Faint Heart. 6-7

Part 6

Angel noticed two things when he opened the door of the Hyperion: Cordelia had been very busy with the cleaning- and he could no longer enter his old home.

The second thing was a more painful realization- and not just to his feelings. His nose still throbbed from where he’d strode through- or, attempted to stride through the portal, and some of the bags of groceries he’d held now rested on the floor at his feet.

“Cordelia? Cordy?” he could hear her heartbeat coming from somewhere in the lobby and the instant it’s pace tripled at his call; but it didn’t come any closer. Sighing heavily, Angel stooped down to rescue the bags; ” Could you invite me in, if it’s not too much trouble?” he called again, straightening up to find her a few feet in front of him with her arms folded.

“I’m not stopping you,” Cordy replied coolly, not moving any nearer.

“Actually, you kinda are – you’ve obviously made yourself at home; which is of the good” he added hastily as her spine immediate stiffened.

“I need you to invite me in – I have Rocky Road!” he attempted a light smile, and for a moment her face softened; then closed off again, but she did take a few steps nearer.

“What’s this? When all else fails, go with the bribing-shallow-Cordy-cos-that-SO-works!?” Cordelia was close enough for Angel to inhale her never-forgotten scent, and for a moment he missed her cutting words- for a moment! Then his own spine stiffened.

“You need to eat, Cordy,” he explained softly, “I just thought-“

“- You shouldn’t have done this,” she cut in tightly. “Now I’ll have to pay you back- out of that secret little nest egg I have ferreted away, won’t I?” Angel’s eyes squeezed shut for a second at the world of pain in her too-quiet voice.

He knew that would come back to bite him on the ass. It was times like this that he remembered why he wasn’t much for the whole talking deal. “Please invite me in,” Angel begged softly, and their eyes locked; his pleading, hers conflicted- then she let out a breath and turned away.

“Come in, Angel, after all, this is your property.” Cordelia could almost feel the moment he flinched at her scathing response, but she was, right now, beyond caring about his hurt feelings. She didn’t doubt that the annoying vampire would eventually find a way to enter her sanctuary; what with all Wolfram & Harts’ resources- better that she let him in now rather than waiting until then and being confronted with his inevitable anger.

Not that Cordelia was too worried about that; but right now, she couldn’t afford for him to maybe get so mad that he threw her out onto the street homeless. Even as her inner voice poo-poohed the idea of Angel doing that, a small, insecure part of her wasn’t so sure any more. He did it once when they were actually friends- or so she thought at the time.

Angel crossed the threshold, and, after a slight hesitation he strode purposefully towards the kitchen. Most of the food had been stowed away before she finally entered the room, and he continued to fill the fridge wordlessly as he listened to the sound of her pulling out a stool and plonking down on it heavily.

Finally finished, Angel closed the fridge door; keeping a hold on the ice cream and turned to the central table/work surface she now rested her elbows on. Placing the tub on the steel surface, he rummaged through cupboards and drawers, and then sat opposite her, serving the softened confectionary into the bowls he’d procured. Silence pervaded the room, only broken by the sound of clinking china and Cordelia’s shallow breathing.

“I’ve told the others,” Angel placed a half full bowl and spoon in front of the brunette, then served himself.

“Oh – so when’s the big party?” her brittle reply had his head shooting up to catch her darkened, unreadable eyes.

“Cordelia,” her brow rose at his pained tone.

“What? Aren’t I allowed to express even a little bitterness towards my ‘friends’ total lack of interest – or are you gonna tell me they were overcome with joy? I thought not.” She added shortly when his eyes flickered and briefly avoided her own.

The smile that stretched her full mouth looked just as brittle as the expression now in her eyes; taking him back to a much earlier time, and a completely different place. The expression that was pretty much a uniform for her beautiful face from the first moment he’d seen her in the Sunnydale High Library after her rebar accident.

“It was a…shock for them, finding out like that.” Was all he could think to say; her brow lifted.

“Yeah, I can imagine- so not the quickie phone call they most likely expected at my waking up – or demise; most likely the latter.” Not bothering to hide the bitterness.

What had she expected really? After finding out their last memories of her- and their subsequent lack of visits, she didn’t have to be Einstein to figure out her place in their hearts right now.

Angel went through the motions of scooping up the rapidly melting ice cream and placing it in his mouth numbly. At this moment, even if his taste buds had been human, he knew he still wouldn’t have been able to taste it.

“I’m sorry” her quiet voice broke the awful silence between them, and for a moment Angel wasn’t sure how to respond. He cleared his throat loudly and placed the spoon on the table, reaching out to place his large, cool hand on her, unsurprisingly icy cold one.

“It wasn’t you, Cordy- we know that…” he began soothingly, trailing off when she abruptly pulled her hand from under his and rolled her eyes in faux exasperation

“Not for that, dumb ass; and I wasn’t talking to you,” now he was confused. What else was there to be sorry about?

Cordelia took a deep breath. “I was just thinking how sorry I am that I asked Turncoat Skip to demonize me- at the same time, I couldn’t have lived with myself staying on in my new and wonderful ‘could have been’ life, cos that just…well, it wasn’t me, any more; so…” she paused for a moment and dropped her eyes to the hand resting on the steel table.

“I should just have let nature takes it’s course, and accepted the inevitable.” She ended quietly.

Angel was reeling at what she’d revealed. As awful as it sounded, he, or the others had never really pulled Cordy up and ‘interrogated her about the coma experience she’d gone through on her birthday. Yes: they knew she’d awakened part demon, and that she had had to accept that non-human condition to survive the visions…but the rest was an eye-opener.

Except, that wasn’t strictly true, Angel realized belatedly, when, on recalling the scene after she abruptly awoke that night. Cordelia had been rambling on about ‘the perfect life, but you were crazy-and-I-couldn’t-have-that’ and other little snippets that he’d bypassed with ease, being more locked onto her new and strange ability of levitating.

“The inevitable?” He finally asked, already having a good idea what she was about to say, judging by the ache that was rapidly building in his heart.

“Yeah, you know; vision-induced kaplooey to the synaptic neuron thingies,” Cordelia avoided his horrified gaze, ” just think how minute the clean up bill would have been compared to, like, now! – I doubt everyone would have had to climb on the Wolfram & Hart Wagon-of-Evil if all you’d had to deal with is scraping my brains off the floor.”

“Don’t.” Angel felt like he was talking through molasses; his entire body throbbing with pain at the images her words invoked, but she continued on doggedly.

“There would have been no ascending, no possession of the HB kind- definitely no boning minors and therefore no carrying the spawn of Ultimate Evil- or Good, depending on how you look at it; then having to go through the fallout with C-Connor…but then again, maybe it would have been Fred that was used instead-?”

“Stop this right now, Cordelia!” Angel finally managed to connect his brain to his reflexes and tongue, reaching over to grab her waving hand and loom growling over the almost incoherent Seer.

“Why? It makes perfect sense- and I’m sorry! Sorry that they used me to get to you, sorry I caused so much damage to an already half-crazed kid; sorry you didn’t know me well enough to buy a clue, sorry I hurt and killed people, sorry I gave birth to a Power, sorry you didn’t have a chance to kill me first, sorry I went into an inconvenient coma, sorry you had to make a deal with the scum of the earth just to give your son a better life- and sorry I ever MET YOU!” By the time Cordelia finished her tirade, she was screaming in Angel’s face; the tears flooding her eyes and pouring down her cheeks in heavy rivulets.

“No, don’t! Let me go – just leave me ALONE!” she screeched, as, unable to speak, the vampire hauled her into his arms and held her tightly against him, unconsciously rocking his body as he attempted to soothe the now hysterical brunette.

Cordelia strained away from him, screaming wordlessly into his tight, ashen face, blind to his distress, or the tears that flowed just as heavily from brown eyes darkened to black with emotional agony.


Part 7

The silence was only broken by the occasional whimper from the young woman he was cradling as tenderly as he could in his arms.

After long, excruciating minutes that dragged into almost an hour, Cordelia had finally fallen into an exhausted slumber. Angel had scooped her up and gently carried her up to his old room and settled on his bed, tucking her into his side and holding onto her for dear life; insanely afraid she’d just disappear like a torturous figment of his stressed imagination.

His eyes burned from too many tears, and still prickled with the threat of more each time he looked into the flushed, tear-streaked face inched from his own. They lay on their sides, face to face, his arms wrapped around her waist and his forehead resting against hers. He cursed himself inwardly for not even considering just how everything he’d told her, reeling off almost a year or hell she hadn’t even been aware of as if summarizing a report

Each time Cordelia jerked or whimpered in her fitful sleep, Angel would soothe her with circular sweeps of his large hands along her delicate spine, and was mollified that at least, he was able to comfort her in some way- even if only when she was sleep.

I should have seen it coming, he thought, condemning himself for not guessing her calm façade was just that; a front she’d been hiding her hurt behind. Hurt caused largely by him, a realization that ate at him.

Up until a few hours ago, Angel had been a little surprised at the way Cordelia had seemingly bounced back from not only a debilitating coma, but also more shocks and horrors than the average person had in a lifetime; not that Cordelia Chase had ever been what you could call ‘average’, he acknowledged, never had been, and never would be.

Dark eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling while he rested his chin on her silky hair. A heavy sigh pushed its way out of him as he uselessly wished he could turn back time and experience everything that had happened with that valuable commodity, foresight.

Looking back on everything, Angel could say now with utter certainty, that the changes had started more or less right after the demonization- subtle hints that he’d overlooked- either being too focused inwardly on the trials and tribulations of bringing up a human son, or wasting time and energy by being ‘stand-back-guy’ where his feelings for his Seer were concerned.

Then let’s not forget his jealousy over her feelings for the Pylean Champion, Angel winced at the memories. He’d let jealousy override all of his instincts regarding Cordy, when the Groosalug made his unwelcome appearance. Let the hurt blind him with self-pity so he missed the first signs that all was not well in Cordelia’s world.

Looking into her sleeping face, he recalled her almost lurid actions and words regarding the big slug; for a woman who rarely dated she’d seemed to become a sex-starved nymphomaniac overnight, and when she’d accepted his offer to pay for a holiday with Groo, aside from the very audible breaking of his undead heart, he realized now that his Cordy would never have even considered such a thing.

And, no, this wasn’t the inner rambling of a man scorned, either. Leaving behind her family with Holtz still looming sinisterly in the background, and the real threat to baby Connor just a whisper away… and now it also occurred to him that; in a world such as theirs, how Cordy could leave alone with a demon she’d barely known five minutes seemingly without hesitation or doubts to his true intentions. Again, His own judgments had been too clouded with despair and self-pity to question it himself.

Angel groaned aloud as his thoughts tripped over one another, justifying her abandoning him and the others for a sunny fling with a virtual stranger… which brought him back to the same conclusions: wasn’t this the first clue that her judgment was already in question- already being influenced by something that wanted to drive a wedge between them?

He didn’t blame Groo- hell; he’d just been in the right place at the right time – Not so ‘right’ for him though! If only I could have stopped stumbling over my words that night, long enough to make it clear how I felt about her. Why couldn’t I have taken a chance instead of giving up and stepping back? but even if that had happened, it still went back to the real suspicion that the tide was already changing for the worst.

Deeply affected by the happenings regarding Wes and his son, Angel hadn’t taken much notice of more unsubtle hints pointing to the changes in Cordelia when she finally returned. Too busy grieving and filled with hatred for a man he once considered a dear and loyal friend.

Wesley Wyndham Pryce.

Yes, the man had kidnapped his son, and he only now understood, to a degree, what that was all about : another man effected by bitterness due to a woman he loved choosing another over him, making him sink into himself, Allowing self-pity to overwhelm him, making him withdrawn and uncommunicative. With Cordelia out of the picture- the only other person the ex Watcher really had some kind of bond with, hadn’t helped matters. For all he knew, that could have been planned as coldly as Cordelia’s possession.

He still had difficulty completely forgiving Wes his ‘mistakes’, but this wasn’t about him or his son right now. This was about his Seer, and his blindness in not seeing an attack on their family happening under his nose.

Cordelia had been there for him 110% once she’d got back, her anger and betrayal towards the Watcher reflected his own in its ferocity – but, looking back, Angel realized that the old Cordelia wouldn’t have rested until she’d confronted the ‘traitor’ and gave him several pieces of her mind. He’d been too much of a wreck at the time to pick up on that telling testament to the evolving indifference of the most important person in his unlife. But knowing that didn’t ease the guilt at his unintentional part in all of it.

Hindsight was a true bitch.

Angel wondered if he’d ever verbalize his belated observations to her, then shook his head infinitesimally; no, if she still saw no particular wrong in that now she was fully herself, he would end up being chewed out for pointing out her-then ‘over-eager’ behavior towards the slug, as somehow cheap- and recalled with not a little jealousy. For all he knew, Cordy could have asked herself the same questions, but either way, it was a no-win situation.

He dragged his thoughts away from the slug and ran through every Cordy-related memory after that. And that is when something else occurred to him: Was her life-changing decision to ascend free of outside interference? That was the big question. Free Will. The PTB were all for that – and not helping when he or his family most needed it- not one vision warning of the betrayal by a member of his family or the attack of Sahjan and Holtz. Were her visions also being manipulated? He doubted they would ever know the full story. If the possession had indeed been a gradual thing from the day of her birthday, couldn’t that have effected the clarity of her own thoughts and desires that terrible night?

All rehashing flew from his head when the woman in his arms moved and slowly opened her reddened eyes.

“Angel?” for a moment, Cordelia forgot the why’s where’s and how’s, comforted by the heavy weight of powerful arms that held her to a broad, cool chest. The painfully familiar sensation of being physically cherished by her long-time friend, and the man she loved overwhelmed her senses.

When he slid a hand up to cup her face, she instinctively rubbed her hot cheek against it, unconsciously sensual. A soft moan escaped from Angel’s slightly parted mouth, his wanderings in their past temporarily forgotten as need took over and without pause for thought he gently pressed his cool lips against hers, gasping aloud at the heat that instantly soaked into his pores.

The gentle caress soon grew from soft sliding sips to open-mouthed, desperate devouring; both getting lost in the pleasure of intimate contact that for the first time wasn’t tainted by passing visions, possessions or spells.

Angel felt like he was drowning into a sea of electric sensation, and went with the flow, rolling over and sliding Cordelia under him. His hands slid from her back and ran along her sides, pausing to press and stroke pliant, fabric covered flesh before dipping under the hem of her loose blouse and reaching up to palm deliciously rounded breasts.

Cordelia’s head swam with helpless passion, mindlessly holding on as the vampire effortlessly plumbed into her well of emotional responses, almost moaning aloud when he pinned her boneless body beneath his own. The sweep of his cool tongue and hands did nothing to damp down the heat that swamped her; instead igniting flames of desire that pushed all coherent thought from her mind.

It took the knowing caress of his large hands cupping her breasts to pull her back to reality and she stiffened, sliding her hands from around his neck to latch onto the broad shoulders that caged her in, pushing against unyielding muscle frantically. Long, drugging seconds went by as Angel continued to kiss her deeply and mould her soft flesh in his grasp, only when he released her lips to let her breath did Cordelia finally manage to protest verbally.

“Don’t” she evaded his returning mouth with difficulty,”Angel!” her husked voice rose to a panicky level, finally alerting Angel to the change from the moments-before soft welcoming embrace of her arms to the pushing and struggling of her hands and rigidly held body beneath him.

“Cordy, please…” The palm of her hand abruptly stifled Angel’s hoarse and heated words as she reached up to cover his mouth and keep him from swallowing her protestations.

Parting his lips he laved her flesh greedily, selfishly attempting to push aside the growing coldness creeping across her flushed features. He suckled her palm sensually, assaulting her senses until her hazel eyes flickered with need; then she blinked and her gaze hardened in anger.

“Let me up – now” her tone brooked no argument, and after a slight hesitation Angel reluctantly released her, slipping his hands from under her top and rolling onto his side.

As soon as he’d moved, Cordelia shot up and slid shakily off the bed, backing away with her hands held in front of her in silent protest when he immediately followed her up.

“I don’t…I don’t know what game you’re playing, Angel, but I want no part of it.” His spine stiffened at the edge of distaste that once again colored her tone.

“I’m not playing any games; you know how I feel about you,” he responded tightly, resisting the urge to pull her back into his arms and show her in a way he was more comfortable with. Words tended to come out of his mouth twisted and open to question.

“Do I?” she returned outwardly cool whilst burning up on the inside with frustrated passion and not a little confusion. God knows how long ago it was, but Cordelia remembered vividly wishing him out of her life earlier- and yet now, her body and soul ached for him; and it scared the hell out of her. She needed her wits about her more than ever now, and realizing how close she’d been to surrendering to his needs made him very dangerous.

“The reason I agreed to meet you-“

“Just leave it, Angel; that should never have even-“

“NO!” he took a few steps forward, almost growling in frustration when she instantly retreated. “I am going to say this, and you are going to listen; it’s been a long time coming.” He continued to walk forward, deliberately herding Cordelia backwards until she ran out of floor, her back coming up abruptly against a wall.

Reaching out, he rested his hands, palm flat, either side of her head and leant forward until she couldn’t evade his steady, determined gaze. “I love you; I’m in love with you- have been for longer than you could possibly imagine.” Her immediate response was completely unexpected.

“God! Don’t insult my intelligence! I may have been- been possessed; but my brain wasn’t turned to mush in the process.” her heart felt like it was about to fracture and rend apart at his blatant lie.

“I’m beginning to wonder!” the words shot out before Angel could bite them back. “Can’t you see the truth when it’s directly in front of you?” for a moment, Cordelia just stared at him, her mouth agape, then a small, bitter smile curled her kiss-bruised mouth.

“Pot calling kettle black there, buddy.” The smile left her face almost as abruptly as he stepped back. “I’m tired and I want you to go.” Pushing past him, she stalked towards the door, her flight halted by the large hand that latched onto her upper arm and yanked her around to face the deeply infuriated vampire.

‘I’m tired; I’m fine’ – well, I’m sick and ‘tired’ of hearing the same words coming out of that beautiful yet annoying mouth! Can’t you, ya know, think of anything more…original than the same old party line?” Once again, Cordelia’s mouth dropped open in shocked outrage. The nerve of the- her free hand landed on her hip and her eyes narrowed dangerously.

“Maybe I use those two sentences so much cos I know you’ve never been able to deal with the truth!” she fired back heatedly. Angel took a step nearer, all guilt temporarily leaving the building.

“Since when did you ever give me that option, huh? Would you ever accept anything less than the ‘truth’ from me? I don’t think so- what the hell do you want from me?” his voice rose to a shout, but Cordelia was too worked up herself to be cowed by the almost unheard of reaction from the usually soft-spoken vampire.

“Nothing! Nothing. except maybe for you to leave me the hell alone! Go back to that-the latest in your never-ending line of blonde chippies!” the room instantly became shockingly quiet except for the harsh breathing of both ex-Champion and Seer.

The very sound of the vampire’s harsh panting; seemingly struggling for breath frightened her more than anything else, and she tugged unsuccessfully against the hard grip he still had on her arm – her breath catching in her throat when he finally responded by yanking her forward, slamming her chest against his.

“Then I guess I’ll just leave you the hell alone” he snarled gutturally; his natural vampiric visage taking over his softer, human face. For an endless tension-filled moment their eyes locked in a silent raging battle, noses almost touching- then he was gone.

After several deep breaths, Cordelia shakily made her way back to the bed and sank down on the edge; her mind numb with depleted anger and shock.

What happens now?

***

GodGodGodGODohGODJesusfuckingChrist– what the hell have I done!? the self-damning mantra rolled in a continuous loop through his brain all the way back to the Wolfram & Hart Building.

Angel shook internally as well as on the outside, and he couldn’t believe he hadn’t wrapped his car around a streetlight on the way back.

His amber eyes were slightly out of focus- most likely due to the sheen of moisture that refused to go away, and he’d bitten deep into his bottom lip with his fangs, completely unaware that his face still hadn’t shifted back to human, or that the blood that dripped from his chin compounded the visual effect of a psychotically crazed and intensely dangerous vampire.

Luckily for potential running-away-screaming witnesses to his ‘Vamp on a really bad day’ look, Angel so far had made it to his office without being seen.

The only other question that managed to creep into his mind was:

‘What the hell happens now?’

Part 8

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