The light filtering through the large tinted windows roused Cordelia from her peaceful slumber. She knew that it was fairly early, not by the brightness of the room, but the fact that she was tightly wrapped in Angel’s arms.
It was that last thought that caused her muscles to stiffen and her eyes to clench shut as she realized what they had done the night before. She’d been so adamant that it wouldn’t happen, but at the first sign of distress she went running into the remembered safety of Angel’s embrace as if the previous year had never occurred.
But it had. And she needed to hold onto that thought with all the resolve she could muster if she wanted to get away from here, from these memories, and see if she could ever rebuild some semblance of a life for herself.
Oh, God. Even more overwhelming than the amorous activities of the night before was the revelation that had preceded them. As the memories slammed into her once more, she began to shake in response.
Even though the warmth against him was beckoning him into a deeper sleep, the sudden vibrating of the soft body pressed to his chest called him to wakefulness. Eyes opening in concern, he looked down at the woman huddled against him.
Hearing her name, she jerked backwards but found no give in the steel bands wrapped around her.
“Cordelia, what’s wrong?”
She heard the frustration filling Angel’s voice as she tried to pull away and she knew him well enough to know its cause. The stupid vampire always expected things between them to be solved so easily. And she was woman enough to own some of the responsibility for that misguided belief. She’d loved Angel for so long. With him, L.A. had been the first place she’d ever been able to let down her defenses and be herself; let others see her for who she really was. And because she’d been so thankful to finally feel free and so grateful to have such a worthwhile purpose in her life she’d worked hard to make it easy for him. Really, as if a pile of clothes, designer or not, would have made up for the fact that he’d abandoned her for some cheap vampire slut. Of course it hadn’t, and the fact that he’d even believed that the worst of her anger in the Darla debacle had been because he’d given away some of her clothes just showed what a doofus he was. It was funny, because he’d never seemed to expect things to run so smoothly with Buffy.
Everything was starting to made sense, and the realization left her feeling slightly ill. Angel’s sudden feelings, his possessiveness, his completely insane behavior, it, like everything else in his life came back to Buffy.
“You care about me.”
It wasn’t a question, and Angel was confused that she would make that particular observation as she continued to try to pull away from him.
“Of course I do, Cordelia.”
“But in the end it still comes down to Buffy, doesn’t it.”
Again it wasn’t a question; but this time her statement set his teeth on edge. They’d just had a night of passion the likes of which he’d never experienced in the whole of his existence and she was still concerned about Buffy?
“What the hell does Buffy have to do with anything anymore?”
Cordelia wasn’t remotely put off by the rising anger in Angel’s voice. She could handle even the worst of the vampire’s moods. She’d done it for years. Besides, she finally felt like everything had clicked into place and she wasn’t going to let his anger distract here.
“Everything! She has everything to do with it, just like always.” She spit out bitterly. “She’s a slayer.”
“And it only took you eight years to pick up on that?”
Cordelia ignored Angel’s sarcastic interruption and went on.
“She’s a slayer and we all know that slayers have a fairly short shelf life. So in a blink of an eye, vampire time, Buffy will be gone and you’ll be alone.”
Angel didn’t like where this was heading.
“Of course, now you don’t have to be, do you? No, whether it’s the doing of the good Powers or the not so good ones, it seems that I won’t be going anywhere any time soon. And even though we’ll never be some kind of epic love story, you care about me.” She’d spit the word ‘care’ out like an epithet. “So now you’ve got yourself a nice little backup plan, don’t you? Someone to keep the loneliness at bay when your tragic Romeo has no Juliet to adore.”
She watched in shock as his face hardened and his eyes took on an icy sheen. Slowly, and with controlled and precise movements, the arms around her pulled away as Angel left the bed. Despite knowing for a fact that he’d never physically harm her, she felt a small frisson of fear run down her spine.
“I’m not going to have this ridiculous conversation with you, Cordelia. I’m here – with you. Even though Buffy’s alive and well. Even though she made it clear that she was still interested in us continuing our relationship at some point. If I wanted to be with Buffy then believe me, I would be.”
He disappeared briefly into the closet, and when he returned he had pulled on some black pants and a maroon short which was still hanging open. A tie had been jammed haphazardly into his pocket and a pair of dress shoes and some socks were dangling from his hand. With large strides he made his way back to the bed, kneeling one knee on the mattress so he was inches from Cordelia. Before she could think to move back, Angel’s free hand shot out and grasped her chin.
“I’m going to go to work for a while. I’ll expect you to use that time to apply what I know to be an impressive intellect to this relationship. I’m sure that, with a few hours, you can figure out for yourself that if I wanted Buffy I’d be here with Buffy; and whether she was ready or not would hardly matter…after all, I haven’t let your refusals to stay stand in my way.”
His relentless grip on her chin pulled her in ‘til their faces were scant inches apart.
“I want you. I have you. And I’m keeping you. So I suggest that you use the next few hours to wrap your mind around that concept, because it’s not changing.”
Suddenly his firm, cool lips were on hers; his tongue pushing past hers lips to sweep inside her mouth. It was ravenous and consuming and as soon as she began to sway towards him it was over and he was gone, leaving her with nothing but the cool air and her heated thoughts for company.
Stepping out of the shower and onto the heated bathroom floor, Cordelia shook her head, once again, at the gratuitous opulence of the room. Of course, if one had to be in a cage she’d take the gilded one, thank you. But what Angel didn’t seem to understand was that it was still a cage; a prison…stupid vampire.
Catching herself in a despairing sigh, she mentally shook herself. This wasn’t who she was. Cordelia Chase may get knocked down but she didn’t just lie there whining about her fate. If she’d learned anything from trudging waist deep through the supernatural for the last eight years it was that for every piece of magick gobbledygook, every spell there was a remedy and, barring that, a sneaky way around it. The destruction of the Judge was a prime example of taking advantage of the mystical fine print. Although she’d be damned if any innocent malls were going to be harmed in her plans. She had standards after all.
Finished drying off, Cordelia reached for the blow dryer on the vanity. Setting it for a mild heat, she flung her hair over her head as she bent down to dry the underside of the dark, thick waves. She was caught off guard as the strands brushed her legs, not yet used to the new length. It was yet another reminder that she was no longer the normal girl that she had been.
That was a thought that she didn’t want to dwell on at the moment, but as she turned of the dryer and silence filled the room she found that she couldn’t shake the thoughts – of her imprisonment, of her immortality – out of her mind.
As she tried to slow the whirlwind of chaotic thoughts, she absentmindedly began to pick up the damp towels she had used and moved over to throw them into the laundry chute. Pulling open the door, she pushed the towels into the chute…and froze.
Frantically she went back over everything that Angel had told her that first night. She hadn’t really been entirely level-headed, so things were a little fuzzy. But she was knew he’d talked about the spell keeping her in this god forsaken luxury apartment with amazing views, incredible art, a magnifi – dammit! God forsaken hellhole. That’s what she’d meant she assured herself.
Forcing herself to replay the events of that very unpleasant evening she could feel the memory surfacing. Pushing until she could feel her head starting to ache she finally grasped it.
He’d said that he’d had a shaman come and bind the exits with a ritual designed specifically for her. The exits. But the laundry chute probably wouldn’t be considered an exit to a shaman. However to the captive of a loony vampire any avenue of escape was a reasonable exit.
Before letting her hope run away with her she opened the metal door once more and reached her arm in. Further. Further. Finally it was in up to her shoulder and she realized that it hadn’t been blocked. Peering into the darkened shaft she couldn’t see how long it was, but she could tell that she would fit. Barely. Still, while the tight confines would be unpleasant, it would keep her from plunging to her death if the laundry room happened to be located in the basement. That seemed like a pretty fair trade. Especially since, with her luck, the laundry really would be located on the lowest floor possible.
But none of that mattered because it was a way out. And even if she couldn’t see what lay in the depths of the darkness, what she did see was beautiful – freedom.
As she went to climb into the opening she realized one flaw in her plan. She was still naked. Well, that easy enough to fix. Striding purposefully back into the bedroom she flung open the doors to the closet the size of a comfortable guest room. Bypassing rows of jewel toned negligees she made her way to Angel’s clothes. With reluctant hands she pulled the articles of clothing that she’d been searching for from their appointed racks and carried them back into the bedroom.
She wasn’t sure how much time she had and so she would have to be fast. Despite her recognition of that fact, she found herself hesitating to put on the clothes she’d ‘borrowed’. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t worn Angel’s clothes before. She had; all the time. In fact she’d made an art out of stealing his large, comfy t-shirts and warm, soft sweaters. Although she was pretty sure that her success was due less to her skill and more to Angel turning a blind eye to her constant thefts.
But things had been different and those days were gone and the act of wearing the clothes of her former friend seemed far too personal. With a short huff and a roll of her eyes she began yanking on the sweat pants. She was being stupid and she knew it. She’d had sex with the guy less than twenty four hours ago; nothing was more personal than that. So what if the clothes brought back memories? Escaping was the only thing that mattered now and she would do what she had to do.
She rolled down the top of the sweats so they rode low on her hips, pulled the white cotton shirt over her head, and shoved a pair of athletic socks into a pocket. She’d decided to go barefoot, hoping that she could use the traction against the sides of the shaft to slow her decent.
Pulling open the chute she paused for just a moment. Once she managed to get out of the Wolfram & Hart building that would be it. She would flee to Europe where she knew that Giles and the gang would take her in and she wouldn’t see Angel again. Well, at least not for a long, long time.
It was funny. She knew that was what she wanted but she still couldn’t stop the pain that speared her heart. She loved Angel. Really loved him. It wasn’t a crush and it wasn’t some epic, storybook romance. What she felt, it was…real. It was strong and enduring. It was enjoying the good and understanding the bad. It was life altering, but it certainly wasn’t life taking.
There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for Angel…except to be his doormat. She would never be what Buffy had been; she wouldn’t wallow in pain and misery and dress it up in destiny and call it love. She’d be an equal or she’d be gone.
And with that thought in mind she threw her leg over the edge of the opening and pulled herself up ‘til she was balancing on the thin metal lip. Bracing her feet on either side of the shaft she began easing herself inside. The metal was cold against her feet as she let the blackness consume her. Breathing deep she tried not to let panic consume her as she scooted her body down the first inch or two. By the time she’d slid down about half a foot she was starting to feel better about the whole idea.
She could do this. She knew she could. That was the last thought she had as her feet left the metal with nothing but air below them.