Too Little, Too Late 4-7

Chapter Four

Ignoring the elevators Angel flew up the stairs. Unfortunately he knew too many L.A. hospitals all too well. The door crashed against the wall and anyone who was within hearing distance was smart enough not to approach the dark cloud of menace masquerading as a man. Cornering the first person he saw he issued a demand for information that allowed for no refusal.

“Cordelia Chase?”

“Ro-room 415.”

The young orderly choked out his reply immensely relieved to be out of the way of the guy whose eyes he would swear just turned gold.

Despite his desperate need to see Cordelia, Angel’s footsteps slowed as he approached the door. He could hear everything; the repetitive beep of machinery, the monotonous drip of intravenous fluid, everything but the one thing he longed to hear – Cordelia’s voice. As the distance diminished his fear grew, but knowing what lay beyond that door wasn’t optional, it was necessity.

Even if Angel had tried to prepare himself for the worst he never would have been ready for the sight that greeted him. There, on a white, sterile bed lay the pale, still form of his best friend. Tubes bombarded her from all angles supplying her with blood, fluids, and air while small monitors with their dim lights and tinny beeps displayed the cadence of her laboring systems.

He didn’t remember making a sound, but he must have because suddenly the two conscious occupants of the room turned his way.

“Angel.”

Wesley’s relief was palpable as he saw the vampire in the doorway. The terrifying drive to the Emergency Room, watching them take Cordelia into surgery, and then sitting with her as machines took over the functions of her struggling body was slowly driving him mad. The fact that he hadn’t been able to reach Angel after the initial call had also been an enormous concern as he wasn’t sure that his message had gotten through. But seeing his overwhelming presence filling the door he felt the first stirrings of hope.

As sincerely as both he and Gunn loved Cordelia, he knew that the bond that she and Angel shared was not just beyond his comprehension, but most likely beyond his capability. Joined on an almost spiritual level as Cordelia liked him to both The Powers and his redemption, Wesley had watched as Angel grew more and more aware that his seer held the key to that treasure.

He knew that if there was anything else that could be done to help Cordelia Angel would be the one to find it. After all, when she had been cursed by Vocah Angel had taken on an underworld assassin and maimed a man to save her, and their connection had only grown stronger since then.

And as much as Wesley knew that Angel would do anything for his seer, he knew the same was true of the seer for her champion. If there was one thing in this world that would make the young woman laboring to survive hold on it would be Angel’s pain. Slowly but surely the vampire had become the center of Cordelia’s life. If she could possibly hear him, could know of the pain that was carved into every plane of Angel’s face she would fight death itself to get back to him.

The ache in Angel’s chest nearly pushed him to his knees as he made his way towards the bed. Reaching out to stroke Cordelia’s pale face he stilled for a moment knowing that if he touched her it would shatter all hope that this was just a terrible nightmare brought about by their short separation. That fervent wish was crushed as his hand met the overheated silk of her beautiful face. Sinking in the chair that Wesley had just abandoned, Angel felt the crushing in his chest grow until he was sure that had he been human his heart would have been unable to carry on beating. Incapable of tearing his eyes away from her he choked out his friend’s name, both desperate for and dreading an explanation.

“Wesley?”

“She had a vision.” Wesley paused. He’d never seen so many emotions so quickly cross one person’s face and certainly not the stoic vampire’s – pain, guilt, and horror rolled over Angel’s features along with various emotions that the ex-watcher was too exhausted to examine at this time.

“3 vampires down at the Star Cinema. We tried to get her to stay.” This time it was Wesley’s face that showed the terrible burden of guilt he was carrying. “She said she knew the theater’s location and would go by herself. We thought she’d be safer with us.” A bitter laugh full of self-recrimination sounded in the quiet room.

“When we arrived Gunn and I started fighting while Cordelia began evacuating the patrons. We were struggling with the final vampire as Cordelia was helping the last person out; a young girl who’d injured her leg in the crush of fleeing people.”

Taking a deep breath Wesley’s mind began to replay the pictures he’d been seeing all night.

“Somehow Cordelia must have lost her crossbow in the chaos. Gunn and I managed to bring the last vampire down, but just as the battle was coming to a close he twisted round and grabbed hold of the fallen crossbow.”

Sweat appeared on Wesley’s brow and a slight tremor ran through him..

“He was aiming for the injured girl. Angel, she didn’t even hesitate. Without even a thought Cordelia threw herself in front of the teenager…She didn’t even seem aware at first. You could see the moment she realized that they hadn’t both gotten clear, that she had a bolt lodged in her chest.”

This time it was Angel who was shaking as the vivid image a Cordelia’s precious body being violently pierced by such a deadly projectile burned itself into his brain. If he hadn’t been sitting he would have collapsed as unbearable regret streaked through him.

“This is all my fault.”

Neither of the men who heard the whispered confession reacted. What could they say when they’d spent hours thinking the very same thing. It was Angel’s fault. This mission they fought was his. He was the champion, the visions came for him, and although they all believed in the cause, at the end of the day it was the vampire who gained from what they did, who would be rewarded.

And knowing that it was hard to watch him wandering off every time he had a personal crisis. It wouldn’t be bad if the damn visions left when he did, but they didn’t. They stayed, haunting the young seer; leaving the defense of the innocents in the hands of a girl whose tender heart would never let her turn them away.

So, although they took no joy in his pain they said nothing to alleviate his anguish, the fear for their injured friend still far too fresh in their minds.

But Angel didn’t notice their silent condemnation, nor would he have been aware had they uttered words of comfort. No one in the room, in the world existed but the beautiful brunette whose vibrant love of life that normally lit her from within seemed even more fragile in comparison to his last memory of her, her face soft with understanding as she listened to all the reasons he was spouting about why he had to abandoned her again.

In all the years since his soul had been returned Angel had never hated himself as much as he did at that moment. Cordelia was so young, so beautiful, unbelievably compassionate; she could be anything, have anything she wanted in life. She’d given everything up for him, for his mission. Sure, she’d say that it was their mission, she’d talk about how it gave her purpose, made her life worthwhile, but it was his atonement for which she sacrificed.

Angel’s eyes clenched tight as he thought of how he’d repaid that loyalty. He’d fired her, leaving her to shoulder the consequences of his sins, an unforgivable act that, had his epiphany been even slightly delayed, would have resulted in her death. He’d come back only to turn around and once again dump his responsibilities at her feet because he was feeling bad that he wasn’t feeling worse that Buffy died.

Although it seemed reasonable to him at the time, seeing the results of his failure to be the warrior he was supposed to be made his choice glaringly reckless in retrospect. And then, to top it all off, as soon as Buffy came back he was off, leaving the woman he couldn’t live without to rush to the side of the one he’d just learned that he could.

Grasping her hand as if somehow he could keep her there by sheer force of will, Angel held on for dear life; the terrible realization that he could lose her filling his soul, leaving him colder than his “beige” period ever had. Though under normal circumstance he loved the warmth of her touch, the feverish heat of her skin felt scalding against the chill of his hands. As hope flowed fast from the gaping hole consuming his heart he knew he had to do something. But this wasn’t like Vocah’s curse, there were no demons to fight, no law firms to blame. And so the helpless champion did the only thing he could –

“Cordelia. It’s Angel. I’m here Cordy. I won’t leave you again; never again. Just stay with me. Please, stay”


Chapter Five

It had been three days and Angel hadn’t stopped talking to the sleeping girl. The hospital staff had given up trying to get the frightened man to leave the young woman’s bedside.

Wesley and Gunn had also stopped encouraging Angel to go home to shower and eat, the Englishman instead trying to at least get his friend to have some of the blood he’d brought masked in a thermos. Receiving nothing but a low growl for his trouble Wesley finally abandoned the attempts, grateful at least that the small room in the Intensive Care Unit was relatively dark having no windows except the large pane of glass that looked out into the hallway.

The atmosphere of the room was choked with an air of misery and the grief. As deeply as the need to be with Cordelia was, it was almost a relief for Wesley and Gunn to escape the anguish pervading the room to the relative peace of the cafeteria to grab a quick dinner.

Angel was grateful for the departure of his friends. He knew they loved Cordelia and that they too were overwhelmed with worry, but he needed to be alone with her. Though they’d never talked about it there was a connection linking him and Cordelia. Whether it was because they were bound to each other by the visions or because she was the best friend he’d ever had in all of his years he didn’t know.

But it was there. He felt it and he knew Cordelia felt it too. When it was just the two of them here he could sense it, strong and alive like a current flowing between them. They needed privacy so he could focus on that tie; fill it with his love and concern, his desperate need to look into her captivating eyes, to see her enchanting smile.

But every moment of stillness drained more and more of his faith. Doubt began to creep into his mind – What if she didn’t make it? What if he never saw those eyes sparkle, never watched that smile light his day. What if the last thing he said to her was that he had to leave her again to take care of some other woman while she stayed and fought his battles?

Tears of despair filled his eyes and laying his head on the bed by her side he gave in to them as sobs wracked his body.

A sound rippled across the dark pool of tranquility enveloping Cordelia. She’d tried to push it away, to slip deeper into the warmth surrounding her, but the noise pulled at her. Heartrending, the poignant cries touched an almost instinctual need within her to comfort and calm. With an effort that robbed her of breath she forced her eyes to open.

Trying to turn her head towards the suffering soul she realized that waking had been the easy part of the process. Hoping that all of this effort would be sufficiently appreciated, she finally convinced her muscles to cooperate and the source of the sadness came slowly into view.

Although his face was hidden she recognized him instantly. Pain that had nothing to do with any physical injuries shot through her at the unbearable grief radiating from him. Her heart clenched at the sight as dread washed through her. With the same strength that enabled her to work through the visions Cordelia lifted her hand from its place on the bed and laid it gently on the dark head beside her.

“Oh God, Buffy?”

Angel’s head snapped up at the sound of her voice. Husky from lack of use it was, to the man who had longed for nothing but to hear it again, finer than the greatest of symphonies. Despite his boundless joy, confusion crossed his face. Buffy? He knew that she would probably be confused upon waking, demanding to know what happened, where she was, but this? He wasn’t left wondering long.

“She didn’t die again?”

And in that moment Angel’s mind recognized what his heart had known for months. He didn’t just love Cordelia Chase; he was in love with her. No one had ever cared about him with this depth, with such steadfast devotion. She’d just awakened from a coma, she had to be dazed and in pain, and all she thought about was his suffering.

Shame gnawed in his gut as he realized that she thought his sorrow was for Buffy. Had he really been so remiss in expressing his care for her that she thought that even at her hospital bed he’d be worried about someone else? Grasping her hand he determined never to make that mistake again.

Cordelia blinked at the beautiful smile that dawned on Angel’s face. She’d never seen anything quite like that expression on her brooding friend and for a moment she wondered if she might not still be asleep. Further confusing her was that he’d gone from miserable to happy so quickly.

“Angel -”

Before she could even question the instant mood change the joyful vampire was speaking a mile a minute. Startled by the uncharacteristic verbal flood, it took Cordelia’s mind a moment to process what was being said.

“You didn’t leave. God, you didn’t leave me. I knew you’d stay. You always come back; I knew you would this time.”

Cordelia pulled her hand from his and moved it up to caress his cheek.

“Of course I wouldn’t leave you, Angel. I wouldn’t break my promise.”

Angel mouth transformed into a soft smile and he caught her hand as it began to fall back to the bed. He could see the toll that comforting him was taking as her eyes slid shut once more. Panic flared to life at the thought that she might be slipping away from him again.

“Cordy!”

Hearing the fear in his voice Cordelia’s eyes fluttered open.

“I know you’re tired, but don’t sleep yet. Just let me get the doctor. Stay awake, please.”

Unable to deny the plea in his voice, she smiled weakly.

“Okay, but if they come in here and start poking at me you’re so gonna get it buddy.”

Relief shot through Angel. She was threatening him and scowling at the thought of dealing with doctors and tests, and for the first time he truly believed that things were going to be okay, that she wasn’t going to leave him desolate and alone.

Not wanting to let her out of his sight even for an instant, he hurried to the door, calling for a doctor; the darkness slowly seeping out of his soul as Cordelia’s light rushed back in.


Chapter Six

It had been three weeks now and Cordelia was about to snap. The doctors drained more blood from her than a vampire would for their never ending tests. She felt fine and she didn’t understand why she couldn’t have gone home days ago.

But every time she suggested that Wesley would stutter out some obscure medical terms that were harder to understand than his demon lectures, Gunn would remind her, unnecessarily, that she’d been shot in the chest with a crossbow bolt, and Angel, Angel was the worst. He hadn’t been home once in all the weeks she’d been there and his non-stop hovering was driving her insane.

Wesley had given the staff some story about Angel being sensitive to sunlight so the nurses had made sure that the blinds were tightly shut during daylight hours. If Cordelia had known that would mean that she never got a moments peace as he fretted over every wince and questioned every member of the staff who was unfortunate enough to enter the room, she would have asked to be placed the brightest space in the entire hospital.

She understood that they loved her and that their actions were motivated by the fear at her near death that she could still read in their eyes. But enough was enough. Her ingrained hatred of hospitals had already frayed her strained nerves and if it weren’t for the fact that she was going home today she was afraid she would do something that her friends might not live to regret.

As the nurse left with the last of the release papers Angel moved quickly and scooped Cordelia off the bed and into his arms before she had the chance to stand on her own.

“Angel. Geez, I can walk you know. I wasn’t shot in the legs.”

A low growl sounded from the vampire. He knew that humor was the way Cordelia dealt with almost everything in her life, but there was absolutely nothing humorous about this in his mind and there never would be. Every time he thought of how close she came to dying, his muscles tightened and pain pierced his soul like a dagger.

But the rumbling sound stopped abruptly as he felt Cordelia’s warm hand press against his chest.

“I’m okay now, Angel. 50 million medical tests can’t be wrong.”

She was doing it again. She was comforting him, soothing away his fears and doubts. He’d taken it for granted before, but after almost losing her he soaked in every moment of her concern. And since he’d realized he loved her these moments had given him hope that maybe, one day, she could feel something more for him than just friendship. But even if their relationship never progressed beyond this point he would thank the Powers every day of his existence for giving her back to him.

“You’ve been in bed a long time Cordy. I don’t think you should push yourself too hard for a while.”

Before she could berate him further an orderly came in with an empty wheelchair. Word had spread quickly on the floor about the slightly obsessive man who hadn’t left the beautiful brunette’s bedside since the day she was admitted. Trying to contain his smile he explained hospital procedure to the scowling man who looked ready to fight to retain possession of the girl in his arms.

“I see you’ve found much better traveling accommodations than this rickety old chair, but I’m afraid rules say that I have to be the one to drive you down, Miss Chase.”

“Rickety?” Angel asked as he eyed the contraption with distrust.

“Angel.” Cordelia ground out, her frustration causing her teeth to grind. “He’s just kidding. Using his sense of humor; you know, that thing you don’t have.”

“I have a sense of humor!” He defended, personally not finding anything funny about Cordelia’s safety.

“Well you must be saving it for a rainy day, huh?” Wiggling in his arms, Cordelia finally managed to get Angel to let her stand, but it was reluctant and she rolled her eyes at him as she flopped into the chair the orderly was holding for her.

“Let’s get out of here and make it snappy, driver.”

Cordelia smiled over her shoulder and for a moment the man pushing her was blinded by the beaming smile. Suddenly it was clear why the dark man hovering next to her wouldn’t leave her; he wouldn’t either if that smile was waiting for him.

Arriving outside Cordelia saw the Plymouth parked under the streetlight at the hospital entrance. As she stood she almost fell down in shock as Angel threw the keys to Gunn. Before she could even take a step towards the car she found herself once again securely wrapped in Angel’s arms. With a deep sigh she resigned herself to letting Angel have his way, so she was shocked as he stepped into the back seat settling her on his lap and wrapping his arms firmly around her.

About to light into the clingy vampire she tilted her face to his. The words died in her throat as she saw the pathetic look on his face as if he expected her to reject the comfort he was offering. Her disgruntled expression faded into a tender smile. This was her best friend and if he was a little needy than so what. After all, she’d be home soon so she might as well let him have his way. Resting her head on his shoulder she closed her eyes as Angel pulled the sides of his coat around her.

A swaying motion pulled Cordelia from her shallow slumber. Opening her eyes was greeted by the sight of the hotel lobby quickly disappearing as she peered over Angel’s shoulder. Knowing that something was wrong with that picture she tried to rouse herself further.

“Angel? Why isn’t this my apartment?”

Tensing for the fight he knew was coming Angel looked down at his seer. But no matter how much Cordelia argued he knew he’d win because she was already at the hotel and there was no way her was letting her leave.

“Cordelia, you’ve been in the hospital for three weeks. You can’t be alone right now. And don’t even mention Dennis.” He cut her off before she could even begin. “There’s no way you can convince me that you’d be as safe with him as you will be here.”

“Hey! You leave Dennis alone. He takes plenty good care of me. And I’m not staying here!”

Opening the door to his room Angel walked forward and gently set Cordelia on his bed.

“I’m definitely not staying in here Angel. I have a perfectly good room across the hallway.”

Angel hid his smile as he turned to retrieve the duffel bag sitting next to the bathroom. Suddenly she’d gone from demanding to go home to ordering that he let her go to her room down the hall. She wouldn’t win that fight either, but at least it would be easier now that she’d accepted she’d be staying here with him.

“Cordelia, you’ll need to stay here until you’re stronger. Who knows how long that will be? I chose this room for a reason, you know. It’s the most defensible in the hotel. I’ll take the room next door and you’ll stay here. Please, Cordelia. I haven’t been able to stop worrying for three weeks now. I just need to know you’re safe.”

He was giving her that look again, and Cordelia was starting to wonder if she was being played. But she knew his worry was genuine, and she guessed that it wouldn’t kill her to stay for a few days to prove to him that she was almost as good as new.

“Hmmph. Alright, I’ll stay, but no hovering Angel.” She wasn’t buying the innocent look he shot her for a minute. “I mean it. I know you guys have been concerned, but if I don’t get to re-inflate my personal bubble the only thing you’ll have to worry about is me spiking your blood with holy water.”

Too ecstatic at her acquiescence to be bothered by her threat, Angel brought the bag over to her, setting it on the bed.

“Dennis packed some things for you. Why don’t you change. I’ll bring up some dinner, then you can take your pills and get some sleep.”

Cordelia wanted to argue about the pills, but Angel was out the door before the words had time to form.

For a champion he sure was a big coward.


Chapter Seven

As was often his habit, Angel sat in the dark. But this time there was no brooding involved. Instead he felt an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment as he watched Cordelia sleeping. Seeing her laid out in his bed filled him with a sense of rightness.

Sure, sometimes after visions she would come and stretch out here before she’d had her own room, but this was different. Now she was in her pajamas – and emerald green tank top with some darker green cotton shorts; and tucked in between the sheets and blankets. She looked like she belonged there and for a few moments Angel let himself pretend that she did. That she’d fallen asleep waiting for him to join her.

Before Buffy he’d never known what love was. But this was different. This was warm and welcoming. It was like finding a home that had no specific location other than wherever Cordelia was.

It wasn’t that he and Buffy hadn’t loved each other. They truly had. But it was the love of a man who’d never had anyone and a girl who didn’t think she’d live long enough to have anyone else. It was desperate and fraught with insecurities. It was painful but the pain made them both feel so alive that it felt like everything. And he would still believe that it was indeed everything if it wasn’t for the young woman curled up in his bed, his pillow clutched to her chest.

He knew that Cordelia would stake him if she woke up and found him watching her, and yet he couldn’t pull himself away. Having her out of his sight even for the few minutes it took for her to shower or him to fix her dinner was almost painful for him. He hoped these anxious feelings would pass soon. He knew his constant attention was wearing on her nerves, but he couldn’t help it.

Angel’s life had rarely been a happy thing. In the last century he’d clearly run short in the bliss department. Now that he’d been given a second chance to find that with Cordelia he was afraid to trust it; afraid that if he took his eyes off of her, didn’t take the care with her that he should have before, he’d loose her. He was afraid that someone up there would remember that his life was supposed to be nothing but endless misery and do something to ruin his burgeoning happiness.

Looking at the sleeping girl he felt his doubts rise. She deserved so much more than this. She deserved a life with a man, not a demon. She deserved a beautiful wedding and a perfect family and a job that didn’t put her life at risk. But he knew that he’d never be able to convince her to go and after his time without her during the whole Darla debacle he’d never be able to walk away. So no matter how much better her life might be without him, it seemed they were destined to be together; a fact for which, if he were to be honest, he was endlessly grateful.

And in some ways he felt like a bastard. Even though he knew the visions caused her pain, a pain he’d give anything to alleviate, he couldn’t regret that she had them because they bound her to him, gave them a common goal on which he knew Cordelia could never turn her back. And he was no longer sure that if she could walk away that he could let her.

He’d left Buffy. And although their love hadn’t been anything like the feelings he had now, it was his life at the time. But he’d known that with the curse and Buffy’s longing for a normal life he could never give her what she wanted. Now everything was different.

He’d already established that there could be no separation from Cordelia, and without the limitations of his the gypsy curse he was free to experience the full joy of loving her.

After he’d left Buffy Angel had thought that there would never be another moment of happiness in his life, so the parameters of the curse hadn’t worried him overly much. But after the Doximil incident he’d looked in to negating the bliss clause without releasing his soul. He’d been surprised how easy it was. He hadn’t left it for so many years because there was no remedy, but simply because he hadn’t known that it existed.

After all, it’s not as if the Gypsies had given him a copy of the curse or instructions. Once he realized that Angelus was still a danger he’d found someone to deal with it. It was amazing the resources to be found in L.A.’s demon underground.

But within days of having the matter resolved the incident with Vocah had occurred, and then the problems with Darla had started, and then he was so busy driving his friends away that he didn’t want them to know that Angelus wasn’t a possibility. When he’d finally hit rock bottom and slept with Darla he’d convinced himself that there was a possibility it hadn’t worked and he could still lose his soul, but aside form the complete lack of joy he’d known deep down that his cop out wouldn’t work; that his soul was here to stay.

After his epiphany, when he and Cordelia had finally begun to rebuild the friendship he’d all but ruined, he finally confided in his best friend about the change in his curse. She’d been truly happy for him, but he could almost taste the sudden fear flowing from her. Not letting up he finally forced her to reveal what had her so suddenly upset.

In a small, scared voice she’d asked him, “Are you going back to Buffy?”

It wasn’t often that Cordelia showed her vulnerabilities to others and every time it broke his still heart. Pulling her into his arms he’d assured her that he wasn’t leaving even as he silently berated himself for not realizing how insecure Cordelia would be in light of his recent desertion. Letting out the stress of months of fear she’d sobbed into his chest as he rocked her gently, waiting for her tears to slow, explaining that he left Buffy for more reasons than just the curse, that they just weren’t meant to be, assuring her that he’d stay.

He closed his eyes in regret as he realized how soon after making that pledge to Cordelia he’d left her. He’d thought he’d had to grieve for Buffy, but after almost losing Cordelia he couldn’t imagine what he would have felt had he come back to find that his absence had cost him her life. He shuddered violently as he acknowledged the pain would have been a hundred times worse than the torture he’d recently endured had he truly lost her. After these past few weeks he honestly believed that losing her that way would most likely have driven him into the sun.

So, he was in love with his best friend, they were stuck with each other for the rest of what he was determined to ensure would be her extremely long life, and he didn’t have to worry about too much happiness. The only question left to him was what he planned to do about it.

He knew without a doubt that Cordelia loved him. He just didn’t know if she was in love with him. She didn’t seem to be. After all, she’d sent him off to see Buffy. But looking back he could hear the sadness in her voice, see the sorrow in her eyes that he hadn’t let himself notice before. And a thought struck him – Maybe she was just as blind to her feelings as he’d been to his. Maybe he was focusing on the wrong thing, trying to get her to love him when what he needed to be working on was just getting her to admit it.

That thought brought a smile to his lips and as he settled in for a night of watching over Cordelia. Reveling in the knowledge that this wonderful feeling was love, he pondered the many ways he could woo his sure to be wary seer.

TBC…

SKauble

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