A/N: Hot damn, look who FINALLY awoke from her fic coma. Missed my ship and my readers.

Chapter Eleven: Solace

Cordelia had stayed in the bath for another ten minutes after her crying ceased, trying to pull herself together. When the temperature of the water dropped and goose bumps broke out over her flesh, she finally got out of the tub.

She dressed slowly, numb to her own feelings. She rummaged through the first aid kit and dressed the wound on her neck. The bruises on her thighs and hips were already a deep purple. Through she could block out the mental and emotional pain she felt, Cordelia couldn't ignore the physical. She needed rest. She crawled into the bed…their bed. It felt empty without him next to her, cold even. She finally drifted off into sleep, succumbing to exhaustion, wishing she was in Angel's arms.

Angel had left the hotel and just walked. He had no real idea where he was going, nor any inclination to care. He just moved, one foot in front of the other, wiping surprisingly hot tears from his eyes. How had he let things go so far? Let them get so messed up? He had hurt the most important person in his life; mentally and physically, left her crying and bleeding in a bath tub.

The tears finally dried on his face and his shoes seemed to echo on the cement in the quiet, dead city. He felt anger rise up within him. Anger toward Cordelia, Darla, Buffy and, mostly, toward himself. A deep sadness washed over him, drowning out any anger. This was all him. He destroyed all he touched and couldn't handle that truth anymore.

Need, want, hatred and bitterness clashed inside of Angel. He heard the soles of his shoes clack against tile and vaguely realized he was climbing stairs. A part of him finally came to enough to sense her in the hotel room. He smirked; she was alone. He twisted the knob until it broke and opened the door. A started Darla stared at him from the living room as he entered and closed the door behind him.

"Angel?" An evil, dark grin broke out over his face. She put down the book she had been reading and stood, frozen to her spot. "Angelus?"

"Sorry it took me so long, Darlin.'"

Cordelia woke up with a start, breathing heavy. She sat up tentatively and turned on the bedside lamp, eyes searching for him. She knew instantly that he wasn't there and hadn't been back since he left. She could feel it. Glancing at the clock, she sighed as bright red numbers shone back at her showing 3:00AM.

Admittedly, it wasn't that late, but Cordelia couldn't shake the gnawing feeling inside her that said something was wrong. She grabbed her cell phone and hit 1 on her speed dial. At the sight of his name on the phone's screen she froze, hesitating. Cordelia swallowed the lump in her throat and hit dial. It rang five times before going to voicemail. Cordelia hung up and tried again. Several failed attempts later, Cordelia dressed and left the room, Angel's car keys in hand. She pulled up to the Summers' residence ten minutes later.

Willow opened the door with a smile. Xander, Buffy and Riley sat in the living room, gazes no longer on the books scattered around, but now looking her way. Willow's smile faltered as she looked at Cordelia. The brunette looked worried, pale, and there was blood staining the bandage on her neck.

"Cordelia, are you okay?" Willow asked, face now a little pale as she stared at the ashen looking, borderline frantic Seer.

"I'm fine." She lied. Willow frowned, staring at her neck. Cordelia touched it with a wince, fresh blood coating her fingertips. "Is Angel here?"

"No, he left the club after you did. Haven't seen him since." Cordelia sighed in frustration and increased worry. "Come in." Cordelia stepped inside, closing the door behind her. She stared at the three people in the house gawking at her. She knew she looked a mess, but didn't care. She sat in the chair Willow gestured to.

"Where's Angel?" Buffy asked as soon as Cordelia sat down. Riley rolled his eyes.

"I don't know. I hoped he'd be here.

"Did you try calling him?" Cordelia shot Buffy an incredulous look.

"Of course I did. He's not answering." Cordelia sighed again and averted her gaze. "We got in a fight and he took off." Buffy's eyes narrowed.

"A fight about what?"

"He's probably just blowing off steam." Xander said before the seer could respond.

"That's what worries me." Cordelia muttered. "I just have a bad feeling."

"It's just because of the fight." Willow said, tone reassuring.

"A fight about what?" Buffy repeated.

"Nothing I want to discuss with you." Cordelia snapped. She wanted to go back to the hotel to escape, but knew there was no point. Angel wouldn't be there and she'd be stuck alone there to worry. At least she had some companionship in Willow and Xander. She sat there and waited anxiously for whatever was coming.

At the sound of his voice and the Angelus-like tone, Darla became panicked. She wasn't sure if Angelus was facing her right now, or a very angry, unpredictable Angel. Her eyes darted around the room for an escape route. She bolted for the hall out of the suite's living room, but he caught her before she even got close. She had forgotten how fast he was. Darla braced herself for a stake to the heart, for his hands at her throat, for a punch to her face; she wasn't prepared for his lips descending on hers.

Darla was torn between pleasure and fear. Her hands traveled up his shoulders, but she wasn't sure if it was to hold him closer or push him away. His hands grasped her hips roughly, bruising her flesh as he pushed her into the wall. When she felt the pressure at her flesh increase further, she pushed him away from her.

Angel growled in response, pushing his right arm up under her chin and against her throat, while his left still held her hip, keeping her pinned in place. She growled back at him, but didn't try to move.

"What do you want?

"You know exactly what I want." His voice dropped an octave. "And you know exactly why I'm here." His left hand moved south to play with the hem of her dress, slowly pushing it north as his right arm continued to hold her still. "You've been taunting me with it for months." He slipped his hand under the skirt of her dress, pausing as his fingertips met the edge of her panties.

"Don't play games with me." She tried to keep her voice strong, but there was a quiver of anticipation she couldn't mask.

"I already told you," Angel's voice was a raspy whisper in her ear. "I'm done playing." She heard the transformation, the monster coming forth. She cried out as his fangs sunk into the flesh at her neck, his fingers pushing roughly into her.

***
Angel started awake, a dull pain in his chest. He took in his surroundings: unfamiliar room, luxurious bedding and a blonde, rather than a brunette, next to him. He sat up and took a few deep, calming breaths, slightly bewildered. The memories were vivid, but how he had gotten here from his hotel was fuzzy.

Upon waking, he thought the pain he felt would surely increase as his soul was ripped from him, but soon he recognized the dull thud for what it really was, regret. Gone was the desperate need to lose the thing that grounded him to his humanity and emotions.

Instead, the realization of what would have happened enveloped him. He would have tortured and killed Cordelia, along with everyone else. The guilt of what Angelus would have done, combined with how willing he had been to unleash that evil, weighed on him.

On top of that though was what he had done to Cordelia, what she would say when she found out. Several hours ago he had touched her the same way he had Darla. Darla, who he had run to, lost and desperate, after Cordelia had trampled on his heart. Angel ran his hands over his face and through his hair before getting out of bed.

He gathered his clothes and pulled on his pants before sitting in a chair across from the bed. He was lacing up his last boot when Darla stirred and turned to face him. A wicked smile crossed her face as she propped herself up on her elbow.

"Morning Lover." Angel winced. Darla got out of bed and approached him. He took in the torn flesh at her neck, her breast, her thigh and the blood still caked there, the deep bruises on her arms, thighs, ribs and hips. God, what had he done to her?

"I'm sorry." He whispered, eyes on his feet.

"This?" She asked, voice light as she gestured to her cuts and bruises. "This is nothing. We haven't even gotten started yet, Darling." Her smile fell as his eyes met hers. He stood up, his face pained and full of regret.

"I gave you everything I had left." His voice was hollow. "I'm sorry." Her eyes widened, mouth slightly agape as realization hit. "I'm so sorry." In disbelief, she pushed him from her. He frowned and moved to the door.

"You still have the soul. No." He picked up his coat, shrugging it on. "But…we…"

"I know."

"Was it not good?" She asked, momentarily insecure. He turned to her. "No. I know it was good. I used to do this professionally, damn it. You cannot tell me that wasn't perfect."

"It was perfect, Darla. A moment of perfect despair, vulnerability, and desperation."

"No," she argued, refusing to believe he still had his soul. "Come on." She grabbed his hand, pulling him toward the bed. "We'll go again."

"We can't. You know that. We're done." She froze, hurt, scared and surprised. She had finally lost him. Anger boiled inside Darla as Angel left the bedroom. She grabbed a stake and met him as he turned the handle to the front door, lunging for his heart. Angel turned and grabbed her hand before the wooden tip could meet his skin. He twisted her hand and the stake fell to the floor. He kept her close to him as he spoke. "You did me a favor tonight so I'm going to do you one. Get dressed, get out of Sunnydale and stay away from LA. If I see you again I will kill you."

Angel left, closing the door behind him. He was miserable as he left Darla's hotel room. He knew he had hit rock bottom. But as much as he regretted what had happened with Darla, he felt like his mind was finally clear again. For the first time in months things were making sense again. He had gained perspective and needed to move forward.

Darla stared at the door, the realization that she had truly lost him forever hitting her hard. She sat down on the couch, unsure how it could hurt so badly when she didn't have a soul to feel with.

Two hours later, Lindsey and Drusilla returned. He tensed as he saw the broken door knob and entered the hotel room. He was relieved to see Darla, seemingly unscathed. He looked exhausted and frustrated, while Drusilla smiled, dancing her way into the room. She stopped abruptly as Angel's scent hit her. She turned wide eyes to Darla.

The blonde didn't look up, just continued to lie on the couch staring at the same spot she had since Angel had left. She had expected to have Angelus here with her when Lindsey and Drusilla returned. All that remained of him now were the fading bites and bruises on her body.

"What's wrong?"Lindsey was almost afraid to ask. His mood was too sour to deal with Darla moping over Angel.

"Daddy." Drusilla whispered with a smile. "I still smell him. Where is he?"

"What!" Lindsey yelled, outraged. "He was here!"

"'Was' being the appropriate word. Long gone, Dru. Sorry. Really thought I had him this time." Drusilla frowned, sinking to the floor like a child about to cry. Lindsey scowled, leaning against the wall. He was fuming as he took in her words, realizing that she had slept with him.

"It was her." Drusilla said, her voice distant, tone haunting. Darla sat up, looking at her.

"Her?"

"The Seer? I can smell her too." Her voice turned ghost-like. "I think he loves her. The soul and the demon." Darla roared, standing up and sending the nearest object, a heavy lamp, flying into the wall. Lindsey flinched as ceramic shattered and dry wall cracked.

"The Seer? That little bitch? Over me? Bull shit!" She started to pace, ranting, mind racing. "Oh, he loves her so damn much? We'll see how he feels after I'm done with her. Come on!" Drusilla grinned, eager to follow and obey. Lindsey didn't budge.

"No."

"What?" Lindsey was furious with Angel, but equally angry at Darla. He was done.

"I want no part of this, Darla. You and Dru do what you want. Have your fun, but I wash my hands of all of it. I'll head back to LA, bide you both some time with Wolfram & Hart, but I want nothing to do with whatever you're planning."

"Fine! I don't need your help! All you men do is fuck things up anyway! Come on, Drusilla!" The door slammed behind them.

Angel had stalled in returning to the hotel, not yet ready to face Cordelia. He decided to hunt for Spike at Buffy's after not finding him at this crypt, needing to talk with someone who knew him and the situation well enough to lend some advice while not attempting to stake him when he confessed. Angel froze at the edge of the lawn, not expecting to see his car pulled up along the curb. He took in a shaky breath, approached the door and entered the house.

Cordelia's eyes met his, still angry, but now showing relief also. Everyone else turned toward him, but he kept his gaze focused on her. The remorse was suffocating. He had to tell her now; he owed her that much at least.

"Can we talk?" Cordelia internally winced, knowing she wouldn't like whatever he had to say, but nodded and followed him outside. When he gestured for her to take a seat on one of the wicker porch chairs, she didn't argue, feeling her heart start to race and the anxiety build as she prepared for what he had to tell her. He squatted down in front of her, face apologetic, eyes full of regret. She felt her heart start to break all over again.

"I'm so sorry." He whispered. "I fucked up." She flinched at the harsh word, eyes tearing up.

"It was my fault too. I should've said no."

"No, Cordelia. I'm not talking about us." Her brow furrowed in confusion but she remained silent, waiting for him to continue. "I…" He took a deep breath and forced it out. "I slept with Darla." His words took a moment to register, her eyes widening as they fully sunk in.

"What!" She screamed, standing. Everyone in the house started at her yell. Buffy opened the door and they all crowded near the entrance, listening, as the slayer stood in the open doorway unseen by the vampire and his seer. Angel rose with her, hands attempting to grasp her upper arms but she pushed him, moving away from his embrace. "I can't believe you would…what were you thinking?" Cordelia yelled. Angel knew there wasn't an answer that would fix this so he told her the truth.

"I wasn't. I just…I wanted it done." His voice was low with shame.

"You wanted to lose your soul! Seriously! How could you! Why!"

"Because, Cordelia, I'm fuckin' tired. You don't understand. I know you try, but you don't. It was all just building up and I was on the edge, just tired of fighting, tired of trying. I just wanted to stop feeling. I gave up." She frowned, torn between feeling sorry for him and how angry and hurt she felt.

"And now?" Her voice was a whisper.

"I don't know. I know it made everything worse. But I think I get it now. I've never felt as lost or as low as I felt in that moment. I hit rock bottom Cordelia, and I think I gained some perspective on everything because of it. I think I understand where to go from here and I am so very sorry for all the pain I've caused you."

Cordelia took in a shaky breath. Her heart was still breaking, but everything in her screamed to just hug him and say everything was okay even if it wasn't. But she couldn't speak. She didn't know what to say, and he grew uneasy by her silence.

"Say something." He begged.

"I have nothing to say, Angel. I'm speechless. Everything that could have happened…" She trailed off, fear creeping up her spine and causing her to shiver.

"I know. But it didn't." Her expression was unbelieving. "It's not like I went evil."

"No, you just went male." Angel rolled his eyes, trying not to be frustrated by her sarcasm after he had poured his heart out to her. Cordelia sighed and ran a hand through her hair. She wanted to just let it all go; the hurt, the anger and the betrayal, but it was hard. It hurt so damn bad. "Good to know it's not just me. Even your damn obsession couldn't make you happy. I guess I shouldn't be offended." Angel's mouth dropped.

"Cordy, didn't compare yourself to her. Darla…Darla was…I don't know. There was nothing happy about it. It was pure despair, pure sorrow." Her voice was quiet, small, when she spoke.

"Was I despair, Angel? Was I sorrow?"

"No! God, no! Cordy, I-"

"Then why!"

"You pushed me away! You ran!"

"Because you don't love me! You just wanted to get laid! I'm nothing to you! Clearly…ugh! I feel so stupid. I mean, I don't want Angelus running around but, damn it, how could you do this to me! Touch me like that, make me feel these things when I mean nothing to you? I thought you cared about me, you are my best friend afterall. But you just wanted a fuck buddy." Angel flinched, feeling his heart shatter all over again at the tears in her eyes.

"Cordy, you are my best friend. You mean more to me than anything else in this world. I don't know why I didn't lose my soul with you-"

"It's called 'not bliss' Angel, remember?"

"It's not that simple."

"It is!" She yelled, then expelled a shaky breath as the fight left her. "Because I'm just not Buffy." Fighting tears, voice quivering, Cordelia stood. "I need a minute." She wrapped her arms tightly around her chest and walked to the side walk and down the street. Angel groaned as he watched her walk away, cursing himself.

Way to go, Asshole." Angel said to Angelus.

Hey, you're the one who fucked up here, Soulboy. Not me.

Yeah, but leave it to you to not show up when I give you the fuckin' pass.

I'm unpredictable. That's what makes us interesting. Besides, why take over now when I can keep making you miserable for a while? Angel growled and Angelus smirked, even though he was just as baffled as Angel about not being released by either Cordelia or Darla.

Angel finally turned away from the direction Cordelia disappeared in. When he faced the house again, the Scoobies were all staring at him and Buffy was livid, arms crossed, looking as though she was torn between screaming at him and staking him.

"Fuck." He groaned, knowing what was coming.