Uh-oh. Okay, this probably wasn’t good. One moment: floaty, glowy and all-powerful. Able to roam the higher plains at will. Next moment: corporeal and trapped in a white, featureless room with no doors or windows.
Cordelia leaned against the wall and examined her french-polished nails in the muted glow that came from nowhere-in-particular. They were just the same as that night she’d high-tailed it to Point Dume. Or partway there, anyway. At least this punishment – if that’s what was going on – didn’t extend to her manicure.
She hadn’t really meant to meddle. Okay, maybe she had. But Angel’s destiny was important - more than he knew - and she couldn’t let a casino steal it from him, much less sell it to someone else. All she’d done was move a little plastic wheel a fraction of an inch and wham! Sent to Higher-Being detention.
“Okay, I get it. You’re pissed. But what were you thinking? Surely you don’t want your Champion playing slots for the next forever?” she shouted at the ceiling. A light breeze ruffled her bangs and silence pressed around her. “God, I am so bored.”
The sound of someone clearing their throat made her whip around, heart pounding. Standing in the far corner, where previously there had been nobody, was a tall man clad in dusty brown robes. His eyes were vivid blue and almost eerie under the cowl of his hood.
“Oh, God, I’m sorry,” she said, straightening up and smoothing down her clothing. It was one thing abusing the ceiling, quite another to find the object of your tirade behind you. “I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
He gave a bemused little grin. “Me? Um, that’s okay, you didn’t. Did you?”
“Well, you’re one of them, right? The PTB?” she asked, taking a tentative step forward.
His grin got a little larger and a little more quizzical. “Well, I’m ascended, if that’s what you mean. I’m Daniel. Dr Daniel Jackson.” He came towards her and extended one hand.
Cordy took it, and oh, God, it was so good to feel solid, warm fingers against hers. It was pretty good just to have fingers, period. And to touch someone with them. He felt real. Human.
“Cordelia Chase,” she replied, her voice coming out a lot lower and breathier than she’d meant it to. Well, who could blame a girl? No booty in forever, and – Obi Wan get-up notwithstanding – this guy was a hottie. And a doctor. She flashed her brightest smile. “Ascended, huh?”
“Yes, aren’t you?” Daniel Jackson withdrew his hand and looked at her, one expressive eyebrow climbing his forehead.
Cordy’s mind flashed back to that dizzying moment when she was sucked up into the sky. “That pretty much fits the description.”
“Was it Oma?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning one shoulder against the wall beside her.
“Oh my - what?”
“Oma Desala, did she ascend you?” he asked.
Cordy blinked, and frowned. “No. My demon guide, Skip.”
This time both Daniel’s eyebrows shot up. “Demon?”
“Yeah. Big guy, gray, armor plated, unhealthy obsession with The Matrix,” she said, and Daniel’s confused look told her he had no idea who she was talking about long before he shook his head.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as they stared at each other.
“So. You’re not the PTB, then?” she finally asked.
“PTB?” Boy, he was cute when he wrinkled his forehead like that.
She waved her hand around, indicating their location. “You know, the Powers That Be? The guys who are steering the great cosmic cruise liner?”
Daniel held up a hand, his robes swishing and dropping a little sand to the floor. “Oh, no. Definitely not. I’m just learning. And not doing such a great job, to tell the truth.” There was that little smile again.
Cordy’s heart did a flip-flop in her chest. Nice to have that back, as well. “Me either. What’s up with the ‘no interference’ rule?”
“Exactly.” He leaned back against the wall, letting his head fall against it with a thump.
Ah, that’s why he was here. He’d broken that one, too. “What did you do?” she asked.
“You first,” he replied, casting his eyes sideways at her.
She shrugged. “I just tried to help a friend. It worked, too, not that he even knew it was me. What about you?”
“Tried to save a planet.”
Cordy rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. There wasn’t another apocalypse. Was there? I’m sure I would have noticed that.”
“Not Earth.” He rolled his head towards her and for a second she saw things in his eyes that were so vast and frightening that she took a hasty step back. This guy was in the big leagues.
Time to change the subject. “So, you’re a doctor.”
“Academic,” he said, almost sounding apologetic, and off her look added, “archaeology, anthropology and philology.”
Huh, another Wesley. Why were the bookish ones always so hot? And why would anyone study Dr Phil? She shrugged. “Guess that explains the robes, then.”
He cast a bemused eye over her long white flowing outfit, then took a deep breath and – changed. Soft beige leather shoes. Cream dockers. Ribbed oatmeal colored sweater. Oh, that was so much better. Hello, salty goodness.
She must have looked surprised, because his forehead crinkled again, eyebrows tilted down in concern. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Cordy shook her head. “No. No, that’s fine. You couldn’t rustle me up some Manolo’s, could you? I’m getting really sick of these.” He looked confused again, and she decided that was a no.
Daniel lowered himself to the floor and leaned against the wall, then indicated she should do the same. It seemed like a good idea. Not that she was particularly tired, but it felt awkward trying to make small-talk standing around like they were waiting for a bus. She slid down next to him.
“So,” she said, pulling her knees up and hugging them to her chest.
“So,” he replied.
God, these awkward silences were beginning to get embarrassing. She was Cordelia Chase, queen of socializing, able to engage anyone in witty conversation – which they’d need plenty more of if they were doing The Breakfast Club thing here for the next millennia. Skills like that didn’t just vanish, did they? Maybe they’d atrophied a little over time. After all, she’d hardly been a social butterfly what with the falling down and the drooling in public. But they had to be in there somewhere, surely. She just had to dig them out. Pick a subject they could both identify with. Which pretty much left – this room. Well, she could work with that.
But before she could open her mouth, Daniel beat her to it. ”How did you get here?”
She shrugged, a little taken aback. “Kinda floated. You?”
His eyes snapped to hers. “You didn’t?”
Suddenly she had his full and undivided attention, and it was actually a little uncomfortable to be the focus of such intense scrutiny. “No. I was on my way to see Angel, and Skip stopped me on the freeway and popped the question. Once I agreed – up I went.”
“Really.” Daniel tapped his fingers against his lips. “Did Skip ever say ‘if you immediately know the candlelight is fire, the meal was cooked a long time ago’?”
“Pfffft, no. What’s that supposed to mean?” she snorted.
Daniel frowned. “I wish I knew. That’s one I could never work out.”
Okay, things were getting weird again. Well, weirder. She needed to steer the conversation back to sane territory. “I miss my friends,” she blurted out. Way to go, Cor. Very smooth.
“Me too.” Daniel’s face softened. “I have all the knowledge in the universe, but there’s times I’d give it up to go back and fight with them.”
At the longing in his voice, Cordy felt a connection – an understanding – snap tight between them. “What good is all this power if we can’t use it to help the helpless?” she said, and heard the hitch in her own voice betraying way too much emotion.
No, dammit, she wasn’t going to get all weepy in front of this man. That never ended well. But Daniel was neither Russel Winters, nor the eye-stealing guy, because the look of compassion on his face almost undid her.
His fingers came to rest on her forearm. “Pretty lonely job, huh?”
“Damn skippy,” she said, blinking hard, looking down at where his thumb brushed the back of her wrist. “Do you ever think you made the wrong –?“
Suddenly the room warped around her, and there was a strange sucking sensation as the center of the floor began to swirl.
“Oh, crap!” Cordy yelled above the loud whistling noise that filled the room as the vortex began to siphon air. Her white robes snapped sideways like flags of surrender, and she felt the tugging begin.
“What’s happening?” Daniel shouted, folding his arms around her to keep her anchored. She wished she had a moment to enjoy the contact, but the dark hole was quickly growing in size and power.
It looked like a portal. “Last time I saw one of these, I was sucked into a hell dimension,” she shouted back, digging her heels into the floor.
“I think they’re trying to send us back.” He put his mouth close to her ear so she could hear above the shrieking. The pull was irresistible, and they both began to slide towards the whirling pit, gathering momentum. “Hold tight!”
“It won’t work,” she gasped, even while winding her arms around his neck. “We’ll be separated.”
Maybe he heard her, maybe not, but Daniel tucked her head into his chest and said, “I won’t let you go.”
And then their toes hit the edge of the portal, and the world tilted sideways. There was a sensation of falling, of leaving ideas and memories and consciousness behind, and Cordy’s last thought was for the handsome man in the dusty brown robes, with the weight of the universe in his gaze.