

 

The idea of dating a Blimm, or even letting one think about dating her, made her nauseated. "Let's not," she said, and hung up on him. She swiveled the chair around and look at the pile of Wesley's arcane books with a heavy sigh.

 

"Red eyes. Her own child hates her enough to kill her. Smells like honey. Oh yeah, this is a piece of cake," she said, and picked up the first book.

 

She dropped it again at the sound of Gunn's voice. She couldn't tell what he was saying, but she could hear the tone and it wasn't good. Angel's voice responded, still just under the level of comprehension. Better she didn't know. Wesley had brought her right up to the edge of despair, seeing Gunn that way might shove her all the way over.

 

"Why the hell can't these jerks ever write in English?" she muttered, and reached for Wesley's translation sheets.

 

###

 

"Sodaara demon," she reported to Angel. It was getting light outside, a beautiful rosy dawn through the morning's ozone-destroying haze. Her eyes felt like they'd been rolled in sand and stuffed back in her head, and she was pretty sure that she looked not unlike a Sodaara demon herself. "Red eyes, smells like honey. They hate each other. They even hate having sex with each other, but they've got some kind of mating cycle thing that makes them do it. They usually try to kill each other after."

 

"Billy's mom?" Angel guessed. He looked tired, too, and pale, though pale was pretty much a standard. "So Billy got half the instincts of a Sodaara demon and hated just women?"

 

"I think that had more to do with him really hating his mother and his mother hating him back. Not exactly the Brady Bunch, more like the Bundy Bunch."

 

"So this touch thing, that's a Sodaara specialty?"

 

"Yep." Cordelia laid out the book for him. "They can change people, make them feel whatever they want. Which would make sense why an important political family like the Blimms might be willing to marry into the whole demon-thing, if they used her to win friends and influence voters."

 

"Politics has gotten so sleazy."

 

"Tell me about it, Cousin Blimm tried to press the flesh over the phone." She leaned over and pointed out the last paragraph, which was written in something that looked like slug trails. "According to Wes' translation sheets, that says anybody influenced by a Sodaara demon stays influenced unless there's a special ritual performed."

 

"Great! Rituals. I love rituals," Angel beamed. "What do we need?"

 

"Well, that's the tough part," Cordelia said. "Two things. First, we need Billy Blimm's blood, and I'm almost sure that if we go out there to hoover a vein the police might not like it."

 

"The police are going to be unhappy anyway -- you and me, both looking for Billy last night, me threatening to kill him -- "

 

"Great." Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Melodrama man strikes again. If we get Gunn and Wesley fixed in time they can alibi us, right? And Fred?"

 

Angel gave her a small, almost-normal smile. "We don't need to go back to the airport. We've already got Billy Blimm's blood. Fred said that was how Wesley got infected. He collected a sample of it."

 

"Oh. Then we only have one other thing to get."

 

"What?"

 

Cordelia took a deep breath and said, "The menstrual blood of a virgin."

 

Angel stared at her for a long second and then said, "You're kidding."

 

"I so wish I was."

 

"That's -- "

 

"Disgusting? Way with you there, but I didn't write the spell. Apparently the medieval sorcerer types used to really go in for that. Maybe there were more virgins back then."

 

"I doubt it." Angel looked lost. "Um, do you think Fred is still -- "

 

"How come you didn't ask about me?"

 

He blinked. "What?"

 

"I don't give off virginal vibes? Just because I have fashion sense and know the proper use of hair care products?"

 

"Cordy -- "

 

"So you just assumed."

 

"Sorry," he said weakly. "It's just that you're -- "

 

"So trampy?" she asked brightly.  He looked even more desperately uncomfortable. "Help me out here, Angel."

 

"So ... beautiful?"

 

"Oh, good, make it a question."

 

"No, I meant -- you're definitely beautiful.   And I'm sorry.  I shouldn't have assumed -- "

 

"That's okay," she said kindly.   "Because I'm not a virgin.  Jeez, short memory you have, demonic overnight pregnancy ringing any bells?  But lucky for you, there's Fred.  Who is a virgin."

 

"Really?" Angel, she saw, wasn't taking any chances she might get in another psych-out.  "You're sure?"

 

"Not her gynecologist, but yeah, she did some confiding late one night."

 

"Then about the -- the other thing -- "

 

"Hey, vague it up some more, that was almost clear.   You mean the menstrual blood?" she asked.  He nodded and squeezed his eyes shut, which was kind of endearing, really.  "Do you know what happens when women spend a lot of time around each other?"

 

"Um ... you ... I give, Cordy, just tell me."

 

"Our bodies get in sync, it's one of those mysteries of nature things.  Fred probably knows some deep biological reason, but anyway, I figure you're looking at another nineteen days before you get any kind of menstrual blood, virgin or otherwise.  By the way, be sure to write that down, I expect you to be extra special nice to me next time.  Want a calendar?"

 

Any second now and he was going to give a little girl scream and run away, she was sure of it. For a guy who sucked blood out of plastic bags -- on his better days -- he was really squeamish.

 

"So what do we do?" he asked. "Advertise?"

 

"Relax, I've got it covered," she said. "The spell didn't say it had to be fresh.  Good thing our trash service hasn't picked up for two weeks now. Nonpayment."

 

"Oh," he said, and looked mystified. Then startled. Then sick. "Oh."

 

"Get Blimm's blood," she said. "I'll be back, and if you ever tell Wesley about any of this -- "

 

"I won't."

 

"Swear?"

 

"I'd cross my heart, but I'd burst into flame."

 

"Fun-ny," she sighed, and went to change into clothes more appropriate for digging through garbage for old Tampax.

 

###

 

Rituals. Lots of oogley-boogley words and incense and candles and tossing stinky things into open fires ... Cordelia was not a fan of rituals. But she got through it, especially since all she had to do was standing there while Angel did the incanting.

 

When it was over, the whole hotel reeked of spoiled honey, which was not the Glade Fresh Scent Cordelia would have chosen. But she could live with that.

 

What she was afraid of -- still -- was that it wouldn't have done a damn bit of good, because Gunn and Wesley were still unconscious even two hours after.

 

"Get some sleep," Angel said as he sat down next to her. "You're brooding. Only room for one brooder in the room."

 

She yawned, not meaning to, and looked at the clock. Nearly 10 a.m. She'd been awake and working for, oh, twenty-six hours? Sleep was just a dim memory.

 

"Nuh-uh, not going," she said. "Not until something happens."

 

"Could be bad, Cordy. Better if you're not here."

 

She shook her head and let silence slip along for a while, then asked, "If it didn't work, what do we do with them? Lock them up?"

 

"I don't know."

 

"'Cause we can't just let them go. It's not just me and Fred, it's all the other women out there who -- "

 

"You don't have to remind me," Angel said. "And I still don't know."

 

Gunn's dark eyes opened. Wide. She nudged Angel but didn't say anything as Gunn stared straight up, blinked, and then slowly looked down and around at the two of them.

 

Angel slowly got to his feet. "Gunn?" he asked. "How do you feel?"

 

"Like somebody clocked me with a hunk of wood," he groaned. "Man oh man, my head."

 

Cordelia leaned forward and saw Gunn's eyes lock on her. Her skin shivered, but she tried to relax. "What if I told you it was Fred?" she asked. Gun blinked.

 

"Yeah," he murmured. "I remember. Fred."

 

"Are you angry at Fred?" she pressed.

 

"Hell yeah," he said, and Cordelia felt her stomach do a five-story dive, but then he smiled. "Girlfriend should have clocked me harder the first time."

 

By the time Gunn was untied and treated -- double vision was nothing new to Charles Gunn, at least, and they had extra-strength goodies for the headache -- Wesley was starting to come around as well. Cordelia got up to go to him, but Angel held her back with one cautionary gesture.

 

"Wes?" he asked.

 

Wesley opened his eyes, and for the first few seconds looked mortally confused, especially by the rope around his hands and feet.

 

It started as a look of disbelief, then horror, then outright anguish. It wasn't right, to see that look on Wesley's face, on anyone's face. His blue eyes skipped from Angel to Gunn and rested on Cordelia, and then filled with tears of absolute shame.

 

"Oh God," he whispered.

 

"Wesley," she said, and took a step toward him. He turned his face as far away as the ropes would let him, and cried.

 

###

 

Gunn, more or less okay, still needed a ride home; Cordelia took it on, knowing neither Angel nor Wesley wanted her to be left alone at the hotel in Wesley's company. Gunn's truck drove like a tank, but then it was a tank, a genuine vampire-killing machine frankensteined together out of pieces of junk and abandoned cars. Probably not street-legal. Little about Charles Gunn was.

 

"Hey," Gunn said. She braked for a red light and looked over at him; he had his eyes squinched shut against the glare of midafternoon. "I only got the movie trailer on this one, but it was bad, you know? Wes caught the double feature. You think he's gonna be okay?"

 

"I hope so, but like you said, he had a front row seat at Fear-o-rama theater," Cordelia said. "Tune in next week."

 

"Hope not." Gunn turned his face toward the sun. "I don't ever want to feel like that again."

 

She wasn't sure she wanted to know, but she asked. "Like what?"

 

He thought about it until the green light came and she rumbled the truck through the intersection. "Like there was no such thing as love in the world," he said.

 

She reached over and took his head. He held it a long time, not talking, still turned away.

 

"You trust me, vision girl?" he finally asked.

 

"Sure." A shade too much perkiness in her answer, covering up that tiny hint of fear that still remained. His fingers tightened on hers.

 

"Probably shouldn't," he said. He sounded very tired.

 

###

 

Wesley was gone when Cordelia got back to the hotel. She found Fred and Angel sitting in the kitchen, sharing a gallon round of Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. Fred spooked when Cordelia came in, ready to bolt. Dammit, she was doing so well, too, Cordelia thought. Still, cave girl was out of her room. That was a good.

 

She made straight for the silverware drawer, got a spoon, dropped in a chair between Angel and Fred and scooped away.

 

"Gunn okay?" Angel asked.

 

"Peachy to partly cloudy," Cordelia answered. "You know what this needs? A shot of vodka, straight up. And maybe some valium. 'Cause I don't know if ice cream really covers the trauma of me."

 

"Oh, I don't know," Fred said. She sounded bright and cheerful and as fragile as a soap bubble. "Ice cream does a lot." She dug her spoon in, ate, and shyly glanced at Cordelia. "You were really incredible."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"Angel told me you followed that Billy, and you wouldn't give up, and you almost shot out his jugular with an arrow -- "

 

"Technically, it was a bolt," Angel put in.

 

"And you weren't afraid of him at all. Not at all." Fred sighed. "I was really afraid. I've never seen anybody -- like that. Especially Wesley. He was -- "

 

Cordelia looked from Angel to Fred, eyebrows raised, as she sucked another rich creamy delicious minty mouthful from her spoon. "Are we having the talk now?"

 

"What talk?" Angel asked.

 

"The one where it wasn't Wesley's fault and Fred shouldn't blame him."

 

Angel shrugged. "Except maybe it was. A Sodaara demon can let out your primal impulses, but it can't create flaws if there aren't any. Wesley's got some big bad demons down there. A lot of men do."

 

Fred slapped her spoon down on the table hard enough to make them both jump.

 

"Hey!" she snapped. "Don't you ever say that. Don't you ever tell him any of this was his fault, because it wasn't! Wesley is a good man, good, he doesn't feel like that, not even deep down!"

 

"Sorry, I just meant --" Angel said in surprise.

 

"He would never hurt me. Or Cordelia."

 

"Sorry."

 

Fred was on the verge of tears, but they were angry tears. She shoved her chair back from the table. "I thought you were his friend!" she said, and ran out. Angel half-rose to follow her, but Cordelia pushed him back down again and took another bite of ice cream.

 

"Fred's right," she said. "Don't say that to Wes. He's got plenty of raw torture material, he doesn't need any help manufacturing."

 

"I just meant -- "

 

"Yeah, I know what you meant. Id monster, everybody's got one, you're the undead expert on evil alternate personalities. But I can't believe that every man I meet has gone some evil secret desire to hurt us, and neither can Fred," she said. There was a particularly big chunk of chocolate in the cool green ice cream; she slapped Angel's hand and went for it. "We can't, Angel. Because if we believe that, there's no reason to trust any of you. Ever."

 

"Maybe there isn't."

 

"Well, you're just full of the cheer today, let's pass the purple Kool-Aid." Cordelia sighed. "Think he'll come back?"

 

"I wouldn't," Angel said honestly. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done, coming out of hell and knowing I'd have to face all of you for all the pain I caused. Face Buffy."

 

"But you did."

 

"No choice," he pointed out. "And you've never let me forget it, have you?"

 

She was embarrassed, but only for a few seconds before practicality kicked in. After all, Angel needed reminding. Evil Angelus was always only one really great orgasm away.

 

She lost her appetite for ice cream. So did Angel. They poked at it for a while, then returned it to the freezer. Cordelia rested her aching head in her hands.

 

"I feel like the plane crashed and I'm the only one left standing," she sighed. Angel's hand brushed lightly over her hair.

 

"We're all sole survivors," he said. "That's the way it works. We survive alone in this world."

 

"I don't like your world."

 

He smiled bitterly. "Hey, I just work here. Want to make it a better one?"

 

She nodded -- head, hands, everything.

 

"Keep believing. In me, in Wesley, in Gunn ... in all of us." His phantom touch got just a little bit stronger, stroking her hair. Gently sensual. "We all love you, Cordelia."

 

When she looked up, he was gone, vanished, ghosted. Nothing left but his unwashed spoon.

 

"Men," she said, and took it to the sink.

 

She'd never admit it to Angel, but she loved them back.

 

 

 

-- end --

 

Email:  juliefortune@attbi.com



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