Breathe Again 15-16

Part 15

As Cordelia waited for Wesley’s answer, the bathroom door abruptly opened.

She felt a whoosh of relief, stunned by it, as her eyes locked with Angel’s. A storm of emotions revealed for an instant. Her theory was way off. Angel hadn’t abandoned her. He was still there…albeit half-naked with just a pair of dark blue boxers clinging to his lean hips.

Her mouth dropped open, eyes unconsciously drinking in the sight of all that pale, perfect flesh. It had been quite a while since Cordy had last seen him seminude, but it had never really bothered her in the past. No sooner had she noticed his damp skin that it pressed it against her.

Powerful arms wrapped tightly until Cordelia’s cheek pressed against his broad shoulder, smooth skin still warm from his shower. She turned her face into his throat to catch her breath, arms belatedly lifting to clutch at his back.

Oh God, he surrounded her. She took a moment to relish the feeling, fingers sliding against the hard planes of his back before reluctantly pulling away. For a moment, he resisted her attempts until she managed to gasp, “Angel. Human here. Need to breathe,” before relaxing his hold.

Letting go, he down at her. One large palm lifted to cradle the side of her face as it finally sunk in that he hadn’t fallen asleep, and it wasn’t a dream. Cordy was truly awake. “You’re okay.” Aching relief throbbed in those two words. Then a flash of fear lit his anxious gaze. “You ARE okay, right?”

Cordy mutely nodded, taking that as her cue to put a little more space between them. Suddenly aware that the soft material of her clothing was now damp, she glanced down with a frown, which deepened, confused on noting that she was dressed in a soft silk shirt – and little else by the feel of it. Colour flared hot on her cheeks as she flicked a brief look at Wes, who now seemed to be engrossed in the book he’d retrieved from the floor moments before.

“My earlier remark to Angel that his odour was close to becoming rather ripe worked out rather well – for both of you,” Wes commented dryly on noting the way the vampire had almost crushed the life out of her. 

A mental DUH sounded off as Cordy finally made the connection between what Wes had said and the damp skin, and mostly Nekkid Angel, to the running water she’d heard earlier. Then her attention went back to her lack of clothing. “This is one of yours,” she finally spoke, pushing at Angel’s still-too-close chest until he finally moved back a little more to give her some room, his hand leaving her face to drop to his lap. Cordy plucked at the clingy material, inadvertently drawing Angel’s eyes to her torso. The damp silk now clung to her breasts.

He blinked and swallowed hard. “I, uh, we wanted you to be comfortable,” he stuttered a little as Cordy caught his reaction before he could hide it and crossed her arms protectively. “Blood covered the clothes you were wearing.” As soon as her eyes widened in dismay, he realized how bad that must have sounded.

“Blood?!” the word came out a horrified squeak before Cordy pulled herself together. “Did I, what — fall on something?” Arms dropping, she dipped her head to check herself out for bandages, almost forgetting about the men in the room for a moment, and unthinkingly began to pull up the shirt until large cool hands caught hers.

Wes let out a small sigh of relief at the vampire’s quick reflexes that diverted what could have been embarrassing for all of them. It hadn’t taken a genius to realize why Cordelia had felt the need to cross her arms moments before. “Not a scratch on you,” he quickly assured her.

Cordy’s eyes went back to Angel when he cut in. “Remember the nose and ear bleeding that happened before? When having had a vision?” She nodded after a short pause. “Well, it was like that, just…” Angel swallowed convulsively, “more so.”

Watching from the sidelines, Wes shifted with discomfort as he read the familiar guilt on Angel’s expression. “Something now guaranteed not ever to happen again,” he said with a soft smile.

As hoped, Cordy relaxed and even offered up a faint grin. “A guarantee? That’s not like you, Wes.” Her attention turned back to the silent vampire; her eyes narrowed as she pulled her hands free from his and proceeded to straighten out the shirt. After smoothing it down, she gave the soft material a slight tug, expression darkening in faint suspicion. “Did you-?”

“No!” Angel almost yelped out his reply, catching on quick and defensively clasping his hands together. If he’d had circulation, a hot flush would have worked its way up to his neck at the instant images of her question that suddenly flooded his brain.

Cordy continued to eye him suspiciously, watching as he fidgeted with obvious discomfort, then Wes thankfully interceded.

“Fred was kind enough to assist us,” he explained. “Thank goodness she was here, is all I can say. Propriety and all that,” Wes couldn’t resist the light jab, even though it went over his intended target’s head. Clearing his throat, he returned his gaze to the now mollified occupant of the bed.

Cordy’s face had softened to mild amusement. “I’m guessing those times Angel did leave my side, huh?” A faint smirk touched her mouth at the sharp questioning look Angel aimed towards Wes, who quickly shifted his attention to the book he still clutched and muttered, “most definitely.”

 Angel nodded in agreement, making a mental note to find out exactly what Wes had divulged later. If Fred hadn’t been living here, he would have changed Cordy’s clothes himself rather than leave her like that. But would never be stupid enough to tell her that.

Ducking her head to hide the widening grin at his huffy expression, Cordy remarked, “Lucky for me that she was here.” “It would have sucked big time waking up in gross clothes. “I’ll have to thank her for preserving my modesty.”

“Yes, well, although I’m certain that Fred would appreciate it, thank-yous will now have to be done by phone.” Cordy’s brow arched in query at Wes’ response. “We finally managed to contact Fred’s parents earlier in the week, and they arrived at the hotel yesterday. They left this morning,” he concluded.

“Oh, that’s good! But it’s a shame I missed the happy reunion. ”Cordy frowned when thinking of the mental train wreck that was their temporary guest.  “It was happy, right? Was she, you know, okay?”

“Thankfully, yes. I do believe that asking for Fred’s help in our time of need was a boost to her fragile self-confidence – and her parents came across as extremely caring and very sensible,” Wes reassured. “She’s in excellent hands.”

A small jab of envy unexpectedly hit Cordy. She so wished that she could have had parents like that… But, after glancing between Angel and Wes, she inwardly shrugged it off. It was in the past, and envy had no real place in her life. Not any more. The family she’d adopted more than made up for the lack in her childhood.

Bar a few -major, hiccups along the way.

But Angel was here now, and maybe it was time for her to accept the current dynamics of their relationship, and try hard not to think too far ahead. Absently stroking the silk fabric of the shirt, Cordy attempted to concentrate on Wes’ words. He continued to fill her in on the reunion between Fred and her parents. Realizing that she was staring a little too blatantly at Angel’s still-bare torso, Cordy tore her gaze away and focussed on Wes. She was just grateful that Angel had thought to at least put on his boxers before barging out of the bathroom, although they didn’t really leave that much to the imagination, clinging to his slightly damp skin.

Not like she hadn’t seen and touched other parts of his body so many times in the past… but since his return, Cordy’s burgeoning feelings made it difficult – a distraction she could well do without. And the main reason she’d stopped her ministrations whenever Angel was injured.

Hurriedly looking away and up, she found herself trapped by eyes so dark they were almost obsidian. Startled, Cordy averted her gaze, cheeks flaring hotly in mortification.

Angel felt Cordy’s gaze on him before he saw it, and had almost reeled in surprise at the hot flicker of emotions flitting across her face. The scent that accompanied the slightly glazed expression was doing things to him that had no place right currently — and not just because of the presence of Wes.

The slow stirring of his groin sent him abruptly to his feet, a sense of panic filtering through at the thought of those roving eyes deciding to retrace their path. Turning away, he headed across the room towards his closet. Pulling out a shirt and pants, he listened as Wes moved on to ask more detailed questions pertaining to her current health.

By the time he was fully dressed, both of them were more than happy with her responses, and then Wes proceeded with the colossal task of discussing the subject close to his heart at present: his findings.

Immediately putting a stop to it, Cordy complained of feeling ‘icky.’ “You can share it once I feel like a paid-up member of the Hygiene Awareness Club again, okay? Right now, I’d kill for a shower,” she added with feeling.

Wes gave a pained sigh, looking disgruntled. An arched brow was her response. Ceding to her wishes, Wes eyed Angel, who’d settled back on the edge of the bed. “I believe that that’s our cue to leave.”

Angel shifted awkwardly. He wasn’t quite ready to leave yet. Cordy hadn’t long woken up, and it had seemed like forever since she’s collapsed unconscious and bloody in his arms. “Maybe I should stay a little longer — just to make sure…” his voice petered out when two pairs of eyes rolled simultaneously and turned to him.

“I think I can manage a shower without needing you to hold the soap, Angel,” she told him with a huff. Her choice of words catapulted him right back into a web of forbidden thoughts; this time, hot running water and slippery bodies featured top of the list.

Cordy witnessed the wide dilation of his pupils before his eyes flickered, thick lashes quickly dropping to cover them. A hot flush suffused her body. Perhaps it was the whole drama of the situation and his obvious relief when he’d pulled her into that all-engulfing hug. I’m reading far too much into it, she told herself, and desperately hoped that a cold shower would calm both her thoughts and overheated body.

Angel reluctantly got to his feet and looked down at her, his eyes now unreadable. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes,” he promised, finally breaking eye contact and turning away.

Cordy stared after him with wide eyes. His low tone had almost sounded like a threat. “No, you won’t. I’ll see you all downstairs. I also need a change of clothes — my own.” She tacked on, ignoring his suddenly rigid stance, a dark frown lowering his brows.

“You’re not going downstairs, Cordelia. You’ve just woken up from a week-long coma!”

Cordy’s chin tilted at the not-so-subtle order she definitely heard in his tone. “Yes, I am. You’re not the boss any more, and anyway, I’m buzzing with too much energy to veg out here,” she added.

Wes sighed inwardly in exasperation at what looked to be the beginnings of a bicker-fest between them. Awake five minutes, and already they were primed for yet another battle of wills. “Do you think that’s wise, Cordelia?” he asked, then cringed as the weight of her gaze landed on him.

Angel spoke before she had a chance to respond. “You need to rest.” Her patented glare changed target, for which Wes was eternally grateful. Let the stubborn vampire sort it out, he then decided. He had no wish to be in the line of fire — especially when suffering from a lack of sleep.

“I’ve been sleeping all week.” Angel opened his mouth, but she forestalled him. “Angel, I told you. I feel fine — in fact….” She threw back the covers and slid her feet to the floor. “As I said to Wes earlier, I feel so much better than fine.” A blinding smile illuminated her lovely face.

Angel gave in. Not only had he been treated to an unobstructed view of Cordy’s long golden legs from her feet to upper thighs, that had distracted him from his line of thought, he couldn’t deny that she was positively glowing. “I’ve already put some of your clothes in the closet and top drawers of the dresser,” he finally replied with an irritable grunt, his expression petulant as he turned and headed for the now open door. Wes, who’d got fed up with waiting, had already left the room.

After a few seconds of contemplation, Cordy ran over to turn the key in the lock, then got a move on – just in case the stubborn vampire decided to make good his earlier threat.


Angel sat back and silently looked on as Wes, with Lorne, who’d arrived half an hour earlier, filled in a by now, stunned seer. His earlier gripe at the length of time Cordy had taken to come down and join them- and finding out that she’d gone as far as to lock his door to keep him out, was difficult to shake. Not that a flimsy lock would have kept him out if he’d been brave enough to force entry.

Angelus D’Aurelius. A growl rumbled low in his chest. He was a vampire — not just any vampire, either, but the once-feared Scourge of Europe. A Master vampire afraid of nothing and no one…except the guaranteed reaction of a certain brunette if he’d dared to force entry into his suite of rooms and either toss her back in bed or order her to get her cute ass downstairs. A grin of reluctant admiration touched Angel’s full mouth, and his earlier annoyance finally vanished.

He jolted when the main door abruptly opened, and Gunn loped in and quickly made his way over to Cordy, who he almost lifted off the couch to hug. She patted his smooth head and whispered to him before he released her.

Curious hazel eyes turned in Angel’s direction when he immediately vaulted down from his perch at the counter to join Cordelia on the couch. Even though he understood the dynamics between Cordy and Gunn, a twinge of jealousy still bothered him when it involved touching. Maybe when things were finally sorted out between them, that touch of insecurity would vanish. He hoped so, anyway. Shrugging off his thoughts, Angel concentrated on the conversation that had begun now that Wes had finished going through the bulk of his findings.

“I can’t believe I’ll live that long, Wes.” Cordy couldn’t keep the faint tremor out of her voice. When he’d first explained the whole biblical aspect and how it concerned her, she was at first overwhelmed, but as he’d continued, random thoughts had popped into her head as she looked at each face of her family.

Wes and Gunn… Oh God, if Wes had got it right, she’d possibly — make that definitely outlive them, and that was a scary thought. It also made her heart wrench to think of no longer having them around. Her eyes had turned to Lorne. Having no idea of his demon lifespan, Cordy could only wonder if he’d still be around when it was her turn to die. What had seemed so fantastic initially now seemed to have a catch she wasn’t sure she liked? Until, that is, she turned her attention towards Angel.

It would be an outright lie to say that it had never crossed Cordy’s mind how the thought of growing old and eventually dying, while Angel always remained the same: never changing and inevitably alone. There was, of course, always the big fat carrot that seemed to tantalize at a distance – his shanshu, but the prophecy wasn’t big on details. Her mind did a U-turn as she considered the possibility of it happening- and happening soon. And what if it did happen? Then she would be in the position of seeing him grow old and die? Cordy closed her eyes. Leaving her all alone. God! I really don’t want to think about right now!

“Cordy? Are you okay?” Her eyes shot open and met a worried chocolate-brown gaze.

Attempting to swallow down the fear and confusion that had invaded her, Cordy attempted a smile. “Yeah, I’m good.” Angel didn’t seem convinced, and impulsively, she reached for the hand resting on his thigh and squeezed it softly. “I’m just… getting my head around stuff. It’s a lot to take in, you know?” she clarified. Her explanation seemed to do the trick, and his tense features softened, a slight smile lifting one corner of his mouth.

“It is,” he warmly agreed, “But you’re gonna be okay. That’s the most important thing.” He squeezed the hand he’d kept hold of and relaxed a little more when her smile finally loosened, looking less strained.

Gunn chimed in, shifting his butt in an attempt to get comfortable on the arm of the couch. “Don’t forget that the visions are still going to pack a punch,” annoyance at that particular piece of information threading his tone.

Cordy leaned over Angel and patted Gunn’s knee. “I know it’s still going to pretty much suck,” she grimaced for a second, and then her expression changed to reflect optimism. “But as Wes said, at least this time, they won’t kill me — and no lingering hangovers after, so yay to that!”

Angel grunted under his breath as one of Cordy’s hands clutched his thigh a little too close to his groin as she moved back to her original position on the couch and voiced his concerns. “But the pain will still be as bad.”

“I doubt they’ll be as mind-crushing as they were, sweet cheeks.” Lorne attempted to reassure, but obviously failed, judging by the glower aimed his way.

“We don’t know that yet,” Angel growled.

Lorne sensibly backed off and instead took an interest in his half-filled glass, swirling the contents, and wondered if the vamp would ever be satisfied where Cordylicious’ welfare was concerned. He fatalistically shrugged broad shoulders and took a healthy swig of his drink.

Cordy placed a calming hand on Angel’s knee and smiled up at him. “Hey, I’m just happy that I’m not going to die – and the hopeless get to be saved for a lot longer.” Angel still looked unconvinced and had a sourpuss’s face. “Hey, it’s all good in my book.” She gave him a nudge in the ribs, her smile growing until he couldn’t help but return it.

Angel continued to watch her, even when she turned away to say something to Lorne. Cordelia Chase was so damned brave — which was not always a good thing, he thought grimly as he recalled what she’d hidden from him. There’d been incidences of it in Sunnydale in the past, too. However reckless he thought it, that drew him in just as much as all the other qualities that had gradually shone through in the years they’d been together… Together. He was sidetracked for a moment by the intimacy that word had suddenly developed when thinking of it and Cordy in the same sentence.

“The PTB did a good thing, so I can’t really complain. It’s about time they gave something back.” Gunn commented, and everyone but Angel, who was still absorbed in his thoughts, wholeheartedly agreed.

“Yup, they finally came through for us.” Cordy rose to her feet and stretched gracefully before moving off towards the counter. “Maybe I won’t punch them on their non-existent noses after all.”

“Yeah, maybe we caught them in a good mood,” Gunn slipped from the arm and onto the vacated couch, stretching his long legs out with a sigh.

Angel, who’d become aware of his surroundings the moment Gunn flopped down beside him, instantly checked the lobby, not relaxing until his dark eyes landed on his seer. As he rose to his feet to join her, Gunn glanced his way. “You think they had anything to do with the slayer chick coming back from the dead?” He asked curiously. Angel and the others turned to stare at the young man, who instantly remembered that that bit of information had yet to be revealed, flinched and muttered, “Shit,” under his breath.

In the process of pouring herself a coffee, Cordy froze, the jug suspended in the air over the mug, then her shock-widened eyes lifted and locked with apologetic brown that then quickly became guarded. While her head went into a spin, she carefully placed the jug next to her empty mug and tried to recover her equilibrium. Buffy’s alive? But how?  Her mind must be playing tricks on her. That had to be it. But then, wasn’t she herself a perfect example of what was actually possible?

“Buffy’s alive?” Her quiet question hung in the air, and Angel held her gaze for as long as he could, but the sheer betrayal of being kept out of the loop that shimmered behind the shock was too much to bear; his eyes shifted and dropped to stare at the marble floor blindly.

Dammit!  He’d wanted to tell her himself – later. This was Cordy’s moment -and a thoughtless slip of the tongue had ruined it. Right at that moment, he wanted to hurt the young man sitting tensely beside him. Only a few hours since she woke up and to find out like that? Was he wrong not to tell her earlier? To not want it to be about Buffy just for a little longer?

“Yeah.” He winced at the lameness of his reply and cleared his throat, cursing his inability to handle this with care. Gathering every ounce of courage left in him, Angel forced his eyes back to hers. Every silent second that went by only made his decision not to tell her earlier seem suspect, and her now-wary expression didn’t bode well.

Shifting in his seat with deep discomfort as he looked from one to the other, Wes and inwardly groaned. It hadn’t even occurred to him to bring up that particular subject earlier, either. To be honest, it had been pushed to the side, as Cordelia’s welfare came first. Desperate to ease the deep hurt displayed so clearly on Cordelia’s face, Wes cleared his throat and took on the mammoth task of clarifying their reticence – something that Angel seemed at present unable to fully articulate.

The tension that held Cordelia’s body rigid eased somewhat as the events that had occurred were divulged. Her eyes remained on Angel as Wes told of Willow’s unexpected phone call and her part in bringing Buffy back to the land of the living. His explanation made some sense, but Angel’s silence, along with the faint expression of guilt that lingered in his dark eyes, stirred the doubts that seemed ever-present beneath the surface of her mind. By the time Wes had finished, her gaze had lowered to stare blankly at the surface of the counter.

After a lengthy, strained silence, Cordy managed to pull herself together. “Wow. That’s…. Great news,” she eventually replied. “When did she call?” lifting her eyes almost compulsively towards Angel, who shifted uneasily under her stare. The blank expression frightened him.

“A couple of nights ago.” he belatedly realized the question was directed to him and gruffly responded. The urge to go over to Cordy tugged at him, but although the expression in her eyes was now neutral, her posture told an entirely different story: it screamed, keep the Hell away. So he continued to stand there, frozen to the spot.

Swallowing audibly and unable to keep eye contact any longer, Cordy looked away and instead watched her restless fingers as they plucked at the soft fabric of her pale cream top. She’d always known and accepted that Angel was a man…pire of few words – it was one of the reasons she always came out on top when it came to verbal sparring. But right now, his usual reticence was the last thing she needed. Well, two could play at that game. “So when are you leaving?” She asked baldly, ignoring the soft gasps that left the others who still sat immobile in their seats.

“What?” Angel replied a little blankly. Out of everything Cordy could have said, that one wasn’t even on the list of possible questions. Cordy shrugged a slim shoulder, attempting for a casual and upbeat expression, but failed miserably. “Buffy’s back. Alive!” She managed a smile, albeit strained. “A second chance.” Her eyes flickered up briefly before averting them to concentrate on the discarded jug, picking it up and slowly filling her mug, determined to keep her hand steady and not spill any of the hot coffee.

Angel stared at her bent head dumbstruck for a moment before looking pointedly at the others, one at a time, lingering for a second longer on Gunn, who struggled not to look away. They all read his expression clearly.


No one hesitated. Gunn had already paled in deep regret the moment he’d seen Cordy’s face, and had guiltily lowered his head at the eerie blankness of the vampire’s eyes. He honestly couldn’t wait to get out of there and kick some sense into his own stupid ass. He doubted I’m truly sorry, man, would go down well right now, and was determined to avoid eye contact with the others as he made his way quickly out of the hotel.

Cordy lifted her head at the sound of movement and felt her heart jump to her throat as she realized they were leaving her and Angel alone. Oh, God. They’re leaving to save me some dignity. She thought sickly, emotions finally starting to return with fierce brutality. She pulled herself together with difficulty but managed to at least look outwardly calm. No way in hell was she letting him get even a clue of how she’d take it when it was Angel doing the whole permanent leaving thing.

Because he would do it, he’d lost Buffy – regretted that he hadn’t been by her side to help- and keep her alive. That regret and guilt, along with the grief of loss, had almost broken him. It made sense that with a second chance like this, he wouldn’t want to ever be in that position again. She was pulled from her spiralling thoughts by the quiet sound of his boots, soles softly hitting the marble floor as he closed the distance between them. That in itself was weird. Normally, you could never hear Angel approach. It was one of the things she’d always bitched at him about in the past.

“Cordy….” His voice sounded tentative, controlled. That also unnerved her, so she cut in before he could continue.

“Duh, how clueless am I? You must have already been to see her.” She shot him a smile before lifting the mug towards trembling lips, grimacing at the bitter taste of coffee without sugar or creamer but swallowing it anyway. It suited her mood right now.

“No. I haven’t left since….” Angel replied, then paused to reach out for the mug and gently take it from her. “I’ve been here the whole time,” he assured her.

“Well, I’m sorry you missed her homecoming.” Cordy shrugged and jerkily turned away to walk around the dividing counter. The need to leave was getting stronger, and she was glad that he made no move to stop her when she headed for her desk. “My timing sucks, huh?” she added shakily. “First Pylea and now this-”

“Don’t even think that, Cordelia!” Angel cut in, his tone a little sharp. He couldn’t help but get angry at her apologetic tone. Snapping his teeth together, he took a calming breath. Anger would only make things worse- if that were even possible. “Buffy’s okay. Willow understood why I couldn’t go. You’re my priority,” he added strongly.

“Well, I’m okay now. So when will you be going to see her?”

It was as if she weren’t listening to Angel’s words, and it was starting to piss him off – which, again, wasn’t a good thing right now when he was supposed to be rescuing the situation and calming her fears. He moved closer and turned Cordy to face him, wincing a little at her flinch when his hands made contact with her shoulders, but he refused to drop them. “I’m not going,” adding, “Ever.”

She looked up at him finally, disbelief in every line of her pale face. “But it’s BUFFY!” she said pointedly.

Angel shook his head, only just resisting the urge to shake Cordy too, so he released her shoulders but didn’t step back. She tried to, but the desk stopped her retreat. “You really believe I could have left you?” The hurt he was feeling at her continued lack of trust in him came through clearly in his question, and she frowned and then dropped her head.

“I thought … don’t you want to be with the girl you love?” Angel was too close, and that must have been what was confusing her, Cordy decided feverishly.

“Well, duh.” The hurt bled away, but exasperation took its place pretty quickly.

Cordy folded her arms tightly and glared up at him, eyes flashing fire and hurt. “So why aren’t you in Sunnyhell then?” she demanded.

How Angel stopped from rolling his eyes was beyond him. Cordy might have been quick on the uptake with everything else, but he wondered what the hell he needed to do for her to get a clue. Kissing her senseless was his next plan of action, though there was still that element of fear in him that maybe he was mistaken, and she just didn’t feel the same. But judging by her reaction, he was almost certain she did. So he took a chance. “Because the girl I love is right here.”

Cordy’s mouth dropped open as his words sank in. “Huh?”

Cordy stared mutely up at him, her head tilting back to hold his intent gaze as he came to a standstill within inches of her. For someone who normally used words like an art form or a weapon, her reaction was so unlike the woman he’d come to love that it softened the anger and a smile reluctantly tugged at his mouth. But the shock didn’t last and rapidly turned into panic. He could see it in her wide eyes and was confused by it. “Cordy?”

His confusion grew when she abruptly sidestepped and backed and away from him. “I’ve got to go. Dennis will want to know I’m okay.” Her reply didn’t sink in until she was almost at the door.

He pulled himself together and managed to get there before she could open it. “Didn’t you hear what I said?” Angel asked, confusion turning into fear when she averted her eyes, nodding jerkily. Reaching out, he cupped the side of her face, turning it back to face him. “I love you, Cordelia,” he enunciated clearly, wanting no misunderstandings. They’d had enough of those in the past-God knows how long.

Cordy stared into his eyes for an endless moment before grabbing his hand and pulling it down between them, squeezing it gently before releasing it. “I’m sorry, Angel. I just … I need to think.” Stuttering a little, she pushed him back slightly and turned to open the door.

Angel had no choice but to move out of the way as a beam of afternoon sun filtered through the gap. The door thudded closed behind her. And then he was alone.

Cordy had walked away after he’d finally gathered the courage to confess his feelings. Pain shot through Angel’s heart as he came to the only conclusion he could.

She didn’t love him.

Part 16

Heart pounding and close to hyperventilation, Cordelia stumbled through the front door, OhGodOhGod.

She couldn’t recall the journey back to her apartment, and it was only when reaching for her keys that she realized she’d forgotten her purse, and her continuous inner monologue was only briefly derailed by a grateful, Thank God for Dennis, when the ghost let her in. The door clicked closed behind her. Collapsing against it, trying to catch her breath, her panic returned full-tilt as deeper, less wanted-right-now thoughts bombarded her.

Anger and hurt: she clung to those descriptors desperately. Yes. After spending so much time feeling such a way, targeting Angel almost every moment in the past weeks, similar to a wounded animal that couldn’t make up its mind if it wanted to lick its wounds in private or show them to the one who inflicted them – he dropped a bombshell like that!

And how had Cordy reacted? She’d walked away.

Angel told her he loved her, and she ran for the hills. But there were reasons — valid ones at that, Cordy reminded herself. She attempted to slough off the guilt that flared instantly at the recollection of the hurt on his face. But not in a million years could she have stayed put — not after his completely unexpected admission. Especially not while she still had those two extra and not-too-convenient-right-then emotions, that still hovered around her like stale air. Anger and hurt.

Absently reaching for the lapels of her jacket, a frown of confusion marred her smooth brow. She hadn’t even thought to put on her jacket. Jeeze, how the hell had she managed to get home in one piece? How much was a person expected to take before suffering overload?

Maybe she was there already and just didn’t realize it cos — duh! Overload issues! Cordy reasoned doggedly. The revelations over the past few hours had already bombarded her mind almost to the point of catatonic shock, what with news of her shiny new lifespan and what that signified, Buffy’s unexpected resurrection, and most of all, the confession that rocked her very foundations.

At the time, Cordy could see no other option but to get out of there. It vaguely occurred to her then that her inner monologue was repeating itself. Coherency was definitely needed — but finding it was another matter entirely.

Blowing out a frustrated breath, she kicked off her shoes and walked over to the couch, numbly sinking into the soft cushions. Deep breaths didn’t help at all in the attempt to relax and stop the cacophony that had her mind spinning like an out-of-control carousel.

Leaning back, Cordy slid trembling fingers through her hair and took another deep, gulping breath. One thing at a time. Yep, that’s what she had to do. Assess each issue and deal

Okay. She was going to be around a long time. That revelation alone had been a major shock to the system and so far, it hadn’t fully sunk in. No getting old and dying — well, those things would happen, but not for a hell of a long time.

The pros and cons of that were many, but the one that stood out starkly was, to her, the most important: more time by Angel’s side. As soon as that thought crossed her mind, doubts resurfaced. Being around God knows how long didn’t automatically guarantee a life with Angel … she swallowed thickly and shelved the rest of that line of thought — for now, she promised herself, and moved on.

Mentally going through the list, Cordy settled on one she could deal with right now. The visions. They were still going to hurt, sure, but they weren’t going to kill her any more, and as she’d said to Angel, that was all good in her book. After so long-suffering unbelievable pain during, and then in between visions, Cordy now counted herself lucky. That is, if Wes and Lorne were right. So far, the PTB hadn’t been evil enough to send one, so all she could do was wait and see.

Skipping through the list, her mind kept going back to the one that stood out like a beacon of doom.


Angel’s first — and Cordy had considered, only love. Even now, doubts assailed her mind. He’d not long got back from his three months of absence. Time alone with his grief. Things weren’t great between them, but he was back- and obviously dealing…. Or was he?

Which led to the last revelation.

He goes off for three long months. Leaves me again. Comes back and now, apparently, he loves me?

Becoming more wound up by the second, Cordy covered her face with her hands and groaned aloud in frustration.

Was it a case of rebound? It could be nothing more than that. But Buffy was back now. Why would Angel bother to declare his feelings towards HER now that Buffy was back in the picture? If it were simply a rebound, he’d have realized it the moment he’d heard the news of her miraculous resurrection.

But Angel hadn’t – and he’d not raced to Sunnydale after getting the call, deciding to stay with her instead. What had he said? “You’re my priority.” Cordy’s frown relaxed… The wealth of feeling in that declaration now filled her with warmth, and tentative hope flared. Although it was soon doused when another thought hit her.

Asking herself how she could be certain, her mouth quivered as she held back threatening tears. Fair enough, Angel hadn’t gone to Sunnydale — yet. What was to say that once things had settled down, he wouldn’t finally go visit — out of past feelings, or to at least honour what they had in the past least? What if once he got there and was face to face with Buffy, it suddenly dawned on him that he hadn’t in fact, moved on?

Tears welled and one escaped to trickle down her pale cheek. Crap, crap, crap. This wasn’t helping. In fact, Cordelia was beginning to have more doubts and fears than when she first left him.

Guilt added to the mix at that thought, rebounding back to the mortifying fact that she’d walked out on him. Angel had put his heart on his sleeve, and what did she do. Crap.

Deep breath.

Okay…. Positive scenario: I love him — duh. That wasn’t an issue. He loved her, too. It was something she’d – stupidly — yearned for…. How long? She couldn’t honestly put a time on it. Hell, she’d only recently realized that what she was feeling was love.

So, what next? They loved each other. For a brief moment, Cordy felt a warm surge of excitement and joy at the thought…. But as ever, someone — or thing was there to eclipse that.

Angel was a cursed vampire. One moment of bliss and outcomes, the soulless version. Could it work with that hanging over their head? Then there is the intimate side.
Could she live without the physical expression of his love? Would kisses be enough — for both of them? What if they found it difficult to deal with?

What if they went too far? It wasn’t an unbelievable scenario; just the thought of kissing Angel sent shivers of excitement running through her body. Who’d be the strong one?

She may not have been the centre of his attention love-wise previously, but Angel oozed sensuality. It was an intrinsic part of his character. Handsome, charismatic… But then he had decades of learning self-control.

Either way, she looked at it, her heart dropped. Relationships were supposed to be about the couple. A relationship with Angel would be about them and everyone they knew, and, hell, even those they didn’t.

One fall from grace, and they would all pay for it. Forget Buffy for the moment. Did she want to be responsible for the possible torture- and definite death of her friends, and any human, within distance of the notorious Scourge of Europe?

Cordelia was wrung out. Too many thoughts in too short a time. Either way she looked at it, there was no happy conclusion.

A bath. She’d take a long bath and try to put some order in her mind. And then make a sensible decision on what to do. She hoped.


Wes rearranged the items on his desk one more time before glancing toward the shuttered window.

The soft murmur of voices had ceased at least fifteen minutes earlier, leaving him wondering if Cordelia and Angel had moved on from talking and were now… instantly he put a stop to where that thought was taking him.

I seriously need a sex life. Wes thought with mortification. Once the lid was firmly replaced and the blood that had rushed to his face receded, he told himself that they would have most likely moved their conversation elsewhere.

Why he’d entered the office instead of leaving the hotel like the others, he had no idea. Realizing belatedly that there was nothing in here to occupy himself with, Wes rose to his feet and decided to take a chance on opening the door to check and see if the coast was clear. He was surprised and more than a little curious to see the lone figure of Angel standing in the centre of the otherwise deserted lobby; broad shoulders hunched and his unblinking gaze on the main door.

“Angel?” Wes cleared his throat loudly when the black-clad figure failed to respond, then swallowed down the forming lump of anxiety when dark and deeply desolate eyes turned his way.

“She left.” The words were as stark as Angel’s tone. “I told her I loved her and… she just left.” Wes gaped for a second before pulling himself together and taking an involuntary step forward.

The fact that Angel had divulged his feelings so baldly was more of a surprise to Wes than the actual revelation, and for a moment, he was at a loss for words. “You told her…?” he finally asked, and Angel nodded briefly before turning his gaze towards the door.

Wes remained fixed on the spot, unsure what to do or say next, but thankfully his intrinsic ability to look at issues impartially kicked in, temporarily cutting out the personal. “Maybe…” he began, his tone thoughtful, then paused just long enough to walk over to a chair and settle himself before continuing. “Cordelia has had an awful lot to deal with in the past several hours, as you know, Angel. It sounds to me like it could have been simply a case of sensory overload.”

Angel’s dark head dipped in thought as the words sunk in. Wes’ explanation sounded a hell of a lot better than the one he’d been thinking. That Cordy simply didn’t return his feelings. “She needed to think,” he finally responded, turning slowly to face Wes. “That’s what Cordy said.”

“That’s entirely understandable,” Wes nodded before continuing. “Cordelia has had a lot to take in since she awoke. Naturally, your unexpected, um, confession on top of such an overwhelming plethora of information…?” Angel’s spine straightened a bit at that and glanced over to his leather jacket that was draped over one of the couches.

Realizing instantly what Angel intended, Wes hastened to caution. “Just a suggestion here, but I do think it might be wise to give Cordelia a little breathing space right now.” Angel obviously didn’t want to hear that, but at the same time, Wes hoped it gave the vampire pause for thought.

It did. Angel couldn’t really deny that it was probably the best thing he could do right now; give Cordy time – but if she was still absent by the morning, he knew beyond a doubt that he would refuse to wait any longer.

“I’m sure Cordelia won’t deliberately drag this out,” Wes added, easily able to guess Angel’s thoughts. “She is no doubt attempting to put her thoughts in some order: a new lease of life, one which goes beyond our present evolutionary level. News of the unexpected resurrection of Buffy — still the assumed love of your life, and whose death had caused you so much pain…” Stumbling to a halt on seeing the flare of reproach in Angels’ gaze, Wes looked away and reached up to remove his glasses on the pretext of wiping away a smudge.

As the tense silence thickened, the annoyance Angel felt towards the younger man faded, and was replaced by a mixture of guilt and renewed fear. What Wes had said regarding Buffy had been nothing less than the truth — and Cordelia was of the same mind too.

Buffy had been the love of his life. The only love he had ever experienced in his long and miserable existence, and for that, he would always be grateful. But he had moved on, longer than he’d realized. Although desperately unhappy when having to leave Buffy behind the day he’d left Sunnydale, Angel could now, finally, admit to himself that there had been elements of relief mixed in with that sorrow. He only hoped that Cordy would understand that and believe that his declaration of love came from the heart.

Wes slowly slid on his glasses and risked a look at the vampire. Thankful that his dark gaze now rested elsewhere and seemed preoccupied, he released a breath of relief that the air of tension had dissipated. “Moving on,” he began briskly. “Your confession, and especially the news of your-now permanent soul, had to have been quite a shocking revelation to her.”

Startled eyes returned to his, and Wes inwardly groaned at the hint of abashed guilt that tinged them. “Please tell me that you mentioned that significant part?” he almost pleaded.

Angel coughed, uncomfortably lifting his shoulders in a shrug, his stance, and eyes shifting evasively. “I didn’t get that far. I was going to tell her,” He defended when the man shook his head in dismay.

“Oh, dear.”

“What?” Angel tensed as he waited for a reply. Those two words hadn’t helped shift the feeling that he’d done something stupid. Beyond stupid.

After a deep sigh, Wes looked up at the hovering vampire. “Putting aside all other issues- and dear Lord, there are many,” he momentarily empathized with his absent friend. “After your unexpected declaration, it might occur to Cordelia that returning the love of a vampire with a soul clause could be the death of us all.” He rose to his feet and turned away, only to look back and take in the horrified expression on Angel’s face.

“If I’m right in thinking, Cordelia returns your feelings…” Angel jolted at that and his mouth opened, but Wes forestalled him, “it might, after all, be in your best interests to seek her out before she makes any kind of decision regarding a future with you.” That said, Wes turned away and made his way back to his office.

By the time he’d opened the door, Angel had already left.


Turning from his absent scrutiny of the photos resting on the mantle, Angel turned on hearing the bathroom door open, followed by a robe-clad Cordy. His wide mouth softened when as soon as she noticed him, her hands instantly reached for the belt of her robe; fingers curling around the loose knot to tighten it before stepping hesitantly forward.

“Angel!” His name came out on a squeak, and she had to clear the forming lump from her throat before asking, “What are you doing here?”

The delectable vision of Cordy all flushed from her bath and most likely naked under that bathrobe robbed Angel temporarily of the ability to think. As she waited, her tousled head tilted slightly to the side, he uncurled his tied tongue.

“I didn’t tell you,” he almost stuttered, then took an unneeded breath before continuing. “My soul is permanent. I won’t go evil and kill all our friends.” As his hastily spoken words registered, Angel mentally kicked himself upon seeing the way her mouth gaped in obvious shock.

Dammit! Taking a tentative step forward, Angel tried again. “What I mean is-” he began awkwardly.

“How?” Cordy interrupted his explanation abruptly, her eyes reflecting more than a little disbelief at his claim.

After a moment to get his head together, Angel responded, “At the monastery.” He took another step forward and absently noted that Cordy retreated one back. Frowning, “I told you about the demon monks, right?”

At her slow nod, “The real monks rewarded me by altering the original curse. My soul is here to stay, no matter what,” Angel awaited her reaction.

After searching his eyes for several seconds, Cordy dipped her head, her hands that had restlessly twisted the knot tied into her belt as she’d listened, moved to slide into her pockets.

A heavy silence permeated the air as Angel waited; his whole body tensed and ready for whatever Cordy’s response would be to his news. Unused to her being quiet for so long ramped up his nerves; as it dragged out, he found himself dreading the moment she’d finally speak and decided to get there first.

“I love you, Cordy,” Angel repeated the words he’d spoken earlier, this time threaded with a desperate ring to them. Her head jerked up as if surprised and a moment of clarity hit him, realizing she still obviously had doubts about his sincerity. “Only you,” he added with conviction, and waited on tenterhooks for her reply.

“I love you too, Angel” Cordy finally admitted, her voice thick with feeling, and Angel’s face broke into a heart-rending smile as relief poured through him. He moved closer, his arms lifting towards her.

Taking a few steps back, she continued on, doggedly. “But I don’t want to love you.”

Freezing to the spot, Angel’s wide smile left his face as rapidly as what little colour a vampire could have; eyes darkening with shock.

“Why?” The word tore from tight pale lips and Cordy swallowed tightly. Her eyes were unable to move from his, white teeth clamping down on her full lower lip as he seemed to shake himself and then moved forward until only a sliver of light separated them. Surprise by the speed kept her pinned to the spot.

Staring down into shadowy hazel eyes, Angel clenched his hands to stop himself from grabbing her and heatedly demanding an explanation. Not that it was possible right now to actually open his mouth and form words, so instead he waited, his expression tight and stormy.

Cordelia finally blinked and turned her back on Angel, half expecting to be grabbed and pulled back round to face him. Her head bent. “Do you remember our last conversation, before my brain went kaplooey?” she finally spoke, her voice a mere thread.

Angel frowned confused, his mouth opening about to demand she keep to the ‘conversation’ at present, but was forestalled as she continued. “At the hotel- I said that I thought we were friends,” she clarified.

Swallowing down the bitter bile as he recalled that day and the distance between them that had almost crushed his heart, Angel nodded before adding impatiently; “Cordy, what has that got to do with—?”

“You left me,” she interrupted bluntly. “And it wasn’t the first time, Angel. I let you in, I gave you my friendship- and believe me, I don’t do that often.” Moving away, she repeatedly paced the length of the couch with overly bright eyes and she continued. “It’s a pattern: whenever something bad happens, and you can’t deal, you head for the hills and forget all about the people you’ve left behind.”  Stopping, she turned to face him. “What’s to say you won’t do it again?” she quietly asked.

Forcing aside the growing guilt, Angel roughly shook his head. “I won’t leave you. I promise!” His deepened voice rang with conviction, “I love you too much to even consider it.”

Cordy lifted a fine brow, her full mouth twisting with a hint of hurt. “Oh… so you didn’t love me as a friend?”

“You know I did,” he instantly replied, and reached towards her, but she stepped back jerkily.

“Really? Yet, you still abandoned me. Not once, but twice- three whole months, Angel!” As soon as the words were out, Cordy wished she could take them back. Flushed with shame, her eyes averted. “You had good reason for needing space last time.” she hoarsely admitted and took a deep breath before adding, “I know grief has no end date – but it was such a long time, Angel, and I was starting to think you weren’t coming back.”

The tremulous words hung between them, equally stricken eyes locked for an unbearable moment before Cordy turned abruptly away, her spine rigid even as her slight shoulders trembled.

Angel opened his mouth to tell her he’d always come back to her, but she didn’t give him a chance.” I Really don’t think I could handle it if you go off like that again,” she whispered shakily, a world of pain in her tone.

After staring for long seconds at his feet, Angel galvanized into action and moved directly behind her. His hands hesitated a second before coming to rest on her shoulders, her warmth soaked through the palms, but he still felt achingly cold. “I’m sorry,” he finally replied, his voice equally shaky. “I wasn’t thinking straight for quite a while, and when my mind began to clear, I decided it was the right thing to do. But you’re right:  it never occurred to me when I left how it would affect you.” And it was true. The times he’d felt the need to isolate and deal with his problems, and then grief, alone, thoughts of the others hadn’t even crossed his mind — until his spiralling emotions had eased.

Angel knew he had a bad habit of never really thinking things through. A ‘man’ of action, going with the whim of the moment. Until the past several years, he’d never had anyone care whether he was around or not. “I won’t leave you again. I swear,” he added softly, for a moment his lips pressed against the top of her head. He inhaled her scent greedily and almost moaned in complaint when she pulled free of his tender grasp.

“Don’t say that.” Turning to face him, Cordy’s hands lifted in the air then dropped uselessly to her sides. “It’s what you do: your instinctive go-to.” Her face averted from his. “Don’t make promises you might not be able to keep. I’ll only make things worse.”

I’m going to lose her. Panic grew thick and fast. “Cordy… I can’t change the past, no matter how much I wish it,” Angel thickly replied, grabbing her shoulders when she would have turned away, his face as strained as hers. “And I can’t expect you to trust me – I can only hope that you eventually will.”

Looking deeply into her eyes and noting that the clouds shadowing them gradually faded, Angel continued, his voice getting stronger by the second. “I want you with me, always, and I’ll prove my promise to you, one day at a time.” Swallowing down the lump forming in his throat, Angel pressed his forehead against Cordy’s. “All I’m asking is for you to give me the chance to do that,” he added in a desperate whisper.

Staring into eyes that were oh, so vulnerable, Cordy could feel the recently re-erected walls around her heart slowly crumbling. He was right, she realized There is no such thing as cast-iron guarantees. Especially when it came to their lifestyle. Yeah, Angel could end up proving that her worries were right when the going got too tough for him- but what if he was as good as his word? Was it worth losing him now because of her fear of possibly losing him in the future?

“Okay.” Angel lifted his head at the soft word that whispered between them.

Staring into the hopeful eyes drilling holes into hers, Cordy gradually relaxed and lifted her arms until her hands rested on his broad shoulders. At the tentative move, Angel stepped an inch closer, and she was certain that if he were human, his heart would have been hammering so hard in his chest that she would have felt it.

“If you let me down, Angel, I will stake your as—” Before she could finish the half-serious threat, powerful arms had hauled her to him, his cool lips pressed against her temple. Feeling the shudder that worked through his large frame, Cordy squeezed her suddenly moist eyes shut tight and held on for dear life.

The relief that rushed through Angel had his knees going weak. The taste of her fragrant skin against his mouth suddenly gave him an upsurge of energy that had him resisting the urge to swing her around with an exultant shout.

Pulling back a little, Angel looked into the hesitant face tip-tilted to his and, unable to help himself, his dark head lowered until finally, their lips met in a tentative kiss. For a long moment, he just held them against hers, savouring the moment, then as one, lips parted, heads tilted and heat bloomed.

At the first sweep of his cool tongue across her teeth, Cordy moaned huskily and pressed closer. God, he tasted dark and delicious, and she wanted more. Shyly, the tip of her tongue reached out to touch the tip of his, then all thought went out of the window as he practically devoured her mouth like a starving man.

All too soon, Angel pulled back, his mouth pressing light butterfly kisses along her bottom lip and across her heated cheek, listening to her panting breaths and revelling in her murmur of complaint when he avoided her kiss-swollen mouth. “One day at a time, remember?” he whispered the reminder in her ear, nipping the lobe before lifting his head with a reluctant groan.

Dazed and aroused pools of honey stared back at him, and it took all of his willpower to put more space between them. With his move came growing awareness, which, although was mixed with the agreement, seemed as reluctant as his.

Stroking her fingertips through the short spikes of hair at his nape, Cordy sighed heavily before dropping her arms to his shoulders and then his hard chest. Taking a step back, she pressed her palm over his heart before removing her hands with reluctance.

“One day at a time,” she echoed, her cheeks flushing a little on realizing her robe had parted, revealing her shadowy cleavage. “I think you should tell your hands that too, buster,” she added teasingly, pulling the robe together with shaking hands.

Her smile blossomed on catching the slight smirk that tilted one side of Angel’s wide mouth, making him look adorably boyish. Not quite able to believe how things had changed in such a short time, Cordy decided that now was a good time to get dressed and just let it all sink in within the privacy of her bedroom. After excusing herself, Cordy gave into the urge and leaned up to drop a quick kiss on Angel’s mouth before turning and walking quickly to her room.

Angel watched until the door closed behind her, then groaned. He knew his decision to take it slow was going to kill him. Strengthening Cordy’s trust was more important than a few hours of physical gratification… He grimaced and adjusted his pants before resolutely turning away from the tempting view of her door. I can do this, he assured himself. After all, surely after – mostly — abstaining for so long, he could survive a couple of months. Or at least a few weeks?

All thoughts of frustration temporarily left his mind when the silence was broken by the sound of feminine cheerful humming, a little off-key, but nothing had ever sounded sweeter.

The End

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