The door handle jiggled.
That was all it took for Cordelia’s eyes to snap open. She couldn’t recall when her unblinking gaze had faltered. Her spiraling fear had kept her wide-awake since it had happened, when the consequences of their actions led to Angel losing his soul. After pulling on her clothes and hesitating briefly on whether or not to put on her torn blouse, she’d reluctantly slipped Angel’s discarded sweater over her head. With his scent surrounding her, she’d taken up residence on the couch for the rest of the night, waiting for the inevitable return of Angelus, her heart in her mouth.
Bolting upright and reaching for the stake she’d retrieved from her purse hours before, Cordelia crept nervously towards the front door. It didn’t even occur to her right then that the vampire on the other side could quite easily have heard her racing heartbeat, as she positioned herself so she’d be out of sight.
Gazing down at the stake clenched in her trembling hand, it suddenly hit her what she was about to do. Oh, God! I’m gonna stake the one person that means so much to— Cordelia shook her head roughly. What was she thinking? Angel was dead. She’d already killed him. A sob caught in her throat.
That momentary loss of concentration gave the intruder the chance to unlock and open the door. She jolted as it swung towards her, belatedly raising the stake and rushed forward. A split second later, it fell from her nerveless fingers.
Wes heard a dull clatter and turned towards the noise, startled, only to be engulfed by a soft, warm body that clutched on to him like a lifeline. “C-Cordelia? What are you—?” He attempted to figure out the reason for her presence, but although something nudged at his sleep-deprived brain, his thought processes refused to work.
“Are you alright?” he finally asked, his voice muffled a little by her hair. Returning the embrace awkwardly for a brief moment, Wes attempted to step back, but Cordelia’s arms tightened around his neck, almost cutting off his air supply.
After a moment, Cordy realized how tightly she was clinging to her friend and reluctantly stepped back on shaky legs. On belatedly catching sight of a soft beam of light shining through the windows, she literally sagged in relief: sunlight equaled a reprieve from the now-soulless vampire.
Wes stared down at her bemused by the apology, and then nodded slowly. “That’s okay. I think my throat survived the experience,” he reassured her, instantly frowning as she pulled away jerkily with a something that sounded oddly like a sob and indrawn breath.
“This time, yeah,” Cordy muttered under her breath as an unbidden image of Wes’ throat torn out because of her filled her inner vision and she shuddered in reaction before looking him in the eye. “Angelus is back,” she blurted out.
Wes blinked slowly, his mind sluggishly making the leap toward an explanation. Obviously, Cordelia had witnessed the effects of the incantation and had jumped to the wrong conclusion. Angel must have wanted to keep the news to himself until the results could be confirmed, but the fact that Cordelia had seen something certainly suggested success.
Staring at her for a second before replying, Wes whispered to himself, “It worked!” Shaking off the triumphant thrill and stepping forward, he announced, “The Curse is—”
“Broken,” her voice shaky and almost incoherent, Cordelia added guiltily, “I know.”
Oh God! How in hell had he guessed what she’d done so fast? She wondered to herself feverishly, not noticing the hand that had reached out to grasp her upper arm.
Wes looked at her oddly when she flinched at his touch. Caught up by her misunderstanding started shaking his head and rushed to correct her. “No, not broken. There was an incantation. I’ll explain everything right after I put the kettle on.”
He attempted to usher her towards the couch, but she pulled back and just stared hard. “Tea? At a time like this? Hello, didn’t you hear what I said? I thought you’d be… shocked,” she huffed in disbelief. This couldn’t be happening! Cordy was beginning to wonder if the lack of sleep and stress was causing her to hallucinate.
Wes seemed to be oblivious to her distress and shook his head with a weary smile on his face. “Because I was expecting it,” he replied, giving Cordelia a gentle tug. This time she followed him numbly, her head in a confused whirl. Wes was at a stage himself where he was overtired and rather light-headed; missing the import of Cordelia’s words and still reeling with excitement at what he’d accomplished the night before.
Once they were settled on the couch, he turned to her, his tired face almost alight with exhilaration. “I need you to confirm some details for me,” he began without preamble, missing the instant flush of color staining her cheeks and the downward sweep of her lashes.
Oh God, he does know what happened between me and Angel. Am I wearing a neon sign that flashes ‘I gave Angel a happy’? Cordelia cringed at the thought that it was so obvious. Unless, hopefully, she was imagining the whole conversation after all!
“Tell me… when did you last see Angel?”
Her eyes lifted instantly, more than a little bewildered at the direction his questions were going.
What the hell is he on about? she thought, becoming more confused by the second. Her dark head shook slowly as she attempted to clear her overtired mind. Just answer the damn questions, Chase! Cordelia told herself.
“He was here,” she replied softly, lifting a hand to rake trembling fingers through her disheveled hair.
His brows rose at that. “In my apartment? Why would he think to come here?” Taking a good look round as he spoke, Wes noticed for the first time how…immaculate his lounge was. Inwardly deciding to shelve that until later, he turned back to the strangely reticent brunette perched tensely next to him.
“Very well— but when?. What time was that at?” he clarified at her look of continued confusion. Cordelia scrunched up her face and then scowled at him.
“Does it really matter, Wes? The point is, Angelus is out there and you’re sitting here asking me dumb questions!” She half rose to her feet, sitting down with a dull thud when he instantly reached out and yanked her back.
“Cordelia,” Wes pronounced slowly and then took a weary breath before continuing. “I have not seen a bed for the last twenty four hours, made a wonderful breakthrough and have driven to and from San Francisco with several hectic hours between journeys,” he explained in a strained and rather irritated tone. “So please, do calm down and just answer the questions.”
Staring hard at him for several long seconds before slouching back into the couch, Cordelia muttered tensely, “Oh, I don’t know.” Bitterly responding, “It didn’t actually occur to me to look at the time right then, ya know.”
Wes’s gaze turned inwards momentarily before his face cleared, his earlier excitement shining in his pale blue eyes and he leaned forward. “Alright, the time isn’t actually as important as… can you tell me what exactly happened?”
She blanched at his question, her mouth opening and closing silently. He wanted her to give DETAILS?!
Oblivious to her reaction and eager for anything that would aid confirmation of his night’s work, Wes tried to point her in the right direction. “Did his eyes glow- his body? It’s extremely important.”
Her breath whooshed out of her lungs at his added words. Oh, those details.
“Okay….um. He did this glowy thing” she finally replied. “His whole body… oh God! This is all my fault!” she blurted out harshly, her hands abruptly covering her face.
For a moment, Wes sat there, not sure what to do or say. Dumbfounded by this strange reaction, he reached forward and touched her arm gently. Asking softly, “Now why would you think that? You two obviously made up your differences, and came here to….” Wes’ eyes flickered towards the backpack on the floor near the door, and things were suddenly not making much sense at all.
Why would Angel bring Cordelia over to his apartment, knowing full well he was out of town overnight? That didn’t make sense at all. Tiredness abruptly faded, his eyes sharpening as they swung back to the figure huddled next to him.
Finally picking up on her distress, Wes watched, momentarily frozen to the spot. Hush-voiced, he asked almost hesitantly, uncertain that he wanted to know the reason for suspicions that were starting to take shape in his head. “Cordelia, what exactly occurred last night?”
Lack of sleep abruptly seemed to catch up with her as a little of the tension left her body. Finally, he seemed to be getting it. Cordelia sat still for a long moment before eventually dropping her hands listlessly into her lap.
“I brought videos,” she replied simply.
Wes blinked abruptly as recollection kicked in. It was movie night. He’d been so caught up on his unexpected ‘mission’ that it hadn’t crossed his mind from the moment Angel mentioned the scroll.
“You weren’t here,” she continued in an almost flat tone. “But Angel was.”
Glassy eyes lifted to meet his, and the stark pain reflected in them twisted his heart. Wes gulped down the sense of dread that formed a knot in his throat.
“He told me he’d got rid of you for the night… sent you off on some wild goose chase, that we needed to sort stuff out.” Her tongue tripped over the last few words and she licked her drying lips and swallowed thickly.
Wes unintentionally tuned out the last of her words as he focused on only one phrase. “Wild goose chase?” His features tightened in outrage, adding stiltedly, “I assure you, there was nothing ‘wild’ or goose-like about it! In fact,” he rose stiltedly to his feet and strode to the door, bending to pick up the backpack before returning hurriedly, “I have proof here that the tide has changed- for once, to our advantage!” He returned to the couch and sat with a disgruntled humph, quickly jerking open the zips of his bag and pulled out a sheaf of papers.
Cordelia sat staring at him numbly, by now completely confused with the whole thing. For a moment, she’d been convinced that he was getting it. That he knew what had happened between her and Angel. She rubbed her forehead tiredly as she half listened to Wes rambling on and waving sheets of handwritten pages in her face.
Was he not listening? Something they’d all feared happening since that time with Rebecca Howell, and he was going on and on about God knows what, and totally ignoring the most important and fear-inspiring facts.
Shaking herself out of her stupor, Cordy reached out and yanked the papers from his wildly waving hand. Wesley, listen to me!” she almost yelled into his face, startling the man, who stopped in mid-sentence. “Angelus– ANGELUS is out there and probably…” she paused, then added “no, DEFINITELY planning our horrible deaths!” Her voice rose even as she did so. “And what do you do? Sit here yammering on about I-haven’t-a-goddamn-clue what!”
Running out of steam, Cordy slumped back onto the couch and rubbed her face roughly. After a moment of shocked silence, Wes cleared his throat uncomfortably and leaned forward.
“Cordelia…” he cleared his throat again before continuing quietly. “I assure you, my overnight absence is very much to do with Angel AND Angelus.” He raised a hand when Cordy’s mouth opened to interrupt. “No, let me finish.” Sitting back a little, he rifled through the papers scattered around him, then held one up.
“Angel informed me yesterday that a renowned mage contacted him with what he called the original soul-spell used on Angelus. One without the, um, happiness clause.” Wes took advantage of her sudden stillness and rushed on. “Basically, it turned out to be valid, and last night, with the kind help of Mister Brayess, the spell was performed not too long after I arrived there. I believe it was a success,” he concluded softly.
“What are you saying?” Cordy asked dumbly, by now her head swirling almost drunkenly.
Wes took a deep breath and rubbed his own eyes roughly. “Angel was re-cursed last night without the clause. Angelus is no longer a threat.” Cordy stared at him for a moment before shaking her head in denial.
“You’re wrong. Angelus is undead and kicking.” She told him resolutely. Shaking her head strongly when Wes instantly responded by repeating the details of the affects of the Spell. “No, Angel lost his soul last night.” She took a deep breath and added in a hushed whisper, “And I’m the reason for it.
“The only way the spell wouldn’t have worked was if Angelus was already released, so I really don’t understand why you are so adamant that he is amongst us once again.”
Saying nothing, Cordelia simply glared back.
Wes let loose a sharp bark of laughter before adding, “To lose his soul, Angel would have had to have experienced a moment of perfect happiness, and—,” then it clicked. His jaw snapped closed abruptly at the flood of blood that rushed under Cordy’s skin, her eyes revealing stark pain…and guilt? The pieces suddenly dropped into place…his brain waking with a rush that made him light-headed.
“Dear God! Tell me you both didn’t…” he whispered, swallowing hard when her eyes dropped to stare at her hands that twined restlessly in her lap. Silence lay like a heavy blanket around them until Cordy lifted her head and looked into his eyes.
“I didn’t want it to happen, Wes. I… Angel was acting insane.” Her voice now flat and drained, she explained, “He was talking like we were already together. God…” her eyes dropped. “I didn’t want to, but eventually I let it happen. Thought I could control it, prevent him from blissing out; that he wouldn’t…with me. Guess I was wrong.” The last uttered in a hoarse whisper.
Wes couldn’t have held her stricken gaze a second longer and was almost relieved when she looked away first. Dear God, was I too late? Did the spell not work? Wes wracked his brain trying to think of something positive he could say to Cordy, something to reassure her, but Lord Almighty, he’d never, in the years he’d known them both think that something like this could have happened.
A part of him wanted to rail at her for getting into that situation in the first place. But although she’d been painfully brief in details, the intimation that this wasn’t as cut and dried as an out and out disregard of the curse that plagued Angel stilled his tongue. The sound of Cordy’s uneven breathing filling the room brought Wes out of his darkening thoughts, inadvertently causing Cordy to jolt when he abruptly sprang to his feet. Sitting here wasn’t going to help, he decided, and to say he felt out of his depth where even attempting to discuss the event of the night before was an understatement.
Regretting that his years as a Watcher hadn’t prepared him for a situation such as this, Wes mentally put it to one side and instead considered their next move regarding Angel. Most importantly, he needed to find out for certain if he had indeed been too late…or just failed.
The thought was a bitter pill to swallow. The danger of the real possibility that he did indeed fail, that Angelus was out there doing what he does best and no doubt planning to come back for Cordelia, as well as himself and Gunn… he shuddered inwardly as he his imagination went into overdrive.
First things first: he had to get Cordelia somewhere safe.
“I think…” Wes paused when Cordy peeked up at him through wet lashes. Then remembering that her apartment was now protected by a spell, sounded more confident with the plan of action rapidly taking shape in his head, Wes told her, “I think we need to get you home where it’s safe.” He reached down to help her up then thought better of it. “Yes, that’s the plan.”
They walked slowly across the room when Wes stopped abruptly, pursing his lips and glancing at the quiet brunette by his side. “I think also I should make a call.” Cordy watched him numbly as he picked up the phone and dialed, then listened with detachment as he spoke.
“Gunn? I need your help.”
From the moment his bare feet touched asphalt, Angel started to run. The dimly lit alley stunk of overripe garbage piled high in the metal trashcans. Pebbles and shards along the ground dug into his skin, but he barely registered the annoyance as he headed for the nearest sewer entrance. Flinging the circular metal grate aside, he dropped down into the darkness, eyes immediately adjusting to the lack of light.
The pain in his chest was already diminishing. Experience taught him that when it went, his soul would go with it. So Angel ran, his thoughts full of horrors only he could imagine. Things he had done to Cordelia in his dreams. Things he knew he was capable of doing without the weight of his conscience guiding him. The soul kept him in check, tempered his bloodlust, eased his darker desires, and allowed him to love. Once that was gone, there would be nothing holding him back.
So he ran even faster until he was no longer sure of where he was except that it was dark and lonely, a place to hide. Only there was no hiding from himself. He was the one to fear. Deep down at the core, he was a demon yearning to break free of its fetters, to be unleashed on the world at large, wallowing in pleasure, doling out pain and playing on the tightrope in between.
Those thoughts never really went away. Most days, he pushed them deep, fought against them aided by the disgust and guilt that followed. His desires were harder to channel because they were all focused on Cordelia. Once he’d acknowledged that he felt something more than fondness, more than friendship, more than his own protective instinct to safeguard something that belonged to him, Angel could no longer deny those feelings existed.
Stopping in his tracks, Angel glanced back over his shoulder along the path that took him away from her. Love. Longing. Lust. Loss. Feelings swept in on him as his initial panic began to wane. Experience prepared him for that sensation of freedom as his soul faded into the ether. Only it did not come.
The pain vanished into memory leaving no physical sign of its existence behind. Still clutching his clothing, Angel held it to his chest as he slid down into a crouch. Relief poured through him at the realization that by some miracle he still retained his soul. The hunger he experienced wasn’t for blood and death. It was all longing for her. All he could think of was Cordy, his thoughts still clouded, knowing that she felt something for him even if she didn’t say the words.
Angel knew that she loved him, knew it with a certainty that was unquestioned deep inside. After all, she’d said so. Told him a dozen times, a hundred times, but not tonight when everything seemed so new. Her body surrounded him, took him deep inside her soft heat, and engulfed him in pleasure. Every soft breath, each pulse, the ecstatic moans were all for him.
Then Cordy gazed up at him, their eyes locked even as their bodies moved in sync, edging close to another climax. It happened then, the moment when the sensations took him by surprise, pulling at something deep within as he poured his heart into her eyes and saw it reflected there. Only that look had changed to horror.
What had he done?
He didn’t feel the cold against his damp skin, nor notice the stench permeating the sewers. All he felt was anguish as a slow trickle of reality began to mingle with his dream-soaked memories. Nothing was as he imagined it. Cordelia had been different this time, he realized without fully understanding why. Playfully aggressive and at times not so playful, he’d taken it all as a game.
Cordy was certainly not as submissive or demonstrative as she usually was, but he’d found her more passionate, more beautiful, more…real to him in ways she had not. This wasn’t just another dream. It wasn’t the fantasy she’d accused him of living.
Just the thought made him leap to his feet, anger flaring his nostrils wide. His jaw clenched tight as he clung to his own denial, just as tightly as he clutched the dark bundle of fabric to his chest. Slowly, Angel glanced downward, realizing that he was still naked and that somewhere along the way he had lost his socks and shoes.
Stepping into the pants, he yanked them up, roughly pulling the zipper into place. His hands went to his face, covering it, rubbing before his fingers streaked up to comb through the short strands of his hair. A loud expletive ripped from his throat, one as foul as the scent of the sewer and it echoed resoundingly. He stood frozen to the spot until it diminished, fading away into the shadows ahead.
There was something wrong with him. He could sense it. Angel felt different, but didn’t understand why. He hadn’t lost his soul, but he was beginning to question whether he’d lost his mind. Everything he had with Cordy, thought he had, might have been a dream.
Tonight was real enough, he was certain of that. Knowing only made it worse, caused that gut-punched feeling. He’d wanted Cordelia. Taken her. Like a nasty itch along his brain, he realized she’d said no. That she didn’t want him. Not in a million years. Yet he’d taken her anyway.
A deep sob threatened its way up his throat at the thought, but he swallowed it down, pushing it deep down where he usually kept all his feelings buried. Cordy would hate him for this. She’d warned him and he thought it was all a game.
“My bad,” Angel half laughed at his own crazed decision to follow his desires. The sound of his own voice disturbed him and the words made it all seem worse.
This wasn’t a joke, unless it was all on him.
Cordelia was alone. He’d run out on her thinking that it might save her life. That he was losing his soul. Dammit, he knew bliss. If that wasn’t it, he’d experienced something indistinguishable. Thinking about it right now was like trying to find his way through a thick fog, impossible without stumbling into barriers.
Despite the need to make things right with Cordy, he knew that he was the last person she would want to see right now. He wouldn’t know how to begin or what to say to make this okay. Angel needed time to think, to clear his head. He knew he couldn’t return to the apartment now, not unless he felt the urge to be staked.
Lost in thought, Angel started to move. He barely took notice of the direction he traveled. The tunnels were a maze beneath the city and he wandered aimlessly, focused only on the woman he’d left behind.
Even through the haze of his own guilt and confusion, Angel sensed the approach of dawn. It took a few minutes to focus enough to recognize where he was and that he needed to get back to the Hyperion. Though the tunnels protected him from the light, hiding there would not solve his problems. The answers he needed weren’t going to be found in the sewer.
Arriving through the basement entrance, Angel made his way upstairs, noting with a rueful eye the emptiness of the lobby. He made his way upstairs, taking one slow step after another as if his limbs weighted him down. It was only his guilt, he knew, dragging along like an invisible chain.
Halfway down the corridor, his head snapped up, eyes rimming with gold as he sensed that he was not alone. Darla was waiting for him.
“What happened to you?” she asked with a faint grin of surprise even as her cool blue eyes ran over his near-naked frame appreciatively. Even though Angel looked worse for the wear, Darla couldn’t deny he still oozed sex appeal.
Angel walked silently past her without making eye contact and reached for a discarded shirt draped over a nearby chair. He shrugged it on but left it hanging open, deciding not to bother. Instead, he half turned her way. “Get out.”
The low flat tone momentarily jolted Darla, but then she shrugged it off and her sensual smile quickly returned. She’d heard worse from his alter ego in the past.
“Don’t be like that, lover,” she purred, almost floating towards him, halting the hand she reached out to his face with a grimace of repugnance. “I see you finally got what you wanted from that slut.”
Her tone laced with a snarl, but Darla was too caught up in her own spitefulness to notice that the dull expression in Angel’s eyes suddenly turned dark and cold. Slowly, he moved to face her, his jaw clenching, heavy muscles tensing in reaction to the tittering laughter that left her throat.
“What’s wrong? Did the fair Cordelia fail your expectations, or,” Darla mock-gasped, covering her mouth for a second even as her eyes widened dramatically. “Did the little tease reject you?”
Ignoring the threatening growl, she circled him, trailing an icy finger across his chest and spine before appearing in front of him licking her too-red mouth and draping her arms around his neck. Remaining silent, Angel stared at the wall directly ahead, seemingly ignoring her. Darla shrugged off his unnatural stillness, instead reveling in the fact he hadn’t pushed her away. Leaning in until her body pressed intimately against his, she reached up on her toes and put her mouth to his ear.
“Don’t worry, my sweet,” she whispered consolingly. “Leave the ungrateful bitch to me.” Angel tensed against her but still remained unmoving. Feeling more exultant by the second, Darla sucked at the fleshy lobe of his ear and nibbled softly, adding. “I have so much more to offer you than that pathetic human.”
Angel listened as she attempted to seduce him while simultaneously threatening Cordelia. She wouldn’t even say her name and that was just fine with him. Cordy meant so much more than this bitch who twined around him like a choking vine. Hearing those threats brought back images of Darla slicing a knife blade across Cordelia’s throat, telling him it didn’t take a pair of fangs to kill her.
Now Darla was a vampire again. Ten times the threat she was before, she made no pretense of wanting Cordelia dead in order to regain her place with him. And then the slow burn of rage engulfed him.
The harsh sound of breaking glass broke the unearthly silence in his room, but Angel didn’t even flinch. Instead he looked down at the blonde sprawled on the floor surround by shards of glass almost satisfied by the expression of shock on her pretty face. He strode over and reached down to yank her roughly to her feet, then pushed her away when she attempted to grab hold of his arm. She staggered for a moment before taking a few steps back.
Angel arrogantly turned his back on her and stooped to pick up one of the French doors that had been wrenched from its hinges. After resting it against the wall he slowly turned back to face her, his face expressionless. “Last time, Darla. Get out before I kill you.”
Rage flared in her glittering blue eyes as she absently brushed the dust and glass from her clothes and hair. “You don’t mean that, Angelus,” his alter ego’s name grated, but Angel kept his expression deliberately blank.
Ignoring the slight tensing of his large body, Darla approached him again, although this time she watched him warily. “I’ve always known how to please you,” the sensual smile slipped back onto her pale face. “Do you honestly think you can get better than this?” She swept an arm across her scarlet-draped body before moving closer and resting her hands against his chest.
Angel looked into her familiar and deadly face for a long moment. “Yes,” he replied with a simplicity that was as cold as it was final. Darla looked up enquiringly and then her mouth parted in surprise.
The half-open door to the suite abruptly bounced off the wall at exactly the same moment as the stake plunged home, causing the two men who’d been about to cross the threshold stop dead in their tracks. Before their eyes, they watched Darla crumble to dust.
Angel stood motionless, not deigning to look either toward the doorway or the floor, still holding a jagged piece of wood he’d retrieved moments before from the remains of the shattered door.
Wes took a hesitant step forward, glancing at the pile of dust that was all that remained of the female vampire, still stunned at what he and Gunn had just witnessed. Then he raised wary eyes towards the frighteningly still figure standing in the middle of the room.