The sky above L.A. churned and boiled, a dark seething mass. The air was heavy and humid, and the sticky breeze carried the smell of rain and ozone.
Cordelia glanced up at the oppressive bank of clouds. They matched her black, depressed mood. “Stupid doctors,” she muttered. “Stupid scans.”
What did they know, anyway? She was pretty certain none of them had ever treated a seer before. She hadn’t even told them about the visions. That would be a one-way ticket to the loony bin, which she so didn’t need on top of everything else. Specialists or not, those doctors were used to dealing with normal people, normal problems - not conduits for the PTB. How could they be so sure they were right?
So bits of her brain were dying. Big whoop. People only used, like, three percent of their brain. That left plenty to keep her alive. Longer than the four months they’d predicted, anyway.
Hot tears stung her eyes, and she blinked hard. Lose focus in the LA traffic and she wouldn’t have to wait for her brain to leak out her ears. For a second she wondered what it would be like, to just drive straight at a wall. Would it hurt?
“For Christ’s sake, get a grip. You’re not Buffy. Suicide is for losers.” Or for Slayers trying to close a doorway to hell. Cordelia was neither of those things. She was Vision Girl, and she wasn’t leaving. Not yet.
The first drops of rain spat against the windshield as she parked outside her building. She snatched up her purse, and the envelope full of pictures of her failing brain, and ran for the entrance.
Dennis swung her apartment door open, greeting her with a ruffle of her hair, a worried nudge of the papers in her hand.
“Yeah, it’s bad,” she sighed, acknowledging his concern.
She felt his presence drift away, and then heard the squeak of taps and the sound of running water in the bathroom. He knew the drill. That she didn’t want Angel to smell the hospital on her. Whenever she returned from an appointment, Dennis always drew her bath, drizzled perfumed oils into the water, and stood – or floated – waiting, with a big, fluffy towel. God, she loved her ghost.
She went to her room, kneeled beside the bed, and pulled the large plastic box from the dark recesses beneath. The pill bottles clacked and rattled, and she leaned her forehead on the mattress, squeezing her eyes shut.
Rain tapped against the window, breaking into her thoughts. She took a deep breath, slotted the latest set of scans into the box, and shoved it back under the bed. Way, way back, like the further she pushed it out of sight, the less real it became.
The bed shook a little. “No peeking, Dennis,” she sighed, knowing full well that as soon as she left the apartment, he’d be under there, nosing through the reports and letters.
She shed her clothes, dropping them into the hamper, and went into the bathroom. Carefully she dipped one foot into the steaming, foamy water, waited for her skin to adjust to the heat, then slid her whole leg in. Bit by bit, she eased herself into the water, until she was submerged to her neck. Closing her eyes, she lay back.
In quiet moments like these, she could hear the noise going on in her head, a dull roar that never fully receded. Drumming on the inside of her skull like the rain drumming on her bedroom window.
Cordelia wasn’t into feeling sorry for herself. God knew she had plenty of reasons to, but it was such a waste of time. Angel could brood and angst all he liked – he had eternity to do it. She didn’t have the luxury of time anymore.
The doctors had been telling her she was dying for a long time now. No big deal. Everyone was dying. And in Sunnydale, the likelihood of it being sooner rather than later was pretty high. But there had always been hope. Hope that the visions would get less painful. Hope that the damage would level off.
Today was the first time they’d taken that away. Today they said when. Four months. One hundred and twenty-odd days.
It wasn’t enough time.
Cordy felt a washcloth dab the corner of her eye, and realized she was crying. “Thanks, Dennis,” she sniffed, swiping impatiently at her nose. She wasn’t going to waste any more time on self-pity. She was going to wash the smell of disinfectant and sick people out of her hair, get dressed, and go into work to fight the good fight.
Her body ached at the thought.
The more she dwelled on it, the more she was overwhelmed by the urge to slip into her sweats, and spend the evening with Dennis, the TV, and a large tub of something fattening. “Not like I need to watch my figure,” she murmured. Maybe some rest would help. God knew, she needed it.
The water went from scalding to tepid. Cordelia examined her wrinkled fingertips, and climbed out of the bath. Her skin tingled as Dennis smothered her in a towel, and began to dry her back.
“Thanks, Dennis, I got it.” She half-smiled, grasping the corners of the terry-cloth, finishing the job herself. He fluttered away, and moments later her pyjama bottoms and an old, soft t-shirt bobbed through the air, landing at her feet. Her resolve crumbled. “Okay, we’ll have an evening in. It’s perfect weather for it,” she added as a gust of wind made the rain splatter on the pane before resuming its gentle tap-tap-tap.
Cordelia dressed, poked her feet into her slippers, and wandered into the living room. No more thinking about dying, or visions, or work; just a cozy evening on the sofa, eating ice-cream and watching movies. For now, all she wanted was to indulge in the comforts of life; make the most of it.
“Better call Wes,” she sighed, picking up the phone. As her finger hovered over the buttons, a knock on the door made her jump.
“Cordy?” Angel’s voice was low, worried.
She rolled her eyes, cradled the phone, and went to the door.
Angel stood in the entrance, looking like a drowned rat. His hair sat flat on his head, little rivers of water coursing from each collapsed spike, and running down his face and neck.
If she weren’t so annoyed, she would have laughed. “What are you doing here?”
“When I woke up, you weren’t there. Nobody knew where you were. I was worried that you’d had a vision, fallen down…” he said, shuffling from foot to foot. Water trickled down the furrow between his brows, along the bridge of his nose to the tip, and hung there.
“Wes gave me time off for an audition. Didn’t he tell you?” She stood aside to let him in. A small towel drifted from the bedroom, and she snatched it out of the air, shoving it at Angel.
He began rubbing at his hair. “He was out on a book-finding mission or something. Guess he didn’t tell anyone before he left.”
“Well, as you can see, I’m fine,” she said, with a smile that felt forced and fake.
Angel’s eyes narrowed. “So why are you in your pyjamas?”
“Oh, uh, I decided to take the day off. I think I’m getting a cold,” Cordelia replied.
“See, I knew something was wrong. I…”
Angel’s words began to blur and fade.
“Oh, God,” she gasped, feeling her knees give way. Pain bloomed behind her eyes, and the world fell to pieces.
She could see it – something huge and scaly – emerging from rocky ground. The smell was overpowering, making her lungs burn and her eyes water. The creature shook the dirt off, and began to hunt. It was going to rip and tear and devour…
“Cordy? It’s okay, I’m here,” Angel’s voice phased back in.
She dragged in a breath, then another, and opened her eyes. She was in his lap, his arms around her, her face pressed to his chest. “Ew, you’re all damp.”
He pulled away just far enough to look at her. “What was it?”
“Big, yellow, scaly. Smelled like rotten eggs. Phew, that thing really needs a good deodorant.” She wrinkled her nose.
“Sulphur demon.” He nodded.
Panic flooded through her, mixing with the dizziness and nausea. “Angel, we have to go. Now.”
“You should stay…”
“You’ll need me for directions.” She grasped his jacket lapels, used him to pull herself up. Her head pounded and throbbed - the Seltrex that already saturated her system barely took the edge off.
Angel hesitated by the door. “Your clothes…”
She grabbed a sweatshirt off the sofa. “No time. Please, before it’s too late.”
The lights of LA trailed far behind them as they swept along Highway 1. Cordelia felt her head begin to nod, lulled by pain, the hum of tires, rain on the roof, and the steady swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the wiper blades.
“Stay with me, Cordy,” Angel said, shooting her a sideways glance. “Are we close?”
“Mmmm. Just resting my eyes,” she said, a yawn cracking her jaw. She hadn’t recognised the place in her vision, she just knew it was out here somewhere. A creeping sensation in her spine, that tingled stronger and stronger as they got closer.
They were in the middle of nowhere now. Rocky canyons loomed large to their right, dark, forbidding shapes in the murk and mist.
“Here!” Cordelia shouted, every nerve in her body waking and screaming at her in symphony.
Angel pulled hard on the wheel, and the back end of the car shot out on the slippery asphalt. He tweaked it the other way, corrected the slide, and shot forward into the little side-road. Cordy’s skin prickled, her heart pounding. They were close now. Closer.
The headlights were twin arms of white, reaching through the blanket of rain. Shiny, wet rock rose up on either side of the car.
Angel braked hard, killed the engine, flicked off the lights. His body tensed, and she could sense his anticipation.
“It’s here,” he said.
She didn’t have to be a vampire to smell it. The acrid stench of sulphur curled in through the car’s vents, making her cough. “Should have brought a can of Glade,” she spluttered, pulling the neck of her sweatshirt up to cover her nose and mouth.
A deep rumble made them both jump. The car vibrated and shuddered.
“That can’t be good,” Angel said, reaching into the back seat for his broadsword. “Stay in the car.”
“Cordy,” he growled.
The car shook again, the ground on which they were parked trembling beneath them.
A fountain of rock and dirt erupted off to the left. A few stones pinged off the Plymouth’s trunk and roof, and Angel flung his door open and launched himself into the deluge.
“Oh, crap,” Cordelia grumbled, crawling across to the driver’s seat to get a better look. Through the storm she could just make out the creature from her vision, and Angel, rolling through the puddles in a flurry of limbs and sword and claws and fangs. The glass was misting over, and she wiped it with her sleeve. Now she couldn’t see either of them.
She sat in the car, holding her sweatshirt over her nose, peering through the gloom. Nothing moved, except the rain, sheeting down, bouncing off the rocks and exploding into white spray. Her ears were filled with the roar of water on metal and glass.
Cordy took a deep breath, uncovered her mouth, cracked the window and hollered, “Angel!”
She strained her ears, trying to pick up anything above the din that would indicate he was okay. The stink was overwhelming, and her eyes burned and watered. Just as she was about to wind up the window, Angel’s cry cut the air.
“Dammit!” she cursed, reaching for the trunk release lever. It popped open with a loud clunk. If she was gonna die, it may as well be doing something stupidly heroic.
Cordelia dashed from the driver’s door, skidding on wet gravel as she rounded the end of the car, yanking the trunk open. Thank God, there was a small armory of weapons there. No crossbow, which she would have preferred, but a lethal-looking axe glinted at the bottom of the pile, and she pulled it free, welcoming the heavy feel of it in her hand.
She was soaked to the skin already, and the sulphur made her choke. She could barely see through the water dripping over her smarting eyes.
A low growl came from behind. Cordy spun, axe ready, just as Angel’s body flew through the air, smacking into the rock wall with a sickening crack. Her throat was on fire now; the air rushing into her lungs felt like broken glass. Through tears and rain she could just make out the yellow beast, leaning over Angel, one clawed arm raised for the kill.
“You stinky, gross, disgusting - thing!” she screamed, breaking into a run.
“Cordy, no!” Angel shouted.
She swung hard, felt the blade of the axe sink deep into the creature’s back, then a sucking sensation as it pulled back out. The Sulphur Demon toppled forward, and Angel rolled, getting out of its way. As it hit the ground, a big spurt of yellow goo squirted from the wound, splattering the front of Cordy’s pyjama pants and sweatshirt.
Cordy wanted to shout in triumph, something witty, yet abrasive - but she couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe for the fumes rising from the dead demon. She stumbled back a few steps, the axe falling to the ground.
Angel staggered to his feet, lurched towards her. What the hell was he doing? He grabbed the neck of her sweatshirt, tore it right down the front, and flung it aside.
“Pants! Take them off!” he yelled above the roar of water and wind.
“What’s your damage?” she gasped, staring at the tattered remains of her top. Smoke began to rise from the material.
“The blood - it’s sulphuric acid, Cordy!”
He snatched at the sides of her pants, yanked them down her legs. Already they were smoking, holes beginning to appear. With a scream, she kicked them off. Her slippers went flying. Oh God, some of the goo was on her skin…
And then the world turned upside-down. Sky and rock and ground and rain all rolling past as Angel slammed into her, tackling her into a huge puddle.
“Stay still,” he shouted, falling on his knees beside her. He started scooping up water in his hands, splashing it over her legs and arms, frantically trying to wash her down.
God, this was horrible. Sitting in a puddle, in her t-shirt and panties, in the middle of nowhere, while Angel threw cold water all over her. And she was dying. Officially, the day had sunk to its lowest point. It had achieved maximum suck.
Cordy took a deep breath. They were upwind of the demon, away from the worst of the smell, and the cool, damp air was soothing as it went down. Her skin wasn’t blistering or smoking, which had to be good.
Angel was moving like a man possessed, running trembling hands up and down her legs and arms.
She reached down to stop him. “Angel, I’m okay.” More splashing. “Really, Angel. Stop.” She curled her fingers with his, squeezing tight.
When he looked up at her, his dark eyes said it all. Fear, desperation, urgency. He was scared. Realization slapped her with an open hand.
He was scared of losing her.
Cordelia hadn’t thought for one minute what her death would do to Angel. Well, she’d wondered how he’d deal, without the visions to guide him. But she’d never considered he’d look like – well, this. The same way he looked when he found out about Buffy.
And, out of all the day’s sucky things, it was the one that really broke her heart.
She wanted to say something, anything, to snap them out of the trance. Nothing would come out, the big lump in her throat like a cork in a bottle, keeping the words down. They just stared at each other. The hair on her arms raised.
A thin tendril of smoke curled past Cordy’s face. She followed Angel’s eyes as they flicked downwards. To the yellow splotch seeping through the front of her t-shirt.
The stopper gave way, and a scream tore loose from her throat. Angel moved, fast. His hands fisted in the hem of her shirt, and there was a sharp ripping noise as the fabric gave way, tearing from hem to neck. He stripped it from her arms and tossed it away.
Okay, she was wrong, before, about the maximum suck. Because then, she hadn’t been topless.
“Hey!” She slapped Angel’s arm. “Don’t stare! Pervert.”
He stood up, plunged his hands into his pockets, looked at the rocks, at the car, at his boots. “Sorry.”
Cordy struggled to her feet, cupped her hands over her breasts. Stood shivering as the rain battered down. “Do you think we got it all off? The acid, I mean. Not my clothes.”
“Uh, I think so. We should, y’know, check,” he said.
As much as Cordy cringed at the thought, it was gonna have to be him. Her eyes still burned and watered from the sulphuric gasses. He had super-vamp-vision. And she really wanted to not start dissolving on the way home.
Angel took a deep breath. “Okay.” He put his hands on her shoulders, manoeuvred her to a spot in front of the car. “Sit here.”
“Can you see all right?” she asked, as he crouched before her, taking one leg in both hands.
“Vampire, remember?” he replied, running his fingers up the curve of her heel, twisting her leg left and right, staring at it intensely.
She frowned at him, his face just visible in the blue-grey light that reflected down off the clouds. “Then why are you squinting?”
He glanced up for a second, before resuming his inspection. “I just want to make sure there’s none left anywhere. Even the smallest speck could bore a hole in your skin, given long enough.”
“What a happy thought,” she muttered, making sure her breasts were still completely out of sight behind her hands, and trying not to slip off the hood as he raised her leg higher. His cool fingers traced lines in the water that trickled in rivulets down her thigh.
A jolt ran up her leg, arrowing straight to her core, and she gasped.
His eyes snapped up. “Okay?”
“Uh-huh.”Cordy nodded. Tried to ignore the slow, hot throb that began as he ran the palm of his hand up the inside of her other leg.
What the hell just happened? One touch from him, and suddenly she was all “hello salty goodness.” It was a long time since she’d thought of him like that. She needed to get a grip. Perhaps the sulphur fumes had fried what was left of her brain.
She turned her head, stared at the ground, tried to think of anything other than the feel of the rain and Angel’s fingers on her back, her arms...
He reached her wrist, and his thumb accidentally brushed the underside of her breast. The heat in her belly exploded, swamped her entire body. Crap, crap, crap…
“I’m sorry.” He jerked his hand away.
“It’s…” She glanced back at him. His face was shocked and tight, and his nostrils flared as he took a deep, hitching breath.
Oh, God, he could smell her. Smell how much she wanted him. Her body was screaming it, and she could tell by the way he was trembling, he was getting the message loud and clear.
And suddenly, she wasn’t embarrassed. She was dying, and the time for childishness like that was over. Now was the time for taking what little life had to offer with both hands. Finding happiness where she could. She wanted…
“Cordy?” Angel gasped, as she dropped her hands, exposing herself to him. He shucked off his duster, held it out to her, as if it would shield him from the attraction arcing between them.
“Don’t,” she said, and the word came out low and hoarse. She took the coat and dropped it behind her on the hood. “Just…” she took his hand, placed it over her breast, arched into his touch.
His arm trembled. She could see the inner struggle. Watched the conflict on his face.
“Cordy, we shouldn’t,” he murmured, but his thumb moved, sweeping across wet skin.
“Please,” she said on a sigh. He took a faltering step towards her, closing the space between them, and then his body was against hers, arms circling her, easing her down onto the car. His lips grazed her cheek, the tip of her nose, her mouth.
The damp wool of his sweater was rough against her nipples, his sopping trousers cold between her knees, and the hood of the car warm on her back. A thousand different sensations assaulted her. His kiss, deep and dark and needy. The smell of wet earth and rain. The sound of wind and distant thunder.
The insistent nudge against her thigh as he got hard. Harder.
Cordy curled her fingers in the hem of his sweater, worked her hands underneath, found his back. He was cool, but warming, as he absorbed her heat - and the car’s. She drew her nails up his back, tugging the heavy fabric as she went. A rumble vibrated through his chest, an echo of the storm above them, and he broke their kiss to strip the sweater free. It made a soggy ‘slap’ as it hit the ground.
His chest was a pale expanse of hard muscle and gooseflesh. She grasped his shoulders, lifted her head and licked his collarbone. The rain was sweet and cool on her tongue.
“Cordy,” he whispered, nipping her bottom lip. He pushed her back, his crumpled coat a pillow for her head, and slipped lower. He followed the drops running down her neck, his lips and tongue chasing the little rivers of water, as gravity guided them between her breasts.
She curled her fingers in his hair, gasped as his mouth closed over a nipple. The gentle tug of teeth had her glowing, burning up from the inside. She was sure if she opened her eyes, steam would be rising from her skin.
He was on the move again, tongue rough on her stomach. His hands crept up the backs of her legs, lifted them, slung her knees over his shoulders. She could feel his mouth working lower, skirting the edge of her panties. Then he stopped.
“Angel,” she gasped.
He raised his head. “Are you sure?” His voice was gruff, sexy.
She was more sure of this than anything in her life. Sure that she wanted to share something this tender and intimate with someone who cared for her. Someone who didn’t just want to impregnate her with demon spawn. Angel. Her best friend.
It might be her last chance.
She pushed his head down, and felt his fingers curl into the waistband of her panties. There was a sharp snap, the sting of elastic against her hip, and then they were gone. She was open to him, to the elements. The air felt cold against her heated flesh.
He buried his face between her legs, and she felt his chest rise as he breathed deep, and realised with a primal thrill that he was scenting her, like a wolf scents his prey.
Angel. The wolf. The comparison scared her, excited her. Danger and magic and sex. The thought alone almost tipped her over the edge.
And then his tongue was there, plundering her, taking her to a place she’d only dreamed of. Cool fingers pinched her hips, tilting her, snaking around to the small of her back, lifting her, increasing the pressure. Her ears began to hum, her limbs buzzed, and the spark started from deep within and cascaded outwards.
Her cry echoed off the rocky walls, and dissolved into the night.
She breathed deep, let her orgasm fade, opened her eyes and smiled at Angel. He was hovering above her, elbows resting on the car, fingers trailing across her breasts, her face.
She remembered the strong press of his cock against her leg, and the desire began to spiral again. She reached between them, hooked her finger in his belt. “Can we?”
“If you want to,” he said, smoothing her wet hair back from her face.
That wasn’t what she meant. “Is it – safe?”
Of course, there was no way he could get perfectly happy here. He didn’t love her. The person he loved was dead. He knew his limits, and she trusted him not to exceed them. She trusted him with her life -- what little there was left of it.
With a sharp tug, she had the leather strap out of the buckle. He helped her, sliding the belt out of the material loops. It jangled to the ground. A flick of his fingers had the button on his pants undone, and she grabbed the zipper, yanking it down, pushing against the sides of his legs with her feet until the trousers dropped to his knees.
He wore boxers, and she sat up to put her fingers in the waistband at the back. She slid them lower, grabbed his ass. God, the muscle there was so hard. Like the column of his cock, pressing into her stomach as she leaned into him. His hips rocked, rubbing it against her.
Cordy shivered, pulled away and dragged the boxers down. He sprang free, and she grabbed him with one hand, marvelling at the heat he was exuding. He twitched in her palm, and she felt tremors run down his legs, saw his stomach tense. She stroked him once, twice, and he inhaled sharply.
His hands found her hips, dragged her across the slippery paintwork to the very edge. Then he took his cock in one hand, guided it to her entrance, and held it there.
Lightning flickered, lit the rocky canyon and his face for a brief second. Illuminated the sheets of rain like sparkly foil curtains.
With a gentle thrust, he was in. His arms came around her once more, laying her down, before sliding down her sides to hold her hips. And then he began to move.
Cordy closed her eyes, grabbed the edge of the hood as he rode her. Jammed her heels on the front bumper for leverage, and met him thrust for thrust.
Even through her eyelids she could see the lightning, closer now. The air cracked and boomed with thunder, and the ground vibrated. The Plymouth’s suspension creaked as Angel drove into her, faster, harder, and the bounce of the car only served to force him deeper. She took him in, welcomed the penetration. Wished that she could die now, so the last thing she’d feel in the world was Angel, burying himself to the hilt inside her.
He was panting, his breath coming in small grunts as he slapped against her. One hand left her hip, delving between their bodies, his thumb touching her just there. It was all she needed, her body imploding, clamping around him.
Angel shouted her name, his thrusts suddenly erratic, and he jerked against her once, twice, and came with a deep growl. He slumped over her, and dropped a kiss on her forehead.
Cordy put her arms around him, and for a long time they lay there, clasped together on the hood of the car, listening to the thunder as the rain beat down on them. She felt refreshed, more alive than she had in years. Clean and tingling and sated.
And then the rain stopped. She opened her eyes to see the clouds breaking above them, a few stars shining through.
Angel kissed her cheek, touched her face with gentle fingers. “Okay?”
“Mmm,” she sighed. Bit her lip as he pulled away. Knew she’d never feel like that again.
He held out his hand, pulled her up, and then reached for his duster, draping it around her shoulders. “We should get you home. This can’t be good for that cold.”
“Cold? Oh – yeah. You’re right.” She nodded.
He pulled his pants back up, found his sweater. They climbed into the car, and Angel did a tight three-point turn, so they were facing back towards Highway One. He turned to her, looked uncomfortable. “What just happened. It was…”
“A one-time thing,” she interrupted. “Life and death situation, dramatic weather, nakedness, you do the math.”
“Right. And, those fumes. They were pretty powerful.” He changed gear, began to drive. Shot a couple of tentative glances in her direction.
“Yes, powerful.” She nodded. Like his hands. Like his kiss. She smiled at him. “Thank you.”
“What for?” he asked, negotiating the way back along the narrow road.
She looked out the window at the lightning, moving slowly away to the north. “For being there.”