Title: Worse than the Disease
Author: Syn
E-mail: veruca_werewolf@hotmail.com
Disclaimer: These characters belong to Joss Whedon and his minions.
Content: C/A, C/A/W friendship.
Rating: R for sexual situations and blood play
Time Period: Post-To Shanshu in L.A.
Summary: Angel fights temptation as Cordelia battles her own blurred reality.
Distribution: Nothing Fancy, my own site and everyone else just ask.
A/N: This was written for the ever wonderful Psychofilly for Valentine's Day, although it has nothing to do with VD. :)
Feedback: I'd love you forever, or at least until morning. lol

****

Darkness creeps across the mountains to the east of the city as pink streaks of light taint the western end of the world. The glittering Pacific roars it's nightly cry in waves and the change of tides. The electric hum of a million lights fills the air and suddenly, Los Angeles is awake, throbbing with sin and sex and blood and death and happiness and sadness and everything a man needs to live.

The smog-filled city is still blistered by the summer sun and the temperatures draw people out of their homes, madness in their veins. Nightclubs are choked with the young and the beautiful, the rich and the elite. A million lives are made in a line of cocaine and the prick of a needle. The eternal dance of danger and sickness lurks in a thousand hearts. People live. People die. Such is the way of the world. But beneath it all, a shadow stalks.

Between the streets of well-lit decadence, it moves, slithering on feet not made for pavement, it's dark head filled with the dreams and deeds of lesser men. Thick saliva drips from its teeth, a sticky tongue red with blood sliding worm-like along them. Its belly scrapes the ground, picking up trash and needles and broken glass as it goes. There is a gaping slice along its tough hide the length and breadth of a sword blade. Its blood is a poison that hisses as it drips viscously to the ground. From slitted red eyes, it sees an escape in the form of an open manhole. A tight fit, but once in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city, it will be safe from the other shadows. The ones that stalk on two legs.

It dives headlong into the gaping black hole, the smell of rotten water and decaying leaves heavy in its nostrils. And, just as suddenly as before, something grabs it's whipping tail and holds on. The creature twirls, slicing the air with its teeth, side aching as the gaping wound stretches and tears. The shadow on two legs growls and the bloody, poisoned sword flashes in the darkness. The creature screams in challenge, but the sword slices through its hide once more, rupturing organs as it tears its way up to the creature's throat. The challenge dies out.

The shadow tugs the sword from the creature's throat, frowning as the metal corrodes before his glittering eyes. He drops the hilt and the sound of it clattering to the pavement is startling.

"Oh, we are so getting paid for this!" The shadow turns at the declaration and frowns deeper, senses extended. The smell of human blood fills his nostrils and he shudders uncontrollably. A curve in the shape of a woman steps up beside him and touches his arm with the slightest of caresses.

"Are you okay? I sm--you're bleeding."

"I got knocked into a wall by its tail. Nothing the healing power of a Band-Aid won't cure." She lifts her fingers to the sluggishly bleeding cut along her hairline. One dark tendril of hair clings to the sticky skin and he resists the urge to reach out and touch it, to dip his fingertips in the darkness. His teeth ache.

"I knew I shouldn't have let you come along. It's too soon..." He laments, brushing away the animal stretched across his features with a test of wills. The coppery tang of her blood fills the air and not even the stink of the alley or the dead, poisonous creature lying at his feet is enough to dilute it.

"Let me? Since when did you become the boss of me?"

"When I hired you." The sides of his mouth itch to smile as she snorts in assent.

"Point taken. Still, you needed help and Wesley sure as hell isn't ready for a combat situation. Face it; I'm all you got. You need me." She prods his leather-clad arm with the point of her index finger and he feels a ripple along his skin at the contact.

He closes his eyes and savors the feeling. Her presence at his side is a comfort he is beginning to feel naked without. Worry threatens his eyes and he looks at her, noting the lines of pain around her mouth that don't come from the cut above her eye. They've barely left her face in the two weeks since Vocah marked her for torment and pain.

"Are you okay, Cordelia? I mean...you know?" He entreats, searching her face as she looks his way.

"So what are we gonna do with Big Ugly here?" She avoids the question and averts her hazel gaze. He feels a flash of anger at her stubbornness, but let's her change the subject.

"Grassini only said to kill it. We kill it, he gets what that thing took from him back."

"What did he take exactly? I really don't want to open that thing up and play hide-n-go-seek with some weird druidic object."

"No, it was a...vis--magic thing." He stumbles on the word and sees unease flicker across the surface of her eyes.

"Oh. Well...we should just get rid of the body then." Her voice is stilted and her mouth is drawn into a tight line. Her eyes close of their own volition, memories flashing across the inside of her eyelids. The pain of millions crackles from her body in sparks. He wants to touch her. He ignores her instead.

"Sewer looks good." He nudges the dead serpentine creature on the ground with his boot, careful to avoid the blood that oozes from its hide. One hard kick and the thing falls into the black hole, a sickening splash signaling its impact at the bottom. "Cordelia..."

Angel turns, but she's already walking away, the smell of blood and her perfume sifting through the air. He follows, fighting his nature all the way.

****

An hour later, a flesh-colored Band-Aid that stands out on her overly pale forehead has hidden the sight of her blood from his view. She looks worn and drained from lack of sleep. He knows she has been up most nights, pacing the floor of her bedroom, her feet muffled crescendos as she frets over images he can't begin to imagine. Right now, she's sitting at the kitchen table, a hot cup of coffee warming her fingers and her eyes cast to a magazine he doubts she's even reading.

He turns his attention back to the client, who sits cross-legged on the floor, his linen-wrapped face full of rapt pleasure. Wesley, his face still bandaged from the explosion, draws up papers and tries to look official as he does the work Angel is feeling disinclined to do. A look at his friend and a quiet sniff of the air tells him that his wounds are almost completely healed. His ribs must still be tender, for as he moves, pain lines show around his eyes.

"And that." Wesley points to a dotted line at the bottom of the last page and the shaman signs it with the ballpoint in his intricately wrapped fingertips. "There."

"I pay only in cash. This is not a problem, yes?" Grassini says, his deep-set eyes casting about as he drops the pen onto the paperwork before him.

"No. No problem. We're just happy you found our new...offices since the explosion." Wesley smiles tight-lipped and takes the paperwork, placing it in a manila folder marked by Cordelia's flowery handwriting.

"Yes. Most fortunate. I am glad. This...vision it is very important. Thank you for all you have done." Grassini says as he stands, bowing low before waving his hand. A pile of money materializes before Angel and his eyes widen. "This is sufficient, yes?"

"Looks good to me." Angel's eyes close of their own accord as Cordelia walks into the room, her eyes on the pile of cash sitting neatly on her coffee table. The shaman tilts his head in her direction. Angel doesn't like the look he's casting her and he senses her own discomfort at his interest. "What?"

"They will not leave you, yes?"

"What? I..." Cordelia backs up a step, the sound of her blood roaring through veins and arteries like a tornado of confusion and fear. Angel's fingers close into fists.

"You must let them go, my child. These feelings, they will destroy you." With that, he bows deep and swirls in a circle, fading out as the smell of sulfur fills the room.

"That was overly-dramatic." Wesley comments, then reaches for the pile of money before him, wincing as his ribs explode with pain. Angel ignores him, his gaze on the Seer standing in the doorway of the kitchen. Her gaze meets his for a moment before she looks away, moving in stilted gestures as she backs up into the kitchen. The sound of her heartbeat is deafening and it sets his hair on end. "Angel?"

"What?" He turns back to Wesley, who is placing the money in a green bank purse.

"I asked you if you wanted me to drop this off at the bank tomorrow?"

"Yes. I...are we done here?"

Wesley glances at the paperwork, the gears in his mind whirring as he clicks off things on his mental checklist. "Yes, the rest of this can wait until morning. Why?"

"I just..." He unconsciously glances toward the silent kitchen, where Cordelia's shadow is thrown against the wall. Wesley follows his gaze and nods his head.

"Oh, I understand. I'll just...see you all around noon then." Wesley stands and calls into the kitchen. "Bye Cordy!"

"Bye Wes!" Her voice is overly loud and cheerful, the words thick in places where they shouldn't be. Angel curses under his breath. He knows she's crying.

As Wesley walks out the door, casting one last worried glance backward, Angel stands and moves toward the kitchen. There are words on his tongue, things he wants to say and things he has to say. She needs to know that she's not alone, that things will get better.

He steps into the kitchen and sees the red streaks down her cheeks, sees the tremble in her limbs and the curve of her spine caused by the strain of holding her sobs in. Her eyes lift and flash in the bright overhead lights and he sees the pain and fear in her expression a moment before her mask falls into place.

"Cordelia?" He moves to touch her, but she escapes his questing fingers like a spirit, backing up toward her bedroom, her mind on escape. She swipes one hand across her eyes, smearing her mascara in dark streaks.

"I...I'm really tired. See you in the morning." She smiles falsely and the door opens up on a gust of wind. She darts through it, into the sanctuary of her bedroom. The door closes behind her with the finality of a funeral bell.

"Thanks Dennis." Angel mutters, sitting down at the little table. Thoughts and feelings tumble through his system. He's not sure what just happened, or what will happen. All he can think about is what's going on behind that closed door. He aches to knock, or maybe tear the flimsy wood from its hinges, but he sits, waiting for light. His gaze lingers over the half-drunk cup of coffee resting beside her magazine. His eyes rake over the ceramic mug, finding her lip prints in a tantalizing pattern all over the rim.

He sighs, feeling a tight, all-encompassing ache in his stomach that grows as he senses her behind the door, her footsteps a steady march that tears through his skin. Several hours later, the footsteps recede and the steady sigh of her breath tells him she's finally asleep.

Reluctantly, he settles onto the couch and sleeps, all too aware of the craving on the back of his tongue and the woman sleeping in the next room.

****

She sees. She always sees, but her hands are useless at her side. She's spinning and there is a rush of reality that splits through her mind. Angel's face, resting between her breasts, his fingers digging into a wound on her solar plexus, fresh, hot blood pumping into his mouth as it trails over her skin. She gasps and twists her fingers in his hair. Light flashes and he burns away, twisting like paper. She cries out, anguish a vein through her heart. Hands touch her in places that ache for comfort. She sees bloodless eyes, screaming mouths and children burning.

She tries to help and nothing comes. Nothing can help them. Nothing can take back the bullet through a baby's brain. Nothing can take back the beating a husband gives his wife or the pain of an old man as his heart seizes. She can't help them and she doesn't know that she's weeks too late. Pain twists her body into spasms and she screams as the flesh suddenly rips in fiery slashes.

And, just as suddenly, she is awake and alone, cold in her bed as images she can't let go of tear through mind. Silently, she cries, the cold touch of a ghost her only comfort.

She fumbles for the light, but her hand hits the glass of water she keeps on the nightstand. The glass cracks into sharp pieces as it tumbles to the floor. With a sigh, she untangles herself from the folds of her bedding and reaches down to pick the broken glass up.

Pain slices through her arm as she fumbles in the dark for the strewn shards. Fire shoots through her body and she shudders, lifting her arm to the light.

A piece of the glass is imbeded in the soft muscle of her forearm. It glitters with blood and water. She prods the prysmatic tip with her thumb, dangerously fascinated. More pain shudders through her cells.

She prods it again and a brilliant ache forms as the pain works it way through the dips and hollows of her body, filling in the voids and chasing out the ghosts. She prods again and again until finally she can't take it any longer. The glass slides out of her skin with a hot thrust of pleasure and agony. Blood flows freely down her arm. The wound isn't deep or wide, but the wonder it brings touches her features.

She smiles.

****

Light comes and the city settles in for another blistering day of hangovers and responsibility. In Cordelia's apartment, Angel washes the dishes, careful to avoid the tiny sliver of sunshine coming from under the blinds on the window above the sink. Cordelia haunts her bedroom, avoiding him.

He dries the last bowl and places it in the cupboard, his head tilted in the direction of her bedroom. He can hear her stirring, the sound of hairspray being sprayed and other domestic noises that comfort him. At noon, she makes her appearance, looking for all the world like she rolled out of bed fully dressed and made-up. Despite that, he can see the hint of blue skin just under her eyes and knows that the sleep she got last night was scarce and full of nightmares. The cut over her eye is Band-Aid free and angry. He winces in sympathy.

She gets a cup of coffee, merely nodding in his direction before going into the living room and turning Wesley's laptop on. Shortly after that, Wesley arrives and the daily routine of Angel Investigations begins. Angel's thoughts are miles away and Wesley can sense it. As soon as the light fades and night comes on once more, he speaks up, cornering Angel in the kitchen with a cup of tea.

"How are things?" He says in a low tone as he clutches the cup of tea in his hands.

Angel's eyes flicker to the living room, where Cordelia is still hunched over the computer, her back stiff and unyielding. He leans in closer to Wesley and whispers, "I don't think she's over them yet."

"No, I wouldn't think so. She was nearly catatonic with them for over a day. That's not something one can just bounce back from. What should we do?" Wesley's gaze falls on Cordelia's back as she types. He sighs and then turns back to Angel.

"Just be here when she cracks."

"Yes. That really is all we--"

A scream rips through air, jolting through Angel's brain like machine gun fire. He drops the undrunk cup of tea and dives into the living room, where Cordelia rolls on the floor, her fingers fisted in her hair and her mouth a rictus of pain. Tears roll down her cheeks in scorching rivers.

"Vampires are attacking a girl in the bathroom of the Greyhound depot." She chokes out as he drops to his knees and cradles her head in his lap. "You've gotta go...it's happening soon!"

"Come on, Angel." Wesley calls from the door, his coat already across his wide shoulders and a stake in his hands.

"You're still hurt--"

"No need to coddle me, Angel. Let's go!" Wesley's face is a calm mask and Angel nods his head, then scoops Cordelia up in his arms and deposits her on the couch.

"Are you okay?" He asks, smoothing one hand over her forehead, his fingertips lingering on the wound over her eye. In response, she smacks his arm and shoves him toward the door.

"Go! Just...go!"

He hesitates once as he reaches the threshold, his eyes raking across her prostrate form as she clutches her head in pain. Then Wesley grabs his arm and pulls him out the door. There are lives to save.

He can't help her now.

****

As the door closes, she gasps a cry and lets out the force of her anguish. Her body shakes with the phantom pain the girl's death has caused in her mind. She can feel the hungry mouths of the vampires across her body, moving in creeping waves as they seek the thick veins just below the surface of her skin. Her mouth aches to scream, her tongue forming shouts that rise and fall in her chest.

She wants to make it stop. She wants to make the screams fade, but they only add to the din in her mind. Her stomach heaves and she stumbles to the kitchen, throwing up in the sink. Stomach acid burns her throat and nose as she leans over the sink, her fingers gripping the metal so tight her knuckles crack.

The room swirls and she falls to her knees, her flailing hands knocking things from the counter. A coffee mug shatters at her feet and there is a clatter as her butcher's block hits the floor, scattering knives in a glittering circle. The linoleum is cold on her bare legs as she curls them under body. Pain takes up residence behind her eyes, throbbing so hard she's sure they're going to burst.

Make it stop...make it stop...

The chant goes up in her mind and she holds on to it, her fingers groping across the floor. Her thumb slides along the chilling curve of a knife blade and she immediately grips the handle in her fingers. The weight is slight and the knife settles easily in her palm.

She remembers the glass in her arm with a sick twist. She swore she wouldn't...but it hurts so much... She grits her teeth. The first scratch of the knife tip along her inner arm ebbs the pain in her skull. She focuses on the stinging ache as blood wells up along the shallow cut.

She makes another cut and then another, and the pain slows to a halt in her brain. Images stop flashing. She can breath. The screams of the girl die to a whimper that eases out to a whisper.

She bites her lip and cuts again and again and again...

****

When he gets back to the apartment, she's already asleep, the bedroom door a blank, emotionless face that mocks him. He lingers outside it, his hand inches from the wood. He wants to knock. He wants to walk in there and hold her and ease the pain.

Instead, he walks into the tiny kitchen, where everything is neat and white and shiny. But there's something wrong. Something beneath the fresh smell of lemon and Lysol. He notices a potpourri pot simmering on the table, expelling lavender and rose into the air. It's thick and cloying, but he reaches beneath the heavy flower scent and finds something darker.

Something familiar that stirs his belly with visceral hands. He glances uneasily at the bedroom door behind him, where his Seer sleeps in innocence.

****

A week passes before another vision hits her.

Angel is sitting in the living room, deep in thought--or Brood Mode, as she would call it--when it hits. His fingers are twisted into strange shapes in his lap. The television is on and the news tells of a brush fire south of the city. He watches the clouds of billowing smoke and the reporter shouting into a microphone a few minutes before he zones out and closes his eyes, focusing all his attention on the girl in the kitchen.

She's been secretive all week, avoiding him and his touch. She won't eat and he notices that she looks paler than usual. He thinks she must be sick, because she keeps wearing long sweatshirts and sweatpants, despite the broiling temperatures outside. Even he has begun to feel the heat as the city bakes under the summer sun.

He's about to get up and check on her when her screams rip the air. He finds her lying across the kitchen table, milk splashed across her sweatshirt and Froot Loops scattered in a rainbow wave across the floor. He vaults over the cereal box and gathers her up in his arms.

"What is it?"

"Fire. Little boy screaming. Ow! Ow!" She gropes at her arms, fingers drawn into claws. Her skin smells of Vaseline and baby oil, causing a frown to crease his lips.

"Where Cordelia?"

"It's in Silverado...336 West Chino Street. His mother had a seizure and there's a fire in the hills behind their house..." He looks up at the television, where the reporter is still screaming into the microphone. A curse escapes his lips and he grabs for his keys. It's broad daylight out, but the windows are blacked out enough not to be a concern. It's the time that worries him. Silverado is all the way across the city and he swallows at the sight of the flames on the screen. "Get Wesley."

"Not enough time." He picks her up and realizes that she's dangerously limp his hands. Her skin is cold where it hits him. Her lip trembles as he puts her on the couch once more. A blanket goes over her body as he bends down, his lips going to her forehead before he can stop himself. Her eyelashes flutter against her pale cheeks, but she doesn't say anything. He lets go of her hand and bolts out of the apartment, scooping up the blanket that sits next to the door.

He doesn't glance back as he hits the hallway, but he knows she crying. His heart goes out to her as he emerges into the full sunshine and dives for the car.

****

His face is tender from the half-healed burn he got pulling the child and his comatose mother out of the flames. He's bone weary by the time he gets back to her apartment. The sinking sun is a red, glowing orb that slides down the sky and hisses as it hits the horizon, boiling the Pacific in all it's fathomless splendor.

When he walks into living room, he notices the smell of the potpourri simmering in the kitchen once more. Her bedroom door is closed to him and he can hear the shower running. He leans against the door, his face pressed to the wood, senses extended. Something itches at his tongue and he swallows lungfuls of the cloying, sweet air.

He knows the smell.

Blood permeates the apartment and he feels it, aches for it and knows it's hers. His fingers scrape along the door until he's touching the knob. The brass is cool and grounding in his palm. He knows that on the other side of the door, she's naked and wet.

He hates this time of the month. Being near her is a torture that touches his eyes with gold. Her smell, the feel of her hands on his and the secretive power that comes with her menstrual cycle breaks his control in two. It's always been like this and he knows the signs. His internal calendar counts up the days and he finds the reckoning is off by two weeks.

He frowns and grips the doorknob tighter, wondering why she's early and realizing it's none of his business. The smell is tantalizing though, and he drinks it in, all thought driven out of his head.

When the shower shuts off, he settles down on the couch, an endless night of longing stretching before him, miles to go before he sleeps.

She lies down in her room, a thick robe over her skin, the ache of fresh wounds on her arms. The guilty knife is hidden under the bed, the tip scrubbed clean by stained fingertips. She feels dirty and weak. Dennis tried to stop her, but he couldn't grip the knife. She feels a hot, sick twinge of guilt that he had to watch, even if she couldn't see him.

But the screams have died. The smell of smoke is gone from her nose and her eyes are no longer bloodshot. She can feel her hands now and the ghost of flames is gone from her vision.

She will sleep soundly tonight.

****

Two days later finds her sweating over the computer, logging cases into the database as Wesley writes them out on the dry-erase board he bought that day. He moves freely, claiming his ribs have healed completely. Angel isn't there; having begged restlessness, he left for a short patrol of the city in his car. This strikes Wesley as odd, because Angel's never done this before.

"Has Angel been acting odd lately?"

"Angel's always weird."

"But...especially weird. He's been short with me and he's not been...well he's barely said two words to you. Did you two have a fight?"

"Not that I'm aware of." Cordelia says with a shrug, a stray lock of hair falling across her healed forehead. She reaches up and pushes the strand back behind her ear, the sleeves of her sweatshirt falling down to her elbow as she does.

Wesley's eyes narrow as he sees the healing cut across her wrist. "What's that?"

"What's what?" She asks as she goes back to two-finger typing, the sleeve falling back to her wrist as she does. Wesley walks over and jerks the sleeve back up, but she wrenches her arm out of his grip before he can get a good look.

"Cordy...?"

"It's nothing. Cat scratch."

"You don't have a cat."

"There was one outside a few days ago. Wasn't too happy about being petted."

Wesley's blue eyes darken as he sits down next to her, his fingers lacing through hers. She's cold and pale against his tanned skin. "Cordy...I'm your friend. If there's something wrong, you can tell me."

She let's go of his hand and looks back at the computer screen, her hair falling like a curtain of protection across her face, blocking his view of her eyes. "Everything's great Wes. We'd better get this stuff done before Angel gets back and goes all Joan Crawford on us. You still have to translate that other part of the scroll Mr. Oops-Wrong-Word."

Wesley stands and goes back to the dry-erase board, unease flowing through his veins as she glances up, biting her lip, the itch of healing cuts a guilty twinge.

****

The next day, Wesley has the kitchen table completely covered in a mound of papers, books and ancient scrolls. Angel is working out, twirling one of the new broadswords Cordelia bought for him. He decides he likes this one and won't let anyone touch it. It has her fingerprints all over the pommel.

"Has Cordelia been acting odd lately?"

Angel looks up from his slash and stares intently at his friend. The ex-Watcher's glasses have slipped down his nose, a sheen of sweat clinging to his skin. The air conditioner is almost useless in this weather; they have to rely on Dennis to create any kind of breeze.

"She's Cordelia. She's always odd."

"Well I mean...she looks ill. Do you think the visions...?"

"I don't really want to talk about it."

"Are you two...I don't mean to pry, but living here together..." Wesley shifts uncomfortably and pushes his glasses back up his nose, only to have them slide back down a moment later.

"We're just friends, Wes. That's all."

"I know...I just meant, were you two fighting?"

"No. Not really."

"Oh."

Wesley drops the conversation and goes back to his text as Angel continues to slice at the air, the smell of blood a fading memory in his mind. Today should be the last day of her period. He welcomes the end of his torment with open arms.

Outside the apartment, Cordelia leans against the wall, her breath heaving in her chest and a tight headache behind her eyes. She twists her fingers in her hair and wills the pain away. She knows it won't.

She knows what she needs and a tear tracks down her cheek.

****

Angel is tucked away neatly on the couch when she snatches the knife out from under the bed.

She vows to cut only once and not on her arms. The tip is sharp. It glides serenely across the inside of her thigh, bringing with it the sharp, clearness of the night. She breathes in the scent of earth and sky.

A sigh of wind caresses her face. She lays back and cuts again, before Dennis can stop her. The pain is crisp once more. She gives a muffled cry, hiding her face in the stark white pillow. She imagines the feel of a mouth, ravening on her skin, twisting, tearing, and probing. She imagines brown eyes that burn bright. Her fingers dip below the soft lace of her panties, stifling a moan in her throat as she thinks of things she shouldn't. Torturous sparks of pain and pleasure betray her as she touches, teases and slides. Her back arches as she comes, blood slicking down her thighs.

When she opens her eyes, the knife is gone, safely tucked away under the bed where no one can find it.

"Thank you Dennis." She whispers as guilt and longing washes over her.

She knows he will protect her secret now. But she swears she'll never need to do it again.

****

Angel is getting out of the shower the next morning when she appears, wrapped in a bathrobe that clings to her firm curves. Water trickles down his chest. She tracks it's flight path with shadowed eyes.

"Cordelia?" He takes a subtle sniff of the air and the faint smudge of blood curls into his nostrils. She looks very pale today, her hair mussed and her face bare of makeup. He thinks she's never looked so lovely before. "I'm done in the shower if you wanna..."

She steps up in front of him, touching her finger to the middle of his chest. She closes her eyes and the smell of her skin, baby oil and Vaseline throbbing through the air. A shock goes through his system as she puts her head on his chest. He wraps his arms around her immediately.

"I'm sorry."

"For what? Cor--"

"Nothing. Just...hold me."

He does, not asking the questions that haunt his mind, ignoring the signs that flash like neon through his brain. He holds her, feeling the warmth, wet fingers pressed to the sides of her face. He holds her until she pulls away, leaving him cold and alone. Her bedroom door closes and he collapses onto the couch, his head in his hands.

He is very confused.

****

Two weeks pass in a haze of heat and racing tension. The smell of blood has faded into nothing, but he's still on edge, worrying about the shadow that haunts her eyes as she pours herself into work. It's on Wesley's day off that she has another vision.

This time, he's making her dinner, waiting for her to get home from an acting workshop she swore she couldn't miss. Things were civil between them that morning and she could actually look at him, the old Cordelia present in the impish smile and biting sarcasm over morning coffee.

Now he's waiting on her, lemon chicken simmering in the oven and homemade mashed potatoes keeping warm on the stove. The sun is already down by the time she comes in, wearing a tight pair of jeans and a long-sleeved blouse. Outside, a light wind fills the city and heat lightning shows in the sky.

"Do I smell chicken?" She asks as she puts her bag down on the coffee table, a smile on her lips. He pulls the chicken out of the oven and turns it off as she walks into the room.

"Yeah. I decided to make you dinner. Hope you don't mind." He stands at the stove, his arms crossed over his chest and pride in his chest. He wanted to do something special for her and the look on her face is thank you enough.

"Why would I...I..."

Her voice trails away and he knows before the scream bubbles up from her throat what's going to happen. He rushes forward and catches her as her knees give. Her body jerks in spasms as he lifts her against his chest. Her eyes slam shut as he presses his fingers to her face.

"What is it?"

"Oh God..." She breathes as tears leak down her cheeks, a horror he can't begin to imagine flashing across her vision. She buries her head against his shoulder, her fingers fisted in his shirt. She falls into silence a moment before his mouth slides across her forehead, tender and real.

"Cordelia?"

"Demon. He had this...girl down and the parts didn't fit. So he made them fit." She swallows and he feels a sick, hot feeling tumble through his gut.

"Where?"

"In the basement of a bar, somewhere in Little Tokyo I think. There was a neon dragon in the window of the bar...that's all I can remember."

"When?"

"Soon." His jaw is tight as he carries her to her bed. There are tears in her eyes as she curls up against the covers. "Wesley should go with you."

"Not enough time to get him. I'll be back and we'll have chicken, okay?"

Her smile is weak as he pats her hand. Then, he's gone, out the door and into the city to play the hero. She listens to the night sounds, horrible images twisting her mind into fragments of herself. She leans over the bed before she's really thinking about it, fumbling for the knife wedged into the bedsprings.

The edge is sharp and it knows her skin well. Since her brush with Angel, she's avoided the release of pain the drag of steel through her skin awards her. She knows its wrong and she feels a splintered twist of guilt as the blade glints in the lamplight. She thought she was strong enough to stop.

She realizes she's weak as the knife slices through her skin, a cut for every thrust the demon punished the girl with. Blood stains her fingers and spills onto the bedspread. Anger boils through her system. It's his fault. She thought she didn't need it, she thought she was okay now. Her wounds have healed. She hasn't dreamed since he held her...but now...

She winces with pain, but doesn't stop. She can't stop until the nightmares go away. And she blames him.

****

The girl hugged him. He smiled, spoke gentle words and took her home.

Now he's on his way back to her apartment, anxious to help her ease the pain of the vision. His worry is a companion as he pulls up to the apartment, one eye on the storm that threatens to break. In this heat, lightning could start a fire and he's anxious not to venture into another burning home. He prays she doesn't have another vision so soon, afraid it would be too much for her, but he knows she'll be alright--isn't she always?

As soon as the door opens, he knows something is wrong.

The scent of blood is thick in the air and this time there is no potpourri or Lysol to cover up the smell. It clings to his skin as he wades into the room. Like a punch in the gut, he knows this isn't her period. This is something harder, harsher and sudden.

The bedroom door is closed as always and he can hear the shower going. The smell of blood is thick as it drifts out from the edges of the door. He hesitates once, habit demanding he leaves her to her privacy, but worry and fear in the movement that breaks the door from its hinges. He vaults into the room and registers the blood on the bed a moment before he flings the bathroom door open.

Steam curls out of the room as he plunges inside, ripping the shower curtain off it's rungs without thought. He stops short as his eyes take in the full view of the woman before him.

She's standing naked in the shower, blood streaming down her body in pink rivulets. Her arms are crisscrossed with wounds. She gasps and tries to hide in the corner of the bathtub

"Angel! Get out!"

"What the hell happened to you?"

"Nothing! Go!" She snatches the shower curtain from his hand and wraps it around her torso. She steps out of the bathtub, her chest heaving, and water dripping down her face as she glares at him angrily.

"What happened?"

"Get out!"

"No! What did you do?" He grabs one of her arms and pulls it toward him, the cuts bright red and angry against her pale skin. He sees faint, healed marks beneath the fresher wounds. "What did you do?"

"Let go of me, Angel!"

"Did you cut yourself? Did you do this on purpose?"

"No...I...it's..."

"Don't lie to me. That's why...you've been hiding this from me, haven't you?" His mind races and he remembers the smell of Vaseline and baby oil on her body. She was covering up the smell of the wounds. She knew he could smell it on her.

"Hiding what?" She says as she wrenches her arm out of his hand. He grabs her shoulders and drags her to the full-length mirror in her bedroom.

"Hiding this! Jesus Christ, look at yourself, Cordy! Look!"

She stares dully at the cuts and the blood on her skin. She sees the wounds and the man standing behind her, his hands on her wet shoulders, his face a mask of worry and fear. The feel of his hands on her skin a brand that burns through her body like acid. She shudders, longing to collapse into his arms and knowing she can't.

She sees it all and then whirls around to face him, guilt and sickness washing over her. It manifests in the anger that crawls across her skin and in the fist that slams into his nose.

Angel falls back on the bed in surprise, his face full of pain.

"It's your fault! You're the reason I have these stupid visions! I can't get them out of my head. I can't let them go...I hurt because of you!" Tears stream her face as she advances on him. She hits him again, her fist slamming into his chest. She swings again and he blocks the blow, grabbing her wrist and pulling her toward him. The smell of her blood is intoxicating and he fights for control as she tries to squirm out of his grip, her anger giving her wild strength.

She manages to wrench her arm from his grasp and they fall together in a heap of limbs as she goes for him. A short wrestling match leaves him on top, his hands pinning her shoulders to the bloody bedspread.

They stare at each other for a few seconds before she wraps her fingers in his hair and pulls his face down to hers. Their mouths meet and she kisses him hard, teeth biting at his lips. The smell of her blood permeates his senses, filling him up with everything that is Cordelia. Her tongue slips snake-like against his, her curves like marble beneath his hands. She moves sensuously against him, wet and warm. Desire shoots through him and he pulls her upward against him

She thrusts her hips toward his and he reaches between them, tearing the shower curtain away from her body like he's unwrapping a gift. She shudders as he dips his head to the joint of her shoulder, licking the skin, lifting traces of her blood off with a persistent tongue.

He's not thinking when he moves down and suckles one fresh slit along the inside of her arm. The last dregs of her blood spread like chocolate over his tongue and he sucks deep. She gives a cry and scrapes her fingers down his back, leaving raised welts across the black tattoo on his shoulder blade.

Thunder crackles through the sky as the storm warns them of its presence. Realization hits him and he reels his head back, lips stained red, eyes glittering gold.

"Can't...I'll hurt you..."

"Then don't."

"I can't...I don't know if...." Horror blossoms in his chest. He can't, he won't...

"I trust you." She says firmly, sitting up and taking him with her. She pulls his shirt over his head and then kisses his mouth forcefully. His desire reawakens and he kisses her back, and then moves along her naked body, kissing the hollow of her shoulders and the dip between her breasts. She looks down at him, his mouth red and open on her breasts. Memories of dreams flood into her mind and she closes her eyes, her arms throbbing and a low ache in her belly.

"I dreamed this." Her voice is a whisper that crashes against his skull and courses through his cells. The sound of the wind on her bedroom window is a death rattle.

Slowly he moves down her body, his fingers lingering on the angry wounds scattered across her flesh. He lifts them away, sucking them into his mouth with a passion that explodes through her belly. His mouth teases her stomach, tongue swirling across the soft skin and dipping into the satin whorl of her navel. Her belly spasms as his hands orbit her hips, spreading down her thighs to her knees.

Air swirls over her skin as he parts her knees. The smell of blood arrives on his senses once more and he sees, a moan of sorrow going through him, that she's marked her thighs too. Warm scratches arranged in a pattern of anguish mar the creamy skin. He scrapes his cheek across her thigh, dipping his tongue across the broken flesh. Her skin is salty and scented with blood and soap.

Her body shudders as his fingers walk back up her thighs and slide smoothly between her legs. She's warm and wet. She shudders again, hands in his hair, her grip desperate and tremulous. Slowly, he cleans each wound, like a cat bathing itself in the sunlight. The first drops of rain plink-plink against the window and the smell of ozone fills the room with it's tangy scent.

Outside, the earth opens up, drinking in the clouds' offerings like a thirsty child. The buildings glisten as the rain quenches the boiled city, lightning forking through the sky in pinks and blues. Thunder rattles the glass and concrete. And, just like the storm, a girl let's go.

When his mouth moves from her thighs to the valley between her legs, she bites her lip and waits. He's gentle, easing his fingers into the cradle of her body, his lips working smoothly through the sensitive folds of flesh that swell at his touch. He moves slowly as her head falls back and the ghosts ease out of her body. The pain is forgotten. Her anger releases in a burst of pleasure that spreads throughout her limbs and into the farthest reaches of her mind, where a wall crumbles and the visions escape.

He feels the tightening in her muscles as she tenses, his tongue swirling over her sensitive skin, his fingers sliding gracefully inside of her body. He thrusts hard only once as she gives a cry, her body seizing up around his fingers. The room vibrates as thunder shoots through the air, swallowing his name as it tumbles from her lips. Rain pounds the roof as he laps gently at her wet skin, her taste as intoxicating as her blood.

"Angel..." She says as he pries her fingers out of his hair, lacing his hands with her own. He slides her down the sheets until she's fully beneath him, his hard flesh straining through layers of clothing as he thrusts his hips into hers. The smell of blood goes through him again as her sanguine arms encircle his bare shoulders.

She kisses him gently, relaxing beneath him as he explores her body his hands. His head dips back to the joint of her neck and shoulder. She smiles as he kisses the skin gently. The smile fades as she feels a sharp pain lace through her skin.

Her blood wells up in his mouth as his teeth sink into the fragrant skin of her neck. He growls, longing for the source of his madness, longing to fully taste the well of life that has already whetted his tongue. He doesn't realize, until it's too late, that he's drinking. Her terror-filled voice tears through the hunger and the demon inside his skin.

"Angel!"

He falls back, hitting the floor and crumbling to his knees. Blood trickles down his chin in a guilty flow. He trembles and backs up into the corner, burying his face in his knees. He senses her closeness in the scent of blood and the heat of her skin. Her hands touch his shoulders and lift his head. He meets the shadows of her eyes with a shock. Her smile is radiant.

"I'm so sorry..."

"One more wound. It's not your fault."

"I hurt you...I didn't want to hurt you..."

"I'm fine. Nothing a Band-Aid can't cure." She pokes his arm and the touch ripples through his skin. Her mouth is inviting as it hovers above his own. He kisses her softly as the demon melts grudgingly from his features. The shape of his mouth changes and she darts her tongue inside, the coppery tang of her own blood sharp and familiar on her palate.

She suckles the lingering taste from his mouth then gently curls up in his arms, listening to the storm raging above Los Angeles. He holds her, learning a new kind of control. Neither of them speak. Hours go by and still they sit, rain falling into a whimpering mist that evaporates as the heat of the earth leeches it from the grass and the dust.

Sunlight creeps across the mountains in the east, trumpeting the arrival of another day and the end of the storm. Today, she will heal. Today, she let's go. She knows that people live and that people die. Such is the way of the world. She knows that shadows kill those that don't deserve it. She can heal now and she thanks him as he vows to keep her safe from the ache in her mind.

But she swears she'll never need it again...

(end)

****