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TITLE: Cold and Clear
AUTHOR: Oni
PAIRING: C/A
RATING: R, for violence, bit o' sex.
SPOILERS: Through end of Season 2 Angel, and Buffy end of Season 5.
SUMMARY: Actions have consequences. Sequel to "Now It's Dark"
DISCLAIMER: Hmmm, lets see... nope, still not Joss. Just borrowing the characters, that's all.
FEEDBACK: For me? Thank you! Wasabioni@hotmail.com
DISTRIBUTION: Ask me. I'm gonna say yes, but it's only polite to ask.


Cold and Clear
by Oni

run [run] verb (past ran [ran], past participle run, present participle run·ning, 3rd person present singular runs) intransitive verb go at fast pace: to move rapidly on foot so that both feet are momentarily off the ground in each step

Which is what I'm doing, headlong down an unlit sewer tunnel. Granted, at this point I can hardly be said to 'go at fast pace'. My legs feel like they've been replaced by overcooked pasta, and the sound of my pounding heart seals me off from all other sounds. It's been a long time since... well, actually I don't believe I've ever run this long or this hard and if I survive this I never will again. It feels as though I've been running forever, even though objectively it can't have been more than 10 minutes, but terror and exhaustion have a way of stretching time. Under no circumstances look back to see how close behind my pursuer is. Keep moving, concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other as quickly as possible. Look for the marks.

I'm almost abjectly grateful when I see the glowing number 17 on the wall with its arrow pointing the way. I feel a burst of energy and manage to pick up my pace a little -- and tread on something soft and unspeakable. I fall, not for the first time, scraping my knee painfully the concrete hidden under the slime. For a moment I'm unable to do anything but crouch there, panting. It hurts to breathe and I'm so damned tired, all I want to do is stay there and rest. Suddenly there's a hiss and the clatter of claws behind me and I'm up again, running for my life. Amazing how motivating having a gigantic and ravenous demon on one's heels can be.

I had a plan, and when I conceived it I though it an excellent, dare I say, a cunning plan. One of us would need to lure the demon back down into the sewers and away from the club it was about to turn into an abattoir to some place where Angel could conveniently cut it into small bits. As it was my plan it seemed only fair that I be the one to play hare. Gunn offered to do it, but despite his long legs he's not really a runner. I, on the other hand excelled at running. It was the only sport I was any good at. I was hopeless at cricket and absolutely pathetic at rugby, but I could at least run.

The best laid plans...in the event there were a few factors I'd failed to take into consideration: Firstly, that while I am quite a creditable sprinter, distance running has never been one of my strengths. Secondly, although the esoterica demonalis did inform me that the demon was large, carnivorous, and semi-sentient, it failed to mention how impossibly quick the damned thing was. It very nearly had me in the first rush, before terror lent wings to my feet.

Feels like I'm wading through treacle as I lurch and limp down the endless fucking tunnel. The unpleasantly familiar sensation of terror rises at the back of my throat and I wish I still had the freedom to scream like a girl and demand rescue from a tiny blond Slayer. It's closing in on me. I can feel my pursuer's brimstone breath on the back of my neck. Then I see it, glowing faintly in the gloom, lucky number 18. Blessed proof that I'm not lost, that I'm within reach of salvation.

Angel, please God be there, and be ready...


I sigh and shift my stance restlessly. I hate this, all of it: the waiting, being underground. Wish to hell I never had to spend another minute down here with the damp cold, the moisture dripping down the clammy walls, the filth sliding greasily underfoot. I've spent too much time below. I'm tired of the cold. Tired of the dark.

I reach out again with my senses through the confusing miasma of sewage and vermin, searching for signs that my vigil is nearly done. And this time it's there, finally: the smell of human sweat sharp with fear, nearly overwhelmed by demon musk; the fast double beat of footsteps and clawed feet coming toward me.

Yes.

I'm ready when Wesley staggers out of the tunnel wide-eyed and obviously exhausted. His pounding heartbeat and the stink of his fear tug at my senses as he brushes past. I turn to make sure he's safe in the service niche, then face forward with my sword out, more than ready.

The demon fills the tunnel mouth as it scans hungrily for its prey. Spots Wes and hulks forward forced to crouch slightly even though high vault of the sewer intersection. Tonight's demon comes fully loaded with deadly claws, sharp teeth, scales, and irritant slime according to our hasty research, but only a very rudimentary intelligence. It skids to a startled halt when I move to block its path. When I don't move, it bellows a challenge at what it probably figures is competition for its meal. Looks puzzled when I don't run or piss myself.

C'mon fella, don't make me wait here all night.

"Hey, Godzilla!" I shout. Not exactly original, but it does the trick: here it comes. No finesse, full frontal assault but it's damned quick for something the size of a bus and it nearly gets me with a paw the size of a truck tire. In riposte I lash out. The blade skitters along its scaly arm before digging in and drawing blood. Screeching, it turns on a much smaller radius than I figured possible and I have to throw myself backwards to avoid the claws. I'm not quite quick enough and I feel a claw snag the shoulder of my coat. Wes gasps, worried and the sound of leather ripping makes me wince as I pull free... Damn. I like this coat. I drive the sword into its ribs two-handed and smile at the satisfying crunch of bone.

The demon howls and backs away as Gunn comes up behind it, right on schedule. He hovers in the archway, eyes glittering with anticipation as he waits for my signal. He's the very picture of reckless youth, hefting one of my morningstars with impressive ease. Charles has grown wider in the shoulders over the summer and put on quite a bit of muscle as he closes the final distance between adolescence and adulthood. He grins at me, gives me a thumbs-up reminding me how much I really want to be the brother, father, friend, whatever it is he needs. This business of friendship, like love, is new to me but I'm trying, I really am.

I put on my game face and feint at the demon, trying to hold its attention and keep it from noticing the brave but fragile human standing behind it. Big and scaly is just smart enough not to rush in again; it circles sideways, looking for a chance to attack this unexpectedly dangerous interloper. Hunger and anger burn in its tiny black eyes. Not much more than an animal, just one more in a series of pests that the PTB want removed. I don't bother keeping count anymore.

Fighting the good fight every day, like the champion I'm meant to be. Helping people, killing things, doing what I can to make the world a little bit better. Keeping busy. Busy is good. It keeps me from going into what Cordy used to call my brood mode. Because when I'm not busy, not fighting or killing or pretending to be human I feel the cold creeping into my bones.

Gunn gets tired of waiting and attacks. He swings at the demon's back with the morningstar and lands a solid blow before it spins round with that unexpected speed and sends him flying through the air; he lands with a thud and a splash and lies still against the far wall. Not dead, but the smell of his blood blossoms in the moist air, and my vision narrows and reddens. Now it's my turn to forget about strategy. I fake left, go right, but unfortunately Godzilla Jr. isn't falling for that one; it steps inside my guard and I feel sharp silver pain as claws slice through my flesh. Cordy would have her work cut out patching me up, if she'd touch me, or look at me...

I throw myself into a roll, barely managing to evade its next strike as it comes after me sensing an easy kill. Its shadow passes overhead as I reverse direction, come up under the beast and ram my sword to the hilt into the soft underbelly. I get up onto my knees and pull the blade upwards. The tunnel echoes with the demon's dying howls as its innards spill slippery and warm onto my hands and my ridged face. Wes shouts a warning just before it collapses on top of me.

I lie there, a little stunned with a couple of tons of dead demon pressing me into the concrete. There's warm ichor soaking into me from above, cold water seeping in from below. What with one thing and another I figure this outfit's a write-off. Kinda hard to think with the demon's blood coating my skin and filling my senses; it's rank stuff but red and warm for all that. What the hell: I open my mouth and steal a few quick swallows. I need it. I'm so cold all the time. It's been a long time since I've felt warm.

Not since the night we got back from Pylea.

The moment I relive over and over, is that moment of cold clarity when I touched her and realized I could do anything I wanted to her because nothing mattered anymore. And then the wonder when instead of pulling away, she melted into me. Accepted me and saved me from the cold, saved me from the abyss.

My sweet Cordy...

But when I woke it was day and she had gone. I waited for her until sundown released me, then made my way back to the Hyperion. The joy I felt hearing her voice as she sat behind her desk, talking casually with Wes and Gunn. As though nothing had happened. She'd glanced over at me and given me an empty smile, and turned away.

She's made sure she hasn't been alone with me in the weeks since. It's been weeks of slow torture, seeing her every day, so close, but untouchable.

We really need to talk.

Think it's time I ought to get up now, the carcass is cooling, and while I don't need to breathe this isn't exactly a comfortable position. Besides, Gunn and Wes are probably starting to worry. It's time we went home.


Got thrown into that wall hard enough that things got kinda fuzzy for awhile there. So I missed out on seeing Angel do his thing, which was a damned shame cause dog can truly kick some demon ass. I heard something screamin' and an almighty thud, but by the time both my eyes were working together it was all over and my man Wes is doing his best to help me up. Truth is he's pretty worn out himself, and even once I'm up my legs still ain't workin' right so the two of us end up proppin' each other up. I don't see Angel anywhere, just a big heap of demon. I'm really hopin' that thing is as dead as it looks since right then I figure that between the two of us we could just about take on a 3-legged kitten or maybe a cockroach with a bad attitude.

I'm about to ask Wes where Angel is when the demon's carcass starts to quiver, then it rolls to one side as Angel heaves it off him. He stands smiling at us with that goofy grin of his and this is some seriously scary shit. He looks like Carrie on prom night, all soaked in blood, clothes drippin', hair slicked flat with it, I swear there's blood on his teeth too, and I ain't going there. At the very least, dog should definitely stop smiling.

All leaned up against Wes like I am no way I can miss the shudder that goes through him. English is not good with vampy Angel. He's worse than I am with it, which is weird cause when you get right down to it he's a whole lot closer to Angel than I am or ever have plans to be. There's a limit to how close I'm ever gonna get with the undead even if we're fighting on the same side.

Don't get me wrong, I like Angel and I respect him and his dedication to the fight, but we ain't ever going to be best buds. I don't ever forget *what* Angel is, which is probably why I don't get freaked like Wes does when he gets it shoved in his face, like now.

Angel's shoes squish as he walks toward us. Helps some when he remembers to shake off his fangface, but not that much. Wes stands up straighter, trying to pull himself together but Angel must have seen in his face what he looks like so he tries wiping his face with his sleeve. Don't help that much, he still looks like something would clear a biker bar in 5 minutes but I can tell Wes appreciates the gesture cause he goes a little less tense.

"Man, you're a mess," I tell him 'cause hey like my granny always said, tell the truth and shame the devil. He nods, looking tired.

"Yeah. I could use a shower." Which is damn sure the best idea I've heard all day.

"I'm up with that."

"Home gentlemen?" Wes says doing the boss thing.

So off we go, headed home. Or anyway, back to the hotel. I know I'm looking forward to getting' cleaned up and being warm and dry; even kinda looking forward to havin' Cordelia tear a strip off us like she will for being dumb and careless enough to get ourselves banged up an' makin' her risk her wraps having to patch us up.

Though it is kinda sad that the whole post-fight thing ain't nearly as much fun as it used to be. No way to miss that there's something wrong between Cordelia and Angel. Ever since we came back from Pylea struttin', only to be whacked by the bad news about his girl, Buffy. Don't know exactly what's going on with the two of them, because nobody's talking. At first I thought that maybe she was just being respectful of Angel's grief, but that ain't it. It's not just that she doesn't tease him like she used to, she barely talks to him and when she does it's strictly business, you know: you need to sign this, talk to this guy, go kill that demon.

These days she doesn't even want Angel catching her anymore when she has one of her visions. Last time he tried she gave him a look damn near burned a hole through him and he backed off real quick. So mostly I'm the one makin' dashes across the lobby to make sure Barbie don't bounce her head off the marble. Mostly I make it in time.

I know Wes has to have noticed, he's known them a lot longer and better than I have so no way he's missed it. Too bad English is the last guy who's ever going to call them on it. Hell, tight as me and Cordelia have gotten to be there's no way I'm going to ask her what's up with her and Angel. Cause I'm man enough to admit I really don't want to know. There ain't no doubt in my mind that all this tension and weirdness has boy/girl trouble written all over it and I don't want to go there. Thought with the curse and all that Angel wasn't supposed to go there either, but the way they're acting I don't think perfect happiness is likely to be a problem anytime soon.


No matter how many times I go through this it doesn't get any easier.

There I am, in the middle of whatever, minding my own business when the vision hits, flash of black lightning through my brain and I'm gone, lost in the vision. Tonight, I got lucky -- I was sitting down when it hit, so no bruises. Yay me.

The incredible agony, the ugly pictures/feelings/smells/sounds and no matter how much I want to look away I can't because people might die if I miss some important detail. This one's not too bad. No kids and the demon's pretty conventional, no slime or extra appendages. It still goes on for a month past too long. And, again, not forgetting the pain part of this, which I think is getting worse, something I wouldn't have thought was possible a year ago, but hey, live and learn.

I open my eyes to find myself the center of attention. Closest I'm getting to stardom I guess. I take the aspirins Wesley has for me and wash them down with the water he also has ready. Vodka would be better, or tequila. Maybe later. Right now Wes, Gunn and the big undead bastard are looking at me expectantly. Right.

"Demon, big, ugly, hanging out underneath a nightclub. It's going to break into the basement and start a all-you-can-eat with the patrons. Saw a sign 'Carlies'."

While they do some quick and dirty researching I head off to the little girls' room to wash my face, fix my hair, and pull out the real drugs. I doubled up on the dose of Seltrax weeks ago, but it's not helping much. Maybe it's really just sugar pills. Really expensive sugar pills. I hear heroin is supposed to be an excellent painkiller, maybe Gunn's pal Rondell could hook me up...joking.

Kinda. Sorta.

When I come back out, they're discussing the creature Wesley has found in his field guide to Northern American Demons, volume 86. He points to the illustration.

"Yup, that's the one," I confirm.

"The Pelagra prefers to feed on human flesh but not exclusively," Wes reads, not that I asked.

"Think it'd feed on a vamp?" Gunn just had to ask.

"Er, probably." No reaction from Angel. Who I am not looking at from the corner of my eye, nope.

A couple of phone calls and we know that Carlie's is one of those semi-legal clubs located in a warehouse at the edge of downtown. Wes has come up with a plan that I think is a) dangerous and b) stupid. But the guys ignore my opinion, big surprise there. They load up from the weapons cabinet, and then they're gone.

So it's just me -- and I guess technically, Fred. But since Fred leaves her room about as often as Wes gets laid now that Virginia's bailed, it's really just me. Left all alone in the big shadowy hotel with my head throbbing and all the things that could go wrong mamboing through my brain. Trying not to think about a pink elephant, or Wes tripping and falling into that big fangy mouth, or Gunn with his face missing, or even Angel except that Angel never loses a fight. His mind maybe, his good sense and occasionally his soul (especially if tiny blondes are involved), but not a plain old violence type fight. And besides, I'm not thinking about that.

So begone morbid thoughts, while I wait some more, maybe go over the accounts, only that makes my headache worse. So log onto the internet, check out Variety online, see what's up with the Paris shows, maybe drop a line to Willow, though she hasn't answered my last 2 messages, and I don't want to come off needy so skip that.

Wonder where Harmony is right now?

More waiting, more tapping my pencil against the desk. Flicking through the pages of the latest Vogue taking notes on the Spring collection, because despite my limited funds and even more limited opportunities to wear clothes that can't stand up to demon slime and worse, I do still care.

Don't think about pink elephants or big mean scaly demons.

Put forehead on desk, nice cool desk, almost as good as an ice pack, helps with the throbbing, or maybe the drugs are finally kicking in, please God. I could go upstairs, try and talk to Fred. Get a different kind of headache.

Long time before I finally hear the elevator and familiar voices. Wesley, Gunn and Angel.

I'm on my feet ready with the first-aid box when they straggle in. I know they didn't lose, because they're all present and accounted for but this obviously hasn't been an easy one. Wesley and Gunn support each other over to a couch and collapse onto it. Luckily it's naughahyde, so a little Simple Green and the sewer slime, etc., will come right off.

Looking at Angel...shit. That can't be all his blood. No way, even stoic boy would be showing signs if it was and his expression is as blank as ever. I realize I've been looking at him for way too long and shift my eyes away before he tries for eye contact. I'm not looking at him when he mumbles something about needing a shower. Then he heads up the stairs fast enough to relieve my fears. He can't be too badly hurt if he can move like that.

I turn my attention to Gunn, since he's the one most obviously in need of my services. "Forgot to duck again, huh Charles?"


She doesn't look at me after that one unguarded glance. That's OK, I'm just as glad for the chance to slip away. Really need to be away from them because Gunn's bleeding back and Wes' scraped knee are a little more than I can deal with right now. It had been a long walk back. Would have been quicker if I just carried Gunn, but he wasn't bad off enough to let me, and probably not a good idea anyway. My body was screaming for blood to help it heal, and old instincts made me hyperaware of them stumbling in my wake. Wounded mortals, delectably vulnerable. Gunn was in the worst shape, so I'd have gone for Wes first, and taken the weaker at my leisure. Easy.

I'd stayed as far from them as I could without being obvious about it.

Blessedly alone in my room, I gulped down two units of blood straight from the fridge. It's old dead stuff, tainted with anticoagulant but it's blood and it does the job, makes me feel a little less like a frozen leaf in danger of being blown away by the chill breeze.

I'm about to sit down on the bed when I remember that I'm still covered in half-dried blood. I can imagine what Cordy would say about me getting it all over the bedspread. I strip where I stand. I don't like getting dressed or undressed in the bathroom in front of that big mirror, the whole floating clothes effect lost its entertainment value a long time ago. The shirt's definitely trashed, and it hurts when I pull the fabric out of some of the deeper gashes. My flesh is already starting to mend, don't think I'll end up with any scars. I drop the last of my clothes onto the pile and head for the shower. I need to get cleaned up, get ready.


Cordelia reminds me of my Momma the way she scolds us non-stop while takin' care of our boo-boos. The couple of times she has had to patch Angel up since they fell out she was real professional. Like the chief embalmer at Forest Lawn. Don't surprise me at all that he decided to pass on the treatment tonight.

"So what happened to Angel?" she says casually, handing me a clean shirt to put on over my nice new bandages. "I mean, ewwwh."

"The Pelagra fell on top of him after he disemboweled it," Wes says. Cordelia makes the ewwwh face again.

"Sorry I asked. So he's OK, right?" Real offhand, like she don't really care. Nuh-uh, not catching me that easy. Wes, on the other hand, is a pushover.

"I'm sure Angel's fine...why don't I just go and check."

I just shake my head as Wes goes upstairs. Whipped, and isn't even getting any.

Of course the very last thing I feel like doing right now is dealing with Angel. I'm exhausted, and I can hear my bed and the bottle of scotch in the table next to it calling to me. Granted I'm the head of Angel Investigations and therefore employee welfare is one of my concerns. Expecting me to try and determine whether Angel needs help, and then trying to persuade Mr. Invincible to take it is simply too much to deal with at 2 in the morning. On the other hand I am under no illusions that Cordelia will leave me alone until I do what she wants.

Perish the thought that she should go up herself. She won't of course. I don't know exactly what happened between the two of them the night we came back, although I have my suspicions. All I know is that after Cordelia left I sat with Angel until I found myself yawning and on the edge of drifting off. He was as unresponsive as before, so I carefully placed a blanket around his shoulders and went for a brief lie down. When I woke up a few hours later and came to check on Angel, he wasn't there. I didn't know what to do. There seemed to be no point in raising an alarm so I simply waited, and prayed.

Cordelia came in at the usual time the next morning looking, unsurprisingly, as though she hadn't slept well. I told her Angel was missing, but she seemed strangely unconcerned. "Angel will be OK Wes, he's 247 years old, he can take care of himself," she told me with what I thought was a certain bitterness in her voice. Gunn essentially agreed with her, "Calm down man, he probably just needs some alone time."

So we waited, pretending to work, until he finally appeared early that evening. I was shocked when she barely bothered to acknowledge his presence. Things have all been downhill since, the chill between them is almost palpable and there's no sign of a thaw. It's a bad situation, and one that I'm ill-equipped to deal with. Even if I were willing to attempt to pry into their personal business Cordelia would tear me to shreds and Angel would simply ignore me.

I knock at Angel's door and enter when he says come in. He's standing with his back to me with a towel wrapped around his waist, obviously just out of the shower. The dragon and stylized A on his shoulder ripples as he rubs his hair dry.

"Angel? I just wanted to make sure...oh." My words die away when he turns and I see the damage the demon did to him. The gaping wounds marring his upper torso and side would put him in hospital if he were human, and very lucky. More likely he'd be dead. But of course he's not human. Reacting to my expression, he starts to cover them, almost coyly, then changes his mind and lets me look my fill. "Dear God, Angel..." There's no expression on what I now see is his unusually pale face.

"I need blood," he says.

I take a step back as my subconscious effortlessly sidesteps my reason. Angel's lips quirk as he finishes his sentence and I know that his demon didn't miss that little spritz of blind terror.

"They keep a supply on hand at Caritas. I called Lorne, he'll be expecting you."

"Yes of course. I'll be as quick as I can," I promise, and flee.

I retreat to the lobby where I reassure Cordelia that Angel is fine and inform Gunn that I need to run an errand. In the end we both go as I don't have my bike and Gunn's still a bit too wobbly to go on his own but unwilling to let anyone else drive his precious truck.

"I'll give you a ride home when we get back," Gunn promises Cordelia as we're leaving.

She yawns. "OK. Try and hurry though, I need my beauty sleep." I can't help noticing again just how tired she looks. Perhaps she should take a few days off, Powers permitting.

As we step outside into the humid LA night and the big doors shut heavily behind us, I feel a premonitory chill run down my spine.

Gunn looks at me oddly. "What's up?"

"Ahh... nothing," I'm forced to say, because it almost certainly is nothing. Only my overactive imagination again. Whatever problems Angel and Cordelia may be having with each other, he would never hurt her. That's one thing I'm certain hasn't changed.


Alone at last.

I wait until the uneven firing of Gunn's truck fades into the distance before coming slowly down the stairs, tracking her scent. Expensive perfume interlaced with her personal musk. Cordy. My Cordy.

I think I've been patient, willing to wait for her to catch on, to come to terms with what happened between us. She's young after all, and God knows I have the time. But days have turned into weeks and her eyes when she looks at me remain unrelentingly cold and I'm done with waiting. We are going to deal with this because I can't go on like this.

I won't go on like this.

I remember standing there as Willow stammered out the bad news. As my mind made reluctant sense of her words I felt my life draining away and the cold creeping in. Buffy was dead. My true love. Dead.

Willow started crying. "Oh Angel, I'm so sorry!"

I hated Willow, hated her dough-pale face, her weepy green eyes, and her beating heart. I trembled with the desire to snap her neck and when Cordelia put a comforting hand on my shoulder I nearly turned on her. I hated all of them for breathing, for still being alive.

Above all I hated the Powers for the liars and cheats that they were. Dangling the hope of Shanshu before me, knowing it was an empty promise without Buffy.

I tore myself free of them and fled into the dark.

They followed, of course.

I sat silent in the dark, bracketed by the two of them: the soft and smooth of Cordelia on one side, her small hand laid over my clenched fist and Wesley's ribby chest pressed against my other side with his thin arm draped awkwardly over my shoulders. I was dying again and it felt much like the first time. The ice creeping through my veins as the last of my blood trickled onto the dirty cobblestones of that alley as Darla's glassy laughter grated in my dying ears. Feeling my humanity ebbing away as the demon took up residence. Losing the reasons why I shouldn't take them up on their inadvertent offer and spill the sweetness and heat of their lives to salve my pain. After all, they were only human and doomed to die anyway (God, Buffy) so what difference did it really make if I brought the inevitable forward a few years? What did anything matter in a universe ruled by chaos? In this hell where my one dream could be reduced to broken meat rotting in the ground.

It wasn't my soul, or my will, but simple entropy that saved them, saved us all. In the end I was too weary and frozen to act on my murky desires and I let myself sink without trace into the black pool of my grief.

When I surfaced again the room was dark and I was alone. No Cordy, no Wes. They'd left me with a blanket spread uselessly over my heatless form. Left me alone.

I moved angrily through the darkened suite tracking faint traces of breath and pulse until I found Wesley sprawled across my neatly made bed. He lay unconscious, skin spilling heat into the air, a promise of the red warmth inside. My fingertips hovered just above his closed, unguarded, eyes. So easy. But, no. Because he wasn't the one I really wanted.

I kept searching. Fred was curled up in a nearby room, fast asleep in a huddle of blankets. Gunn was in the next room, snug in his sleeping bag, ax to hand. Willow blessedly was gone, probably on her way back to Sunnydale. The only one missing, the only one I wanted, was Cordelia.

Outside Cordelia's window listening to her heartbeat through the pounding of the water. The steam carries the essence of her through the screen as she scrubs away the last traces of Pylea. She smells of pain and weariness, leavened with a thin trace of anger. I listen as she shuts off the water and dries herself. Shivering at the images my mind creates from the soft whisper of fabric against skin. Wanting, needing...

She needs a better lock on her front door: one quick shove and I'm in. I can feel Phantom Dennis' futile anger running over my skin like static electricity as I sit down. The lights go on, but I'm content for the moment to simply wait, cradled in the scent she's left entangled in the fabric of the couch. I know she'll come. I wonder what I'll do when she does.

"Angel?" She sounds angry, but her tone covers a deeper unease. She knows me better than any of them. Still, when I don't respond she comes closer, touches me gently. "What are you doing here? Does Wesley know you're here?"

She gasps as I grab her and pull her close, pressing my face against her belly, sucking her in. So sweet. She tries to pull away but my hands still hold her.

"You left," I whisper, looking up into her face. Her eyes are clouded and confused.

"I was coming back," she says.

"Don't ever leave me," I whisper. She'd made me a promise once, and I mean to hold her to it. She stares into my face, searching for something.

"No, I won't," she says.

"I just want to hold you," I say, and move my hands higher on her back. I feel her tense, ready to pull away and it frightens me, I want to warn her against that kind of provocation. Then, unexpectedly, wonderfully, she moves towards me. Lets me warm my hands on her skin. Lets me kiss her. Opens her mouth to me and her body and when I pour myself into the furnace of her core her I'm smelted and remade.

Afterwards I lay with her in the solace of her bed. My body warmed by hers, my senses soothed by the solid reliability of her heartbeat and I could almost stand to think about Buffy.

Now, she's sitting at her desk reading, unaware as I quietly move to the main doors and lock them. I don't want any interruptions.


I look up from my magazine that I'm finally calm enough to actually read and Angel's standing there. Slime and blood all gone, hair gelled, dressed in another of his basic black outfits. He's looking at me with that damned deeply meaningful stare and I'm suddenly very aware that we're alone. It's been awhile since we've been alone together. I've made real sure of that. No way do I believe this is coincidence. Goddamn Wes anyway for being such a maroon.

"Cordelia," he says. Big black-hole eyes trying to suck me in. Nope, not this time buddy. I ignore him, drop my eyes back to the page. So, according to Ralph, Calvin, Donna and Zac, black is this year's black. Good to know.

"Cordy. You can't keep avoiding me. We need to talk."

He is so wrong about that I can't even be bothered to explain it to him. La-la-la-la I can't hear you. Turn the page, oooh, look, bigger and better flares, and I can definitely carry off that look, but the platform heels are not really practical for the running away from demons part of my job.

I'm not really surprised when the magazine is snatched away but that doesn't mean it doesn't piss me off. Why can't he just leave bad enough alone?

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" He doesn't look impressed by the deathbeams shooting out of my eyes, he's gone all serious. And maybe just starting to get pissed off, and if I weren't so pissed off myself I might be a little worried about that, but my adrenaline's pumping so, pffft.

"Cordy, please." He's touching my hand. I *know* he's not touching my hand! "We have to face what happened between us." Sounding so solemn and so goddamn condescending. What's left of my temper packs up and heads for the airport as I snatch my hand back and stand up.

"You're so fucking wrong, Angel, we don't need to talk. Not talking is working just fine for me. Not talking is why I'm still coming into this office every day. And you know what? If we can keep the not-talking thing going, maybe in a couple of years you and me will be O.K. again." Not quite the talk he wanted I guess. Kinda sets him back, I can almost hear the gears shifting inside his big blockhead.

" I know it's hard for you," he says trying the soothing voice. "I don't think you understand what happened that night, what it meant. You saved me Cordy."

"Glad I was able to help." Can you say sarcasm boys and girls? I knew you could! Been awhile since I felt this kind of nasty little pleasure as I see Angel having to reach deeeep for his inner serenity.

"Cordy, please, I know it was pretty overwhelming, it was so wonderful, and..."

My brain shuts down. Wonderful? What? Rewind that. Wonderful!

"Fuck you!" I'm up in his face now, screaming. "Ever hear about good touch/bad touch? What happened that night, that was definitely bad touch."

Which definitely touches a nerve, because the next thing I know he's moved in on me and I'm being backed into the desk. From the yellowish flicker in his eyes his temper has just caught the LAX shuttle and may be gone awhile.

"Why are you so angry? Did I hurt you Cordy?" He invades what's left of my personal space putting his arms on either side of me and rubs his leg deliberately against mine. Whoops.

But even the thought of Angelus being back in town can't keep me from being hit hard by his question, because, suddenly I'm not sure. He hurt my feelings, used me, made me feel like a fool for letting him use me, but he didn't force me and I never said no.


"No," she says. I hear her heartbeat race and taste the delicious aroma of fear.

"Good. I'd never want to hurt you. Never." Lying, because right now I do want to hurt her. Just a little. I want to make her feel some of the sick confusion of emptiness and loss and craving that have been my world for weeks. Reverently I trace the perfect curve of her cheek with my finger. She recoils shaking with anger and fear.

"What the hell do you want from me Angel? Sex? Blood? What!" There's no good answer to that. If I tell her that I want all of that and more I'm afraid she'll run, but I'm fresh out of easy lies.

"I want you. I love you. Don't you see, we're soul mates. We're fated to be together."

I haven't seen this one before: Cordelia, speechless. She stares at me like I've grown a new head. Then she laughs and I'm so startled I let her push me away. Now she's the one on the attack, poking me angrily in the chest.

"No, Angel, we're really not. Just because we did the whole knowing in a biblical sense thing doesn't mean we're soul-mates. What happened was a one-time big huge mistake. Which will not be repeated."

"No?" I catch her eyes with mine, willing her to remember how she'd screamed for me, her body lost in ecstasy. I can see she remembers, but she shakes it off, and shrugs.

"That was sex, Angel. Just sex. Not love. You ought to be old enough to tell the difference."

"It wasn't just sex. You know it wasn't."

"No I don't know that. Just let it go Angel. Please."

I don't understand how she can be so cruel, so cold. There must be some way I can make her see the truth. I move forward again, till we're almost but not quite touching.

"Cordelia," I murmur, but she raises her hand and cuts me off.

"If you can't do that Angel, then maybe I should leave."

Leave? I stare at her, feeling a hole open up in my chest at the idea of losing her.

"You can't leave. You promised."

"Let go of me!"

"You can't leave. Ever." My voice saying that and my hands holding her arms far too tightly but I can't make myself let go and something in my face is making the anger in her bleed away to fear again. "I won't let you go."


"Angel!" I'm scared, and fighting not to show it because I know that would be a bad move right now. I almost wish it was Angelus bruising my arms as he pulls me into an unwanted clinch. Right now Angelus would almost be a relief because at least I'd know what he wanted and how to react. At least he'd know what he wanted. Give me sociopathic over psychopathic any day.

He drops his head onto my shoulder, holding me so tightly I can barely breathe. Dampness on my skin, which is not blood. His whole body shaking as he leans on me. Shit, he's crying. Angel's crying, again. I hate him, and I hate myself when I stop trying to pull away and put my arms around him.

"Please don't leave me."

"Angel it's OK, I'm not leaving..." And I know we've done this before, and I know where it's leading but I don't seem to be able to pull free of the undertow that's sweeping both of us out to sea.

"You will. Everyone does." His voice drops. "She left me, and so will you."

Oh.

That easily I'm out of the current and swimming back to the beach.

He's still and silent in my arms as a dead man can be and I feel so damn sorry for him, but that's not going to stop me this time from doing what needs to be done.

"Angel," my voice is gentle anyway. "Buffy didn't leave you, she died."

He jerks as though I'd stabbed him, and makes a pitiful noise, but goddammit we're going to do this now. Like I should have done it before. "Angel, listen, Buffy's gone and it wasn't your fault, it didn't really have anything to do with you. It's not always about you, Angel." He's shaking and I can't tell if he's still crying or getting ready to rip out my throat. Doesn't matter.

"Buffy died saving the world, that was her job, that's why she did it and you've got to move the fuck on 'cause I don't think she'd want you mooning over her and making up weird-ass scenarios where we're in love... "

He makes a sound then that sounds like denial. Nuh-uh, I'm not letting that go.

"You don't love me Angel, and I don't love you. Not like that anyway. We're like garlic and ice cream - two great things that should never, ever, be mixed. You know it too, when you're not crazed."

Still nothing. Finally I get tired of waiting, let him go and step free of his arms, he stands there, head hanging eyes squeezed shut.

"Hello. Angel? Shake your head or nod or something."

He opens his eyes, and it scares me that I can't read his dark, dark, eyes, still shining with tears. He opens his mouth and I'm scared too of what he might say or do, because not like there's a Plan B.

"Hey, what's wrong with the door?" Gunn says banging on it.

"Someone appears to have locked it." Yeah, someone must have.

"Cordelia! Angel! Everything OK?"

Suddenly the presence looming over me, vanishes. I turn and catch a glimpse of him disappearing into the shadows and then he's gone.

I think what I'm feeling is relief as I head for the door. Wes and Gunn are starting to sound really worried.

"Hold your horses!" I shout. Sheesh, what a bunch of drama queens.


There is a letter addressed to me sitting on my desk when I come into work the next morning. I recognize Angel's handwriting, and open it with a certain unease.

 Dear Friends,

 I realize I haven't been easy to be around lately. Sorry. I've decided I need some time to myself. The Lhasa Arpet monastery in Tibet has a good reputation. I'm hoping a month or so of meditation will help me sort things out.

 Wes, you're the boss now. Take care of Fred. Try and get her out of her room occasionally, O.K?

 Gunn -- be careful out there.

 Cordy -- you were right. Sorry.

 See you all in September.

 Your Friend,

 Angel

"Tibet? Vegas is a whole lot closer, and way more fun." Gunn says later after reading it for himself.

"Yes, well I don't think this trip is about fun," I point out. "It's about Angel coming to terms with his loss." Gunn shrugs.

"I know what it's about, I'm just sayin', if he's trying to forget an' all, Vegas has plenty of stuff to help him do that with."

I've been watching Cordelia. She's smiling. "I think Angel knows what's best for Angel. He'll be fine."

END


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