Hard Choices

Title: Hard Choices. Companion Piece to Nameless
Author: Califi
Posted: 18 Aug 06
Rating: R
Category: Angst
Content: Cordelia POV
Summary: Some things are just too hard…
Spoilers: S2 based on a scene in Disharmony.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Just tell me where
Notes: I wrote this after several ‘requests’. Not what peeps asked for, I know, but this felt right to follow the tone of the first. Sorry if it disappoints some, ack.
Thanks/Dedication:To Katie, who thought of the title once she’d read it on my LJ. *hugs*

She could feel him behind her. The sensation not unlike a crushing weight on her shoulders. The tension caused her spine to tighten until her back ached.

Entering a place forcefully pushed from her mind was bad enough. Fruitless time wasted figuring out ways to tell the others that She. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. had her rushing out of her apartment more than a little late, but on getting to the old office to sort out the packing, Cordelia could easily read the knowledge of her feelings on the matter written in their eyes.

Knew they were almost as reluctant as she to have Angel back.

But for Wes and Gunn, their need was crucial to their physical survival. Fighting demons night in, night out was telling on them. Wes had aged rapidly in the past three months. She hardly recognized him as the same man who had stumbled into their lives less than a year ago.

Gunn was no longer head of a large group since he’d hooked up with them, and the strain of keeping on top with only one pair of eyes watching his back was starting to show on his normally relaxed face. He’d matured long ago out of necessity, but the bone-weary tiredness, his constant companion, was new.

For Cordelia it had been much more of a visceral need, the wrench had left unhealed wounds that still gaped and bled. Being back in achingly familiar territory was bad enough without him hovering behind her like a repentant child; reminding her constantly of how little she’d meant to him in the bigger picture.

Learning the hard way probably did her a favor, Cordelia reckoned bitterly; ‘cos I sure as hell don’t need him anymore.

And she would tell herself that every damn day.

Pulling her strength around her like a protective shield, she picked up the box that had been sitting on her desk, gripping it with whitened fingers as she turned around. Then jolted almost painfully. He was closer than she realized.

“Cord…elia.” Maybe it was the echo of her feelings in too-expressive eyes that made Angel stumble over her name. Shedding familiarity for formality.

Trying not to step on toes already bruised and abused.

Both were difficult to take for different reasons, and she glanced away, her mouth tightening by degrees.

After a pause, Angel opened his mouth again.

“Don’t.” His startled expression was replaced by confusion at her sudden demand.

“Don’t?” he repeated, his voice a husk of uncertainty that she noted didn’t quite match the look in his eyes. Suspicion narrowed her gaze and a surge of acid bled into her reply.

“”You’re gonna start trying to make small talk, get all stammery. Don’t. You might strain yourself.” His brown eyes flickered and shifted, dropping to eye the box clutched tight to her chest before looking back up.

“I just wanted to know how you were. Are. I mean, we really haven’t had a chance…” Angel paused, then unexpectedly reached for the box. “Here let me get that for you.” She backed up instantly, her patented Queen C face slipping on like an old, much missed friend.

One that hadn’t let her down.

“It’s okay.” Her reply cutting, but he still moved forward a step, hands again reaching out until she backed up hard against her desk.

“No, I’d be glad to.” His fingers brushed against the box and Cordelia pulled it further into her chest, spine almost arching in her attempt to move out of his reach.

“I’ve got it!” Anger laced with a touch of desperation had Angel taking an involuntary step back, dark gaze scrutinizing every inch of her face before focusing fully on her eyes.

He’d always been able to do that; look into your very soul and strip away every barrier until you melted. Gave it all up and willingly handed over your trust…your heart.

Her expression hardened resolutely. But not this time.

“I’ve survived the last three months without your help,” she finally spoke, no hint of the weakness momentarily shown. “So I’m sure a box won’t kill me.” Silence prevailed as words unspoken hung in the air between them. Then his eyes finally dropped away from hers to contemplate his booted feet.

Cordelia initially assumed Angel had looked away out of shame, but when he lifted his head that assumption quickly died a death. His gaze was too direct, and right now she wished for the ability to read him as well as he seemed read her.

Slim shoulders drooped almost imperceptibly as a wave of exhaustion hit her, a soft sigh dropping from down-turned lips. She didn’t want to be here. It was just too hard. Being in the same building as him was difficult enough, never mind having to look directly into eyes that were, in her opinion, so lacking in remorse that it made her wonder why the hell he’d come back into their lives.

Searching eyes lost focus and shifted, instead glancing towards the door that led out of the hotel- to freedom. Longing filled her. It was such a tempting thought- to give it all up and head towards that door.

Never look back.

She’d done it with Sunnydale and never regretted it.

Then the door disappeared from her line of sight. She hadn’t even seen Angel move, but suddenly he was blocking her view, his large frame now the only thing filling her vision.

Frowning she lifted irritated eyes- then froze at the expression now reflected in his darkened gaze.

For a split moment the time and place shifted. Hard bookcase at her back, ex-friend/stranger/demon hemming her in.

Don’t make me move you…

Cordelia shuddered at the recollection. Threatening eyes that had haunted many dreams since.

Before she could fathom out what had brought it on now, familiar tingles began at the base of her skull. The box dropped to the floor as protective hands clutched her head. Powerful arms caught her before folding knees took her to the floor then she was lost to the assault of images- so fast they always reminded her of a video on fast-forward. Sound scent and sensation invaded every cell of her body and by the time her mind had cleared and stilled, Cordelia felt like an empty husk.

Finding herself ensconced in a chair, two friends and a vampire huddled around her like a protective blanket, personal issues were forgotten as the Mission re-asserted itself.

Once they’d gone, Cordelia again stared longingly towards the door, then sighed brokenly, realizing no matter her aching desire to run, run as fast as she could and never look back, it was no longer an option. Hadn’t been for a long time.

But she hoped desperately that Choice was still a factor when it came to running from the vampire with a soul.



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