Gloomy Sunday. 3-4

Part III

Angel clenched his hands over the steering wheel, struggling manfully (vampirefully) with the urge to strangle one Cordelia Chase. Was it only twenty minutes ago he’d been inside her, surrounding her, making her sob with pleasure? And now, she pointedly ignored him while he maneuvered the Plymouth into a parking space.

“Could you park any further away?” she asked disbelievingly, pointing down at the sandals adorning her feet, cloth ribbons tied artfully around slender ankles. “These things aren’t exactly Reeboks, you know.”

He refrained politely from telling her what she could do with her shoes, her attitude and herself. “Come on,” he grunted instead, vaulting over the door and striding away. “We’ve got to hurry.”

She was muttering again behind him. Yeah, we’ve got to hurry. Because Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Good-with-His-Hands just had to help himself again to something which I had no business offering him in the first place. Not that I even offered. Nice going, Cor!

Her muttering mimicked his thoughts exactly. That night had been as big of a surprise to him as it was to her. This morning, he’d been determined to make sure they were able to go on as before. He’d had his fill of awkwardness, of stilted conversations and unsaid words that meant too much. Cordelia had always been the one person who would say anything and everything, and even though so many times he’d struggled with her rambling tendencies and occasional sharp perception, now he knew he didn’t want to lose them.

But then Angel had woken up wrapped up in her, and it had been all too easy to relax, curl into her, breath in her warmth and simply be.
He’d known that it shouldn’t have happened to begin with, and it absolutely should not have happened again. And he’d been determined to make that clear – until she’d beat him to the punch. Something about the ease of her dismissal had irritated him, challenged him, until he had to make her feel – make her want –

“It’s here, Angel,” she interrupted hurriedly, pointing at a dilapidated door to a four story rundown apartment building. “Third floor. Room 3B.”

He strode down the grimy hallway, careful to keep his coat from brushing against the stained walls. He’d gotten used to the sewers, but this was worse, because people actually lived here. He stifled the urge to wait for Cordelia and pummeled on the door of 3B.

Nothing.

“Open up!” he ordered and then realized that mimicking the police probably wouldn’t gain him entry. Instead, he focused, leaned in, listened … Nothing. No struggles. No breathing.

He aimed a foot at the door knob and kicked the lock in with one effortless move. Automatically, he tested his hand against the invisible barrier but it passed easily into the empty apartment. He really didn’t want to go inside. He’d been to too many places like this where he’d entered with no invitation. Inevitably, he’d found dingy white walls lit only by the glare of a streetlight, dirt encrusted windows, stained carpets and a heavy scent of mold and stale cigarette smoke.

There was always a reason he could simply walk inside, and as he turned the corner, he saw this one.

Two feet dangled from the ceiling, swaying slightly and suspended a good twelve inches from the floor. Bugged out eyes stared emptily, head cocked unnaturally to the side. A solitary fly buzzed piercingly through the room, pausing to alight on the man’s ear. Blood dripped, and Angel froze. Closed his eyes.

Darla leaned against the hanging legs, stroked them, licked blood remnants from the corner of her mouth. He surveyed his handiwork, clothes hanging in tatters, organs spilling to the floor, a ripe swirl of rotting flesh, mouth still stretched wide in an everlasting silent scream. “It’s perfection,” he murmured, and Darla turned to him while giving the corpse’s legs one final push that sent them spinning, slid into his arms and nuzzling, stroking, closing her eyes –

Cordelia skidded into the room, barreling into his back, but not before she saw. For the first time, she didn’t scream. Instead, her breath caught in a quiet, panicked little wheeze. “Oh, God,” she whispered brokenly, and sank down to the ground. “We’re too late.”

Angel leaned up on his toes, reluctant to draw closer to the corpse but still peering at the knot tied around a flimsy light fixture. “I don’t think we’re too late,” he said quietly. “I think we couldn’t have made it in time. He’s been here a while.”

“The PTB send me a vision and instead I get freaky-deaky with their champion on my desk,” Cordelia moaned. “Oh, God.”

Angel held up a hand. “Shhh.” And for once, she did what she was told, focusing on reining in her dwindling control. “Do you hear that?”

“No,” she said bleakly.

“Listen.” He stepped forward, cranked up the volume of the surprisingly expensive stereo system balanced on an old milk crate.

My heart and I, have decided to end it all. Soon there’ll be candles, and prayers that are said I know. Let them not weep, let them know that I’m glad to go –

The CD skipped, stuttered and then started back. My heart and I… He flipped the power button, and the room descended into silence again. The streetlight outside flickered, dropping the room into shadows. Somewhere, not far, a lonely police siren wailed in the night. “Let’s go, Cordelia.”

He lifted her up by the arm and ushered her out, mind working busily. She leaned on the window sill in the car, wind whipping long streams of hair behind her as he pulled swiftly away from the curb. “I’ll take you home.”

She nodded and he was pretty sure that in Cordelia Chase language, that meant thank you.

***

“I wonder why the Powers that Be would send Cordelia a vision that had already come to pass,” Wesley mused, pacing slowly in front of Angel’s desk, shifting a Trillug dagger from hand to hand. “They must want you to take a closer look.”

Angel looked up from his book. “I’d figured that out, Wesley.” He looked back down. Maybe if he was especially reticent, Wesley would settle down with his word games or books or whatever kept him busy, and let Angel think.

“You know, it might be more helpful if Cordelia were actually here to give us some added insight into her vision.”

Angel rolled his shoulders absently and turned a page. “She needed a break.”

Wesley’s huff of crossness was palpable. “It’s Monday morning! She just had a break!”

Angel shrugged absently, slouched a bit deeper in his chair. “It was a long weekend.”

“I of all people appreciate that,” Wes said, but some of the righteous indignation had faded and underneath the bruises and scabbing wounds, he looked regretful. “She’s very young.”

“Getting older every day,” Angel said and slid the book shut, giving up. “There wasn’t much to go on, Wes. Could have been a suicide. No break-in, no signs of demonic activity. Just a dead man with a sad song playing on the radio.” He braced both palms against the desk; let his head hang down low. “There’re a lot of them out there.”

Wes settled into a chair of his own, clearing his throat gloomily. “Yes.” They sat in silence, dust motes slipping by in dim lamplight.

The phone rang shrilly and Angel started in surprise, visibly jerked back into reality. He lifted the receiver, held it to his ear. “Angel Invest— Cordelia? Again?”

He fell into silence, Cordelia’s easily recognizable voice sounding tinny through the receiver, chattering away frenetically. “Cordelia. Cordelia! Calm down. I’m sure this one will be different. Slow down. Just tell me where.”

Angel’s sigh was a carefully modulated meditative breath. “You don’t have to come. We’ll leave right now – we won’t miss it – Fine. We’ll see you in twenty minutes.”

The phone slipped from his fingers, landed in the cradle with a loud plastic thwack. He rose, stalked to the doorway, snatched up his coat and shrugged it on, all before leveling an impatient glance at Wes. “You coming?”

“Cordelia’s had another vision?” Wes dashed to the closet and grabbed his favorite ax, fumbling clumsily with the handle.

Angel answered brusquely. “We need to go now. She’ll meet us there.”

“Why?” Wesley asked, but Angel had already shoved his way through to the elevator, slamming the door behind him, and the agonizing creak of cables filled the room. “Yes, well, I’ll meet you in the garage then.”

***

When Cordelia’s cab pulled up to the apartment building, the first thing she saw was the Plymouth hogging the curb. He must have driven like the wind to beat her there, but that was all well and good, because now they couldn’t be too late. She paid the driver and watched him drive away.

The building’s front door was splayed open, a hole suspiciously the size of Angel’s foot gaping near the knob. She could run up. She knew where the room was. But her heart was still racing from the vision. Plus, her fingers trembled with residual fear. She could still feel the overwhelming sadness and loneliness. It curdled in her stomach and made her whole body ache.

So instead, she walked slowly in the door and closed it carefully behind her as if it weren’t already hanging from one hinge. At least this place was much nicer than the last, with clean tiled hallways and neatly pruned potted trees in the lobby. The air even felt cleaner, crisp, fresh … hopeful. Her heels clacked on the tiles as she made her way down the hallway, gradually gaining speed and confidence.

She paused in front of the door. It was cracked open, but not enough for her to see in. She tossed her hair over her shoulder, the metal bangles on her wrists jangled as she pushed the door open. The room was dark and she fumbled alongside the wall, searching blindly for the switch.

A small flashlight played around the corner, followed by Wesley’s familiar figure. “Cordelia. Perhaps, you uh … shouldn’t come in.”

Fear gripped her, blood rushed from her head and she grabbed onto the door jamb. “What happened? What’s wrong!” He didn’t answer, and panic welled. “Angel?”

“I’m here.” A shadow slid silently from the dark. Wesley’s narrow band of light caught a swirl of leather coat, and slipped over preternaturally composed eyes warring with a familiarly clenched jaw. “Wes is right, Cordelia. You should wait out front.”

She shook her head stubbornly, not caring that he was probably right, that she was almost certainly being irrational. Logic was overrated.

She snatched the flashlight from Wesley’s hand, played it against empty walls, a plush green carpet, an open window, chased it into a stream of light gleaming down the hallway. “Well? No dust piles? No icky stinky demon bodies?”

Angel’s face flinched and he looked away. It was Wesley that stepped forward, cupped her elbow in his hand and drew her away. “Did you see a vampire in your vision? Or a demon?”

It shuddered over her again, the stark gleam of white bathroom tiles, such numbing loneliness that her stomach twisted and her soul burned. Tepid, soothing water, lavender bubbles for comfort, the sharp remnant of wine on her tongue, the soft swirl of music …

“Cordelia!” Wesley jiggled her elbow a little, the vision melted away into the shadows. “What exactly did you see?”

It was easier to recount facts than describe emotions. “Just the woman. In a bathtub.”

She switched off the flashlight and moved toward the door. “We were supposed to save her, Angel,” she whispered, because if the woman were alive there was no way Wes and Angel would be staring at her with such careful, controlled concern. “Why couldn’t we save her?”

Angel was reaching for her, fingers grasping her arm to hold her back but she dodged his grip, flinging a hand up to ward him off. She knew what she’d see, braced herself for it, and pushed the door open.

All the preparations in the world wouldn’t have helped.

A woman no older than Cordelia herself reclined in the tub, one arm suspended gracefully over the side, marred only with a long bloody gash still dripping into a dark stain on the tiles.

She’d slid under the water, but the bubbles had long since melted, and she was starkly visible, slash after slash after slash. They painted her wrists, her legs, the tender inside skin of her arms. Each gaping wound was more wobbly than the next and her hair was a dark cloud floating around her.

A sob caught in Cordelia’s throat; the flashlight shattered against bleached-white tile.

“Cordelia,” Angel said soothingly, and she realized his hands on her shoulders were holding her upright. She plastered her hands over her mouth, forcing the moan in, tensing every muscle in her body against the paralyzing fear.

And then she saw it. A small portable stereo, precariously balanced on the back of the toilet, volume knob turned all the way down. She wrenched free of his grasp, cranked the volume knob up, and the fragile clink of piano keys filled the room, simple and sadly harmonious. A woman’s low voice crooned:

Little white flowers will never awaken you. Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you –

She hurtled in a shattered breath. Angel yanked the plug from the socket, spun Cordelia to him, palmed her face and tilted it up. “Stop it,” he said firmly. “This is not your fault.”

Her eyes were wide, staring achingly up at him. “Isn’t it?” A sweep of lashes and she tucked her head down, out of his grip. His fingers shifted in the air around her ineffectually, wishing they knew more about comfort and less about pain.

Wesley cleared his throat, stepped in further to the room. “It’s not,” he confirmed. “She’s been dead for hours, Cordelia. You couldn’t have stopped this.”

“Then why are they doing this to me?” Her voice was the barest whisper, she sank down to sit on the toilet lid. “Why make me see this, make me feel this? She was so lonely and why show me when it’s too late? Who did this, Angel? We have to find out!”

“We will,” he promised, urging her up, steering her out of the door. “We will.”


Part IV …

“Is she okay?”

Angel slouched into the living room, folded his long body into a nearby chair. “She’s sleeping.” He didn’t mention the tight ball she’d curled into the moment she’d crawled away from him and under the covers, the barely perceptible shaking of her shoulders they’d both ignored. He could have held her, comforted her, but she leaned away from his touch and instead he’d simply watched as Dennis floated over a plush stuffed teddy and a box of tissues. When he’d left, the door had closed behind him with a quiet click.

Now he sat in her brightly lit living room, and rubbed his eyes –hard– with his fingertips. “I don’t understand,” he finally said, splaying his hands in front of him. “Why would Cordelia get visions of suicides?”

Wes hummed thoughtfully. “Maybe they’re not suicides, Angel. Just because the wounds appear self-induced, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are. Maybe these visions are meant to be clues, hints to lead us in the right direction.”

He hunched forward in the chair, braced his elbows on his knees. “Thanks, Wes. Hadn’t thought of that.”

Wes stood, all offended British dignity in a rumpled dress shirt. “Well, I was just trying to assist you,” he said reproachfully. “And Cordelia. Truth be told, I –”

Angel dropped his head into his hands and muttered the words he knew Wes deserved to hear. “I’m sorry.” He dug his knuckles into his eyes, drew in a deep slow breath, and then stood. “I’m going on a patrol. If you think of anything,”

“Of course, I’ll call,” Wes answered, watching as Angel swirled his coat free of its hook and around his shoulders. “Cordelia mentioned you’d run into a difficult demon on patrol last week. Do you want me to look into it at all?”

Angel froze, hand still on the doorknob. “A demon,” he said slowly, trying to place it, but it slid away from his searching. A brief flash of purple, a smooth sleek voice, and then … nothing. “No,” he said abruptly. “It wasn’t anything important.”

“Don’t forget about the meeting Cordelia scheduled for later tonight,” Wes called after him. “A new client! Should we pick you up?”

Angel shrugged, stepped through the door. “I’ll meet you there.”
****

Angel slouched into the office later, slamming the door behind him. He tossed a sheaf of photos at Cordelia’s desk, and leaned a hip against the edge. “Call David Nabbitt, let him know we’ve got his blackmail situation handled.”

“Hello to you too, boss,” she said without looking up. “Wes is waiting for you in your office.”

“What about?” He somehow managed to stack the illicit photographs in a perfect pile on the corner of the desk and then stood, shrugging off his coat and hanging it precisely on its hanger. Of course, the photo he’d left on top was guaranteed to make even Cordelia’s iron stomach queasy, especially if she looked closely enough to correctly identify body parts amidst the oddly colored fur. She snatched it up and crumpled it in her hand, chucking it carelessly toward the wastepaper basket.

Twin mini jackhammers pounded behind each temple, the glare from her desk lamp was bright enough to burn her eyes. She rubbed a particularly large knot at the base of her neck.

“You feeling okay?”

She smiled brightly. “Fine, Angel. I’m fine.”

He turned into his office and shut the door behind him. Cordelia let her eyes slide shut, resting her head against the back of her chair. If she concentrated, she could slide back into the memory of David Nabbitt’s party, the sheer lushness of it, the simplicity of such outrageous wealth. Wasn’t that where she belonged? With Prada shoes and silk scarves and caviar? Not skulking in the dark with stakes and demons and –

“I’ll just take the photos over to David,” she called out, scooping them up into her arms. “Don’t wait up!”

She didn’t even make it to the door before the vision hit her at the base of her head, shoving her forward with all the force of a Mack truck. She heard her pained grunt; the colorful photographs filled the air like flittering butterflies, the gun barrel twirled slickly through his fingers, the wall was rushing toward her and she tried to catch it, flailing for a grip on something, anything, he’d done nothing but love her and she’d left him over and over and over and this was all he had left, until she crashed into it with a sickening crunch.

His teeth chattered loudly against the gun barrel. It was cold and metallic on his tongue. When he pulled the trigger, his brain erupted instantly, spraying the walls behind him but he didn’t notice because he’d fallen limply forward, and his arm swung a slow farewell over the side of the bed.

“Cordelia!” Angel was shaking her, pulling her up off the floor, and now she was sitting and maybe he was talking to her but she couldn’t focus on him, couldn’t talk because she still had a gun in her mouth and it was so cold and she was so lonely and she just wanted to end it all

“Cordelia!” She snapped her gaze to his, squatting in front of her, fingers clenched tightly into her arms.

“What did you see?” Wesley asked urgently and she just crumbled.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. It hurt to talk, and her voice sounded hoarse. She must have been screaming. Wesley opened his mouth to ask her something and she shut her eyes, turned her face away from them both. “It’s too late, Wesley. We’re too late.”

Angel said nothing, but he didn’t let her go either.
****

“Stop hovering, Angel. I mean it,” Cordelia warned from the couch, flipping channels idly with her remote. “I’m fine. I’ve said it –”

“I know.”

“And you’re still here, why?”

He gestured to the thick fabric drawn securely over her windows, blocking another brilliantly sunny Los Angeles day.

“That only stops you when you want it to,” she muttered.

He balled his fists, counted slowly to five. Twice.

She’d tossed the remote aside and was meticulously examining her nails, studiously ignoring him. She’d rearranged since his last visit. He took a moment to absorb the changes, the couch backed up against the wall flanked by soft chairs to better open the floor space. She’d removed the artwork from the walls and the frames still laid stacked on the floor in front of her never used fireplace. And below the muted lavender and herb scents of her candles was harsh lemon cleanser and bleach.

She’d cleaned meticulously. The same girl who’d once abandoned used dishes on the floor and tossed damp towels on leather had dusted, bleached, disinfected, rearranged … and yet now she reclined in her couch, channel flipping like she hadn’t a care in the world.

He dropped in a chair next to the couch, leaned on the arm rest toward her. “Cordelia, Wes will call once he gets to the vision and let us know what he finds.”

“I know,” she said shortly. “But I also know what he’s going to find.”

“Maybe—”

She blinked her eyes shut, held her breath for a moment until he stopped talking. “I know what he’s going to find,” she repeated simply.

He watched her, torn. To touch or not to touch? He’d always comforted from a distance, stood a step apart and hoped for the best. But now, he shifted over to the couch and brushed the back of his knuckles against her shoulders. She jerked, startled, but she didn’t move away. He slid the knuckles up, pausing to stroke the tight painful knot curling her shoulder muscles and skimmed his fingers through the cloud of her hair, cradling her neck.

Her eyelashes fluttered. She sighed, relaxed back into him. Softened against him and he thrilled to it, to her warmth, her trust, her belief in him. She let the remote slide free, tumbling down to the carpet where it landed with a muted thump. She twisted her free fingers into a blanket, clutching it tightly. “Stop.”

He froze, confused. “What’s wrong?”

She gesticulated blindly, a simple twist of her fingers that meant so much more. “This is, Angel. It’s so wrong I can’t even believe it and it has to stop.”

He cocked his head to the side, eyed her steadily. “My trying to help you is wrong?”

She blinked, a flutter of lashes to better conceal her feelings. He could force those eyes open, make her look at him, talk to him, let him in, share. But Cordelia wasn’t the malleable type and she’d make him pay later in a thousand different ways, each its own little stinger, each drawing blood.

“Maybe I don’t need your help,” she said and it stung like a slap of rejection, stinging his face until he turned it away from her. “Maybe I don’t need you at all. Not like this,” she finished; her voice softening with what might have been gentleness had she been anyone but Cordelia Chase.

“I’m not the one who started this,” he said and she stiffened against him. “What happened to having your reasons?”

She stretched out a hand, examined her nails studiously. “They don’t seem so rational anymore.”

She was purposely avoiding his eyes. He could tell, because her left thumb nail was broken down to the skin and she never even noticed. For some reason she didn’t want to look at him. And he was starting to learn that her avoidance meant she had something to hide.

“Why don’t you share them anyway,” he suggested except it came out sounding more like an order than a suggestion. She didn’t seem to notice.

“Is it so horrible that I just wanted to?” she pulled in a stilted breath. “Look, I’m not the only…” she sighed the breath back out, “Ever since Wilson, I haven’t …”

If you were patient with Cordelia, sometimes you could wait out all the struggles and get a kernel of unadulterated truth. Of course, sometimes she changed the subject completely. He never knew which to expect, but he knew waiting was still the best course of action.

Finally her eyes came up to meet his straight on, and he felt his back slowly relax. She was going to talk to him. She would share some of her burden and she would let him help her. All he wanted to do protect her, shelter her as much as he could from the evil they both faced every day. Maybe now, she would let him.

“First we lost Doyle, and then there was Wilson and somehow my perfect life drifted away without me even realizing it. And there I was, a drooling, sputtering freak, destined to live a life alone—”

“Cordelia,” he started but she looked up at him with expectation gleaming in those gorgeous eyes and the words fumbled in his throat. She was waiting, and she needed him to say something but he had no idea what she wanted to hear. And God, he didn’t want to screw this up. He didn’t want to hurt her.

“You’re not alone,” he finally said. It was so much less than he could have said and so much less than what he felt. And apparently it was less than she wanted to hear, because the gleam in her eye faded. He reached out to her, but she unfolded gracefully and the blanket fell to her feet in a soft whoosh.

“Angel, maybe if you need a girl to worry and brood over, you should go find Buffy. Have you even talked to her since she was here?”

She was changing the subject and he wanted to change it back but he couldn’t let her subtle accusation go. “Yes.” He’d called, twice. They’d talked, awkwardly and stilted as ever, mostly because neither of them knew what to say or how to say it.

“So what are you still doing here? I get that you and Buffy got into the big fight, but why haven’t you flown off to Sunnydale to fix it yet?”

Sometimes, he just wanted to shake her. He could even feel her slender shoulders in his palms, hear the subtle chatter of her teeth and maybe while she was shaking the truth would come sputtering out. Did she really think he was going to go chasing off after Buffy if she picked a fight? Did she want him to go? He could still taste the sweetness of her body and she was pushing him to go make up with his ex-girlfriend?

Thoughts swirled in his head, ones he’d fought to keep out for months. And they were all about the frustrating woman in front of him. Did she think he still loved Buffy? He’d walked away from Buffy twice now and the second time, he’d really meant it. They’d said goodbye, and her recent return hadn’t been welcome. Buffy was out of his life and here Cordelia was pushing him to try to do the ‘happily-ever-after’, which he wouldn’t be able to have even if he wanted it.

More importantly, why wasn’t she asking him to stay? And how had she managed to push their conversation so completely off track? He’d asked how she was doing and here they were, talking about Buffy. God, he wanted to shake her. And then hold her tight.

“Angel?” She was tapping her foot impatiently, pink toenails a flash of color against the beige carpet. “What’s going on?”

“There’s been work to do. Visions,” he reminded her, as if she needed it. It sounded much better in his thoughts, noble and heroic. Out loud, it sounded –

“Lame!” Cordelia cried, flinging her arms out in desperation. “I know that. Believe me, it’s hard to forget through the horrible migraine inducing pain. But since when don’t you make time for Buffy?”

He ignored her or maybe he just didn’t have time to answer because she kept right on going. “And if the only reason why you’re still here is because of the visions, then why aren’t you out there instead of in here? I get the visions, you go solve them. So, go! Solve!” She flung her hand toward the door and it flew open obediently, banging loudly against the wall.

“The sunlight poses a bit of a problem,” he snapped.

“Only when you want it to,” she snapped right back. “Like you don’t know how to get around by now in the daytime.”

“Cordelia,” he said obstinately, “I’m not going anywhere.” And this conversation wasn’t going anywhere either. She’d hijacked it, searching for answers to questions she wouldn’t ask and he didn’t know how to answer, all the while avoiding answering the only question that mattered to him: Was she okay?

“Figures,” she said, and dropped back into the couch, turning away from him and glaring at the empty wall.

He ignored her last comment and inched closer to her, careful not to touch. He considered his question carefully. “Are you feeling okay?”

She lifted one shoulder high and let it fall in a graceful shrug.

“Cordelia,” he said a bit more firmly. “I mean it. How are you – really?”

She tensed, jaw firming. “Fine.”

He grabbed her, turned her around to face him, fists clenching around her arms and wrinkling her sheer blouse. Her gasp of concern was obviously for the fabric and it rankled him even more. “I mean it. Talk to me, Cordelia!”

“And what exactly have I been doing?” she asked archly, as if sass alone could disguise the real her. “Just because you don’t like what I’m—”

He shut out the words he knew she was speaking, closed his eyes against her and yet she was still there, yanked up and bound to him, the sweep of black silk binding her the only cloth touching that warm, golden skin as it melted into his, sliding against him until he gave up, crushed himself into her, inhaled her warmth, devoured her spirit. She pressed a cool cheek against his throat and whispered to him.

My darling, darling boy

“Angel!” He leapt up, yanking his fists from her skin and shoving them into his pockets. She was staring at him, all dark eyed confusion with the barest hint of frustration, the same bewilderment he’d seen in sky blue eyes as they’d cooed to him, seduced him, turned him into a monster. “What is your deal?” she muttered, but he didn’t think she really wanted to know the answer.

He smoothed a hand over his face, pulling in a slow deep breath, willing his fingers to stop shaking. “You’re not fine. And you’re talking about all this –” He waved a hand in the air, and then let it fall. “You’re avoiding what’s important.”

“Buffy is important,” she insisted.

“So are you,” he answered implacably, and sat back down. “And Cordelia, this isn’t about Buffy. This is about you.”

He reached out to her, not touching her but simply holding out his hands, turning up his palms, asking her without even opening his mouth. “Things have to change here, Cordelia. You have to let me help you. Tell me what’s going on.” With an effort, he added urgently, “Please.”

“Like you tell me?” she accused, voice rising shrilly until he had to fight back the urge to cover his ears. “Getting you to say more than five words is pretty much a miracle any day of the week.”

“What do you want me to say?” He asked calmly, but his control just seemed to make her angrier.

“Anything!” she snapped, flinging her hands up in frustration. “We had sex, Angel, and we can’t just pretend like that’s normal. You have scars from that mystery demon last week – I saw them! And since when do you not heal in like twenty minutes? You zone out, you’re jumpy and did I mention that we had sex?”

“I know,” he said slowly. “I know all of that.”

Her chest was heaving, her breathing choppy and behind her, the kitchen chandelier tinkled worriedly. She stared at him wrathfully; eyes gleaming and her fingers clenched until her knuckles whitened. “I didn’t forget,” he added, and looked away, up, down, anywhere but at her furious, beautiful face.

She pointed accusingly at him. “Something happened that night I found you in your bedroom. Those wounds I patched then are the same ones that are all scarred and yucky now, and whatever did that to you, you shouldn’t keep it a secret from us.”

He braced his elbows against his knees and fought against the urge to tell her everything. That after a hundred years of self-flagellation over a million sins he remembered as clearly as yesterday suddenly there was an entire night he couldn’t remember. And it terrified him. He’d woken up on his floor; covered with wounds he had no recollection of receiving and his own personal angel straddling him. Saving him.

Maybe there simply wasn’t anything more to say.

He waited, but she didn’t speak. Didn’t move. They merely sat, facing each other, looking into each others eyes and the minutes slipped by. Her eyes slid shut, breathing deepened. Still, he watched. She felt so close and he understood her even though so much of her confused him. His own eyelids fluttered and grew heavy, and still he could feel her close.

Cordelia’s breaths lulled him, a rhythmic in-out unmarred by her irritation with him. How could he feel so peaceful when everything about him was dissolving into disarray? Maybe later, he’d feel sharper and could figure everything – her – out. Maybe later …

Her voice floated down to him, its gusty sigh a gentle caress. “Come on, big guy.” Rustling surrounded him, soft hands beckoned him until he rose and followed wordlessly, eyes blurred by too many sleepless nights. He tumbled into warm sheets and Cordelia’s voice followed him into his new haven. He was turning, reaching for her and she came willingly, a breath of warmth, a safety net woven of soft, silken hair. “Just sleep,” she whispered, and brushed a caress over his face, smoothing over eyelids and down to cradle him close. “We’ll figure it out tomorrow. Just sleep.”

Part 5

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