Morghane opened her eyes.
And was slightly taken aback. No nightmares, no memories, no fateful premonitions. She had awakened because her body had decided it'd had enough sleep for now.
Considering how weak and sick she felt, it was a bit puzzling. She was exhausted to the very marrow of her bones, yet she was restless. Couldn't spend one more minute in this bed.
Spike be damned.
Sweet, funny Spike. He was a source of endless entertainment these days. Who would have thought that a vampire could have such a deep-seated Florence Nightingale complex?
Anyway. Everything hurt. Her muscles were cramped - a consequence of the incessant shivers brought on by the fever she still felt coursing in her veins. Weird. In all the time she had spent as an immortal, she had forgotten what listening to her own body felt like. Even her throat was painful.
What now? A cold?
< Slayed by the flu when all the armies of Hell couldn't bring me down. It doesn't get much more pathetic than this. >
She sighed and closed her eyes again, sensing the walls of the room closing down on her, protecting her. Alone, insulated. Nervous energy notwithstanding, she felt like she could stay here forever, buried under the cozy duvet, her face hidden in the warm niche of Angel's pillow, bathing in his lingering scent. Would be a nice way to go. All of a sudden the familiar darkness did not speak of demons, loneliness, deathly battles and unending struggles anymore. It welcomed her, concealed her. Sheltered her. Like an old companion who knew her most private quirks, the dark did not ask anything from her. Calm and constant. Maybe she could learn something from it?
She hadn't felt safe in so long.
She shook herself awake again. Yes, she needed some more sleep. Badly. But there was a lot to do still.
< Miles to go before I die. >
The thought brought a faint smile to her lips.
And then a revolted scowl.
< And I do self-pity since... when? >
She dragged herself to a sitting position and groaned. Great. The room was spinning and she wasn't even up yet.
Making her way to the bathroom was going to be a riot.
Biting her lower lip until she drew blood, Morghane got closer to the edge of the bed then pushed the heavy duvet aside. Determinedly, she slid her legs to the floor and, grabbing onto the night-stand, she stood.
Her vision dissolved in a flash of whiteness and her stomach did a lurching flip-flop, but she was prepared for it. She remained on her feet. Once she could see again, she deliberately pushed away from the night-stand and her hand found the nearest wall.
Taking a deep breath, she decided to rest for a minute and took the opportunity to look down at herself. She had healed somewhat. Meaning she had some reserves of magick left. She knew very well how the Sepulcher operated. All Guardians knew. She would feel better for a little while before starting on the inescapable downward slope towards her own end. She counted on it, really. A couple of basic strengthening spells would do the rest and buy her a few more hours. She only needed a small reprieve, just long enough to meet the new Guardian and present her request.
Her dying wish.
It was pretty much all she had been thinking about since Angel had been returned from Hell, since she had realized how little time they had left before the Beaynid prophecy came to pass. It wouldn't be everything, but it would still be something. A parting gift to Angel and Buffy. Not an instant solution to all their problems - or to the upcoming war - yet a small part of the equation.
She was going to anchor Angel's soul.
If she could find her successor in time.
"Just what the hell are you doing?"
Doyle froze in his tracks and turned slowly to face Cordelia Chase.
"What's that, Princess?"
"Where did the luggage come from? Buffy moving in?"
The half-demon looked down at the two small travel bags he was carrying and shrugged.
"Morghane dropped them at me place before she left for Sunnydale. Figured she would be happy to get out of Angel's clothes and into her own, ye know."
Cordy inspected the tags on the bags and smirked. "Loewe. Of course, I should have known it couldn't be Buffy's stuff. Someone around here has taste. Bet she gave Angel a crash course in style and fashion sense when they were together." Cordelia frowned, considering Doyle's loud green shirt and baggy black pants. "The least she could have done was to go through the same drill with you. Obviously, the quality of the hired help is slipping."
Doyle's eyebrows knitted together; he was a bit hurt, although he should have been accustomed to Cordy's biting tongue by now.
Just as he was about to deliver his own comeback, a loud crashing sound resonated from the bedroom.
Without hesitation, he dropped the bags on the floor of the living room and ran towards the noise. Cordelia was just one step behind him.
He skidded around the corner of the hall and stopped. Cordy crashed into his back, mumbling colorful insults. Ignoring her, he quickly took a few steps forward to crouch by Morghane's side.
The Guardian was kneeling on the floor by a broken lamp, her breath coming in rapid, short pants. She felt Doyle's presence and lifted a relieved gaze to the half-demon.
"Sor... sorry. I... I thought I could... do it alone."
Doyle shook his head reassuringly and smiled. "S'okay, m'Lady. Don't worry about it."
"He's right, Morghane. It was a really ugly lamp anyway," added Cordelia, hovering worriedly over them.
"Can ye walk?" asked Doyle.
Morghane nodded slowly. "Yeah. I think I can."
Doyle carefully wrapped one arm around her middle and another around her shaking shoulders - mindful of her barely healed ribs and other miscellaneous bruises. Morghane rested most of her weight on him, but he didn't mind. He gave a push with his thigh muscles and they were up. The Guardian swayed slightly and Doyle feared she would lose consciousness again. But after a few indecisive seconds, she stood more firmly on her legs and took a deep breath.
"I need to... I'm... I can't stay in that bed any longer. And I need to take a shower. I feel... disgusting."
Cordelia appeared on her other side and slid an arm around her waist, over Doyle's arm.
The Irishman tried not to shiver at the prolonged contact with Cordy's skin.
"Let's get you to the bathroom. I'll help. And Doyle brought you some of your own clothes."
"Thanks," murmured the Guardian, concentrating on each step.
"Anything for ye, me Lady."
"Morghane, Doyle. Call me Morghane, okay?"
Morghane groaned softly.
"The Scooby people are in the office, researchin'. Spike left for Sunnydale an hour ago, when the sun set. Angel is meetin' a few of his contacts in downtown L.A.. The Slayer stayed 'ere to keep an eye on things."
Satisfied, Morghane nodded.
Slowly, painfully, they made their way to the bathroom and Doyle made his excuses, embarrassed.
"Ah, uh... I... I'll be outside... if ye need me."
"In your dreams, doofus," was Cordelia's straightforward answer.
But Morghane smiled kindly at him. "Thanks, Doyle. I appreciate the help."
Blushing, the half-demon nodded and ambled out of the small room.
"So..." the Guardian said, looking down at herself with a frown. "How are we gonna do this?"
Cordelia started peeling off her own clothes. "I'm getting in the shower stall with you. Let me do the work, okay? Just concentrate on staying up."
Morghane threw an affectionate smile Cordy's way. She really liked the former cheerleader. Nothing ever seemed to faze her for long.
Soon Cordelia stood naked in front of her, obviously perfectly at ease with the situation and her nudity. After so many years, the Guardian was more than accustomed to seeing people in their most simple apparel, but she had expected the young woman to be more self-conscious.
Which she wasn't.
Which, to be fair, she had no reason to be, as far as Morghane was concerned. Cordelia was truly a beautiful woman. Not many people could brave the shedding of the protective, concealing layers humans used to disguise themselves, withstand critical appraisal and still pass with flying colors.
But Cordy could.
The only small imperfection - the scar which marred her smooth, flat stomach - was barely visible to the untrained eye amid her tanned skin.
Morghane resisted the need to clutch Angel's shirt to herself. She knew her own body very well and had pretty much lost any notion of vanity over the years. Well, almost any. She gave very little thought to the way the people surrounding her perceived her appearance. She had long ago shed any semblance of artless modesty and ingenuous inhibitions.
Yet tonight she felt almost inadequate. Not because Cordelia was much more beautiful than herself - which she was. Morghane had never been one for comparison.
What was the point?
No. Envy had nothing to do with this.
Cordelia's flawless, lithe, unmarked body reminded her of every little scar that disgraced her own. 1700 years worth of battles - some physical, some not. Some scars had faded, some remained. Not all visible, but the ones that were, were also a reflection of those that weren't. Daring her to forget.
Morghane felt old. And ageless at the same time. And weary beyond words.
She would never be like Cordelia again. Carefree and secure in her own seduction, her youth, in the certitude that there would be a future awaiting her tomorrow - even if the younger woman never really devoted any thought to what it held.
The Guardian felt the sting of tears at the back of her throat and she looked at Cordelia in wonder. She hadn't wept in years. Certainly not since this nightmare began. Why now?
Yes, she was exhausted, but this was ridiculous.
"Morghane? Are you okay? Do you want me to call Doyle so you can lie down again?"
The Guardian shook herself out of her daze, meeting Cordy's concerned gaze.
"No, I'm okay, Delia. Sorry I spaced out for a minute."
Cordelia shrugged nonchalantly. "Don't worry about it." She paused, puzzled. "Hey, you called me 'Delia'."
Morghane was slightly taken aback. "So?"
"Only my grandmother calls me Delia. And Angel sometimes, when he's worried."
"Oh... I can stop..."
The younger woman shook her head. "S'okay. I don't mind." She grinned widely. "Besides, you're certainly old enough to be my grandmother, right?"
Morghane stifled a distressed groan. "Yes. Yes, I certainly am."
Without devoting more thought to the matter, Cordelia quickly unbuttoned Morghane's shirt and discarded it on the floor. She cautiously peeled away the few bandages which covered the Guardian's most serious injuries - never once making a comment on how gross some of them looked. When she revealed the still angry wound left by the Sepulcher, Morghane flinched.
Cordy's expression softened. "I'll be careful. I promise."
"I'm not worried, Delia," assured Morghane, lightly.
The young woman moved away from the Guardian to adjust the shower-head and turned on the taps, waiting for the water to reach the right temperature. Once she was satisfied, Cordelia helped Morghane in the stall, guiding her under the water stream, then pulled the curtain closed.
"Can you stand?" Cordy inquired gently.
"Yeah. I think. For now at least."
"Hold onto me if you need to, okay?"
Morghane smiled faintly. She was grateful Angel had someone like Cordy by his side, no matter how rough her exterior could appear sometimes. She was quite an extraordinary young woman in her own right.
The heady scent of sandalwood drifted around her as Cordelia carefully washed her shoulders and her back. Morghane almost laughed out loud - but it was a little hysterical, so she refrained. So many people taking care of her, making sure she was clean, fed, even sexually satisfied. If she had known it would be this way, she would have endeavored to come across the Sepulcher a long time ago.
As it was, she was having the hardest time not reacting to the feeling of Cordelia's soft hands gliding guilelessly between her breasts. The fever had left every nerve-endings oversensitive to external stimuli and she shivered.
"Cold?" asked Cordelia, her arms wrapped around the Guardian's stomach.
"No," responded Morghane after a strangled breath. "M'okay."
What was wrong with her? She had gone centuries without sex in the past. Now she was unbearably aroused by the touch of a teenager.
First Spike, now Cordelia.
< God, Morghane. You're sick. >
She tried to distract herself by making conversation.
"So... you and Doyle..."
< Subtle, Morghane. Very subtle. >
To her surprise, Cordelia didn't reply with an outraged scream of protestation. She just chuckled quietly.
"When it comes to Doyle, there's no rush. I want to do it right. I don't want a repeat of the fiasco that was my relationship with Xander."
Why anyone as smart as Cordelia could ever have wanted a relationship with Xander Harris in the first place, Morghane had no clue - but she nodded anyway. "I understand. But he's a good man, Delia. Don't make him wait too long."
The young woman laughed again. "I won't."
Cordy washed her up quickly, knowing the Guardian wouldn't be able to remain standing for very long. She rinsed the foam off her skin and the shampoo out of her hair before turning off the taps. Cordelia helped her out of the shower then dried her off swiftly, and soon enough Morghane found herself lost in the wine-red sea of cotton that was Angel's bathrobe.
Cordy wrapped herself in a very small towel.
"I'm going to call Doyle, so he can bring your stuff in here."
Then she smirked.
Morghane shook her head, amused. Doyle was good for a heart-attack when he found Cordelia enveloped in this poor excuse for a towel.
"Doyle!" called Cordelia.
A few seconds later, the door opened and Doyle poked his head in.
"Ye bellowed, Princess?"
Then his jaw hit the floor.
"Doyle, would you mind bringing Morghane's bags in here?," asked Cordelia, unfazed. "Please?"
Once he regained control over his basic motor skills, Doyle nodded frantically and disappeared.
"That was cruel," commented Morghane, sitting on the edge of the bathtub. "Fun, but cruel." Her grin belied her reproachful tone.
"It's good for him," replied Cordelia, while she put her own clothes back on. "Got to toughen him up."
The Guardian almost giggled. She was in the Twilight Zone.
Had to be.
When Doyle returned with her luggage, Cordelia was - thankfully - dressed, and the Irish half-demon had regained some of his composure.
"Got yourself a little challenge, right, Francis?" Morghane remarked affectionately.
"Francis?" echoed Cordelia.
"Yes. Allen Francis Doyle. The only demon I ever worked with who sported not one but three Christian names."
Morghane realized that she had said something wrong when Doyle paled visibly and Cordelia started to shake.
"Demon?" she whispered, dazed.
"Cordy," said Doyle, pleadingly. "Let me..."
"Get out of my way," Cordelia bit out coldly.
When Doyle refused to move, she pushed past him forcefully.
A few seconds later they heard the familiar groans of the freight elevator.
"She didn't know..." murmured Morghane, her throat tight.
Doyle shook his head. "Hadn't told her yet."
The Guardian passed a tired hand over her eyes - fighting unexpected tears once again.
"I'm sorry, Francis. I don't know why I thought..."
"It's okay," Doyle interjected with a resigned, sad smile. "I shouldn't have tried to hide it from her."
Slowly, he moved to collect the bags he had dropped on the floor.
"What are you doing?"
He lifted his gaze towards Morghane, puzzled.
"I thought I would help ye get dressed. Or I can call Buffy if..."
"Go after her, Doyle."
"But ye need..."
The Guardian growled warningly. "I've taken care of myself for the last couple of millennia, I think I can manage. Now go. It's an order."
Doyle didn't have to be told twice. "I'm goin'."
And he was out the door.
Drained, Morghane slid to the floor, huddling in the corner between the tub and the wall, and pulled the bathrobe tightly around herself.
Nothing was ever simple anymore.
She let the tears fall.