Title: Crimson and Clover

By: Niamh

Rating: A good strong R-rating for not-pretty imagery and the not-nice things we would all prefer not to think about.

Disclaimer: These characters are the property of Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Mutant Enemy (Grr! Arrgh!), and Twentieth Century Fox. They are being used without permission; no profit will come from this infringement.

Spoilers: Post "Waiting in the Wings," but without the Groo-age. Also references to "Prodigal."

Author's notes: This was written in response to the ACangst Cliche Challenge. I suppose it is slightly AU, given the fact that I have chosen to ignore Groo's appearance at the end of "Waiting in the Wings."
***

For most, memories are comforting. They're warm and nostalgic and make us think of better times. For most people, memories provide a positive link to the past. Our memories allow us to maintain contact with that past. They remain, even after everything else is gone, and quite often people are thankful for that, because there are few things worse than forgetting.

However, Angel wasn't most people. For him, memories provided torment with little comfort. His mind at times felt overloaded with all the bits and snatches he'd absorbed over time. They wrestled with each other, often surfacing at the most inopportune times, stimulated by the most unexpected things. A whiff of expensive perfume reminded him of a cold night in Prague, his teeth piercing the supple flesh of a wealthy young widow. If he closed his eyes, he could hear her soft, surprised gasp, and could almost feel her blood pulsing into his mouth, right before he forcibly slammed the memory away, actively trying to forget it.

Obviously, the more recent the memories, the harder they were to ignore.

Tonight was going to stick with him for a long time to come. He lay in bed, the tuxedo bearing Cordelia's scent hanging silently in the closet. It didn't matter that he'd shucked the suit from his body - he could still smell her against his skin; her own expensive perfume, the scent of her shampoo, her sweat, her desire all clung to him, sticking to Angel like a spider's web. He contemplated a shower, but that would have released him from the silken threads that were wound around him. He wasn't quite ready to be released yet. He was enjoying his bondage.

Closing his eyes, Angel shifted, the sheets raking across his skin. The noise was loud in the quiet of the room, and almost immediately his mind's eye was suddenly flooded with the sound of Cordelia's dress skimming across her skin. He could almost feel the material in his hands. Again he felt the surge of desire well up in his chest as he had fought to keep from tearing the dress into shreds, leaving nothing but her flushed skin.

He rolled over, trying to lock the remembered sensations away. Connor moved and sighed in his crib and Angel stilled, realizing that his libidinous restlessness was going to wake his son. He shifted the pillow beneath his head one final time, a grim smile playing across his lips. Nothing douses desire like the soft, sleepy sigh of an infant.

He drifted off to sleep, the sensory onslaught temporarily postponed.

Indeed, the images of Cordelia that played through his mind, lighting up corners like lightning during a late-night electrical storm were infinitely preferable to the other gossamer strands that teased at the far reaches of his considerable memory. He'd known many monsters in his lifetime, and had had a hand in making some as well. Cordelia's image allowed him to move away from monstrosity for a short while. She enabled him to become a voyeur to normality, if only temporarily.

Ah, there's the rub.

(Skin rubbing against skin.)

He was limited to voyeurism. He was a restricted observer.

(Observing. Watching. Wanting.)

Regardless of how much he wanted...

(Want. Take. Have.)

Having her would be his downfall.

(Falling down, ever further.)

He knew it as surely as he knew his own name.

(Angel. Angelus. Liam.)

Suddenly, there was sunlight. Boundless, streaming sunlight filtering through trees, creating dappled patterns on everything. He brought his arms over his face to shield himself, to save himself, the agonizing scream caught in his chest...

His chest.

(thump-thump)

Faster now, as though the realization triggered a physical response.

(thumpthump)

His entire body shook with it.

(thumpthump)

Still afraid to look, still afraid of the searing burning pain, the sight of his skin turning to dust before his very eyes, he gingerly pulled his arms away from his face, eyes closed. The breeze played across his face. Sunlight warmed his skin. He wasn't burning up, floating away on the breeze in so many tiny pieces.

(Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...)

His breath caught in his chest.

(So unnecessary. So useless.)

His voice was a paper-dry whisper. "It's a dream." The words were for himself only; they were reassurance, a reminder, because the alternative would have pleased him beyond all salvation.

Angel remained still. Dreams changed. They started out in goodness and light, but the light invariably dimmed, and he found himself amongst perpetual shadow once more. It was just a matter of waiting for the dream to change.

"It won't, you know." Darla appeared, her velvet voice twisting its way down his spine. "Change. It can't." She tilted her head at him, watching him with a curious gaze that bordered on innocent. "I wish it could."

His mouth felt as though it were lined with cotton. "What can't change?"

She laughed flirtatiously, her head tilted back. He watched in amazement as the sunlight bounced off of her blonde hair in a way that moonlight never had. "Everything, nothing. You, me. None of it can truly change. The demon steps into our bodies, uses our memories, until it becomes us. You can't change. You're only a tenant in a body that belongs to your demon, Angelus."

He shook his head, but she was only smiling beatifically down at him.

"You already know you can't change, even if you don't know it yet."

Angel struggled to his feet; his movements were sluggish, as though he were trying to move underwater. He willed his body to stand upright, and when he did, Darla was gone.

"You can't change your nature."

Angel's entire body stilled. No, not again. Please, not again. Not this dream again.

There, no more than twenty feet in front of him, standing in a clearing, was the petite frame of someone long dead, but never forgotten. He staggered forward haltingly, afraid to take his eyes off of her. She had disappeared too many times already.

"You never could change. Our father saw it in you." The juvenile voice turned cold as her eyes narrowed. "He saw it in you right before you took his life. I saw it when you took mine."

The sunlight was suddenly very cold, as he knew it would, and Angel grew colder with every step towards Kathy. Her words hit him like physical blows in his gut. He didn't want to hear anymore, but not wanting to hear something doesn't make it go away. In fact, in most cases it enhances the presence of the thing, making it more obvious. In Angel's mind, Kathy had no reason to love her brother. She'd had no reason to forgive him for what he'd done to her so many years ago. He was unworthy of forgiveness.

"You'll never learn, no matter how many times I die, Liam - no matter how many times you kill me. You are no angel. You are no champion. You're the used up shell of our father's son, trying to redeem himself for the irredeemable."

"That's not right, Kathy. That's not true. I loved you, Kathy. I never would have hurt you. You knew that. I never intended to hurt you." The words, as always, were useless.

Her eyes were suddenly wide with amusement, the young voice taking on a sing-song timbre. "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, Liam. Now, do what you're destined to do." She tilted her head back, exposing a milky white throat.

Repulsion overwhelmed him at the same time the sound of her pulse tripped across his ears, teasing him. "I can't," he was saying, even as he reached for her. The hunger was too much, the desire too great. No matter how many times he was here, he could not resist her. Angel grasped his sister's thin arms and pulled her to him. He intended to wrap her in his arms, to protect her from himself, but her scent twined itself around him. Blood, sweat, and innocence slithered out of her pores, calling to him.

"I can't," he murmured, even as Kathy's not-yet developed frame pressed itself wantonly against him, the thrumming of her blood through her veins like a siren's song. He wanted to resist - if he could resist her, it meant that salvation wasn't far behind. Giving in to indulgence had no rewards. "I won't."

"You will. You always will." She threaded her arms around his neck and pulled his mouth closer to the maddening pulse-point.

The sensation of her skin, alive and warm, against his suddenly cold lips flooded Angel's body with wanting so strong it would have startled him, were he conscious to realize it. He bit down and felt her flow into his mouth like honey. He drank, feeling her warmth - the scent of clover on a salty breeze - transfer itself to him; his cheeks flushed, and he felt himself harden against the now limp body. Suddenly disgusted, he dropped her and backed away, wiping furtively at his mouth, trying to erase the taste and ignore his evident arousal.

"I certainly hope you're happy now."

It was dark now, just like he'd known it would be. Sunlight never lasted long. Sunlight was for the chaste, the clean, the worthy.

"Cordy, I don't know what happened... I just... and she..."

But Cordelia only stood before Angel in stony silence, Kathy's crumpled frame resting in her shadow.

"Are you happy now, Angel?"

"No! I didn't mean to! I didn't know..."

"You always know, Angel. Even if you don't know."

He lunged for her, grabbing her upper arms tightly. Cordelia's face remained impassive, but her scent twined all around him. His desire resurfaced, and Angel was suddenly possessed by the desire to consume her completely. He wanted her inside of him, underneath his skin... he wanted to be imbued with her. His mouth watered for her.

Cordelia's eyes grew hard. "You'll never change, Angel."

He sat up suddenly. His bedroom was still shrouded in darkness; everything was still. Connor's soft, even breathing came from the crib, and Angel could hear L.A.'s city sounds beyond the closed windows. He took a breath for no reason other than to steady himself, and suddenly Cordelia's scent filled his nostrils.

The room felt very close all of a sudden. Angel swung his legs over the side of the bed and pushed himself up, padding silently towards the bathroom. He needed a shower.

***

The sense of smell, it is said, is the most powerful sense related to the stimulation of memories. Angel knew, whether he liked it or not, that the smell of boiled cabbage would stimulate hazy memories from his mortal youth. He also knew that the smell of freshly turned earth would make him think invariably of Buffy and the nights they had spent patrolling. There was a time when the scent of earth would have reminded him of his first night of rebirth, but the memories associated with different scents can change slightly over time. However, since a vampire's sense of smell is heightened, there were more scents he had experienced over time, and more memories to go with those scents.

Fear had a very distinct odor and often varied from person to person. In most individuals, it smelled sweet - intoxicatingly so; however, in the moral coward, it stunk of urine and vinegar. It had never been worthwhile to coax fear out of cowards for fun.

Jasmine reminded him of Darla.

Incense reminded him of Drusilla and the nun she never was.

Cheap hair pomade reminded him of Spike.

The smell of dust and moldy books would forever remind him of Giles, whereas the scent of a well-starched shirt would always bring up mental pictures of Wesley.

Fabric softener reminded him of Willow, while Xander always had the lingering scent of candy on him.

Gunn smelled of his truck - an inexplicable combination of auto grease and Taco Bell.

Ivory soap would forever remind Angel of Fred.

But Cordelia... In the years Angel had known Cordelia, she had changed drastically. She had, of course, retained her sharp wit and acerbic tongue, but she had also retained the same scent. He hadn't been able to pin down the scent at first - he had figured it was probably an expensive lotion, lingering under a designer perfume, but Cordelia had long since stopped indulging in niceties like that. He wasn't sure what it was, but he knew the scent. It was a jumble of different elements tangled together. It was just... her.

He inhaled deeply, trying to untangle her scent, hoping Cordelia wouldn't notice as she now sat across the room, engrossed in the bills for the hotel.

No matter how much she changed, she still remained the same.

("You'll never change, Angel.")

Unbidden, his mind sprung to the previous night and the way her desire had teased at his senses. Angel could almost feel the warm weight of her in his arms, her body pressed against him, her arms sliding slowly around his neck...

(Kathy's head tilting back, baring her throat...)

He shook his head violently, startled at the unbidden image that flashed across his mind. Dreams so often resurfaced unexpectedly, especially the unwanted ones.

"So, how was it?"

Angel froze, all moisture leeching from his mouth. In that short moment, he could smell nothing but clover and salt air, and it made him inexplicably hungry. "What?"

Cordelia was starting at him, her left eyebrow delicately arched, while a smirk played across her lips. "First vampire in space - I figured I'd ask."

The words still weren't making sense. The memory of crimson honey pulsing down his throat was far too distracting. "Huh?"

"Eloquent much? Jeez, I would have figured that somewhere after your bicentennial you'd have a handle on colloquialisms. You were spacing out, hence the space reference."

"Oh. Right. Sorry, I was just... thinking."

"As long as thinking isn't to be confused with brooding." She switched off her desk light -- when had it gotten dark? -- and slung her bag over her shoulder. "You're not confusing brooding with thinking, right?"

He nodded, letting her scent fill his nostrils in an attempt to erase the dream's lingering remnants. "Right. No brooding."

"This isn't about the other night, is it?" Cordelia asked, frowning slightly.

"No, not at all," he said, shifting in his seat.

("Kinda hard...")

"Are you sure? You've been acting really... well, weirder than is normal for you."

("Kinda noticed...")

"Cordelia, I'm fine. Possession by doomed lovers - all part of another night's work." Even as he said the words, he could taste the salt that had lingered against her skin the night before. He remembered her fevered flesh and how it had felt under his mouth, soft and yielding.

(Just like the widow in Prague.)

There was something uncertain in the way she stood there, watching him. "Are *you* okay with... all of it?"

"Me?" Cordelia waved a hand flippantly. "Please. I'm totally okay."

Angel stood, cocking his head. "Are you?" He could hear her pulse skyrocket. Something quickened within him as well. He walked over to where she stood.

"Absolutely. Cordelia Chase: the definition of okay." Her cheeks had begun to grow warm, possibly with Angel's proximity, possibly with the burden of her own memories. She too remembered the sensation of skin on skin, Angel's mouth dropping teasing kisses across her stomach. She too had lain awake the night before, imagining his face between her thighs.

"Then you should probably head on home, before..." he allowed himself the barest hint of a smile. "Before something else possesses me."

"There was a time when I would have said that was a bad thing." She didn't move, but she was thinking. First of Angel's lips and tongue, then of his teeth, and what (who, really) had the potential to accompany those teeth. "And, speaking of bad things, I should go before I do one, and then more bad things ensue, and we all end up horrifically murdered, which would be pretty bad." She had turned and was striding purposefully toward the door.

Desire surged, mingling with desperation. Hesitation meant waiting forever. He could not afford to hesitate - not anymore.

(Sunlight was only for the chaste...)

Something twisted inside of him. "Wait, Cordy..."

"No, Angel, you wait. Wait and think about this from some point of view other than your own. Thanks to Darla and your own overwrought vampy hormones, we've already established that sex is not the key to your curse. But think about it just for a moment - the consequences that come with being able to make you happy are... dangerous, to say the least. But Angel, the only thing worse than making you happy is finding out that I *can't* make you happy." She shook her head slowly. "And I'm not sure I want to find out either way."

The silence between them was palpable. She was right, and he knew it.

He always knew it, even when he didn't know it yet.

***

Thankfully, after the long, drawn-out silence, Cordelia had left the hotel, leaving Angel alone with nothing but his thoughts. He didn't want to sleep.

More specifically, he didn't want to dream. Angel knew, on some primal level, that his dreams tonight would be more of what he had tried to avoid the previous night, as well as the night before that.

A warm mug in his hands, Angel stood by the open window overlooking the night-time lights of Los Angeles. Angel raised the mug to his lips and swallowed. The blood was warm, but nothing could get rid of the tinny flavor that clung to pig's blood, especially when it had been warmed in the microwave. At least it got rid of his hunger. That was all he really asked for - taste was secondary.

It hadn't always been that way, obviously.

If he let himself, he could remember the nights when he would hunt - a time when hunger drove him, when the promise of blood was as intoxicating as blood itself. He didn't often let himself remember, but that didn't stop the memories from surfacing. They came most often while he slept, because Angel, like the rest of us, was at the mercy of his subconscious when he slumbered.

Draining the mug, Angel rinsed it out and put it away before stripping and crawling into bed. He drifted off to sleep, the tangy piquant of pig's blood still on his tongue.

Some dreams started out in sunlight and moved to darkness, while others were spawned from darkness and in darkness they would remain. Sometimes he recognized the faces of the men, women, and children he'd killed, and sometimes he didn't. Sometimes Angel begged forgiveness from his many victims, whereas other times Angel prowled the alleyways and salons of his memory, reliving the kill and relishing it.

Those were the most frightening dreams of all. He remembered nothing of conscience, nothing of humanity, and very little about anything but the art, the poetry that came with setting the perfect snare. In these dreams his body thrashed in bed while some dark corner of his mind savored past violence.

They had all trusted him - men, women, and children alike. He'd mastered an inviting quality that bordered on shyness without being too overtly coy. And, being the gifted liar that he was, he was able to say anything in order to gain trust. It was all about gaining trust in the end - surprise made his meal even sweeter. He learned that fairly early on; his beloved Kathy had shown him that. Nothing had ever tasted better than her shock. It had fairly tingled as it flowed down his throat, tasting thick and sweet. He'd never found that taste again, no matter how many vintages he had sampled.

(Angel...)

He smiled. She was calling to him again tonight. He licked his lips in anticipation.

(Angel...)

Her tiny form, clad in a simple white nightdress came toward him. Desire shuddered through him with a growl as his teeth elongated. Somewhere, tugging at the far reaches of his mind, was the knowledge that with indulgence came damnation.

He'd been repressing indulgence for too long, and his dreams reflected that all too clearly. A tiny voice cried out for him to stop, but that voice was drowned out by Kathy's scent, the come-hither look in her young eyes, and the gentle, inviting way her body moved towards him. Before his eyes, she grew taller, her angles filling out into shapely curves. Her dark hair framed a delicate, heart-shaped face.

He blinked, not understanding.

(Angel...)

"Cordelia?" The name was thick in his throat. Cordy stood before him where Kathy had been. A wicked smile curled at her lips.

"You can't change your nature, Angel."

He was shaking his head, trying to move away from her. This was not his destiny. This was not what he was meant for. "You're not Kathy."

She smiled coyly at him. "You always knew, even when you didn't know."

Sudden fear warred with the desire flooding through him. "You're not Kathy." The same words, over and over again. He could say nothing else.

"You promised you'd return to me. You never thought that I'd be returning to you, did you?"

Angel grabbed her shoulders tightly, but she did not - would not - flinch. Angel buried his face in her neck and bit down, feeling the hot blood pulse into his mouth. His nostrils filled with the scent of clover honey.

"Angel!"

The dream ripped itself away from him and Cordelia wriggled in his grasp, trying to push herself away.

Stop. He had to stop.

The scent of clover only got stronger as Kathy's taste washed across his tongue and coated his throat.

Cordelia's movements grew weaker as the blood slowed. Greedily he licked and suckled, aching for another taste. He didn't think about why Cordelia might have come back, nor did his think about what he was doing. There was nothing in his world beyond taste and smell and their almost tangible link to memory.

When there was no more to be had, Angel violently pulled himself away from the seer's cooling body. There was no mistaking it - there was no mistaking that taste.

There was no mistaking what he'd done. Again.