1: The Road to Hell
The Road to Hell
Suffocating dread closed in at Doyle’s news. Angel bolted out of his chair as if to escape it, denial warding off the rush of panic. Not this. Not Cordelia.
Rage bubbled up as he waited for Doyle’s hasty retraction, but the punch line to what had to be a bad joke never came. Shock rippled across his face turning his eyes tawny. Beating back his instinctive urge to kill the messenger, Angel demanded clarification. There was no way something like this just happened.
“You found Cordelia an apartment in this building?”
Doyle shrank back a few inches. Letting out a shaky laugh, “Whoa there! Dial it down a notch, boyo,” he raised both hands signaling him to calm down and keep an open mind.
All Angel could do was let out a frustrated growl. “My building.” This wasn’t a large apartment complex where she would live ten floors away. There was only one possible space in the building. Jabbing a finger toward the rusty old sliding storage door that served to separate his converted basement apartment from the adjacent one, he asked anyway, “Next door?”
Cocking his head in confusion, Doyle hesitated before responding. “I thought you’d be pleased.”
Incensed was more like it. A little crazed at the notion, maybe. Floored that Doyle would think moving Cordelia in on a permanent basis was a good idea. The urge to knock some sense into his friend was more than just a fleeting feeling.
Putting some space between them, Angel strode straight into the kitchen, and opened the fridge to stare down at the fresh pint of blood on the top shelf. “A shot of Irish whiskey might do the trick,” Doyle dared to chortle as if recognizing a man who needed something harder to drink.
The fridge jolted back at the force Angel used slamming it shut instantly shattering glass jars, toppling containers, and cracking eggs. Muttering a curse, he pressed his hands flat against its cool surface. Better the eggs than Doyle’s head, he supposed wryly, trying desperately to find some humor in what felt like a nightmare. Pausing for the precious seconds needed to regain control, he focused on the rhythmic chest movements that mimicked breathing realizing that his friend was not deliberately trying to undermine his plan to regain peace, quiet, and most importantly, solitude in his own home.
“Getting Cordelia her own place was the whole point of sending you two apartment hunting,” Angel reminded through gritted teeth slowly simmering down to the point that he could talk about it. She had been driving him insane ever since she showed up, suitcases in hand, expecting sanctuary from the bug invasion at her place across town.
Steamrolled into letting her stay Angel had figured he could handle the presence of one nineteen-year old woman in his domain for a few days. It had to be simpler than dealing with Darla and Drusilla’s constant bickering, jealousy, feminine wiles, and insatiable demands.
A couple days of chaos, he had figured quite wrongly, and it would be over.
What the hell had he been thinking?
The truth was he had forgotten what it was like not to live alone, much less with a human. Cordelia was distracting in ways that shattered his routine. The private time spent in the dark shadows of his room alone with his thoughts contemplating past sins and a multitude of regret was something he needed. Cordelia called it brooding as if she did not understand the merits of quiet introspection. Ultimately, it was peaceful, calming, something that kept him centered.
He was vampire enough to admit that he had baggage. No matter that Cordelia thought he could snap out of it and just live a little, as she put it, that wasn’t something he was ready or willing to let go. The past haunted him constantly, but that was at the core of this curse that gave him a soul. He cared and the memory of what he had done was not easily erased. Yes, he brooded. About death, life, the hopelessness of love, and all of the things now lost to him forever.
Yet it was impossible to think straight with Cordelia interrupting the steady course of his daily routine. It wasn’t that she was an incessant chatterbox, but she was insatiably curious often bluntly asking questions that stirred up subjects he would prefer to ignore. When confronted with his silence or curt responses she usually got the hint and quickly diverted to another more Cordelia-centric topic about fame, fortune or fashion. Half the time he had no idea who or what she was talking about.
Maybe more than half…
Admittedly, he enjoyed watching her wax on about things that piqued her interest because it was impossible not to relish the warmth of her smile or sparkling eyes, but that too was a distraction he could not afford. Not to mention that in its own twisted way spending time with Cordelia felt like a betrayal of Buffy.
Angel needed his apartment back to its gloomy, solitary, silent state. Now it seemed like that was going to be impossible. Calmer now, yet still unhappy, he wanted some answers. “Doyle, I thought I made myself clear on the matter.”
“Clear as mud. Apartment, you said. Fine, said I. Trust me, that was the agreed upon plan and I was all for it,” Doyle claimed pulling out a chair from the kitchen table and taking a seat. Angel did not join him. “Give me a little credit for looking out for our girl. I just want to see her safe.”
A gruff sound merged from Angel’s throat. “Here? With me.”
“Next door,” Doyle emphasized guilelessly as if that changed anything. “World of difference.”
Angel thought the seer’s first priority would be to get Cordelia as far away as possible. Doyle was half in love with her despite their short acquaintance and for some odd reason assumed that Angel’s feelings leaned in her direction, too. Crazy. A loud-mouthed, annoying, pain-in-the-ass hid behind that bright smile. Well, yes, she was beautiful, certainly on the surface. Tempting even for someone practiced at avoiding such distractions. If you could only turn the volume down, or possibly keep her tied up, his thoughts twisted darkly.
He had known countless beautiful women, intensely, all too briefly. None stirred him up the way Cordelia could with just a few snarky words. Those kinds of feelings were forbidden now, dangerous. Besides, the heartache of leaving Buffy still felt like a fresh wound. Doyle tried to encourage him to live in the present, but he understood now, after some convincing, that Cordelia was just a friend from Sunnydale.
Only a month had gone by since Angel met Cordelia again and his world was already topsy-turvy. He had come to Los Angeles to find himself, leaving behind Sunnydale and everything that reminded him of Buffy Summers. Yet here she was in his city, Queen C herself, and having fallen far off the pedestal she reigned just a short time ago.
There was something different about her. Not just her circumstances. Hope. Something she never needed before because she had it all. Though she was focused on her ‘inevitable stardom’ there was more to it, a deeper need to stay connected to something real during the pursuit of those the unrealized dreams. He felt it, too. Knew that need to be a raw wound easily exploited.
Cordelia wasn’t just a random pretty girl on her own in the big city or blissfully unaware of the monster lurking beneath the surface. This one knew him. Trusted him in spite of it. He wanted her safe, too, but moving in on a permanent basis was not the way to do it. “You haven’t really thought this through, Doyle.”
“Oh, I have. Apparently, you’re the lesser evil. I have to agree with that. You have had plenty of chances to take advantage, which makes you stupid, and me grateful, but you are a decent guy for a vampire. This way you’ll be around to keep her safe, and she’ll have her own bed,” quipped Doyle clearly remembering that neither Angel nor Cordelia used the couch.
The arrangement seemed like a sensible plan at the time. Alternating intervals had been Cordelia’s idea. Since she talked him into letting her have the bed in the first place, Angel readily agreed to her concession. He slept during the day. She slept at night. No conflict. “I’ll go halfsies,” she had said making it sound like she was the one sacrificing for the common good. Yet her intoxicating scent lingered on the sheets sometimes still warm from where she had curled up for the night.
“Look Angel,” said Doyle before he could really get into the list of reasons why having Cordelia living next door was a bad idea. “You should have seen some of the places we went. Far worse than that dump she was at before. Trust me. You would not want her living in there. Degenerates living next door. Filthy. Dangerous.”
Frowning, Angel could not argue against that. “L.A. is a big place. There has to be somewhere other than here. Somewhere decent— in a nearby zip code.”
“Apparently not.” The apartments they had looked at were unsuitable, too expensive, or too far off the local bus route. Doyle added, “Until we get more paying clients Cordelia says she can’t afford a car. Unless of course you want to loan her yours during the daytime.”
Angel did not dignify that with a response, especially considering the twinking amusement brightening Doyle’s eyes. Deciding not to argue a lost cause, he took a seat across the table. “Where is she?”
“Finalizing arrangements with that dentist Folger in the next office over. We ran into him on his lunch break. When Cordelia told him that she had been having a difficult time finding an apartment, he was eager to sublet the place downstairs. Doesn’t use it for anything.”
That was why things were normally so quiet. Angel liked it quiet.
The squeaking elevator alerted them to Cordelia’s arrival. “Hi guys! Did you tell him the news, Doyle?”
“Oh, we covered the basics.”
Angel tried not to scowl in response to her beaming smile. She was obviously happy about the plan practically dancing toward them from across the room.
“This is great! I’ll be right here in the building. No getting up early to go to work. With all the bus money I’ll save I can go to a real salon again instead of the local Supercuts.”
A reason for celebration, no doubt, Angel assumed, feeling the need to hole up in his office upstairs just to get away from the gleeful explanation of how quality hair products made all the difference. He sank down onto the edge of the table stretching his legs out in front of him, crossing his arms, and waited out the whirlwind storm that was Cordelia’s thrill ride around the kitchen.
She twirled back around to face him, took a look at his hair, and snorted a laugh. “Pfft! Like I’m telling you something you don’t already know. We have been sharing a bathroom. You might be tight with a buck when it comes to office supplies, but I guess that helps pay for the hair gel.”
Doyle’s chuckle was met with a dark stare that shut him up. Angel didn’t feel sorry about it considering that it was his friend’s fault Cordelia Chase was about to become his neighbor.
“As apartments go, it’s definitely a fixer-upper. Look at the, ah, great things you have done with this place,” she eyed the double-handed axe decorating the wall rather skeptically. “This is so exciting! I can’t wait to move in.”
Cordelia’s smile was infectious, and Angel felt his mouth twitching upward at the corners. Damn it, he did not want to smile back. This was not a happy moment. Not. Happy. So, why in hell was he smiling? He recognized that particular look. That same smile got her a job, had him crushing bags of whole coffee beans because they didn’t come pre-ground, and suckered him into letting her stay here in the first place.
No. He let the word sound out in his head, and then imagined himself putting his foot down. Drawing a proverbial line in the sand with one little syllable. No.
It lodged in his throat because he couldn’t stand the idea of wiping the smile off her beautiful face.
“Why are you two just sitting there? My stuff isn’t going to carry itself.”