Author’s Note: This story takes place in season five, a few days after "You're Welcome." It features the character of Aggie Belfleur, Lorne's empath friend, who appeared briefly in season two's "Over the Rainbow." If you don't remember her, there's a picture here. Special thanks to my betas: tavia, thekorapersonality, zandras_court, and all the Inklings.
Her lips are as soft and warm as the memory of sunlight on his skin. He wants this moment, this kiss, to go on forever. (And they lived happily ever after to the end of their days.) Maybe, if he closes his eyes and wishes with all his heart, maybe this time it will.
The phone rings.
He feels a momentary disquiet, but he pushes it away. "I don't have to get that," he says.
She looks at him sadly. (Sad? Why is she sad, when he is so happy?) "That, you have to get," she says.
And so he goes to answer it, because he always does what she tells him to do; she has always had that power over him.
"Oh..." she says behind him, "and you're welcome."
He freezes, spins around, but it's too late, she is already gone. (Gone... gone... gone away and left me all alone.)
The phone rings. And rings. And rings.
Angel bolted upright in bed. His skin was unpleasantly clammy and a dull throbbing echoed inside his skull.
The phone beside his bed was ringing.
He reached over and grabbed it, more from a desire to stop the noise than to speak to whomever might be calling.
It was an effort to concentrate on Wesley's voice. Angel felt strangely detached, as if a part of him were still caught in the dreamworld.
"Okay," he replied finally. "I'm on my way."
He dropped the phone onto the bed beside him. For a moment he lay still, eyes closed, trying to will himself into action.
“Cordelia.” He said it out loud, trying to draw strength from the familiar feel of the word in his mouth.
There had been a time, not so long ago, when he'd said her name often. Now, he spoke it only rarely, and only when he was alone.
He would have liked to crawl back into bed and claim the rest of his night's sleep, but had to do this instead. The work was all he had left now.
"You scratch my back," purred Lorne into the cell phone, "and there's a part in the next Joel Schumacher movie with your name on it."
He strode through the abandoned sound stage, deftly avoiding the puddles of blood and the white coats from Wolfram & Hart swarming over the crime scene.
"No, that's not a threat!" said Lorne. "Okay, I guess a lot of people were scarred by those nipples. Forget about Schumacher, how do you feel about Soderbergh?" He listened to the voice on the other end.
"That's my girl!" he said when she had told him what he wanted to know. "And you're sure?" Lorne walked over to where Wes, Fred and Gunn were waiting for him. "You're a peach! I'll be in touch soon."
He snapped his cell phone shut and addressed the others. "Gates' maid says he's at a fat farm in Arizona."
"Maybe we shouldn't have called Angel about this one," said Fred. "We can probably handle--"
"And face his unholy vampire wrath when he finds out about this and we didn't call him?" said Gunn. "No, thank you."
"He has been rather short-tempered of late," said Wes.
"I don't think he's been sleeping well since Cordelia... you know," said Fred.
There was a momentary, uncomfortable silence.
Wes adjusted his glasses. "Yes, well, it was... difficult. For all of us, of course, but for Angel in particular."
"I just wish he'd talk to us about it," said Fred.
"Angelheart doesn't talk," said Lorne. "He broods."
"And occasionally yells, or, alternatively, dismembers," added Gunn.
"But did you see him this afternoon?" asked Fred. "He looked awful, like he was getting sick or something."
"Vampires don't get sick," said Wes.
A door slammed loudly at the far end of the sound stage, announcing Angel's arrival. Several members of the Wolfram & Hart forensics team paled visibly and buried their noses even further in their gory work.
"I thought we told Gates in no uncertain terms that he was not to traffic in human remains anymore!" Angel bellowed.
"We did," said Gunn.
"And yet, here we are in one of his sound stages and it's full of mutilated bodies!" Angel gestured at the ceiling.
The others cast an uneasy glance at the row of corpses hanging from the lighting grid above their heads.
"He has to do something with the place over summer hiatus," offered Lorne.
Wes cleared his throat. "He does seem to have altered his business model somewhat--"
"I don't care!" Angel snapped. "Gates was warned. And now he's finished."
Wes and Gunn shared a look. Fred was right, Angel did not look well. Not even for someone who had been dead for over two hundred years. His eyes were dark and hollow, his cheeks sunken, and, if possible, he was even paler than usual.
"Will you keep it down?" said Spike, who had wandered up behind Angel. "All that shouting is upsetting the minions." He looked over at Angel. "Geez, mate, you look like hell."
"Spike, what are you even doing here?" asked Angel.
He shrugged. "Nothing but reruns on the telly tonight."
"Angel, are you all right?" asked Wes carefully.
Angel grunted in irritation. "I'm fine."
He was quite obviously not fine, but no one dared to push him on the subject.
Lorne peered up at the bodies. "Does it seem strange to anyone that only the right hands were cut off?"
"I imagine they were harvesting hands of glory," said Wes.
"What's a hand of glory?" asked Gunn.
"Traditionally, the right hand of a murderer, severed while the corpse is still hanging from the gallows and pickled for two weeks in an earthenware jar with long peppers and saltpeter."
Gunn rolled his eyes. "As long as it's not anything really stupid and obscure."
"They're a common ingredient in many magic spells and voodoo rituals."
Fred was still staring up at the bodies. "So all of those people were murderers?"
"Yes," said Wes, "which makes this something of a--"
"Don't say it," Angel warned.
"--gray area," finished Wes.
Angel groaned. "Why do I feel like we've had this conversation before?"
Gunn shook his head. "So Gates gave up killing innocent people and decided to start going after bad guys."
"For a profit," added Wes.
"Kinda like we used to do," said Fred.
"I helped people," said Angel. "I didn't sell their body parts." He frowned, and then put a hand to his head as if he were in pain.
Fred took a step toward him. "Angel?"
Angel waved her away. "I'm fine," he said. Just before his eyes rolled back in his head and he began to collapse towards the floor.
[Go on to Chapter Two]