Angel kissed Cordelia’s lips one last time.
They were cold. She was cold. There was no heat of life coming from her and somehow, he would have to accept that she was truly gone. Fate had taken his love, and left him alone. Suffering. Racked with a guilt intensified by the passing of the woman he’d loved. He saved so many. Why couldn't he save her?
Unable to contain his grief, he laid his forehead against hers as he sobbed. His tears washed over her face as he let go of the helplessness that her death brought to him. He desired death, to crumple to the floor and die along with her, but that wasn't his destiny. Cordelia had said so herself.
His existence was eternal.
“It’s almost dawn,” a whisper said from the doorway. “You need to get on the road.”
It was Max. The one man he wanted to hate through all of time was the person who was going to help him escape the wrath of Wolfram & Hart’s senior partners. An irony twisted his guts. Sometimes you never knew what fate would deal you. Maybe it was a lesson he needed to learn, because he hadn’t yet. He wanted to rage against them at this very moment for what they had brought to him this night.
It wouldn't help. Nothing would. What was done was done. If he was going to escape in time, he needed to face that truth. Forcing himself to stand, to turn away from the empty vessel of Cordelia's body, Angel walked out of the room. He refused to turn around. The woman he loved wasn't lying in that bed. She was gone.
“Everything ready?” Angel asked.
He looked around the foyer of the beach house. Several bags were packed and waiting by the front door. He knew he hadn't really needed to ask. The military had trained Max very well. He was precise down to the number of steps it would take to cross a room. Angel needed to accept that if Spike trusted Max then he would, too. It wasn't as if he had a choice anyway. Not at this juncture of his life.
“Yes,” Max answered, with a slight nod. “Don’t worry.”
“I’m not,” Angel replied.
There was one last detail. This one was up to Angel. He held his hands out in front of him. Fingers outstretched as he studied the hand of a married man. Except he wasn't anymore. Hating himself, he pulled his wedding band off his finger with a jerk, closing his fist around it for one last second before handing to Max. With a sigh, he watched Max slip the gold band into the pocket of his jeans. Tears fell again as he hurried through her house one more time. It would destroy him to return here without his beloved waiting for him.
In the living room were the few possessions to be stored. They were things that would eventually rot with time, but for now his heart needed to know they were safe. The portrait of Cordelia, her jewelry, mementos of their marriage, and of the life they once lived as Angel Investigations.
Angel caressed her face in the portrait. The way he wanted to remember her. When she was full of fire and beauty, and not the skeletal remains he’d left in the bed. Cordelia Chase was the love of his life, and no other woman would ever come close to capturing that much of him. He swore it, even as Cordy’s prophecy of another love already whispered in his heart. It would never happen again, not as long as he could choose.
Knowing it was time, he grabbed a duffel bag by the door, threw it over his shoulder before grabbing the second one. There was nothing left to do except go.
“Godspeed,” Max said, squeezing Angel's shoulder.
“Thank you...for everything.”
“No problem. Find a way to keep in touch,” Max said, stopping to open the door.
Angel headed for the open door, but hesitated. “Give Journey my ring…tell her to hold onto it and that I’ll be back.” The little girl was the only one he was worried about leaving. Too much had been lost that night, and Journey was going to be devastated over the changes to come. He blinked back tears, wishing he could take a picture, something…anything with him, but there was nothing. Any memento could lead him back to the Blood’s and his leaving was to keep them from harm, not lead them into it.
Giving one last nod, Angel dashed into the breaking dawn to the waiting car. Using Wolfram & Hart’s technology, he would be safe from the sun behind the tinted windows. He was taking nothing with him but a few changes of clothes and a stack of cash.
And memories of a life he was going to miss.
Silhouetted against the brilliance of dawn breaking over the horizon was the metallic bird breaking the silence of the usually peaceful time of day. Buffy prayed it was loud enough to mask the sound of her breaking heart. Too much in one night had been ripped from her life for it to ever be the same. She shielded her eyes as she watched the last speck of the great machine carry her eldest daughter away.
Raven was off to start her new life. Something Buffy once longed for, but never really got. She’d made her life here in Sunnydale with Spike. Now, she wasn’t sure if she’d lost him or not.
“Let’s go back,” Spike said softly. His hand rested on her back in a comforting manner. A remnant of the man she fell in love with so many years ago. “The children need sleep.”
Elijah was leaning against his father with his arm looped around Spike’s waist while Journey was nodding off against Buffy’s shoulder. They were exhausted. All of them. She could only nod in response as she forced herself to walk the short distance back to the house. The old caretaker’s place where they made their home stood solid on the edge of the cemetery. A place of solitude. Their home they’d made with sweat and love that had seen the best and worst of their marriage. She wondered if all of it had been worthwhile in the end.
“You okay, Buffy?”
“I’m fine.” Buffy
shifted her daughter to her other shoulder to relieve the numbness in the arm
that was carrying most of the child’s weight.
Sighing, she realized she was lying to
“It’s just across the street and its daylight now,”
"We'll be all right," Buffy said. "Get some rest."
Without agreeing, Buffy and Spike walked around to the front of the house and watched the older woman until she was safely inside of her own home. Spike glanced at Buffy. She couldn’t read his expression. It wasn’t like him to be so sheltered in his thoughts. Was it a part of him that would be lost forever?
It didn’t take them long to put their children into bed. Buffy lay Journey on her bed, changing her into nightclothes with the child never waking. Once Candy joined her young mistress under the covers, Buffy kissed her daughter’s forehead and slipped out the door. Spike was waiting.
“Is Elijah asleep?”
“Yes.” He nodded toward Joy’s room. “Is she?”
Buffy could only manage a nod.
“Not now, Buffy.” His arms slid around her, pulling her close against him. It felt good. Better than good, and she didn’t fight it. Instead, she leaned into the warmth of his body, letting him hold her. “Let’s get you into bed.” He scooped her up into his arms.
“No.” He kissed her forehead. “Later is good enough to talk and figure everything out.” He climbed the stairs to their room. “Right now, we’re exhausted.”
It felt good, safe in his arms. Buffy surrendered, letting him carry her to their bed. When he followed her down, she wanted to protest, but then she pulled him close. He uttered a soft sigh in her ear as he settled beside her. There was no protest when she pressed her lips to his. His fingers tangled in her hair. Maybe it wasn't the wisest decision for them to make love. Not when they might separate for good after they discussed the changes brought about by the night, but she needed him. He wasn't protesting. From his touch, he wanted her as much as she wanted him.
"My husband," she whispered softly as he touched her intimately.
"My girl," he responded against her breast.
Later was good enough.
Elijah lay staring at the ceiling. Earphones pumped music into his head, but it wasn't enough to drown out his thoughts. He knew that the changes were necessary. Eventually good would come from the seeds of faith sown the night before, but now, it hurt too much. He squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to cry, to give in to the pain.
Someone patted his arm. He looked up to see Journey beside his bed.
"What are you doing here?"
"I can't sleep. Mummy and Daddy are making happy noises. I couldn't go to their room."
Nodding, he pulled his covers back so his baby sister could climb in. Journey picked Candy up to put on his bed, before she crawled in beside him.
"Why is everyone so sad? Is it because Raven went away?"
How much should he tell her? She would have to know. Lying wouldn't do any good.
"It's more than just Raven," Eli said, turning on his side so he could look at Joy. "Something happened last night. A lot of changes."
"Did someone else go away?"
"Yeah, Cordelia died last night."
Joy's hand sought his out as tears streamed down her face. "She's an angel?"
"Yeah, she's an angel."
"Oh, that makes me sad, too."
"Is there more?"
"Joy, Mum and Dad will explain everything to you."
"I wanna know," she wailed, sitting up. "Tell me now."
"Shush, we don't want to bother them. If I tell you, you have to promise not to act like a baby."
"I'm not a baby. I'm a big girl," she insisted, even as her lower lip trembled.
"Pinkie swear?" Eli asked, holding his hand up.
Joy wrapped her pinkie around his as she swore. It really wasn't fair. She was only a baby in so many ways, but protecting her wouldn't make the truth go away. He shut his eyes to try to garner some strength, and then as gently as he could, he explained that Faith had returned to heaven, and Dylan had died, too. He didn't go into Angel or Max's decisions. No one except for him knew. His tormentor made sure all the losses of the night was ground into his being before leaving. The demon would return one day, but the deal was struck, and because the chosen five was faithful after all, good had won another round. He was free for now, but evil never gave up.
By the time he was done, Joy was sobbing. He pulled her against him. He needed her as much as she needed him.
The rented truck was full. His SUV was secured on the towing bar in the back. There wasn't anything left to do but leave. Except he was hesitant. Max lowered his head, wanting to pray, but not knowing how to begin. How could a man such as he ask for forgiveness? He rubbed a hand over his face. He couldn't. He wasn't even sure if he wanted God's help.
Max stood in the driveway, laughing as he threw his head back, and letting the heartbreak rip through his body and soul. Everything was done. Three women loved, and all three lost. What was the point?
Evil had won.
Despite what good had won in victory the night before, evil was still victorious.
The survivors were all broken. They had all sacrificed everything for people who didn't know or didn't care. So, why should he?
"Yeah, oh mighty one, tell me what was the purpose of last night?"
There was no answer except for the salty wind blowing in from the ocean below him.
"Yeah, I thought so."
Max saluted the house. It was a shame that such a beautiful home was going to be gone in a short time. Angel didn't want Cordelia's house to be contaminated by the demons that would surely come after him. Max followed orders on this one. He agreed. Let it be a memory. He climbed into the truck, turned the ignition and drove to the end of the driveway. Leaving the truck idling he made the short trek back up the drive.
"This is for you," he whispered, lighting a match. He dropped it on the accelerant leading down the front walkway. It wouldn't take long before it was nothing but ash. He took off at a run back to the truck.
The funeral pyre was lit.