I own none of the following characters. I don't intend to infringe on any copyrights. If you enjoy this story, please let me know at RhinestoneDazzle@aol.com.
Archive: Wherever you want
Spoilers: Very few, but some information through ATS' mid-third season is involved.
Warnings: Disturbing violent/sexual content. Do not read if this material is upsetting to you.
Summary: Two days later, Cordelia must face Angel once more.
Thanks: To Inamorata for the great beta-read and encouragement
"You're sure you're ready for this?" Gunn says.
He is studying Cordelia in the dim light of the Hyperion's upper hallways; the group has gotten around to replacing most of the bulbs in the hotel, but not all, and the corridor outside this one room is especially gloomy. It fits. In the darkness, she knows he can see the bruise on her cheek, the cut on her temple. She hopes that he cannot see her eyes.
"Ready as I'll ever be," she says. This isn't actually saying a whole lot, but Gunn accepts it at face value.
He goes to the door, puts his hand on the knob -- he's not moving all that slowly, but it seems to her to take forever, as though the world were trapped in slow motion, freezing in place. She feels a wave of dizziness and nausea overtake her, and she clutches at his arm. "Wait."
Gunn halts, goes shock-still. He doesn't ask her what's wrong, or try to hug and comfort her, and for this she is so grateful she could weep. Cordelia asked him to wait, and he waits, and they are motionless together in the hallway for a very long time.
She knows Angel can smell them, hear their heartbeats, on the other side of the door.
At last she says, "Gunn -- are you sure?"
"We're sure." Gunn's voice can be so gentle when he chooses, maybe more so because he chooses so seldom. "Angel's got his soul again."
Angel never really lost his soul. It's a point that Gunn and Fred aren't as clear on -- they weren't around, the first time. But Wesley and Cordelia understand how it works, how Angel's soul doesn't leave him but is instead rendered null, so that Angelus is, for however short a time, free to do as he chooses -- whatever he chooses -- "The doximal?"
"Wore off a day ago. Even if he was fakin' at first, he wouldn't be now. Besides -- it ain't fake." Gunn puts one hand out, as though to touch her shoulder, then thinks better of it and lets it drop. "Angel's back. It's really him. You can tell."
Cordelia hesitates a few moments more, considering how much Gunn and Wesley know, how much they don't. But she trusts their judgment, and even though she has only waited two days for this, she has already waited far too long. "Stay outside," she says.
Gunn, for once, offers no resistance to an order. "You got it." He opens the door, steps aside, lets her walk in.
This room is one of the most broken-down ones in the entire Hyperion; the roof is intact, as are the walls, but that's about all that can be said for it. An old mattress lies on the floor. No other furniture is inside. The Hyperion's furniture is made of wood, and Cordelia knows without asking that Wesley did not trust Angel to be alone with anything that could be made into stakes right now.
(the desk in the warehouse office was wooden and old and it splintered into tiny pieces at the slightest friction and Cordelia had splinters in her back and they bled and it took Dennis three hours to pluck them from her stinging skin while Cordelia lay on her floor and cried)
One shadeless lamp casts the only light, and this allows Cordelia to see Angel by the window. She realizes without having to ask that they must have made him stay in the basement, someplace where he cannot get to the sun -- not by ripping away boards, not by punching through brick. But Cordelia is disquieted by closed spaces right now, and they have brought Angel up here for the night. For her. He is sitting on the floor, curled up into a ball. Angel is turned in profile -- not looking at Cordelia, but not looking away.
He looks like himself again, and Cordelia feels the tiniest flutter of an emotion she hadn't expected to feel: relief.
Cordelia looks back over her shoulder; Gunn understands the unspoken cue and closes the door behind her. She is alone with Angel again, and she would be lying to herself if she did not admit that she was afraid. But Cordelia has never been one to be ruled by her fears, not even now.
"Angel," she says. Her voice cracks on the word -- it's not so much emotion as hoarseness, left over from the screaming. Angel flinches at the sound of her voice, but he acknowledges her with the faintest nod. "Angel, look at me."
She expects to have to argue with him for this. But to her surprise, Angel takes one deep breath -- purely a calming mechanism -- and turns his head slowly toward her. When they are once again face to face, she can see it all in his eyes -- the pain, the horror, the guilt. Cordelia remembers once, not long after they all found out Angel was back from hell, Buffy attempting to explain what Angel was like when she discovered he'd returned. Cordelia couldn't quite picture it then, but now she no longer has to. He looked like this, caved-in and shamed, like a beaten dog.
In the darkness, Cordelia can see the shine of tears in his eyes, the faint scratches across his throat. She had thought the scratches would be entirely healed by now; she must have gotten him deeper than she'd realized.
(he said he liked it when she fought and he laughed when she scratched him and he grabbed her hand and bent her fingers back in his until she screamed and he licked his own blood from her skin and then he took her twisted hand and put it between his legs and she screamed for Wesley and for Gunn and even for Lorne but not for Fred because then he would do it to Fred too)
She thinks about the face that laughed above her, and then she looks at the face crying beneath her, and Cordelia believes -- more surely than she ever has, and it is a belief she has been very careful about safeguarding these past few years -- that Angel and Angelus are two different people. They share more than a body -- more than Cordelia had ever realized before, more than she wants to confront right now. But Angelus wanted to hurt her, and there is no such feeling in the broken figure in front of her.
Angel whispers, "Cordelia -- I -- it's so useless to tell you I'm sorry -- but I'm so sorry --"
"I know," she says.
"Will you do it?" he says, and it is such a non sequitur that Cordelia can only blink at him for a moment. Angel apparently doesn't realize that she doesn't understand. Whatever it is he's thinking, to him it's completely obvious. "I thought it would be Gunn -- or Wesley maybe -- but it should be you. Would it -- will it help you?"
Cordelia takes a step toward him, quietly astonished that she isn't too frightened to do so. "Nothing's going to help me," she says. "Nothing but time."
Angel nods, accepting that. He holds out his hand, and she is shocked, thinking he wants them to touch. But instead he says, "Then I'll do it."
He is holding his hand out for a stake. Angel thinks she would only have come in here with a stake. "Do you -- want to see it happen, or not see it --"
"Angel, stop it." Cordelia wants to take his hand then, can almost make herself do it, but not quite. "I don't want you to die." As he stares up at her, she sees his face blur behind the tears that are welling, hot and damp, in her eyes. "How is that supposed to help me, huh? Hasn't enough stuff happened to me without you dying?"
(she kept thinking that this was really happening and she took her clothes off because he wanted to watch and he said if she did it she could keep her knees and she never felt so ashamed to be naked and he threw her on the desk and it was really happening and the only light in the warehouse office was a dull blinking fluorescent bulb that cast a yellowish light and made everything ugly and he unzipped his pants and asked her how many times Groo did this to her and it was really happening because she could hear herself crying)
Angel is shaking his head; she can see that much even through her tears. "You should want me dead."
"YOU want you dead," she says. She doesn't blame him; last night she tried to imagine what it would be like, to come back to yourself and know that you had done something like this, and she thinks that it's probably as bad as having something like this done to you. Almost as bad, anyway. And last night, balled up in her bathtub with shower water flowing over her, Cordelia had moments when she wanted to die too. But she knew it wouldn't solve anything for her, and Angel's death will solve nothing for either of them. "I don't want you dead. I mean, staked dead. I want you here."
"Still." Angel's voice is thick, and only Cordelia's tears are preventing her from seeing his own. She is grateful not to have to see it. "You still -- after I -- Cordy --"
"We're gonna get past this," she says. This has been her mantra ever since it happened. Cordelia is very attached to the idea of getting past this, moving away from it as though it were something you drove by on the highway, then watched in the rear-view mirror, getting smaller and smaller until finally it vanished and might as well not have existed at all. "You owe me, Angel. So you have to drop all this suicidal stuff right now. I can't take anything else right now. I need to feel like we're gonna get past all this. And that means you getting past it too."
"But someone has to stake me. Or else it could happen again," Angel says. His voice is slightly surer now -- he is arguing for his own death on stronger, objective ground. "Now that Wolfram & Hart knows what the doximal does, nothing will stop them from using it over, and over --"
"Wolfram & Hart never knew," Cordelia says. The vision that came too late did at least tell her this much; thanks for the update, Powers That Be. "Only Lilah knew. And she's -- Lilah has done all the talking she's ever gonna do."
"Gunn killed her. Or -- Wesley? What --"
"I did it," Cordelia says. The movement of a finger, the swish of a crossbow, and an indistinct shape falling in the parking garage of a company that will not consider any one dead body a particular surprise -- Cordelia tries to tell herself that's all it was. But it was a thousand other things, too, and she knows that Angel understands them all as he groans softly in grief. She knows that he's not mourning wretched, pitiless Lilah; he's mourning the Cordelia who'd never taken a human life, the one who never knew the sweetness, the true and pure and not-really-horrible delight of taking a life you want to take. Cordelia's reasons are different than Angelus' were -- she wanted justice for herself, and she wanted safety for others, and given the number of times Lilah tried to kill her, Lilah was fair game under her own rules. But the fact that Cordelia realized she was smiling as she lowered the crossbow --"We're gonna get past this," she repeats.
Angel nods. As Cordelia wipes her eyes with her sleeve, her vision clears enough to see Angel better; he is still shaking, and his cheeks are damp with tears, but he is obviously trying to calm himself for her. "And Wesley, and Gunn, and Fred?" he says. "You -- I guess they must agree with you -- "
"None of the others know. I mean, they don't know what happened --" With us? To me? Cordelia doesn't have to decide what to say to Angel. She knows he knows what she means.
(he said he would take care of them downstairs and he told her to be ready for more when he got back because killing old friends always turned him on and Cordelia was frightened to move but she thought maybe she could break up the desk for a stake and even if she couldn't at least he couldn't keep pounding at her with the splinters in her back if she tore up the desk and she pulled on her clothes so she wouldn't have to look at her body and the door flew open and she screamed but it was Gunn and he said thank God they had gotten there in time and Cordelia said yes, in time, thank God)
Angel says, "You should tell them. Cordelia, you need them now."
"If I tell them, they'll kill you." Cordelia thinks that Fred would listen to her. Wesley, perhaps. Gunn never. And there is something way down deep in Cordelia, something that thinks if Gunn went to execute Angel for his crime, she might not fight as hard as she can. Might let her anger and pain and horror look like helplessness, so the rest of her life, she could say, I couldn't stop Gunn, instead of, I let Angel die. Cordelia does not want to confront this part of herself, and perhaps it is this more than anything else that has made her keep her silence.
"If I die for this, it's what I deserve," Angel says. He is just stating simple fact. "You shouldn't have to suffer in silence, Cordelia."
"Me? Suffer in silence? I'm sorry, have we met?" Cordelia knows that, if the situation were any less bleak, Angel might be moved to smile at that. She'd smile herself. As it is -- well, it doesn't count as humor, not really, but it feels good to be talking like herself for a moment, saying the things she'd say in a more normal situation. "If I need to talk, I'm going to talk. To you. It happened to both of us, Angel. Both of us together. And that's how we're gonna work through it, too."
She says it like she means it, and she very much wants to, though she knows it's more difficult than she's making it out to be. It is next-to-impossible, now, to imagine calling Angel up in the dead of night and saying: I had a nightmare that you broke into my bedroom. Or: I scrubbed myself so hard with the loofah this morning that my skin bled and Dennis took it away, but I stayed in there for an hour anyway, washing myself with my hands, and I never did feel clean.
Or the terror that came to her last night as she fished beneath her sink for a bandaid for the cut on her forehead, and her hand brushed against a box of tampons: Could I be pregnant?
(it hurt so much so much and she had always heard that it hurt but she'd had no idea how much pain there was and he had one hand on her breast and the yellow light made everything ugly and the room was cold and he was cold and she could see her skin pebbled and pasty like chickenflesh next to his wrist and he slid his other hand between them where their bodies were joined and when he brought it up his fingers were red with blood from where he'd torn her and she thought he would lick it off but instead he pushed his fingers in her mouth and asked her how it tasted and she wanted to bite him but she was already about to gag from the taste of her own blood and she didn't want to taste his because she didn't want anything more of him inside her)
Unlikely, of course. Vampires don't make babies -- except for two of them, one of whom happens to be the one who raped her. She knows that whatever the Powers did that made Angel capable of fathering a child was something extraordinary, something that counts as strange and unusual even in her mixed-up, supernatural world. But what she does not know is if whatever was done to Angel lasted only for a single night, or whether the change they worked in him for their mysterious purpose was permanent. If it is the latter -- and who's to say what's more likely? There's no guide, not for this -- then there is a chance Cordelia is carrying Angel's child right now.
Maybe she should wish that she is. Angel has been low with grief these many weeks, as have all the rest of them. Wesley is perhaps second only to Angel in his anguish; only the need to make up for his wrongdoing sustains Wesley. Maybe that's what sustained Angel all those years when he had no one. Angel had learned to bear the burden of guilt, but being an innocent victim has undone him, in a way guilt never did. Cordelia didn't understand how that could be, before two days ago. She is trying very hard not to understand it now. If Angel were the father of another child -- that child couldn't replace Connor, but it would give him something else to love and to live for, help heal those wounds. And she has her own wounds to bear from Connor's loss; she wasn't his mother, but it is amazing, how much you can love a child not your own. How much you can miss him.
But there are other wounds now, even fresher, and if they are not as deep as those from Connor's abduction, they are deep enough. A child born of her violation would reopen those wounds, keep them fresh forever and ever. Maybe that would not be true -- maybe they'd heal anyway. But maybe they wouldn't, and Cordelia cannot bear even the thought of still hurting about this ten and twenty and forty years from now. So she hopes that Angel cannot have children, by her or by anyone, not now nor ever again, if it means that she will be safe.
And this is just one of the things she can't tell him. How will they do this? How will they begin to get past it?
Angel is looking up at her, and she can tell he is wondering the same thing. They have promised to bridge a gap that seems unbridgeable. They are looking at each other from the opposite sides of a crevasse that can so easily swallow them whole.
He is the one who breaks the silence. "I'd rather have died than have done that to you."
"I know." And she does know it, but the words are somewhat comforting nonetheless.
"And I'll do -- whatever you need to feel safe, Cordelia. I'll leave, or I'll stay, or I'll guard your door, or I'll be guarded, or, or --whatever might help. Cordy. I don't know what that would be, but I don't care what it is, I'll do it."
Turn back time? Get rid of your demon? Cordelia rejects the impossibilities half-formed, not even thoughts yet. She tries to keep her courage about her, tries to push through the mire of fears and doubts and anguish and terror that has held her these past two days. She tries to find solid ground, to set foot on it, to name just what it is that is horrifying her the most.
In her heart, she has always known. But even here, even now, it is hard to give it voice. It is hard to admit that the worst thing he did was not anything he did to her body.
Slowly, Cordelia says, "You said something to me that night. You made me say something to you."
Angel tenses, and Cordelia feels her own skin flush hot-then-cold. She has put her foot on that ground, and now is the moment when they will deal with the worst terror of all. Cordelia now knows that Angelus and Angel are two different people, but she will now find out just how much they share. Just how much of Angel's goodness and hope and heart can belong to the demon, too.
"Did you do it because -- was it just to be cruel? Just to make it hurt more? Or was it because it was real? Because it was something you wanted to say --"
"Something I wanted you to say?" Now, and only now, Angel cannot meet her eyes. "It was real."
And her worst terror is now her worst truth.
(his hands were around her throat and he was choking her not hard enough that she would die but hard enough and her nose was bleeding from the times he had punched her and she was fighting for breath and he wanted her to tell him that she loved him and he wanted to hear her say the words while he was inside her because he had loved her for so long and she never noticed and she never gave a damn and maybe she gave a damn now and now he would let her live if she said it because he wanted her to remember this for the rest of her life and he wanted her to think of this moment every time she said that she loved someone and every time someone said he loved her and between her gasping for breath and her tears she didn't think she could say anything but then he began slamming her head onto the table and she cried out that she loved him she loved him she loved him she loved him and he threw his head back and he yelled that he loved her as he came)
Cordelia is grateful that Angel isn't looking at her right now; she is grateful to have this one moment to feel the hurt of it, nothing more.
Angel loves her. She does not love him -- not in that way -- though in the past few weeks, as they grew closer after Connor's abduction, she had for the first time begun to consider. To wonder. She knew what they were like together in grief and in gladness, in anger and in humor, and she either liked or could deal with it all. His ultimate strength in his grief had moved her, and the deeper understanding between them as time went on had called forth something in her that she had never expected to feel for her best friend. Cordelia is not in love with Angel, but three days ago she was asking herself whether or not the impossible might be possible.
But she did not know this could happen to them. Now it is futile to wonder what might have been. Whatever he feels for her, whatever feeling for him had been flickering into flame within her, is now as useless as the baby clothes still folded in a drawer in Angel's room. As useless and as heartbreaking.
Angelus did not just defile her body. He desecrated the love Cordelia and Angel feel, as friends and as woman and man, and made it unnamable ever again. Long after her bruises have faded and her cuts have closed and her EPT has come back negative, this will be between them. This is the one wound that will not heal.
The yellow light made everything ugly. She had no idea how much pain there was. This is really happening.
Angel says, his voice low and desperate, "Cordelia --"
"We're gonna get past this," she says, and once again she hopes beyond hope that it is true.
This fic was written to answer the "Cordy Finds Out" challenge on the ACangst list. The challenge asked for the worst way Cordelia could find out Angel loved her; the result was a darker fic than I've ever written. But I would appreciate feedback to RhinestoneDazzle@aol.com
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