Disclaimer :: The characters herein are the property of their creators. I make no profit from their use.

:: D e a d  M a n ' s  R o p e ::

written by Starlet2367 { e-mail // livejournal }

All this wandering has led me to this place
Inside the well of my memory, sweet rain of forgiveness
I'm just hanging here in space
Now I'm suspended between my darkest fears and dearest hope
Yes, I've been walking, now I'm hanging, from a dead man's rope

Sting - Dead Man's Rope



"I'm here to see Fred." David Nabbit adjusted the collar of his blue button-down and eyed the receptionist, who was simultaneously talking into her headpiece and typing something into the black Dell flat-screen on her walnut desk. She gave him a "just a moment" wave.

He’d have to talk to Angel about all these Dells. The little spin-off he’d st art ed could outfit all of Wolfram and H art in better computers, for less money. And his company actually gave their clients customer service, he thought wryly, which was more than could be said for—

"She’ll be right with you, Mr. Nabbit," the receptionist said, breaking into his thoughts. "If you’d like to take a seat." She nodded at the row of chairs next to the window.

"Thanks." He settled in, pulled out his Trio, and hit the wi-fi connection. Waiting wasn’t really his thing. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been asked to wait.

But whatever. He and Fred were friends, sort of. And it wasn’t like he couldn’t use the time to check the stock reports.

White-coated lab workers bustled in and out of reception, some carrying equipment, others carrying food or coffee from the cafeteria. One guy walked by with a white paper bag that smelled like icing and cinnamon. David’s mouth watered. Say what you would about Wolfram and H art being evil, they had some outstanding cinnamon rolls.

Just as he was getting deep into technologies quotes, the receptionist said his name. He glanced up, and for a second it looked like the streamer was scrolling right across her forehead. "Huh?" He shook it off, snapping back to reality. "I’m sorry?"

"Mr. Nabbit, Ms. Burkle will see you now."

"Thanks." He rose, pocketed his PDA, picked up his satchel, and st art ed for the lab.

"Mr. Nabbit?" Her voice rose over the ringing phone. "I’m sorry—she’s not in the lab. She’s in with Ms. Chase."

A little jolt hit him. "Cordelia Chase?" He hadn’t thought about her since the first time he met with Angel nearly six months ago, right after AI had taken over Wolfram and H art . But when no one mentioned her name, he figured she’d moved on, and didn’t bring it up.

Actually, he thought she probably freaked at the idea of working with Big Evil and went back into show business. Not that Hollywood wasn’t evil—hell, it was run by accountants, and everyone knew they were just one rung below lawyers--but it was minor evil compared with what Wolfram and H art did every day.

Or did, before Angel took over.

The receptionist nodded. "That’s right. If you’ll just take the elevator to the fourteenth floor, the receptionist there will direct you."

His forehead wrinkled. Strange. He was supposed to be meeting with Fred about software. Not that he was ever opposed to seeing Cordelia, but the girl he remembered could barely turn on a computer. And if she could have typed, she likely wouldn’t. He could still hear her say, "The only thing I'm typing is an invoice. And not till my nails are dry."

"Uh, okay. Thanks." He shrugged and turned toward the elevator.

The fourteenth floor was a repeat of Fred’s. Clean-lined furniture, pale carpet, sleek receptionist. Like every company he spent time in these days, including his own. Sometimes he wished for the early days, when dotcommers skateboarded barefoot down the halls of their loft offices.

When had he gotten so damn boring?

"I’m David Nabbit. Here for Fred."

This receptionist, a black guy in a tan suit with geeky-cool glasses, looked up from his computer. "Mr. Nabitt. Ms. Burkle is expecting you. If you’ll just follow the hall to the right, you’ll come to a set of double doors. She’s in with Ms. Chase."

"Right. Thanks." He followed the hall, tugging on the open collar of his shirt again. Already he could feel the blush building. God, he was such a loser. But then, Cordelia had always turned him into a social idiot.

Oh, wait. He was a gamer. He already was a social idiot. He was chuckling to himself as he opened the double doors.

The laugh cut off as he saw Fred, in a comfortable leather arm chair, pulled up next to a twin-sized bed. Cordelia lay under pale blue sheets, her dark hair pulled over her shoulder, eyes closed, perfectly still.

He stopped mid-step. "Uh…."

Fred turned, smiling at him, and put her folder down on Cordy’s bedside table. "David! How are ya?" Her voice sounded brittle. "I was just catching up with Cordy." She jumped out of the chair and gave him a one-armed hug, drawing him into the room. Around his shoulders her arm was a tight band.

His brain stuttered like a hard drive with a bad controller. "Uh…." Potted palms flanked the window and in addition to the bed, bedside table and chair Fred was in, there was a round table in the corner with four ladder-back chairs.

A huge vase of tropical flowers sat on the table. The curtains were rich tapestry, burgundy and blue, the kind of thing you saw in better hotels.

David's gaze drifted around the room and landed on Cordy. She was pale and a little puffy, with an IV running from the back of her hand to the stand by the bed. Her pajamas were a pretty floral print that, strangely, coordinated with the curtains. Someone had put make-up on her and painted her nails.

"Is she asleep?" David couldn’t see Fred’s face through the fall of her long, brown hair. "Fred?"

When she looked up, he sucked in a breath. Anguish, fear, confusion, barely banked. "She—she’s in a coma. We’ve been researching, testing…it’s a huge p art of my job, to try to find something to wake her up. But I can’t, David. I haven’t been able to—" She broke off and turned away. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "Angel just left and--" She took a great big breath, and when she let it out, her shoulders sagged.

He blinked at her in surprise. Fred tended to wear her feelings for everyone to see. It made her great fun on D&D nights, but you sure as hell didn’t want her on your poker team. "Fred, you’re the best there is. I’m sure, if anyone can find a cure for her, it’s you."

She shook her head. "But until then, what?" When she turned, her arms were wrapped around her waist. "I come sit in here, not just because I want to hang out with Cordy, but because I feel guilty."

"Fred, it’s okay. No one is blaming you." When he glanced down at Cordy, he was struck with how still she was, how lifeless. Nothing like the girl whose smile made even someone like him feel warm—until she opened her mouth and said something tactless, cutting and absolutely true. He’d never met anyone with exactly that ability and his he art twisted. "How long has she been like this?"

"Since May. She was in an…accident." Fred’s hands twisted in front of her.

"Eleven months?" He tried to imagine what it would be like to sleep for that long and his mind fogged over. "Wow. That’s just…. Wow."

Fred pulled her chair around to face David, and ran over to the work table on the other side of the room. He went to help her drag one of the ladder-back chairs next to the bed, and they both sat, staring at Cordy.

"It’s eerie," Fred said. "Some days I come in and it’s like I can almost feel her, you know?" She glanced at him, like she was feeling him out for his response.

He’d spent enough time with creatures most people thought of as fairy tales or legends to be thrown off by the idea that someone in a coma could hear what you were saying. "Didn’t I read that the latest coma research says people can hear what’s going on around them, and feel touch?"

Fred nodded, reaching out to stroke Cordy’s limp hand. "Yeah. Which is why I—" She shook her head. "I usually don’t break down like that, especially in here. But mostly that’s because I try to keep a good face for Angel. He gets really upset when—" Her lips pressed together in a thin line.

David thought back to the time when Angel and Cordy had that little office on Figueroa. They’d been best friends, family even. Anyone could see it. "I can imagine it must be hard on all of you."

She sat quietly, staring down at their linked hands. "Probably hardest on Cordy." Then she took a breath and pulled her hand away. "Well, we should probably get to work. I thought we might work in here—give Cordy some company, you know?"

He felt twitchy being in what was obviously a hospital room, despite the bedroom-like feel. But he liked Fred. They had fun on game nights and she was helping him develop the new software. It was the least he could do. "Sure. That’d be great."

She opened her laptop, booted up, and st art ed right in on the programming bugs they’d run into this week.

David listened, but only halfway. The rest of his attention was on Cordelia. The rise-and-fall of her chest. The way her eyelids twitched, like she was dreaming. Was she? Her face was perfectly smooth, but she didn’t look sad or angry. Just…asleep.

Maybe she was living a life far away from here. He hoped she was happy, wherever she was.


David set his cinnamon roll and latte down on the bedside table. "Hey, Cordelia. How’s it going?" He thought maybe her eyelids twitched just a little more than usual. "Great! Glad to hear it. You won’t mind if I work here again, will ya? The lab’s too noisy to concentrate and if I leave the building I’ll miss my ten o’clock with Fred."

He glanced at his watch. Eight-thirty. Plenty of time to crunch the data. Man, if he wasn't careful, he was gonna turn into a code grinder.

Someone, probably from the janitorial service, had tidied the room, and it felt lifeless, cold. Even with the vase of sunflowers on the table, it felt like a hotel room or something out of FHM. Not the sort of place anyone actually lived.

Cordy was the only sign of life. He’d been in with her often enough in the last month that he’d tuned into her vibe. How he’d ever thought she’d lost her vivacity was beyond him. She made a great conversation p art ner—the first non-geek girl he’d ever had a chance to really chat with. Once, when he said something p art icularly funny, she'd even raised her eyebrow.

Sure, it was a little creepy sometimes to be in a room with someone who wasn’t much more than a living doll. And the way Angel kept the room stocked with oversized vases of flowers made it feel like a shrine. But if you ignored all that, Cordy was, well, Cordy.

He popped open the laptop and went to work.


He looked up. "Yeah? Oh, hey, Angel." He glanced at his watch. Ten till ten . "Oh, wow." Hitting save, he jumped to his feet and st art ed collecting his stuff. "I’m about to be late. Fred will kill me."

Angel looked confused. "Fred?"

"Yeah. We’ve got a ten o’clock . I was just getting some work done and must have lost track of time." He motioned toward his laptop. "You know how it is."

Angel smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. "And you’re here, because…?"

David may have spent his share of time in demon brothels, but that didn’t make him the Demon-American’s best friend. It became especially apparent when one was staring at him the way Angel was.

"Uh, yeah." He shouldered his computer bag and tossed his coffee cup in the trash. Suddenly he felt sticky, like he hadn’t quite gotten the cinnamon roll’s crumbs off his face. "Well, Fred and I met here one day to keep Cordelia company, and I, uh, I kinda liked hanging with her. She’s cool." When Angel didn’t respond David felt the urge to babble well up. "And when Fred said you guys weren’t around as much any more, I thought maybe Cordy would like the company."

The smile disappeared. "How often did you say you’d been here?"

He tugged at his collar. "Uh—" His voice broke. "Uh, once or twice..." he paused, "…a week for the last month," he said, looking down at his shoes. "Maybe a little more." Or a lot more. The good thing about his job was that you could do it from anywhere, given a laptop and a cell phone.

But probably Angel, who had looked more than a little pissed, didn’t need to know that. David wanted to smack himself. When would he ever learn to shut up? When he looked up, though, Angel’s face had shifted.

"That often?" He looked queasy. Or maybe that was guilt. You could never tell with the dead guys.

"Uh. Yeah? I guess?"

Angel’s hands found the pockets of his suit pants and his gaze shifted to Cordelia. "Well, thanks. Come back any time," he said, in a tone of voice that clearly stated, come back any time, but get the hell out right now.

David scurried to the door, and realized, just as he got there, that he hadn’t told Cordy good-bye. But when he turned, Angel sat in the leather chair, hands clasped with hers, head bowed.

For a second, he couldn’t do anything but stare. Angel, usually Mr. Large and In Charge, looked bent under the weight of his grief. As David stood there Angel raised his eyes. The mask was gone, and he glimpsed something Angel had never let him see before. Helplessness.

They stood, staring at each other, for a long beat. And then Angel nodded, turned his head, and went back to his vigil.

David closed the door softly behind him.


A couple of weeks later, David walked out the doors of the lab and punched the button for the elevator. "Not a bad way to make a million," he said, straightening his hair in the mirror over the hall table. He had a Board meeting in an hour, and they liked him to look tidy. Not that he usually did. Maybe tonight he’d surprise them.

The elevator dinged and the doors swung open. He stepped in with a couple of lawyers, on their way home, or wherever they went after a hard day of slinging evil.

"So he says, ‘Did he pick Mr. Bentley up by the ears?' My client says, 'No,' and the opposition goes, 'What was he doing with Mr. Bentley's ears?'

"'Picking them up in the air,' says my client.' And the opposition replies, 'Where was Mr. Bentley at this time?'"

The other lawyer snickered. "Wait-wait, don't tell me. 'Attached to his ears?'" They broke out laughing and the joke-teller slapped his leg.

David rolled his eyes and hummed along with Fur Elise, which was playing over the elevator’s speakers. God, what happened to his cool, slacker life? He was stuck in an elevator with Rob-Lowe wannabes whose jokes were even less funny than his own. He should just go back to designing games.

Glancing at his watch, he realized he had just enough time to swing through the drive-thru at Fatburger before his Board Meeting. Or he could call and have Anise order something decent for him.

The elevator doors opened and he hurried into the lobby, healthy sushi-thoughts pushed aside by the mouth-watering memory of a King Burger and a strawberry shake.

"—how long am I supposed to wait, Angel?" The high-pitched voice echoed around the grand lobby.

David glanced toward the noise and saw Angel with his back to him, in one of those snappy suits. Maybe he should find out who Angel’s tailor was. Wear a suit to the board meeting one night and really freak those guys out.

As he walked by, Angel visibly shushed the small, blond woman.

Her cheeks turned bright red. "No, I won’t be quiet!" She crossed her arms, her face drawn to an angry point. "I thought we were trying this, Angel. I thought we could finally be happy but—"

Angel put his hand on her arm and glanced toward the guard, obviously embarrassed by her blow-up. David put his head down and sped up, trying to hurry by and help Angel save face.

"Just move her some place she can be cared for, and let her go—"

David slowed, a few paces behind them.

"Let’s go upstairs and talk about this in private," Angel said.

"Look, I know you care about her," she said, lowering her voice. "But as far as I can see, nothing’s changing in this scenario except you. And not for the good." She put her hand on his arm, and now the anger seemed to fade to regret. "She’s never going to wake up, Angel. You have to get on with your life sometime. That’s what she’d want, isn’t it?"

Oh, God. They were talking about Cordelia.

"Buffy, please—"

Just then, David’s PDA went off, shrilling a loud, beeping alarm in the near-empty lobby.

Angel whirled and nailed him with his gaze.

He always set it to go off an hour before important appointments, which was good, because he usually lost track of time. Not so good this time, because now he was busted.

"Angel? Hey." He stepped up to Angel and shook his hand. "Good to see you." He smiled at the woman, who just stared at him.

The silence stretched thinner than cellophane.

Were they really thinking about putting Cordy away like a couch they didn’t want anymore? "I’m sorry. I couldn’t help but overhear—" He swallowed, trying to soothe his dry throat. "Are you really thinking of moving Cordy to a home?"

"What?" Angel’s voice was cold, flat.

Buffy tilted her head, and looked at him suspiciously. "Who are you?"

"D-david Nabbit. I own—"

Her eyes widened. "Of course. Mr. Nabbit." She shook his hand. Hers was tiny, like a child’s, but very strong. "It’s nice to meet you. Angel’s told me all about you." Her smile looked plastic, but at least she wasn’t glaring at him any more.

"Nice to meet you, too," he said.

Her smile widened and she became an ad for shampoo or toothpaste. Beautiful California girl. Angel always had been lucky with the ladies.

"David," Angel interrupted, "this is Buffy." He looked at her like he was considering something, then spoke again. "My girlfriend."

She glanced at him, those summer-gold eyes going wide with shock. "I am?"

He half-smiled. "You’re not?"

Her brow wrinkled. "I guess I am. I mean, we haven’t really talked—" She cut herself off, pressed her lips together, and turned back to David. "I’m sorry, David. Angel and I were talking about Cordelia, which you seem to have figured out already. It’s a sucky situation for him."

David thought about Fred and Wes, struggling under the weight of unanswerable questions. About Angel sitting quietly and helplessly by Cordelia’s bed. "For all of them, I think."

Angel looked at him, seeming unsure how to take that, then did what Angel always did in uncomfortable social situations. He stuck his hands in his pockets and waited for someone else to talk first.

An idea struck. "Look, I know this isn’t any of my business, but—" He broke off, wondering if he was really about to offer to do this. Then he thought about Cordelia in some room, alone with nurses who didn’t know or care about her, and he rushed ahead. "I can take her. I’d like to."

He could put her in the second spare bedroom, the one with the antiques from China . She’d like the bright red; it would suit her, all that color, those silk tapestries. And that woman, what was her name? Rita? Right, the Irish nurse he met at ComicCon, who made all that cool silver jewelry on the side. She’d be perfect. Maybe he could even move his office to the house. Go barefoot, skateboard down the halls, look in on Cordy--

"No," Angel said, shutting David down mid-thought. "I’m not letting her go." He shook his head, shooting Buffy an apologetic look. "I can’t."

Buffy’s eyes closed. "Angel, please," she whispered.

David felt himself st art to speak, then bottled it up. The expression on Angel’s face— His PDA beeped again. "I’ve got a Board meeting," he said. "I’ve got to go."

Angel blinked, still looking agonized, agitated. "Thanks for the offer. See you around?"

He nodded. "Sure. We’ve got to get our people to finalize plans for the charity dinner for the Sutter Fund."

"It was nice to meet you, David," Buffy said. She twined her hand through the crook of Angel’s arm. "Come on," she said gently. "Let’s go get some dinner."

David watched them go, the two of them, a couple, and thought about Cordelia upstairs alone in that room as night set in. About his big house, empty except for people who wanted a piece of his action.

There wasn’t really anyone in his life who just liked him for him, except some of his gaming friends who’d known him before he got rich. Even Fred and Knox were only with him because of work.

But Cordy had always liked him, or at least tolerated him. Of all the people that could have—should have—clung to him, it would be her. An aspiring starlet, a former rich girl forced to shop at the Penny Saver. But all she’d ever done was mock him, like a bratty sister, the way she did Angel and Wesley. She’d made him feel p art of something bigger than himself.

Even asleep, she still did.

He shook his head and walked out the doors to the parking garage. She’s in a coma, you idiot, he scolded himself. And she’s never going to wake up. *And* she’s Angel’s.

But he still couldn’t stop thinking imagining what it would be like to come home to her, instead of that big, empty house.


"So then, Johnny Depp’s character is standing there in the plaza, with his eyes all gouged out and blood dripping down his face—it’s so cool! And—"

"Excuse me."

David turned so fast he almost gave himself whiplash. "Oh, hey, Angel. I didn’t hear you come in." He stood and stepped away from the chair. "I was just telling Cordy about how I'd rented ‘Once Upon a Time in Mexico .’ If you and Buffy haven’t seen it, you really should—"

"David, wait."

Surprised, he stopped. Usually, when Angel came in, David left. The stereo was set on 95.5 and the Chili Peppers belted through the room. Their raucous energy was a st art ling contrast to Angel’s stillness.

"Please. Sit." Angel gestured to the leather armchair, and pulled up a chair from the table for himself.

David sat. "What’s up?"

When Angel glanced at Cordy, his gaze stuck on her face. "I’ve been thinking about your offer," he said.

David leaned forward, sure he hadn’t heard right. "I’m sorry, did you say you’d been thinking about my offer?" He waited a beat, watching Angel’s face carefully, but Angel didn’t look at him. "To take Cordy?" he clarified.

The Chili Peppers bled off into the commercial break, and the fast-talking announcer’s voice filled the air. David waited, holding his breath, for Angel to answer.

"It was a generous offer," Angel said, taking Cordy’s hand in his. "And I really think—" He shook his head.

Well, shit. Angel was gonna turn him down. It had been over a week since he offered to take her. Why bring it up again at all?

Then Angel took one of those long, unnatural breaths. "That it’d be best if she moved in with you."

"Def Leppard in concert. Saturday, June the second. No one p art ies your summer break like KLOS—"

Angel flicked the remote and stopped the announcer mid-ad.

David sat there, he art racing, hands breaking out in itchy sweat. "Wh-what?"

When Angel turned, his face was completely composed, the mask firmly in place. Perfectly coiffed hair, perfectly tailored suit, the handsome looks David had always coveted.

But his eyes were empty.

"She needs someone who will spend time with her. Who will…." He turned back to Cordy, stroked her face with his free hand, brushing her hair’s beautiful, smooth fall. "Who will take care of her. And I—"

He broke off and stood up, pacing to the window. Hands on hips, jacket flaring around him, he stared out at the LA skyline. "So if you’re still interested?"

David shook his head. Of all the things he’d expected, this was not one of them. He hadn’t had time to prepare, to get the room ready, to call Rita. Shit, did he even have her card, still?

Angel turned, his brow furrowed. "David?"

"I—" He cleared his throat and tried again. "I-- You just caught me by surprise, is all. Of course, of course I’d love to have her. She’s welcome to stay with me as long as—" He trailed off, thinking that he might be tying himself to her for…. Fifty years? Seventy-five? God, at this rate, he could die before she did, and what then?

She sighed, something she did on occasion. He always took those little moves as signs, the quirk of an eyebrow, the extra wiggle of an eyelid. He stared at her, wondering whether that sigh meant yes or no.

Forcing her into a sterile health care facility would kill her light. It seemed wasteful, criminal, to let someone go who'd brought so much life to the people around her.

She sighed again and David decided that meant she didn't want to flicker out, any more than he wanted her to. "I’ll be glad to. She can stay with me as long as she wants."

Angel left the window and stood on the opposite side of the bed, facing David. He lay both hands on the mattress, one at Cordy’s shoulder and the other at her hip, and bowed his head. "I’m sorry," he whispered. "I just can’t do it any more."

David bit his lip, uncomfortable with such an open display from a man who rarely showed any emotion at all. Then Angel shook his head, breathed deeply and looked up. "Let me know when you’re ready. We’ll make arrangements to move her." He stuck out his hand.

David took it, feeling the cool, dense flesh close around his. Angel held on tight, nearly wringing his fingers off, and pain flared up David’s arm. But he didn’t drop Angel's gaze. "I’ll take care of her, Angel. I’ll always take care of her."

With one, last squeeze, Angel dropped his hand. The blood rushed back in, making David's skin tingle. He watched as Angel walked to the door, looking like a man who’d made a hard decision and hated himself for it.

Hand on the knob, he turned. "Promise me you’ll call if she wakes up?"

David held his breath. Was this really happening? Should they sign some papers, or— This wasn’t a business deal. This was one man to another. They both knew, if Cordy woke, who she would choose. Knowing Angel, that’s exactly why he asked.

"I will," David said. The words wanted to stick but he pushed them out. "I promise."

Their gazes held, one beat, two, and then Angel left the room, closing the door softly behind him.

David swiveled around to look at Cordy, almost expecting to see her eyes open. "Wow," he said, collapsing into the chair. "That was-- Wow."

In the last two months, he’d never touched her. Never felt like he should. Now he reached out and stroked her hand with the tips of his fingers.

"I guess it’s you and me, kid." They sat there for a minute, Cordy still and silent, David’s he art racing at the commitment he’d just made. At the gift he’d just been granted.

Freedom. Life. Joy. Moving a sleeping woman into his house did the exact opposite of making him feel shackled. It did what Cordy had always done for him; it made him feel p art of a family.

He pulled out his cell phone and called Anise. "Do you still have those cards I picked up at Comic-Con this year?"

Chapter 1

It was like floating in white, fluffy clouds. She felt like she’d been there forever, just floating. Not happy, not sad, just…there.

And then the clouds p art ed.

The light, white with sharp, gold edges, pierced her eyes so she closed them and turned her face away.

There was a flurry of movement—rustling fabric, a book hitting the floor, and then a man’s voice, high-pitched and nervous. "Hey! Oh, wow! You're awake!"

She blinked up at him, oddly soothed by the sound of his voice, as if it were a radio left on all night for comfort. "I am now." The words felt dry in her mouth. When she ran her tongue over her teeth it didn’t surprise her, as she seemed to have picked up the mother of all teeth-sweaters.

He was patting her hand, quick little taps, like a Chihuahua dancing on parquet. "How do you feel? Can I get you something? Water?" And then he d art ed off to the table next to a set of glass doors, where he poured water from a silver carafe into a crystal tumbler.

She thought about those sweaters on her teeth. "Water would be great. And a toothbrush. Or maybe a dentist, if you have one around?" Then it hit her, the thing that seemed off. "And why am I waking up in David Nabbit’s bedroom?" Not that it wasn’t a nice bedroom, because it was. As her eyes focused, she saw dove-gray walls and black-and-red Chinese bedspread. Even through the cottony strangeness she could see it was elegant, tasteful.

He whirled, bobbling the water glass. "I—Uh—My bedroom?" he squeaked. "This is my *guest* bedroom, actually. Well," he broke off, chuckling breathlessly, "one of about thirty, but you know, it’s my favorite, and since I figured I’d be spending so much time--" He stopped, eyes widening. "Oh, jeez. You must really be thirsty."

When he lifted her shoulders and put the glass to her lips, he was incredibly gentle. He smiled at her, and his eyes warmed, crinkling around the edges. He’d aged since she saw him last, and it suited him.

He was still a geek, though. Too short. Weak chin. Floppy hair. And that sweater…. Jeez. The man was a gazillionaire and he dressed like Xander did when the washing machine broke.


He eased her back down onto the pillows and set the tumbler on the carved, glass-topped bedside table. "You’re welcome."

Her forehead wrinkled and it made her skin feel itchy. She st art ed to scratch then stopped because her shoulder twinged. The muscles felt weak, rubbery, and just that one small move left her out of breath.

"Okay, that’s weird." She squinted at him. "What’s going on? Where’s Angel?"

Nabbit’s eyes went sharp, his voice flat. "Angel is out…doing whatever Angel does."

She’d always wondered how he negotiated those multi-billion dollar deals, and now she knew. Of course, that could have just been his dungeon-master voice, but whatever. The important thing right now was Angel. "I don’t understand. You mean he’s out fighting evil?"

Nabbit snorted. "Riiiight." He fluffed her pillows and absently smoothed her hair, a gesture felt intimate—and familiar.

An impatient heat struck her. "Look, David, I appreciate whatever it is you’ve done but-" She tried to scoot higher in the bed but her muscles didn’t agree with her decision and she went crashing back against the pillows.

David was there, soothing her, clucking over her, getting her settled again. "Cordy— Can I call you that? I mean, I have been, it’s just that you weren’t, you know, awake…."

She nodded. "Cordy’s fine." The impatience turned to suspicion. "David, what aren’t you telling me?"

The nervous energy disappeared and left behind a supremely sad look. "How much do you remember?"

She cast back, beyond the light, beyond the clouds to…. "Oh." She couldn’t stop staring into those sad, sad eyes. "Oh, crap." It was like someone was sitting on her chest or something. The breath wouldn’t stay in there.

David handed her a Kleenex, face solemn. "It’s all right. No one blames you, you know."

The lavender-scented gray sheets—300-count or better—were so soft on her cheek when she turned her face away. "I didn’t-- That’s not-- Oh, for crap’s *sake*." She balled the Kleenex up in her hand and banged her fist weakly against the mattress.

It was like lying in that hospital bed after the Great Rebar Incident of ’99. All she could see then was Willow and Xander, macking like the lovebirds they’d always pretended not to be.

Which was a hell of a lot less gross than macking on your *son*. Not that Connor was her son, but she’d been the closest thing to a mom he’d had and everyone knew it, even when they didn’t say it out loud.

David’s hand settled on her shoulder. "They found you in a mall. You’d been tied up by some madman who was threatening to kill everyone in the sporting goods store."

Her breath caught. "I...what?"

"Yeah, some kid named Connor Angel."

Her brow wrinkled. "Connor Angel?"

David leaned forward, balancing his elbows on his knees. "The story is, you went shopping at the mall. The security guard said he saw this kid go off his rocker, and then you were there, trying to stop him." He smiled, and pride flared in his eyes. "I hear it was really cool the way you whaled on him." The smile disappeared. "But then he hit you or something, and he must have been really strong ‘cause when they found you—"

"That’s not—I mean—What? What about Jasmine?" When he didn’t answer, her thoughts slid off the rails. "What about me becoming demon, only the demon not really being *demon* but more a Power that Was who needed a body to…." She trailed off when she saw him looking as befuddled as she felt. "That…didn’t happen?"

He shook his head. "Not in this reality."

It was like a punch in the gut. And it must have showed on her face.

"Hey, hey," he said, soothing her with a stroke of his hand. "I was only kidding. It’s that whole sci-fi humor, you know?" He laughed a little bit too loud. "No one really gets my humor."

She remembered once, a long time ago, complaining that no one got her humor, either. Except Angel did. This was just…. This was a nightmare.

"I’ve got to see Angel. Now."

The nervous energy was back. "Are you sure that's such a good idea?" He tugged at the collar of his shirt. "I mean, you've just woken up after a really long, uh, time, and--"


His teeth pinched his lower lip. "Cordy, I--" At her look, his shoulders sagged. "Sure. Sure thing." He fumbled with something at his belt--she realized as he dropped it that it was his cell phone. He fished it out from under the bed then stood, phone in hand, and stared down at the keypad. "Just gotta give Wolfram and H art a call and track him down."

She stared at him. "Oh, my God, they didn’t— He’s okay, right?"

He looked up, just as he was getting ready to dial. "Yeah. I mean, sure, he’s okay." His brow wrinkled. "Oh, that’s right! I totally forgot. I mean, how would you know?"

She narrowed her eyes. "Know what, David?"

"Angel. He runs the company."

That breathless feeling intensified. "Runs what company?"

"Wolfram and H art . He’s, like, the CEO." He shrugged. "The only vampire CEO in the nation, if you don’t count Donald Trump, but everyone knows he’s not really a vampire. Just more like a—"



Her he art was rolling in her chest. "Get me Angel."

She heard a click and the tinny echo of a voice on the other end, and then David answered. "David Nabbit for Angel." His eyes stayed on her face the whole time.

Something about his tone of voice, the look in his eyes…. What was it, defeat? Regret? "David, wait." She felt out of breath again, but this time because she was afraid. And she didn’t know why.

He pulled the phone away from his ear. "What?" he asked her.

Going completely on instinct, Cordy said, "Stop. Hang up. Now."

A furrow appeared between his brows, but he only said, "No, that’s okay. Tell him it’s about—"

She shook her head. "No!"

He paused, obviously shifting gears. "—that charity dinner for the Sutter Fund. No biggie. I’ll call him back later. Thanks." He stuck the phone back on his belt with a trembling hand. "You okay?"

The panic stopped, and so did her pounding he art . "Y-yeah. I mean, I think so." Dammit, she couldn’t explain what came over her. But suddenly, something really deep did *not* want her talking to Angel. And until she figured it out--

"Okay." He smiled and squeezed her hand. It looked like he wanted to say something, but then he glanced toward the door, as if a thought had just occurred to him. "You know," he said, "I should go get Rita. Let her check you out."

She pressed her fingers to her eyes, trying to force herself to wake up and st art thinking. Maybe if she got some facts. "Wait. Please." She cradled her hands on her stomach, feeling at loose ends, strangely heavy in her body.

He turned. "Yeah?"

"Before we do that, could we-- Would you--" What was she asking? She was so tired, and everything was so foggy.

She sucked in a breath, let it out, and pulled in another. The fog cleared a little, enough that she could force herself to talk. "Angel’s working for Wolfram and H art ?" The words slurred some, but at least her thoughts were still connected to her mouth.

"Uh huh. He’s the head of the company." David sat back down in the plush, silk-covered chair next to the bed and crossed his legs. His Chuck Taylors—blue to match the stripe in his sweater—were worn down along the heel.

"B-but—" She shook her head. It was like she was falling over the edge back into that fluffy white space. Only it wasn’t nearly so soft a landing as before. "That doesn’t make any sense."

David shrugged. "Well, it does, kinda. I mean, they practically backed the money truck up to his door. And who doesn’t love the money truck, right?" He laughed, a dry, cynical sound, and strange coming from him.

"Angel--" She blinked hard against the encroaching darkness. "He wouldn't sell his soul for it." She tried to get up again, but couldn't even roll onto her side. "Dammit! What is *wrong* with me?"

He put his hand on hers. There was that sad look again. "You’ve been in a coma for over a year."

The air got stuck in her throat. "Wh—What?" She felt him squeeze her hand, felt in stark relief his strong, callused skin against her trembling, water-weak fingers.

"I’m so sorry. We tried everything we could."

Things st art ed falling into place. Jasmine’s birth. Her weakness. The strange, floating darkness that seemed like a hole opening up next to her feet…. "Oh. Oh, God." She grabbed his hand as tightly as she could and hung on.

There was this niggling feeling, like she’d left the oven on. "David? Why am I here instead of at the hotel?"

He took a deep breath. "Fred— Oh, right. You don’t know that, either. She heads up the science lab—"

It was like that time Keanu balked at the jump on the second turn in the Pony Club event and threw her right into the rails. "Fred works there too?"

He nodded. "And Lorne, and Wes…the whole crew."

That oven thing grew stronger. "Connor?"


"Angel’s son? The one who--?"

He laughed. "Cordy, vampires can’t have babies."

She tried another track. "The boy? In the mall?"

There was a long pause and David looked like he was trying to connect two wires that wouldn’t quite stretch to meet. "Angel killed him."

"Angel killed—" She sucked in a breath. No, oh God. Angel. You can't have--

He nodded. "Yup. Deader than a doornail. Whatever that means."

And there was that weight on her chest again. She clung to David’s hand, waiting for the whirling blackness to pass. Connor. Dead. Just like Wes's prophecy said.

Had she dreamed it? She ran her free hand over her face and scrubbed it through her hair. Which had grown out long enough to nearly cover her breasts. "Over a year?"

David nodded. "It’s June 2003. Angel and his crew took over Wolfram and H art in September 2002, right after you went to sleep. I found out from Fred--" he gestured toward the bed. "You know, about the coma?"

A surge of energy burst through her, enough that she was able to grab his forearm and tug him forward. Her fingers trembled but she held on, strengthened by his warmth and the feel of real, human flesh in her hand. "Why am I here?"

"I couldn’t let them put you in a home, Cordy."

"Angel was going to send me to a *home*?" In the quiet room, her voice sounded sharp, loud.

David jumped. "They were taking really good care of you at Wolfram and H art . You had a really nice room, and we could visit you whenever we wanted. But then Buffy wanted to send you away because it was draining Angel, the guilt and worry, and I said I'd take you."

"And Angel let you?" Her voice had gone from big to small in a single breath. "Like I was a piece of furniture?"

The downward tilt of his head, the way his eyes slid away, told her everything she needed to know.

"Angel," he said, crumpling his khakis in his fingers. "He said-- Um. That he was sorry, but he just couldn't do it any more." His voice faded away.

"Thank you, David," Cordy said. She cleared her throat. "Please, don’t bother calling Angel."

The promise of that last night together, when she called him from the ap art ment to tell him to meet her…. The feelings of heat, of warmth, of love, of *possibility*—

She thought of Willow and Xander, lying on that bed kissing. Of her body, used by Jasmine to seduce Connor. Of Angel, going back to Buffy while she was in a coma.

Thoughts of Angelus flickered hazily through her memory. For a minute she wondered, what if it’s not Angel? What if it’s Angelus, running Wolfram and H art ? Angel would never go back to Buffy. They hadn’t even *talked* in over a year and—

But deep down, she knew it was true.

She closed her eyes and after awhile she heard the door close. For the first time since she hooked up with Angel all those years ago she felt completely alone.


"Hey, girl." Rita dropped the tray on the bedside table with a clatter. "You ready for some breakfast?" Poached eggs, tomatoes and avocado, turkey bacon. The smells scented the room.

Rita's voice had a way of grounding her. Maybe the accent reminded her of Doyle; maybe it was the confident, no-nonsense lilt. "What I’m ready for, is to get out of this bed." Cordy pushed herself up, frustrated with her trembling arms and weak back.

"That’s on schedule for today, actually." Rita settled on the edge of the mattress and put the tray across Cordy’s knees. She hadn’t opened the shades yet and in the low light from the bedside lamp her short, red hair looked almost brown. Long silver spirals spun at her ears when she moved. "You get to walk to the door."

Cordy picked up a piece of the bacon and chewed, still not used to the explosion of salty flavor. "God, this is good."

Rita laughed, brown eyes crinkling at the edges, and patted Cordy’s knee. "It’s good to hear you say that."

"You’re happy I’m talking about bacon?" This whole thing was so surreal. It was like she'd woken from one dream, only to find herself in the middle of another.

"Honey, I’m just happy you’re talking." She adjusted the tray with her short-nailed hands. "Now, finish breakfast and we’ll get you moving." Her smile was genuine, warm, affectionate. "You've been doing so great the last couple of weeks with the muscle-strengthening, I think you'll be surprised at how fast you st art walking again."

She bit off another piece of bacon just as the phone at the bedside rang. Rita picked it up, said hello whoever was on the other end, and passed it to Cordy.

"Mornin’ sunshine!" It was David, sounding totally goofy, like talking to her was the best p art of his day.

But she couldn’t help but smile, and some of that loneliness dissipated at his familiar voice. "Hey, back." She put the bacon down on the tray. "What’s up?"

She heard him shuffle paper in the background. "Working. There’s this cool video game company I’m trying to buy. It takes D-and-D to totally new levels."

"What, you actually get to rent a room in a real demon brothel when you play?"

He giggled. "Don't I wish. Anyway, I think it’d be a hot seller."

Cordy forked up a bite of egg, willing her muscles to steady and not splatter yolk everywhere. "And how do you decide what a hot seller is?"

"Oh, it’s very scientific. I give a copy to my friends. If they like it, it’s a go. You wanna play?"

She snorted. "As if."

"Don’t say I never asked. So what’s on the agenda for the day?"

She glanced up at Rita, who was rolling a portable double-barre into the room. "Looks like Rita’s gonna teach me to dance."

"Really? But I thought you’d have to walk first—"

She rolled her eyes. "David, it was a joke."

"Sorry. That was me being geeky again, wasn’t it?" He laughed self-consciously. "Oh, hang on." His hand muffled the sound in the background, and then he was back. "Hey, my nine o’clock is here. If I’ve got time, you want me to come home for lunch?"

"Home for lunch?" What was she, his wife? "Uh, yeah. Great."

She hung up and caught Rita’s eye. "What?"

"What, what?" Rita asked, throwing a towel over the bar.

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

Cordy felt like she’d been dropped down into a family she’d never met. She should know Rita—her nurse obviously knew her—but all she was left with was a big hole where her memories of the last few months should have been. And David? What was up with him?

"He’s glad you’re awake. We all are."

She wasn't so sure she was, but it seemed like she didn't have a choice.

Choice--the word triggered something in her. A memory of a moment, over a year ago, when she'd made a choice to stay with Angel, one she could see now affected her entire life.

And yet, despite the kiss that returned the visions to her, it was a choice that hadn't seemed to affect anyone else--or, at least, not David and Rita. "Rita, how did you first hear about me?"

Rita glanced up from the barre. "David called and mentioned that he'd moved someone to his house, and she needed a nurse. I was between clients, so I came." She smiled. "I'm glad I did, too. I was prepared to work with you for a long time without you ever waking up. You've been a ray of hope in my life."

Cordy's mouth twisted into what she hoped was a smile. A ray of hope--there was no way Rita would call her that if she remembered anything that had happened before Connor died. "Did he tell you how I got into the coma?"

"Just that some crazy young man had hurt you. I'd heard about that, you know." She came to the bed, hands full of clothes, and handed them to Cordy. "It was all on the news, how the boy had taken hostages, and was killed." She shook her head. "So sad."

"What about Jasmine?"

Rita looked at her strangely. "Jasmine? I think there's some blooming outside. Why? Are you feeling okay?"

Cordy forced a laugh. "I guess that came out sort of coma-girl crazy, didn't it?" Or maybe she really was crazy. What in the hell was going on? Did she dream it all?

A thought occurred to her as she pushed her arm into her shirtsleeve. "Rita? Could you--and this is gonna sound strange too, so just bear with me--could you look at my neck? Are there two marks on it that look like bite marks?" She bared her throat.

"Lift up," Rita said, sliding the pajamas down her legs. "I don't need to look, honey. I've been bathing you for months. The only scar you have is on your belly." Her brow wrinkled. "Bite marks?"

Cordy thought fast as she buttoned her shirt. "I've, uh, been having weird dreams. It's hard to tell what's real sometimes after being asleep for so long."

Rita pulled her to the side of the bed and st art ed shimmying a pair of black sweat pants up her legs. "I'd say that's perfectly normal."

"That's good to know," Cordy said, feeling like she was sliding back into the clouds, getting lost in the fog. "Anyway, you said we were gonna walk today?"

While Rita talked excitedly about getting Cordy up on the barre, Cordy tried to figure out what was going on.

She raised her hand to her throat. Sure enough, the skin was perfectly smooth.

Time for a major wig, she thought. Because evidently she remembered an entire life that no one else did.

Chapter 2

"I've got you scheduled for an appointment with the dentist at eleven," Rita said, in a relentlessly cheerful voice, that Cordy recognized already as her "I-know-you're-not-going-to-like-this-but-do-it-anyway" voice.

Cordy puffed hard, lifting her leg and forcing it forward. Her arms shuddered and her back muscles clenched. "Eleven...today?" She put her weight down carefully so she wouldn't overbalance and crash, which she'd already done twice and had the bruises to show for it. "Yeah, right. Like I'm going outside looking like this."

Rita braced herself on the open end of the bar and helped Cordy turn and st art back the other direction. This was the last five minutes of this torture, and usually Rita wheeled her down to the gym and tortured her more with the weight machines. Her big, brown eyes traveled Cordy's body from tennis shoes to ponytail. "Looking like what?"

"There's no fricking way I'm going outside in a wheelchair." Her body clenched, shuddered. It wasn't just the wheelchair. It was being ejected from her safe haven. What if someone remembered her out there? What if everyone hated her?

"You have to go out sometime, Cordelia. May as well be now. And I'm not canceling the appointment, so get over it." She wrapped a towel around Cordy's neck. "Come on. Let's get you changed, and then we'll go."

"I'm not your baby, needing to be changed." She grabbed the barre and held on, refusing to move.

"Could have fooled me." Rita rolled the chair over next over next to her and locked the wheels. "Get in." Her chin was set. "Come on, we don't have all day."

Cordy stood still. "Make me."

Rita's eyebrows arched. "You really don't want me to do that, now do you?" She glanced down at Cordy's legs. "It would be far, far too easy."

She huffed. Rita put her hand on Cordy shoulder and pushed. Cordy fell into the chair.

"See, now that wasn't so hard, was it?" Rita asked.

She felt exposed, like the whole world was watching her and laughing. Her hands clenched in her lap. "Rita--"

"You'll be fine, I promise."

This sucked. She was freaking out, and no one cared.

Rita rolled her down the hall to the elevator, and they glided to the garage. Mercedes, Rolls, Rolls, MGB--okay, that was cute--VW bus. They stopped by a Mini Cooper and Rita opened the passenger door.

"You have to be joking. This is a clown car."

Rita wedged her into the seat. "Buckle your seat belt."

Cordy sat still, trying to adjust to being out of her bedroom. She'd just been st art ing to feel safe and now--

Rita slammed the trunk and opened the driver's door. "I just bought it. It's wicked cute, eh?" The engine caught and the radio blasted Jimmy Buffet.

Cordy flinched and went for the volume knob. Now the pirate looking at 40 was singing a lot quieter.

Rita hit a button on the visor and the garage door slid up. She glanced at Cordy. "Ready?"


The little car buzzed through the open garage door. "We'll go slow."

Cordy held on as she swung out of the driveway. The car cornered like a motorcycle, hunching over the curves and blasting out on the straight-aways. Cordy held on to the Oh-Jesus bar and closed her eyes.

Rita turned the music up and sang, "And I have been drunk now for over two weeks. I passed out and I rallied and I sprung a few leaks."

She thought of Doyle, sitting on the sofa in the office on Figueroa, smelling like bad scotch and funky demon. How he'd raised drunkenness to high art . How he's sprung a few leaks, but never lived to patch them up.

And now she was the one springing leaks. She ran a hand over her face, covered her eyes to block out the world flashing by. It was all so big, so fast. Moving on without her like the ocean passing through a broken boat.

Tears stung the back of her throat. I wanna go home, to Dennis, to my own bed. I want to stand at the sink and eat Cheerios and listen to Britney Spears.

And instead, I'm stuck in this car, getting shoved into a world that doesn't want me, that doesn't have any use for me, that might even hate me.

The car shuddered to a halt and Cordy lowered her hand. They were parked in front of a building somewhere downtown, a high rise, all steel and glass, with a sculpture on the raised terrace that looked like an exploding star.

Rita cut the engine, and Cordy sat silently, waiting, shivering, while Rita pulled the chair from the trunk. She opened the door. "Come on, let's go."

Cordy stared up at her, at her pretty, Irish face, and in that moment, hated her more than she'd ever hated anyone. "I hate you."

"I know," Rita said, pulling her into the chair. "It's okay."

They were in a handicapped space in front of the door, the little car wedged between a FedEx truck and a van with a handicap sticker in the window. Cordy pulled the jacket around her and ducked her head, unable to look at the people, the cars, all the movement.

It was too loud, like she'd stuck her head in a bucket and someone clanged it with a hammer. She wanted to pull the hood over her head and hide.

When she looked up, she realized they'd gone into the building and were rolling through the lobby. The guard stared at her, eyes narrowed. People stopped, mid-rush, to stare at her, and she waited, holding her breath, for someone to shout, "Jasmine's mother! Kill her!"

Instead, they stared at the chair. Just a split-second, maybe not much more than that, but enough that it creeped her out. Made her realize that she really was being stared at, but not because they recognized her. Because she was broken.

Her jaw clenched. She jabbed the elevator call button and waited impatiently while it climbed down to the lobby. The doors slid open and she found herself face to face with a cab full of suits. They swarmed out around her, glancing at the chair, at her face, then away.

"Poor girl," she heard someone whisper behind her.

And then they were on the elevator and the doors were shutting behind them.

Rita hummed along with Simon and Garfunkel and Cordy tugged the string in the hood of her jacket. They rolled off at the 18th floor and into the lobby of a dentist's office. The smell of strong toothpaste and antiseptic slammed into her like a fist.

Rita rolled her to a corner next to a yellow couch and parked her. "Be right back."

Cordy pulled a magazine off the table and opened it randomly. A beautiful face stared at her, the girl's hair dark and thick, her eyes sparkling with life. Lean, muscular legs, perky breasts, she was the perfect girl.

Her eyes slid down her legs, peeking out below the magazine, and caught on something bright across the room. Blocks in a basket, a couple of scattered children's books, a plastic truck. A little girl sat playing with the blocks.

Cordy stared at her, at the plump little body and reaching hands. She couldn't have been more than three, and Cordy wondered what Connor would have been like at three. He was the only baby she'd ever loved, and what had happened between them later--

God, there wasn't enough yuck in the world.

And then the little girl looked up and caught her staring. Cordy smiled.

The bright, innocent eyes traveled Cordy's face, down her body, to the wheelchair, and the face st art ed to crumple.

"It's okay," Cordy said, reaching out her hand.

The baby burst into tears and her mother, sitting next to her, swept her up and shushed her. Cordy stared. "What'd I do?"

The mom looked at her, eyes following the same path as the baby's. "Sorry. You scared her. In the chair?"

Cordy blinked.

"Yo, you ready?"

She looked up at Rita. "Get me out of here."


Cordy fell into bed and pulled the covers up over her face. "I'm taking a nap."

"Fine. See you tomorrow. If you need anything, call John. He'll help you."

"Yeah, right."

Going to the dentist sucked. Going to a dentist in a wheelchair sucked even more. They had to help her out, help her sit. The teeth-cleaning hadn't been that bad; they'd kept them clean at Wolfram and H art , and she hadn't been eating anything, anyway. The wool sweaters were finally gone, which was of the good.

But the way the hygienist smiled at her, with those pitying eyes. "What happened to your legs, honey?"

The dentist, "Physical therapy going well? I tore an ACL once and--"

Rita made it worse by dragging her to Whole Foods next. Getting down the narrow aisles to buy lotion, trying to grab a bunch of lettuce when she couldn't reach the shelf, watching everyone try not to stare at her.

There was only one thing to do and that was get up. Walk out of here on her own. Until she could do that, she wouldn't have any power, any control. And she was damn tired of being flat on her back and fucked without permission.

And since she had to pee, there was no time like the present. She rolled to the edge of the bed and put both feet down, then slowly pushed herself off till she landed on her knees.

Crawling, she got to the wall and pulled herself up. Her legs trembled, the unused muscles not used to the weight. One hand flat on the plaster, the other out for balance, she took a tiny step. Her leg buckled and she hit the floor.


She pulled herself up and balanced against the wall, panting. Sweat broke out along her hairline. "I will do this." Another step and her whole body shook, but her leg held. Another, and she fell.

Gritting her teeth, she stood. Desperate now, not because she had to pee, but because she wouldn't be beaten by her own body. It was her left leg that wouldn't take her weight. Again and again, it dropped her to the ground.

Pain throbbed in her hip, her lower back. Sweat rolled out of her hair and down her face and she finally grabbed the doorjamb and held on.

Her breath sounded like a gale force wind, but she'd made it. Except for her left leg, she could walk. She laughed. "That's stupid. Except for my left leg--" She sobbed out a breath.

Down the hall a door slammed and she froze.

"Cordy? I'm home!"

She looked over her shoulder at the bed, back at her hands, clutched around the doorframe. There was no way she could get back. She was stuck--

"Hey!" David burst through the door, stared at the bed, and the empty wheel chair, and then looked at her. "Whatcha doin'?"

"C art wheels."

He cocked his head. "Did you walk over there? You look kinda hot."

She laughed, but it didn't sound very pretty. "Thanks. Yeah, I walked."

"Cordy, what were you thinking? You haven't even been up two weeks." He came over to her and peeled her fingers off the door.

"I had to pee. I didn't exactly want to call John, since he's the chef, and say, can you stop peeling potatoes and help me urinate? Because, God knows, my urination just hasn't been public enough lately."

David blushed. "Uh--"

"Look, just help me in and I'll do the rest."

He nodded, looking only slightly relieved. "So, how was your day?" he asked, in a totally forced tone. His arms slid around her and he walked her, slowly and gently, the last two steps in.

With his support, her legs didn't buckle, and she was able to brace herself on the sink. "Fine, dear," she said. "Now leave. I'll call you in a minute."

After she was done, the toilet flushed, her hands washed, she stared at herself in the mirror. She looked a little more like herself today, not quite like the Dough Boy with a dark wig. But no one would ever apply the term "hot" to her unless it had to do with temperature.

She *so* had to get better. Now. "David? I'm done."

A few seconds later, the door opened. He stood looking at her, a shy smile on his face. "I can't believe you walked that far. You wanna walk back, or you want the chair?"

If she let go of the sink, she'd collapse. "Chair." It was hard to admit, but she may just have blown every bit of energy she had on a pee break.

He held the chair as she got in and rolled her to the other side of the suite, to the gray leather couch. She crawled out and collapsed onto the cushions. "Rita made me go out. I got my teeth cleaned. I couldn't reach the lettuce. I made a baby cry. How about you?"

David's eyebrows rose. "Not nearly so exciting. I worked out a few bugs on that new software, tried to read through a board package--they should be called b-o-r-e-d packages, let me tell you. Then I did some research." He grinned at her. "You made a baby cry? You're mean."

She jabbed him with her finger. "Am not. It was the chair."

Something about the way his smile lit his funny face made the crappy day not quite so crappy. She couldn't help but grin back.

"You wanna order pizza?" he asked.

"Only if half is veggie."

David smiled and reached for his Trio. "Deal."


"It's so nice out here," Cordelia said. She and David sat on the patio off her room, watching the sun set over the ocean. David's house, from what she had seen of it, was a concrete, steel and glass structure that hugged the hillside above Malibu . He'd put her on the side facing the water, so that when she sat at the table next to the doors, she had the best view.

David looked up from the latest issue of Wired on his PDA. "It's great, isn't it?" He stared out at the sunset, bursts of red and gold over the spangled water. "I never came out here till you moved in. I almost forgot about the view."

Cordelia rolled her eyes and wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck. "Only you would move into a house with a multi-million dollar view, and wind up spending more screen time than back-yard time." She rolled her wheelchair away from the table and left the remains of dinner behind.

Since she'd awakened a month ago, and had finally gotten strong enough to wheel the chair on her own, David had the path off the patio fitted with pavers so she could move around the yard.

David laid his little computer down and followed her. "Well, you know, all that screen time is what got me where I am today," he said, coming up behind her so he could push her along.

"Why'd you buy this house, anyway?"

The gravel crunched under the tires and a light breeze blew. The jacaranda trees fluttered in the evening breeze. "You really wanna know?"

She looked over her shoulder at him. "Yeah."

"One of the guys from Kiss owned it. I thought it was cool, so I bought it."

Cordy couldn't believe it. "You bought a Riker-designed house because someone from *Kiss* owned it?"

His eyebrows went up. "Who's Riker?"

Cordy shook her head and turned around. "Because Kiss is a much better conversation-st art er than Riker."

David laughed, that oddly self-effacing laugh. "Well, yeah. I need every ounce of cool I can get."

They rolled along the path and Cordy thought about what it was like to be cool. To be the one everyone looked up to.

Hardly her life anymore.

In the last two weeks it had become a nightly ritual. Dinner together, then a turn around the yard. Compared to her life before, it felt isolated, strange. She was used to walking everywhere, doing for herself. And she was used to doing it in middle-class surroundings.

Once in her life she'd have felt right at home in David's wealth; it would have been no less than she deserved. Now she just felt useless, out of place.

She couldn't even look at her legs. They were like a sick person's legs, pale and spindly. All her bones stuck out in the wrong places. Her boobs sagged. Her skin was pasty.

She was her worst fricking nightmare and boy, did she appreciate the irony that she'd finally gotten what she'd always wanted...and she didn't have her health, or the desire to enjoy it.

She glanced over her shoulder and saw David waiting for her to say something. "I don't think perving over hentai counts toward your corporate earnings."

His face lit. "Hey, I only go to those sites for the game reviews."

Cordy snorted. "Oh, please, I saw your favorites list. 'Naughty Dickgirls on Ice'?"

It was good exercise for her to roll the chair, but Rita had busted Cordy's ass in workout today, so she figured it wouldn't hurt to let David drive for awhile. It wasn't like her legs were going anywhere, anyway.

He rolled her off the sidewalk and onto one of the smaller, gravel paths. The wheels sunk and he laughed. "Note to self: buy Cordelia her own laptop so she'll leave mine alone."

She held on as he backed up a few steps and came at the chair full force. With a bump, she was moving again, flying over the path.

By the time they made it to the fountain, he was out of breath. "I always thought wheelchairs were for the old and deformed," he said. "But this one's actually fun." He was glowing from the exertion and his eyes were bright and happy. "I should get one, too. That way, we could have races and stuff."

She'd come across a tiny hockey jersey and sticks after Connor was taken. Gunn told her how he and Angel had played in the lobby, how they broke a window. How many times had they all played together down there? Video games, board games, hunt the vamp, with Fred as vamp-bait?

God, she missed her family. It hurt in ways she'd never imagined that they didn't seem to miss her. No one called to check on her. No one came by. She was stuck by herself with virtual strangers, cut off from her world. Cut off from her body.

"I like seeing you like this," he said. "You seem a little better every day."

"Uh huh," she said, barely even registering what he'd said.

He lay back on the bench and stared up at the darkening sky. "I'd gotten boring, you know?"

She stared out at the sunset. "Boring? You?" She couldn't stop thinking about the hotel. About Angel, smiling at her as she came through the doors. About Wes's tea set and Connor's diaper bag.

David cut his eyes at her. "This from, Miss I-go-to-bed-with-a-book-at-eight?"

She glanced at him. The dimming golden light hit his face, highlighting his eyes. "Hey, coma girl, here! I have an excuse for being boring. You don't."

"Must be genetic, or something. Anyway, I'd just been wishing for the days when I was young and carefree. And there you were, offering me a chance to be, well, young and carefree."

Her forehead wrinkled. "David, did I not mention I was in a coma? How, exactly does taking care of a comatose patient equal young and carefree?"

He sat up and propped his elbows on his knees. "Hell if I know. I just figured it was you, you know, your energy and stuff. You always accepted me, never came around asking for money."

"I thought about propositioning you once," she said, letting some of her anger snap loose. "Then I decided you were too boring."

Hurt flashed across his face. "Everyone wants a piece of me. What can I say?"

And now she felt like she'd squashed a puppy. "I'm sorry, David. That came out wrong." She turned her face toward the fountain so she wouldn't have to look at him. "Ever since I...came back, I've been feeling strange. You know? Like I'm not supposed to be here. Like I don't have a purpose."

He rolled off the fountain and knelt at her feet. "That's stupid. You have more purpose than--"

"Than who? Starving children in Africa ? David, look at me!" She tugged at her hair. "I'm a freak! I'm ugly! My family doesn't even want me."

He winced.

"And my visions are gone. My mission. I'm a lump in a wheelchair, taking your money, living in your house. For what? Really, for *what*? You should have let them put me in that home!"

That hurt look was back. "You don't get it, do you?" He shook his head. "Even when you were asleep, you made my life better. It sounds stupid, but I felt like I could talk to you, no matter what. Like you heard me."

She laughed bitterly. "I was asleep, David! You were talking to coma girl!"

"You don't think I know that?" He stood, paced to the fountain. "You all think I'm just some-- some emotional retard. You think, 'poor David, he's such a loser,' and you're right, you know?"


"Just shut up! Cordelia, all right? Shut up." He turned and paced back to her, standing tall in the soft breeze. The light silhouetted him, and for the first time she saw him as someone other than weak, ineffectual David. "You made me feel like I was p art of something bigger than myself. Before the coma, I mean. When I knew you before, you were the only person who didn't want me for my money, who treated me normal. And when I saw the chance to help you, I took it."

He whirled and stared out across the hills to the sparkling rise of ocean. "Maybe that was the desperate act of a loser. But it's what I did."

She sat, stunned. "David, I--"

"You know, let's just go back to the house. I've got a ton of meetings tomorrow I need to get ready for."

Cordy bit her lip, desperate to say something that would make it better. "I'd say I'm sorry, but I think we were both telling the truth."

He heaved her across the gravel, taking his time getting the chair rolling. "It's fine, Cordy. Really."

The trip back to the house was agonizingly slow. She found herself missing the flight over the gravel, his laughter. When he got her to the patio, he parked the chair carefully next to the table and stepped away. "You can get in by yourself, right?"

It was deep purple now, and hard to see his face. That sense of isolation was back, stronger than ever. "Yeah."

He went through the doors and she saw him silhouetted against the sheers. He didn't stop, just walked out of her sight, and she heard the door to her bedroom close.

Cordy banged her fist against her leg. "Way to go, dumbass. Piss off your meal ticket. You'll be rolling into a homeless shelter any day now."

But she knew it was more than that. What David said meant something to her. She didn't know what she was here for, but David's faith gave her something to cling to.

She stared out at the lights, twinkling awake in the city below.

Chapter 3

"Cordy, could I see you for a moment?" It was David, at the door to her room, sounding very formal. Obviously he was still pissed about last night.

She put her book on the bedside table and sat up against he pillows. "Sure, come in."

He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked everywhere but at her. "It's my turn to host game night."

"That sounds like fun," she said. "Anyone I know coming?"

He cut his eyes at her. "That's kind of it. Knox is coming, and he's bringing Fred."

Cordy had been joking, trying to draw him out. She never expected the answer to be yes. "Well, that's-- Huh." She stared down at her legs, wasted sticks under the plush comforter, and tried to imagine facing anyone from her former life. Even though she'd desperately wanted them to come.

"She asked about you. She wanted to come see you. Actually, she's wanted to several, times, but I keep putting her off."

A flash of anger burst in her chest. "Really? Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't know," he said, defensively. "Look, what do you want to do about it? I can't keep her away. It would be too strange."

Cordy twisted the sheet between her fingers. What if Fred knew about the other life? Would Angel know, too? Her stomach clenched. She couldn't face him yet, not like this. "Fred can't keep a secret to save her life. There's no way she can see me."

He stared toward the double doors toward the garden. "Maybe you could pretend to still be asleep."

Her he art jumped. "What?"

David stuck his hands in the pockets of his khakis. "You know, pretend to be in a coma. You wanted to act once, right? Now's your chance."

She couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not. But he was right. Much as it creeped her out, it was the only way. And maybe she could get him to mention something that would clue her in as to what Fred knew. "When are they coming?"

" Eight o'clock ."

This would be so much easier if she'd just see Angel. But the thought of facing him, looking like this, when he had a whole, healthy Buffy by his side.... And even more, what if he didn't remember. Or, oh, God. What if he did? She nodded. "I'll do it."

"Great," he said. His hand was on the doorknob when she called his name. He turned. "Yeah?"

"Thank you. I don't think I've really said that, yet." She smiled at him, realizing for the first time just how truly grateful she was that he'd rescued her.

His face, set in hard lines, softened slightly. "You're welcome."

"Hey, David. How's tricks?" Rita bustled through the door, nearly running him down.

He nodded at Rita, then turned back to Cordy. "I'll see you tonight?"

She nodded. "Rita and I will get it all set up. Don't worry about a thing."

"Yeah," Rita said, helping Cordy stand. "We'll set it all up. What are we setting up?"


"I still don't like it," Rita said, as she inserted the IV needle into the back of Cordy's hand.

Cordy grimaced at the sharp jab. "Really? From the way you're poking me with that thing, I'd never have guessed." Cordy smoothed the collar of her satin pajamas and settled against the pillows.

"Ha ha." Rita adjusted the drip. It was the same thing Cordy had been getting before: nutrients and water. She figured it was the safest to make the whole set-up look as real as possible.

Cordy watched as Rita taped the needle down. Getting her to agree had been a bitch. She thought Cordy should be happy to be awake, and didn't understand why she'd want to lie to her friends.

Cordy explained that she wasn't ready to see them yet--she wanted to be walking again, full strength, before she presented herself to the world. That much was true.

It was the p art about that other life that she didn't mention.

A vase of jasmine sat by the bedside, its slick-sweet scent permeating the air. "Smells like a funeral parlor in here," Rita said.

"You don't think it's nice to have flowers for my friend's visit?"

Rita huffed and picked up her journal and her fountain pen. "I'm gonna write about you tonight, missy. You and your lying ways." She waved the leather book at Cordy. Even from here, Cordy could see her fingers were tipped blue with the ink.

"You work for a computer geek, and yet you refuse to do anything on screen," Cordy said, hoping to change the subject.

"Don't think you can placate me by changing the subject. I'll be back at nine to take your IV out," Rita said. "I should just leave it in there all night."

Cordy's hand was still sore and bruised from wearing the IV for all those months. And it ached now, having the needle back in. "You wouldn't."

"I might." Then her face softened. "I don't know what you think you have to prove to these people, Cordelia. I thought they were your family."

"I did, too," Cordy said, looking down at her hand. When she looked up, Rita was gone and she was alone in the room.

She stared at the jasmine on the table, which she'd finally decided was safer than having David try to bring the subject up. No way David could make it through without leaning over her and yelling, "Line!" Plus, she'd have to explain why she wanted him to bait Fred, and nothing she thought of seemed plausible.

Hopefully she could carry off enough of a lie that Fred would believe she was still asleep. She heard voices in the hall and stiffened. This was it.

Closing her eyes, she tried to even her breath, make herself look at peace. Just as the door swung open she realized that her Vogue lay open on the bed next to her.

"Wow, her room's really nice," Fred said.

Crap. Maybe she wouldn't notice the magazine.

"Smells good, too. Is that jasmine?" The carpet muffled the sound of her footsteps, but when she spoke again, Cordy could tell she was standing by the table. "Mmm, I love jasmine. I knew someone named Jasmine once--"

Cordy tensed.

"Really?" David asked. "It's an unusual name."

Fred laughed. "Unusual for Texas , I can assure you. She was in my fifth grade class," she said, and her voice moved back toward the bed.

Cordy blew out a long, slow breath and willed her he art to slow down.

Long, slim fingers gripped hers. "Cordy? It's me, Fred. It's so good to see you. You look wonderful."

There was the sound of rustling cloth as Fred settled into the chair. "She looks much better, David. Not nearly so puffy."

"Uh huh," David said.

Cordy forced her face to stay in that blank, relaxed mode.

"You wouldn't believe how busy we've been. Wes is Mr. Efficiency. His dep art ment always gets its reports in before deadline. And Gunn?" She laughed. "You should see him now, all lawyerly." She leaned closer and said, under her breath, "He looks pretty fine in those suits, let me tell you."

The stuff about Wes she could easily believe. But Gunn? Lawyerly? Cordy felt her forehead wrinkle and immediately tried to smooth it

"Oh, look, a Vogue!" Cordy felt a weight on her body as Fred leaned across her, and tried not to stiffen. "Were you reading to her, David? That's so sweet!"

"Uh...yeah. She likes the p art about the, uh, you know, fashion stuff?"

The magazine hit the bedside table with a flat slap. "She always dressed so well. I looked up to her, you know? She was so beautiful, such a great dresser, and now she's...."

Cordy's hand tightened.

"Wow! She grabbed my hand!"

David cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah, she's been doing that some lately."

"Maybe it means she's waking up."

"Maybe. Look, I gotta run down to the game room and make sure everything's set up. Just buzz Rita on the phone when you're done and she'll come finish with Cordy for the night."

"Okay, excellent. Thanks, David. I've been wanting to see her, but I didn't want to intrude."

"No problem. See you in a bit."

He must have gone because Fred said, "I didn't want to say it in front of him, but Angel really misses you. He doesn't show it much, but sometimes, if I catch him alone-- Anyway. He and Buffy seem to be having some trouble. Not that I'm glad about that. I like Buffy. I just always thought you and he had something special."

She sighed and let go of Cordy's hand. Cordy heard her shift, and then felt her hairbrush pulling through her hair. Okay, that was totally annoying. But Fred probably thought they were bonding.

"I never thought I'd be working at Wolfram and H art . I mean, we always talked about how evil they were. But now that I'm there, I see they're just people, you know? Doing a job. And they have great cinnamon rolls!

"Don't get me wrong, I haven't stopped working on a cure for you. Wes and I are still poring over all the research we can find. It's just that it's taking so long, and sometimes I feel like, no matter what I do it's not enough."

She fell silent. "Do you ever feel that way? Like what you do isn't enough?" Fred laughed. "Of course you don't. You're Cordy. Even in a coma you have rich guys falling all over you to make your life perfect. I swear, if I ever got in a coma, I'd end up at the VA hospital with the old guys with no legs."

It was scary that she'd actually followed that, Cordy thought. Fred's circular logic was familiar and soothing, like the feel of the brush tugging through her hair had become. Cordy actually found herself sad when Fred put the brush away and stopped talking.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, and the Fred spoke. "I miss you. I always knew you were the he art , you know? But I didn't realize that you were also the conscience." Her voice dropped. "Angel-- He's doing how he knows best. And God knows, having all that pressure on him has to be hard. But sometimes...."

She paused and took a breath. "He crosses lines I don't think he should cross. Lines you wouldn't let him cross. Like that time he killed the black ops man? I mean, I know he was evil, but still."

It took everything Cordy had in her to stay still, to not sit up and go, "WHAT?"

"I just can't talk to anyone about it. Gunn's too busy lawyering, and Wes is too busy running his dep art ment, and Lorne's too busy eating at chichi restaurants with movie stars. Everyone seems really happy, but me. I go home at night sometimes and cry. Because as good as the money is? I miss our other life."

Maybe pretending to be sick wasn't such a good idea. She was getting a picture of a group that had lost its mission, its soul. How had they ended up working at Wolfram and H art , anyway? God, she so wanted to ask Fred that. To find out what she remembered.

"Oh, wow. Look at the time." Cordy heard her stand and then felt the brush of Fred's lips on her forehead. "I have to go. Can I come see you again? I've missed our talks. I know Angel's missed his. I think he's wanted to come, but doesn't feel like he can do that to Buffy, you know?"

Fred squeezed her hand. "David's taking good care of you. I'm glad to see that. And I should so go, but I hate to." She took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm going. What was your nurse's name again? Oh, right, Rita." Fred fumbled with the buttons on the phone. "Rita? It's Fred. I'm done in here now."

"I'll be right there, Fred." Rita's voice was as bright as if she'd been sitting in the same room with them.

"Thanks. So, okay," Fred said, and even without looking Cordy knew she was talking to her again. "Talk to you soon? God, Fred, just leave. It's not like she can hear you."

Cordy counted to sixty before she opened her eyes. "Actually, she can," she whispered.


Cordy sat at the table staring out the window at the rain. It came down in sheets, beating against the windows, blowing back against itself, and turning the world your basic, non-fashionable gray.

"Perfect," she said, frowning. Just what she needed. One of those rare summer storms. After Fred's confessions last night, she felt pulled in two directions, and totally depressed. The last thing she wanted was to look out the window and see a reflection of her own, pissy mood.

She stood on her crutches and turned toward the living area of her suite. "Ah! David, you scared me."

He stood just inside the bedroom door, watching her. "Yeah. Sorry."

"What's up?" Okay, this was weird. Why was he looking at her like that? "How was game night?"

"It was fine." He frowned at her. "Why didn't you tell me you missed your birthday?"

Cordy's forehead wrinkled. "What?"

"Your birthday. You missed it while you were in the coma, and you never told me."

She shook her head. "I don't know. I mean, I thought about it, but--" Now she was feeling flustered. "What's this about, anyway? You're not still pissed, are you? Because--"

"Fred told me last night," he said, the frown deepening.

Fred knew when her birthday was? Cordy thought back to the year before when-- Her stomach clenched.


She shook her head to clear it. "Huh?"

David stepped into the room, and she saw that he was dressed for the damp day in gray jeans and a burgundy cotton sweater, with a gray T-shirt underneath. He held a red plastic bag from the Virgin Megastore.

He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry I yelled at you the other night. And I'm sorry you missed your birthday. And--" He pulled something out of the bag and handed it to her. "Here."

And suddenly she was in the Hyperion lobby. "Oh, wanting. Wanting presents!" she'd said, and they'd all gathered around, with a cake and presents wrapped with too-much tape.

And Angel. He'd been such a dork, shuffling on his feet, talking about champions and important stuff. She hadn't been paying much attention because she was distracted by presents and baby snuggles.

The memory faded, and she found herself staring down at David's gift. She sat on the couch, lay the crutches down beside her, and took it from him. "It's-- It's from Tiffany." She held a little blue bag, and in it she could see a small box, about the size of the one Angel gave her last year.

"Yeah," David said, breaking into her thoughts. "Anise said that girls like stuff from Tiffany, so I had them open the store for me this morning and I picked it out." He smiled at her, the same hopeful, anxious look Angel had worn.

Angel had said, "Who's more important than--"

She realized now that she'd never opened his gift. Between the vision, and Skip and what she now knew was Jasmine....

"Aren't you gonna open it?"

"Oh, oh sure." She pulled the box out of the bag. "The last time I got something from Tiffany was my sixteenth birthday. I'd almost forgotten what the box looked like." She forced herself to smile. "Thank you."

And then there'd been Connor, smelling like milky formula and the Crabtree & Evelyn baby soap she bought for him. He was a warm, sweet weight in her arms.

She'd been holding him when the vision hit-- "Take the baby."

"You're choosing birthday gifts over my kid?"

"Take the baby! Take the baby!" And then--

The vision had hit, hard, hard enough to knock her right out of her body. Even though she'd been all floaty, she'd been terrified when the shadow had swooped through the room. That was the first time she'd seen Skip. She should have paid more attention to her intuition. It'd had been warning her the whole time.

Her jaw clenched. "Lying bastard."


Cordy glanced up. "What?"

"Sounded like you said, 'lying bastard.'" David shot her one of those smiles, the kind kids who get bullied wear when they think they're about to get hit.

She thought fast. "No, I said, 'flying faster.' I was just thinking of how the years keep flying by, faster and faster."

David's smile turned rueful. "I hear ya. Next thing I know, I'll be thirty." He shook his head. "No more skateboarding barefoot through the loft for me."

Cordy squinted at him. "Huh?"

He laughed, embarrassed. "Nothing. Nothing. Still learning to talk to girls, I guess." His cheeks turned pink. "Anyway, open your present!"

She lifted the lid and found a pretty silver key chain, shaped into an open circle with knobs on either end. A round tag hung from it that said, "If found, return to Tiffany New York," and underneath was a number, which she guessed was her ID number with the company.

An ID number. If she lost it, anyone could send it back to Tiffany, and the store would return it to her. "Yes, Ms. Chase, you can pick up your keys at the Tiffany store on...."

Was that how Jasmine had chosen her? Gone through all the celestial ID numbers till she found one she liked, and said, "Send this one to LA and I'll pick her up at the Hyperion?"

She turned the silver bauble over in her hand, unscrewed one of the knobs and put it back on, realizing that she was a hell of a lot less useful now than this key ring. Angel Investigations didn't exist any more. Any hope she'd had for her and Angel was erased by Buffy's presence in his life. She didn't have the visions, didn't have a mission. She was dead weight, useless and crippled and ugly.

Rain slapped the windows, and the palm trees bent over under the force of the wind.

"Hey, Cordy, you all right?" David sank down next to her and put his hand on hers.

She stared at him. "David?" He felt so solid, his skin warm and alive against hers. "Is this real?"

He laughed uncomfortably, obviously unsure how to answer. "Who really wants to be reminded they're getting older, right? Maybe I should take everything back--"

Cordy shook her head, trying to focus. "No, that's not what I mean. I keep having these--" She gestured, not sure how to explain. "These flashbacks. Something triggers memories, only I don't know if they're real or if I dreamed them."

David's head tilted, and he studied her carefully. "Do you want me to call Rita? You don't sound so good."

What was real? Was it this world, or that one? Connor, he was Angel's baby in that world--but vampires couldn't have babies. And her and Angel? In love? She shook her head. Everyone knew that Angel and Buffy were destined for each other.

"Okay, that's it. I'm calling Rita."

Cordy shook herself out of the daze. "No, no! David, I'm fine. I'm sure it's just a side effect of sleeping for so long." Desperate, she pulled the key chain out and held it up. "Really, it's beautiful, thank you."

David stared at her, "Are you sure you're all right?"

She nodded. "I guess this means I'll have to get some keys, soon, huh?" Unless he'd gotten her a car. She remembered a check he'd written once, just for hanging with them.

His brow wrinkled. "Oh, right. You don't have any keys...well, I can get you a house key, and I have a whole bunch of cars I never drive. You can have keys to as many of them as you want." He waved his hand. "That wasn't the real gift, though. That was, you know, 'cause Anise said--" He shook his head. "Anyway, here's the real gift."

David reached into the Virgin bag and pulled out a flat box, wrapped in one of the store's gift envelopes.

Cordy took it from him, staring down at the Virgin logo, still spinning but trying hard to stay focused. "Did you get them to open the store, too?"

He nodded exuberantly. "Yeah. I know the manager. Open it! Open it!"

She lifted the flap and slid out the DVD. "'While You Were Sleeping'?" Cordy looked up at him, not at all sure what to think. "You got me a DVD about a guy in a *coma*?" At least it wasn't Flatliners or Dead Zone, for God's sake.

He clapped delightedly. "Yeah! Aren't you gonna ask me how you're gonna watch it?"

"Uh, I guess I'll just put it in the DVD player over there and--"

"Not that old thing," David said, giggling. He opened the bedroom door and nodded to someone in the hall. "Not when you can play it in this!"

Cordy's mouth fell open as two guys in coveralls rolled several boxes in on a hand truck. "David?"

He laughed. "I got you a new entertainment center! It's so cool!"

One guy opened the doors to the antique armoire that had been fitted to hold electronics, and st art ed unhooking the TV, VCR and DVD player. The other slit open the biggest box with his knife. The smell of new wiring and plastic filled the air.

In less than fifteen minutes they were rolling the empty hand truck out into the hall and handing David the instruction sheets.

He took them and signed for the delivery. "Thanks," he said, waving jauntily.

"No problem," one said, and they closed the door behind them.

Cordy shook her head. "That was amazing."

"Yeah, it's a really cool system." David rolled her over next to the couch, and sat down so they were shoulder to shoulder.

"No, I meant the guys. Usually, if I buy anything new like that it takes me days to hook it up. Wes usually--" She stopped and fiddled with the DVD.

David glanced up from the remote. "Oh, those guys are great. They do all my installation if I don't have time to do it myself." He grabbed the DVD. "You mind if I--?"

Cordy shook her head. "No, go ahead."

He popped it in, then sat down next to her again. "See this remote?" He held it up. "It controls everything, so we can get rid of the three you had to use before." He grabbed them off of the end table and pitched them toward the garbage can next to the desk.

"And this DVD player? Top of the line. Has a Shannon & Fluency filter." The FBI warning tag popped up on the screen. He leaned closer and showed her which buttons went with which machine.

She'd just gotten used to working the other three remotes, and now she was gonna have to learn a new one? Cordy tried to follow, but got lost after "Punch AV 1 for videos, and AV 2 for DVDs. But make sure you also hit this button so the speakers come on--"

Sound flooded the room. The music loop on the DVD menu, apparently.

"You can't make a cheat sheet, can you?" she asked.

"Oh, sure! That'd be fun! I've got this cool little software package that lets me draw stuff on my Trio. I can draw the remote for you and make a list of how you turn everything on. It'll be way cool!"

She smiled. "You're a big old nerd."

"I thought we once confirmed that was p art of the public record." He thumbed through the menu. "Wanna watch a movie?"

"Don't you have to work?"

"Oh, sure, sometime." He shrugged. "I don't have any meetings till after lunch, so I'm free all morning.

"Well, sure. But only if we can have popcorn. And only if you explain to Rita why I'm skipping my morning workout."

"I'm not explaining anything to Rita! But I'll order the popcorn."


"Yeah." He picked up the phone and dialed the kitchen. "Hey, John. Can we have popcorn and movie stuff in Cordy's room?"

David's life was so strange. Opening Tiffany early, getting stereo equipment delivered and set up, having popcorn for breakfast.

She shivered. Had she chosen this life while she was asleep? Had another conversation with Skip she didn't remember?

"What kind of milkshake do you want?" David asked.

"Chocolate's great."

David hung up the looked over at her. "I've been thinking. You know, about what you said?"

Cordy shook her head. "When?"

"It was about feeling, I don't know, un-missioned? Like you didn't have anything to do?"

She shrugged and looked down at her hands. Tried to remember the last vision she'd had that was hers and not Jasmine's--the girl on Oak Street , had they saved her? "Yeah?"

"Well, I was thinking. You can't actually go into an office yet, but I've got this charity function that needs planning, and the woman who was doing it at work? Maternity leave." He shook his head. "I'm glad for her and all--they've tried a long time to have a baby. But now I don't have anyone to do it and I thought maybe you could. It'd, you know, give you something to do?"

He looked as unsure of himself as he had, earlier, when he gave her the key chain. She found herself warmed by his confidence in her. "I guess I could give it a shot. If I can tear myself away from the plasma TV."

"Great! I was hoping you'd say that. I've got the files in the car." His gaze dropped. "Only one thing. You'd have to work with Wolfram and H art . We're planning it together."

Her breath caught in her throat. "Not Angel?"

He shook his head. "Just one of his people. But he'd be at the dinner. So if you went, you'd see him there."

The look on his face triggered a memory, and all the other times she'd seen it fell into place like lock tumblers. "Why don't you want me to see Angel?"

David glanced away. "I don't know what you mean."

"You do this all the time. Every time his name comes up, you freak."

His head whipped around. "I do not freak."

"Uh huh. You look...I don't know. Wigged? Like something bad's gonna happen if I see Angel."

David fidgeted. "Yeah, well, I just know that you guys have, um, history. And I don't want you to get hurt." His voice had the ring of almost-truth.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "That's sweet, but you're still holding back."

He stood, too quickly, and went to the door. "I'll just get those files."

on to part two