Three months. That was how long it had taken him to get to Europe, realize what a mistake he had made, and travel back to Los Angeles. What had he been thinking?
He hadn’t, and that was the problem.
And now he stood in front of the old….. strike that…. new hotel. For that’s what it was beginning to look like with the obvious changes that had been made to it. Only one side of the old building still looked like itself, but the scaffolding that rose half way up the old stone wall hinted that that too soon would be changed.
It was different.
It was palatial.
It was Cordelia.
Angel looked up at one of the few things that hadn’t changed, the white flowers still blooming on the balcony above. A soft light poured out into the cloud covered darkness from the opened French doors as the cool night wind whipped and pulled at the gauzy, inner panels of drapery that hung in the room beyond.
He caught a small whiff of her perfume on the breeze and closed his eyes for a moment. He tried to picture her in the room above, what she was doing in that moment.
He knew what she HAD been doing the last three months. He’d gotten that information from the streets as soon as he had arrived back in town, sparking an anger he was determined to control.
He had given her a fortune. If that word could even begin to describe the obscene amount of money that he had left her. The last thing he had expected her to do, wanted her to do was to stay here. In the place that held such a horrible memory.
Angel’s jaw clenched and his stomach turned as his mind played for him the image and feeling he kept trying to forget.
She had tried so hard to convince him, and herself, that he was not a monster. And for a few precious days he had believed her. But one swift move had changed all that. It hadn’t mattered in that moment that it was her father. All Angel had seen, all that his heart and mind would let him see, was a danger to her. His only thought was to save her. Protect her. And in doing so he had destroyed the only good thing left for her.
So he had left. Giving her everything he had, for taking everything from her. Sure it was only money and wouldn’t begin to ease the pain of her father’s death. But it could have made her life easier. Given her a way to escape the hell her once perfect life had become.
He had wanted her to live the life she deserved. Travel. Go to sunny beaches, exotic resorts. Sell the hotel and buy a mansion surrounded by one of those fences that let people know just what kind of house lay beyond.
A very large fence, he thought absently as his eyes stared at the vulnerability of her open balcony.
Preferably wired with an electrical current.
Top of the line security to keep her forever safe.
And dogs. Big ones. Roaming the grounds. Seven or eight of them.
But had she done any of that? No. She was still in this place. With old memories and no security what-so-ever. Laying helplessly in her room, doors wide open, with a vampire staring up at her window getting hard off the smell of her perfume.
One leap. That’s all it would take. Christ, he could be anyone. Anyone or anything could get to her at anytime and that feeling turned Angel’s aching guilt into a sharp, acute pain.
How could he have left her like this?
Never mind that the others had decided to stay. They clearly were not watching out for her, or themselves for that matter.
And now, to find out on the street that not only had she stayed but that she had been using the money he had left her to help anyone, or anything, that came to her or the others in need. Even the green demon bar owner knew about Cordelia Chase and her “secret” charity.
Well it didn’t seem to be such a secret on the street.
And it sure as hell wasn’t safe.
Angel’s eyes darted to the balcony as the light inside disappeared, plunging the opened doors into darkness.
Cordelia lay in the darkened room, closing her eyes, trying to sleep. But as she tossed restlessly a short breeze puffed through the room, bringing with it the aroma of the flowers outside. She groaned and punched her pillow before burrowing her head into the down fluffiness. Tomorrow. Tomorrow she would do what she had been promising herself she would do for the last few weeks and cut down those damn flowers.
At first, when Wesley had told her about Angel leaving, the blooms and their torturous smell had been a comfort. A hope of sorts that Angel would come to his senses and return, bring back the only good thing she had left. But that was before the second month came and anger struck. Anger that he could just leave her like this. Anger that he didn’t realize that he was the only one that could have gotten her through her father’s death. Oh, Wesley, Fred, and Gunn were sweet enough, nursing her through the first few blubbering weeks of mourning. But they weren’t what she needed. He was. And he had left her.
And he wasn’t coming back.
So, in the second month, the truth of the situation along with the anger of Angel’s abandonment and her father’s unnecessary death, helped her to pull what was left of herself together. To resolve, in true Cordelia fashion, to accept her life for what it was.
Deciding to help others with the money Angel had left just seemed a logical next step. A therapy of sorts. And she did have enough money now for ten luxury filled lifetimes. What else should she do with it? Buy a mansion? Travel the world? Those kind of things didn’t hold much appeal for her any longer. She didn’t want to leave the hotel. It had been the first place in a long time that she had felt truly safe. And when she approached the others with the idea, they seemed excited by the challenge of taking what Angel had started one step further.
The work, so far, was fulfilling for the others at least. They had helped two men, three women, one green guy that owned a bar on 26th Street, and a family of five that thought they had a possessed fifteen year old son. The last one was the only case that hadn’t been what it seemed. Turned out the family just had a fifteen year old who was starving for some attention. But the rest, the rest had been real. Some of it dangerous, which pleased Gunn to no end.
But while the others reveled in their new found purpose, Cordelia simply went through the motions, living her “Nuevo Riche” life as if seeing it from a distance. Watching how the money and means Angel had left her changed the lives of others, gave some a future. All the while knowing that her own future without him was as dark and empty as the abandoned suite above her.
So what. That was life. At least her life anyway. But, unlike Angel, she would not run away from it, would not hide in the shadows forever, mourning what could have been. She would face the life she had been given. Live it the best she could.
She swallowed down the ever present lump in her throat and turned back toward the darkened balcony, breathing in deeply the scent of the flowers hidden in the darkness, glad she was unable to see them. Tomorrow. She would cut them down when the blooms were closed and they looked more like a creeping vine than a precious gift from someone she missed more than she ever thought possible.
Every muscle in Cordelia’s body suddenly tensed, her eyes going wide, trying in vain to adjust to the pitch black room.
It had been a mere whisper of sound, a brush of fabric maybe. Imagined? Maybe. But suddenly all those lectures that Gunn had given on security and locked doors taunted her. They had helped a lot of people, had promised to help more. The work had been good. But it had also made a lot of enemies. And the few threats they had gotten in the beginning were now triple in number and more graphic than ever.
Why had she turned away from her nightstand?
Imagined or not, Cordelia slipped her hand slowly behind her, stretching it closer to the nightstand which held her small arsenal of weapons.
“I have weapons,” she said to what was probably a little wind and a lot of imagination. But she wasn’t going to take that chance. “And a housemate that sleeps with an axe. Last time I checked that could kill just about anything.” Her hand was shaking a little now as she inched backward on the bed, getting closer and closer to her goal.
“That’s your defense?” the familiar voice was all irritation. “A bottle of holy water under a back issue of Cosmo and a scream to Gunn? Jesus, Cordy! I could have been anyone.”
Cordelia’s heart began to pound as she slowly set up in bed. Excitement and anger warred with one another. “Angel?” she whispered.
Angel’s body clenched at the sound of her voice. He stared at her, unable to move in the darkness as he watched her sitting on the bed looking just left of him, unaware of his exact position in the dark room. She was all soft curves and warmth. He wanted to rush to her, cover her body with his and force her forgiveness. Make her accept the unacceptable. How had he ever left? Why had he come back? The torture of seeing her again, knowing he could never be what she needed, what she deserved, ran a close second to hell itself.
Cordelia rose slowly from the bed and stood, a look of lost hope on her face as Angel crossed the room to stand in front of her. His soul leapt as she reached out for him, blindly touching his face in the dark as if to assure herself that he was real and in front of her.
His cool skin absorbed the warmth of her soft touch, and then…….
It wasn’t so much the slap to the face or the insignificant stomp to the foot that had brought him down. It was more the piercingly painful knee to the groin that did him in. Angel reached for the bed from his now embarrassing position at Cordelia‘s feet, lifted himself up and sat, waiting for the pain to pass quicker than it would have for any regular man. Hell, any regular man wouldn’t have been a man any longer after a kick like that.
“How could you do that to me!” Cordelia yelled. “After everything….how could you?” her voice quivered and the cracks in her armor began to show, giving Angel a glimpse at the deep hurt that lay beneath her initial violent outburst.
Angel righted himself and stood, the excruciating pain now a mere ache. “Cordelia, I know what I did hurt you, but I can’t say I’m sorry for it,” he confessed. “Even though I know I should be groveling at your feet for forgiveness for what I’ve done to you, I just can’t. I thought I could, but I can’t. It was instinct, and it was necessary. Faced with the situation again, I can honestly say I would have made the same decision.”
Cordelia’s face looked as if it could crumble. “Leaving me is an instinct?”
“Cordy….” he reached for her.
“Don’t touch me!” she pushed away from him and nearly tumbled over a pair of forgotten shoes on the floor before Angel caught her. For a moment her body betrayed what she was truly feeling and relaxed in his arms. But just for a moment. Cordelia struggled away. “Keep your hands off me, you big jerk.”
“Cordelia, I’m not sorry for what I did in the warehouse that night,” he emphasized the right words so she understood him, what he had meant. “I feel guilt and a tremendous amount of remorse, but only for the hurt it caused you, not for …..for what I did. God, Cordelia. Can’t you see now? See what I really am? Faced with that decision a hundred more times, I’d do the same thing. With no regret. I killed your father, Cordy. And the only thing I felt in that moment was peace. The peace in knowing you were safe. The remorse only came later, when I saw what it did to you. Now do you see? Do you finally see? I might have the ability to look like a man. But only a monster kills without remorse.”
Cordelia was silent for a moment, tears slipped down her cheeks at the memory of that night. She reached out to him again, all the anger that had been bottled up inside of her turning to deep sorrow; sorrow for her dad, herself, and for Angel. He blamed himself. Of course he would. And from the ache in his voice, he had needed her comfort as much as she had needed his. She reached up and found his face, finally noticing as she touched the ridges and fangs gently with the pads of her fingers that Angel’s face had returned to what it had been before. To what he thought he truly was.
“Oh, Angel,” she said with a small sob as she touched his face. “You didn’t kill my dad,” the tears flowed freely. “Wolfram and Hart and a true monster killed my dad when they turned him. That thing you killed wasn’t him. As much as it hurts to have lost him, I know that. I never blamed you for that. But you left me here. Left me alone to deal with it. After everything that happened between us. Why?” she tried to reign in her sobs.
Angel pulled her to him quickly, unable to face her tears. He had expected the anger, rejection even, but not the sobs that were shaking her body now. It was killing him. “I had taken so much away from you,” he said softly as he held her close, letting her cry. “You’d been through so much. I was afraid of what it would do to you, to us, when I knew that every time you looked at me you’d be reminded of the way your father died.”
He held her there in the darkness for several moments until she was no longer crying. “I needed you,” her muffled voice came from his shoulder. “I would have never left you like that.”
Angel closed his eyes and held her tighter. But he didn’t speak. Couldn’t respond to something like that. What could he say? I’m sorry. I’m an idiot, a jackass. Take me back. None of that was sufficient for what he had done to her.
Gently taking her by the shoulders, he pulled her away slightly so that he could look at her face. The remnants of tears still glistened in her eyes and before he could stop himself, Angel leaned down and kissed them away.
When he lifted his head again, he spoke. “I don’t know how to be the person you think I am,” he said softly. “I love you, Cordelia. I know I mean those words when I say them to you, yet even that love is different than what it should be, what you deserve, what I want for you. It isn’t soft and kind. It isn’t the cupid’s arrow, puffy heart kind of love. It’s hard and desperate and fierce. I don’t merely want you, I need you, crave you. The sight of you, your face, your voice, all make me believe things that should be impossible. Make me want to be the impossible. Your lips, skin….“ he trailed off as his hand feathered her cheek. “The taste of you is more potent than blood, Cordy. And your unique scent, that aroma that sets every human apart, it calls to me. Makes me feel more like a savage animal searching out its mate than a human. That’s how I love you, Cordelia. That’s what it feels like to me.” The room fell silent.
Cordelia was frozen. She loved Angel. And she had always felt, through all her anger and his stupidity, that he truly did love her as well. But she had never imagined the depth of it, was shocked at his primitive yet eloquent expression of his feelings. Did he think she didn’t love him the same way? Desperately, with an almost animalistic need? He seemed to think of her as some untouchable purity. Seemed to think that his heart stopping definition of love would be too crude for her, too basic. Inhuman. Yet she doubted that any human man had ever expressed himself so clearly, laid himself so bare.
Her arms circled around his neck, pulling him down to her, kissing him with the same fierce love he had just described.
Angel’s face softened and jagged fangs receded as he completely embraced her, kissing her back until he himself was dazed and Cordelia was breathless.
When the kiss was over and he still held her close, he took one of her hands and brushed it across his now smooth face, letting her feel what her kiss had done. “You’re the only thing that can bring me back from that,” he whispered. He kissed her hand, her cheek, her neck, “And God help me, Cordelia,” he continued softly, “Even though I know it makes your life less than it could be, I can’t leave you.”
“My life would be less than it should be if you did. And so would yours,” she answered with confidence.
His body vibrated with the truth of her remark. He bent his head and took her lips, ravishing her mouth with his. His tongue swept against hers and his now blunt teeth nipped at her lips.
She heard his untamed, rumbling growl as he trailed his lips down her jaw and buried them against her throat.
She wanted to make him pay for leaving her, to punish him the way she had felt punished in his absence. But as he began to lick and tease her neck while he pushed down the straps of her night gown, those things didn’t seem important any longer. He was home and he was safe. Cordelia closed her eyes and leaned her head back as his kisses followed the fall of her gown, stopping when he reached her swollen, throbbing breasts.
She shivered as he took one hard peek into his mouth, rolling it over his tongue and growling again. And when the wind blew a small breeze into the room, carrying with it the scent of the moon flowers, Cordelia sighed, threading her fingers through his hair, holding him closer to her.
Angel pulled away, shrugged off his coat and pulled his black sweater over his head. And when he reached for the button of his black trousers, he found Cordelia’s hand there before him, freeing him from the now tight and confining material. Her fingers feathered over his arousal as he kicked his boots and pants away and he caught her wrist, pulling her heavenly touch away, afraid of losing himself before he’d even begun.
He lifted her, kissing her as he made his way to the bed. The feel of her warm body pressed against his elicited a moan from deep in his throat. He laid her gently on the soft bed, his body following, covering hers. His hands and mouth began an exploration, the touch and feel of her so much better than the memory he had cherished for the last three months.
Cordelia began to lose herself in some blissful ecstasy as his cool fingers and lips stroked and delved, sending her into a writhing torment. Her body quivered with a small thrill when she heard the tear of the strappy thong that separated them. Moaned when she felt his hand rip it away and cried out as his mouth found the burning core of her. He devoured her until she thought she couldn’t stand anymore. She tried to move away but he held her still, unrelenting in his assault. Her body wound tight, tighter still until, throwing her head back into the pillow, she cried out his name as waves of ecstasy tore through her.
He could wait no longer. Angel made his way back up her body even as the aftershocks of her orgasm still shook her. And when he finally slid himself into her slick warmth, filling her completely, they both let out an audible sigh.
She trailed her hands over his shoulders to the muscles of his back, loving the way they rippled and flexed with every sensual stroke as he moved above her. She felt her body climbing again as Angel’s thrust became hard and frantic. “I’ll never leave you again, Cordelia,” his voice was ragged and hoarse with emotion. He sat back on his knees, taking her with him, holding her sure and strong. Her body upright with his now, she straddled him, her legs wrapped around him as he lifted her with each powerful thrust. Harder. Faster. Stronger. Until Cordelia threw her head back, screaming his name one powerful thrust before he joined her, pulsing and throbbing into her. He buried his head in her neck as his body shuddered in and around hers, her name and confessions of love tearing from his lips, his heart. They stayed there, holding each other tightly, reveling in the way their bodied felt locked together, joined as one.
It was Angel who broke the moment, laying them back down onto the bed, never withdrawing from the comfort of her. Still hard, he began a slow rocking motion inside of her that sent little sparks and tingles throughout her body. The dark and cloudy sky outside had cleared some, and the moon finally made an appearance. Looking up at him, Cordelia smiled and traced the handsome planes and masculine edges of his face with her fingertips.
“What?” he smiled back at her and Cordelia thought she had never seen anything more beautiful in all her life. “What is it?” he asked again when she didn’t answer.
She cupped the side of his cheek. “You’re so beautiful like this,” she whispered.
He turned his head and kissed her palm before turning back to her. “I think that’s supposed to be my line,” he smiled again and Cordelia made a secret wish to keep him just as he was in that moment; smiling, content, loving her.
Cordelia shivered beneath him, her body completely sated but tired and her spirit still weary from the last three months. Angel slowed his movements and reluctantly withdrew, forcing down his desires for the moment. It would do them both no good for him to take her again before her body was ready. Besides, they still had a long night ahead, a lifetime of long nights together. So, he rolled over, taking her with him until she lay atop him, her head pillowed against his chest. As she snuggled close, he dropped a kiss to the top of her head, then relaxed into the silence, feeling the rhythmic thump of her heartbeat against his still body.
As she began to doze lightly, he vowed to himself and to whomever was listening that someday, someday he would deserve her. That he would be the impossible. That the man and the beast in him would both be anything and everything she needed. And in that moment, with that vow, Angel felt something he had not felt in over two-hundred years. He felt real, whole, accepted himself for what he was. For the first time, regardless of the human or vampire façade, he didn’t see himself as a monster, a beast. In the past that was all he had ever been to himself, and the world had seemed to agree with him. So, he had hid himself away in the shadows, filled with fury and shame, never believing he could be anything different. Until one rainy night when Cordelia Chase, braving the fears of others, entered the darkness that hid a monster. And in the shadows of that beast, in the dark corners of self-loathing and pity, found and saved the man.
Angel closed his eyes, held her a little tighter, and pushed back the tears that threatened to surface. “I’ll never leave you, again,” he whispered into the quiet room.
“I know,” came her drowsy reply as she burrowed even closer to him.