My Breath Is Yet Mine Own by LAndrews
Summary: Angel breathes. Cordelia wants to know how, but learns why, instead.
Spoilers: Through Season Two.
drew another iodine soaked gauze square from the old, blue Tupperware she held,
pressed it just enough to stop it dripping, and then drew it up the sword slash
on Angel's back, over the top of his right shoulder and down his chest. The cut
ended in a wicked curve around his nipple where it flared into a shallow trough
of missing skin and a deep puncture. She squeezed iodine from the gauze and let
it flood the puncture.
Angel huffed out a little burst of vodka-laced breath.
"It's Betadine, how bad can it be?"
"Wes made that batch. He adds. stuff." Using his right arm, making the iodine dribble out of the puncture, he waved his half-empty glass towards the back office. "Alcohol, periwinkle."
"You need blood with that. These should be closing over already."
He grunted. "Later," he said, wheezing on the exhale.
Cordy let the used square drop onto the floor at his feet with the rest. The wound was really dirty. Reveling in the lessening of her post-vision headache, she'd been half-asleep at her desk when they tromped in, covered in blood and green grit. They scattered and showered while she prepped. Gunn needed stitches, so after swiping Wes down and chasing the grit from a cut above his eye, she'd sent them off to Urgent Care and someone who could really help.
Taking a fresh gauze, Cordy surveyed Angel's torso and chose her next target, a deep gash over his left collarbone. Her first pass netted a gross clot of half-dried blood and an impressive amount of grit. "What is this stuff?" she asked, as she swiped the gash with another square.
Her fingers sunk first-knuckle deep and the unpleasant scrape of bone shot through her nails, straight through her wrist, and tickled her elbow. Cordy jumped and jerked her fingers out. Angel gasped, shuddered, and closed his eyes all at once. After a second he let a long wavering breath out through his clenched teeth.
Dropping the bloodied gauze, Cordy fished another from the bottom of the bowl. She slapped it sopping wet in the now bleeding cave of torn flesh. She took two more and packed them in on top. Eyes still closed, Angel blew vodka breath into her face.
She cleaned grit from the scrape lacing his hip and the cuts on his nose and jaw. He tilted his head and let her follow the trickle of blood up his neck to the matted clot at the base of his skull. Towel-dried, his hair was cool and damp on her fingers as she parted it. He hissed as the iodine hit the cut, and when she drew the gauze away, bone gleamed. "Geeze, Angel."
He huffed his breath out again.
"Drink some more of that."
Lifting his glass, he swallowed and then held it up in offering. She reached over his shoulder and took it. The vodka was as cold as when she'd pulled it from the freezer and poured for him. She drained the glass and refilled it from the bottle on the lobby counter before handing it back to him. He took another long swallow.
Cordy finished off his skull wound with a combination of triple-antibiotic cream and arnica ointment. She squinted at the back of his neck in the low light. The skin there was bruising in a pretty web of dark blue and deepest black. She rubbed more arnica in, trying to ignore the way Angel's tight neck muscles leapt and flinched beneath her fingers.
Moving back around in front of him, she eyed the gauze on his collarbone. He held up the glass. She took it and sipped, thinking. "I've got to flush it. I can't think of any other way to wash the grit out."
"I did that, in the shower."
Wow, that must've really, really hurt. "Really?"
"Yeah. I think it's attached."
Her toes curled. "You do?"
Cordy sipped more vodka. "Poor Gunn. They're gonna debride the hell out of his forearm."
"Just leave it. It'll heal."
"What if it's like... eggs- or something?"
"No, really." She gave him back the glass and plucked the gauze out. Buried in Angel's pale flesh, the grit glittered like malignant green mica.
"Cordy, I'm dead. Nothing's gonna live on me."
"What about maggots?"
"Have you ever seen a vampire wearing maggots?"
"I don't grow mold or fungus, either," he said dryly. He knocked back the vodka. "Just see if you can get a little more out. It stings."
She eyed the irrigation bottle on the counter with its nozzle top, knowing it's vicious bite from experience. That one was the worst they made, reserved for the aftermath of pus demons and gloopy things. The grit must really sting if Angel thought he'd prefer the burn. Saline might work just as well, but if he'd already tried water, and if it was eggs. "I'll just... flush a bit."
Lifting one shoulder, Angel half-shrugged. With no better option, Cordy grabbed the bottle and a handful of dry gauze and flushed the gaping hole before she could lose her courage. A little green grit and a lot of iodine flowed out and over Angel's chest and seeped past Cordy's dam of gauze, creeping fingers reaching for his belly, pooling in his navel.
Angel's breath huffed into her face.
"How do you do that?" she asked.
"Do what," Angel breathed as Cordy tried to wipe him off.
She gave up and stalked off to the bathroom for a hand towel. The ones down here were nearly all stained with various somethings unmentionable anyway- a little yellow iodine would make no difference. Thank god they were sitting down here in the lobby, instead of Angel's room. He'd throw a hissy before he'd let her stain one of his own precious towels.
Since Angel didn't even open his eyes, let alone reach for the towel when she returned, she dabbed at his belly and then his chest, trying not to cause him further damage. The wound was bleeding freely again. Holding the now hopelessly stained towel below it, she pressed dry gauze to it with the other hand. His collarbone shifted sideways under her fingers. She heard the creak of it as it pushed into her palm. Angel grunted, an explosive breath bursting from him.
"God, is it broken?"
He only nodded, a bare dip of his chin as he breathed hard through his nose, blowing out like Keanu used to after she galloped him to the top of Grove Hill. Nothing she could do about it, so Cordy trapped his shoulder between her hands and pressed hard, waiting for the bleeding to slow. After a minute or two, Angel settled. His muscles stilled. His chest barely rose in controlled inhalation. Small puffs of sweet vodka-breath.
He breathed in, opening his eyes. "What?"
"You don't have to breathe for me."
He frowned. "I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"It must hurt," she said. "Stop."
He took a deep breath, expanding between her hands. Her body flushed, a shadow of cool, firm sensation spiraling in a slow, unpleasant glide around her solar plexus. She gulped in her own air and watched him grimace. His chest hitched hard again and he sighed deep, his muscles softening as he let the pain go rushing from him.
"How do you do that, anyway?"
"Do what?" He sounded annoyed, now.
"Huff vodka in my face."
"Huff vodka in your face."
"Yeah, Xander said you couldn't."
Angel huffed. "Vodka."
He held the glass up.
She couldn't help but roll her eyes. Avoidance, much? "Here, hold this." She took the glass from him and inched her other hand out from under his fingers as he took control of the wad of gauze at his collar bone. Blood was already soaking through. "Press hard."
She splashed vodka in the glass and then circled around to the mini-fridge and pulled out a pint of Angel's supply. She spilled some into a mug, warmed it for fifteen seconds, topped it off with vodka and carried the mug and the glass back over to him.
"Here, this first," she said, handing him the mug.
Angel peeked into it like it was poison. "I really don't..."
"I'm getting fresh gauze, you're drinking that blood."
Cordy busied herself digging out another stack of dry squares from their recalcitrant paper wrapper and cutting strips of adhesive tape. When she turned back to Angel, he was sitting very still, staring straight through the bottom of the mug.
She reached to take it, but he didn't move until her fingers wrapped around his. They were cold and clammy. The mug was still full. "Are you okay?"
Looking faint, he shook his head.
She set the mug on the floor next to the glass of vodka and swapped the soaked gauze for the dry, not liking the way his hand drifted down, brushing his ribs, to settle palm up on his lap. For the first time she realized he hadn't seen him move his left arm since walking in. He had it tucked hard against his side, his hand flat on his lower belly.
The blood flow was slowing, she thought. She taped the dressing neatly in place, wondering if she should try to pressure bandage it. Angel breathed deep and his chest double-hitched as he breathed out. The gauze bloomed dark red.
Once more, Cordy caught Angel between her hands and pressed hard. "Stop it or I'll have to..."
Stupid man! "Breathing."
His collar bone creaked and slid. It rippled almost, an undulation. It startled her. Another hard flush of adrenaline lifted her hand but he'd only rolled his shoulder. She pushed her hand back down onto the dressing. The skin of his back was slick as he rolled his shoulder again and now her palms were sweating, too. Great.
Okay, now she was annoyed. Mostly at herself, because she really wanted to know, even though it hardly mattered, but mad at him, too, for getting himself so torn up, for being so dense, for fucking listening to... her. Like he had a choice. Like she did. Stupid visions. She must've jabbed harder- he choked, and sucked air in like his freaking life depended on it, and then grunted as it broke from him in a whoosh.
"Ow," he said.
She eased up. "How do you do that?"
"Do what?" he grated.
His pissiness would've come off better if he didn't sound so tired. Cordy bit her tongue. "Breathe. Out." Yep, her pissy was definitely better than his. "Xander said you couldn't."
Okay, so he could challenge her, maybe, for the pissiness title. "Xander said you couldn't help Buffy when..."
Angel went rigid under her hand. Maybe she was the one too tired to be standing here at a quarter 'til five in the morning trying to help a broken vampire. An odd, small snuffle escaped him before he coughed, a wet, tearing sound, that made Cordy lean away as far as she could without letting go of him. When he swallowed hard, she did, too. In increments, he relaxed under her hands.
No time like the present. "When the Master killed her- you couldn't help, because you don't have breath. Xander said he had to do it, the CPR. But you can. You do. Breathe out. And your air would actually be better, because you haven't, like, used it."
"I'm dead, Cordy."
Sounded half-dead, too. "Still, you breathe out."
"It's an illusion."
"An illusion." She pressed a little harder and he huffed on her. "Still with the air moving in and out."
"I don't... not really."
Angel sat up a little straighter, twisting to the right. Bracing his right hand on his thigh, he breathed in, blew out and resumed his normal slump.
Cordy followed him with her hands.
He scruffed his hand through his hair, wincing. "I breathe because I can, okay?"
"My point, exactly."
Angel frowned at her.
"I took biology. Your collarbone's broken, and you're what? Choking on blood? So, broken ribs, maybe a punctured lung? Ergo, it hurts to breathe. You're dead, as you just pointed out, so why do it?"
He forced a deep breath, his muscles rising between her hands, but had to give it up with a little grunt and soft exhale. Cordelia wanted to kick him.
"So, you've proven you can. If you want." She tilted her head, taking in his clenched jaw as he stared across the lobby. "Buffy might've wanted. "
"No." He glanced up at her before letting his eyes drift to the pre-dawn darkness of the courtyard behind her. "Buffy died, Cordelia. "
Cordelia's heart squeezed. Damn it. Couldn't Angel ever just answer a freaking question without drawing her offsides? God, she could still come off as such a bitch. But she was tired. And he was. stupid. Her eyes burned. Cordelia didn't dare cry, not now. Not here. She looked at the ceiling, trying not to sniff, and blinked the tears back.
"I didn't even know her. I didn't know, yet. "
"I couldn't breathe when she stopped. When her breath stopped. When her heart stopped."
A fluttery thrill coursed through Cordelia's belly.
"I couldn't breathe," Angel repeated.
Cordelia couldn't breathe. She felt the firm give of his throat beneath her thumb as he swallowed and realized she was stroking him. She snatched her hand back and turned away. Catching her arm, Angel reached out and stopped her.
"Cordy," he said, as he stood.
She looked up at him. He wasn't looking at her, still had the thousand yard stare going, lost in the Master's lair, she was sure, Buffy laid before him.
"I'm sorry," she said, and meant it. "I shouldn't have."
His eyes shifted. He looked at her.
He more than looked at her, he saw her. His awareness sparked her own. His fingertips were hard on her arm, his palm covered her bicep. He was big, his shoulders half again as wide as hers, and standing so close to her, the skin of his chest brushed her shirt. She could smell blood and iodine and alcohol; the dusty cotton of the gauze squares; the adhesive on the tape. And earth, fresh turned and damp with dew.
"I still love Buffy." His voice was soft and clear. His eyes never wavered, although her heart did a double beat.
He lowered his head, his mouth near to her ear, and breathed in her scent, then slowly let it out again, upon her skin. Goosebumps rippled across her neck, spreading to her scalp and across her shoulders, down over her breasts, which seemed to fill with his breath, becoming heavy. Her nipples pebbled.
"But you let me breathe," he whispered into her. "Thank you."
And he was gone, halfway up the stairs before she could react. She watched him drop into his body, slow to human pace, his shoulders hunched against the pain of his movement. Her hand felt again the undulation of his bone under her fingers, felt the hesitation before he rolled his shoulder to cover it, to hide it from her.
The demon was setting its flesh house to rights, knitting bone and muscle at unholy speed. If the demon owned his body, and Buffy owned his heart, what was left to him?
I breathe because I can.
Cordelia shivered, cool in the absence of his presence.