Free Will (The Happy Birthday Remix)
by Tara O'Shea

A remix of "Wounds" by Misty Flores

Cordelia stared at the box, which was only half hidden beneath her bed. Inside were dozens of prescription pain meds, nestled in like eggs in a carton, side by side with no room left between them.

"Happy birthday to me..." she said softly as she picked the entire thing up and dumped it in the black plastic trash bag Dennis was holding open for her.

No more pain.

No more going-to-blow-out-the-back-of-her-head migraines.

She walked into the bathroom, hearing the bag half-full of plastic pill bottles clatter and click in her wake.

"It's okay, Dennis--I got it."



"Shut up, Doyle. I haven't even touched you, yet."

"Half demons are sensitive."


Such a simple little fantasy. She'd had it dozens of that first year. Before they blew up the office. Before Angel and Darla, and all the weirdness. But this one... this one had been her favorite.

He'd never told her what he was--who he was.


"This is where it happened, big cosmic whoops.---Doyle was never meant to give you those visions."

"The why did the Powers let him?"

"Well, they're usually pretty good at catching that sort of thing. What they didn't count on where his feelings for you."


It was so simple. Him on the couch, her patching him up after their latest epic adventure, helping the helpless. As if nothing had changed. As if Wesley had never come into their lives, Angel had never had his sick and twisted dance-of-death with Wolfram and Hart that almost cost them all everything.

And the Scourge had been just another day at work.

Oh yeah, that was the important part. The part where they'd all stumbled home, battered, bleeding, and best of all--together.

She remembered how simple everything had been, at first. No prophesies. No apocalypses. Just a vampire gumshoe, his gal Friday, and... whatever the hell Doyle was. Their link to the street, their eyes and ears in every seedy demon bar and strip club.


"Oh, yeah, you are the model of sensitivity," she would mutter, rolling her eyes. "You baby. Look, Angel never complains."

He'd get that look on his face--the one he always got when she compared him to Angel, and he came up short. It was a dirty trick, and she knew it. That's why it was so effective. That's why she used it.

"I can't clean it. Doyle, take off your shirt."

It would, of course, be a hideous shirt--they always were. Some orange bowling shirt with the name "Jesus" embroidered on a patch over the pocket. Or that Polynesian thing with the coffee stain that never, ever came out now matter how many times it was washed.

And she would tap her foot, and toss her hair--her hair was still long then, and she'd still had time to do the whole hot-roller, three hour prep time thing, because after all, dismembering giant squids was one thing, but her agent could call at any second. She'd had to be ready to be out the door like a shot to make it to her latest audition.

When there had been auditions.

When her agent called.

"Well? Do it, I don't want to be here all day, and this bloody, gross work is so not my idea of a good time, so get your damn shirt off."

"Tempting offer." He'd waggle his eyebrows at her, and she's hit him, out of habit. And they'd both pretend that her ulterior motive had nothing at all with wanting to see him with his shirt off. Oh no. Not one bit.

And she'd reach out, and start unbuttoning it for him, one button at a time. And he'd get that deer in headlights look that told her that Queen C was at the top of her game.

"I can do it," he say, and he'd be blushing, because he was all talk. Always had been.

She'd shrug, tossing her hair again for good measure. "Then hurry, you moron."

He'd strip off the offending thrift-store crap, and he'd be wearing one of those men's undershirts--the kind Angel wears when he's working out.

"Done," he'd say as the shirt hit the floor, and he'd be holding his breath and she'd pretend that she was surprised at the lack of a beer gut. She'd pretend that she'd seen better, and get out the antiseptic because half-demon or not, he still needed to get cleaned up.


"OWW!" He'd grab her hand, and hold the hydrogen peroxide soaked gauze pad away from his skin. "That hurts!"

"You are such a baby," she'd say, only he wouldn't let her hand go. That was always a major part of this particular fantasy. The part where he wouldn't let her hand go.

And they'd pretend that it was still all about pain. Oh yeah. They were so good at that. She'd slide closer to him on the couch, so she could get a better look at whatever part of him had been gouged out by some creepy, slimy thing with too many teeth. Because it was always some creepy slimy thing with too many teeth.

And she'd be right on top of him almost, and his green eyes would be boring into hers, and then she'd pull a bait and switch. Gauze would go to the other hand, and he'd let all the macho drain away. He and Xander--they were cut from the same--


She swept the bottles off the back of the toilet into the bag, bending down to get the one or two that bounced out of the bag.

She stared at her hand, wondering. She remembered handing him bottles of aspirin, post-vision. And bottles of whiskey.

She'd made fun of him, told him to buck up.

Archer to Angel's Spade, and she should have known...


"Ouch," he'd say as she'd carefully clean his wound, pretending to be more grossed out than she was. She'd have giant charred bits of snake rain down on her at graduation--truth be told, it took a lot to squick her, after that.

And she'd lean forward, her hair brushing his chest, and she'd gently blow on it. Just like moms on TV did when their kids skinned their knees.

Only, you know, sexier.

She'd pretend that she had no idea how turned on he was, when he shuddered. Because it was a game. A game of advance and retreat, and dammit, a guy should have to *work* for his rewards, shouldn't he?

"That hurt?" she'd ask, all innocence.

"Uh.... yeah."

And she'd have him, in that second. In the palm of her hand, so to speak.

And she'd roll her eyes again, and make faces and gross little "eeeew!" and "yuck" sounds, and the whole time, she'd totally be copping a feel and he'd know it.

And they'd pretend.

"I don't know why you do this," she'd say, all concerned as he'd tug his shirt down.

"What do you mean?"

"You're gonna get killed out there."


He'd been half-human. They could have eaten him alive from the inside, too. He'd only had the visions for a few years. They didn't know anything. They didn't know a damn thing.

He could have died anyway. Should have known that movie doesn't have all its stars when the credits rolled.


"And that's why I come home to you," he'd say simply. "You always fix me."


And there would have been happily, and there would have been ever after. Because it had been her fantasy, and that was how all the best fantasies ended.

She'd lived on that one a good long while.


"You mean--Doyle gave me the visions because he loved me?"


Everything had been so simple, once.

She sat on the end of the bed, leaving the trash bag in the middle of the bathroom floor, and she rolled over onto her side, sighing.


"I can't answer that. What I can tell you is that it was a mistake."

"But I thought the Powers That Be knew everything."

"Life and death, that sort of thing, they got a handle on. Who someone chooses to love, well, that's just good old free will."


She closed her eyes, wondering if she'd wake up on the ceiling. Wondering if she'd grow a tail.

Wondering when she'd stopped fantasizing about a guy who wore bad shirts, and who'd loved her.

Wondering when she'd started fantasizing about a guy who didn't, and...

"Happy birthday to me..."


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