Shades of Solace

Author: Tinkerbell

Email: Tink0205@home.com

Rating: NC-17

Disclaimer: Not mine. Joss's.

Summary: C/A, sex, angst.

Dedications: For Lex, 'cause of the angst. For Diane, 'cause of the suggestions. And for the devil on my shoulder, she knows who she is.

The oppressive heaviness that never left him was weightier than usual tonight. Angel could scarcely keep his eyes open as he turned his key in the lock, leaning his shoulder against the door to swing it open into the small apartment.

He hadn't slept at all that day, and now it was taking its toll on him. He had tried to, he had lain with his head buried under his pillow for hours, willing sleep to come and claim him, but it had been elusive and he had finally risen at sunset to go to work. Doyle had found him four hours later, sound asleep with his head resting on a stack of files. With uncharacteristic sensitivity, Doyle had coaxed Angel from his chair and urged him home. The maimings and beatings and killings that were Los Angeles would still be there tomorrow night. He needed no more convincing.

Angel made his way quietly to the kitchen, aware of the stillness of the house and the utter silence coming from the small bedroom off the hallway. He shrugged off his jacket, which landed on the arm of the couch before sliding noiselessly to the floor. It lay silently in a black puddle of cool leather. Opening the door of the refrigerator, he squinted slightly at the sudden light. He paused briefly while he studied the contents, pretending that he actually had a choice of what to eat, and then he sighed resignedly and reached behind the peach yogurt for a fat plastic bag of blood. Dumping it into a mug, he tiredly opened the door of the small white microwave and set the mug inside with a clunk. While the microwave hummed softly, Angel rested his forearms on the countertop and dropped his head, closing his grainy eyes.

When he opened them again, she was standing there, across the kitchen. A slim hand rested lightly on the white tile counter, the manicured nails tip-tapping as she watched him. Angel looked at her hand, noted the perfectly shaped nails with their coating of light polish, and knew she had done them herself rather than spend the money to have someone else do them for her.

A small detail, but significant nonetheless. Just one of the many small details that signified the change in her. When Angel had first seen her in Los Angeles, he had been taken aback at the memories she immediately evoked of another place, another time. Another girl. An old, deep ache had begun to throb, and he had looked wildly about for a form of escape, but she had turned and seen him.

"It's you," she had said curiously, looking him up and down with only a casual interest. "Are you still...you know....*grrr*?" She had wrinkled her nose at him and then grinned brightly, and Angel wondered if she had been high on something.

"You know, there's not actually a cure for that," he had replied shortly, and then turned away, intent on removing himself from the situation.

She was a bitch, and she would always be a bitch, he had thought, disgusted.

Except...she wasn't.

The events that had unfolded after that had happened quickly, and neatly. So neatly that Angel often wondered about it. There he had been, looking for an assistant/secretary type person for the agency, and along breezed Cordelia, giving off all appearances that she was living the high life in the City of Angels. But she wasn't. She needed the position as badly as he needed someone to fill it, and so he had given her the job on a trial basis.

He had fully expected the trial to be his. Cordelia, however, had given him the first surprise of many. She was efficient, neat, and organized. She was sweet as sugar to clients who deserved it, and icily cold to clients who did not. She had slapped Doyle the first day the two had worked together, and Doyle now tiptoed around her carefully. All in all, she was just what Angel had been looking for.

Her time in the city had mellowed her considerably. She was not the hard-edged girl Angel remembered her to be. She was still marvelously quick-witted, and could unman Doyle in any verbal sparring match. She still looked down her perfect nose at people she did not deem worthy of her attention, and she still had the maddening ability to be self-absorbed.

Just not as much, or as often.

Mere days after giving Cordelia the job, Angel found himself opening his home to her as well. She had never once mentioned where she lived or what kind of rent she paid, but Angel eyed her peanut-butter sandwiches that she brought for lunch, and he correctly deduced that she was scrimping precious pennies. She had accepted the offer of the room gratefully, but her battered pride would not let her live there for free. She had paid him what she could afford for her first month's rent, and every month thereafter. It had been six months, and Angel had grown used to her presence.

Curiosity had gnawed at him, and one night he gave in and asked about Xander. She had merely arched a fine black brow at him and given him her snottiest look, and Angel turned away with a corner of his mouth quirked up. A few minutes later, she had asked him airily, "Heard from Buffy?"

Angel never questioned her about Xander again.

He had been quietly furious at her for days over the thoughtless remark. Buffy was a dangerous topic. He did not mention her name, nor did he allow anyone else to. Whistler, when he showed up occasionally, was prohibited from discussing her. Doyle had nursed a black eye for three days when he had dared to bait Angel about her.

Buffy was golden, was sunshine, was glowing. He ached when he thought of her. A lump had formed in his chest the day he had left her, and it was unmovable. The pain of it was manifested in a weight behind his eyes that was constant, never changing. He was reminded of her daily.

It took him a week to realize that Cordelia must have been cut just as deeply by his careless inquiry of Xander, and Angel had been ashamed.

The soft beep of the microwave brought him out of his thoughts and broke his gaze from Cordelia's polished nails. He reached in for the warm mug of liquid and took a deep drink, watching over the rim as Cordelia grimaced in disgust.

"I'll pretend that's hot chocolate," she said.

"I'll pretend you aren't here."

"Mmm, nice mood you're in," she murmured, moving around him to the refrigerator and retrieving a bottled water.

"Sorry," he mumbled, leaving the confining space of the kitchen and sinking heavily into the plush couch. He kicked off his shoes and leaned his head back, resting the warm mug on his stomach. He did not open his eyes even when he felt the cushions move, and knew that Cordelia was sharing the couch with him. For long minutes there was a comfortable silence, broken only by the sound of Cordelia lifting her bottle to her mouth and swallowing water.

He was almost asleep when he felt the nimble fingers slip underneath his neck. Cordelia was kneading the tight muscles gently, carefully, using her nails to lightly scratch the base of his skull while she skillfully unknotted his tension. For a moment Angel let himself revel in the feel of a warm touch against his cold, undead skin. It had been long, so very, very long since he had let himself touch or be touched by another human, and he had forgotten just how warm their skin was in comparison to his. It felt wonderful, what she was doing, and he relaxed even further into the couch.

When he felt her shift closer to him, he did not have the inclination to move away. It felt too good, the hand on the back of his neck. She was using her thumb on his nape, rubbing it in small circles, and Angel felt the tension seep out of him. He took in a deep breath, filling his useless lungs with the air, and let it out again slowly. The action served to loosen him even more, and he tilted his head sideways to give her better access.

It took him a minute for him to realize that her hand had stilled. Cracking open one eye, he looked up at her questioningly. Angel found her watching him seriously. "What, Cord?" he murmured.

She didn't reply, just continued to look at him with her large brown eyes. Brown eyes, he thought. Brown eyes. Not hazel. And her hair...so dark, so silky. Not sunshine blonde. It had been washed before she went to bed, he noted. It was still damp, and he caught the faintest scent of the apple shampoo she used. After a bit, she spoke.

"You're lonely."

He lifted his head, surprised. It was not a Cordelia-like comment. "Yes."

"Me, too."

Angel pondered that, and realized it was likely to be true. He never saw her with friends, she worked a ten hour day and came straight home to the apartment just as he was leaving to go to the office. She was still asleep when he arrived home at daybreak. He rarely spoke to her, even when they were at home together. He could see how her life, though busy, would be lonely.

As lonely as his was? Angel felt a sudden flash of sympathy for the girl sitting quietly next to him. If Cordelia felt even a fraction of the desolate emptiness that he did, Angel knew that she was hurting. Funny, to think of Cordelia feeling anything but selfishness.

She began rubbing his neck again, slowly, as they looked at each other. Angel sat up briefly to place his now-cool mug on the coffee table, then lay back again in the strange comfort of Cordelia's presence. After a bit, she spoke again.

"Sometimes, when people are lonely, they kind of find each other."

A corner of his mouth turned up lazily, but he did not open his eyes. "You're full of wisdom this evening."

There was another long silence, so long that this time Angel did open one eye again to look at her. "Anything else you want to tell me?" he prompted, wondering why he was trying to extend the conversation. Anything to not have to return to his bed, where he was haunted repeatedly by dreams of golden hair and a bright smile.

"Angel, I..." she trailed off, speechless.

Speechless? Cordelia was never speechless. Angel sat up straighter on the couch and put a finger under her chin, bringing her downcast gaze back to him. Her eyes were limpid and soft in the single light from the kitchen, and Angel suddenly realized how beautiful she was. In another place, her harsh demeanor had turned her outer beauty ugly, but she was not that same person. She was softer, more tolerant, and Angel was instantly aware of how feminine she really was.

"Cordelia?" he prodded, curious as to what she wasn't saying. His finger tipped her chin up even further, bringing their faces within inches of each other, and again he was struck by how warm her skin was, how good her hand had felt on the back of his neck. Before either of them could do otherwise, Angel lowered his mouth to hers, wanting to feel that human warmth on his own lips. He kissed her briefly, then raised his head to look at her. Her eyes had closed, and now they fluttered open again. She looked very serious in the half light.

"When people are lonely," she repeated in a clear voice, "they find each other."

This time, he got it. She was offering him the solace of her touch, a brief escape within her body. The thought of losing himself in a living, breathing woman was like the call of the devil...Angel did not have the strength to resist it, and did not want to. His yearning for another girl, a lost love that was forbidden now and forever, had become too raw and needed soothing. He spoke sharply to Cordelia, gallantly trying to remind her of the reality of the situation and offer her a way out. "I don't love you."

"I don't love *you*."

He breathed a sigh of relief. Their intent was the same, then. To bring two lost souls together in the hopes of finding peace. Without speaking again, Angel threaded his hands through her hair and dragged her mouth up to his. She yielded instantly, bringing her hands up to clutch at his shirt, and opened for him. Angel murmured against her lips, "So warm...you're so warm..."

He felt her lean up against him and he eased backward, taking her with him so she lay atop his length. The short robe she wore barely covered her backside, and, still kissing her, Angel ran his hand tentatively down her back and let it rest on her bare thigh. His other hand encircled her neck and crushed her mouth to his, noting curiously that, instead of trembling, her lips were strong and sure against his, seeking from him the exact thing he sought from her. She did not pretend to be shy or coy, she welcomed his mouth and hands on hers and returned his kisses with equal fervor. Angel drove fully into her mouth, starving for something unknown, clutching at her with desperate hands.

Cordelia was willing to give him what he needed. She melted into him, allowing him to kiss her as roughly as he wanted to, for as long as he wanted to. Long minutes later, Angel finally tore his mouth from hers and looked up into her unreadable eyes. She appeared flushed and yet fresh at the same time, and suddenly Angel found himself humbly grateful to her for allowing him to take comfort in her this way. He tried to smile, brushing his thumb against her bottom lip, but then he was using his thumb to force her mouth open again so he could plunder it. His hands began to roam, moving from her back to the sides of her breasts and then down again, trying to absorb all the heat from her body into the palms of his hands. He tried to settle his hands at her waist, and not go so fast, but Cordelia began pressing into him slowly, answering his urgency, and he couldn't keep himself still.

When she sat up slightly, Angel felt the cool air between them and almost whimpered at the loss, but when Cordelia divested herself of her robe and sat atop him, naked, he appreciated the gesture. He took a moment to gaze at her slim frame, but then had to look away when he found himself beginning to make a comparison between her and another, different body. Instead of looking, he took the opportunity to shed his own clothing quickly, then returning to her and reveling in the warmth of her smooth, satiny skin.

He pulled her beneath him, holding her tighter than before, and buried his face in the crook of her neck. The blood that sang there, beneath the skin, was like a siren call. His nostrils flared against her neck as he smelled it, wanting to tear the flesh with one bite and swallow the thick fluid, but he would not.

Angel would not mark Cordelia as his, because she was not now, nor would she ever be so.

He lifted his head with difficulty from the tempting spot and nuzzled her breasts. They were not overly large or full, but they were softly shaped and perfectly feminine, and he ran his nose in a small circle around both nipples until they were standing stiffly and begging for attention. Cordelia arched against his erection as he did it, causing him to hiss softly and press her further into the couch. She brushed her parted lips over his, asking for another kiss, and he complied willingly. Anything to absorb more of her intoxicating warmth, he was so cold inside, so damned cold. Her tongue made a brief foray into his mouth and he responded in kind, threading her hair with his fingers.

He would have spent another hour just kissing her, marveling at the heat of her mouth, but when she lifted a leg and rubbed her knee against his side he realized that he was neglecting more important things. Running a hand down her stomach, he gently explored the nest of curls at the base before sliding a finger inside. He started to stroke her, and then she was opening for him easily, all wetness and warmth and desire, and Angel ceased to realize that the body beneath him was not the one that would haunt him forever. To him, she was Buffy, he would make her be Buffy, or go insane from the knowledge that he was making love to another girl.

"I'm just so fucking lonely," he murmured against her breast, and Cordelia nodded, somehow knowing that he was not speaking to her. Silently she arched up against his hand, riding his fingers inside her, and Angel gently eased his hand away and moved to cover her. He probed once at the juncture of her thighs before sliding his shaft inside, mildly surprised to find that she was not a virgin, yet not surprised at all.

Their eyes met in the dim light, chocolate and coffee colors blending together, and Cordelia spoke. "What about your little...problem?"

"The curse?"

"Right. I'd hate to wake up dead next to you."

He was suddenly, inexplicably angry at her for bringing it up. It served as a reminder that she was not whom he wanted her to be, no matter how hard he tried to make it so. His cold words startled even himself. "Don't you remember, Cord? I have to be *happy*."

She did not flinch away from the harsh words, merely swallowed tightly and gave a short nod, and Angel felt a measure of guilt. It was not Cordelia's fault that she was not Buffy. It was not her fault that they didn't love each other, and it was not her fault that he was poised above her, sheathed inside her, using her.

"I'm sorry," he said again for the second time that night.

She merely reached up to draw him down close to her, and he let her. He began to move slowly within her, but when she began moving with him, even that small restraint broke and he began driving into her madly. Angel could not bear any longer to prolong the act. Seizing her mouth in a rough kiss, he pounded into her, forcing her along with him. In some distant part of his mind he was grateful that she was peaking with him, grateful that he did not have to worry about her climax. She gave a muffled cry and dug her nails into his back, leaving small half-moon shaped marks, and Angel reached down and lifted her hips higher and tighter against him. Suddenly it was important that he be buried as deeply as possible in her when he came, that her warmth was surrounding his coldness, and he exploded with a force that shook his entire body. He kept moving in her, as if somehow she could empty him of the bleakness that was in him, and as he spilled his cold, dead seed into the heat and shelter of her body he felt another's name threatening to rise from his lips. A vision of blonde hair and sparkling hazel eyes flashed into his mind unexpectedly, and he had to squeeze his eyes shut tightly against the sharp, painful memory. Angel clenched his teeth to keep from gasping out her name, and gave himself over to the climax that was rushing through him like the pounding surf. Beneath him, Cordelia clenched around him and tightened her muscles, shuddering silently.

For a very brief moment, Angel held her weakly in his arms, clinging to the fading euphoria of climax and trying not to think. It was no use. His passion had been spent, and now the barrier between his brain and body was down. He had tried to find comfort in Cordelia and failed, the emptiness in him was still a gaping maw of bitterness. The ice around his heart was still solid.

Or was it?

As he looked down at her flushed and damp face, Angel realized that his body, still nestled tightly against Cordelia's, was growing warm from her body heat. Cordelia caught his gaze, and he found no anger in her eyes, no remorse. She merely arched an eyebrow at him inquisitively, and asked lightly, "You gonna be lonely again sometime soon?"

Angel paused for a moment, thinking about the question, then he nodded slowly. "Count on it."

~End

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