Beacon

 


"What we once were informs all that we have become." - Darla, "The Prodigal"

"You just looked really hot doing that." - Cordelia, "Waiting in the Wings"

***

A low-burning peat fire, a big-breasted girl to bring him his drinks, and his mates at his side. Liam swigged half the ale in his tankard and realized there was only one thing missing.

He stared down into his mug, a little sad to see good ale go, but if it got him what he wanted, it wouldn’t be wasted. Casually, he slung his arm around John’s shoulder.

John was talking to Siobhan, or rather to Siobhan’s cleavage, so he didn’t notice the tankard hovering near his ear until it was too late.

With deft toss, Liam splashed the remainder of his drink in John’s face.

There was a gasp, then the entire pub went silent. Except John, who was spluttering and wiping his face with trembling hands.

When he turned on Liam, his eyes were hot, his mouth grim. “Damn you, Liam!”

“Aye, it’s damned I am,” Liam said, drawing it out, letting his voice change from mocking sadness to deliberate taunt. “Damned to have friends who fight like girls.”

John’s fist plowed into Liam’s jaw, snapped his head back.

Liam’s eyes glazed and then heat spiked in his belly. Oh, God, yes, that’s what had been missing.

With a roar, he leapt.

***

Los Angeles. The polluted air, the hollow center, the constant press of traffic. And underground gladiator rings where demons fought to the death.

Despite feeling like he'd been hit by lightning after the truck ran over him – and that was before he'd been staked – Angel’s system revved. Nothing got him going like a good fight.

Nothing ever had.

The street was clearing fast now that the ring was broken. Peopled hurried toward parked cars or were swooped up by hulking limos. No one was interested in hanging around to explain their presence at a demon fight to the cops.

Wes and Cordy helped him out of the building and toward his Plymouth. Even through the dust and the car exhaust he could still smell the sweat, the fear.

The hunger.

It wasn’t the sole property of his kind. It had been thick as smoke back in that ring. Better than coke, better than heroin. Better than sex.

Bloodlust.

Angel watched his former cellmates scatter. He’d turned down freedom once in the last two days, something none of them would have done. Of course, it made tasting it now so much better.

Hunger denied was that much sweeter when it was finally satiated. Hadn’t Darla taught him that?

He shuddered, shook her off. Darla. His lover, his teacher, his goddess. His bitch. He clenched his teeth at the thought of those cold, blue eyes, of her chilled flesh. How she’d called to him, to that darkness that rode just under his skin.

“Angel you don’t look so.... Well, it’s a good thing that you heal fast," Cordy said. She slid her arm around his waist and took some of his weight.

“Yeah," he said, collapsing against her shoulder. "It’s also a good thing you found me in time.”

She smelled clean, like shampoo and make-up. But underneath it was the musk of adrenaline that even her perfume couldn’t hide. She squeezed his side gently. “We weren’t going to let anything happen to you.”

Was it his imagination, or did her hand seem to linger a little longer than usual?

“No,” Wesley said.

“Well, I mean, beyond the slavery and the severe beatings and stuff.” Typical Cordelia. Stating the truth in the starkest possible way.

He’d always admired that trait in her, as much for the honesty as the pain she wielded with it.

She shot Wes a proud look. "Wesley came up with the key!”

“But Cordelia came up with the key to the key! In a clinch moment.”

“You both did great," he said. "And I think we did a good thing here tonight."

He thought about Trepkos, facing him in the ring. The dishonorable fight that Angel had tried so hard to infuse with honor. So much for honor, since all it had earned him was a hole in the gut and a couple of broken knuckles.

“Yes. We set the captives free,” Wesley said, and in his voice, the honor sounded effortless.

All those years of working for it, of reshaping himself, and now Angel was friends with a man who lived it without thinking about it. Life sucked, he thought, as his knuckles throbbed.

“Well, actually, didn’t we set a bunch of demons free?” Cordy asked.

Angel blinked. It would have been funny if she hadn't been right.

“Oh. Well," Wes said. "Technically, yes."

"Oops," Cordelia said. "Maybe that wasn't a such a good idea." She glanced at Angel, her pretty forehead wrinkled into a muddle of lines.

"They're, uh, not bad as demons go. Pretty good, all in all," he said, looking for the silver lining. The wound in his side burned, sending a hot finger of pain deep into his lungs. He coughed, breath wheezing.

Wes shifted, taking the pressure off his ribs. "Probably best not to think about setting demons loose on an unsuspecting Los Angeles. Except to say, maybe they learned their lesson while imprisoned."

“Probably best to not to think about the fact that we might have to kill them later,” Angel said. “But, hey, at least they’re free, now. That’s something, right?”

"Hope springs eternal," Cordelia said, voice dry. She nodded down the block. "Good, there's the car. Let's get Angel home before his guts fall out on the pavement."

From down the block Angel heard a shout, then laughter, as the captives tasted freedom. It had been intoxicating to take that first gulp of fresh air, drink in the night, after days of being held in the damp darkness. "Home sounds really good."

"So does a shower," Cordelia said.

"You just took one." Wes leaned forward and unlocked the car door.

"Not for me, for him." She jerked her head toward Angel.

Angel could smell himself, so he knew it must be bad. He wrestled free and started around the car toward the driver's seat. Two steps in and his knees gave way.

Wes and Cordy caught him before he hit the ground. "Typical," Cordy said. "Thinks he has to do everything on his own."

The world twirled and he found himself in the front seat. Cordy buckled him in, her breasts brushing his forearm. He licked his lips, deliberately looking away from that shadowed valley until she was done.

As they drove, Angel kept his eyes closed, but his skin felt stretched too tight, and even his eyelids couldn’t block the light. When the car stopped he saw they'd already made it back to the office.

"I'm fine," he said, pushing himself up and blinking hard. "'s'okay. You guys go home."

But they were already out of the car, pulling him out, and helping him up the walk. "--got to call Aphrodesia," Cordy was saying. "I'm supposed to meet her at Rage in half an hour." Her hands were rough, her voice high with excitement, as they hurried him through the lobby and into the elevator.

"Well, go on," Angel said, craving silence, needing the time alone to calm himself down. "Really, I'm fine."

She shot him a look then turned back to Wes. "So if you can get him somewhere in the vicinity of the shower, I'll call and let her know I'll meet her later."

Wes steered Angel toward the bathroom. He heard Cordy's quick, light footsteps, then the click of the phone as she dialed. "Yeah, hey, it's me. Look I'll just meet you there --"

He blocked out the rest of her conversation and collapsed on the commode, watching intently as Wes reached into the tub to turn on the shower. "Thanks for saving me," he said.

Wes flushed. "Actually, Cordelia was the one who figured it out." He tested the water temperature then dried his hands on the hand towel hanging next to the sink.

"I'm sure you were part of it." Angel leaned down and started unlacing his boots. "You are a part of it, Wes," he said. He glanced up, found Wes staring at the towel rack over Angel’s head. The pulse in Wes's neck vibrated the flesh. Angel stared at it, mesmerized.

Wes glanced down and caught him staring.

Angel blinked, then went back to unlacing his boots. He forced his breath to find its own rhythm, to let go of Wes's. It was an old habit. The hunter becoming one with the prey.

Wes stood, stiff and uncomfortable. "Thanks. Well. I'll just, er, leave you to your shower. Let me know if you need anything."

He hadn't meant to embarrass him. Or freak him out. Unfortunately it looked like he'd done both. "All right," Angel said, hauling himself to his feet. His knuckles sang with pain as he deliberately scraped them on the corner of the tub stall. Honor, he reminded himself. Honor.

The door latched behind Wes and he stripped off his t-shirt and pants, stood naked in the billowing steam.

Alone for the first time in days. He took a couple of deep breaths, trying to wash away the caffeine-like rush of adrenaline that still tangled his neurons.

The shower was hot, soothing. The water washed off the blood, the stink of death. The shampoo smelled like a revelation after the sweat and fear of the Ring. He scrubbed his head twice, then rinsed, absorbing heat into his sore body.

Finally he turned off the taps and reached for a towel. He hated to get out, but Cordelia had a date, and she wouldn't go until she patched him up. So he ran another towel over his hair and left it draped over his head like a boxer coming off of the ropes.

Angel could hear voices coming from the kitchen as he shuffled to the bedroom for some clothes, drying his hair on the way. The movement pulled the skin on his shoulder, making him wince and instinctively lower his arm. His entire body throbbed, even after the shower, and all he wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep for about two days.

The bedroom door was halfway open, and he pushed through only to find himself stumbling to a halt.

Cordelia stood next to the bed, back to him, her hand on the zipper of her dress. White satin, embroidered with flowers, a fabric as beautiful and intricately designed as any worn by the women of his day. He hadn’t noticed it until now.

Cordelia, the crass, sometimes shallow child whose sole job in life was to be a pain in his ass, shone like a candle flame in the warm, gold light from the bedside lamp.

He actually felt his pupils dilate, his nostrils flare. The musk was stronger, the earthy-floral sweat under her arms, the green tang between her legs. Wrapped in that column of white satin she became something else entirely.

She slowly slid the zipper down and the dress peeled open to reveal a strapless, ivory-colored lace bustier. She palmed the dress open and stepped out of it, balancing one hand on his bed. Then she picked it up and smoothed it onto the bed like she was touching a lover, leaving her clad only in the long-line bra and an ivory-colored lace thong.

His teeth clicked together, his hands clenched.

She reached up and undid her hair. For one, silent, pure moment, she was a painting. Her arms, suspended in a graceful arc, her head, tilted on the flower stem of her neck.

After the pulse-beat burst of bare-fisted fighting, after the rush of adrenaline that left him teetering on the edge of control, this was the last puzzle piece, clicking into place.

Then her hands dropped and her hair fell in a curly cascade, over her shoulders and back. She stood, for a moment, head bowed, lost in thought.

He breathed, eyes, nose, skin taking her in.

Then she sighed and turned her head and he backed out of the room, feeling like a voyeur, like he'd just infringed on a very feminine, very private moment.

"Angel."

He jumped, turned guiltily. "Wes. I was, uh--"

Wes arched an eyebrow. "She was going to change clothes." He studied Angel's face, then glanced at the half-open door. "Didn't want to mess up the dress. Something about returning it?" His words were nonchalant. His eyes anything but. "I called for pizza. I hope that's all right with you."

Not really, Angel thought. Whatever soothing the shower had done for him, now he was revving all over again. "I thought Cordelia was going out with Aphrodesia," he said, to distract them both. It was tempting to crawl back into the bathroom, to pretend he hadn't seen her, that private core.

To pretend he didn’t want to violate it, to make it his.

Wes looked *this close* to saying something. "She’s meeting her a bit later,” was all he said, though.

The door swung open and Cordelia stood there in a pair of painted-on purple pants and a halter top that showed more than it covered. "What are you guys doing?" she asked, shooting them dirty looks. "Eavesdropping?"

Wes snorted. "Technically, for it to be eavesdropping, you'd have to be talking to--"

She huffed and brushed past them. "Whatever. Go sit on the bed," she commanded Angel. "I'll be back with the bandages and stuff. Wes, did you get the pizza?"

Wes shot him a shrewd, warning look then followed her down the hall. "Yes, and all the pineapple is on your half. Why you insist upon...."

Angel let their argument fade out as he shrugged the towel off and pulled on a pair of gray, knit pajama bottoms.

If he listened hard enough he could hear them chattering. He dropped the towels to the floor and sat down hard on the edge of the bed.

He’d been here before. It was nothing new. Just let it go, just breathe, he thought, as he brushed his hands over his face.

The familiar mattress gave under his weight, and he dropped back, saying, "I'll just lie here for a minute."

Bare fists, peek-a-boo lace. If he hadn’t been starved of everything but the fight, none of this would have bothered him. If he had some food, everything would be okay.

As he slipped under, the last thing he saw was Cordelia’s dress, hanging on the closet door.

***

Dreams flashed.

Music played, a reel. The room was smoky from the oil lamps and dusky with the scent of heavily perfumed sweat. He drew her into a dance, her white, embroidered dress swinging in wide arcs, her dark hair upswept into a fetching tangle of curls.

"You are more beautiful than the sun is bright," he said, working every line he knew to get her to come back to the carriage with him, to let him slide his hands under her skirt and--

Bury his face in Darla's breasts, drinking from the beaded line of blood, like red pearls on her pristine throat. Her hands on the back of his head, pulling him down, welcoming him to her. "I'll show you worlds you've never seen, darling boy--"

Flash of the Ring, of the faces hungry for death.

"I'll kill you quick," Trepkos said.

"Killing blow! Killing blow!"

Sharp, burning pain in his side as Trepkos thrust the staff--

"Angel!"

Angel jerked awake, panting, sweating. "I'm all right!" The room still felt smoky, swirly. "All right," he said again, to reassure himself.

Cordy slid one arm under his shoulders and eased him back on the pillows. "Shh, it's okay," she said in a surprisingly soft voice. Her hair rained down on his bare skin, scented with sweet sweat and a perfume that reminded him of the dance.

He breathed, taking her in. "I'm all right," he repeated, searching for the certainty of her eyes.

She smiled and finished taping down the bandage on his shoulder. "Sure ya are." She reached over to a plate on the bedside table and took a whopping bite of pizza, chewing while she opened another paper-wrapped piece of gauze. "'Cause you awways get run fru wit shtakes," she said, mouth full.

Despite the fact that her display was totally disgusting, his stomach growled. "I'm starving."

Her tan hands made quick work of the bandages over the wound from the staff. Then she handed him a steaming mug.

The smell hit him, rich, overwhelming, and he pounced on it, inhaling the entire thing in a few gulps.

Cordy picked a piece of pineapple off her pizza and arched an eyebrow at him. "More?"

Angel nodded and she handed him another mug. He felt like he could eat an entire room full of people. He swallowed greedily, nearly overcome by the way the taste lingered, long and sweet.

It hit him, then. "This is human."

She nodded. "Don't worry. Not enough to send you to Happyville. Just enough to get your strength back up. You were pretty whacked." She ate more of what looked like the nastiest pizza on the planet. A happy-food moan purred in the back of her throat.

"What is that stuff?" he asked, licking hot-sticky blood off his lips. Trying not to get too caught up in the sexy little sound.

Cordy swallowed this time before she answered. "Hawaiian pizza." She cocked her head, waiting for him to respond. "Ham and pineapple? I got them to add spinach for the greens. Can never have too much iron, but, then, I guess you know that."

With that, she took the empty mug from him and replaced it with another full one.

Wes walked in, plate in one hand, napkin in another. He settled onto the end of the bed. "Feeling better?" He took a small bite and chewed politely.

"I was, till Cordy brought ham and pineapple in here." Angel guzzled, loving the velvety rich feel of the blood on his throat, in his belly. Not wanting to lose any, he ran his finger around the inside of the mug and collected the leftovers on his finger.

Wes arched a brow. "Yes it is rather disgusting, isn't it?"

Angel looked down at his bloody finger, then up at Wes's prissy gaze. Busted. But he still licked it off his finger. Just more discreetly than he would have before. "Fruit on pizza,” Angel said, feeling lightheaded, almost drunk. “It's just wrong."

"Oh, like you'd know." Cordy took the empty mug from him and set it on the bedside table. "I have one more mug here. You want it?"

The warm, heady smell filled his head. He closed his eyes and drew it in. Felt the electricity spark in his cells, felt his body respond to the food it was built for. "Yeah." But any more and he'd be pushing temptation to its farthest edge. "But, no, thanks. You should probably take whatever's left and put it somewhere safe."

"Cool," Cordy said. She finished her piece and reached for Wes's napkin. "You mind? Mine's kinda greasy."

Wes shrugged and handed it over.

"Thanks." She blotted her lips and then stood. "Okay, Aphrodesia's waiting for me." She twirled, flashing bare back, long hair and a perfect ass, then held out her hands. "Look okay?"

"You look great," Wes said. "Perfect."

Angel grabbed her hand. "You meeting any guys?" Those protective urges spiked, the ones that had him asking after dates even before Wilson Christopher got hold of her.

She gave him her patented Queen C look. "And if I am?"

He pinned her with his gaze. "Be careful."

Her fingers twined with his then trailed away leaving tickling streamers of fire.

He wondered, then, what this date with Aphrodesia was really for. A convenient excuse to pick someone up? An easy way to get rid of some of the tension that had been howling around her since they got back?

"Yeah, Dad. I know. No drinking, no smoking, and, most important, no demon impregnation. We're good." From the door she called over her shoulder, "I'll be careful, I promise."

Then her forehead wrinkled. “Oh!” She dashed back and picked up the last mug. “Better get rid of this, huh? Wouldn’t want you going all animal on us.”

Then she was gone, and the only things left behind were the remains of her dinner and his, and her perfume, like flowers and musk.

"Just how much did you see, earlier?" Wes asked, in a friendly voice.

"More than I should have," he said, without thinking. Then, shocked to have been caught in the trap, he cut his eyes at Wes.

Anger flared on Wes's face. "Angel, you shouldn't cross those lines. Cordelia's a beautiful girl. If you--"

Angel's fists clenched and a primal heat raged through him. The higher part of his brain told him it was just the fight lingering in his belly. The challenge Wes presented -- two strong men fighting over a woman -- was older than even he was. So he deliberately dropped his voice to the soothing range. "It’s okay, Wes. I only saw enough to realize how much she means to me. As a friend."

But the flash of her shoulder, the dip of her waist, were tangled in his memories, now, and he couldn’t get rid of them. Even if he wanted to.

And they both knew it.

Even so, the anger in Wes’s eyes dimmed. "All right, then." He lay the pizza down on the plate and wiped his mouth with the wadded napkin Cordy had left behind. "I'll be going, then, if you don't need anything else?"

Angel shook his head. "No, I'm good. Thanks, Wes. And thanks for watching out for her."

Wes shrugged on his jacket, not meeting Angel’s eyes. "Yes, well. She's special."

"Both of you are." And that was all he was going to say on the subject, considering he’d just embarrassed both of them again. What was up with him tonight? "Thanks. It's good to be home."

"Good night, Angel." Wes collected his dishes and started out the door. From the hall he glanced over his shoulder. "Don't feel like you have to come up tomorrow. I'm sure you'll need time to recuperate."

"Yeah. I'll see you when I see you. Unless Cordelia has a vision." He felt the steel in his voice, saw it reflected in the way Wes took an instinctive step back. "Then call me. Don't try to handle it yourselves. You've been through enough."

Wes nodded, waved over his shoulder, and left. There was a clink as he set the plate on the counter, then footfalls as he climbed the stairs. Far above, the alarm code beeped as he set it and then, finally, everything was silent.

Angel stared at the ceiling, smelling pizza and blood, still hearing their voices. Clicking off the light, he turned on his side, realizing Cordelia had left her dress on his closet door. It hung like a ghost, pale, glimmering white, and her scent comforted him as he drifted away.

***

Somewhere in the dim light he heard voices. He strained his ears, unable to understand the words, but it didn't seem to matter. Someone wailed, weeping; the chant of Catholic hymns wove around him. Heartbeats dopplered in and out of range, blood whooshing in time with the rhythmic thump.

It was dark; he was dreaming. Bright, strange flashes. Like the dreams conjured by a drunken binge. His stomach clenched, burning. He twisted, looking for comfort, and found only hard walls, a harder bed. Then he was drifting again....

He felt her. Felt her pull, like the tides. No name, no face, just...her.

And then his hands were breaking through wood as if it were paper, digging through dirt. It was in his mouth, his nose, and yet he had no fear of suffocation. He felt strong, stronger than he ever had.

Air hit his skin and he rose, birthed by the dirt. Her hands grasped his and her cool scent guided him up like a beacon.

"Darling boy," she said.

He blinked, eyes adjusting to the night that was as bright as day. She stood in front of him in a dress like white moonlight, embroidered with night-blooming jasmine.

She smiled, a flash-fire, and stroked his face.

Behind them came a voice, and to his new ears it sounded tinny, thin. Not like hers, so rich and dark. Layered with nuance, with secrets.

He turned.

"You know what to do," she said.

The hunger was on him, open-mouthed and screaming. He followed its lead, shocked by its power. No grace in the kill, no skill. Just the man’s throat, opening...opening.... And the blood....

He let the man fall to the earth he'd just come out of and looked to her for approval, needing her to tell him he'd done right. That this new lust, this need to feed, to kill, wasn't wrong.

"Darling boy," she said again, and held out her arms.

He fell into the welcome of her smile, put his head on the pillow of her breasts. "Cordelia."

Angel jerked awake, panting. The scent of blood rose and his hands clenched the bedclothes until he noticed the mugs next to the bed. Three of them, empty, the blood in the bottom dried into a dark crust.

Rising slowly, he stacked them on the plate Cordy had left behind, then picked up the discarded napkins and gauze packs and shuffled to the kitchen. The light over the reading chair was on and he squinted at the clock on the table next to it. The hands read four, but he had no idea whether that meant morning or afternoon.

He dropped the dirty dishes in the sink and went to the phone. Upstairs the extension rang once, twice, three times. He hung up. Must be four in the morning, then.

His hand ruffled his hair, scratched his chest. The dream -- what had he seen? Whatever it was, it left him hungry, itchy.

Cordelia had emptied the mug in the sink and left it on the counter. Blood, sweet, drying in the cool air-- He stared at the sink. It smelled so good and he was so hungry --

He stepped back, out of the kitchen. "No. Just go back to bed." It would be too easy to get back into the habit of drinking human. Too easy to cross that line, and then the one after, and the one after that. "Too bad they don't give AA chips to vampires," he muttered.

The bathroom light flickered on and he stood at the sink, staring into the mirror. He put his hand up, touched the glass. Breathed.

Nothing. He was an empty shell, filled by the blood of humans or animals. Nothing but a parasite. A parasite who fed on the living.

Like Doyle, Cordelia. Like Wesley.

He reached for his toothbrush and stroked on a dab of toothpaste. "This is nothing new," he said, as he started brushing. He'd thought it all before, in those years after he got the soul. He knew every twist and turn of this maze, knew how to torture himself in the most exquisite ways.

Shame was an easy weapon to wield and it didn't take much of a blow to hurt him.

He spat into the sink and rinsed his mouth, then dried with the towel. From the bright lights of the bathroom, the dark bedroom called, inviting, like the earth -- and why was he thinking about that? Must have been the cell, the hunger he'd felt after going without food for so many days.

Cordelia’s bare shoulder flashed in his mind. The pulse at Wesley’s throat, throbbing under that perfect film of skin. They called to his primal urges, saying: bury yourself deep, open your mouth and scream, slice their flesh with knife-sharp teeth and eat, eat....

Angel crawled under the coverlet and put his head on the pillow. Lay there, staring up at the ceiling, wondering what had brought on this old feeling.

The guilt, the hunger.

His side throbbed as it healed, the skin itching. He scratched lazily, already floating, already falling.

***

The thing about fucking his sire was that she was impossible to damage. Angel could do anything to her -- things he'd only dreamed of before the change -- and she not only let him, she *wanted* it.

Only now she was doing it to him. Cordelia turned him face down and tied his wrists to the bedpost. Her laugh was warm and husky. "Lie still," she said. "No matter what."

He laughed, senses flaring like the flame in the oil lamp, and let her lead the way.

Pleasure, pain. The knife edge. She took him up, held him there, quivering, and finally took him over.

He lay, panting against the sheets, feeling the wet stain spread beneath him. She pulled his wrists free and, with strong, cold hands, flipped him. "My turn," she said.

His fingers in her hair, drawing away the pins. It was long, nearly to her waist, and when she bent forward and kissed him, it rained down around them like a curtain.

The kiss spun out, nothing but lips, tongues, biting teeth. She was cool and wet like morning grass, and she churned against his hips.

Angel stroked her face, lay her on her back and kissed her. Her body was new, thrilling. No matter how many times he touched her, she was undiscovered country. The places she'd promised to take him lay in the unmapped territories of her own body.

Beneath his hands her breasts felt like wonder, itself. He palmed her and she shivered. Then he trailed the tip of her finger from the top of her breast, over one nipple, down her belly.

He followed, letting her draw him down, draw him in.

The same way she'd drawn him out of the ground.

She was his teacher, his guide. His beacon --

He fought through the haze to consciousness, body zinging, blood pumping between his legs. "What the hell?" His watch was on the bedside table and he fumbled with it. Found the glowing face. Five minutes till six.

The whole not-sleeping thing was starting to make him nuts. Not to mention the raging hard-on that pounded in time to his heavy breathing. Angel ran his hands over his face and pushed himself out of the bed.

Maybe eating would help. Still groggy, Angel went to the fridge and grabbed the first container of blood he saw. Didn't bother to warm it, just drank. After three gulps, he stopped, mid-swallow, and glanced down at the side of the carton. The label read, "Blood Assurance, AB+."

"Crap." But he went ahead and finished it, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I thought I told her to get rid of this stuff."

Then he realized it had only been a few hours since she left. Since she'd gone out with her friends. To meet someone? Something twisted in his gut and had him dialing the phone.

After three rings he started to get tense. After eleven, he hung up, and instead of unraveling, that kink in his gut twisted tighter.

Some part of him registered that it was nearly dawn. A stupid time of day for a vampire to go for a drive. But he couldn't stop himself. He dressed haphazardly, yanking on a shirt, half-buttoning his pants, stepping into his unlaced boots.

The keys were in his hand. And then he was in his car, driving toward the deadly sunrise. His teeth itched and his eyes burned. He hit the gas, called forward by something he didn't understand.

Visions of her body, golden and warm, taunted him. The look she'd tossed over her shoulder, knowing and flirtatious. How she'd trailed fire over his hand with her fingers.

He knew where that fire led, knew the danger.

What if she was tangling the sheets with someone like Wilson Christopher? What if, even now -- His hands clenched on the wheel and he pressed the gas pedal down as far as it would go.

When Angel parked behind Cordelia's apartment it was already nearly too light to get out of the car. He made the dash across the parking lot with his coat over his head.

Her door was in shadows. Around him a rage of heartbeats, a cacophany of breaths. The quiet thump-thump he’d learned to take comfort in now made him itchy, alert. “Dennis. Open the door. Now.”

It swung open silently and Angel went through. He stood in the living room, hands clenched. Tracked her by the too-high heels she'd tumbled next to the couch, the little halter pooled on the floor in the hall. Her pants, in a messy heap on the bathroom tile.

Then he was at her bedroom door. It stood half-open, blocking his view of the bed. He went through, fist cocked and ready to fire.

And found her sprawled, face down on the bed. Alone.

The flowered top sheet draped her hips, showing the thinnest sliver of tattoo. Her back was bare, arms spread wide, like a child's.

Her hair covered everything: her face, her back, the tops of her arms. It was like a mink stole, carelessly flung. He moved forward, caught by the flash of a dream. Of her bending over him, that hair curtaining them in.

Blood hummed through him, driving the hunger, the need.

Then she stirred and he realized what he was doing.

Brought up short by the leash of his conscience, he turned to leave. Only to feel the hem of his coat catch on her bedside table. Only to hear the sound of something small and glass hit the floor.

Frozen in place, he waited, listening.

Heard her stir, felt her pulse leap, then calm. "Angel?"

He nodded.

"What are you doing here?"

He shrugged.

The covers rustled. "What time is it?"

"Early." He couldn’t turn, couldn’t look at her.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.”

He heard her get out of the bed, heard the rustle of fabric. Then felt her heat like a spotlight as she padded around to face him.

The satin robe she wore outlined her breasts, her nipples soft, as sleepy as she. His eyes locked on the fullness, the mystery of what the shiny cloth contained.

"You're drunk."

He shook his head. "No."

"The blood. Did you drink more?"

His gaze stroked her hair, her hands, her lips.

"Angel!"

"Yeah.” He finally met her eyes. “Yeah, I drank more."

“You’re so not okay." Light filtered through the curtains and she walked to the window and twitched them shut.

The flare of light on her skin, the dim-focus of a dream, of her calling him.... He shadowed her, risking sunburn and when she turned, she was in his arms.

"Angel?" she squeaked.

Engulfed in the darkness, overtaken by the hunger, he kissed her.

She jerked back, and her fingers pressed her lips. "Stop it,” she said, looking confused. “What's wrong with you?"

His hands clenched on her arms and he stood, pulled tight, staring down at her. The temperature in the room dropped as Dennis responded to her fear. "I -- I don't know."

Angel stepped back, shaking his head. "It was...the blood. The fight. The blood," he said again. It was more than that, something deeper, but he couldn't find it, didn't know --

"Remind me not to get human for you again." She wrapped her arms around her waist. "Enough with the chill factor, Dennis. We're good."

Warmth began leaching back into the room and for the first time Angel smelled the strong scent of alcohol. And under it, something darker, more primal. That green tang, blooming. "Were you drinking?" His nostrils flared and he searched for scents that didn't belong there. Someone else's hands, someone else's mouth --

She cocked her head defiantly. "It was a party, Angel. Of course I was drinking."

He could see it, then, the leftover flush on her skin, and in the dim recesses of his mind he remembered what it felt like. Going to bed drunk, waking up buzzed. Not finding the hangover until late in the day, when the drinking started again.

Flash of a girl in a white dress, laughing up at him as they danced --

Flash of a woman in a white dress, beckoning --

Flash of Cordelia's eyes, dark and shocked, as he yanked her to him. Young, she was so young, like he'd been. Seen so much of the world already, Angel thought, as their lips met, as their teeth clicked.

Angel wrapped his hands around her head and let the thrust of his tongue take them both under. She was just sober enough to resist, just drunk enough to respond.

And then she pulled back. "This is stupid," she said. "And dangerous." But under the robe her nipples were sharp points.

His nostrils flared. That primal scent had changed, intensified. She'd gone dancing, gotten drunk, taken the heat of the fight and forced it into something manageable.

Only he knew it wasn't manageable at all.

“We can’t do this,” she said. Her heart thundered in her chest and she swallowed with an audible click. But her fingers fluttered against him. "Buffy," she said, in an urgent whisper. "The curse.” Fear flashed in her eyes. Fear and desire.

One word would turn it either way. One wrong word and they'd be finished before they started.

But one right word....

He thought of Cordelia, of her mouth full of pizza, of her face pulled into the most unflattering lines possible, of every stinging word she’d ever flung at him. “Yeah.” His nerve endings were on fire. He’d say anything to get her into bed with him. “Don’t worry. You won’t bliss me out.”

Her eyes widened, heated. He remembered that feeling, the need to fight rising up, to defend his rights, even when there was no real threat. It was the alcohol talking. Alcohol and youth.

So much of himself in this girl. So much....

"You know I'll kill you," she said, in an icy voice.

The sharp taunt was delivered like a killing blow. Her frigid tone unnerved him, blurred the line between dream, memory and moment. "Say it," he said, getting lost in those shadows.

"Say what?" she asked, sounding confused, and still a little huffy.

He dipped closer, pressing his lips to the shell of her ear. "Darling boy," he whispered.

She snorted. “Geez. Mommy issues much?”

He clenched her shoulders, tight. “Cordelia.”

She went still, heart thumping in her chest. In the shadows he could see a light come on in her eyes, controlling, manipulative, a little bit mean.

His cock tightened. “Say it,” he commanded.

She tugged his mouth to hers and her lips moved against his. "Darling boy," she said, in a voice that was so much like Darla’s it undid him completely.

He dropped to his knees in front of her. Buried his face in her breasts. Let the sense memory take him back to that night. The heat of the fight. The crunch of bone against bone as he fought, just for the love of it.

Darla, in the corner, always watching, that half-smile on her face. Knowing, cool, calculating.

A mystery that drew him, drunk, out of the pub and into the forever night.

His fingers slid under the lapels of Cordelia’s robe, trailing slowly over her warm skin. She was like a water bottle filled to the brim with steam.

He pushed her back and she bounced on the mattress, spread out before him, the soft robe like a puddle around her. The fall of her hair spread dark and thick on the pink flowered sheets.

He crawled up her and buried his face in her hair.

Disgusting, loud Cordelia, the biggest pain in his ass.

He undid the robe and spread it wide, then dipped his head and bit her belly, hard enough to have her arching off the bed.

She was breathing hard already, nearly quivering beneath him. His brain short-circuited.

He was left with nothing more than her suede-soft skin and the flutter of her rib cage. Starving, he slid down her body. Driven, he yanked the robe off and out from under her then balled it and threw it to the floor. She moaned, low in her throat, and buried her hands in his hair.

Angel jerked her toward him, mouth opening in anticipation. Teeth on her throat, tongue against her skin. The rasp of flesh on flesh, the taste of her.

She was lithe, eager, unschooled. Not a virgin, like Buffy, or a whore, like Darla. The pulse of her hips spoke of need and hunger that came with some experience, not of deliberate titillation.

But that was the effect. Every sense in his body lit and the room filled with light, with the smoke of a thousand oil lamps. "You're the brightest sun," he whispered against her collarbone.

Then he slid down, fingers and lips painting her like a canvas. Over her breasts, down her belly, past the red mark he'd left with his teeth.

Her body was dewed like the grass after the rain. The sweet odor of alcohol spun his head, seeped from her pores.

"Angel," she said, and when he glanced up, her hands were clutching the sheets, her body rigid, waiting. The bracelets on her arm had worked their way up nearly to her elbow and the skin there was vibrating, white with tension.

He grabbed her knees and pulled her closer, then fell forward, into her body.

The bed moved, trembled, with the force of her response, and then his mind shimmered and they were on a carriage that shook as the horses drove. He heard their hooves on the cobblestone, heard the voice of the driver. But inside there was nothing but their breath, nothing but lamp-lit shadows.

Angel was on his knees in front of her, his dream girl's white dress pushed up to expose an indecent, intoxicating amount of thigh. "So beautiful," he whispered, stroking her fair skin. "Like the roses in my mother's garden. Like the moon on a starless night."

She moaned and he kissed her knee. The skin quivered, there, and the sound she made, a gasp, quickly swallowed, sent his head spinning. So innocent, he thought, hungering for it. For her lush lips, for the breasts, swelling above the dress, for that tight, tight body, moving beneath him.

For her virgin's blood, spilled on the white satin like one of the flowers that danced up the fabric.

Then he blinked and it was Cordelia, rocking beneath him, face screwed into a look of fierce pleasure.

Angel flipped her, climbed her body, spread her hands wide. "Grab the edges of the bed," he said, his voice rough.

She made a gasp, quickly swallowed.

His head spun. "Lie still, no matter what."

She gritted her teeth and shut her eyes. The nod was short, sharp. Her skin flushed.

He trailed his hands down her back, down the juts of her shoulder blades, across the pearls of her spine. Got lost in the tattoo. A sun, its colors swirling, brighter than anything he saw at night. He traced it, spun in it, let the throb of blood in his veins take him deeper into the slightly scaled skin, the ink-roughened patch.

Beneath him Cordelia writhed, clenched the mattress. Her forehead pressed into the sheets, body trembling.

"I saw you," he said, words spilling out like a boy at confession. "Last night. The dress."

She didn't say anything but he could see from the chill bumps rising on her arms that she heard.

"You unzipped it." He trailed his fingers down her back, following the zipper's trail. "The fabric split open and I saw your back, your waist." He skimmed her ribs, tickling her and she jerked, gasped.

“You see me all the time,” she said, around gritted teeth.

“Not like that,” he said, running his mouth over her lowest ribs, into the small of her back. The tattoo exploded in a swirl of color. The closer he got, the more lost in her he became.

She groaned, arching against his mouth.

“Stop moving.” He pressed her into the mattress with the flat of his hand. Pressed her hard. Felt her give beneath him.

And then he stepped back, started stripping off his coat. She whimpered and to console them both he ran a finger over her heel, down her foot.

The coat hit the floor. His shirt followed.

Cordelia turned her head, her eyes hot and still hazed with alcohol. Her hair spread around her like a storm cloud, tendrils caught on the edge of her lips.

The site of her, beckoning eyes, slim body, woman’s lush ass, plugged into that primal place in his brain and suddenly he couldn’t get his clothes off fast enough.

When his chest hit her back, they gasped.

“Cold,” she said, writhing against him.

“Warm,” he echoed, closing his eyes, body straining to feel every twist, every curve of her.

It was sex, pure and simple.

But it was so much more.

Laid over their friendship was a template. Something he’d had in him before he was turned. Something the vampire nature capitalized on, bastardized, turned into a macabre parody of humanity.

The fight. The women. The blood.

He wrapped his hands around her hips and angled her up. Nudged her knees apart.

She held onto the covers, bit the sheets. Her eyes closed, tight.

He took a long breath as he slid into her. It was like falling into a down comforter, the softest, the warmest thing imaginable.

There was no danger of turning, of perfect happiness. Only this. Only two bodies seeking comfort, seeking release.

It was a goddamn lie and he knew it. But with the fight and the blood raging in him, he just didn't care.

Cordelia pressed her amazing ass against him. “Deeper,” she said. “Harder.”

He pulled out, slid in, as far as he could go.

“Deeper,” she said again. “Harder!”

He slapped his hips against hers and her lips curled into a smile.

“Good boy,” she said. “Darling boy.”

His hands spasmed, the words firing that core in his brain. The part of him that chased women into dark alleys, that let them do whatever they wanted to him, just for the promise of showing him the world.

Angel yanked her back, pulled her hips off the bed, and pounded into her.

The breath left her body in grunts, like an animal. Her teeth bared. “More,” she said. “Harder.”

He could break her. God, so easy. She wasn’t Darla, wasn’t indestructible.

But she was so beautifully resilient. Sunnydale survivor. Bearer of visions. The more the world heaped on her, the stronger she got.

He reared back, took her by the back of the neck, and let his hips slow to a deep, hard rocking motion that had his eyes glazing.

Good, it was so good. Why hadn’t they done this before? Why had they waited so long --

Then she moved, her hand disappearing beneath her hips, and Angel felt her fingers press against her opening. Where they were merged.

Her hand moved, rhythmically between her legs, tugging the soft flesh, beating against him as he beat into her.

She was getting herself off. God, he had to watch.

Angel pulled out, flipped her fast, and spread her legs. “Do it now,” he said, and his voice shattered the air.

Her hand slipped between them and he watched as she got lost in her rhythm. She arched against him, whimpering, asking for more.

Then she opened her eyes and smiled at him, a knowing smile.

Caught between her legs, caught in the snare of her eyes, he captured her hips and rocked into her, the same steady rhythm as her hand.

“Breathe into it,” Angel said. “All the way down.” His fingers traced her nipples, followed the ladder of her ribs to her waist.

She took a breath, a little hitch, and cried out. He could almost see it expand under her skin, see the breath increasing the pressure, the pleasure.

“More,” Angel said. “Deeper."

Angelus got off on erotic asphyxiation -- he loved watching girls go up with their hands around his throat. He loved, more, watching their eyes go vague and glassy as he crushed their windpipe like bone china.

Angel got off on it, too. But not for the violence. For the fact that the air meant nothing to him, and so much to her. For that mysterious tripswitch that lived deep in her lungs. The air was a lover between them, sliding into her like he did, finding places he never could. Filling her, making her eyes spark and flash.

She pushed it out, drew it in, and with each breath he felt her tighten around him.

“That’s it.” Angel pushed the hair off her face, twisted it around his hands.

She worked her hand between them, the rhythm increasing like drums off in the distance. Angel sped up, watching as her eyes narrowed, her mouth opened.

Her breath came in pants, God, she was so tight, so hot --

“That’s it,” he said again, and he pressed deep. Had to touch her, had to be there when she --

His hand dropped between them, tangled with hers. She drew in one more breath and at the top, at the pinnacle, at that moment when her lungs expanded....

So did she.

Her body bucked beneath him. Watching her come was like watching a volcano erupt.

The fist-clench feeling of her, shuddering around him, the sound of her unintelligible cries shot a lightning bolt through him.

His body tightened, focused on one point at the base of his spine. And then Angel went off, mind scrambling, sight gone. Somewhere he knew he was shooting into her, could feel it pouring out of him. But it was more than that.

It drained him completely.

Angel fell on her, sucking in air, trembling. Rooted into her neck, snuffling like a lost child looking for home.

All that guided him was her body, the sound of her breath.

Mother, lover, savior.

Beacon.

Her hand feathered through his hair, stroking gently. Her heart beat loud and steady. “Angel,” she said, voice rusty, surprised.

Angel’s vision cleared and he blinked, taking in the crook of her neck, the curve of her jaw. He felt his gums tighten and closed his eyes again. Let himself imagine, just for a moment, what it would be like to finish this the way he wanted to.

Then she shifted, slid him off of her and sat up, brushing her hair off her face. Angel lay by her side, watching as she regained equilibrium.

“Bathroom,” she said, and she shuffled off down the hall.

He heard water run, saw the light go on, illuminating a golden triangle on the floor. Then the shower curtain squeaked and the taps flared.

TITLE: Beacon
AUTHOR: starlet2367
EMAIL: starlet2367@comcast.net
RATING: NC-17 (For the fanfic trinity: language, sex and violence.)
DISLCAIMER: Not mine. Don’t sue.
SUMMARY: For arkady, who wanted a post-ep/missing scene for "The Ring."
This is the beginning of a series of post-eps based on an AU relationship between Angel and Cordy. I wanted to take a look at canon from a different angle. And write a whole bunch of smut.
FEEDBACK: You betcha.
ARCHIVE: My site, my LJ, Stranger Things/Just Fic. Anyone else, drop me a line.
NOTES: Thanks to my pit crew, julie fortune, littleheaven70, luvlally and psychofilly, whose comments kept this story tuned up and running smooth. You guys rock my world.



"What we once were informs all that we have become." - Darla, "The Prodigal"

"You just looked really hot doing that." - Cordelia, "Waiting in the Wings"


***

A low-burning peat fire, a big-breasted girl to bring him his drinks, and his mates at his side. Liam swigged half the ale in his tankard and realized there was only one thing missing.

He stared down into his mug, a little sad to see good ale go, but if it got him what he wanted, it wouldn’t be wasted. Casually, he slung his arm around John’s shoulder.

John was talking to Siobhan, or rather to Siobhan’s cleavage, so he didn’t notice the tankard hovering near his ear until it was too late.

With deft toss, Liam splashed the remainder of his drink in John’s face.

There was a gasp, then the entire pub went silent. Except John, who was spluttering and wiping his face with trembling hands.

When he turned on Liam, his eyes were hot, his mouth grim. "Damn you, Liam!"

"Aye, it’s damned I am," Liam said, drawing it out, letting his voice change from mocking sadness to deliberate taunt. "Damned to have friends who fight like girls."

John’s fist plowed into Liam’s jaw, snapped his head back.

Liam’s eyes glazed and then heat spiked in his belly. Oh, God, yes, that’s what had been missing.

With a roar, he leapt.

***

Los Angeles. The polluted air, the hollow center, the constant press of traffic. And underground gladiator rings where demons fought to the death.

Despite feeling like he'd been hit by lightning after the truck ran over him – and that was before he'd been staked – Angel’s system revved. Nothing got him going like a good fight.

Nothing ever had.

The street was clearing fast now that the ring was broken. Peopled hurried toward parked cars or were swooped up by hulking limos. No one was interested in hanging around to explain their presence at a demon fight to the cops.

Wes and Cordy helped him out of the building and toward his Plymouth. Even through the dust and the car exhaust he could still smell the sweat, the fear.

The hunger.

It wasn’t the sole property of his kind. It had been thick as smoke back in that ring. Better than coke, better than heroin. Better than sex.

Bloodlust.

Angel watched his former cellmates scatter. He’d turned down freedom once in the last two days, something none of them would have done. Of course, it made tasting it now so much better.

Hunger denied was that much sweeter when it was finally satiated. Hadn’t Darla taught him that?

He shuddered, shook her off. Darla. His lover, his teacher, his goddess. His bitch. He clenched his teeth at the thought of those cold, blue eyes, of her chilled flesh. How she’d called to him, to that darkness that rode just under his skin.

"Angel you don’t look so.... Well, it’s a good thing that you heal fast," Cordy said. She slid her arm around his waist and took some of his weight.

"Yeah," he said, collapsing against her shoulder. "It’s also a good thing you found me in time."

She smelled clean, like shampoo and make-up. But underneath it was the musk of adrenaline and arousal that even her perfume couldn’t hide. She squeezed his side gently. "We weren’t going to let anything happen to you."

Was it his imagination, or did her hand seem to linger a little longer than usual?

"No," Wesley said.

"Well, I mean, beyond the slavery and the severe beatings and stuff." Typical Cordelia. Stating the truth in the starkest possible way.

He’d always admired that trait in her, as much for the honesty as the pain she wielded with it.

She shot Wes a proud look. "Wesley came up with the key!"

"But Cordelia came up with the key to the key! In a clinch moment."

"You both did great," he said. "And I think we did a good thing here tonight."

He thought about Trepkos, facing him in the ring. The dishonorable fight that Angel had tried so hard to infuse with honor. So much for honor, since all it had earned him was a hole in the gut and a couple of broken knuckles.

"Yes. We set the captives free," Wesley said, and in his voice, the honor sounded effortless.

All those years of working for it, of reshaping himself, and now Angel was friends with a man who lived it without thinking about it. Life sucked, he thought, as his knuckles throbbed.

"Well, actually, didn’t we set a bunch of demons free?" Cordy asked.

Angel blinked. It would have been funny if she hadn't been right.

"Oh. Well," Wes said. "Technically, yes."

"Oops," Cordelia said. "Maybe that wasn't a such a good idea." She glanced at Angel, her pretty forehead wrinkled into a muddle of lines.

"They're, uh, not bad as demons go. Pretty good, all in all," he said, looking for the silver lining. The wound in his side burned, sending a hot finger of pain deep into his lungs. He coughed, breath wheezing.

Wes shifted, taking the pressure off his ribs. "Probably best not to think about setting demons loose on an unsuspecting Los Angeles. Except to say, maybe they learned their lesson while imprisoned."

"Probably best to not to think about the fact that we might have to kill them later," Angel said. "But, hey, at least they’re free, now. That’s something, right?"

"Hope springs eternal," Cordelia said, voice dry. She nodded down the block. "Good, there's the car. Let's get Angel home before his guts fall out on the pavement."

From down the block Angel heard a shout, then laughter, as the captives tasted freedom. It had been intoxicating to take that first gulp of fresh air, drink in the night, after days of being held in the damp darkness. "Home sounds really good."

"So does a shower," Cordelia said.

"You just took one." Wes leaned forward and unlocked the car door.

"Not for me, for him." She jerked her head toward Angel.

Angel could smell himself, so he knew it must be bad. He wrestled free and started around the car toward the driver's seat. Two steps in and his knees gave way.

Wes and Cordy caught him before he hit the ground. "Typical," Cordy said. "Thinks he has to do everything on his own."

The world twirled and he found himself in the front seat. Cordy buckled him in, her breasts brushing his forearm. He licked his lips, deliberately looking away from that shadowed valley until she was done.

As they drove, Angel kept his eyes closed, but his skin felt stretched too tight, and even his eyelids couldn’t block the light. When the car stopped he saw they'd already made it back to the office.

"I'm fine," he said, pushing himself up and blinking hard. "'s'okay. You guys go home."

But they were already out of the car, pulling him out, and helping him up the walk. "--got to call Aphrodesia," Cordy was saying. "I'm supposed to meet her at Rage in half an hour." Her hands were rough, her voice high with excitement, as they hurried him through the lobby and into the elevator.

"Well, go on," Angel said, craving silence, needing the time alone to calm himself down. "Really, I'm fine."

She shot him a look then turned back to Wes. "So if you can get him somewhere in the vicinity of the shower, I'll call and let her know I'll meet her later."

Wes steered Angel toward the bathroom. He heard Cordy's quick, light footsteps, then the click of the phone as she dialed. "Yeah, hey, it's me. Look I'll just meet you there --"

He blocked out the rest of her conversation and collapsed on the commode, watching intently as Wes reached into the tub to turn on the shower. "Thanks for saving me," he said.

Wes flushed. "Actually, Cordelia was the one who figured it out." He tested the water temperature then dried his hands on the hand towel hanging next to the sink.

"I'm sure you were part of it." Angel leaned down and started unlacing his boots. "You are a part of it, Wes," he said. He glanced up, found Wes staring at the towel rack over Angel’s head. The pulse in Wes's neck vibrated the flesh. Angel stared at it, mesmerized.

Wes glanced down and caught him staring.

Angel blinked, then went back to unlacing his boots. He forced his breath to find its own rhythm, to let go of Wes's. It was an old habit. The hunter becoming one with the prey.

Wes stood, stiff and uncomfortable. "Thanks. Well. I'll just, er, leave you to your shower. Let me know if you need anything."

He hadn't meant to embarrass him. Or freak him out. Unfortunately it looked like he'd done both. "All right," Angel said, hauling himself to his feet. His knuckles sang with pain as he deliberately scraped them on the corner of the tub stall. Honor, he reminded himself. Honor.

The door latched behind Wes and he stripped off his t-shirt and pants, stood naked in the billowing steam.

Alone for the first time in days. He took a couple of deep breaths, trying to wash away the caffeine-like rush of adrenaline that still tangled his neurons.

The shower was hot, soothing. The water washed off the blood, the stink of death. The shampoo smelled like a revelation after the sweat and fear of the Ring. He scrubbed his head twice, then rinsed, absorbing heat into his sore body.

Finally he turned off the taps and reached for a towel. He hated to get out, but Cordelia had a date, and she wouldn't go until she patched him up. So he ran another towel over his hair and left it draped over his head like a boxer coming off of the ropes.

Angel could hear voices coming from the kitchen as he shuffled to the bedroom for some clothes, drying his hair on the way. The movement pulled the skin on his shoulder, making him wince and instinctively lower his arm. His entire body throbbed, even after the shower, and all he wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep for about two days.

The bedroom door was halfway open, and he pushed through only to find himself stumbling to a halt.

Cordelia stood next to the bed, back to him, her hand on the zipper of her dress. White satin, embroidered with flowers, a fabric as beautiful and intricately designed as any worn by the women of his day. He hadn’t noticed it until now.

Cordelia, the crass, sometimes shallow child whose sole job in life was to be a pain in his ass, shone like a candle flame in the warm, gold light from the bedside lamp.

He actually felt his pupils dilate, his nostrils flare. The musk was stronger, undeniable. The earthy-floral sweat under her arms, the honey-green tang between her legs. Wrapped in that column of white satin she became something else entirely.

She slowly slid the zipper down and the dress peeled open to reveal a strapless, ivory-colored lace bustier. She palmed the dress open and stepped out of it, balancing one hand on his bed. Then she picked it up and smoothed it onto the bed like she was touching a lover, leaving her clad only in the long-line bra and an ivory-colored lace thong.

His teeth clicked together, his hands clenched.

She reached up and undid her hair. For one, silent, pure moment, she was a painting. Her arms, suspended in a graceful arc, her head, tilted on the flower stem of her neck.

After the pulse-beat burst of bare-fisted fighting, after the rush of adrenaline that left him teetering on the edge of control, this was the last puzzle piece, clicking into place.

Then her hands dropped and her hair fell in a curly cascade, over her shoulders and back. She stood, for a moment, head bowed, lost in thought.

He breathed, eyes, nose, skin taking her in.

Then she sighed and turned her head and he backed out of the room, feeling like a voyeur, like he'd just infringed on a very feminine, very private moment.

"Angel."

He jumped, turned guiltily. "Wes. I was, uh--"

Wes arched an eyebrow. "She was going to change clothes." He studied Angel's face, then glanced at the half-open door. "Didn't want to mess up the dress. Something about returning it?" His words were nonchalant. His eyes anything but. "I called for pizza. I hope that's all right with you."

Not really, Angel thought. Whatever soothing the shower had done for him, now he was revving all over again. "I thought Cordelia was going out with Aphrodesia," he said, to distract them both. It was tempting to crawl back into the bathroom, to pretend he hadn't seen her, that private core.

To pretend he didn’t want to violate it, to make it his.

Wes looked *this close* to saying something. "She’s meeting her a bit later," was all he said, though.

The door swung open and Cordelia stood there in a pair of painted-on purple pants and a halter top that showed more than it covered. "What are you guys doing?" she asked, shooting them dirty looks. "Eavesdropping?"

Wes snorted. "Technically, for it to be eavesdropping, you'd have to be talking to--"

She huffed and brushed past them. "Whatever. Go sit on the bed," she commanded Angel. "I'll be back with the bandages and stuff. Wes, did you get the pizza?"

Wes shot him a shrewd, warning look then followed her down the hall. "Yes, and all the pineapple is on your half. Why you insist upon...."

Angel let their argument fade out as he shrugged the towel off and pulled on a pair of gray, knit pajama bottoms.

If he listened hard enough he could hear them chattering. He dropped the towels to the floor and sat down hard on the edge of the bed.

He’d been here before. It was nothing new. Just let it go, just breathe, he thought, as he brushed his hands over his face.

The familiar mattress gave under his weight, and he dropped back, saying, "I'll just lie here for a minute."

Bare fists, peek-a-boo lace. If he hadn’t been starved of everything but the fight, none of this would have bothered him. If he had some food, everything would be okay.

As he slipped under, the last thing he saw was Cordelia’s dress, hanging on the closet door.

***

Dreams flashed.

Music played, a reel. The room was smoky from the oil lamps and dusky with the scent of heavily perfumed sweat. He drew her into a dance, her white, embroidered dress swinging in wide arcs, her dark hair upswept into a fetching tangle of curls.

"You are more beautiful than the sun is bright," he said, working every line he knew to get her to come back to the carriage with him, to let him slide his hands under her skirt and--

Bury his face in Darla's breasts, drinking from the beaded line of blood, like red pearls on her pristine throat. Her hands on the back of his head, pulling him down, welcoming him to her. "I'll show you worlds you've never seen, darling boy--"

Flash of the Ring, of the faces hungry for death.

"I'll kill you quick," Trepkos said.

"Killing blow! Killing blow!"

Sharp, burning pain in his side as Trepkos thrust the staff--

"Angel!"

Angel jerked awake, panting, sweating. "I'm all right!" The room still felt smoky, swirly. "All right," he said again, to reassure himself.

Cordy slid one arm under his shoulders and eased him back on the pillows. "Shh, it's okay," she said in a surprisingly soft voice. Her hair rained down on his bare skin, scented with sweet sweat and a perfume that reminded him of the dance.

He breathed, taking her in. "I'm all right," he repeated, searching for the certainty of her eyes.

She smiled and finished taping down the bandage on his shoulder. "Sure ya are." She reached over to a plate on the bedside table and took a whopping bite of pizza, chewing while she opened another paper-wrapped piece of gauze. "'Cause you awways get run fru wit shtakes," she said, mouth full.

Despite the fact that her display was totally disgusting, his stomach growled. "I'm starving."

Her tan hands made quick work of the bandages over the wound from the staff. Then she handed him a steaming mug.

The smell hit him, rich, overwhelming, and he pounced on it, inhaling the entire thing in a few gulps.

Cordy picked a piece of pineapple off her pizza and arched an eyebrow at him. "More?"

Angel nodded and she handed him another mug. He felt like he could eat an entire room full of people. He swallowed greedily, nearly overcome by the way the taste lingered, long and sweet.

It hit him, then. "This is human."

She nodded. "Don't worry. Not enough to send you to Happyville. Just enough to get your strength back up. You were pretty whacked." She ate more of what looked like the nastiest pizza on the planet. A happy-food moan purred in the back of her throat.

"What is that stuff?" he asked, licking hot-sticky blood off his lips. Trying not to get too caught up in the sexy little sound.

Cordy swallowed this time before she answered. "Hawaiian pizza." She cocked her head, waiting for him to respond. "Ham and pineapple? I got them to add spinach for the greens. Can never have too much iron, but, then, I guess you know that."

With that, she took the empty mug from him and replaced it with another full one.

Wes walked in, plate in one hand, napkin in another. He settled onto the end of the bed. "Feeling better?" He took a small bite and chewed politely.

"I was, till Cordy brought ham and pineapple in here." Angel guzzled, loving the velvety rich feel of the blood on his throat, in his belly. Not wanting to lose any, he ran his finger around the inside of the mug and collected the leftovers on his finger.

Wes arched a brow. "Yes it is rather disgusting, isn't it?"

Angel looked down at his bloody finger, then up at Wes's prissy gaze. Busted. But he still licked it off his finger. Just more discreetly than he would have before. "Fruit on pizza," Angel said, feeling lightheaded, almost drunk. "It's just wrong."

"Oh, like you'd know." Cordy took the empty mug from him and set it on the bedside table. "I have one more mug here. You want it?"

The warm, heady smell filled his head. He closed his eyes and drew it in. Felt the electricity spark in his cells, felt his body respond to the food it was built for. "Yeah." But any more and he'd be pushing temptation to its farthest edge. "But, no, thanks. You should probably take whatever's left and put it somewhere safe."

"Cool," Cordy said. She finished her piece and reached for Wes's napkin. "You mind? Mine's kinda greasy."

Wes shrugged and handed it over.

"Thanks." She blotted her lips and then stood. "Okay, Aphrodesia's waiting for me." She twirled, flashing bare back, long hair and a perfect ass, then held out her hands. "Look okay?"

"You look great," Wes said. "Perfect."

Angel grabbed her hand. "You meeting any guys?" Those protective urges spiked, the ones that had him asking after dates even before Wilson Christopher got hold of her.

She gave him her patented Queen C look. "And if I am?"

He pinned her with his gaze. "Be careful."

Her fingers twined with his then trailed away leaving tickling streamers of fire.

He wondered, then, what this date with Aphrodesia was really for. A convenient excuse to pick someone up? An easy way to get rid of some of the tension that had been howling around her since they got back?

"Yeah, Dad. I know. No drinking, no smoking, and, most important, no demon impregnation. We're good." From the door she called over her shoulder, "I'll be careful, I promise."

Then her forehead wrinkled. "Oh!" She dashed back and picked up the last mug. "Better get rid of this, huh? Wouldn’t want you going all animal on us."

Then she was gone, and the only things left behind were the remains of her dinner and his, and her perfume, like flowers and musk.

"Just how much did you see, earlier?" Wes asked, in a friendly voice.

"More than I should have," he said, without thinking. Then, shocked to have been caught in the trap, he cut his eyes at Wes.

Anger flared on Wes's face. "Angel, you shouldn't cross those lines. Cordelia's a beautiful girl. If you--"

Angel's fists clenched and a primal heat raged through him. The higher part of his brain told him it was just the fight lingering in his belly. The challenge Wes presented -- two strong men fighting over a woman -- was older than even he was. So he deliberately dropped his voice to the soothing range. "It’s okay, Wes. I only saw enough to realize how much she means to me. As a friend."

But the flash of her shoulder, the dip of her waist, were tangled in his memories, now, and he couldn’t get rid of them. Even if he wanted to.

And they both knew it.

Even so, the anger in Wes’s eyes dimmed. "All right, then." He lay the pizza down on the plate and wiped his mouth with the wadded napkin Cordy had left behind. "I'll be going, then, if you don't need anything else?"

Angel shook his head. "No, I'm good. Thanks, Wes. And thanks for watching out for her."

Wes shrugged on his jacket, not meeting Angel’s eyes. "Yes, well. She's special."

"Both of you are." And that was all he was going to say on the subject, considering he’d just embarrassed both of them again. What was up with him tonight? "Thanks. It's good to be home."

"Good night, Angel." Wes collected his dishes and started out the door. From the hall he glanced over his shoulder. "Don't feel like you have to come up tomorrow. I'm sure you'll need time to recuperate."

"Yeah. I'll see you when I see you. Unless Cordelia has a vision." He felt the steel in his voice, saw it reflected in the way Wes took an instinctive step back. "Then call me. Don't try to handle it yourselves. You've been through enough."

Wes nodded, waved over his shoulder, and left. There was a clink as he set the plate on the counter, then footfalls as he climbed the stairs. Far above, the alarm code beeped as he set it and then, finally, everything was silent.

Angel stared at the ceiling, smelling pizza and blood, still hearing their voices. Clicking off the light, he turned on his side, realizing Cordelia had left her dress on his closet door. It hung like a ghost, pale, glimmering white, and her scent comforted him as he drifted away.

***

Somewhere in the dim light he heard voices. He strained his ears, unable to understand the words, but it didn't seem to matter. Someone wailed, weeping; the chant of Catholic hymns wove around him. Heartbeats dopplered in and out of range, blood whooshing in time with the rhythmic thump.

It was dark; he was dreaming. Bright, strange flashes. Like the dreams conjured by a drunken binge. His stomach clenched, burning. He twisted, looking for comfort, and found only hard walls, a harder bed. Then he was drifting again....

He felt her. Felt her pull, like the tides. No name, no face, just...her.

And then his hands were breaking through wood as if it were paper, digging through dirt. It was in his mouth, his nose, and yet he had no fear of suffocation. He felt strong, stronger than he ever had.

Air hit his skin and he rose, birthed by the dirt. Her hands grasped his and her cool scent guided him up like a beacon.

"Darling boy," she said.

He blinked, eyes adjusting to the night that was as bright as day. She stood in front of him in a dress like white moonlight, embroidered with night-blooming jasmine.

She smiled, a flash-fire, and stroked his face.

Behind them came a voice, and to his new ears it sounded tinny, thin. Not like hers, so rich and dark. Layered with nuance, with secrets.

He turned.

"You know what to do," she said.

The hunger was on him, open-mouthed and screaming. He followed its lead, shocked by its power. No grace in the kill, no skill. Just the man’s throat, opening...opening.... And the blood....

He let the man fall to the earth he'd just come out of and looked to her for approval, needing her to tell him he'd done right. That this new lust, this need to feed, to kill, wasn't wrong.

"Darling boy," she said again, and held out her arms.

He fell into the welcome of her smile, put his head on the pillow of her breasts. "Cordelia."

Angel jerked awake, panting. The scent of blood rose and his hands clenched the bedclothes until he noticed the mugs next to the bed. Three of them, empty, the blood in the bottom dried into a dark crust.

Rising slowly, he stacked them on the plate Cordy had left behind, then picked up the discarded napkins and gauze packs and shuffled to the kitchen. The light over the reading chair was on and he squinted at the clock on the table next to it. The hands read four, but he had no idea whether that meant morning or afternoon.

He dropped the dirty dishes in the sink and went to the phone. Upstairs the extension rang once, twice, three times. He hung up. Must be four in the morning, then.

His hand ruffled his hair, scratched his chest. The dream -- what had he seen? Whatever it was, it left him hungry, itchy.

Cordelia had emptied the mug in the sink and left it on the counter. Blood, sweet, drying in the cool air-- He stared at the sink. It smelled so good and he was so hungry --

He stepped back, out of the kitchen. "No. Just go back to bed." It would be too easy to get back into the habit of drinking human. Too easy to cross that line, and then the one after, and the one after that. "Too bad they don't give AA chips to vampires," he muttered.

The bathroom light flickered on and he stood at the sink, staring into the mirror. He put his hand up, touched the glass. Breathed.

Nothing. He was an empty shell, filled by the blood of humans or animals. Nothing but a parasite. A parasite who fed on the living.

Like Doyle, Cordelia. Like Wesley.

He reached for his toothbrush and stroked on a dab of toothpaste. "This is nothing new," he said, as he started brushing. He'd thought it all before, in those years after he got the soul. He knew every twist and turn of this maze, knew how to torture himself in the most exquisite ways.

Shame was an easy weapon to wield and it didn't take much of a blow to hurt him.

He spat into the sink and rinsed his mouth, then dried with the towel. From the bright lights of the bathroom, the dark bedroom called, inviting, like the earth -- and why was he thinking about that? Must have been the cell, the hunger he'd felt after going without food for so many days.

Cordelia’s bare shoulder flashed in his mind. The pulse at Wesley’s throat, throbbing under that perfect film of skin. They called to his primal urges, saying: bury yourself deep, open your mouth and scream, slice their flesh with knife-sharp teeth and eat, eat....

Angel crawled under the coverlet and put his head on the pillow. Lay there, staring up at the ceiling, wondering what had brought on this old feeling.

The guilt, the hunger.

His side throbbed as it healed, the skin itching. He scratched lazily, already floating, already falling.

***

The thing about fucking his sire was that she was impossible to damage. Angel could do anything to her -- things he'd only dreamed of before the change -- and she not only let him, she *wanted* it.

Only now she was doing it to him. Cordelia turned him face down and tied his wrists to the bedpost. Her laugh was warm and husky. "Lie still," she said. "No matter what."

He laughed, senses flaring like the flame in the oil lamp, and let her lead the way.

Pleasure, pain. The knife edge. She took him up, held him there, quivering, and finally took him over.

He lay, panting against the sheets, feeling the wet stain spread beneath him. She pulled his wrists free and, with strong, cold hands, flipped him. "My turn," she said.

His fingers in her hair, drawing away the pins. It was long, nearly to her waist, and when she bent forward and kissed him, it rained down around them like a curtain.

The kiss spun out, nothing but lips, tongues, biting teeth. She was cool and wet like morning grass, and she churned against his hips.

Angel stroked her face, lay her on her back and kissed her. Her body was new, thrilling. No matter how many times he touched her, she was undiscovered country. The places she'd promised to take him lay in the unmapped territories of her own body.

Beneath his hands her breasts felt like wonder, itself. He palmed her and she shivered. Then he trailed the tip of his finger from the top of her breast, over one nipple, down her belly.

He followed, letting her draw him down, draw him in.

The same way she'd drawn him out of the ground.

She was his teacher, his guide. His beacon --

He fought through the haze to consciousness, body zinging, blood pumping between his legs. "What the hell?" His watch was on the bedside table and he fumbled with it. Found the glowing face. Five minutes till six.

The whole not-sleeping thing was starting to make him nuts. Not to mention the raging hard-on that pounded in time to his heavy breathing. Angel ran his hands over his face and pushed himself out of the bed.

Maybe eating would help. Still groggy, Angel went to the fridge and grabbed the first container of blood he saw. Didn't bother to warm it, just drank. After three gulps, he stopped, mid-swallow, and glanced down at the side of the carton. The label read, "Blood Assurance, AB+."

"Crap." But he went ahead and finished it, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I thought I told her to get rid of this stuff."

Then he realized it had only been a few hours since she left. Since she'd gone out with her friends. To meet someone? Something twisted in his gut and had him dialing the phone.

After three rings he started to get tense. After eleven, he hung up, and instead of unraveling, that kink in his gut twisted tighter.

Some part of him registered that it was nearly dawn. A stupid time of day for a vampire to go for a drive. But he couldn't stop himself. He dressed haphazardly, yanking on a shirt, half-buttoning his pants, stepping into his unlaced boots.

The keys were in his hand. And then he was in his car, driving toward the deadly sunrise. His teeth itched and his eyes burned. He hit the gas, called forward by something he didn't understand.

Visions of her body, golden and warm, taunted him. The look she'd tossed over her shoulder, knowing and flirtatious. How she'd trailed fire over his hand with her fingers.

He knew where that fire led, knew the danger.

What if she was tangling the sheets with someone like Wilson Christopher? What if, even now -- His hands clenched on the wheel and he pressed the gas pedal down as far as it would go.

When Angel parked behind Cordelia's apartment it was already nearly too light to get out of the car. He made the dash across the parking lot with his coat over his head.

Her door was in shadows. Around him a rage of heartbeats, a cacophany of breaths. The quiet thump-thump he’d learned to take comfort in now made him uncomfortably alert. "Dennis. Open the door. Now."

It swung open silently and Angel went through. He stood in the living room, hands clenched. Tracked her by the too-high heels she'd tumbled next to the couch, the little halter pooled on the floor in the hall. Her pants, in a messy heap on the bathroom tile.

Then he was at her bedroom door. It stood half-open, blocking his view of the bed. He went through, fist cocked and ready to fire.

And found her sprawled, face down on the bed. Alone.

The flowered top sheet draped her hips, showing the thinnest sliver of tattoo. Her back was bare, arms spread wide, like a child's.

Her hair covered everything: her face, her back, the tops of her arms. It was like a mink stole, carelessly flung. He moved forward, caught by the flash of a dream. Of her bending over him, that hair curtaining them in.

Blood hummed through him, driving the hunger, the need.

Then she stirred and he realized what he was doing.

Brought up short by the leash of his conscience, he turned to leave. Only to feel the hem of his coat catch on her bedside table. Only to hear the sound of something small and glass hit the floor.

Frozen in place, he waited, listening.

Heard her stir, felt her pulse leap, then calm. "Angel?"

He nodded.

"What are you doing here?"

He shrugged.

The covers rustled. "What time is it?"

"Early." He couldn’t turn, couldn’t look at her.

"You okay?"

"Yeah."

He heard her get out of the bed, heard the rustle of fabric. Then felt her heat like a spotlight as she padded around to face him.

The satin robe she wore outlined her breasts, her nipples soft, as sleepy as she. His eyes locked on the fullness, the mystery of what the shiny cloth contained.

"You're drunk."

He shook his head. "No."

"The blood. Did you drink more?"

His gaze stroked her hair, her hands, her lips.

"Angel!"

"Yeah." He finally met her eyes. "Yeah, I drank more."

"You’re so not okay." Light filtered through the curtains and she walked to the window and twitched them shut.

The flare of light on her skin, the dim-focus of a dream, of her calling him.... He shadowed her, risking sunburn and when she turned, she was in his arms.

"Angel?" she squeaked.

Engulfed in the darkness, overtaken by the hunger, he kissed her.

She jerked back, and her fingers pressed her lips. "Stop it," she said, looking confused. "What's wrong with you?"

His hands clenched on her arms and he stood, pulled tight, staring down at her. The temperature in the room dropped as Dennis responded to her fear. "I -- I don't know."

Angel stepped back, shaking his head. "It was...the blood. The fight. The blood," he said again. It was more than that, something deeper, but he couldn't find it, didn't know --

"Remind me not to get human for you again." She wrapped her arms around her waist. "Enough with the chill factor, Dennis. We're good."

Warmth began leaching back into the room and for the first time Angel smelled the strong scent of alcohol. And under it, something darker, more primal. That green tang, blooming. "Were you drinking?" His nostrils flared and he searched for scents that didn't belong there. Someone else's hands, someone else's mouth --

She cocked her head defiantly. "It was a party, Angel. Of course I was drinking."

He could see it, then, the leftover flush on her skin, and in the dim recesses of his mind he remembered what it felt like. Going to bed drunk, waking up buzzed. Not finding the hangover until late in the day, when the drinking started again.

Flash of a girl in a white dress, laughing up at him as they danced --

Flash of a woman in a white dress, beckoning --

Flash of Cordelia's eyes, dark and shocked, as he yanked her to him. Young, she was so young, like he'd been. Seen so much of the world already, Angel thought, as their lips met, as their teeth clicked.

Angel wrapped his hands around her head and let the thrust of his tongue take them both under. She was just sober enough to resist, just drunk enough to respond.

And then she pulled back. "This is stupid," she said. "And dangerous." But under the robe her nipples were sharp points.

His nostrils flared. That primal scent had changed, intensified. She'd gone dancing, gotten drunk, taken the heat of the fight and forced it into something manageable.

Only he knew it wasn't manageable at all.

"We can’t do this," she said. Her heart thundered in her chest and she swallowed with an audible click. But her fingers fluttered against him. "Buffy," she said, in an urgent whisper. "The curse." Fear flashed in her eyes. Fear and desire.

One word would turn it either way. One wrong word and they'd be finished before they started.

But one right word....

He thought of Cordelia, of her mouth full of pizza, of her face pulled into the most unflattering lines possible, of every stinging word she’d ever flung at him. "Yeah." His nerve endings were on fire. He’d say anything to get her into bed with him. "Don’t worry. You won’t bliss me out."

Her eyes widened, heated. He remembered that feeling, the need to fight rising up, to defend his rights, even when there was no real threat. It was the alcohol talking. Alcohol and youth.

So much of himself in this girl. So much....

"You know I'll kill you," she said, in an icy voice.

The sharp taunt was delivered like a killing blow. Her frigid tone unnerved him, blurred the line between dream, memory and moment. "Say it," he said, getting lost in those shadows.

"Say what?" she asked, sounding confused, and still a little huffy.

He dipped closer, pressing his lips to the shell of her ear. "Darling boy," he whispered.

She snorted. "Geez. Mommy issues much?"

He clenched her shoulders, tight. "Cordelia."

She went still, heart thumping in her chest. In the shadows he could see a light come on in her eyes, controlling, manipulative, a little bit mean.

His cock tightened. "Say it," he commanded.

She tugged his mouth to hers and her lips moved against his. "Darling boy," she said, in a voice that was so much like Darla’s it undid him completely.

He dropped to his knees in front of her. Buried his face in her breasts. Let the sense memory take him back to that night. The heat of the fight. The crunch of bone against bone as he fought, just for the love of it.

Darla, in the corner, always watching, that half-smile on her face. Knowing, cool, calculating.

A mystery that drew him, drunk, out of the pub and into the forever night.

His fingers slid under the lapels of Cordelia’s robe, trailing slowly over her warm skin. She was like a water bottle filled to the brim with steam.

He pushed her back and she bounced on the mattress, spread out before him, the soft robe like a puddle around her. The fall of her hair spread dark and thick on the pink flowered sheets.

He crawled up her and buried his face in her hair.

Disgusting, loud Cordelia, the biggest pain in his ass.

He undid the robe and spread it wide, then dipped his head and bit her belly, hard enough to have her arching off the bed.

She was breathing hard already, nearly quivering beneath him. His brain short-circuited.

He was left with nothing more than her suede-soft skin and the flutter of her rib cage. Starving, he slid down her body. Driven, he yanked the robe off and out from under her then balled it and threw it to the floor. She moaned, low in her throat, and buried her hands in his hair.

Angel jerked her toward him, mouth opening in anticipation. Teeth on her throat, tongue against her skin. The rasp of flesh on flesh, the taste of her.

She was lithe, eager, unschooled. Not a virgin, like Buffy, or a whore, like Darla. The pulse of her hips spoke of need and hunger that came with some experience, not of deliberate titillation.

But that was the effect. Every sense in his body lit and the room filled with light, with the smoke of a thousand oil lamps. "You're the brightest sun," he whispered against her collarbone.

Then he slid down, fingers and lips painting her like a canvas. Over her breasts, down her belly, past the red mark he'd left with his teeth.

Her body was dewed like the grass after the rain. The sweet odor of alcohol spun his head, seeped from her pores.

"Angel," she said, and when he glanced up, her hands were clutching the sheets, her body rigid, waiting. The bracelets on her arm had worked their way up nearly to her elbow and the skin there was vibrating, white with tension.

He grabbed her knees and pulled her closer, then fell forward, into her body.

The bed moved, trembled, with the force of her response, and then his mind shimmered and they were on a carriage that shook as the horses drove. He heard their hooves on the cobblestone, heard the voice of the driver. But inside there was nothing but their breath, nothing but lamp-lit shadows.

Angel was on his knees in front of her, his dream girl's white dress pushed up to expose an indecent, intoxicating amount of thigh. "So beautiful," he whispered, stroking her fair skin. "Like the roses in my mother's garden. Like the moon on a starless night."

She moaned and he kissed her knee. The skin quivered, there, and the sound she made, a gasp, quickly swallowed, sent his head spinning. So innocent, he thought, hungering for it. For her lush lips, for the breasts, swelling above the dress, for that tight, tight body, moving beneath him.

For her virgin's blood, spilled on the white satin like one of the flowers that danced up the fabric.

Then he blinked and it was Cordelia, rocking beneath him, face screwed into a look of fierce pleasure.

Angel flipped her, climbed her body, spread her hands wide. "Grab the edges of the bed," he said, his voice rough.

She made a gasp, quickly swallowed.

His head spun. "Lie still, no matter what."

She gritted her teeth and shut her eyes. The nod was short, sharp. Her skin flushed.

He trailed his hands down her back, down the juts of her shoulder blades, across the pearls of her spine. Got lost in the tattoo. A sun, its colors swirling, brighter than anything he saw at night. He traced it, spun in it, let the throb of blood in his veins take him deeper into the slightly scaled skin, the ink-roughened patch.

Beneath him Cordelia writhed, clenched the mattress. Her forehead pressed into the sheets, body trembling.

"I saw you," he said, words spilling out like a boy at confession. "Last night. The dress."

She didn't say anything but he could see from the chill bumps rising on her arms that she heard.

"You unzipped it." He trailed his fingers down her back, following the zipper's trail. "The fabric split open and I saw your back, your waist." He skimmed her ribs, tickling her and she jerked, gasped.

"You see me all the time," she said, around gritted teeth.

"Not like that," he said, running his mouth over her lowest ribs, into the small of her back. The tattoo exploded in a swirl of color. The closer he got, the more lost in her he became.

She groaned, arching against his mouth.

"Stop moving." He pressed her into the mattress with the flat of his hand. Pressed her hard. Felt her give beneath him.

And then he stepped back, started stripping off his coat. She whimpered and to console them both he ran a finger over her heel, down her foot.

The coat hit the floor. His shirt followed.

Cordelia turned her head, her eyes hot and still hazed with alcohol. Her hair spread around her like a storm cloud, tendrils caught on the edge of her lips.

The site of her, beckoning eyes, slim body, woman’s lush ass, plugged into that primal place in his brain and suddenly he couldn’t get his clothes off fast enough.

When his chest hit her back, they gasped.

"Cold," she said, writhing against him.

"Warm," he echoed, closing his eyes, body straining to feel every twist, every curve of her.

It was sex, pure and simple.

But it was so much more.

Laid over their friendship was a template. Something he’d had in him before he was turned. Something the vampire nature capitalized on, bastardized, turned into a macabre parody of humanity.

The fight. The women. The blood.

He wrapped his hands around her hips and angled her up. Nudged her knees apart.

She held onto the covers, bit the sheets. Her eyes closed, tight.

He took a long breath as he slid into her. It was like falling into a down comforter, the softest, the warmest thing imaginable.

There was no danger of turning, of perfect happiness. Only this. Only two bodies seeking comfort, seeking release.

It was a goddamn lie and he knew it. But with the fight and the blood raging in him, he just didn't care.

Cordelia pressed her amazing ass against him. "Deeper," she said. "Harder."

He pulled out, slid in, as far as he could go.

"Deeper," she said again. "Harder!"

He slapped his hips against hers and her lips curled into a smile.

"Good boy," she said. "Darling boy."

His hands spasmed, the words firing that core in his brain. The part of him that chased women into dark alleys, that let them do whatever they wanted to him, just for the promise of showing him the world.

Angel yanked her back, pulled her hips off the bed, and pounded into her.

The breath left her body in grunts, like an animal. Her teeth bared. "More," she said. "Harder."

He could break her. God, so easy. She wasn’t Darla, wasn’t indestructible.

But she was so beautifully resilient. Sunnydale survivor. Bearer of visions. The more the world heaped on her, the stronger she got.

He reared back, took her by the back of the neck, and let his hips slow to a deep, hard rocking motion that had his eyes glazing.

Good, it was so good. Why hadn’t they done this before? Why had they waited so long --

Then she moved, her hand disappearing beneath her hips, and Angel felt her fingers press against her opening. Where they were merged.

Her hand moved, rhythmically between her legs, tugging the soft flesh, beating against him as he beat into her.

She was getting herself off. God, he had to watch.

Angel pulled out, flipped her fast, and spread her legs. "Do it now," he said, and his voice shattered the air.

Her hand slipped between them and he watched as she got lost in her rhythm. She arched against him, whimpering, asking for more.

Then she opened her eyes and smiled at him, a knowing smile.

Caught between her legs, caught in the snare of her eyes, he captured her hips and rocked into her, the same steady rhythm as her hand.

"Breathe into it," Angel said. "All the way down." His fingers traced her nipples, followed the ladder of her ribs to her waist.

She took a breath, a little hitch, and cried out. He could almost see it expand under her skin, see the breath increasing the pressure, the pleasure.

"More," Angel said. "Deeper."

Angelus got off on erotic asphyxiation -- he loved watching girls go up with their hands around his throat. He loved, more, watching their eyes go vague and glassy as he crushed their windpipe like bone china.

Angel got off on it, too. But not for the violence. For the fact that the air meant nothing to him, and so much to her. For that mysterious tripswitch that lived deep in her lungs. The air was a lover between them, sliding into her like he did, finding places he never could. Filling her, making her eyes spark and flash.

She pushed it out, drew it in, and with each breath he felt her tighten around him.

"That’s it." Angel pushed the hair off her face, twisted it around his hands.

She worked her hand between them, the rhythm increasing like drums off in the distance. Angel sped up, watching as her eyes narrowed, her mouth opened.

Her breath came in pants, God, she was so tight, so hot --

"That’s it," he said again, and he pressed deep. Had to touch her, had to be there when she --

His hand dropped between them, tangled with hers. She drew in one more breath and at the top, at the pinnacle, at that moment when her lungs expanded....

So did she.

Her body bucked beneath him. Watching her come was like watching a volcano erupt.

The fist-clench feeling of her, shuddering around him, the sound of her unintelligible cries shot a lightning bolt through him.

His body tightened, focused on one point at the base of his spine. And then Angel went off, mind scrambling, sight gone. Somewhere he knew he was shooting into her, could feel it pouring out of him. But it was more than that.

It drained him completely.

Angel fell on her, sucking in air, trembling. Rooted into her neck, snuffling like a lost child looking for home.

All that guided him was her body, the sound of her breath.

Mother, lover, savior.

Beacon.

Her hand feathered through his hair, stroking gently. Her heart beat loud and steady. "Angel," she said, voice rusty, surprised.

Angel’s vision cleared and he blinked, taking in the crook of her neck, the curve of her jaw. He felt his gums tighten and closed his eyes again. Let himself imagine, just for a moment, what it would be like to finish this the way he wanted to.

Then she shifted, slid him off of her and sat up, brushing her hair off her face. Angel lay by her side, watching as she regained equilibrium.

"Bathroom," she said, and she shuffled off down the hall.

He heard water run, saw the light go on, illuminating a golden triangle on the floor. Then the shower curtain squeaked and the taps flared.

God, a shower. That sounded so good. Angel was up, out of the bed, and in the bathroom before he finished the thought.

She glanced over her shoulder, smiling. Her hand raised, beckoning, and he followed her into the steam.

The water was hot, just how he liked it, and it wet her down, taking her hair from full and curly to sleek, wet, in seconds. Her body glistened, her chest still flushed from orgasm.

He put his hands on her waist and stepped into her space, so the water hit them both. She felt good, slick, warm in his arms, and he couldn’t stop touching her.

Her waist, so small, just above the flare of her hips. Her heavy, low-slung ass, filling his palms.

She moaned and pressed her breasts against him, the nipples hard again.

When he looked into her face he saw hunger, need. So young, so ready.

It was easy to pick her up, press her to the wall. Easy to get himself ready for her, with one or two hard strokes of his hand.

Her ankles looped around his back and her head hit the tiles. The arch of her throat drew him in, like the darkness between her legs. He buried his face in her neck as he buried himself in her.

She was sopping wet, from the shower, from earlier. And hot again, flushed. Her hands clenched on his shoulders, making talons against his skin.

The pain flared when her hips hit the wound in his side. It all added up, pushing him toward that thin, red line of pleasure and pain.

His teeth clicked together and he bore down on her, pinning her against the tile, driving deep and high. She threw her head back and keened, such a feral sound. No artifice, just Cordelia.

Her hair snaked out, twining over her breasts, over her arms. Angel leveraged her against the wall and touched her nipple, letting the silk of her hair act like fabric between them. She gasped and opened her eyes, watching as he thumbed her, as he rolled her between his fingers.

She raised her hands, slid them down the tile. The squeak of flesh on porcelain, the feel of the steam, the beat of the water on his side, his thighs. Her wet body clenching around him.

Full breasts, full lips, the, "Oh, yeah," in her eyes as he slapped her in a lazy rhythm that was older than she knew --

Her eyes lit, her nostrils flared, her mouth fell open. She was close.

So he pulled back, pulled out, dropped her feet to the floor.

Held her as she steadied, charged up by the look of sheer frustration on her face. Then he turned the water off, grabbed a towel and helped her out.

By then, she was rounding on him. "Why’d you stop?" she asked, voice husky, hungry.

"We’re not done," he said.

She pouted. "I was, almost."

Angel turned her around, pushed her toward the bedroom. Followed, watching as she dropped the towel and climbed onto the bed.

She quivered hungrily, and he could see her mind turning, turning, looking for answers. He would teach her that hunger was better satisfied for putting off the meal.

So young, so inexperienced.

It was like a shot to his gut, and Angel almost lost it. He grabbed her shoulders and laid her back on the bed. Spread her legs and slid down, down, until his mouth hit her pubic bone. She was wet, dripping, and Angel wanted her this way, wanted to get her off with his mouth.

Flick of tongue, press of lips, and she was arching up, crying out. It was so easy to build it again, cup her hips, draw her close, closer, crawl into her with his tongue.

She was salty, lemony, like a shot of the best tequila and just as smooth. Her hips twisted and he pulled her closer, locking her into the trap of his arms and hands. He nudged her thighs over his shoulders, inhaled, drew her deep.

This was the closest thing to blood he could get. Juice, lust, need. If he could breathe her, he would. If he could exhale himself, throw out all those old, bad memories, and replace them with this, he would.

If he could --

And then she jerked against him, body going tight, hips jolting against his mouth. He rode her, rode her hard, felt that same lust, that same need, twine and pool between his legs.

Finally she went limp, her breath coming harsh, like a sob. He crawled up, sliding over her, feeling the wetness, smelling the watered-down sweat, the tang of her body.

When he slipped in she was still, eyes closed. She adjusted her hips, pulled her knees up, sighed.

Sweet, silent. There was still a tightness at the base of his skull, drawing up his balls, but the need to do this fast left when he saw her face, that helpless, satisfied look. He rocked against her, urgency gone.

He could make her come all night. He could give that to her, the gift of his knowledge. Show her things she’d never seen, didn’t even know existed.

Outside the modern city was waking up, cars whooshing by, TVs going on in the apartments around them. Such a stark contrast to his memories of bordellos, of women whose eyes shone with knowledge, whose hands created a fulfillment that was impossible to articulate, could only be felt.

Dawn walked the sidewalks as they rocked together. As the relaxation, the disinterest in her body turned to need. As she tightened around him, as her mouth met his.

It was the first time he’d kissed her since this started, and the touch of her lips lit the flare, had him trembling.

She drew her hands down his back, slipped her fingers around, under them. Angel felt them brush his balls, once twice, and then, suddenly, he was on fire. A chill shot down his spine and his body tightened.

One more deft squeeze of her hand and he was gone.

As he emptied into her he felt her spasm against him, and knew that the rough movements, those last, shrilling calls of his body, were what she’d needed to go over.

This time she didn’t let go, didn’t get up. Just lay there under him, coming back to herself. Coming back to him.

Angel could still smell traces of alcohol on her skin, her breath. Could still taste the peculiar tang of human blood on the back of his tongue.

The fight had long faded, along with his wounds, until all that was left was the pink-scarred memory of what it meant to be trapped in a cell. To be forced to face that dark underbelly, the core of who he was. Who he’d always been.

He drifted.

And this time when he dreamed it was of day, of a bright sun, leading him out of darkness.

***

Somewhere a phone was shrilling. Angel slapped the bedside table, looking for it without opening his eyes. Found it, pulled it to his ear. "’lo."

"Angel?"

"Yeah."

"Um, why are you answering Cordelia’s phone?"

Wes. Wait. Cordelia? His eyes flew open and he looked over at the girl asleep in bed with him. Her mouth was slightly open, little breathy snores pouring out. The night had left bruises under her eyes that Angel wasn’t sure an entire day’s sleep could erase.

"I was, uh, worried about her. You know, with the date? So I came over and, uh, must have fallen asleep." He felt panic drawing his voice up an octave and cleared his throat to cover.

Next to him, Cordelia mumbled something, smacked her lips, and turned over, showing him a whole lot of shoulder and a tangle of hair.

"Yes, well." Wes didn’t sound convinced, or too happy. "I’m at the office and wondered where you'd gone."

Angel rubbed a hand over his eyes, and the first twinges of guilt started riding him. Dammit, couldn’t he even get laid any more without feeling crappy about it?

Then she stretched, moaned, and Angel remembered why he was feeling guilty. Because it was Cordelia. He’d let those…instincts, needs, whatever…lure him over there, and took them out on her. "She just had a…rough night."

"Oh!" Wes's concern was immediate. "Is she all right?"

She rolled over and blinked awake, like a little girl coming to after a nap. Her brow wrinkled. "Coffee," she said.

"Yeah, she’s fine. I’m just gonna make her some coffee and get her back on her feet. Too much to drink, is all." And too much sex. The guilt twisted again. "We’ll be in soon."

Angel clicked the phone off, dropped it to the floor by the bed. "Hey."

She groaned and sat up. The sheet dropped, and the only thing covering her was that incredible fall of hair. One nipple peeked out through the tangle.

He licked his lips, remembering how she tasted.

"Hey," she said back. "Did you sleep?" With both hands she pushed her hair back then shook her head, and it fell past her shoulders and nearly to the pillows.

"Yeah, like the dead."

"Ha, ha." Her forehead wrinkled. "Gotta say, not the smartest thing I've ever done."

Her words prodded the bruise that guilt had left behind. Angel looked down, unable to meet her gaze. "Cordelia, uh, about last night…."

"You mean the part where we both got drunk on our beverage of choice and grabbed the nearest -- well I'd say warm body, but you know what I mean."

He blinked, trying to follow her impossible logic. "Uh, yeah. I think."

She hopped out of bed. "Oh, please, Angel. We’re both adults here. As long as it doesn’t affect us at work, we’re good. Right?"

He looked out from under his eyebrows. "Uh, right?

Cordy wrapped her robe around her and tied the knot. "Way I see it, we both got exactly what we wanted." She shot him a hard look. "Not something I'd choose to do again, considering the Angelus factor. Ooooh, and if you ever say anything to Buffy, I'll stake you. I mean, really, who wants a jealous Slayer on their ass, right?"

He opened his mouth to say something, but had no idea what. Hell, he was just trying to catch up.

When he didn't answer, she peered at him. Angel could practically see the wheels turning.

"Right," she said. "I forgot. Catholic guilt, honed to perfection over more than two hundred years." She waved her hand and started out the door. "Get over it, Angel."

"But -- But -- I didn't -- I mean, you didn't --" He clamped his mouth shut.

She twirled toward him and huffed impatiently. "Spit it out, Angel."

"You're not mad...?"

She put her hands on her hips. "That you didn't get happy?"

He winced. "I, uh...yeah."

The look she shot him spoke volumes about the night they'd just spent together. "I'd say we both got just about as happy as we wanted to." Then she exited, leaving only her scent in her wake.

He rubbed his hand over his face. He’d just spent the night having really good sex with his secretary. The biggest pain in the ass he’d ever met. And she didn’t feel…anything but satisfied?

"Huh." He sat there trying to figure her out until she came in with two mugs, both steaming.

"Breakfast." Her eyebrow arched. "Pig, I might add. With cinnamon." That smile flashed. She handed him one mug and took a swig out of the other. Looked almost as blissed out as she had the night before when he went down on her. "Thank God for automatic brews and for ghosts who know how to use them."

"Uh, Cordy?" Angel sipped, careful not to burn himself. The blood was good, too sweet, but good. And safe.

She stopped in the middle of pulling underwear from her drawer. Another pair of impossibly small panties and a matching lace bra. "Yeah?"

Angel tried not to look at them, tried not to think about how she’d felt in his hands. "You sure you’re okay with this?"

"As long as we understand that this stays between us." Her brow arched. "As in, we did it, and now we're done. Got it?"

His lips twitched. Had he just been brushed off by an eighteen-year-old girl? "Yeah. I got it."

"Good. I call first dibs on the shower. You don't need any hot water anyway, right?"

Now he did laugh. Maybe things were going to be okay between them, after all. "Don't worry. I'll shower at home. I promised Wes I'd get you to the office soon, anyway."

But he was talking to thin air. The bathroom door slammed shut and the shower came on, and he sat on the bed, staring past his naked body to his pants on the floor at his feet.

He toed them, felt the harsh cotton move against his skin. The tingle started again, somewhere deep, and to stop it, he rose and pulled them on. Then he picked up the mug of pig's blood, walked down the hall into the living room and aimed the remote at the television. As he sipped, he flipped channels until he found the news. Then he settled in and waited for Cordelia to get ready for work.

END

NOTES: Thanks to my pit crew, julie fortune, littleheaven70, luvlally and psychofilly, whose comments got Beacon tuned up and kept it running smooth. You guys rock my world.


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