A/N: love as always to Pushydame, or as I like to call her ‘Dawnie the Magnificent and All Seeing Beta Extraordinaire‘.
All hospitals smell the same, a distinctly repugnant mix of antiseptic cleaner and sickness that clings to your clothes, your skin, makes its way into your blood until even the slightest whiff turns your stomach with nausea and memories.
Cordelia tried to breathe through her mouth in the hope that the stench wouldn’t be so overpowering, but the only thing that accomplished was that she could taste it in the back of her throat and that was so much worse.
She rubbed the back of her neck and stared blankly at the floor.
She hated hospitals, and not just because of the smell. Everything about them from their bland magnolia walls to the constant beeping of heart monitors made her skin itch with the need to flee, run, get out of there as fast as she could. Cordelia had spent far too much time in one hospital or another, be it for herself or someone she loved, and none of the memories were good. They were filled with pain and heartache, of impending death and shadows on her brain that couldn’t be explained.
“Here,” Angel handed Cordelia a coffee as he sat down in the seat beside her. The waiting room they had been shown to was empty but for the four of them and the clock ticked loudly, running five minutes slow. “They were out of creamer.”
Cordelia nodded and took the lid off the coffee to let it cool to somewhere below volcanic, placing it on the small table on the other side of her where she knew it would probably end up being forgotten like the last two cups. There was a lump in her throat that she couldn’t seem to swallow past, something bitter and guilty that threatened to choke her if she opened her mouth. So she didn’t.
Instead, she looked around for Wesley and found him in the exact same place he’d been for the last hour, standing sentry at the nurses station, waiting for news, refusing to move no matter how many times he was asked. Fred was hunched uncomfortably in a plastic chair on the other side of the room, drifting occasionally in and out of sleep.
Leaning back, Cordelia pinched the bridge of her nose and switched her stare to the ceiling tiles.
“I don’t understand why they refuse to tell us anything,” Wesley muttered angrily as he paced the small width of the waiting room, the smooth soles of his shoes whispering over the worn linoleum.
“Sit down,” Cordelia snapped, “you’re making me feel sea sick.”
He ignored her but ceased walking a groove in the floor anyway, coming to a stop beside the window that looked out on to the busy ICU. “They must know something. He‘s been in there for three hours. Three hours. Surely it shouldn’t be taking this long.”
“Want me to go ask again?” Fred offered. When Wesley nodded she uncurled herself from the chair, wincing as the blood quickly began to flow back into her cramped limbs. She limped to the nurses station where they all knew all she would hear was I’m sorry, Mr. Gunn is still in surgery. I’ll come tell you as soon as there’s any news.
They watched as Fred nodded politely, turned around, and made her way back to the waiting area.
“They’ll come tell us when there’s news,” she sighed tiredly and dropped down into the seat beside Angel, who was slowly but surely annihilating his Styrofoam cup.
Wesley pressed his forehead to the window and closed his eyes, his shoulders heavy with the words he hadn‘t been able to say.
Angel rocked back and forth on his heels, his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket and his jaw clenched shut.
A woman was crying on the floor above them, three units of blood were being prepared for a transfusion down the corridor to the left and a boy slowly died of massive head injuries in operating room three. Angel smelled, heard and felt it all and the demon in him was delighted.
The clock ticked like a steady pulse, beating, thrumming like open veins across his tongue, staining his lips and he wanted it, needed it, thick with fear and mortality. It surrounded him and he could take it, damn the consequences, damn the hell he knew he was already headed to, he could take it from this place, this supposed house of healing and no one would know, it would be just another body bag laid out between the cancer ravaged and AIDS infected.
His demon whispered . No one would know. No one would care. Take it.
He swallowed what he told himself was nausea and let his hands ball into fists, forcing instincts that he’d been repressing for too many year further back into himself.
“He’s lost a lot of blood.”
Fred closed her eyes and pulled her knees up to her chest, the public telephone cradled between her ear and her shoulder. She twisted her shoelace around her finger until the tip turned red then unwound it again.
“They won’t tell us anything else.”
“If something had gone wrong they’d have told you, so that’s a good sign, right?” Lorne asked her quietly, his voice sounding too far away.
“I don’t know. Yeah, I guess.” Fred puffed out a breath through lips. “I think Wes is blaming himself.”
“I expect so. It’s what our little English muffin does best, after all,” Lorne said with an edge to his voice than Fred hadn’t heard before.
“It wasn’t his fault.”
“I know, kitten, I know. I would just really like to beat some sense into him at times,” Lorne sighed, long and wearily, and Fred could hear the muted clink of a glass tumbler being put aside. “How’re Cordy and Angel?”
She wrapped her arm around her knees. “Cordy’s quiet when she‘s not shouting at people. She’s definitely blaming herself. Angel is…Angel’s tense. Like he‘s just about ready to jump out of his skin.”
“Vampires and hospitals don’t mix well. Or should I say our vampire and hospitals don’t mix well.”
Lorne was quiet after that and Fred knew he didn’t need to ask how she was, he could probably hear it loud and clear over the line without her having to sing a note. Fred felt tears burning the back of her throat and pressed her forehead against her knees, wishing Lorne were there with her. She sniffed loudly and didn’t try not to cry.
“C’mon, pickle, he’s not going to die,” he hushed her gently, “it’s not his time yet.”
Fred swallowed and wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. “But what if it is?”
“I can’t stand this,” Cordelia grunted as she stood up and began to pace, her shoes left forgotten under her seat.
“I’m sure he‘s going to be fine,”
“Unless some of Lorne’s prescient mojo has rubbed off on you, Fred, what you’re sure of doesn’t mean a hell of a lot right now.”
Fred frowned, a line creasing the space between her brows. “I’m just trying to stay positive here.”
“Well would you mind staying positive quietly, please? Because it‘s really not helping my headache,” Cordelia muttered, pressing her knuckles into her eyes.
“Don’t get pissy with me because you’re feeling guilty.”
“Girls,” Wes lifted his head from his hands, “don’t, please.”
“If I want to be pissy with you, Fred, I’ll be pissy with you. Don’t like it? Too bad.” Cordelia rubbed her forehead roughly, skin reddening beneath her fingers. She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head.
“We’re all worried about Charles—”
“Thank you for pointing the obvious out for us, Fred. I don‘t know how we ever managed without you.”
“Hey, back off, Cordelia. Find someone your own size to pick on.”
“What’s that supposed to mean-”
“Girls!” Angel snapped, glaring at them over his shoulder, the faintest patina of yellow staining the brown of his eyes.
Fred slumped into her chair, her lips pinched into a thin line.
“Daniel was in the hotel,” Cordelia spun around to face Angel, the words falling from her mouth without her consent, “and you didn’t hear him, smell him, sense him. Why not? You’re a vampire. You’re meant to feel these things.”
Angel raised an eyebrow, his voice low and too calm when he said, “I was otherwise engaged.”
Cordelia pressed the heels of her hands to her temples.
“Cordy?” Fred frowned.
Ignoring the other girl’s concern, Cordelia snapped her attention to Wesley. “Why didn’t Gunn come into work?”
He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair.
“C’mon Wesley, I think it’s about time you let the little people in on what the hell is going on between you and Gunn. Why was it that instead of being safe with us at the Hotel he was avoiding us, and by us I mean you.”
“Don’t start with me, Cordelia.”
“Why not? I think it’s about time we were all honest with each other here.”
“Since when did you become the poster child for honesty?” he scoffed, rising out of his seat. “You’ve been lying to us for weeks, possibly months, and yet you expect the rest of us to just spill our secrets because you, the mighty Cordelia Chase, deems it so?” Wesley barked out a strangled, sarcastic laugh that scraped Cordelia’s already sore synapses bloody. She shook her head again, trying to clear the fog that was creeping over her brain.
“Only an idiot would treat Gunn like you do, like he’s something to be kicked aside when you’ve had enough. What? You think we don’t see it?“ Cordelia swayed as the room threatened to tilt around her. “You know what you’re problem is, Wesley?”
Wesley crossed his arms over his chest. “Please, enlighten me.”
“You’re a coward.”
“And you’re a bitch.”
“And you both really need to shut up,” Angel growled as he stepped between them. “It’s not helping and you‘re starting to piss me off.”
“It’s a little late for you to be barking orders, Angel. Or am I talking to Angelus? Has Cordelia given you your perfect happiness yet or do we still have that to look forward to?”
“I’m getting tired of telling you to stay out of our business, Pryce,“ Angel hissed through his teeth, taking a step closer to Wesley.
When the vision ripped through her brain, Cordelia screamed.
The steeple of the Hollywood United Methodist Church rose up from the ground like a bright white promise against the darkening sky, oddly out of place so close to the hookers and drug dealers that worked the sidewalk only a short way away, their shoes trampling over Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin.
Cordelia and Angel slammed their respective car doors and looked up at the church’s façade for a moment before Angel snatched up the sword from the backseat of the Plymouth.
“This won’t take long. You should wait in the car,” Angel said, trying to make it sound like a suggestion, not an order.
Cordelia’s glanced at him, then looked away quickly. “I’ll come with you.”
They passed the front of the church in silence, Angel’s shoulders tense and Cordelia’s sharp heels tapping out a steady rhythm. Angel watched her out of the corner of his eye and frowned at her trembling hands. “This won’t take long,” he said again.
They rounded the corner and were met with the dead-end that had been the location of Cordelia’s vision. A soft blue light shimmered across the brick wall, rippling the surface like waves lapping on some far off sunny shore. Just as she’d seen in her vision, a Priest stepped out of the church’s side door. He looked at them over his shoulder as he locked the door. “I’m afraid the church is closed—”
“You need leave,” Angel said curtly.
The Priest frowned, “Excuse me?”
His eyes widened when Angel swung the sword up and rested it against his shoulder.
“You heard him, Father,” Cordelia spoke up wishing that she‘d stayed in the car. “Leave now unless you want to end up splattered across the wall.”
The Priest graced her with a confused look before going back to staring at Angel like a frightened rabbit.
“Put that thing down,” she snapped at Angel, “you’re scaring God‘s messenger.”
Angel let the sword drop to his thigh and shrugged. “Old habits.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes and strode up to the Priest. She grabbed his arm roughly and tugged it until he fell into step with her. “Don’t look. Something very nasty is about to crawl out of the wall and trust me, you don’t want to stick around to see it.” Just then a loud pop sounded behind them, followed by a wet roar and the clunk of steal glancing off armored scales.
The Priest looked over his shoulder and visibly paled.
“Told you not to look,” Cordelia huffed, dragging him fully out of the alley and around to the front of the church. “Are you gonna hurl because if you are, give me some warning, yeah? I’m having a really bad day and if you throw up on my shoes I’m going to have to kill you, man of God or not.”
The Priest blinked and shook his head.
“Good,” Cordelia nodded and ignored the lancing pain that erupted at the movement. “Here, take this,” she handed him their business card, “you’re gonna need it because that wall? Not actually a wall. OK, look, I’m really not in the mood to be explaining all this to you right now so here’s the Cliff notes version; you have an inter-dimensional portal behind your church. This is not good. Call us next week and we’ll make it go away. OK?”
Slowly, the Priest nodded. Cordelia let out a long, relieved breath. “You need to go away now,” she jerked her chin in the opposite direction to where they’d come from and the Priest backed away from her slowly. When he was a safe distance from her, he turned around and ran.
“You’re welcome!” she shouted after him.
As she walked back slowly to the alley, Cordelia stretched her neck from side to side, grimacing at the tightly wound muscles that refused to unlock.
She slumped against the church wall and watched as Angel methodically hacked the now dead demon’s limbs from its large body, throwing chunks of leg, arm and tentacle back through the gaping portal with more relish than was strictly necessary. Cordelia closed her eyes and let her head fall forward loosely on her neck, finally letting the images and feelings that she‘d almost successfully held at bay until now wash over her.
…his hands on the back of her legs, sliding up her calves, over the backs of her knees, fingers pressing deeply into her thighs, massaging the tired muscles as lips whisper over the small of her back, making her squirm and arch into the touch. He chuckles, low and rough, and licks the sweat from her spine before he snakes his arms around her waist and lifts her to her hands and knees. His body, hard and etched with centuries, blankets her, heavy and familiar. He presses a leg between her knees and forces her legs to spread and she moans because yesyesyesohGodyes…
Cordelia groaned and opened her eyes, her face burning and brain throbbing a steady beat that ricocheted across her nerves, making her skin too sensitive for the warm night air. “Are we done here?”
“Yeah,” Angel said as he threw the last of the arms through the portal. It closed with a wet slurp. “It’ll open again, though.”
“I gave him our card.”
“Good,” he nodded, his gaze pinning Cordelia where she stood.
She shifted awkwardly from foot to foot.
A car horn blared somewhere on Highland, quickly accompanied by indignant yelling.
“Please don’t ask me how I’m feeling,” Cordelia said quickly when Angel opened his mouth to speak. “I don’t think I can lie right now.”
The strong line of Angel‘s brow creased with a frown. “I thought we’d stopped lying to each other.”
Cordelia pinched the bridge of her nose. “Right.”
“So tell me.”
“Well, I’m not OK,” Cordelia laughed and the sound came out thick with bitterness. “I’m about as far away from OK as you can get. I’d list the reasons why I’m not OK, but I think I’d start sounding a bit redundant, don’t you?“
“Why is Daniel doing this? Why did he go after Gunn and not me? He’s meant to be after me, not the people I love. I can handle him trying to kill me, OK, but not my friends. Who’s going to be next? Wes? Fred? You know what he‘ll do to her if he gets the chance, Angel. We‘ve both seen it. And when he’s done with Fred, who then? Because he’s not going to be satisfied. Is he going to take a ride to Sunnydale to call in on Xander? Aura? My Mom and Dad? And the kicker is this is my fault, Angel, my fault!”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes it is. I’m missing something, Angel, something in the visions. Something important!. Why can’t I see it?”
“You‘re not responsible for what the Powers choose to show you, it isn‘t your fault.”
Cordelia felt a sob aching in the back of her throat and tried to swallow it down but it refused to move, it crept out from between her teeth and left her open and defenseless. “I can’t do this anymore!” She buried her head in her hands, twisting her fingers through her hair and tugging so that she had something she could control, even if it was pain.
Angel grabbed her wrist, his fingers like metal bands. “Stop.”
Cordelia tried to jerk her arm out of his grip but it was fruitless. “Let go of me,” she hissed, eyes narrowed dangerously, her skin flushed with anger and something else. Something Angel had ignored ever since the vision had thrown her from her feet in the Hospital.
“No. Not until you stop being insane.”
Cordelia laughed again, cracking open a little bit more with every second. “One of our friends is in the hospital. Gunn is in the hospital, Angel. He could die. He could die,” she swallowed and licked her lips, “and all I can think about is how much I want you right now so no, I don’t think sanity will be knocking on my door any time soon.”
Angel’s fingers around her wrist tightened painfully and Cordelia welcomed it.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she shouted, her voice bouncing off the walls and disappearing in to the night as she slammed her fist against Angel’s chest.
“Yes,” he stilled that arm too, pushing her backwards until she collided with the wall, “you can.”
Cordelia’s sucked in a short, startled breath when Angel stepped in close to her and pressed his nose to her throat, her arms pinned either side of her head. She was rigid against him, waiting, wondering if Wesley was right after all and this was actually Angelus and they’d all been blind.
When he brushed his lips against her pulse she shuddered.
When he parted his lips and kissed her neck, she knew who he was.
Desire rolled though Cordelia and she had to shut her eyes because even that one simple touch was too much for her, it made her breath come out too quickly and her legs shake because he was touching her and nothing else mattered but that. Angel let go of her wrists and grasped her hips, his teeth nipping bluntly at the tense curve of where her neck flowed into her shoulder. Cordelia tilted her head further the side and shivered, cording her fingers through his hair to pull him closer, his hands on her ass wanting the same thing, closer and closer until there was nothing but the certainty of what was to come between them.
Cordelia moaned, long and low, as the line of his body pushed against hers, the evidence that it wasn’t just her who wanted this, needed this, hard against her belly. Turning her head, she tugged the vulnerable lobe of Angel’s ear between her teeth sharply, her warm breath making him jerk and stutter like a teenager fumbling in the dark.
She felt the air on her stomach and realized that Angel had snaked his hands under her blouse without her noticing, his fingers splaying wide over her stomach until his fingertips brushed the bottom of her breasts, teasing touches when what Cordelia needed was something real, solid, something to take over her body and make the pain and thoughts stop. She scraped her teeth over a tense muscle in his neck and then yes, his hands were pushing beneath the underwire of her bra to get to her breasts and more, Cordelia thought, his thumbs dragging roughly over her nipples, she wanted more.
Cordelia latched her mouth to his jaw and sucked, her tongue flicking at the plane of rough skin until a groan rumbled through Angel’s chest, snapping something inside him that had been holding back. He bunched the material of her skirt in his hands and yanked it up until he reached the soft cotton of her panties, hooking his fingers through the elastic.
Footsteps echoed down the alleyway and Angel stilled, waiting for them to fade away.
Cordelia leaned her forehead against his shoulder, shaking and unsure why. “We shouldn’t do this here,” she whispered and felt Angel tense further. She raised her head to look at him and swallowed at his expression.
“Want me to stop?” he asked, his voice a raw husk pushed out between his lips, not sure that he actually could stop because she smelled so good and he’d already denied himself so much today, denied himself everyday, and the demon was demanding some sort of release, some sort of appeasement, for suffering the temptation of blood and death.
He buried his nose beneath her ear and inhaled.
Cordelia closed her eyes and parted her lips, pressing them to the sharp line of his jaw with a quiet, “Don‘t stop.”
Coiled muscles snapped into movement. Angel tugged the elastic away from her hips and pulled her underwear down Cordelia’s thighs until they slipped passed her knees and fell to the floor. They tangled around her shoe when she tried to kick them away, half crazy with wanting Angel, and quickly stopped caring about them when his hands grasped her hips and lifted her, her legs wrapping around his waist tightly, his face buried into her neck. Pulling his shirt so that it was gaping open at the neck, Cordelia sucked a wet trail across his collar bone, mouthing the hard ridge until she met his shoulder, sinking her teeth into flesh that tasted of soap and sweat and Angel. Twisting one hand through his hair again, Cordelia reached down between them and unbuckled his belt, the clink of metal and leather being released the only sound in the alley other than her shallow, panting breaths. Angel’s zipper came down easily and he groaned loudly when Cordelia wrapped her hand around him, his hips bucking urgently against her.
“Angel,” she whispered urgently against his jaw. He let out a long, shuddering breath and turned his head until their lips almost touched, a whisper of air between them. “Please,” Cordelia groaned, unsure of what she was asking for, begging for, but desperate for it anyway. Angel lifted her, the wall biting into her shoulder and then, God, yes,, he was inside her and it was almost too much to bear at once, too much sensation when before there was just an aching emptiness. Cordelia’s breath was sticky in her lungs, she couldn’t breathe, didn’t want to breathe because even the smallest movement would break her so sweetly into pieces against the wall of the Hollywood United Methodist Church but then Angel groaned her name like it was his favorite sin and she wanted to fall apart.
“Move,” Cordelia begged, unashamed, her voice knotted with emotions she didn’t want to understand, “please.”
Angel slammed into her, his chest crushing her, pressing the breath out of her and yes, she could breathe again as he withdraw so achingly slowly and there was nothing but the stretch of him inside her, her blood pulsing in her temples as pain turned into pleasure so acute that it in itself hurt and oh, it felt so good, so dangerously perfect, Angel’s hands solid on her hips, his fingertips digging into the small of her back and she knew when this was over she’d have eight small bruises their and she coveted that thought, yearned for it with her skirt crushed up around her waist and her heels stabbing into the back of Angel’s thighs.
Angel grunted with every tension filled jerk of his hips, movements stuttering when she squeezed him inside her, his lips, parted, panting, brushing so close to Cordelia’s but never meeting, never taking that last terrifying step, holding back because there were lines and promises to remember even if he knew it would feel so good to steal a kiss as he fucked his best friend against the wall.
“Harder,” Cordelia moaned, her hand tugging at Angel’s hair, pulling his head away from temptation only to lean her forehead against his so Angel could taste her breath, hospital coffee and gum, and that was worse and better at the same time so he did as she asked, demanded, and drove into her harder, rough strokes that made her cry out because he’d never been able to say no to her, couldn’t even if he wanted to because she was Cordelia Chase and nothing had ever felt as good as this, her fingernails slicing crescent moons into the back of his neck, her lips wet and seductive, tight slick heat clutching at his cock, hard and fast and GodyespleasemoreohGoddon‘tstop tumbling from Cordelia’s mouth, a litany of raw need that made him want to slam into her until it killed them both, burning them from the inside out until they were just ash and someone else’s memories in a dusty photograph album, deeper, faster, the bottom of his boots scuffing the dirty ground, her breathes shuddering, out of control, a death rattle that suddenly snapped, silent and terrible as she went rigid, quaking around him and Angel’s last thought before the night turned white behind his eyelids and the universe rushed through him all at once was yes, this probably was going to kill them both.
Cordelia held Angel’s jacket tightly around her as they walked through the now familiar corridors to the ICU, tired and sore as they weaved around trolleys and defibrillators, guilt building with every step she took. Angel’s hand felt heavy but welcome where it was settled on the small of her back and she was grateful for the silence that had blanketed them both once he’d set her feet back down on the ground behind the church and had accompanied them through traffic lights and stop signs. His hand smoothed up her back and squeezed her shoulder as she rounded the corner and the waiting room came into view.
Fred sat alone in the middle of the room, her knees pulled up to her chin and the toes of her sneakers pointing at each other on the edge of the plastic chair. She looked up at the sound of their footsteps growing closer and something inside Cordelia turned cold at the sight of Fred’s red rimmed eyes.
Cordelia clasped her hand over her mouth. “Oh, God.”
Fred shook her head quickly, a watery smile crumpling her face. “He’s out of surgery. Wes is in with him.”
Relief like she’d never felt before swept through Cordelia’s body, leaving her weak and unsteady. She reached behind her blindly, searching for Angel’s hand and grasping it tightly.
“The Doctor said he’s still critical, though. They had trouble repairing his lung,” Fred sniffed loudly and wiped her nose on her sleeve, “and he’s on a respirator right now. They couldn’t save his left kidney, but lots of people only have one kidney and they’re fine, right?”
“Sure,” Angel said softly from behind Cordelia even though he had no idea if it was true or not.
“Right,” Fred nodded, seeming more confident with Angel’s assurance, then looked past them to the room opposite the waiting area. “He’s not really allowed visitors at the moment, but Wes is in there. I told you that already, didn‘t I? Of course I did. Sorry,” she rubbed her eyes and stood up. “I’m gonna call Lorne, I promised I’d let him know what’s going on.”
Fred left them alone, the squeak of her sneakers tapering off as she got further away from them. Silently, Angel gently tugged on Cordelia’s hand and she let him walk her across the corridor to the room that was labelled Charles Gunn, in black marker pen on the small white board beside the closed door. She pressed her hand against the window, the blinds were down but open enough to see through and Cordelia felt like she was intruding on something sacred.
Bags of saline and blood hung on both sides of the bed, their long thin tubes attached to the back of Gunn’s hands. The respirator was taped to his mouth, regulating his breath so his chest rose and fell steadily while a heart monitor beeped quietly on his right. Wesley was seated facing the window, his fingers linked carefully through Gunn’s so as not to disturb the IV needle, his lips were moving silently, mouth forming words that Cordelia couldn‘t bear to watch, ashamed that she’d thought him a coward.
Cordelia covered her mouth but a choked sob broke through her fingers, shattering her like glass.