by Princess Twilite

"You used to captivate me..." - My Immortal, by Evanescence

His secretary tries to warn him, but Angel isn't in the mood to listen today. The sun has been too bright and too far away all day long. He spent an hour standing beneath a large oak tree, waiting for the sun to shift, and there was nothing to do but remember women he's loved, a son he no longer has, and a world that is so breakable he can see right through it. So when his secretary stands up and tries to speak through her stuttering, he only pushes past her and into his office.

It feels like being kicked in the gut.

Angel pulls up short at the figure sitting in his office chair, fingers threaded together, staring thoughtfully down at the desk.

"Cordy?" he asks, whisper-hushed. A dull thudding begins in the vicinity of his heart that could almost be mistaken for a heartbeat, but is only the twisted mixture of anticipation and dread.

She looks up, slowly, past the hair that has grown as long as he's ever seen it. It's been so long since he's seen her eyes open, since he's felt the punch of them on his, that he takes a trembling step forward before he can stop himself. He realizes suddenly that he's forgotten the particular shade of her irises, that as often as he's visited her and carefully touched her limp hand, he's forgotten what a powerhouse she is.

"In the flesh," she says dryly, dragging a single unpainted nail across the skin of her wrist. A wry smile tilts the corner of her mouth up, and it's as though she's laughing at him.

"When?" he inquires, stepping forward again, and blinking to make sure this isn't some mid-day fantasy that he's gotten lost in. No. She remains sitting in his chair, watching his every movement like a hawk.

Cordelia lifts a casual shoulder. "A couple days ago."

"Why didn't anyone tell me?" He demands, picking up speed and moving around the desk. She pushes out of her chair so abruptly he stops, watching in confusion as she moves to put the desk between them, as if she needs the defense from him.

"You were busy," she says, shakily. "I asked them not to bother you."

Angel licks his bottom lip. "You, uh... why?"

"Still the Spanish Inquisition, I see," she tries to joke, with a brittle smile. "Look, I only wanted to show you for myself that I'm okay, I'm fine, and your debt of obligation has been paid completely."

She is standing full in the sunlight, and it coats her like a sheen of sweat. She looks beautiful and alone standing there before him. He wants to grab, wants to hold on tight. Angel's fingers twitch at his side, and he can barely stand to have her looking at him with those wide eyes filled with fear and yesterday. The heart is so forgetful, but his remembers now why she had swept him off his feet such a long time ago, remembers and aches for all the space that has been put between them by time and the things they've done to each other.

"You're never an obligation," he replies roughly, grabbing onto the back of his chair. "You know that."

She laughs, and it's a sick sound. "Don't forget, Angel - I was practically dead in there and I... saw things. The powers showed me things."

He blinks. Waits. When she doesn't speak, he pushes the chair out of the way and makes a move to approach her, but she takes a stumbling step back and her hip rams sharply into the filing cabinet behind her. Her face pulls taut in a wince, and a cry freezes in her throat, but he can hear it.

"What are you–Cordelia..."

"I saw everything. I remember everything." Her eyes fill with tears, but the hardened look that is so familiar on her face has cemented over her features, and not a single tear falls. "Not even Wolfram & Hart could make me forget. I've been lying in that coma for two years, Angel. I lost a year of my life before that, but everything that has happened was played out like a bad movie in my head, and I don't even want to think about it..." She trails off, turning her face to the side as if she can't stand to look at him, and the sharp blade of her cheekbone reminds him of so many absent caresses, when he had been allowed to trail his finger across her cheek to soothe the vision pain away.

Vertigo overwhelms him and he stays very still, swallowing hard. "You mean, you remember-" Angel cuts himself off because he can't bear to say it. Connor. There is a sense about her of shattered glass picked carefully from the floor and glued back together. She won't speak of it, he knows this, but he can practically hear the hollow whistling of his heart falling as he realizes what she's really saying. "You mean, you remember more than what you were there to see?"

"I've always been there," she whispers, her voice as thick as promises can be. "Always." She shrugs and pulls the feeling from her voice, standing straighter and looking him directly in the eyes. "I thought I could help. The powers made me an offer I couldn't refuse. They would let me watch what went down in Sunnydale, help in a third- degree sort of way if I could, if I only promised not to let you know..." She blinks quickly, her lips tightening by degrees across her jaw. "That I was there. So... I didn't let you know. And to be honest, I'm glad. It was like highschool all over again you know? Gag city."

Angel struggles to find words. "Cordelia... I know that we... that I..."

He will never make it as a speech writer.

Cordelia eyes him sadly, still smiling. "It's okay, Angel. I knew it all along anyway. Besides, it's not like we were in love or anything." She casually tosses her hair over her shoulder, and there is something in that action that reminds him of the first time they met up in L.A. There had been a brief moment that he had known she would matter.

He bends slightly at the waist, gutted.

Words still won't come, but his left hand lifts half in the air as if to touch her. He can't though, because he's too far away, and she's suddenly as untouchable as the sun always is.

"I'm not lying in a bed unconscious anymore, Angel," she tells him seriously, jaw set. "I'm sick of holding hands with you. Okay?"

Fuck. Angel's hand drops and he shoves it into his pocket, lowering his eyes. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" he asks defensively of the floor, not quite lifting his gaze to meet hers, because he knows.

"You're not stupid," she says softly, eyes bright. A crooked smile toys with her mouth and for a moment, he thinks it's real. "Although sometimes you seriously make me wonder."

"I don't love her," he bursts, feeling the words ache their way from his throat. "It was just... being there..."

"Stop, okay?" Her lips pull to the side, eyebrows drawing together and there is something written on her face that says she can't take it. None of it. "There's a reason why you're monosyllabic. I didn't come here for this. We were friends, Angel, and you've helped me. I want to thank you."

"Don't," he says through gritted teeth and tries once more to get closer to her. She doesn't pull away, but it's probably only because of the filing cabinet at her back. He stops when he's two inches away and she has to tilt her chin up to look him in the eye. And God, he can smell her, feel her there in a way she hasn't been for years. "Dammit, don't thank me. I forgot." He touches the side of her face, trailing a single finger along her jaw. "It was so much easier to forget than remember why."

She bites her bottom lip and turns her face down. Cordelia blinks, and he can smell the salt of the tears she fights. "There wasn't anything to remember." When she looks up at him again, her eyes blind him to anything else and he feels swallowed whole by the simple reality of her. Her mouth trembles into a smile. "We were just puppets on a string, Angel. Except for the friendship. That was real."


Cordelia flinches like he's slapped her, and he dips his head, pressing his lips very gently against hers. She doesn't move, remaining absolutely still as he gives in to the urge to make her be quiet for just a second so he can do this, so he can feel her, so he can let himself remember for the first time in years. Her hands come up, cupping his face, and for a moment he believes she's going to let him continue, but that's too sweet a thought to be anything but his gossamer hopes. She follows through with a knee in the groin and he falls back away from her, vamping out.


She tosses her head, the tears gone. Now she's just Cordelia, all soft curves and sharp bones. "No games," she states.

He hisses and sits carefully on the edge of his desk, still feeling the sting of her bony kneecap connecting with the most sensitive part of his body. Slowly, he shifts back to his human face. "I didn't realize I was playing one."

She shakes her head, crossing her arms over her chest. "We never did anything else, Angel. And hey, it was fun while it lasted, but I've lost too much time. I can't lose anymore playing with you."

Fear moves disgustingly in the back of his throat.

Her eyes say it all.

"I'm... I'm just done. I figured, I should say thank you and pay up my debt as well, so that we can stop tearing each other apart." Her knuckles turn white as she grips her ribs more firmly. "You guys have done fine without me." She gestures around his office. "I mean, you even have a secretary. You don't need your heart anymore."

"I always need my heart," he rasps, pushing himself from the desk.

"No, Angel." Cordelia looks at him pointedly, and he can almost hear her saying: `duh.' "You don't. And if you do, there are too many things I want out of this life to be it for you guys anymore."

`You guys.' He knows she means him.

"You're leaving."

"Yep." She nods. "L.A. wasn't quite what I expected it to be, and hey, I'm still of the bold and beautiful. I think I might give modeling a shot."

"Where are you going?" He demands, and then realizes it sounds like an order and softens his voice. "I mean, you don't want us to worry about you. If you could just leave an address or a zip code, we'll know that you're safe." He tries for beguiling, but his stomach is in too much of a knot, and his voice cracks alarmingly, in a way it hasn't since... Cordelia. Always Cordelia.

"Nice try." She gives him a quick, stunning smile. "Well, I'm off."

Angel shakes his head. No. "Cordelia."

"I'll send you a postcard." The words fall bitterly from her tongue, and she must see him pull back like he's gotten whiplash, must not like the taste on her tongue, because she pauses on her way to the door and looks at him standing there stunned. "Sorry. Habit. Um, I'll keep in touch, Angel. I promise."

He can't seem to swallow, can't seem to see clearly, and maybe it's because there are tears clogging his vision. Shit. "Are you coming back?"

Cordelia sighs. "I think you know the answer to that." And then she pivots, casually raising her hand as if she were royalty waving to him from a car.

Angel feels passed by. Can't move. He's older than he likes to think about, but he feels like his heart has been broken for the first time. And maybe it has. There is a wildness to this feeling of shame and anger, like he could tear apart this room and find Cordelia just to rip out her throat, or hold her down and make her stay. But he doesn't. He only stands there like a fool.

She's gone.

And the answer to his question is that she's gone for good this time.

He can't smell her or hear her heartbeat. Winded, he sits heavily in his office chair. It squeaks beneath his weight, protesting the rough treatment. He only scowls at the open door. His secretary peeks her head in, sees him, and then pulls back quickly, taking the door with her until it slams shut.

Angel, burning with the fresh wound, abruptly lunges forward, jerking open his top desk drawer. His breath catches, and even though he doesn't have to breathe, asphyxiation becomes a very real threat. He lifts the picture frame from the drawer, lips pursing, teeth digging into the inside of his mouth. The frame is empty. She's removed the photo of her that had been inside. It was a silly picture of her laughing into the camera, covering half of her face as if she'd been hiding from having her photo taken, which she would never really do.

The action speaks louder than anything she's ever said to him.

`Let me go, Angel.'

And it's ironic, he thinks. Because he's only just remembered everything about why he'll never let her go, why there will always be another photo and another crystal moment where he sees her smile winking at him in a mirror where his reflection isn't. It took him one hundred years to fall in love the first time. It took him two years the second.

And the third...

Angel leans back in the chair, shutting his eyes tightly.

The third, she swept him off his feet in a mere five minutes.


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