Self-Portrait In A Coma Patient
by glossolalia

The soul has to stay where it is,
Even though restless, hearing raindrops on the pane,
The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind,
Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay
Posing in this place. It must move
As little as possible. This is what the portrait says.
But there is in that gaze a combination
Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful
In its restraint that one cannot look for long.
The secret is too plain. The pity of it smarts,
Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul,
Has no secret, is small, and it fits
Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention.
(John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror)

Last time Gunn saw Cordy was when he thought Jasmine was the finest thing to come down the pike since Alonna got born.

All tucked up in her matron's suite, sleeping like an angel, hair dark and dry, curling against her face.

It was hard to get in to see her. Needed an appointment, preferably a donation - fiscal or, he knows now, physical - and a damn good reason to see the mother of the Good One.

But Gunn's muscle. He managed.

Devoted so much time to figuring out how to get in that once he was at her bedside, he didn't really know what to do with himself. Especially his hands. He clasped them one way, right hand over left, then the other. Scrubbed his palms up and down his thighs, gripped his knees, dug in his nails.

Nothing felt right.

She was so still, it was like he had to make up for it.


Thing is, Gunn remembers all of it. No one talks about it, not about what happened to Cordy, not about where Connor went.

He's got to figure they're not up to it.

That in itself just doesn't sit quite right. Right in the middle of his chest, it shifts and bites.

Like the first couple times he dusted a vamp and forgot to hold his breath, he sucked in some of the ash. It lodged there, right under his breastbone, for days. He tasted it, rotten and dirty, every time he breathed. Like that, now that there's stuff they're not talking about to each other.

It's not insignificant stuff, either.

Not like the way they try to avoid asking Angel if he's been buying his new big CEO-vamp suits off of Jimmy Two-Times' "Fell off the Back of a Truck and You Enjoy the Savings" sale. Not like the way everyone always passes Fred a little extra food and hard candy just in case she faints, all without saying anything about it. Not like the way he and Wes won't ever mention how they're really never going to be the same kind of friends they used to be.

Those are polite things.

This is big stuff. Key stuff that goes right to the heart of things.

Every time he tries to open his mouth, though, something seems to come up. And after everything they've been through - again - he's trying the whole live and let live approach. Maybe he's just not smart enough to understand why it's a secret.

When they're ready, they'll talk about it.

Same as when they're ready, they'll visit her, too.


Takes some doing, some fast-talking, several skipped meetings and greased palms, but he finds out where they're keeping her.

Not like they need him in the Fortress of Evil. He just kind of wanders and hangs out with the big cat these days. Itchy, but he can't go back to the street, either.

The company's got a damn nice rest home. Full of demons and half-demons, but they're mostly old and fairly harmless. Couple seriously Orc-looking old vamps that put to the lie to Angel's whole "I'm never going to change" schtick.

Long as he keeps his eyes to himself, he's good.

Cordy's in a corner room, two big sets of windows, lots of light.

Her eyes are closed. She doesn't need the light.

Maybe the light's for the visitors. He's damn grateful, actually, both for the light and the fact that there's lots of space to move around in. He paces, pauses at the foot of the bed, paces some more.

Fresh flowers on the fake mantelpiece.

Gunn smells them all. Yellow ones spotted like tigers or alley cats. Daisies, but big and purple, pretty mutant-looking. Roses, he knows roses. Red ones, pink ones, a couple white ones.

Too quiet in here, quieter than a funeral home. Just the beepbeepclink of machines. Silent Cordy-shape on the bed.


He worked with her and laughed with her, but it wasn't as if they were that close. Gunn's good around girls, treats them like the guys with special little flourishes on top. He was just - a latecomer, maybe. Not one of the castaways from the sunny suburban hellmouth. Didn't quite know what to do with himself.

Not that they were the tightest to begin with. He always thought of that poster with Marilyn Monroe and James Dean in a late-night diner, sitting at the counter in the hazy golden light, staring straight ahead.

Like that, like they kind of ended up together without meaning to.

Cordy and Fred became friends, he thinks, because Cordy was starved for girl company. And because everyone wants to take care of Fred. Cordy didn't need taking care of. Even with the visions, when she was white as paper and all crinkled in on herself, she snapped and waved them away.

He didn't know how to get close to her. If he should, even. Which is weird, now that he thinks about it - and he's been thinking about it a lot lately - since he has way more in common with her than Angel or Wes.

Vampire, Brit: worlds of difference there.

But Cordy was just about his age, and Californian, and - they should have hung out more. Gender thing, though - his own hangup - and color, always color. Their hangup.

What was he supposed to do? She was always in his face, always chattering, and he was more annoyed than all that interested.

Still. Should have tried. Shouldn't have taken some deep metaphysically wrong coma to bring him here and try to hang.

If she was awake, Cordy would snort at him and probably slap him for thinking like that.


When he visited her during Jasmine's little reign of perfect happiness, he had no clue what to say. You're supposed to talk to coma patients, he knew that much from TV, but -

"Hey, Cordy. 'Sup?"

His words hung there. Little speech balloon, almost, quivering. Not going anywhere.

"Not much, I guess," he said. "I'm good. Doing well."

This was stupid. Pointless.

He wasn't talking to Cordy, he was talking at her. Talking to himself, and that way lay the cuckoo's nest and big Indians.

Pretty gross, the longer he sat there and thought about it. Like talking was done to make himself feel better but he had to pretend it was for her sake.

He left the room.


In the White Room. Never hurts to see if the cat has some answers.

The cat's eyes are bottomless and golden. Color of the aspens on Wes's desk calendar, of the hard cider Wes drinks sometimes when he finds a bar that has it on tap, of New England foliage.

Or, at least, as Gunn's always pictured New England foliage. Lumberjacks crunching through the woods, canopy of blue sky and red-purple-gold leaves overhead. He had a postcard of that scene, used to tell Alonna about it, about Paul Bunyan and Nat Turner teaming up and fighting crime in Vermont with Ethan Allen.

Tim Gutierrez's little brother Abel got recruited right out of elementary school by some white-people's charity - A Chance at Life, A Better Way, something snotty and righteous like that - that paid his way through boarding school in New England. Went off to expose the white kids to other cultures and pick up some learning for himself. He stayed away, did Harvard in three years. Now he's a lawyer.

Not every disappearance was a tragedy. Gunn's the first to admit that.

Abel works down in Mergers and Acquisitions (Corporeal) now. Gunn's seen him a couple times in the halls, seen the punk turn his head. Pretends not to know Gunn in his street clothes. Like it's Gunn's fault that Abel's suits are half a size too large, his Florsheim shoes just a little too bright.

Like Gunn cheated somehow, rode in on the new boss's coattails, so why'd skinny little Abel have to play by the rules?

Then the cat blinks and Gunn just sees the gold again and his own reflection.


They toss the giant ball of red yarn for a bit.

It always helps Gunn loosen up, and the cat seems to enjoy it, too. He bounds and pounces, bats it around, then slams it back towards Gunn harder than Pele at the World Cup.

Gunn bends over, grabs the frazzled, drool-soaked ball and looks around for the cat.

"Over here." Cordy's voice, loud in the room. A little echo-y.

Gunn turns slowly, very slowly, Chow-Yun Fat hearing footsteps crunch at the opposite end of the alley slowly.

It's Cordy all right. Cordy-shaped, in a Cordy outfit - filmy blue shirt over matching mini, chunky sandals - with a pink Cordy manicure, talking in a Cordy voice, half-amused, half-impatient.

"You projecting again?" Gunn asks. Clears his throat. "Astral thing?"

"No," Cordy says. "This is me. Real as you."

"So I'm projecting."



He's the muscle, and she was the vessel, and it was always like that. He fought things, she saw things.

Nothing's as neat as he'd like it to be. Should be nice and neat, life or death, right or wrong. If the world was like that, things would be a hell of a lot easier.

Jasmine made him see just how wrong he was to think like that.

But their roles were clear at least. Wes was the mojo and language guy, Fred the numbers girl. Angel was boss -- Reed Richards, kind of. For a while there, Cordy looked to be on track to be his Sue, blonde, stalwart, faithful.

Gunn tends to get mixed up here, though, because Reed wasn't just the boss, he was the brains, so maybe Wes is Reed. Only that would leave Angel out in cold.

Not that he'd notice. The temperature or the being alone. Unless Wes was Sue, which would explain a lot. A lot that Gunn doesn't really like to think about if he can help it.

The point is, that leaves Gunn as Ben Grimm, and, okay, The Thing rocks, no pun intended, and he has some of the same problems - feeling underrated, best employed for breaking things, blah blah blah - but still.

He's much finer than a pile of bricks, first of all.


In the invisible fluorescents of the White Room, the Cordy-looking thing kind of glows. Just a little, right around the edges, clouds over the sun, so he can't look at her straight on.

Gunn's got that thing again, where he doesn't know what to do with his hands. "Got a message for me? Something that needs to be done?"

Cordy shrugs and tucks her hair behind her ear. "No, I'm good."

"So I'm here why?"

"'Cause you hit the button for the White Room?"

Gunn starts up a good pace, couple laps of the room, arms crossed behind his head, hands squeezing his neck. "Cordy, whatever you are, I'm not really looking to play Twenty Questions. Never liked it, really don't like it when it's conducted by a ghost or projection or whatever the fuck you are who looks a hell of a lot like a girl I used know who turned into Satan's own convection oven -"

"Got some issues there?"

He stops. Looks at her sidewise, squinting. "Yeah, a couple."

"I ever tell you about my highschool boyfriend?" Cordy glances around, but there's nowhere to sit.

"Which one?"

She smiles tightly. "Point. The important one."

"Band guy?"

It's a hell of a good Cordy impersonation, whatever it is - has the huffy snort down cold.

"Sorry," Gunn says. "Go on, Cordy-who's-not-really-here."

"Certainly, Gunn-who's-not-here,-then,-either." She links her arm through his, and she's not exactly incorporeal.

He knows from incorporeal. But she's not quite solid, either, more like a windsock. Like a tortilla filled with lots of sliding, trembling things. He holds himself stiffly so only his elbow has to touch hers as she leads him across the room.

"So, the boyfriend?" he asks. Room's still whiter than white and empty.

"Let me show you," she says. Releases his arm and drops to her knees, starts riffling through a wooden milk-crate that was not there a moment ago.

She takes out an old View-Master, red plastic, all scuffed-up. Just the kind he used to have, with the little discs of slides. Green Lantern, Bugs Bunny, and one about dinosaurs. He used it all the time.

"Here, take it."

Gunn holds the toy in both hands. He remembers it being a lot heavier, but this thing's flimsy as hell. He lifts it to his eyes and squints. Scratched up and the light in the picture's too low, but he makes out a hell of a fine-looking younger Cordy in a zebra costume. Busty out to here, pretty face sneering as she turns on her heel.

"See you bitching out a kid in an army uniform -" He clicks the lever - his hand remembers how to use the toy like it's only been a couple weeks - and grins. "Angel's there. Looks like he's shaking his head at you."

"That's the wrong one. Wait a second."

Gunn looks through the whole disc while she goes through the crate, muttering under her breath. Nice to know that astral-Cordy's filing system is as fucked up as the real one's ever was.

Since it's Cordy's memories, there are lots of close-ups of her and everyone else is kind of blurry. He looks harder. "Angel's looking good here. Little leaner. Guess the suburban blood's not so rich -"

"This one," Cordy says. "Look at this one."

Gunn takes the disc from her, brushes the not-really solid fingers and swallows the shiver. He slots it in, and now he can see little Cordy, and he knows it's her because her smile is huge, bright with braces - he knew her teeth were too straight to be natural - and her red dress is clean and new. Plus, she's holding a huge piece of posterboard that reads: "The Cycle of Life by Cordelia Chase".

Like rain starts in the clouds, then falls, then runs into rivers, then the ocean and gets reabsorbed into the clouds, the seasons are circular, too. Everything cycles around back to where it starts.

Gunn learns this by clicking through various close-ups.

Little Cordy or her mom worked really hard on the poster. Lots of different markers shading the raindrops and the leaves falling. All the labels traced out through stencils. Fairly grown-up, too, the way the water cycle matches the season one. Summer's full of green corn growing tall under fluffy white clouds, but winter is tons of snow piled up around a shakily drawn red barn. Blizzard. Spring shows rosebuds and tulips growing alongside a bright blue creek running so fast the waves are capped with white foam.

Things dry out in the fall. Orange leaves, when the chlorophyll retreats and the air dries up and everything sleeps.

"Nice poster," he says when he reaches the end of the disc.

Cordy's hair makes a whisk-whisk sound over her shoulder, she turns around so fast. "Wrong one. Give it back."

Gunn lifts the toy over his head. "Make me."

She jumps to her feet, and that's got to be an art, the way she's always been able to move so gracefully in her ridiculous shoes.

The way Cordy had been able to move, that is.

He corrects himself and takes a step backward. Doesn't want that thing touching him if he can help it.

"Got one with Wes in it?" he asks.

Cordy tries to grab the toy and Gunn switches hands. Block and fake, easy as playing ball.

"Give it -"

"That'd be cool. Wes doesn't talk too much about it. Love to see the kiss," he says. Passes the toy behind his back.

Cordy huffs out another sigh. Advances on him. Her eyes narrow and he's seen that look. Aftermath of a vision and when she showed them her disgusting belly. "Trying to show you something. Not playing."

When she touches his arm, Gunn feels the shiver all the way down to his bone marrow. Colored like the raindrops on her stupid poster, silver and blue.

He needs to breathe. Be alone.

"Look, sorry about this -" he says, holding the toy out in front of him. "Should get going."

The Cordy-thing shrugs and crosses her arms. Her mouth twists like it did when that soldier-kid was yelling at her. "No loss."

Gunn bites back a sigh. When he drops the toy, it doesn't make a sound. "What now?"

"Time," she says. "You're not losing any being up here."

He rolls his shoulders. "Yeah. Still gotta go."

"Keep on keeping on, that it?"

Gunn rubs his palms together and nods slowly. "Something like that. Constant motion, idle hands. Shark."

"Think the cat's a better symbol, Gunn. Stick with the panther or next thing you'll know, it's Great White for you."


He asked Wes about Cordy. Once, several times, it doesn't matter now.

It must have been a slow day, she snapped at him again about being his goddamn guardian angel, and he'd had just about enough. Closed the door to Wes's office and demanded some answers.

"You've known her the longest -"

Wes shut his book tidily and rearranged his pencil. Hated it when Gunn sat on the edge of his desk. "Technically, no. Not as long as Angel has."

"Way I hear it," Gunn said, "man had tunnel vision back in the Dale. Good, psycho, all he saw was the girl. So. You knew Cordy."

"True enough. About Angel's focus, certainly. Although I wouldn't -"

"Talk to me. What's her deal?"

Wes straightened his shoulders and neck. Adjusted his glasses. "Cordelia has no deal."

"Story, whatever. Know what I mean." He rolled Wes's pencil under his palm until Wes's hand darted over and rescued it.

"I do indeed. My answer's still the same. What you see is what you get with Cordelia."

Gunn shook his head. Suppressed the urge to grab the pencil back and snap it, just to see what he'd do, just to hear something break. "C'mon, Wes. Help me out here."

"Really. There are no hidden depths. Anything you might want to know is -" Wes sighed and peered at Gunn, blue eyes a little smeary behind the glasses. Twin Gunns in the lenses. "It's much like Poe's purloined letter. Right there in plain sight."


The Cordybot, ghost, what-the-fuck-ever, is tilting her head, looking him over, moving towards him slowly. Inevitably, decisively - something not human, the way she's moving. Threatening somehow.

Gunn's about ready to toss the toy at her and run. He doesn't get scared, and he could hurt her. He doesn't want to have to do either. Especially not here. Maybe the door'll open for him just in time, he'll be able to slide through just in the nick of time. Like Indiana Jones.

He steps backward, cuts the angle before he hits the corner, and lowers his voice. "Cordy, look. You better -"

"I better what?"

Gunn stays where he is, holds his ground, looks down at her. "Step back. Off. Away."

"Why? Not like you can do anything to me." Like Alonna taunting him, same little-girl delight in pushing the boundaries. Poking bugs with needles, angling the magnifying glass just right over the column of ants.

"I -" His fist would like to see what happens when it connects with that pretty face. What will break, what will spill.

Gunn tightens it until his nails carve his palm. He has other ideas. He's better than that.

"Just the muscle, right?" she says. "Just the weight they throw around."

"That's not the way it is."

"Beefcake. Another weapon in their arsenal. And they do love their weapons, don't they?"

Prickly-heat runs up the back of his neck, over his cheeks. Gunn blinks once and ignores it. Keeps his voice steady. "I'm way more than that."

"Not too precise, sure, but sometimes you need something big and heavy. Blunt force."

"Shut up, Cordy."

"Kind of sweet, isn't it? How they try to include you? All buddy-buddy. Nice of them to try. Entertain the muscle."

Brushfire down his spine, through his gut, around the stone that's lodged in his chest. Fuck this. When he speaks, his voice booms and it tastes hot and sour in his mouth. "What did you ever do? Huh? Saw shit. By accident, too. Got fucking migraines. Got knocked up by a kid creepier than Damien. You want to talk pointless muscle, Cordy?"

"Sure, big guy. Thought you'd never bite."

She treats him to the toothpaste smile, the creepy one for commercials. Always used to wonder just how often she practiced it in front of the mirror and it made his chest hurt when he realized she probably did it all the time.

Never got any friendlier, either. Just wider and brighter.

Gunn takes a step backward. "Don't know you."

She cocks her head as she smoothes both hands over the front of her skirt. Says softly, "Know the feeling."

He swallows redheat, prickling and crackling. Runs his sweaty palm over his skull. "Can't know."

"Um, amnesia? None of my so-called friends happened to notice anything wrong? Some prehistorical blood god was driving me and nobody blinked? Once? Twice?"

She fiddles with a lock of hair. Gunn never saw Cordy touch her hair with anything other than certainty and confidence and - Somehow this is the scariest thing yet.

"Yeah, of course," she continues. Voice a little cracked, frost on glass, cloudy mirror. "Sure. Can't possibly know what that feels like."

Gunn laces his fingers together. Cracks his knuckles. His throat's sore and dry. "Think I want the cat back."

"I'm not the cat, Gunn."

"Yeah. Got that. Trust me, got a lot more to learn from the cat."

"Have a lot more to learn, period."

He unknots his fingers and swipes at his nose and mouth. He's not sweating, but it feels like he should be. "Whatever. Know enough."

Cordy shakes her head.


First time he saw her, she was asleep, too. He was supposed to guard her.

Banged up, bandaged, sedated halfway to the Emerald City. Machines beeping and clacking, and the princess sleeping through it all. Not a pea in sight to disturb her.

This time, the machines are hidden away in bedside tables. Supposed to look like an ordinary bedroom, full of sunlight and flowers.

But she's not going to wake up this time. And the beeping's just the same.

Gunn's not a spiritual guy. He knows what he believes and he tries to act right. But the questions - let alone the answers - those he leaves to Wes and Fred. The brains. He just does what he needs to do, hopes he doesn't hurt anyone who doesn't deserve it.

Cordy is perfectly still.

He knows now not to bother talking to her. It's not about that. It's just about being here. Watching her, not leaving her alone for a little while. Maybe it's guarding again.

Gunn knows he's been looking at her too long. Paying such close attention that he's probably imagining things. Because it's starting to look like there's movement there. Under her skin, but not her muscles. Like water or light, something insubstantial and seethrough. Small ripples.

That's what's left, when you're gone. Angel likes to say that he's dead, but it's a technicality, like the way other dead things rot away.

He figures this is what it's really like. No change, just a body.

Just muscle, just a vessel.

He's going to do something about that. First chance he gets.


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