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It’s not as awkward as she thought it would be, falling into Angel’s arms like this. Into his bed.

She’s been here before, back when everything was shiny and new and her biggest worry was cockroaches in her stingy apartment and how she was going to make it in the city of broken dreams.

This was before there was a possibility of a Cordelia and Doyle, before she got close to either one of them.

After the mess that was Xander Harris, she had always looked out for number 1. She didn’t want anyone else. Single was good, she told herself. Alone was better.

Then they both came along – two demons wrapped up in pretty packages. Back then, Angel was just her old friend’s moody hero-turned-psycho-turned-hero-again boyfriend who just happened to be a hunky glass of tall, dark and handsome.

She was equally new to him – a quirky, selfish, mostly human Cordelia who stood out as a life raft in this sea of demons and darkness and evil – and he grabbed on hard and fast.

Not that she complains. God, what that man’s body can do. All that muscle and bulk fuelled by a passion that reaches deeper than just a desire to finally connect with a woman’s body. It’s like he wants to crawl inside her and lift her up from the inside.

And she lets him try – relishes in the effort and sings praises to all the gods she doesn’t believe in – because she’s pretty sure no-one will ever make her feel like this again.

They’re not well matched, not really. He’s darkness and she’s light. She beams bigger and brighter than the sun; she’s not sure if he even can smile. That frown is so etched into his skin, she thinks it’s lucky he’s immortal, or a new line would be encroaching on an increasingly crowded forehead every day.

She might be selfish and she might be bitchy but deep down, she has a good heart. His isn’t even beating.

But on nights like this, she gets to be with him the way she wants.

She kisses him softly and, for once, he lets her.

He lets her stroke his face and hold him like she’s afraid he might disappear and when she whispers she might love him, he doesn’t turn away.

He doesn’t scold her this time. He doesn’t say “don’t look at me like that. I’m not the man for you. I’ll only cause you pain.” He doesn’t tell her not to love him – that he isn’t capable of returning it - like he’s warned her so many times before.

This time, he lets her crawl her way inside, seeping into his veins, because he doesn’t have the strength to fight any more. 

On nights like this, she thinks she could have loved him, had things had been different. If they’d just been two humans, ignorant of the world that lurks beneath, maybe they could’ve been something. If they weren’t who they were, maybe she wouldn’t feel like she’s breaking apart.

Tonight is different. Normally, their nights are passionate, but hasty – he’s hot and frenzied and barely able to wait for the rickety elevator to reach his flat below the office before he’s tearing at her clothes – all tongues, teeth, heat and passion.

Sometimes, she prefers those times – the ones where his punishing mouth steals both her breath and the possibility to overthink whatever the hell this is. Sometimes she doesn't.

Either way, it’s not serious. He doesn’t love her and she doesn’t love him, not when all is said and done. Not when she’s thinking clearly, when she can see past the perfection of his body and the shuddering strength in his hands.

But there’s a connection that keeps them together – an understanding of the precariousness of his condition and a shared grief over the loss of their friend.

He flips her over and covers her with his body. He’s all marble, strong and smooth, and when his mouth finds her neck, she arches against him with a breathless sigh.

He’s touching her body but the spark isn’t for her. His tongue laves the kiss he leaves behind and when he whispers “Buffy” in her ear, she doesn’t care. She’s not thinking about him either.

She doesn’t think he knows what he just said.

It isn’t the first time, and she won't bring it up.

They fell together, that first time.

Like most things in life, it wasn’t planned.

It wasn’t fuelled by anything other than pain and despair and a desperate need for comfort. A need to feel… something. Something other than the ache that pressed too hard on their chests and made them feel like they were breaking apart from the inside out.

They sit in the dark and watch Doyle’s face dance across the TV screen.

How did she not notice before, how his smile lit up his entire face? How his soft, lilting brogue commanded the room? She’d been so blind then.

She swallows the lump in her throat when she thinks how it’s too late now.

She listens to her own voice barking orders from behind the camera and watches him stumble through the script she wrote and when he says “Is that it? Am I done?” she laughs and cries at the same time.

When the noise comes out – a kind of strangled sob – she feels the heat of Angel’s gaze on her.

She can’t look. Her eyes are for Doyle. She’s finally seeing him.

“We should have stopped him,” She whispers after what feels like an eternity.

Angel remains silent and though she’s not looking at him, she knows he’s living inside his head, carefully calculating what he should say next. She wants to scream.

Doyle wouldn’t have to do that; he always knew what to say.

Suddenly she’s full of an anger that deep down she knows is irrational.

“You should’ve stopped him,” Her gaze flies to his for the first time and he’s stunned at the fury in her eyes, “You should’ve saved him. That was your job. How are we supposed to do this—” She gestures angrily around the dark Angel Investigations office, “—if you can’t even save the people closest to you?”

He bows his head, a muscle near his left ear ticking as he clenches his jaw.

She swallows the lump in her throat, blinking back furious tears and grabbing the remote to rewind the footage; she has to hear his voice again.

Deep down, she doesn’t blame Angel. Not really. She can’t – not when she knows he’s blaming himself enough for the both of them.

That’s what he does best, after-all.

She knows he thinks it should’ve been him. The champion, the chosen one - he’ll never forgive himself for not being the one who jumped into that light. He’ll never forgive himself for letting Doyle die without him. He’s loyal to a fault, a real champion. It’s his job to save people, but he couldn’t save him.

They should’ve known what Doyle was planning, because he was so much a part of them both.

After it happened, they had held each other for a little while. She thinks he held out hope there would be some sort of miracle and Doyle would rise from the dead, giving them both hell for letting him jump into the fire. She thinks he didn’t let go of that hope until the light had faded and the families Doyle had saved had emptied out from the cargo ship.

Then, when they finally disentangled from each other and it set in that he was really gone, Angel stood and shut his eyes.

She had stared at him best she could through her tears.

His eyes remained closed, his fists clenching and twitching from the strain. As she watched, she saw him break. His Adam’s apple rose and fell as the muscles in his jaw drew ever tighter and then relaxed.

Slowly, he bowed his head and collapsed from within – those broad shoulders folded like paper thin origami and his chest caved, as he turned his body away from the scene. He never fell, just stood boneless, softly swaying, and for the first time, Cordelia had to save him.

They didn’t say a word as she took him home, silence stretching out between them. The sound of the key entering the lock was louder than usual and as they walked inside the office, she became deathly aware of the absence of the man she might’ve eventually fallen for.

She thinks that was a few hours ago now – she’s not really sure. Now she just watches Doyle again (she’s lost count of how many times she’s rewound the tape) and her hand reaches for Angel’s in the dark. When she finds it, it’s cold and still in a fist. She doesn’t take her eyes off Doyle as she wriggles one finger inside and tugs.

After a moment, he wordlessly sinks down from the arm of the couch as she shuffles over to make room for him. He begins to relax that hand at least so she slides hers inside. He’s so cold, but she generates enough heat for the both of them.

Maybe she really is growing, because she wants him to feel alive and warm, just as much as she wants it for herself.

“Can I stay with you tonight?” She whispers; she doesn’t wait for him to reply because she’s not sure he will, “Please… I don’t think I can stand to be alone.”

He answers with a gentle squeeze of her hand and then it’s silent.

She rewinds the tape three more times.

Her hand becomes clammy but she’s too numb to feel self-conscious. She refuses to let go. Eventually, he reaches for the remote with his free hand and he turns the TV off.

He interrupts her protest before she can make it.

“He’s not in there, Cordelia. He’s gone.” He says softly and the sound of the remote being dropped on the floor echoes and makes her jump.

It’s so dark without the shine of the television and as she turns her head to look at him, she sees the strong line of his jaw, illuminated by the moonlight streaming in through the large office window.

He really is beautiful, she thinks, and then kicks herself for it.

Neither of them move to turn the light on.

Who wants to see the world when the people you care about are no longer in it?

She turns and gropes for him in the darkness.

She knows she initiates it – after-all, she’s confidence personified and he recoils at the first sign of physical contact – but she feels his arm around her waist at the same time as she wraps both of hers around his neck. He needs it – needs her touch – just as much as she needs him.

It’s comfort at first and she doesn’t know how long they stay like that, clasping each other, mourning the loss of a friend and a love that could have been.

As his strong arms hold her tighter – so uncharacteristic for Angel and certainly uncharacteristic for them – she starts to cry.

This time for the man in her arms and for herself.

Her and Doyle were just beginning. It was tentative and sweet, but they weren’t there yet. She mourns the wasted time, the regrets, the missed opportunities. But Angel... Buffy was the love of his life. She may not be dead, but he lost her all the same. In some ways, it’s worse. Because she isn’t waiting for him on the other side; he isn’t biding time until they’re together again. She’s here, yet not. 

Cordelia thinks if he feels even a smidgeon of what she feels now… well, that makes her cry harder.

She cries for everything she could’ve had and she cries for not being the woman he wants in this moment.

“I’m sorry, Angel.” She doesn’t know what she’s apologising for and she feels his fingertips dig into her ribs.

She’s dampening his neck with her tears so she starts to pull back, her movements slow, but not hesitant.

As she lifts her head, her heated cheek brushes against his and she feels his body tense.

“Cordy… what are you doing?” He tips his chin, pulling back slightly. She watches the movement of his Adam’s apple as he swallows and tries to work out what she’s doing. She doesn’t know. She just brushes her lips against his and feels the air change, electric and charged. She moves on autopilot. 

“I don’t know…” She whispers, her hands trailing in the darkness so her thumbs rest on his cheeks. She holds his face gently, like she’s afraid he’ll disappear, and her breath dances in the small gap between them, “I just… god, I don’t know what to do. I just need… this. Please, Angel. Help me forget.”

“I can’t…” He murmurs, but his fingers burn where they touch the sliver of skin between her top and the sweatpants she’d thrown on. He grips and pulls her tighter at the same time as he protests and she thinks he’s as tired as she is.

Probably more so. He’s lost so much, so many people.

She briefly wonders how much pain a person can take before they fracture completely.

He’s close, she can tell from the way his body trembles against hers.

Her gaze searches for him in the dark, flitting from his heated chocolate eyes to his full mouth and back. She leans forward, testing the waters, and places her mouth properly on his for the first time.

He’s still for a moment – he hasn't known a woman other than Buffy for decades and this is Cordelia – but she takes the lead.

She kisses him and burns with anger at the hesitation she tastes in his mouth.

“You can,” She whispers against his lips, wanting – needing - him to just stop thinking. “Angel, there’s no happy in this situation.”

She’s referencing his curse but from the bitter sound that escapes his lips and reverberates against her, she figures that wasn’t the cause of his hesitation.

“He loved you, Cordy.”

She feels her chest constrict, a weight pressing down and stealing her breath. 

“And we loved him.” She still can’t bring herself to admit what could’ve been, so she says we, not I, “We’re showing him how much we loved him. We’re showing him by living, when we want to die.”

She doesn’t want him to see it as a betrayal when it’s just the opposite. She can see his resolve crumbling, unravelling by the second, as the temptation of finally being close to someone starts to override logic.

It’s probably not sensible, probably dangerous and self-destructive, but the darkest parts of them just don’t care anymore.

She soothes him the only way she knows how. His face is rough with dust, but smooth at the same time. Like the rest of him, his skin is cold under her lips when she leaves soft kisses along the underside of his strong jaw.

Maybe some of that light had touched her as Doyle made his sacrifice, leaping into death but making his life mean something. Maybe he’s here with her now, telling her to live. Live a long and happy life for him. He would want them to be there for each other.

The thought of his love, of his sacrifice, overwhelms her and she quickly moves her mouth to Angel’s to share what she’s feeling.

He doesn’t resist and she thinks he’ll probably hate himself for that tomorrow, but she’ll be there to tell him to stop.

Right now, he needs her heart and her heart knows this is right.

She thinks he can feel it too because his neck muscles begin to unwind beneath her touch and his hands relax and make lazy circles on her back.

She’s frantic now to show him what Doyle’s telling her. She deepens the kiss, licking at his bottom lip and coaxing his mouth open. A bolt of lightning travels down her spine when his tongue touches hers, entwining in a dance he probably perfected centuries ago.

Without breaking away from his mouth – she’s terrified he’ll change his mind – she slowly stands, taking his hands and pulling him up off the sofa.

Finally, they break apart and she’s breathless and panting and silently cursing the fact that he doesn’t need to breathe. Her forehead rests against his and when she puts her hands on his chest, the silence under her fingertips is deafening.

She thinks it strange, how he loves so deeply with a heart that isn’t beating.    

She doesn’t give him any time to overthink this before her lips cover his again.

He’s a bit more responsive now, losing himself in her and the prospect of peace. As his tongue expertly licks inside the hot cavern of her mouth, he bends and scoops her legs out from under her, sending her flats soaring across the room.

She wraps her strong legs around him, curling into him, and releases a breathy moan at the feel of him pressing hard against her aching centre.

Now she finally lets herself believe he wants her too.  

In the blink of an eye, he carries her downstairs, down to his apartment and away from the life they built with Doyle in the office upstairs.

As he drops her onto his bed, a wall of guilt slams into her.

She tries to bury it and push it down but it eats at her, curling hot and tight in the pit of her belly and crashing over her like a tidal wave. This time, it’s not for Doyle, but for Buffy. This is the bed he shared with her – on that day that never happened. It’s so much her spot that she feels like she’s betraying her by laying here, with his darkened eyes bearing into her and a heat blossoming between her thighs.

It feels like Buffy’s place, the stage of their tragic love story. She keeps expecting him to stop and kick her out at any moment, but instead, he leans down and covers her with his body and he feels so good, she doesn’t have the strength to say no.

She tugs at the bottom of his top and he helps her take it off, wasting no time in ridding her of hers and expertly unhooking her bra at the same time. Their naked chests press together and he’s still so cold, she holds him tighter, tears in her eyes, desperately wanting to generate enough heat for the four of them – her, him, Doyle and Buffy.

She clumsily gropes for his belt buckle, but he’s calmness personified as he pulls back and does it himself. She watches him, her cheeks blossoming into heat, as he removes everything and stands before her in all his glory.

He’s big, but she isn’t surprised. Nothing about Angel is ordinary. She thinks she might’ve quirked her eyebrow and made a suggestive comment, had the situation been different.

It sounds ridiculous, but he’s so beautiful it makes her want to cry.

He has no business being that beautiful, she thinks. It isn’t fair.

He reaches for her, sliding her sweatpants and panties down her legs and revealing her to him.

It’s only then that it hits her what she was wearing, just something she’d thrown on after the fight, too numb to care. With her hair pulled up into a messy bun and her makeup long cried off, she hardly looks her best.

She’s vulnerable, a state Cordelia Chase is not used to.

But it doesn’t matter; she doesn’t care. They’re using each other. This isn’t about seduction.

There’s no thinking on his part. She can tell he’s all animal now. Or, perhaps, all vampire. Maybe that should scare her, the prospect of unleashing Angelus. He doesn’t love her the way a lover should – not even close – but sex should still be a no-no for him. They’re playing with fire.

But she feels nothing. She doesn’t care.

As for him? She wonders whether, deep down in the darkest parts of him, he wants Angelus back. At least then he’ll know peace.

So, he doesn’t want to think about whether he’s doing the right thing. And that’s fine. She doesn’t want him to rationalise or question this. She just wants him to feel and let it all go.

She wants him to feel her hand on his chest and imagine slightly smaller fingers – daintier but stronger, at the same time. To wrap her hair around his hands and see blonde, not brunette. To slip inside her and feel Buffy, so he knows what it feels like to make love to the woman he loves. She’s sure he worries he’ll forget.

He covers her with his body and she arches up into him, releasing a harsh breath at the feel of the entire length of him against her, hard and muscled.

She whispers his name as his lips surround her nipple and it sounds like Buffy’s voice in her head.

They weren’t that close, they never spoke about him, but god, how the slayer loved him.

She wonders whether she could have loved Doyle like that.

There’s a subtle shift in his mood. His hands slow and gently he moves them over her skin from cheek, to breast, to hip, to thigh and back. He maps every curve. But it’s not her body. He’s touching her with a tenderness he never shows, not to her.

His hair feels coarse and spikey as she shuts her eyes and runs her hands through it while he kisses his way down her body.

Both hands clamp her hips as he brings her up to meet his mouth. He licks her hip bone before slowly slipping his tongue between her thighs.

She bucks against his mouth, circling, aching for him. Doyle… it’s a sigh in her mind. Angel’s good at this – of course he would be after all these years – but she wonders whether Doyle would’ve been too. They’re so different, strong and silent versus playful and sweet. But they are – were – both great men.

Angel plays her like an instrument he mastered years ago, buried between her thighs and driving her to heights of pleasure she can barely stand. She never thought she’d say anything positive about a vampire – even him – but in this moment, she sings praises to baby Jesus that he doesn’t need to come up for air.  He reads her like a book, knows what movement – lick, suck, bite – will bring her closer to the edge.

She grabs at his hair desperately, pulling so tight it would hurt if he were human, as he licks a hot stripe and captures her clit between his teeth. That, coupled with the vibration of his hum against her and the intensity of his blazing eyes when they glance up and meet her heated gaze, has her tumbling over the edge with a strangled cry.

He holds her silently while she breaks apart, wave upon wave of pleasure crashing over her and leaving white stars exploding behind her eyes.

When her body stops spasming, she squirms from his grip and pulls him up her body to her mouth. She tastes herself on his tongue, bucking sensitively against him when his hard length presses into her.

“Please…” She speaks for the first time since this all started, her voice a desperate whisper against his glistening mouth.

She captures her bottom lip between her teeth and he slides inside her.

Her body trembles from the connection – it’s so bright and warm. It’s almost too much.

He matches each stroke with such tender kisses and soft caresses it’s as if he’s making love to the wind. Or a ghost, the memory of what has been and what could have been.

“Buffy…” He whispers her name like a prayer.

“I’m not her,” She murmurs, her nails digging into the thick, banded muscles of his back as his hips snap into her, “Angel, you loved her. God, you must have loved her so much. I know. But I can’t be her. And you can’t be him. Not tonight. Not ever.”

His eyes flash with something she can’t put her finger on, but he doesn’t say a word.

He just leans down and kisses her softly, a small ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ at the same time.

“What are we doing, Cordy?” He sounds as tired as she feels.

She strokes his thick hair and kisses the underside of his jaw.

“It’s okay…” She reaches to pull him further into her body and squeeze him from the inside out, “We’re not betraying them. I promise.”

He responds and whether it’s reflex or pure exhaustion spurring him, it doesn’t matter because he’s still hard and filling her up and it feels good to have this contact with the only other person who knows what this world is like.

It’s just the two of them now – Angel and Cordelia – and when he smiles at her, she thinks that’ll be okay.

It isn’t love pushing his hips into hers as he jerks harder and grunts begin to rumble in his chest.

She releases a harsh, ragged breath; this is what she wants.

She smiles while he slams into her, spiralling toward an out of control frenzy.

“Tighter. Hold me tighter.” She whispers through gritted teeth, even though he’s practically melting on top and inside her.

Their bodies are slick and he glides across her legs and torso as he pushes up and in hard, causing a little pain that makes her feel alive.

His grip is so strong - in the back of her mind she wonders whether he’s forgotten he’s a vampire and needs to reign in his strength – she’s sure the bruises his fingers are leaving will probably last for weeks.

She doesn’t mind.

He’s spiralling, she can tell. His tongue sweeps over her bottom lip, demanding entry, and all she can do is exhale against his unyielding mouth. The monster inside her rages, bursting through the surface with the force of something that’s been denied for 20 years.

She’s never lost anyone before, not someone like Doyle, someone she was close to and someone she could have loved.

So, she allows herself to have him, just this once, the way she’s sure she would have done had he lived. Maybe even after that first dinner, the one she demanded he ask her to mere minutes before he fell. She pulls Angel deeper into her body, and when he opens his mouth to voice his agreement, she hears an Irish lilt.  

She lets instinct take over and imagines him.

She knows Angel wouldn’t mind.

He wants to share the horrible pain in his chest, make someone hurt as much as he does. It’s what people do.

They both want what neither of them can have.

His rhythm increases. He pounds into her like there’s no tomorrow and who knows if there will be? It’ll never be like it was before. It hurts, but as the pain in her body soars, she feels it lessening inside.

She hangs on like he’s the only thing keeping her sane and digs her teeth into his shoulder.

“Please…” She begs for nothing, her toes curling in ecstasy as his powerful hips drive up into her, hitting the perfect spot. Doyle drifts away into Angel now and she’s not so sure where he ends and she begins.

She lets her mind fall blank – she’s had enough of thinking – and her body take control.

His electric fingers play with the sensitive bundle of nerves between her thighs; before Buffy, it had been a while, but he’s always known how to make a woman’s body sing.

He wants her to feel that. He’s not in love with her but she has crawled her way inside and he wants to keep her safe, the way he couldn’t for everyone else.

He feels her pulsating around him, tight as a vice, and her eyes widen as the tightening pleasure curls into spirals and she realises she’s going to come.

With an expert swirl of his hips and a flick of her clit, she does – in blinding waves that crash over her and make her feel like she’s falling apart. Volcanic pleasure blasts through her, taking her breath away and eclipsing anything she ever thought was pleasure in the past.

The feel of her fluttering around him fires his own orgasm. He buries his head in her neck, fighting the urge to bite, as he spills inside her, marking her and not thinking about what may happen next.

She holds him, bodies spent and hearts aching. It’s not awkward. They’re friends and bound together in a way no-one else will understand. He’s in her veins; there’ll be no getting him out.  

As she cradles Angel between her thighs, she thinks of Doyle. She prays that he understands, that he sees this for what it really is.

They’re still here – and they remember.

They keep falling together – she doesn’t know why.

It’s never in the light of day, where someone could actually see them. That would make it too real.

He finds her in the office after a particularly hard fight and when he grabs her in a rough kiss and bends her over the desk, she doesn’t care about the dirt on his hands or the demon slime covering his clothes.

Doyle might not have had a favourite coffee mug but he did write silly notes to leave around the office and when she finds one, she cures the ache in her chest by straddling Angel and covering his protest with her mouth.

When Wesley arrives on the scene, they have to be more careful, but they still find each other, their bodies laced with so much loss, guilt and regret.

And deep down, she knows she’s better than this. Better than a quick fuck against the wall with a man who will never love her.

She’s tired of being everyone’s back up – Xander’s Willow back up, Angel’s Buffy back up – and yet she can’t stop.

She didn’t belong with the Sunnydale Scooby Gang; she’ll never belong anywhere. She’ll always be with him.

When he pushes inside her, she looks into his eyes and sees nothing there. He searches for comfort in her gentle kiss, she looks for something other than numbness to feel in his powerful hands.

The foundations of their coupling are nothing but grief; the curse is never a problem. She’s so bitter and twisted inside, that doesn’t even bother her.

They never talk about it. It’s not important, not really. Not compared to the love and respect they cultivate over the years to come. They’ll always be tied together, bound in a way Wesley and Gunn and Fred and anyone else who comes along will never understand.  

It won’t be forever, but for now, it’s easy and it’s good.

Sometimes her stomach clenches at the thought of what the others would say, what they would do, if they knew who warmed her bed at night.

But when he pulls her close and she smells the apple and spice of his aftershave and tastes the coffee he just drank, she can’t bring herself to care. They don’t know her like he does. They haven’t seen the darkest parts of her, haven’t peered into her soul at that precise moment when pleasure washes over her in waves that make her feel like she’s breaking apart.

He’s hard and brooding and shut off, but she sees everything he doesn’t want her to see.

Before long, she doesn’t remember what it was like to not know him like this.

And isn’t that a thing?

To belong to someone who will never love you, who will always hug you like a friend and dream of blonde, not dark brunette.

She’d rather die than admit this, but in her most vulnerable moments, she wants more.  

She wants him to come home to her at night and crawl into their bed and let her massage his tired shoulders while he tells her about his day and it’ll be so boring and mundane to everyone else, but to her it’ll be perfect, because it’s normal. She wants him to kiss her when she cries and actually smile at her now and then and hold her hand like they’re fucking teenagers and she wants this to be real.

She wants him to love her.

But it isn’t real.

And he doesn’t love her.

So, she picks herself up and carries on. Because, when she’s thinking clearly, she doesn’t love him either. Not like that. But the spark between them, the way he makes her body sing and just forget for a while, is too good to give up.  

So, they’ll keep falling, two flames dancing together, waiting to ignite.

And that's kinda okay with her.