Author: Little Heaven
Posted originally: 11//03
Rating: NC-17 (for the naked part)
Category: Halloween Fic
Summary: Mrs O-Town’s Theme: Isolation. One of the AI team gets trapped in an alternate dimension where they’re taunted by images from their past and it changes them somehow.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Just ask.
Thanks/Dedication: Halloween Fic For Mrs O-Town.
Everything’s so blurry, and everyone’s so fake
And everybody’s empty and everything is so messed up
Pre-occupied without you, I cannot live at all
My whole world surrounds you, I stumble then I crawl
You could be my someone, you could be my scene
You know that I’ll protect you, from all of the obscene
I wonder what you’re doing, imagine where you are
There’s oceans in between us, but that’s not very far
– Blurry, Puddle of Mudd.
At first it was like being asleep. Dark, and peaceful. Floating on a sea of warm molasses, which, thank God she really wasn’t, because that would *so* ruin her clothes. Of course, she wasn’t sure if she was wearing any — but that’s what it felt like. Drifting, calm, relaxed.
Her brain was soft and woolly, and all the dreadful memories and thoughts of the last few months were hazy and far away. No more of the horror of being a human puppet. Here, wherever she was, she was safe from the full impact of the hurt.
Cordelia was grateful for the respite. Kissing that beast thing had been gross. And if she thought of Connor — well it was a good thing she was asleep, or there would have been a lot of unattractive barfing. If she ever woke up, there wasn’t going to be enough water in the world to wash away the yuk of what she’d been forced to do.
Then, after what could have been hours, or days, or even weeks, there was the sensation of rising, of coming up out of the sea. Black turned to grey, turned to pink. Sounds became sharper, clearer, louder. Her face broke the surface. Cordelia opened her eyes.
Okay, everything looked a bit out of focus. Maybe she’d been under so long that her eyes were out of practice. She blinked a few times, rubbed her fingers over her eyelids. It didn’t help. The room looked fuzzy, like she was viewing it through a frosted window, and the colours were drab and faded.
She peered down at herself, stretched in a half-sitting position on what looked like a hospital bed. Oh, God, she was still a bit fat. “Enough with the demon pregnancies,” she muttered. Perhaps she had ‘incubator of evil’ tattooed across her forehead in ink that only demons could see, because it was becoming an alarming recurrence.
At least her clothes were nice. Actually, *really* nice. Calvin Klein jeans. She couldn’t see the label on the shirt, but it felt like real silk. The boots were suede. Someone had given her a top-notch manicure, and the smell of L’eau D’Issey tickled the back of her nose. How had Angel been able to afford this?
A cold shiver ran up her back. What if he hadn’t won? What if, right now, she was being kept, like a pet, by the thing that had hijacked her body?
“Only one way to find out,” she said aloud, frowning as her voice made no echo in the room. Like she was talking into cotton wool. She swung her legs off the edge of the bed, expecting that ‘you got up too fast’ dizzy rush, but her head was clear. Carefully, she slid her butt off the mattress, her feet making full contact with the floor. It felt weird, rubbery, like she was standing on latex. Like she’d sat on her legs for too long, and her feet had gone half-numb.
Cordelia turned to look at the bed, and her breath jammed in her throat. She was looking at herself. Her body, still asleep, immaculately dressed and groomed, a few clear tubes running from her nose and mouth. She let the breath out with a ‘whoosh’ and put her hands on her hips. “Oh crap, not again!”
She glanced around the room. It looked, through the haze, like someone was moving in. Boxes were piled against one wall. She went up close, bent her head and squinted at the vivid-marker scrawl on the side of the top carton. ‘Cordy’s things.’ It looked like Angel’s handwriting. A little flutter tingled in her chest. He was still alive.
So, she was the one moving in. This was her room. For some reason that made her stomach drop. It had a feeling of permanence. Why would they bother moving all her stuff in here? Unless they thought… Yee, not good.
The door swung open, and Angel, looking as out-of-focus as everything else, strode in. He had his ‘mega-brood-face’ on, and the slump of his shoulders betrayed weariness.
“Angel?” she said. It was worth a try. Maybe not all comas were equal.
He didn’t look up, just leaned on the edge of the bed, and took her body’s hand. For a while he stroked her fingers, pressed them to his cheek, and just stared.
Cordelia felt like she was intruding on someone else’s private moment. He looked wrecked, despairing. Fear bloomed in her chest.
Finally he let her hand go, placed it across her stomach, and pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead. “I’m sorry, Cordy.” With a swish of his black duster, he turned, striding from the room without a backward glance.
Cordelia ran after him. At the doorway, she hit some sort of barrier, bounced back off it like someone had strung a trampoline from the frame. “That’s it?” she shouted as the door drifted closed. Her only answer was the muffled echo of his feet, dwindling away to silence.
What the hell was wrong with him? Last time this happened, he’d been frantic, they all had. Trying desperately to get her back. Now all she had was ten minutes of defeated pessimism. She sank, shaking, into a nearby chair. It, too, felt rubbery and distant, the touch not fully registering against her back and legs.
Days passed. Nurses came and went. Stylists, physiotherapists. All distant and fuzzy, their speech quiet and distorted.
“Stop making me look good, and try waking me up!” she screamed at them. She tried picking up items and throwing them, but somehow her hand slipped off, nothing would stay in her grip, nothing even moved.
And Angel didn’t come back.
Cordelia realised that, for the first time in her life, she was truly alone. No fake friends to hang out with. The Cordettes had been better than nothing. No Scooby Gang — the closest thing to real friends she’d had in Sunnydale. None of the others from Angel Investigations came to visit.
“They hate me,” she whispered, sickly cold spreading through her gut. She’d betrayed them all, the day she let that demon inside, she knew that now. God, she hated herself, every day since she ran out of the Hyperion and away from her family.
Cordy had never realised how slowly time moved when there was truly nothing to do.
Eavesdropping on conversations held only a little interest. The woman who bathed her was having problems with her landlord, and the gay hairdresser was having a spat with his boyfriend.
Big woop. It all seemed so small, so insignificant compared to the things she’d seen, the stuff that was out there. Stuff she used to be able to fight.
Now she was cut off from everything and everyone she loved, trapped in this little, sterile room. Isolated in a drab, blurry world.
Cordelia found that she didn’t sleep. She wished she could. With every minute that dragged by, she wanted more and more to lie down, and never wake up. No helpless to help, nobody to talk to, and it was only going to be so long before she ran out of things to think about, started dwelling on that part of the last few months that was tucked away at the back of her mind.
Lurking like a monster, ready to leap out and crush her. It was coming, and she didn’t want to be around when the dam broke.
She wanted to die.
On the evening of the fourth day, she curled up in the chair she couldn’t really feel, and began counting the blips on the small machine beside her bed. Her heartbeat. Every flash seemed to get brighter, pulsing, filling her vision. She was drifting again, floating, her mind consumed only with the steady rhythm. It filled the room, and nothing else existed…
“Cordy?” Angel’s voice made her head snap up.
“Huh?” she glanced around, relief washing through her. Her apartment, warm and familiar, everything clear and sharp and full of colour. Thank God. And then came the shimmering sense of déjà vu. She’d been here before, not just in this place, but in this moment.
Her hair was long, tangled, curling over her shoulder, her ponytail tatty and unruly. Her eyes felt swollen and gritty, and her nose was running. A tide of grief crashed down. Doyle.
“I hope this is all right,” Angel said, coming through from the kitchen, a steaming mug in his hand. The rich smell of cocoa filled the room. “I wasn’t sure how you like it.”
“It’ll be fine,” she said, sniffing. “I can’t believe he’s really gone.”
“It was my job. I — I tried to stop him…” Angel shook his head, his voice catching. Fresh tears shone in his eyes, and he made no attempt to disguise them. He sat beside her, dirty, shattered, placing the mug on the table.
She wiped at her nose. “And then you would be dead, I would be crying over you, instead.”
“You’d cry over me?” he said, looking like the idea had never occurred to him.
She slapped his arm, hard. “Of course, dumbass. If you were gone, who’d sign my paycheck?”
“Oh.” He seemed crestfallen for a second. Then, “Oh, you were joking. Weren’t you?”
“I figure Doyle wouldn’t want us to be all maudlin and puffy-eyed,” she said, and the sound of his name on her lips was all it took to bring her own tears flooding back, running unchecked down her face.
“Nope, he’d be making us drink that Poly-Malt scotch, and telling us to pull ourselves together.” Angel dug in his pocket, presumably looking to offer her a handkerchief, but came up empty.
Cordelia used her sleeve, blotting up the dripping mascara, even though it would probably never wash out. One more ruined outfit, courtesy of Angel Investigations. Maybe that’s why Doyle had always dressed so badly. On those shirts, you could never tell which bits were the pattern and which bits were stains. Perhaps it was all part of a cunning master plan. She’d never given him enough credit, for a lot of things.
“Oh, God, I slapped him,” she gasped. “I called him short, and poor.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing he hadn’t heard before.” Angel gave a melancholy chuckle.
“I was horrible to him,” she said, the memories of a hundred snarky comments crowding into her head.
Angel’s hand landed on her shoulder, an awkward, timid touch. “He didn’t mind. He loved that he couldn’t work you out. I think he saw it as a challenge.”
She glanced up at him. “Loved?”
A sad, reminiscent smile spread across Angel’s face. “Well — he called you a stiffener.”
“Why that little…” Cordelia stopped the word ‘weasel’ from coming out. She heaved a giant sigh. “I’m really gonna miss him. Bad clothes, funny smell, and all.”
“Me too.” Angel stared across the room, his eyes unfocussed, misty, the beginnings of his brood-face beginning to show.
She reached a hand out, stalling for a second as he startled, then gently poked at his Brylcreamed fringe. “I like this look on you. Very Hogan’s Heroes.”
“You think?” He smoothed his hand over it.
“I think,” she replied, smiling, reaching for the cocoa. The overpowering chocolatey smell hit the back of her nose, and the first sip caught in her throat, causing her to cough and splutter. “Eww, God, Angel! How many spoons did you put in this?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, six, maybe seven? Hot chocolate isn’t my area of expertise. Is it really bad?”
“Worse.” She nodded, trying to stop her tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth.
“I’ll make tea. I’m better at tea,” he said, taking the mug from her and rising, turning for the kitchen.
“Angel, I think there’s some vodka in there. Get that, too,” she called after him.
She sank back in the cushions, pressed a hand to her forehead. This was too horrible. Poor Doyle. He saved her life, and Angel’s, and all those scared, half-demon families…
Something cut into her reverie, a cold, shuddery sensation. A draft blew against her feet, and the feeling of being watched made all the hair on her neck prickle.
Cordelia looked down, wondering where the icy breeze was coming from. Maybe there was a hole in the floor, beneath the sofa. She lowered her hand, trying to gauge the source of the air. As soon as she touched the floor, it stopped.
“Huh,” she said, shrugging. Just as she was about to sit back up, one long, bony finger shot out from beneath the sofa, wrapping around her ankle. She dragged in a lungful of air — the prelude to a scream — and jerked upright.
Nothing. Just the poky little out-of-focus room, her comatose body, motionless on the bed before her, and the sound of her heart hammering in her ears. “Must have been a dream,” she murmured, pulling her feet up onto the chair, hugging her knees to her chest.
For a few moments, she’d been back in the real world. Sure, in her past, and a pretty painful part of it, but just to be back in that moment, with someone to talk to — with Angel — had been so wonderful. Until the Finger of Freak-out had ruined it all. That definitely hadn’t happened the first time around. Probably a hangover from carting around an evil hell-thing inside her for months.
She wanted to go back. It wasn’t real, but it was a hell of a lot better than sitting here in the room that time forgot. Cordelia trained her eyes on the blipping machine again, slowing her thoughts, just concentrating on breathing in, and out. In, and out. In…
Her arms were full of clothes. They covered her desk, spilling onto the chair. Blouses and skirts, jackets, wraps — a myriad of colours and expensive fabrics. Real, honest-to-God couture. Bags and tissue paper littered the floor, and her smile was so big it hurt her face. She jumped and squealed. “I have new clothes!”
A dark shadow lurked to her right. Angel. Cordy could see him out of the corner of her eye, his expression half goofy, half smug.
“Get over here.” She pointed to the floor in front of her.
Angel’s face transformed from smug to scared. “What?”
“We need to get something straight,” she said, as sternly as she could with the smell of designer labels wafting past her nose. God, she’d missed that aroma. Money.
“You do like them, right? I mean, with the bouncing, and the hugging…?” he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets. Little bits of gold glitter from her top had stuck to the front of his jersey when she’d hugged him, and they sparkled as he moved.
She put down the garments and crossed her arms across her chest. “Well, duh! Of course I do. But don’t misinterpret my screams of joy to mean that buying me all this stuff gets you off the hook just like that.” She snapped her fingers.
The beginnings of a pout tugged at his bottom lip. “We’re still not friends?”
A flash of cerise caught her eye, one of the gorgeous tops beginning to slide off the table. She grabbed it, felt the fabric. So beautiful… No, dammit, focus, Cor. “I’m not saying that,” she sighed, releasing the blouse. “But I’m not saying you’re forgiven, either, not by a long shot, mister.”
The pout got bigger. “I’m…”
“Don’t say you’re sorry again. It’s just too painful to listen to. And if you get all stumbly and uncoordinated, you might trip and damage the clothes. This is going to be our final discussion on the matter. You know why I was mad?”
“Yes.” He hung his head.
“You promise not to go all ‘Dark Avenger’ again?
“And no more skanky blondes? What am I saying? You’re a eunuch.” She shrugged.
Cordy held up a hand, stopping him mid protest. “Don’t interrupt. I *am* still your friend, Angel. With you until the end, blah blah blah — remember?”
His face lit up, the smile almost stopping her in her tracks. Now there was a sight.
She took a step forward, jabbed her finger in the middle of his chest, sending a little shower of glitter to the floor. “But, you ever do anything like that again, and I swear, I will kick your lily-white vampire butt all the way to hell. Understand?” She punctuated the last word with an extra hard poke.
“Yes. Cordy, you know I’m…”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry, I know.” Cordy turned back to her clothes, so he wouldn’t see the grin threatening to break across her face. “Now, get me some coffee, Office Boy. And I’ll need some hangers. Don’t want these to crease.”
She peeked at him, just a flash. The look on his face was priceless.
“Tick tock.” She bit her lip. Mustn’t laugh now.
“Right, coffee, hangers, I can do that,” he scurried away, and she managed to keep it together until he left the lobby. He deserved to pay for what he did, and she was *so* going to make sure of that. But it was good to have him back. Really good. Not that she was admitting it to anyone else. No siree.
A figure cut across the edge of her vision. She pulled herself together, put her serious face on, and turned, ready to give another lecture. There was no way Angel could have fetched her coffee that fast.
She was right. A swirl of black robes and a flash of red eyes. A gust of cold air, rancid, the reek of graves and rotting flesh. A glint of metal. Then it was gone.
Cordy opened her mouth to call for Angel. Or Wes. A small noise behind her made her jump, and before she could whirl in that direction, a gnarled, flaking hand was over her mouth, muffling her scream, yanking her head back. The room began to swim, blur, and…
Cordelia was in bed. Her own bed. Sheets that smelled of fabric softener and body lotion. A gentle flutter on the pillowcase indicated Dennis was there, fussing, as he always did.
The evening’s memories came flooding back — scored flesh, boils and pus, skin blistering and peeling from her arms. “Oh, God,” she gasped, hands flying to her face, feeling for lumps and scabs.
“Cordy.” Angel towered beside her bed, and her heart shot into her throat.
“Dammit, Angel,” she gasped. “Don’t sneak up like that!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to — I just wanted to be sure you were okay,” he said, sitting on the mattress beside her, his solid thigh pressing against her leg through the covers. His face was sombre in the dim light from the hall. “How do you feel?”
She breathed a moment, listened to her body. It was quiet. All the burning, stinging, aching; just a memory. “Fine. Tired, but okay. Are the boils gone?”
“Yes, it’s fixed. You look great,” he said, hooking her hair back behind one ear. For a moment his finger stayed across her cheek, smoothing over the skin where the welts had been.
She frowned at him. “You smell of smoke. What happened?”
“The usual. Got transported to a hell dimension, broke some guy out of a prison made of fire, came back. Standard stuff.” His voice was light, but she could tell by the little line that appeared between his eyebrows that all was not well.
Cordy pushed herself up, leaning forward to rest her arms on her raised knees, eyeballing him. “What? Spill, I know something’s wrong.”
He turned away, looking out the window at the city lights. “The man I rescued was evil. I had to hurt some good people — and other things.”
“So why did — ooooh. For me.” She hung her head. This sucked. “You shouldn’t have.”
“Not an option, Cordy,” he said, his voice gruff. Turning back to her, he took her hand, his eyes boring into her. She felt naked, a rabbit caught in headlights. He swallowed hard, blinked a couple of times. “I don’t want you to be scared anymore. If we can find some way to take the visions…”
“No. Keep your hands off my visions.” She shook her head.
“But you said…”
“Well, wouldn’t you? I was all burnt and gross and oozing. It freaked me out. I’m fine now. Good as new.”
His frown deepened. “You know I meant what I said — I’d still need you, visions or not.”
“Oh yeah, the car thing,” Cordy sighed. She really wished people would stop comparing her to stuff. However good the intention, it always came out sounding like an insult. “I’m not just doing it for you. I’m doing it for the people who need our help. They need me, too. The day the PTB start contacting you by SMS, I’ll gladly give the visions up. Of course, you’d have to work out how to use your phone by then.”
“It’s the buttons,” he protested. “They’re too little.”
She quirked her eyebrow at him, watched the conflict pass across his face. Knew he wanted to press the point. Wondered if he was going to sit there all night, brooding. “Angel I’d really like to go back to sleep. You are planning to go home, right? Because lurking in girls’ bedrooms while they sleep is just disturbing.”
He looked embarrassed. “Okay, if you’re sure you’re all right.”
“I’m fine. Shoo. I’ll see you at the office.” She smiled and waved until he’d closed the door behind him. Waited until the front door clicked shut, and then let herself slump back against the pillows. It would have been so easy to take him up on the offer. Offload the visions. Save what little was left of her brain.
She *was* scared. Scared of dying. Scared of leaving him. Scared of being alone…
A noise startled her. A scuttling, scratching noise. Something was under the bed. “Don’t be silly,” she laughed, thin and nervous. There were no monsters under the bed — well, none in here anyway; Angel would have smelled them.
More scuttling, louder, and she could feel small impacts on the underside of the bed base. Cordelia shrank down beneath the covers, pulling them up beneath her chin, staring at the foot of the bed, a horizon over which anything could rise. Oh, God, let it just be a really big spider. Even a cockroach. Anything but…
A dark shadow took form, growing, two red eyes, unblinking. A long, craggy arm reached toward her, fingers stretched outward. Dread stabbed in her chest, constricted her throat.
“Angel!” she shrieked, closing her eyes, unable to move or think or…
The sky burned bright with fire. A sour wind whipped at her coat, her hair. Little red coals dropped down around her, smoke pouring from them in hazy grey arcs. She didn’t remember this place, turned to get her bearings.
A black figure approached, leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Moving with the swift grace and strength of a vampire. Angel. As he got closer she could see blood, dirt, bruises. He landed heavily beside her, staggered, and she reached out to him. Her hand passed right through, and he stumbled forward, oblivious to her presence. Righted himself and stared at the building across the street. At the window.
Cordelia followed his line of sight, and her stomach lurched. So this was how he knew. How he found out. “Oh, God, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It wasn’t me, wasn’t my fault,” she said, putting her hand to his cheek, though she knew it wouldn’t really touch him.
The look on his face was worse than what she knew she’d see in that room, but she couldn’t turn away. It was like a knife slicing through her chest, hurting more than the boils and the burning, even more than the rebar in her guts.
Angel opened his mouth, a cry of pure rage and anguish poured out, and he turned, storming into the stairwell. Smashed the door open and blasted inside.
Cordelia didn’t follow. Couldn’t. She just sank to her knees and wept, on the roof of the building, listening to Angel wrecking everything he could touch. She never knew how much she’d hurt him. “It wasn’t my fault,” she sobbed, over and over, and for the first time in a long while, believed it.
This was where ‘doing the right thing’ had left her.
After a long time she stood, wiped her face, and looked back at the window. Saw herself and Connor asleep, wrapped together. Then she turned, glanced across the roof at the tall, robed figure, with red eyes glowing beneath its hood. How long had it been there, watching her? It lifted one skeletal hand, and beckoned.
She looked back out over the city, wondering if it would do any good to run. The lights were pale beneath the glow of the fire, blurry through the smoke. Thousands of little haloes in the City of Angels. “Let it come and get me. Cordelia Chase is done running,” she murmured. Her eyelids felt heavy, exhaustion clouding her vision, dragging them down…
“Cordy.” Angel’s voice made her blink. The lights of LA were clear, winking through the large window at her. She turned around, eyes widening as she took in the plush apartment. It reeked of money. Every ornament and furnishing was beautiful and obviously expensive.
The subdued lighting gave it a smoky, sexy appeal, and it took her a second to spot Angel, half-sitting, half-laying on a large, square sofa, shoes off, dressed in only a white tee and loose, black drawstring pants.
“Huh?” she said, dumbly, trying to take it all in. Glancing down at herself and wondering why she was standing there in a long, red, satin slip.
He rose, coming towards her, looking concerned. “You okay? Where were you just then?”
“Somewhere not very nice,” she admitted, rubbing her arms as gooseflesh prickled.
His hands landed on hers. “It’ll take time. If you want to talk…”
“No,” she said quickly. This was too weird. Where was this place? And why was Angel looking at her that way? Soft, dark eyes making an appreciative sweep of her body from waist to head, his hands sliding around to her back, fingers resting on the curve just above her ass. The way lovers touched.
Oooh, right, she got it now. This must be a sex dream. A coma sex dream. Well, why not? Wasn’t like she was getting any real action, wherever her body was.
“It’s okay. Take your time. We have plenty of time.” Angel reached up and smoothed a strand of hair from her face, cupped her cheek in his palm, and moved closer. His thighs touched hers, the hand on her back pressing her into him, just there. “You know I never thought we’d get to…” he trailed off, his lips almost touching hers, then pulling back.
Fire sparked in her belly, heat sweeping outwards, crackling across her skin like a forest fire. She didn’t need words — every part of her body must have screamed desire that lit her up like a beacon.
He felt it, the sharp intake of breath through his nose a giveaway response. “Are you sure?” he whispered.
“Well, duh!” she replied. It was supposed to be flippant, but came out throaty, breathless.
He hovered, an endless second humming between them, and then slowly, slowly, pressed his lips to hers. Soft, unhurried, dry, like a schoolyard kiss. Pulling away just a little, leaving her hanging, sweet torture, then sucking her bottom lip, just touching it with the tip of his tongue.
Cordelia felt the moan come up from her belly. It spilled out, an animal noise she wasn’t aware she could make, and his nostrils flared, small pants of breath cooling her face.
And then the restraint was gone, his mouth crashing down on hers, teeth clashing, tongue darting out, cool velvet, tangling with her own. A groan rumbled through his chest, his hands cupping her ass and pulling her harder against him, his hips grinding into her stomach, and she felt a hot thrill at the sudden hard steel pressing into her belly.
He pulled again, up, and her feet left the floor. The slip rode up to her hips, covering his hands, as she wrapped her legs around his waist, gripping the back of his neck as the kiss deepened.
This was so good. Too good. Even though she knew it was a dream, she broke free, gasped, “the curse.”
“You’re safe, Cordy. I’ll always keep you safe,” he said, his voice low and gruff.
She stilled, listening to her heart pounding, blood hammering through her veins. “I know you will, Angel.”
And then they were kissing again. He drank her in, like she was his water, his air. She could feel the heat pouring from her, soaking into him, like the sun warming the ocean after a long, cold winter.
With strong strides, he carried her to the sofa, sat down so she straddled his lap. Her knees sank into the soft cushions, bringing her centre down on his. She could feel the hard press of him, and all she wanted was to have that part of him deep inside her. Just the thought had her stomach and thighs quivering, and she rocked forward, making him groan and buck against her.
His lips left hers and trailed down her neck, her chest, making a damp circle on the fabric as he sucked one nipple into his mouth. Cordelia gasped, hung her head back, lost in the sensation.
“Beautiful,” he murmured against the hard little pebble, running his hands up her sides, carrying the red satin higher. She let go of his shoulders and raised her arms, and it shimmered up and away in a wide arc, pooling on the floor. She glanced down, realized she wore no underwear. Saw the solid column of his cock, outlined through the black fabric, nestled against her thigh.
“Oh, God,” she gasped, her fingers plucking at his t-shirt.
“Okay?” he said, his eyes burning like the embers that had fallen from the LA sky.
“Want…” It was all she could get out. Words were forgotten and all she knew the song of her body, a symphony of need drowning out coherent thought.
He chuckled, and it was the sexiest thing she’d ever heard. The t-shirt flew up, joined her slip on the floor, and he raised his hips, shimmying the flowing black pants down, kicking them free.
Damn, he was hot. All chiselled muscle and pale, smooth skin. Cordelia pressed herself to him, rubbing herself up his chest like a cat, feeling the rumble inside him, and doing it again. Sparks went off all over her body, and she was sure her skin must be twinkling, like the lights of LA that watched them through the window.
His hands found her hips, lifted her, positioned her so she could feel him, pressed against her entrance. Time stood still, and all that existed was that exquisite feeling of almost. And then he lowered her down, over him, and every nerve centre in her body went off like fireworks. “Angel,” she cried, grabbing his shoulders as he filled her all the way.
His arms came around her, the room spun, and she was beneath him, on her back on the sofa. Angel loomed over her, his elbows either side of her head, hands touching her face, her lips, her hair. “I love you, Cordy,” he whispered. Something cold and wet splashed on her cheek, and she realised it was a tear. His tear.
“Shhhh.” She reached up, touched his face, smoothed his skin.
“Sorry. I just never thought we’d make it,” he said, blinking.
“Oh, we’ll make it,” she crooned, shifting her hips. His eyes closed, the muscles in his jaw twitched. Just like the kiss, he started gentle, hesitant. The slow drag of skin on heated skin. She reached down, grabbed his ass. “Come on, harder, please.”
Angel’s mouth closed over her breast, and he drew back, ramming into her, once, twice. Her hips shot up to meet him, legs twining around his thighs, feet rubbing against corded muscle. She reached up, gripped the armrest of the sofa behind her head, hung on. Nothing had ever felt this good. His tongue on her nipple, his fingers on the other, and the wonderful, aching moment when his other hand slid between them, thumb slipping between dark curls to press in the sweetest place of all.
Little incoherent grunts and moans rose from deep inside him, sweat beaded on his forehead, and she could tell by the way his cock throbbed inside her that it was all he could do to keep it together. That idea of him, on the knife-edge of control, together with the delicious drag of his thumb, sent her orgasm spiralling, unexpected, out of control. His name poured from her lips, over and over, and as her whole body clenched and tingled, he gasped and jerked, and she felt him empty into her.
For a long moment they lay, twined together, damp, panting. Cordelia closed her eyes, waited for equilibrium to return. When she opened them, he was smiling down at her. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. “I love you,” she whispered. He leaned in to kiss her, and then — he was gone.
She sat up, gasping, taking in the blurry little room and her comatose self. Dammit, back in hell again. Or wherever this really was.
Darkness gathered like smoke, on the edge of her vision.
“Okay, what? Quit following me around and get to the point,” she snapped, turning towards it. The cloaked figure with red eyes, and, for goodness sake, a scythe.
“Do you know who I am?” The voice was eerie, like wind howling under the eaves of a house. It made her flesh prickle.
“You *are* Death, right? Because I’ve been caught out on this point before,” she said, staring into the black depths beneath the hood.
“Yes, I am Death.”
“Thank God, because I’m ready to go. Really. Take me away from this — nothingness, before I go stark raving loony,” she sighed.
“You’re not scared?” Death sounded surprised.
Cordy shrugged. “Not any more.”
“Damn, I must be losing my touch.” Death leaned his scythe up against the wall and sat down in the armchair opposite her. The stench of decay rose up around him as his robes swirled and settled.
“Where the hell are we?” She waved her hand at the out-of-focus room.
“Another dimension, only one degree removed from your own, which is why you can still see it. Limbo,” he replied.
She frowned. “Like the dance?”
“No, not like the dance,” he said, an edge of exasperation creeping into his tone. “It’s the place between your world and the next. The place before the afterlife.”
Made sense. Not really alive, not really dead. Limbo. A bad place to spend the rest of eternity. “Okay then, let’s get this over with,” she said, folding her arms over her chest, a little cold and shivery despite the relief of finally getting what she wanted.
“Not yet. I have a choice for you.” He made a dramatic sweeping gesture with his hand, stirring up more smell.
Cordy wrinkled her nose. “What is it with you people? Showing up and giving me ultimatums. Because I tell you, the last time? *So* not fair. Led me right into a trap. How do I know you won’t do the same?”
“I’m Death.” He sounded a little irritated. “What reason would I have to lie?”
“Okay, go on then.” She rolled her eyes. This had better be good.
“You can choose to die, now, and go to your eternal peace, or you can awake from the coma, and resume your life, whatever there may be left of it. Decide.”
It was Cordelia’s turn to be irritated. No, actually, damn mad. “Now? Jeez, impatient much? How am I supposed to chose something this important with no prior warning?”
Death sighed, a long-suffering sound. “I gave you plenty of time to consider.”
What was he on about? He’d only just showed up… Except he hadn’t. He’d been in every one of her memories, except the sex dream — and how embarrassing would that have been? He’d sent her back to those special moments with Angel, to help her decide.
She got up, paced across the room. “Why only Angel memories?”
“You are connected,” Death replied, in his spooky, whistling voice. “But they weren’t all memories. Your last experience, for instance.”
“You saw that?” she gasped. “Freaking pervert!”
“It is your future. The future for one of the two paths.”
“Which one?” she demanded. Oh, she was *so* going to chose that one.
But Death shook his head.
“Okay, can I ask one thing?”
“Shoot,” Death replied.
She blew out a long, shaky breath. Maybe she didn’t want to know this. “Where would I go, if I died? Would it be hell, because I know I’ve been a bitch in my time, and I gave birth to a demon that nearly took over the world…”
Death made a strange, choking sound, and it was only after a few seconds that Cordelia realised he was laughing. It wasn’t very comforting. “Do you really think, after all you have done for them, that the PTB would send you down there? Did you do everything with good intention in your heart? Look inside, and that’s where you will find your answer.”
She nodded, relief flooding through her. She was going to heaven. Maybe heaven was whatever you wanted it to be. How else could she be having sex with Rich Angel without fear of the curse?
Her heart twisted at the thought of Angel. He was still alive — or undead, anyway — back in her own dimension, the blurry world she could see all around her but not be a part of. God knows where the others were. Would he, or any of them want to see her again? There was no way of knowing. She could be alone, penniless, waiting tables in Denny’s, and buying clothes from Penny Saver. Did she deserve that, after all she’d been through?
“Decide!” Death boomed, standing and reaching for his scythe. “I can’t hang around here all day. I’ve got a fifteen-car pile-up on the Autobahn to attend. I won’t be back.”
Cordelia closed her eyes, remembered all the things she’d seen and felt, and more. Angel leaping off a balcony with her in his arms, bullets ploughing into his back. Angel holding her hand in hospital. Angel sitting in a room, scratching on the wall, mad and hallucinating. Angel making love to her with tears in his eyes.
She breathed deep, let the choice come on it’s own, and when it did, it felt right.
Death nodded, reached out his hand, and pressed it to her forehead, pushing her back towards her body. Wind whirled around her, and something was tugging, sucking her back into that lifeless figure. Darkness fell, and all was silent.
Noise exploded in her ears. A door slamming open, loud beeping, someone running. Her throat hurt, tubes choking her, and her head screamed with pain. Hands grabbed her, rolled her on her side, and she coughed and spat, feeling the tube slide out. She dragged in a painful, burning breath.
“She’s coming ‘round,” someone said.
“Cordy, can you hear me?” Angel. His voice wavering, but unmistakeable.
She tried to open her eyes, squinted at him. He was blurry, but coming clearer with every blink. And tears streamed down his face. “Angel,” she tried to say, but it just came out as a croak.
“Don’t. It’s okay. Rest,” he said.
Later, she dozed. After all the doctors had checked her over. After the respirator had been unplugged, and the tubes taken from her nose.
Angel still sat in the corner, in the chair Death had occupied. He looked shaken. And *really* well dressed. Cordelia may have only been out of a coma for two hours, but she knew Armani when she saw it. She had no idea what was going on, where they were, but there was plenty of time to find out.
“Hey,” she whispered, as loud as she could manage after the tiny sip of water she’d been allowed to drink.
“Hey,” Angel said, coming over to her, linking his fingers with hers, careful to avoid the drip in the back of her hand. “You came back. I thought I’d lost you.”
“So did I.” She turned her face away. Didn’t want him to see her cry.
Desperation and panic welled up inside her. Oh, God, he had to know; she had to tell him everything, now.
“I didn’t do it. Didn’t…” She couldn’t say it — didn’t leave you, didn’t fuck your son… “It wasn’t me,” she croaked.
“Hey, shhh, it’s okay, I know,” he said, squeezing her hand.
“You do?” Her voice was barely audible.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he whispered.
His words dissolved, filtered into understanding, and her heart began to soar, relief flooding through her.
He didn’t blame her, didn’t hate her. Didn’t doubt her. She’d sacrificed love for the mission, and it cost her soul. Of course, Angel, of all people, understood that. About wrong choices made. About regret. About loss of control. The sob caught in her throat and made her cough.
He cupped her cheek, turned her face back to his, and kissed her, just like in the dream, soft, barely a whisper on her lips. “Don’t think about that now, it’s over. The important thing is that you’re here. You’re awake. Nobody knows how. Do you remember anything?’ he murmured, forehead resting against hers.
Cordelia nodded, swallowed hard, found her peace. “I realized I didn’t want to die.”
Took a deep, shuddering breath, and looked him in the eye. “This time, I chose love.”