Take These Broken Wings
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Shannon is loosely based on the experiences I've had in dealing with an anxiety disorder. Writing this was some sort of therapy in a weird way ....
"Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless," said Cordelia Chase as she picked up the phone.
"Uh, yes," answered a man with a British accent. "Cordelia, I believe you may have been working too much as of late."
"What are you talking about, Wesley?" answered Cordelia a split second before she realized that she had answered her home phone with her usual diatribe from work. "Great. You see? I've been telling you guys I need a vacation! What if that had been someone important?"
"I'm sure you would have handled the situation with your usual grace and composure." Wesley couldn't help smiling to himself as he pictured the look he knew was on Cordelia's face. "I was just calling to see if you'd be able to …"
"Stop by the library for you on the way to work?"
"Well, yes actually. How did you know?"
"Gee, let me think." Cordelia's tone was condescending. "Ever since you started translating the scroll that said Angel would become human you've needed all sorts of weird reference books, and the only time you call me at eight in the morning is when you're too lazy to come down here to the library and pick them up yourself." She sighed. "How many?"
"Only three this time. They should have them ready behind the circulation desk." He paused. "If it is too much of an inconvenience I could pick them up myself …"
Cordelia was taken aback by the hurt tone in Wesley's voice. "No, no. I'm sorry. Remember the 'new me' I told you about after I got out of the hospital? Well she doesn't get out of bed until I've had my morning coffee." Wesley laughed at that, which made Cordelia feel a little less like a wretch. "The two of us will see you in an hour."
Cordelia hung up the phone, but couldn't quite find the energy to pull herself off the couch. Sighing, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back on the couch. She and Wesley had spent the better part of the night disposing of the demon Angel had killed in the sewers earlier that day. As much as Cordelia enjoyed helping people, it didn't quite make up for the lack of sleep … or the fact that her favorite sneakers now smelled like a compost heap. The sound of the newscaster announcing the time roused her from her half-doze, and when she opened her eyes she found a cup of coffee floating in front of her.
"Thanks Dennis," she mumbled as she took her first sip. "Just the way I like it. You're getting pretty good at this." Most people would have felt strange about holding up a one-way conversation, but for Cordelia it seemed to come naturally. She chatted with the ghost as she finished her breakfast and got ready for work. Then, after taking one last look in the mirror to check her hair, she ran out the door. "Bye Dennis!" she called as he closed and locked the door behind her.
* * * * *
Wesley Windham Price stood and stretched, his back full of the kinks that come from perpetually hunching over books and paperwork. With the exception of last night's demon, things had been relatively slow for the past few weeks, which had given him the chance to concentrate on translating the scroll Angel had retrieved from Wolfram and Hart. After two weeks of solid research, Wesley was beginning to miss the action and excitement of demon hunting.
"Good morning, Wesley," said Cordelia as she blew threw the door, dropping three heavy tomes on the desk. "How come you never need books that are in paperback? These things are heavy!"
For a moment the Englishman was at a loss for words. Cordelia was dressed in her usual style; a short khaki skirt with a light blue tank top, dark curly hair hanging loosely past her shoulders. Just beautiful. Noticing Cordelia's expectant look, he shook himself from his thoughts and replied, "Think of it this way, you've gotten your exercise for the day."
"I think I got enough exercise last night to last me for the rest of the week!" Cordelia rubbed her sore shoulder and smiled. "So, is Angel planning on joining us today?"
As if on cue, the door from Angel's office opened. "Morning," he mumbled as he made a beeline for the coffee.
"I guess you can't expect a vampire to be a morning person," Cordelia whispered. Wesley suppressed a giggle.
Angel took a sip and turned. "Did you say something?"
Cordelia opened her mouth to reply, but instead let out a low moan. "Cordelia!" Angel rushed to the girl's side and caught her just as her knees began to buckle.
Cordelia's mind was bombarded by images. A girl, about her age. Red hair, green eyes, pale skin. Cowering in a dark corner, knees to her chest, rocking and sobbing. Then standing on a ledge, a dark shadow of a face leering behind her as she stepped into nothingness.
When she opened her eyes she found herself sitting on the floor, Angel and Wesley kneeling beside her. Cordelia blinked to clear her vision, then motioned for Angel to help her to her feet. "We have work to do."
"Java Enabled" was your typical cyber-coffee house, if there is such a thing. The lower level was wall-to-wall computers, generally occupied by single men slightly less than middle-aged and slightly more than average weight. They would stay all night if they could, playing "Doom," "Half-life," and other shoot-em up games where the goal seems to be to cause as much carnage as possible. Luckily the owner of this particular establishment had shown wisdom enough to require the use of headphones, so the only noises from the game-players were grunts of satisfaction and the occasional obscenity.
The upstairs was decorated in a completely different style from the sparse economy of the computer lab. Mismatched chairs and couches were grouped around tables of all shapes and sizes. In one corner a young couple cuddled on a love seat, more interested in each other than finishing their mochchinos. A center table was occupied by two older gentlemen enjoying the "bottomless cup" special while pondering over a game of chess. And in a darkened corner Angel, Wesley and Cordelia browsed through a menu.
"My goodness," exclaimed Wesley. "Is it possible just to get an ordinary cup of coffee here?"
Cordelia smiled. "Not in LA. Here it's all gourmet coffee. That's French for saying you gotta pay $3.95 a cup."
"Can I help you?" Angel looked up into the face of a young waitress. Her fiery hair was pulled away from her face in a long, simple braid, from which various curly pieces seemed determined to escape. A warm smile greeted her customers, but Angel could see that there was some hidden pain in her emerald eyes.
"Yes, Shannon," he said, reading the name tag pinned to her apron. "I'll just have a coffee. Black."
"Same for me," echoed Wesley.
Cordelia sighed. "These boys don't know what real coffee is. I'll take a tall caramel machiato."
Shannon smiled again and retrieved the menus from the table, then moved briskly away to deliver them to the newest group of customers.
"That the girl?" questioned Angel in a low voice.
Cordelia nodded. "So, how do you want to go about this?"
"I'm not exactly sure. For now, lets just sit and watch. Maybe she'll give us an opening."
"To do what? Say 'Hey, my friend here had a vision of you throwing yourself off a building?' Somehow I don't think that would go over too well."
Cordelia was interrupted by the return of the waitress with two steaming mugs of coffee. "Sorry ma'am, you're drink might be another minute or two." She offered a small smile in apology. "We've got a new bar monkey tonight, and he hasn't quite gotten the hang of the equipment yet."
"Bar monkey?" Wesley was confused.
"Sorry. That's what we call the guys that run the espresso machine." Shannon pointed to a young man with purple spiked hair who was attempting to clean coffee grinds out of a small filter.
"Aah, I see."
Shannon turned to tend to another table. "If you need anything else, just holler." When she was out of earshot Wesley turned to Cordelia. "Are you sure you saw her take her own life? She doesn't exactly seem the type."
"There is no type for this sort of thing," Angel spoke up. "Every person reaches their breaking point at some time in their lives. The question is, what would push this girl over the edge?"
Cordelia thought for a moment. "I did see a face. It wasn't very clear, but it was laughing as she jumped. And it definitely didn't push her, at least not physically."
"So it seems we may be dealing with some form of possession then?"
Wesley shook his head. "I don't think so. Not if the face Cordelia saw was outside of the body."
"But their definitely is something supernatural at work here," said Angel. "After all, the powers that be don't usually interfere in the lives of mortals unless something of that nature is upsetting the balance of things."
The three friends discussed the possibilities in hushed tones as they watched Shannon go about her work. A few minutes later she returned with Cordelia's mug and a pot of coffee. "Anyone need a refill?" Wesley nodded, and as the girl leaned over the table Angel noticed a slight tremor in her hand.
"Are you alright?" he asked, gesturing toward the hand that held the coffee pot.
Shannon was startled that he had noticed, and the mask of a smile that she wore fell for an instant, revealing behind it a look of complete terror. As quickly as the moment came it was gone. Shannon collected herself and the mask went back up. "I'm fine. Just been a long day. Either that or too much free coffee."
"Are you sure? I'm actually in the business of helping people." Angel stumbled over the words. Fighting demons and preventing an apocalypse was cake compared to trying to explain exactly what he did for people. The only thing he hated more was talking about money.
"What, like a social worker or something? I mean, I don't make a lot of money here, but it's enough to get by …"
Angel shook his head. "No, no. It's just … well, you look like you might be having some problems. Maybe we could help."
The mask dropped again. "No, you can't." Shannon was silent for a moment, then shook herself and plastered on another smile. "Look, I have other customers I need to see. If you'll excuse me."
"Wait!" Cordelia spoke up. She fished through her purse and came up with a business card. "Here. If you change your mind, or just need to talk, give us a call."
Shannon took the card with some trepidation, then shoved it into the pocket of her apron without even looking at it. "Thanks," she mumbled as she moved on to her next table.
"Well that went well," offered Wesley. "Surveillance duty tonight, I take it?"
Angel nodded. "I want you two to go back to the office. Start going through old coroner's files and see if you can find any connections between suicide victims over the last few months." His brow furrowed as he watched Shannon scurry from table to table. "I want to make sure she doesn't join them.
Shannon MacLeod shivered as she walked down the street. Anyone watching her would have assumed the poor girl was freezing, which was highly unlikely as it was a typical muggy summer night. Still, she shivered.
Shannon wrapped her arms closer to her chest in an effort to stop the tremors. No luck. Her mind was focused on one thing - getting home. She told herself that once she was there she would be safe. There would be nothing to fear, and her shakes would go away. Her rational mind knew better.
The shakes never went away anymore.
Flyaway strands of hair fell into her face, but she didn't care. "One, two, three." Her eyes were cast down to her feet so she could count her footsteps. She'd do anything these days just to feel normal, to feel sane. But watching your feet instead of where they're taking you can be a dangerous thing in LA.
"Hey lady! Watch where you're going!" Shannon had almost run headlong into someone, a businessman from the nature of his attire. He took one look at the girl's darting eyes, hunched over position, and shaking arms and decided to give her a wide berth. Deep in the recesses of Shannon's mind she found it funny that anyone would think she was an addict, but that thought was completely buried by so many others. By the doubts, the fears, the worries … by the Voice.
Home. Her feet had carried her there without much conscious direction on her part. Shaking hands struggled to free keys from the pocket of her jeans. Once the front door was opened she tore up the stairs to her apartment, as if she by pure speed she could leave everything outside the building and find some peace. Panting and shaking so violently she was practically convulsing she slammed the door home and threw the deadbolt before crumbling into hysterical sobbing on the floor.
From a distance Angel watched, and wondered.
* * * * *
"There's defiantly something strange going on." Angel deposited his coat on a chair and began to pace.
Wesley looked up from the computer screen. "Something strange? I do believe that's our usual motis oporandi."
"Well, there's nothing strange here." Cordelia closed a manila file folder and added it to the top of a growing stack on the floor. "Plenty of suicides, but no real changes in the number of them or the methods they use." She sighed. "I would just like to let everyone know that going through these files is just about the most depressing thing I've ever done in my life."
"Lucky you," Angel said, and then realized his mistake. "I meant that you're lucky you're not one of the chronically depressed. That you have never found yourself at the end of your rope and decided to make a noose with it."
An uncomfortable silence followed. Finally Wesley spoke up. "You're not trying to tell us that you're …"
"Me? No. Not now anyway." Angel sighed and lowered himself into a chair. "There were times, though, after I was cursed. There were so many times I wanted to end it all, but I couldn't do it."
"Were you afraid?" Cordelia asked softly.
Angel shook his head. "No. I felt I needed to suffer, to atone for my sins. And by taking my own life that suffering would have ended. Life was the worst torture I could think of, so I lived." He stared off into space, lost in his past. Cordelia wondered if he was thinking of his vampire days or the days that followed, and then decided she didn't want to know.
"So," she said. "Did you learn anything that might point us in the right direction?"
Angels sighed, relieved to be able to focus on someone other than himself. "Not really. I do know where she lives though, which might help eventually. Other than that, all I could tell is that she's really scared of something."
"Or someone," added Wesley.
That comment, meant to be helpful, only reminded Angel of the time when he was the one the people had feared. The times when Angelus had prowled the night, searching and killing. Without a word he stood, walked into his office, and closed the door quickly and hard enough to let the others know he didn't want to be disturbed.
"Wow. Even broodier than usual," commented Cordelia. "Should we do something?"
"The best thing we can do for him is to help this girl." He motioned to the piles of paper strewn across the room, and they began their search again.
* * * * *
Evening found Angel back at "Java Enabled." He wasn't exactly sure what he hoped to accomplish. In fact, he didn't even know if Shannon was working that night. All he knew was that at the moment he felt completely powerless, and sitting around the office dwelling on his past wasn't going to help.
As luck would have it, Shannon was there. She was halfway through her "Welcome to 'Java Enabled'" speech when she recognized him.
"Same as last night?" she said, hoping he wouldn't notice the slight tremor in her voice. Angel nodded, and she disappeared around the corner. A moment later she appeared with a fresh pot of coffee and a mug. "Look. We're pretty busy tonight, so if you don't need anything else I'll just let you do your own refills." She began to turn around when she felt a hand brush hers.
"I know there's something wrong."
Shannon backed away. "I already told you. There's nothing you can do. Just leave me alone."
Angel stood. He knew all eyes in the restaurant were on him, but nothing mattered now more than this girl's life. "I know how you feel, Shannon. I've been there. I've stood on that cliff and contemplated the jump." There were tears welling up in Shannon's green eyes, but Angel couldn't stop now. "I know you feel like there's no way out, but there is. Someone once pulled me back from that edge once. Please, let me help you!"
Shannon turned to run, but tripped over a chair in the process. She scrambled to her feet and half-ran half-crawled her way to the kitchen. Angel found her curled up in a corner, shaking violently and rocking back and forth. "Shannon …"
"Don't touch me!" The girl's startled scream brought both the cook and the bar monkey down on Angel's back. Freeing himself without seriously injuring either man took some effort, and by the time he made it to the sidewalk outside Shannon was long gone.
Angel sighed. The conversation at the coffee shop had not gone exactly according to plan. In fact, it was about as far from his plan as you could get! He knew there was something he could do, that he was supposed to do … the Powers that Be wouldn't bother warning him unless this was the case. But at the moment he was completely at a loss. How do you help someone who doesn't want to be helped?
A quiet rap on the car window startled Angel from his thoughts. He opened the door and greeted Cordelia with a nod. "Glad you're here," he said quietly. "Sun's coming up soon."
A few months ago Cordelia would have made a comment about needing her beauty sleep, but today she just offered a small, sad smile. "Any change?"
Angel looked to the apartment building and shook his head. "No. The lights were on all night, but I haven't seen any movement in the window. You're sure this isn't the building you saw her jump off of?"
"Yes," she answered. "The building in the vision was much taller."
"Good. Then as long as she doesn't leave the apartment she'll be safe." He handed his cell phone to her. "Call me if anything happens."
Cordelia settled herself into Angel's car for what she expected would be quite a long day. Angel took one last look toward Shannon's window, then disappeared into the sewer.
* * * * *
"This is useless!" Angel slammed the book closed and lowered his head into his hands.
Concerned, Wesley walked over to the vampire, and after a moment's consideration placed a hand on his shoulder. "For now there's nothing we can do but research. We will find something."
"We're not going to find anything in time this way," Angel mumbled into the desk as he ran his fingers through his hair. "There are too many unanswered questions. I have to figure out a way to get her to talk to me. But after the scene I caused last night, I don't think there's a chance of that."
Wesley thought for a moment. "Perhaps we should let Cordelia make contact with the girl. After all, she is more likely to talk with another female than with a strange man."
"Good point. But how? Cordelia says she hasn't left her apartment all day, so she obviously isn't going to go to work. Will she really answer the door if Cordy goes up there?"
"We'll never know unless we try." Wesley was about to continue when the phone rang. Since Angel made no move to answer it, the former watcher did. "Angel Investigations. We hope you're helpless … I mean … blast it! I'm sorry, I don't usually answer the phone. Can I help you?" There was a pause. "Yes, of course. Right away."
"Who was that?" asked Angel as Wesley set the phone back on the hook.
"Shannon," he said with some surprise. "She wants to see you at her apartment as soon as possible.
The door opened a crack in response to Angel's knock. "Hi," he said softly to the single green eye that was peering through the crack. The door closed, and Angel could hear the sound of a chain lock being undone. Ever so slowly, it swung open again.
Angel hoped Shannon didn't notice his surprise at her appearance. She seemed to have aged years in the twenty-four hours since he had last seen her. Her eyes darted nervously between Angel's face and the floor. Underneath were dark circles that betrayed several nights of sleeplessness; they must have been covered with make-up the day before. Long tendrils of red, tangled hair fell across her face, swinging back and forth in front of her eyes as her entire body trembled.
Angel's first impulse was to wrap the poor girl into his arms, but an invisible barrier still stood between them. "Is it okay if I come in?" Shannon nodded, and Angel stepped over the threshold.
She cleared her throat. "Please, sit. Would you like some tea?" There was a small quaver in her voice, but she attempted to smile as Angel found a seat.
The apartment was small and sparsely furnished, but very homey. A small couch that folded out into a bed at night was pushed against one wall, facing not the TV but across the room to a large picture window instead. Scattered around the room were various objects that betrayed Shannon's true calling. A violin case and music stand in one corner, an electric keyboard in another. Scattered across the coffee table were various manuscripts of violin works. Bach, Bruch, Mendelssohn … names Angel hadn't heard in a long time. The far wall was completely covered with shelves of books and cds, all of which were classical, Angel rightly assumed.
Shannon entered the room with two steaming mugs and sat in the small chair that served as a piano bench.
"So," said Angel as he held the mug in his cold hands. "Are you a violinist?"
Shannon's face grew even more drawn. "I used to be."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ..."
"No, it was a reasonable question." She paused. "It's just hard to explain without starting at the beginning." Angel said nothing, just waited for her to continue.
"I've played the violin all my life, or at least as long as I can remember. For some reason I started begging my parents for one when I was barely able to talk." Shannon smiled and for the first time Angel saw a light behind her green eyes. "They thought it was something I would forget the next day, but after two years of pleading I finally started lessons. To make a long story short, after college I ended landing a job in a small orchestra here in LA. It was a few months after I moved that I noticed something was wrong."
"During rehearsal one day, my hands started to shake. I thought it was hunger, or lack of sleep, or something, but it didn't go away. Then the whole room started to spin. I couldn't breathe. My heart was pounding so hard I was sure I would have a heart attack and die right there on stage. The whole experience shook me up pretty badly, but I didn't want to lose my job, so I stayed. But it happened the next week, and the week after that. Each time the attacks got stronger, and the time between them shortened. Eventually it started to affect my playing, and I took an indefinite leave of absence."
"That was almost two years ago."
"The doctor's call it 'Panic Attack Disorder.' Basically all my body goes into a fear reaction for no reason. It's terrible. You feel like you're about to die. Even though there's that little part of your brain that knows it's an illness, the rest of your brain just goes nuts, and you can't listen to that rational side. It's a completely physical illness; a brain chemical imbalance that's treatable with medication but not curable. But I've tried every medication that's out there, and none of them seem to work for me."
"I got a job at the cyber-café to make ends meet. Half the people there are stoned or so involved in their games that they don't really notice me, which is fine. But the attacks are coming so frequently now that I don't think I'll even be able to hold down that job."
Until now, Shannon had managed to stay calm while telling her story. Angel figured this was due to detachment on her part. It was almost as if she was talking about someone else. At this point, the tears began. "I can't play anymore. I haven't touched my instrument in 6 months. My hands shake so badly I can't keep my bow in a straight line. And there are these voices in my head. They say I'm a failure, that I can't do anything right, and whenever I try to play they just get louder!"
Angel couldn't stand it anymore. He moved from the couch to kneel beside Shannon, and he held the girl in his arms as she wept.
* * * * *
"Thanks for letting me stay with you, Cordelia."
After much discussion, it was decided that it wasn't safe for Shannon to be alone. Cordelia was always happy to share her spacious apartment, and had earlier warned Dennis sternly not to upset their guest. "She already feels like she's going crazy. Seeing things fly across the room isn't going to help!"
Cordelia smiled. "It's no trouble. Why don't you take my room? I can sleep on the sofa-bed." Shannon started to protest, but Cordelia cut her off. "Not gonna take no for an answer."
"She's not usually this gracious. I'd take her up on the offer."
Angel's comment drew a dirty look from Cordelia. "You're still mad about that whole 'peanut butter in your bed' thing, aren't you?" She laughed at the puzzled look on Shannon's face. "Oh, it's not what you think. I just needed a place to crash one night. Apparently I made a little mess."
"Little? There was a huge glop in the middle of my pillow!"
The argument was interrupted by something quite unexpected; Shannon laughing. "I can't thank you both enough. It's been a long time since I've felt this … safe."
"That's why we're here," Angel said softly. "Now, get some sleep. We'll talk more in the morning."
"Talk about what? I mean, I'm still not sure what you plan on doing for me."
"Well, if medication isn't working, it must not be a medical problem. We need to figure out what's causing this."
Shannon was confused by Angel's somewhat cryptic remark, and was about to start questioning him when Cordelia took her by the hand. "Plenty of time for that tomorrow. For now, sleep." She turned down the covers.
Despite the fact that her mind was full of questions, Shannon was half asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow. As she slipped into unconsciousness, she thought she felt a phantom presence tucking her in for the night.
Shannon slowly stretched and opened her eyes. Light from the bedroom window spilled across the floor. Something about this situation was odd, but it took Shannon's sleep-muddled brain a moment to figure out what it was … she hadn't slept through the night in over a year. Cold sweats and shakes usually woke her at least once during the night, if she managed to sleep at all.
She closed her eyes again for a moment, enjoying that wonderful feeling that always accompanies sleeping until your body wakes itself up. When she opened them again she noticed a mug sitting on the bed stand. Coffee, still hot. Cordelia must have gotten up already. Shannon experienced her second unusual sensation for the day; her facial muscles formed a genuine smile. It had been a long time since anyone had bothered to do something like this for her.
Shannon padded into the hallway. After taking a sip of coffee, she decided to head to the kitchen to find some milk.
* * * * *
Cordelia was cold. Freezing, actually. She shivered and tried to pull the covers up to her shoulders, only to discover that they had been completely pulled off the couch. Before she had a chance to wonder what kind of violent dream she had during the night, the couch started to shake.
"Dennis, this is not funny!" She retrieved the pile of covers from the floor and attempted to climb back onto the couch when it started spinning in circles. "Stop it! I'm going back to bed." The couch continued to spin, and finally tipped over.
Cordelia felt a presence behind her, and suddenly she was being pushed towards the kitchen. She dropped the blankets in a heap. "Dennis, what's going on? You're scaring me!" Then she saw what Dennis had seen.
Shannon was lying on the floor in front of the open refrigerator. Coffee from a broken mug pooled around her convulsing body. "Oh God!" Cordelia across the room and knelt down to cradle the girl's head on her lap.
"Dennis! Bring me the phone!" Cordelia started to dial 911.
"No hospital," Shannon gasped. "They can't … do anything but … sedate me … just stay." It took great effort to form coherent sentences. She refocused her energy on regaining control of her body.
After a moment's thought, Cordelia dialed the number for Angel Investigations.
* * * * *
By the time Angel and Wesley arrived, the worst of the attack was over. Shannon was still trembling, but her heart was beginning to return to normal and Cordelia had managed to help her to the couch. Wesley offered a smile of greeting and then joined Cordelia in the kitchen. Angel's brow furrowed in concern as he took a seat.
"How are you doing?" he asked quietly.
Shannon sighed. "As well as can be expected." Her tremors grew more violent. Angel leapt to his feet, but she shook her head and closed her eyes. A few seconds later the spasms returned to a normal level. "Sad that I think of this as normal," she thought.
"Are they usually this bad?"
"Not until a few weeks ago. I went back to the doctor, but of course they couldn't do anything." Cordelia entered the room, with Wesley following close behind. He offered a cup of chamomile tea, which Shannon gratefully accepted. The weight of the heavy ceramic mug helped to steady her hands a little, and the warmth was comforting.
After a moment of silence, she spoke again. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have called you yesterday. I don't know what I thought you could do."
Cordelia sat down and wrapped a protective arm around Shannon's frail frame. "We'll find a way to help you."
"How? I've been to all the doctors already."
"We specialize in … unique situations," said Wesley.
Shannon gave Angel a questioning look. He took a deep breath. "Well, there are times when conventional methods can't solve a person's problems. We like to take an alternative approach."
"What, like aromatherapy or something?" Shannon was growing more and more confused.
Wesley smiled. "Not exactly."
"All I can really say right now is that your problem isn't strictly medical." Angel sighed. "But we're working hard to find out what's causing this. Can you live with that for now?" Shannon nodded.
"I guess that's our cue to hit the books." Cordelia playfully punched Wesley in the arm. "Come on, bookman."
Angel looked to Shannon. "I don't want to leave you alone. Are you up to traveling? It's not very far to our office."
"I think so." Shannon started to stand up, but vertigo forced her back to the couch. When she was sure she wasn't going to be sick, she opened her eyes and saw Angel extend a hand to help. When her hand was in his she was surprised by the coolness of his skin, and the ease with which he supported her weight.
"Wesley and Cordelia will get you back to the car. I'll meet you at the office. I need to …" his mind spun as he looked for an excuse. He couldn't walk Shannon back to the car without bursting into flames.
Cordelia was quick on her feet. "Stop by the library. It's right down the street. Wesley's been doing some research, and one of the book's he needs should be in today.
Angel sighed in relief as Shannon nodded and Wesley took his place under her arm. "I owe you one," he mumbled to Cordelia under his breath.
"Actually, you owe me three, but who's counting?" she flashed a movie star smile, slipped her sunglasses onto her nose and headed out the door.
Angel waited until the car pulled around the corner, then made a dash for the sewer entrance near the apartment.
Music drew Angel down from his office. Shannon was sitting in the middle of the floor with her eyes closed, swaying ever so slightly. From the speakers came the voice of a solo violin.
A minor chord echoed between the walls, and Angel closed his eyes in the sheer beauty of it. As a young man his tastes for music ran towards tunes that could be danced to and songs with dirty lyrics. Growing older, after his transformation, his tastes changed as well. Many a night Angelus would sneak into the concert halls to create the proper mood for the evening's festivities. The dark and devilish tunes of Paganini always made the blood boil in his veins, and often a stagehand or two would feel his deadly kiss before the piece had ended.
But this was not Paganini. These sad and sensuous strains could only be the work of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Shannon seemed to feed off the music. Angel could almost swear he saw her growing in strength and presence as she absorbed the sounds around her. After a moment's observation, he also noticed that the fingers of her left hand were making small movements, as if playing an imaginary violin on her lap.
As the final E octave dissolved into nothingness Angel gave a polite little cough, so as not to startle to poor girl with his unexpected presence.
Shannon opened her eyes. "Angel? Oh, I'm sorry. Did I turn the volume up too high?"
"No. Not at all." He had trouble finding the words. "Sonata in A minor?"
She nodded. "The 'Grave.' You know music?"
"A little. I don't have the chance to listen much these days."
"Perlman is the violinist. He's my hero. When I think of all he had to overcome in his life ... the polio left him barely able to walk, and now he is one of the greatest musicians who ever lived! And his playing has such soul." Tears began to well up in her deep green eyes.
Angel sat across from the girl. "His playing has soul because of his life, and all the experiences in it. Believe me, I've heard the prodigies, the one's who don't know anything but music, they're robots." He extended a hand to touch hers. "You will play again, and be the better for all this. I promise."
"I hope so," came the soft reply. "Bach is like that, you know. The 'Grave' is in minor, which everyone assumes means sad. And it is, but it's also wonderful. It rips your heart out with the pure emotion of it, the sadness and the beauty together like that."
Angel was about to reply when he heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Cordelia was standing there. "Wesley needs to see you, Angel."
* * * * *
"I think I may have a lead," said the Englishman as Angel approached the desk. Wesley flipped through one of the many leather-bound books and pointed to an entry. "This volume makes reference to the suicide of a watcher. From the diaries left behind, the council determined he had been killed by a Cura demon."
"Killed?" said Cordelia. "But I thought you said he killed himself."
"Cura demons are in interesting lot. They feed off human emotions, but do not physically inhabit the host. Instead they trail them, follow them like a shadow for years. Cura's are telepaths, and have the ability to influence the mind. So the demon creates horrible images in the mind of the victim …"
"And feeds off the fear." The pieces were beginning to click together for Angel. "So these past two years she's been followed by a demon. Why is it getting worse now?"
Wesley sighed. "Cura's don't have to kill their prey to feed, but after a few years they tend to get bored. Driving a person to harm themselves is a form of entertainment."
"Why couldn't they get cable like everybody else?" Cordelia frowned. "Okay, so now we know what the big bad is. How do we stop it?"
"That's slightly more complicated. The story of the watcher mentions a spell for warding off the demon, but doesn't include the text. This is going to take more research." Wesley would have continued, but a voice from behind caught him off guard.
"Well then you better show us what to look for," announced Shannon from the doorway.
* * * * *
"Are you sure you shouldn't be resting?" Angel was concerned. Wesley and Cordelia were used to these all-night research sessions, but Shannon was not, and was also not in the best of health. Besides, the revelations this night had wrought were probably a great shock to her system.
"I'm not going to be able to sleep anyway. I feel better doing something." She turned a few more pages then stopped, and looked to Angel. "This is really real, right?"
He smiled. "Unfortunately."
Shannon laughed quietly. "When you said you helped people in 'unusual circumstances' I thought a lot of things, but I never thought this. I mean, how does one get into this line of work anyway?"
Angel thought for a moment. "Cordy and Wesley, they're just good people. They see the danger and they want to help. I have … my own reasons." Shannon looked concerned at this. "Let's just say that I haven't always led the best life. I need to give something back."
"I see." Shannon stood at the point of indecision for a moment, unsure as to whether she should push any further. "I don't … I don't suppose that has anything to do with the jars in your refrigerator?" She hurried on before Angel had a chance to interrupt. "I mean, I wasn't snooping or anything. I needed water to take my meds, not that they do any good, and they were just there. I was coming up to ask when I walked in on the whole demon deal. Pretty much explained things for me."
"I won't ... I won't hurt you, you know," Angel managed to stammer.
"I know. I won't say I'm entirely comfortable with all this, but I think I understand. Either that, or I've finally gone off the deep end. C'mon," she said, resting a hand on the stack of books between them. "Let's find out how to kill this thing."
"Shannon," a cool hand fell on the girl's shoulder, startling her from a light doze. She turned to find Angel standing behind her chair. "Why don't you go ahead downstairs and get some rest. You're not going to be able to help if you're exhausted."
Shannon nodded wearily in agreement. "Alright. I just want to finish this page first. This chapter seemed like it might be more helpful than the rest." She gestured toward the growing pile of books at her feet.
Angel attempted to scowl disapprovingly, but couldn't help but to smile. A full night's research hadn't brought them any new information, still, Shannon refused to be discouraged. Dark circles still ringed her eyes, but there was something there Angel hadn't seen before - hope.
An icicle of a chill ran up Shannon's spine. She shivered involuntarily.
"Are you okay?"
Shannon shook her head as if to clear it. "I think so. Maybe I should let you finish this, though." As she stood, the ground suddenly seemed to shift under her feet. The room spun violently, and she reached out to the desk for support.
"Shannon!" Angel's voice traveled to her through a tunnel, almost obscured completely by the sound of a scream which she vaguely realized was hers. The cry died with an abrupt, strangling sound as a wave of muscle spasms wracked her body. She was aware of being lifted, felt strong arms wrap around her in an attempt to keep her from hurting herself or someone else. Green eyes met Angel's brown, and she saw there fear and helplessness. His lips formed words she couldn't hear.
"Wesley! Cordelia!" Angel held the trembling girl in his arms. "Hold on, Shannon. Just hold on."
Shannon focused in on Angel's eyes. She couldn't hear, couldn't move, but as long as she could stay keep her eyes focused into this world she might stay sane. A second attack of convulsions struck, more powerful than the first. Her eyes closed as she fought against the pain. When she opened them again, the world had gone black.
A low moan gurgled up from her throat, accompanied by dark laughter in the distance. Then the lights came on again, and Shannon found herself trapped in a land of eternal nightmares.
* * * * *
Wesley shook his head as he removed the stethoscope from his ears. "Her heart is racing so fast I can barely count the pulse, and her breathing is extremely shallow. I'm not sure how much more of this she can survive in her weakened condition." He looked back to the frail form lying on Angel's bed, trembling under the covers.
"He's laughing at us, Wesley. He's right here in this room, killing her right in front of us. And we can't do anything to stop him!" Angel's fist struck the brick wall hard enough to make a sizable dent.
"Easy there." Wesley touched him on the shoulder, but the vampire shook him off. When Angel turned, his face was contorted into the feral image of the demon inside him. "This is exactly the reaction the cura demon is hoping for. You can't let him get to you."
"We're not dealing with some schoolyard bully here," Angel retorted. "Ignoring him won't make him go away!"
"And that is why it is imperative that we keep level heads through this. We can't out-fight this one, Angel. We have to out-think it." Wesley breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Angel relax and the vampiric features fall from his face. He had seen Angel's "game face" several times in the past, but it never ceased to unnerve him.
"Good point. We have to think the way it thinks." Angel began to pace about the room. "Shannon's been here all day, but this is the first time its attacked. Why?"
"The cura is an extremely malicious creature. They enjoy participating in the pain and torment of others. Perhaps it wanted to give her a chance to find a bit of hope before it destroyed her."
"Maybe," Angel didn't sound convinced. "But still there's the question of timing. Why that particular moment? Why not strike when she was alone? The demon wouldn't want us around to help her, and we were all together up there doing ..."
"Research," Wesley finished.
"We were getting too close to something." Angel strode toward the stairs.
"And once again, I'm two steps ahead of you guys." Cordelia's voice echoed down the stairwell. When she reached the bottom she handed the volume she was carrying to Wesley. "Shannon was on page 213. Check out what you find when you turn the page."
Wesley flipped through the musty pages. "Here we are ... Exorcism of the Cura. We need to create a circle of protection with fire, water, air and earth. Quite standard, actually. Burning of moss herbs and twice blessed sage ... Oh dear."
"What? What's wrong?" Angel's voice was full of urgency.
"Well, the spell is fairly simple, and I can perform most of it." Wesley closed the book and walked to Shannon's side, taking her trembling hand in his. "But the incantation must be spoken by the cura's intended victim."
"Cordelia, are you sure you want to do this?"
"For the last time Wesley, yes!" Cordelia said with determination. "First off, you're the one working the spell. If something goes wrong you need to be conscious and able to fix it. Secondly, there's a chance the spell could work some nasty mojo on Angel's curse, and that's the last thing we need." She paused to see if anyone would argue with her. "Good. That's settled. Now, lets go over this one more time, from the top."
Wesley was uncomfortable with the situation, but there appeared to be no other solution. "Right then. You and Shannon will sit here on the floor, and I shall begin the spell. When my preparations are complete I will signal to you, and you will read the chant I have written down for you."
Cordelia accepted the sheet of paper Wesley offered her. "And that'll create a bond so that Shannon can suck up my energy?"
"Not exactly. She doesn't ... suck anything. It's hard to explain, but basically it's a merging of life forces. You each share with the other. Theoretically she should gain enough strength from you to complete the spell and vanquish the demon. But ..."
"But since we're sharing each other's energy it probably won't be that pleasant for me." Cordelia said softly.
"And this is all just a theory." Wesley looked at the floor. "It might not work, and I'm afraid that if this backfires you may fall prey to the Cura as well." A moment of complete silence followed. Wesley broke the awkward tension by continuing. "Now, it is imperative that you remain in physical contact with Shannon at all times. The bond we are creating is not entirely stable, and any loss of connection will probably kill you both."
Angel had been standing in the corner of the room for quite some time, sometimes watching Cordelia and Wesley, sometimes the waif of a girl dying on his bed. "Cordelia," he finally spoke up, startling both his companions. "You don't have to do this."
"Yes I do." She crossed the room to look up into his face. "I've watched you give of yourself time and time again. You never hesitate to risk your life to save someone else's. I've lived my whole life thinking of no one but me, myself, and I. It's my turn now."
Angel frowned, but looked at Cordelia with newfound respect. In over 200 years, he had never seen anyone make this kind of character transformation in such a short time. He nodded his assent.
"Okay, good." She turned back to Wesley. "Let's get this over with before I come to my senses and change my mind.
* * * * *
The room was still as death. Angel had pushed his bed into the far corner to allow Wesley room to work. Cordelia sat in the middle of the floor, with four unlit candles marking the directional points surrounding her. Shannon's head lay cradled on her lap.
Wesley consulted his book one last time, then moved to the candle positioned directly in front of Cordelia. A nod from the girl to show she was ready, a look to his employer standing in the corner for strength and support, and he began.
"Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtowers of the East,
Power of Air!
We implore thee, grant us thy protection."
Wesley bent to retrieve a small bundle of herbs at his feet. After lighting them he walked slowly around the circle, creating a ring of smoke that hung eerily in the air instead of dissipating. Returning the herbs, he continued to the next point.
"Hail to the Guardians of the Watchtowers of the South,
Power of Fire!
We implore thee, grant us thy protection."
On this trip around the circle the Englishman stopped to light the candles he had positioned earlier. He continued in this manner, calling on the Guardians of the West and sprinkling water around the circle, then the Guardians of the North and creating a ring of soil. Finally, he returned to the point at which he began. Wesley made eye contact with Cordelia and spoke.
"The circle is cast. Witness these rites done in your honor, and keep your children safe from harm."
Cordelia gasped as the flickering light of the candles suddenly burst into flames several feet high, then returned to a normal dim glow. She closed her eyes to collect herself "C'mon Cordelia, lets pull ourselves together here." With that final mental affirmation, she grasped Shannon's limp hands in hers.
"With perfect love and perfect trust
And with motives pure and just
I join my sister soul and heart
And my life to her impart."
Cordelia felt a rush of warmth move from her chest through her hands, creating an emptiness inside so great she feared her body would collapse in on itself. Almost as quickly as the void formed it was gone, filled with a bone numbing chill. For an instant Cordelia saw Shannon's private hell, and screamed.
Wesley leapt to his feet to restrain Angel as he rushed forward. "No! You can't break the circle once it's been cast or we'll lose them both!"
Slowly, the spell's energy began to equal itself. The pain and fear became less and less consuming, until Cordelia was able to find strength to open her eyes.
Green eyes locked on hers, and the two girls rose as a unit. Shannon seemed to instinctively realize what was going on around her as she dropped Cordelia's left hand to reach for the book on the floor. She began the incantation in a quavering voice.
"I call out the demon that plagues me. The one who invades my mind and shreds my soul. You who believe that you hold everything over me, when in truth you have none."
Shannon's voice grew stronger with each word, and the flames of the candles grew with her intensity. A disturbance not unlike a small storm erupted in the room, scattering papers and debris. Shannon's raised her voice to a shout.
"Power of self I hold over you!
Power of the soul which has been denied you!
Power of marrow and bone to give me strength!
Power of flesh and blood to anchor me in this world
You have no support or anchor."
Winds raged and candles flamed higher. Shannon closed her eyes and screamed at the top of her lungs.
"You are cast from this mortal plane forever!"
A flash of light, an inhuman scream, and it was over. As the winds died and the candles extinguished themselves, Cordelia and Shannon collapsed into an exhausted heap on the floor.
The concert hall teemed with people. Angel managed to step on more than a fair share of toes before he gratefully slid down into his seat.
"Not quite as stealthy as we used to be, are we?" quipped the woman beside him.
"One of the disadvantages of being human," he replied with a sigh. "Although I do believe the various advantages might just outweigh the negatives."
Buffy rewarded him with an innocent look. "You wouldn't happen to be referring to one benefit in particular, would you?"
"You'd better believe it!" he laughed as he put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.
They had the best seats in the house; orchestra section, center, 8 rows back. To Buffy's right Cordelia and Wesley. They were engaged in their own private conversation, probably discussing arrangements for their upcoming wedding.
"So, is this girl any good?" asked Buffy.
"She is. Her music has such soul." He smiled to himself as he remembered the conversation that took place in his apartment almost five years previous.
Buffy heard the thoughtful tone in his voice and was about to question him further when the lights began to dim.
Shannon MacLeod stepped from between the curtains with perfect grace and composure, acknowledging the thunderous applause from the crowd before approaching the microphone set center stage. "Good evening. I'd like to thank you all for coming, and offer a word of explanation about the first piece on the program. Many people speak of Angels. Sometimes they mean heavenly creatures sent from God, sometimes men who go above and beyond the call of duty." She paused to find Angel's face in the crowd. "Several years ago I met my own guardian angel. He helped me to win back my life, and this piece means something special to both of us. For you, Angel."
With that she settled the violin under her chin and began to play.
The familiar opening strains of the "Grave" from Bach's Sonata in A minor echoed from wood and strings. The notes Bach heard in his head as he wrote could not have been sweeter than this. Shannon played as she had never played before, throwing every ounce of emotion, every experience, every memory into the phrasing and shaping of sound.
Angel closed his eyes and let himself be carried away as the music found it's own wings, and began to soar.
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