A High Road Out Of Here by Starlet2367
Summary: Wishful-thinking-post-ep for The Price.
Spoilers: The Price, Season Three.
Notes: Thanks to Michael, Marla, Kazz, Ruthy.
Tonight we'll build
a bridge Across the sea and land See the sky, the burning rain She will die and
live again Tonight
U2 – A Sort of Homecoming
The bed beneath her was soft, the body above her hard. He rode her expertly, his face pulled into a grimace of control. The kisses he trailed up her throat made her dizzy, and when he met her lips, she jerked against him.
"Oh!" She cried and came with a spasm that started at her toes and rushed out her fingers and left her entire body tingling. Her hands clasped his shoulders, nails digging in deep.
He lay panting, still hard within her. "Princess," he whispered.
She felt his breath against her ear, hot and moist. It mixed with the sweat that pooled there, sweat she'd worked up during their latest bout of marathon sex. "You're amazing," she said, shifting to better accommodate his lean hips.
He pulled back and instead of the lusty exuberance she had grown accustomed to seeing, his eyes were like searchlights, sweeping her face for something gone missing.
"What is it?"
"It is nothing," he replied, but his gaze skittered away.
He dropped his face into the crook of her neck and inhaled deeply. Then he braced himself and rolled off of her.
Her body, recently so warm and relaxed, tightened. "What's wrong?"
He glanced at her from under his lashes.
She narrowed her eyes, suddenly suspicious. "What are you hiding?" she asked, because of all the things he was, coy wasn't one of them.
"I am hiding nothing."
"Then what is it?" She rolled toward him.
He slid to the edge of the bed and put his feet on the floor. "I can no longer deny these feelings," he replied.
"What feelings, Groo?" She stroked her hand down his taut back, instinctively moving to soothe. She was so conditioned to respond to him with pleasure that her still-idling body sparked at the contact.
He bent his head. "These feelings I have for you," he said quietly.
Oh, she thought with a smile. *That's* what this is about. "And what would those be?" she teased gently. She coiled her body around his hips then ran her fingertip up his thigh, feeling a glow of triumph when his cock twitched toward her.
He looked down. "I am in love with you, Princess."
"I know. I'm glad." She met his gaze and smiled. Then she slid her hand around his hard length and closed her eyes, enjoying the firm, smooth flesh that filled her palm.
He arched against her. "You make me feel..." he moaned.
"I know," she whispered, lost in the pure, animal rush of heat. "You make me feel, too."
"I want you…" he started.
Her eyes popped open and with her free hand she playfully smacked his backside. "I want you, too, silly. And if you'd get back in bed, I'd show you how much."
But he only shook his head. His face was serious, the way it got when he concentrated in battle.
For some reason she found herself holding her breath.
"I want you to become my life-mate," he said. "I want to bond with you in the ceremony of Ursular and take you back to my homeland."
Cordy, startled, sat up. "To Pylea? Marry you?"
"Yes," he replied urgently, taking her hands in his. "We can be married here with your family as witness if it pleases you, and then again, in Pylea."
She opened her mouth but couldn't seem to form words.
"You would then take your rightful place as Princess," he finished. He looked at her expectantly.
She let out a surprised breath. "Groo, I can't leave," she explained carefully. "Angel's here. And now Connor. And with my demon powers manifesting, it's even more important that I stay in this dimension. I mean, who knows how they'll look in Pylea...."
He pulled his hands away, rested them on his knees and sat quietly.
"Groo?" she finally asked.
"It is as I thought," he said.
"What is as you thought?"
"Your feelings for Angel. As ever, he is your first priority."
She shook her head in confusion. "Of course he is. I thought we went over this already. I get the visions for him. I took on demon DNA for him...."
"You love him."
"Again, of course. I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you, I just...if you knew how I was gonna respond, why'd you ask? And why now? I mean, is it just me, or were we in the middle of something,"--she waved her hand--"kinda important?"
He stood and carefully tucked the sheet around her.
Always chivalrous, she thought, even in a fight. "Hey, are we fighting?"
He crossed his arms over his broad chest. "No, Princess. I am simply saying that I believe you are not allowing yourself to see...."
"See what, Groo?" She shook her head, still lost.
"Your heart is not free. This I have known since I returned," he said. He shrugged, palm up, as if to say, I offer no judgment, just observation.
But even that supplication didn't stop the defensive surge. "I care about you, you have to know that."
He nodded in that sweet, puppy-like way he had.
"Oh, Grooey, you *do* know that, right?" she asked, voice softening. She climbed out of the bed and went to him, took his hand. "You're my guy--my go-to guy," she said, smiling widely.
"I know that, Princess. Your go-here-and-get-this, go-there-and-take- that guy," he said, and for the first time she heard an edge of anger in his voice. "I am honored to be at your side. I am honored to use these warrior's hands," he said, holding them out to her, again, palm up, "to fetch and carry for you."
She shook her head. "Is that all you think I want you for?"
"No, I also think you want to com-shuk with me," he said solemnly.
She laughed, unoffended. "If you know that, then what's the problem?"
"Your heart is not free," he repeated.
She opened her mouth.
He shook his head. "No, wait," he said. He stroked her arm gently. "You and I have been intimate for many weeks now, and we have fought side by side. Surely my word carries weight."
"Groo, of course...."
"My proposal of union has brought your true feelings to light."
She gasped, affronted. "You were testing me."
"No, simply asking a question. To which you responded in a way I both expected and feared, and which has left me...." He looked away.
She swallowed. "Left you, what?"
"You know the answer, Princess. There is no need for me to speak it." There were several beats of tense silence. Then he returned his bold blue gaze to hers. "Your heart belongs to Angel. You are his Seer, and he is your Champion." He cupped his hand against her face. "And now that you have made your feelings for me clear, I can no longer take his place in your bed."
"Groo, you're wrong. I...I work with Angel. He's--sure, he's the guy I protect--but we're not, we've never...."
He stroked his hands gently down her shoulders and tried to pull her to him. "I have upset you. This was not my intention."
"Yes, you upset me," she said, jerking away. "This is all such bullshit. Angel's my friend, and I love him, but he's already got a soul mate. And even if he didn't, we couldn't.... It just wouldn't...." She gave up with a frustrated huff. "You're worrying for nothing."
"I think you should go to him."
"What?" she asked, voice climbing. She felt like a beached fish, mouth opening and closing.
"I will pack my things and return to Pylea."
"Groo! No!" She grabbed his hand. "What are you talking about?"
"Going home where I can make a good life for myself."
"But you're making a good life here. Everyone sees it. I don't know how you got this idea in your head, but it's wrong."
"Ah, Princess," he said, smiling sadly. "If only that were true. He defeated me, the otherwise undefeated Groosalugg, in two dimensions. He sent you away with me when his feelings for you are clear. He left us alone, even during his darkest time, so you would have the chance to find happiness."
She shook her head. "That's just how Angel is. He's always doing stuff like that...."
His finger covered her lips, stroking gently. His eyes followed the movement and his gaze was full of longing. "He is your true champion," he said quietly.
"No, he's not, Groo. I'm just his Seer. You--YOU--are my champion."
He clasped her shoulders. "His only son has just been returned from the hell dimension. And yet you are here, making love with me. Your body may be caught up in the fires of our passion. But your heart," he said sadly, laying his hand on her breastbone, "is not."
"You're not listening to me," she said. It came out as a frustrated wail.
"I am. But it is your heart I hear, Cordelia, and it speaks loudly." He slipped into his boxers. "I will take you there. Please, dress," he said, gesturing to her clothes, which were scattered around the room.
"No." She sat down on the bed. "If you want to leave, then go," she said, feeling like she'd wandered into some weird alterna-world, where roads you thought were going one direction suddenly reversed. "But don't try to make it my fault."
"I want nothing more than to stay with you forever," he said gravely. "But you cannot give me your whole heart, Cordelia, and I will not take less."
The jeans she'd picked out for him slithered up his long legs and the zipper's metallic rasp broke the shocked silence. He was disappearing before her eyes and she couldn't seem to make him solid again.
She watched through unshed tears as he pulled his shirt on. The hands that had held her gently, that had learned her body like a map of his homeland, skimmed the buttons and hid his chest from view.
"Please don't go," she said, feeling a wild, swirling terror rise up in her. He couldn't leave her alone again. Not to those long, silent, dark nights. Not now, when Wesley was gone and Connor had returned and everything was upside-down. "I need you," she whispered.
He shook his head. "It is not true." He sat down next to her on the rumpled sheets. "I only want what you want, and I wish with the eternal heat of Pylea's two suns that you wanted me."
"But I do," she said, slapping the mattress with her clenched fist. "That's what I keep trying to tell you."
"You want the pleasure I can give you, and the companionship."
"Well, what's wrong with that?"
"I am simply a substitute."
She put her hand on his thigh. "No you're not," she said fiercely.
"Then why do you not want to share your life with me?"
"I do! Just not like you want me to. I'd be glad to share your life if you stayed here."
His lake-water eyes were almost painfully full of hope. "You would marry me?"
"I...." She shook her head. "Why do we have to get married? Aren't things fine as they are?"
"You do not return my love," he said, simply and brokenly.
"I've felt love," Cordy replied bitterly. "I have the scar to prove it."
He knew the story. His fingers traced the silver sickle on her ribcage. "That is one kind of love, the young, impetuous kind. There is another, though. And that is what you cannot give me."
"That's not fair! I haven't known you long enough to…."
"You are right that this kind of love takes time. And once in place, it is impossible to dislodge."
She shook her head wildly. "But that's not what I feel for Angel, either."
"It is. You simply have not realized it yet," he said. He took her hand in his and stroked the back of it gently. And then he looked at her and the clarity of his purpose shone in his eyes.
It made her stomach clench. "I can't be alone again," she said, and her voice shattered like Philip Spivey on the floor of the Hyperion.
"You aren't alone. Your Champion loves you."
"Stop saying that," she whispered. "You don't know what either of us feels."
"Oh, but I do," he replied softly. "And because of that, I cannot stay."
She'd always admired his easy access to his feelings, and the way he read people so clearly. It was a trait all the Pyleans shared, their unerring view of the heart's terrain. But now, she believed his sharp- shooter's eye had focused on the wrong target.
"You're wrong," she said, clutching at his hand desperately. "I don't understand why this isn't enough."
He shook his head. "I would be taking you away from the one for whom you were made."
He kissed her gently then rose and went to the closet, where he stood, staring silently at their clothes. After a moment he raised his hand and stroked it down the sleeve of one of her blouses.
Cordy's heart caught in her throat.
"I will go to say good-bye to the rest of the team," he said without turning around.
"Wait, wait! Let me get this straight," she said, hand going to her forehead. "You're breaking up with me because you think I'm in love with Angel." The words sounded funny, like she was down in the sewers, yelling.
He turned to face her, his bearing straight and tall. "Yes, exactly."
"Because you are a man of honor," she continued. "Even though you love me, and I like you very much."
Her stomach burned in the place right behind her scar, a sharp reminder of all she'd lost. She looked at him, saw that he had made his decision. And in doing so, that he was forcing her to make one, too.
She got out of the bed, unconcerned by her nudity. He'd seen her, he knew her, and whether or not he wanted her, she was who she was.
"I just want you to know that this is all your decision," she said, head high, voice trembling. "I do love Angel. But not that way. And even if I did, there wouldn't be anything we could do about it. So if you go, understand that it won't change that fact, and you and I will be alone because of it."
"I cannot force you to see the workings of your own heart. I am confident that one day...."
She cut him off with a motion of her hand. "I'll walk you to the door."
His eyes closed. "There is no need."
"It's the right thing to do," she said with more than a trace of irony.
"My name is Cordelia."
He swallowed hard. "You want to wound me now. This I can understand."
"Dammit, Groo, you stopped making love with me to break up with me," she said in a voice that felt like a car skidding on ice. "It was totally unexpected, to say the least, and you're doing it because you're convinced I love someone else. And no matter what I say to the contrary, you believe you're right. What the hell do you want me to do, throw you a party?"
"This is your sarcasm?" he asked, shaking his head uncomprehendingly.
"Yes, dammit, this is my sarcasm!" she yelled. "Why aren't you listening to me?" She clenched her fists. "I feel like I've walked into the Twilight Zone! I know--you don't know what that means. Another dimension--it's like another dimension, where nothing goes right." She waved her hands wildly. "The one part of my life which wasn't screwed has suddenly taken a sharp left turn straight into hell! So, fine, Groo, I repeat: if you want to go, then leave--just don't try to make it about me."
"Princess," he said, reaching for her arm. "I only want what's best for you. Please don't...."
She jerked away. "What did you think would happen?" she asked, swallowing tears. "Did you think you'd say, guess what, Cordy, I know you love Angel, and I'm hightailing it back to Pylea--and I'd just go, great, fine, see you whenever?
"Jeez, Groo, you look surprised that I got used to having you around. That I really do care about you. Or maybe it's that I didn't just fall in line with your little plans? You know me, Groo. That's not who I am," she shouted, voice breaking. "I do care about you. A lot. But that's never been who I am."
Ignoring the way his face paled, she walked to the closet and pulled her white silk robe off the hook and wrapped it around her.
"I thought I was doing the right thing," he said quietly. "No," he followed up with conviction. "I know I am doing the right thing."
She tied the robe's knot with a sharp jerk. "Then do it," she said softly, back to him.
She heard the quick intake of breath and then nothing for several still moments. Finally, the bedroom door closed, the rummaging in the living room stopped, and there was only silence in the apartment.
She stared at the closet. His clothes hung there, the ones they had bought together. Jeans, the beautiful, loose shirts he liked so much, his shoes. They mingled intimately with her own wardrobe, something that had always made her feel excited, grown up. Partnered.
She stood until her legs grew chilled. Then, realizing that waiting would only make it worse, she pulled his clothes out and laid them on the bed. She sniffled, rubbed her hands across her damp cheeks and crossed to the dresser. There she unloaded boxers, t-shirts and socks and added them to the pile.
Her breath hitched and she forced the tears back. Dammit, Cordy, she thought. Don't start crying now. Because there was Wes, whom she missed with an ache that made her heart spin; and Connor, lost and now found, a violent, bitter young man; and Angel, still grieving for the years he and Connor had missed, and for the way his son came back hating him. And herself, despite all those people she loved, so very empty and alone.
Slowly, methodically, she went through the apartment, ignoring her increasingly gritty eyes and Dennis's hovering coolness.
She gathered Groo's jackets from the hall closet and stood on tiptoes to collect the box of small weapons he'd placed on the top shelf. She caught the corner with her fingers and jerked back in surprise when it careened over the edge and fell to the floor at her feet.
Throwing stars, short-bladed knives, even a tiny, pearl-handled gun scattered. She knelt and scooped them haphazardly into the velvet lining, cramming them in, and forcing the lid shut. Her breath hitched again and she stopped and pressed her eyes closed.
There were the cds they bought together, the books she was teaching him to read, Ludlum and Clancy, silly action novels he found appealing for their intrigue and fighting. The sage-scented candles she bought for their long baths.
She took another armload in and piled it on what she had already come to think of as their bed. She was looking at the mess, the back of her hand pressed against trembling lips, when he came in.
A shiver ran through her. "Yeah."
"I'm sorry." His voice was quiet and sad.
She shrugged and blinked away tears. "He believes he's doing the right thing."
"Maybe he is."
She started trembling then and wrapped her arms around her waist. "I guess he told you good-bye." She laughed brokenly. "Again with the right thing." She heard him step into the room. "Don't."
He stopped. "I just...."
"He left because he thinks I love you."
"You do love me."
"Of course I do. That's what I told him. Just not.... And even if I did…." She waved her hand. "I told him and *told* him. But he thinks, because he's good at reading people, that he read this, too."
Seconds ticked by silently until she turned to him. He wore the same clothes he'd had on earlier. His hands were in his pockets, his hair mussed from a night of fighting. He looked wonderful--strong and sure and steady and....
"Oh, God," she said, feeling her face break.
He held out his arms. "C'mere."
His hands on her back were cool and familiar. Through the thin fabric of her robe they felt right, like her best friend, like the person who always seemed to be there when she needed him the most. She cried into his shoulder. "I tried," she said.
"I know, baby, shhhhh," he whispered, stroking his hands down her back in long, soothing motions.
They stood that way while she let it go, all the grief she'd spent so much time and effort storing. It was like being caught in a lightning storm, the way it struck, but once it passed, she felt burned clean.
She took a breath, inhaling the warm, salt-wet scent of him, and burrowed deeper into his body. "Stupid men," she grumbled. "Just when you get used to them being around, they do something to mess everything up."
Angel chuckled. "Being the messing-things-up champion, I'd have to agree."
Cordy knocked her fist against his damp shoulder. "Stop trying to make me laugh."
She felt the press of his lips on her hair. "I just can't stand to see you cry," he whispered.
She sniffled. "I suck at this," she sighed into the fabric of his shirt.
"You suck at what?"
She pulled in a shuddering breath. "I told Wesley once...." She felt Angel jerk against her. "Sorry, I...."
"No, go on."
"I told him once that I thought we were meant to be alone," she said around trickling tears. "And now I wonder if I wasn't right."
The room was quiet for a moment and Angel's hand stilled, its broad expanse resting just above her waist. "Do you believe that?"
She pulled away and looked into his obsidian eyes. "Look at my life," she said simply. "I can't even convince a half-demon guy from another dimension to stay with me."
"I got the impression he would have stayed in a heartbeat if you'd said the magic words," he said, smoothing her hair off her face.
"What, that I loved him?" She pulled free of his arms and started pacing, agitation rising in her again. "But I don't, Angel. I care about him, sure. But...." She turned and pinned him with her glare. "He wanted to marry me and take me back to Pylea."
He blinked. "Why didn't you go? You love Pylea."
She threw her hands up in the air. "Because of you! Geez! What is *with* you guys?"
Angel stepped forward and took her arm. "Cordelia, never give up a chance at living for my sake. The Powers don't offer a money back guarantee. And I'm not worth the sacrifice."
"It's a little late now," she said, waving her free hand at her body. "Demonized, remember?"
"To save your life."
"And yours," she huffed.
He ran a gentling hand down her shoulder. "Do you want to go with him?"
She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes and shook her head. "I didn't want him to go."
"That's not what I asked."
"I know." She dropped her hands and blinked away the silver sparkles the sudden release of pressure left behind.
She stood, considering. "You know what the hardest thing is?"
He had that, "Don't change the subject" look, but he asked, "No, what?"
"Being alone. And I don't like myself very much for that."
He shook his head in confusion. "For not wanting to be alone?"
"No," she said, stepping closer. She wrapped her arm around his waist. "That I'll miss him--but more, I'll just miss having someone around."
He pushed her long bangs behind her ear. "I'm around," he said gruffly.
"Yeah, you are," she sniffled. She leaned up and kissed his cheek. "You know what else I'll miss?"
Angel shook his head, his face tender. "No. What?" he whispered.
She smiled impishly. "How great he was in the sack."
She didn't know what was funnier, the way his eyes widened or the raw- lemon grimace that followed.
"I so did not need to know that."
She laughed. "Sorry. It's just.... Oh, never mind. It's not like you know anything about it, anyway."
Now it was his turn to laugh. "Two and a half centuries later, and great sex can still make me stupid."
She snorted. "Understatement of the century."
He cupped her cheek in his hand. "I'm just saying that I understand what you're giving up for me," he said with only the slightest quirk of his lips. "And don't think I don't appreciate it."
"And you can be sure I'll find a way to make you pay." Cordy's grin turned into a jaw-breaking yawn. "Sorry," she said, covering her mouth with her hand. "Long night, what with the slugs, and the glowy thing, and Connor coming back, and...." She waved her hand toward the piled-high bed and blinked away fresh tears.
"Come back to the hotel with me and I'll make you breakfast," Angel said. "Then you can take a nap."
She arched an eyebrow, but the derisive move was just a cover for the way his easy invitation wrapped its warm hands around her aching heart. "You're just afraid to be alone with your son."
"You mean the one who tried to kill me a few hours ago? The *teenager*?" His tone was full of complaint, but his eyes glowed happily.
"I don't know what frightens you more," she said, moving to the closet. "The fact that he tried to kill you, or that he's a teenager."
She stepped behind the open door, then slid her robe off and threw it over the hook.
"They're equally terrifying," he said.
She heard a shuffle and knew he'd leaned against the doorjamb and could feel, from across the room, the waves of excitement and contentment that poured off of him.
"He always did sleep better in daylight, just like his daddy," she said, drawing on a pair of jeans and one of her t-shirts before leaning down for her shoes.
She stopped in mid-motion, her heart jolting, and stepped around the door. "Angel, Connor's back," she whispered. Her lips trembled.
His smile was lustrous. "Yeah."
Her smile felt like it would break her face. She wanted to run around the room, whooping. Instead, she ran to him. "He's back," she laughed, scooping him into a silly, dancing hug.
He laughed with her, his face suffused with joy.
"Whoa, hey," she said, pulling back suddenly. "Gettin' a little happy, there."
He nodded as he bounced on the balls of his feet. "Yeah. Way happy. Dangerously happy."
"So think about something yucky. I know! Slugs! Wolfram and Hart! Connor stealing your favorite hurling axe!"
"Thanks," he said, still laughing, but somehow calmer. "God, Cordy." He shook his head. "What am I gonna do with a teenager?"
"Paybacks are hell, huh, dad?"
"You have to come with me. Save me from him."
"You big baby." She rolled her eyes. "Just let me get some things."
"Get them later. I can smell the sunrise."
She glanced out the window at the pearling sky. "Oops. Okay. Let's go." She went to the closet and slipped on her shoes. "Dennis, I'll be back soon, 'kay?" The cool breeze of his invisible hand ruffled her hair.
On the way out the door, she looked back at the bed, at the pile of clothes and memories, and felt her heart twist. Then she lifted her gaze to Angel and found him there. Waiting.
He held out his hand. "You okay?"
She linked her fingers through his. "I will be."