Mix & Match c

***

As Angel awoke he could feel it – sunset. He’d had that same feeling everyday for almost two hundred and fifty years. Always there, always reminding him that even before the gypsies he was cursed; damned to the shadows, condemned to the darkness. But for the first time this prickle of awareness down his spine brought no self-loathing, no inner conflict, for now he understood that the night was the road he traveled, not his destination. Cordy had taught him that.

Frowning as he realized that he was warm, but not as warm as he’d been when they’d drifted into slumber this afternoon, he reached for her. Arms meeting nothing but air, he sat up, searching for the girl who’d rescued him, given him hope. He found her standing by the window as if she too could somehow feel the descent of the sun.

Rising from the bed he made his way to stand behind her. Even without seeing her face he knew, he could feel her smile.

“So…” Turning, she faced Angel, drinking in the sight of him as if somehow she hadn’t spent the day with him. “You feel good?”

He considered her question carefully. Did he feel good? He certainly felt rested. It was almost as though he had never truly slept before and never knew that this was what it offered. A sense of peace, of tranquility. But did he deserve that serenity unfurling in his soul? He believed Cordy when she said that he deserved a second chance, but this feeling of contentment felt unmerited, as though he were rushing things somehow. Letting go of the past to eagerly. And yet there was no denying that the stillness in his usually restless mind beckoned to him with an oddly silent siren’s song.

“I do. I just…I kind of feel bad about it.”

Arrrgh! Cordelia screamed in her mind. Did it never get easier with him? And yet she loved him, persistent insecurities and all.

“My God, you are a piece of work.”

Not wanting her to think he didn’t appreciate, believe in everything she’d shown him that day, he was quick to defend –

“I just don’t feel like I deserve…” No, that definitely wasn’t helping his case. “It’s not like I helped anyone.”

Ahhh, now she understood. Dork. “Sure you did.”

Enchanted by the knowing gleam in her eyes, Angel couldn’t help but ask, “Who?”

Throwing back her head, Cordelia laughed, really laughed and although he knew he was the source of her humor, he also knew that it wasn’t at his expense.

“Boy, I really do fall for the dumb ones.” She rolled her eyes and then winked at him to take away any sting that her words might mistakenly cause. “You know how you’re always trying to save, oh, every single person in the world? Did it ever occur to you you were one of them?”

And there it was. Now he to could appreciate the amusement in which Cordy was indulging. A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth as he realized the thought had never even entered his mind.

“No, it never did.”

Almost in awe, Cordelia reached up to brush the beginning of his smile with her fingertips.

“Well, you made the list, gorgeous. And you needed some help.”

Angel caught her hand, pressing fleeting kisses on her fingers and lingering ones on her palm.

“And you were the one that helped me.”

As electricity shot up her arm then cascaded down her spine she gently, but firmly, pulled her hand away from his questing lips. In a breathless distraction she husked out, “I did my part.”

Saddened by the loss of her warmth for the second time that evening Angel tried to focus on the positives that had come out of this day.

“I know it’s not even close to over, but I do feel like I can do this. Wolfram & Hart, whatever’s coming, I feel like we can beat it.”

Hearing those words sent relief blazing through her body, leaving her almost lightheaded.

“I know.”

Of course she knew, she’d always known, always believed. How could he have missed it for so long? Still, after everything, he still needed her reassurance, the reaffirmation of her unshakable confidence in him.

“You do?”

His neediness almost broke her heart. She knew that right now his faith was in her faith in him, not in himself. She could only hope that that was enough, that his belief in Angel would grow.

“I always did. I…I just needed you to know it, too. Whatever happens, Angel, you’re bigger than them. You’ll win this in the end.” Heart splintering in a million jagged shards, Cordelia swallowed hard, not knowing if she could force the next words out of her mouth regardless of the deal she had made. But seeing the flame of hope flickering once again to life in his eyes told her that she’d made the right choice. Now she just needed to see it through. “I, uh…just wish I could be there to see it.”

No, he couldn’t have heard her right. She couldn’t have said –

“What do you mean? You’re not…”

She couldn’t let him go on, couldn’t bear to drag this out any longer than it had to be. She’d always been a ‘rip the band-aid off quickly’ kind of girl, she wouldn’t start pulling slowly now.

“I can’t stay. This isn’t me anymore. You can say good-bye to the gang for me, explain everything once you understand.”

Understand? Understand! How the Hell could he ever understand something that would take her away from him. And ‘saying good-bye to the gang’, that meant she was leaving them all, not just him. She was their heart, their soul. They were just random people in the same profession without her. There was no family, there was nothing. How could he explain what he would never understand?

“That’s gonna be never.”

As his mind beginning spinning, whirling out of his control, he grabbed onto the only thought that could possibly make sense. Maybe it was *her* who didn’t understand.

“I need you here.”

Even the shards were shattering. She was doing the right thing, how could it hurt this bad? Can souls bleed, she wondered as she tried to think of something, anything to make this easier, to make escape possible.

“Don’t make it hard, Angel. I’m just on a different road…and this is my off-ramp. All this time, all these visions, The Powers That Be owed me one, and I didn’t waste it. I got my guy back on track.”

No! This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t be losing her. An image of Doyle flashed through his brain and he knew that he had this one chance to do what he hadn’t been able to do with Doyle – be quicker, be smarter, find the words that would stop this train wreck; that would make her stay.

“Cordy, there’s just-”

Cordelia stopped the rush of words, gently placing her fingertips against his lips. She couldn’t let this go on; she couldn’t let him hold onto his hope with its sharp, serrated edges.

“We take what we can get, champ, and we do our best with it. I’ll be seeing you.”

And choking on those last words she turn and made blindly for the door. But before she could cross the threshold, unfulfilled promise drew her back with a pull that, even if by some miraculous turn she had the strength to resist, she’d never have the will. Swallowing her sobs she pivoted on her heels and before the vampire knew what had hit him his arms were full of his beloved seer, her words ringing in his ears, even as her lips rose to meet his.

“Oh, what the hell. One for the road?”

As they embraced, each one trying to draw the other into themselves, they pushed aside their desperation, if only for the moment, and embraced perfection. Lips, feverishly hot and soothingly cool, met and tangled as tongues entwined, tasting, worshiping, memorizing every detail, every instant. Clinging to each other, afraid to separate for even a second, they both felt, in that moment, the benevolent hand of The Powers they served as time slowed and their one shining moment contained infinite lifetimes of love, an endless blending of souls.

Just as they had transcended the bounds of time, reality returned with shrill force as the bedside phone began to ring. Confused, knowing that he shouldn’t let go of Cordelia, no matter how briefly, yet feeling intuitively that something larger than them both was coming he left the decision in her hands.

“You know, um… I don’t…I don’t need to get that.”

Aware that she’d had more of Angel than she’d ever thought possible Cordelia smiled at him, her eyes containing a love so deep he felt as if his heart had only just stopped beating, his breath only just been taken. She touched him, one last sensation for them to hold.

“That you have to get.”

As Angel crossed to where the phone was he heard a murmur carried on a mystical breeze…“Oh…and you’re welcome.”

“Hello. Wes?”

At the distraught undertone in the Watcher’s voice, Angel gripped the receiver tightly.

“An accident? Right after dawn? Wes, what are you talking about?”

At the Englishman’s words the vampire lost what little color could be found in uncirculated blood.

“She’s…but that’s impossible. She’s standing right-”

It can’t be. It’s not. And yet he was afraid to turn around, afraid to rest his eyes where she last stood, to listen for her heartbeat, to strain for her scent. But still he turned, choking back the sobs that threatened to tear through him when all he saw was the empty air that once caressed her shape. Mind and body working solely from memory of what was supposed to be said at times like these he pulled the phone back to his mouth, words coming of their own accord as an icy numbness made it’s way throughout his body.

“I’m sorry. Yeah.”

Grateful for his deadened feelings he choked out the next words, amazed that his voice barely cracked.

“When did she die?”

As he heard the word ‘coma’ he forced himself to ask –

“Did she, um…she never did wake up? I see.”

He heard the tears in Wesley’s voice, knew that his friend couldn’t take much more of this conversation, yet he was loathe to let him go, to let it end. Once he hung up the phone then this nightmare would be real, she would be gone and Angel knew, with an overwhelming certainty, that once he put down the phone the numbness that has protected him like an anesthetizing cloak would pour out of him, most likely flowing through the gaping hole in his chest where his heart should be.

With a click he knew the time had come, and reality, like a ray of sunlight, came bursting through to incinerate him leaving his insides nothing more than the dusty residue of his flimsy soul.

But like a phoenix, he felt something stir in the aftermath of the immense conflagration that had taken place within him. It was something small, miniscule really, and yet he felt it there with a certainty he’d rarely had in all of his lifetimes. Searching for it, reaching deeper and Ahhh, there it was.

Epiphany. It’s such a lovely word, eternal in its complexity, its diversity, its relevance to every life. It’s not the happiness that keeps us going; Angel knew that if that were the case he would long be dead. It’s not the attainment of goals or the meeting of expectations, the gathering of wealth and power, for, while those things enhance life, they don’t perpetuate it. No, it’s these moments that keep us going, no matter how few and far between; these instances of absolute, cold clarity, in which one stares the truth in the face, but for some reason, this time, actually recognizes it. And Angel knew this to be one such moment.

That feeling inside of him. That foreign entity he couldn’t place. It was her. His Cordy. It was her faith, her unwavering belief in his ability to do right, to be good. And now he knew, with the same certainty she had maintained, that he *could* be the man that she saw in him. He’d always relied on her presence to guide him, and yet in its absence she’d left him a map. A straight and true line directing him from point A to point B when all he’d ever seen before were an endless wave of curves.

He’d left her. Pushed her out of his life, become the embodiment of her greatest fear, nevertheless, in her final hours she bargained with The Powers That Be, who owed her more than they could ever repay, not for her own life, but for his. Pleaded for time to show him who he was, who he could be. And though in leaving she’d taken with her his heart, she’d left her own; vastly superior and infinite in its capacity to love, to believe.

And as the battered Champion knelt on the floor, supplicant to the will of the woman he’d loved and lost; the woman whose faith had restored him, he said the only thing that he could.

“Thank you.”

The End

SKauble

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