SEASON OF SOLACE
61: The Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale
“There’s more?” Angel asked sensing that Cordy was not talking about details he wanted to hear.
She gently pushed against his chest putting some distance between them. It was not easy to put into words what she saw in the vision Drusilla shared because she really didn’t understand it.
“For a while, I wasn’t sure what I saw, even the part about us,” Cordelia told him. “It was confusing because I didn’t think that we would ever— you know, get together, for a lot of reasons.”
More reasons than he wanted to admit to. Angel kept quiet not wanting to stop her from continuing to open up to him. He needed to hear this and figure out a way to deal with whatever it was.
“I don’t think we were in Sunnydale,” she frowned at the fuzzy memory. With a shrug, adding, “Which makes no sense at all because Bev would never leave this town and I— she needs me.”
A tender feeling centered deep in Angel’s chest whenever he thought about Cordy and her grandmother. Although her parents’ financial and legal situation changed her entire lifestyle, it had given her the opportunity to meet Bev, someone whose influence and simpler existence was a positive one. Cordy might complain about the lack of a Jacuzzi at her grandmother’s house, but Angel knew she wouldn’t trade Bev for all the luxuries in the world.
So it did not surprise him that Cordelia would want to stay in Sunnydale for Bev’s sake. Then it occurred to him that maybe Cordy had planned to leave Sunnydale. Graduation was coming up at some point in the coming months. Maybe she had planned to go away to college.
The fact that he did not know her plans opened up a whole array of questions that needed answers. Where did that leave him and this new relationship? Right here for now.
“There was weirdness,” Cordy waved her hands around trying to express just how strange it was to her. “Stuff I can’t explain. I could smell blood and hear screams. So many people in pain, dying, scared.”
“What people?” Angel had expected her to reveal that she was the one in pain or dying and that it was his fault. Drusilla had said as much to him, that he was responsible for Cordelia’s fate being tied to a future of blood and death.
Cordelia rubbed her forehead as if it hurt to think about it. “Beats me, nobody I’ve met before, just people wanting help.”
She paused, glancing up at him with a dawning look of realization. “That’s what they wanted, your help.”
Before he could ask who or why said strangers wanted his help, Cordelia went on, “Or maybe they wanted help because they were trying to get away from you. It’s hard to say.”
“There’s a big difference between helping and hunting people, Cordy,” he urged her to get it right. “Was it really me in that vision or was it—” Angel could not even finish the question.
“Angelus?” Cordy went wide-eyed for a moment and then brushed off the idea by pointing out, “Hello, did I not mention the hot sex? I’d never let him touch me.”
Angel wished it were that simple. Her words hit like a compliment and a challenge all at the same time. Now that he knew the nature of Drusilla’s vision, he was none the wiser for it. Though it was interesting to discover that Cordelia believed they were still together in the future. It gave him hope to believe that he was doing the right thing by taking such a risk in the first place.
“Is that it?” he asked and was relieved when she nodded in the affirmative.
“Mostly, yes. What do you suppose it means?” Cordelia asked him.
He had to admit the truth. “I don’t know. Drusilla might know more if I can get her to talk about it.”
“Don’t,” she pleaded. “I admit it would be great to know the future if I was going to buy a lottery ticket, but Dru’s vision thing is creepy.”
Angel pulled Cordelia into his embrace, winding his strong arms around her and tucking her head beneath his chin. He wished that he could say his doubts were alleviated, but they remained. Even though she seemed certain that Angelus was not responsible for the people in the vision being in danger, he was still left with Drusilla’s dark prediction about Cordelia.
“Then forget it,” advised Angel as he released her to walk over to where two staff weapons leaned at an angle against a support column. He picked one up leaving the other behind as he returned to her side. “We have no idea how far ahead Dru was seeing. Anything that happens between us will be when the timing is right. I will not rush into this, Cordy. The danger is still there.”
The staff was planted at his side. Cordelia grasped it as she moved closer using it as support as she shifted onto her toes to kiss him softly. She smiled at him as they parted, hazel eyes sparkling. “So what’s next, more training?”
Angel heard the creak of the basement door just before a familiar voice called out, “I found them. Cor is playing with Angel’s staff.”
Both Cordelia and Angel turned toward the sound of Xander’s voice, seeing him standing at the partially opened door, head and shoulders leaning in. He had missed the kiss, she knew, because he would have made some kind of disgusted comment about it.
Buffy’s instant reaction sounded somewhere behind him. “What?”
The basement door was flung open to reveal Buffy who took one look at the pair holding the staff and decided that her friend’s innuendo was far from funny. Even though it was obvious that the two of them had been training, she really did not like the way they were standing so close together.
Candlelight flickered across the walls making it much brighter down here in the basement than anywhere else in the mansion. Buffy noticed that everything was clean and organized. There was plenty of open space. It was ideal for training and would suit her purposes just fine.
She glanced over her shoulder at Willow and Xander. “C’mon, guys. We can have the picnic down here.”
“A picnic?” Cordelia dropped her hand from the staff as she turned around to face them. Maybe Buffy had brought food in that little basket, but spontaneous picnics were not exactly Buffy’s style. At least not when it included tag-along friends and a vampire, she amended her thoughts, a vein of suspicion creeping in. “How nice of you to barge in uninvited.”
“Giles gave us the night off,” Buffy pointed out as she walked over to their side. “That includes training. I thought you might like something to take your mind off being a target for a demon sacrifice.”
Cordelia glanced toward Angel wondering if he was buying this or not. With his poker face firmly in place, she could not tell if he was annoyed or amused by his ex-girlfriend’s sudden appearance. There was no way to get rid of Buffy & Co. without actually demanding that they leave so she could go back to kissing Angel.
That thought brought a big smile to her lips. Seeing it, Willow commented, “Looks like you’re keeping it together considering the Big Bad wants your— uh… purity. You’re like a brand new Cordelia. The old one would have asked her parents to fly her out of the country by now.”
Despite knowing of Bev’s existence, the Scoobies still remained clueless about the status of parents’ absence from Sunnydale. That was just fine. It was none of their business in the same way as her hooking up with Angel was not their concern.
At the mention of her parents, Cordelia felt Angel’s hand press against the small of her back, his way of providing silent support. “Well, I have everybody looking out for me,” she reminded Willow. “The best way to catch this demon is for me to stick around.”
Cordelia decided that the best way to deal with this was to just let it happen. She and Angel were not going to be able to avoid the Scoobies every time they were together, so they might as well deal with it here and now. Willow was carrying an ugly plaid blanket. “You can put that over there,” she told her.
When Xander set the picnic basket down, Cordelia opened it up to help them distribute the food. She laughed when she saw that the contents were not homemade goodies, but plastic sandwich containers from the Main Street Deli.
“Buffy left the drinks on the foyer table when we were searching around for you.” He snapped his fingers and moved that way.
“It couldn’t have been that hard to find us,” Cordelia grumbled. “Angel would’ve noticed you trouncing around upstairs if you’d been here very long.”
Xander shrugged, “Long enough for Buffy to get halfway upstairs.”
“We split up,” Xander explained that he thought nothing of it. “Buffy went up, Willow stayed on the main level and I headed down here.”
Cordelia tapped her fingers on her hips as she tried to decide if there was more to it. “Well, go get them,” she prompted Xander who was suddenly staring over her shoulder.
A glance in that direction showed Buffy standing up close and personal with Angel who had not budged from his spot since their arrival. Cordelia could not hear what the other girl was saying, but she could see her hand on his arm. Her first instinct was to walk over there to yank Buffy’s cute little blonde ponytail and drag her away from him.
That was quite possibly her second and third instincts, too, but Cordelia refused to make a move, partly because she wanted to see how Angel was going to deal with this little ploy of Buffy’s, whatever she was saying. Blah, blah, blah, I was an idiot to let you go, blah, blah, blah.
Halfway through Buffy’s speech, Angel lifted his gaze up and away from her, connecting with Cordelia from across the room. His expression changed only very subtly, his dark brown eyes warming. Cordelia smiled back, suddenly confident that Angel was thinking about her despite the fact that Buffy was in his space.
Turning back to Xander who was still scowling at them, Cordelia lightly whacked him in the chest with the back of her hand. “Why are you still here? Go get the drinks.”
After Xander returned, it became even more obvious to Cordelia that none of them had given a thought to including Angel in their little picnic even though he was technically their host. “You didn’t bring blood for Angel?”
At that, Buffy and Angel ended their conversation and walked over. Xander had made a face, “Eeeeew! I’d like to have an appetite when we eat.”
“It’s okay, Cordy,” Angel assured her as his hand brushed over her shoulder. “I don’t need it.”
Cordelia protested on his behalf, “I’m just saying that it’s rude to come to a guy’s house with food and not bring him anything.”
“He’s not a guy,” Xander reminded. “He’s a vampire.”
Taking a step forward, Cordelia was about to argue that one when Angel’s had stilled her again. He suggested they sit down and relax. Willow was already occupying one corner of the blanket. Sitting cross-legged, Xander took the spot next to her. Buffy sat down at the closest corner next to Willow leaving the last corner for Cordelia.
She looked up at Angel, “Coming?” Between her and Buffy there was plenty of room for him to squeeze in.
There was just enough of a challenge in her voice that Angel knew Cordy was somehow teasing him. He leaned the staff against the nearest wall and sat down beside her. It had been a long time since he had felt such awkwardness, but sitting down between his ex-girlfriend and his new one felt downright strange.
Buffy had told him she missed training together. When she had touched him, Angel got the impression she was saying that was not all she missed. There had not been enough time to respond. Maybe the interruption was for the best because he had no idea how to tell Buffy ‘no’ without explaining that he wanted to spend time with Cordelia.
Keeping their relationship a secret for a while was not going to prove easy. Angel sat silently as the four of them talked about music or homework and other things he knew little about. He enjoyed hearing them and watching as they ate their sandwiches.
Angel sat with one leg bent inward on the floor, the other bent up where his arm rested on his knee. His other hand was on the edge of the blanket behind Cordy as he leaned slightly in her direction. Their shoulders touched and Angel felt her warmth seep into his skin from that slight contact.
He was thinking about wanting to touch her when Cordelia’s hand came down on his knee. Then she turned those lush lips in his direction to ask, “Want some?”
Angel’s tongue snaked out to lick at his lips. What he wanted would probably be labeled as inappropriate viewing for their uninvited guests. Cordelia’s question was innocent enough as she held up her strawberry-kiwi fruit swirl offering him a taste. He took the straw in his mouth and sipped, coming away with a smile on his face at the taste.
“Good?” Cordelia grinned at his expression.
Definitely, “I like that one.”
“Take half of my sandwich, too,” Cordelia urged him. “I’ll never eat it all.”
He was a little more hesitant about the sandwich, but Cordelia rolled her eyes and told him to pick off the parts he did not like. Angel opened up the sandwich and stared at the various layers. After removing the lettuce, he closed the two halves and lifted it toward his mouth, stopping just short of it when he realized that the others were staring.
Xander was wide-eyed with shock, Willow seemed to be watching him as if he was an interesting scientific experiment, while Buffy’s scrunch-faced expression suggested she didn’t like what she was seeing.
“What’s the big deal?” Cordelia asked them. “He doesn’t like lettuce.”
Then changing subjects, Cordelia took control of the conversation again. Angel ate the sandwich just to make a point knowing that he was still receiving stares from all three of them. Maybe he could not blame them for staring. It was not that long ago that the idea of him eating human food would have seemed ridiculous to him, too.
Xander finally gave up staring at Angel when Cordelia brought up the subject of Bev’s little battle with the mayor over the Bingo parlor. “Cor, your grandma is the coolest thing since sliced bread. Why is it that my relatives aren’t like that?”
“It’s all in the genes,” she said smiling, “which in your case is kind of scary.”
Cordelia went on with some details of Bev’s plan to picket City Hall. When she mimicked the mayor’s initial response to the news, even Angel laughed along with the others.
His easy laughter drew Buffy’s attention again though it had not strayed far away from him and Cordelia this evening. Angel seemed so different when he was around Cordelia. Not in a bad way at all, just not quite as aloof and mysterious as he was normally.
It bothered her.
After the picnic cleanup was complete, Buffy decided that it was time to confront Angel and to put their relationship back on track where it was supposed to be. It had just taken her a while to make the decision to accept him back.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time with Cordelia, guarding her.” She pointed out that being so generous was not necessary. “Faith has nothing better to do. She can pick up more hours.”
Angel seemed surprised by the comment, but did not hesitate to tell her, “Cordy is my responsibility. I’ve told you that before.”
“Just because I teamed her up with you—”
“Yes, you did,” Angel cut in. “We’re patrol partners, but we’re more than that, too. We’re friends, Buffy, and I’m not going to let anything happen to her.”
Buffy only had herself to blame for that, she realized. It had been selfish of her to think that she could get rid of Cordelia by pairing her up with Angel assuming that they would not get along. “Yeah, you two seem close.”
She waited for Angel to confirm or deny it, but he remained silent letting her come to her own conclusions. Her heart sank a little as she pointed out, “You’ve been doing things together.”
For a moment, Angel looked alarmed, but quickly recovered. “Training,” he said quickly gesturing around the basement.
“I meant other things,” Buffy caught her lip between her teeth. Letting go, she told him what was bothering her, “You’ve been eating together and… talking.”
Angel rubbed a hand across his jaw. “I wasn’t aware that talking was off-limits. Besides, Cordy does most of it.”
“You know what I mean.”
Thick-headedness was such a male thing. Buffy grumbled, “What’s with the pet name, anyway?”
Angel glanced over toward Cordelia who was directing Xander and Willow during the clean-up duty. There was a mischievous smile on her face as she met his gaze. He relaxed just a fraction realizing that she was not upset at Buffy asking to talk to him.
He answered Buffy’s question without thinking about how it sounded, “Her friends call her Cordy.”
“Meaning you do,” Buffy stressed.
Angel had to smile because Cordy chose that moment to touch her fingertips to her lips and then wave them in his direction when none of the others could see; a naughty little gleam lit her eyes.
Then Buffy asked, “What’s with the smiling?” as if it made her nervous.
Angel’s smile dimmed as he turned his attention back to the conversation. All of the questions were suddenly adding up to the fact that Buffy was not unaware of the fact that something was going on between him and Cordelia. The truth was on the tip of his tongue, but he had promised Cordy that they would keep things between them for a while.
But it irritated him that Buffy chose now to be jealous. She had waited far too long to decide that she had made a mistake by letting him go. Part of him wanted her to be jealous enough to choke on it, but that was the demon in him. “I don’t choose your friends for you,” Angel pointed out, his jaw tight, voice edging on dark. “My relationship with Cordy is no longer your business.”
Buffy paled. “I-I suppose so, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You have other friends, too. Like me. You don’t need to spend all of your free time with her.”
“You’ve already got your friends, Buffy,” Angel spoke softly trying to ease the tone of his words. “What’s the harm in letting me have Cordy?”
He walked away leaving her standing in the corner of the room. Buffy watched as he moved over to join the others. Standing by Cordelia’s side, his fingers brushed along her inner arm before dropping back to his side. She turned to him, smiling, to lift her hand to his back, sliding up to curl her fingers around his shoulder and letting her hand linger there.
Feeling the sting of tears gathering in her eyes, Buffy decided that she didn’t want to be here for any more of this. Whether Angel and Cordelia were really just friends or if something else was going on, she did not want any part of it. Heading for the stairs, she paused long enough to announce, “I’m going out on patrol. I need to work off some of that food.”
“Wait up, Buff,” Xander called up even as she jogged up the staircase. “We can go with you.”
“Not tonight,” Buffy did not bother to look back. “There’s something I need to do.”
62: North Central Sunnydale
Buffy barely felt the rush of wind whipping through her hair as she ran from the mansion. After a quick jog down the drive, the pebbled cobblestones crunching beneath her shoes, she burst into a full run down Crawford Street. She crossed the north end of Revello Drive without a thought of heading home, darting past City Hall where a group of older women were loitering under umbrellas as they planned an event for the morning.
A look of recognition from one woman went unnoticed by Buffy as she ran past them completely oblivious to the faces in the small crowd. The sound of her name was lost on the breeze as she cut across the street. Hopping over the rope looped between the short posts dividing the sidewalk from the closely cropped grass of Restfield Cemetery, she paused long enough to feel the raindrops on her cheek.
They were not tears. She was not ready to cry. It was anger that made her eyes sting. Wiping the dampness away with her sleeve, Buffy raised her eyes and looked out at the gloom of the cemetery.
There was little moonlight to brighten the marble tombstones. She did not need it. Her acute night vision picked out a shape moving between the gravestones at the far side of the cemetery.
Reaching for her favorite stake, Buffy took off again. The figure in the distance moved slowly, loping along at a casual pace seemingly unaware of the impending danger. He turned at the last moment when Buffy hurtled over a granite marker, raising her stake to plunge it deep.
“What the—!” Spike caught her wrist midair and braced for impact. Still, they tumbled to the ground.
Eye to eye, Buffy’s jaw dropped in recognition, “You!”
“Get off me, you bint.”
Instinctively, Buffy pressed down hard bringing her stake at an angle closer to his heart. Then remembering Angel ordered her to leave both Spike and Dru alone pushed her body up so that she straddled his, her free hand pressing down on his chest. “Stay put.”
Spike quirked a brow sensing that she was not planning to stake him. “Gonna give me a lap dance, luv?”
“Shut up!” she snapped. “I wasn’t looking for you. I can’t dust you.”
She watched the surprise register in those blue, blue eyes. “Off limits, am I? But now that you’ve found me,” Spike pulled at her wrist and shifted his hip, using his strength to flip them over, “what say we get to know each other a little better.”
“Lucky me,” Buffy commented sourly as Spike pressed her into the soft grass. “I think that’s a great idea.”
A head butt sent Spike reeling. He let go, grunting at the painful contact. Buffy pressed her hand into his chest tossing him back. She flipped to her feet and stepped forward as Spike lazily watched her approach, a confident smirk spread across his face.
Before he could speak, Buffy cut him off. She might have promised Angel that she wouldn’t stake either Spike or Dru until this situation with Cordelia was fully resolved, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t say stuff that needed to be said.
“Your girlfriend doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” Buffy gave the sole of his boot a little kick of frustration inwardly hoping he’d attack just so she would have a legitimate excuse to stake him.
Spike did not take the bait. He propped himself up on his elbows to watch her for a few moments and giving Buffy the notion that he saw a little too much. “What are you on about?”
“Angel,” she stressed and then clarified with a huff, “Cordelia and Angel. Drusilla has the wrong idea.”
Still on the ground, Spike answered bluntly, “I doubt that. He told you what my Dru saw in her vision?”
Gritting her teeth, Buffy shook her head. “He wouldn’t tell me.”
A short laugh erupted from his throat as Spike rose to his feet, “Really? Does that tell you anything?”
It hurt too much to answer that question. Buffy flexed her grip on her stake. “Get out of town, Spike, both of you.”
He leaned in close, just inches away from her face, “No.”
Buffy punched him just because he got too close leaving her fist bruised and his lip bloody. She watched him slowly wipe the bloody gash off and then suck his finger into his mouth, grinning as if she had given him a treat. Seething with anger, she urged him to fight back. “Go ahead, Spike, hit me. C’mon.”
When he moved, it was only to circle around her, two deadly predators assessing the other. “Love to, sunshine, but not tonight. Let’s try it again some night when you’re not thinking about him.”
Buffy swiveled around turning her head to look over her right shoulder as Spike circled behind her. “Angel?”
“Who else?” Spike’s cheek dimpled. “Got you hot and bothered, does it?”
He clucked his tongue and grinned as Buffy took a step toward him. She stopped before getting any closer.
“Looks like Angelus took the blinkers off, Slayer,” he chuckled. “He’s no longer blind to anything but you and now he has found himself a sexy new pet. Wouldn’t mind petting that one myself.”
He was ready for the punch when it came, avoiding it, and chuckling when she whirled around to face him. Less amused, he grunted as her boot connected with his stomach. Buffy kept coming until Spike had no choice but to fight back. Her stake went flying as he knocked it out of her grip.
Buffy went through an array of acrobatic moves, jabs and punches. She was not really out to kill him, just rough him up because he was so damned irritating and he had said just the right things to make her mad.
Most of Spike’s moves were defensive. His offense was verbal. Everything he said wound her up even more and he was having a hell of a time doing it. “Maybe you miss it a little too much.” He tussled her up against the nearest oak tree, and then his voice deepened to honey, “Maybe you need to be petted, too. You look like you need it.”
Disgusted, Buffy pushed against his chest with both hands. He was expecting a struggle, but let her go. “Don’t ever touch me like that again.”
“We’ll try something new next time,” he grinned backing away. She let him go, watching until he disappeared into the darkness.
Overhead, the skies opened up and the scattered sprinkles turned into sheets of rain. It pelted down, soaking her hair and clothes, but Buffy did not care. She felt her anger draining away as she resolved to put an end to her suspicions once and for all. Spike could not be trusted and Drusilla was simply crazy. They were simply confusing Angel’s heroic concern for Cordelia’s safety with something more.
It might have been sweet, really, the way he watched her like a hawk, or laughed at her stupid jokes, and sipped at her slushy fruit swirl. Not to mention the fact that he let her touch him. Buffy had not missed the way Cor had her hand on his thigh or the fact that he did not seem the least uncomfortable about it.
Tomorrow was her day to play bodyguard to Cordelia. By morning, Buffy resolved to have a whole laundry list of questions that would get her the answer she wanted by the end of the school day. The direct approach would never work.
Subtlety was the name of the game. Buffy nodded in approval of her plan then turned toward home. Cordelia Chase was going to tell her the truth, one way or another
63: The Next Night at the Mansion. . .
The setting sun had given Angel the freedom to leave the mansion. Though he had been tempted to travel through the maze of Sunnydale’s underground tunnel system in order to see Cordelia earlier in the day, there was no legitimate reason to do so.
Angel already knew that Buffy was suspicious about it. The look on her face, her actions and words had all spoken volumes to him. This was not going to be an easy secret to keep. Still, there was a part of him that enjoyed the thought of having Cordy to himself for a while.
Last night, the rain had kept Xander and Willow inside the mansion. Strangely enough, they had managed to get through several hours without talking about their case. Cordelia declared that she did not want to talk about the danger to her or ‘work’ on their night off. Angel was also pleasantly surprised that he only had to suppress the urge to rip Xander’s head off on one or two occasions.
By the time the rain stopped, it was also time for Cordelia to head home. Angel walked them all to their doorsteps, Xander and Willow living near each other and in the direction of Quincy Street. When Willow mentioned that they were going in the wrong direction for Cordelia’s parent’s house, both he and Cordy made quick excuses.
He had been thinking about her ever since he woke up and it was probably a good thing that the mansion’s old water heater tended to act up now and then. A cold shower was definitely on the agenda.
Cordelia’s day was ending while his night was just beginning. The few hours they got to spend together weren’t enough to satisfy him. She had been at school all day. He knew that there would be more questions. Buffy would have had a chance to talk to her, and perhaps Willow and Xander, too.
Then there was the dress shop. Faith had afternoon guard duty, and Angel was now on his way to relieve her for the rest of the night. Cordelia had invited him over to celebrate what she assured him would be Bev’s success at City Hall.
Angel’s anticipation of seeing Cordy again was acute. He wanted her in his arms, his lips on hers. Surely Bev would not mind it if he stole a kiss or two from her granddaughter.
As soon as Angel turned onto Quincy Street, the narrow street acted like a wind tunnel. Carried on the breeze was the unmistakable scent of fresh blood, a lot of blood.
Alarmed, Angel started to run. He was outside 21 Quincy Street in a matter of a few seconds. From the end of the drive, there was no immediate sign of trouble. The Plymouth was parked in its usual spot, and no sounds came from within the house.
He could see light coming from inside. The door was open. A bloody shoeprint marked the front stoop. Angel practically ripped the screen door off its hinges to get inside when he saw the two female forms lying on the floor.
One of them was still, but breathing. The other was very obviously not.
Fear and fury were written on his face as his eyes followed a trail of blood along the tiny grout crevasse between the hall tiles. It led to a larger pool that had spread thick and dark across the floor beneath her as she lay on her side, a large ornate dagger protruding from her chest.
64: The Summers' House, 1630 Revello Drive, Central Sunnydale
“We’ll meet you there,” Buffy promised quietly. Stunned by Giles’ news, she held the phone to her ear even when the line went dead only half aware of its irascible buzzing.
Willow and Xander sat on the living room couch staring expectantly, with a large ceramic bowl of popcorn balanced between them. Their movie was paused in freeze frame, the blonde heroine captured in an eternal silent scream as they waited to hear the outcome of Buffy’s conversation with her Watcher.
When Buffy had pointed at the phone and mimed Giles’ name, they’d groaned at the interruption taking bets on whether it was more research or the unearthing of a new clue about the prophecy.
“Giles translated the rest of the rubbings from the obelisk,” Willow made a wild guess preferring that to the alternative.
They had only caught a brief portion of the one-sided conversation. Buffy turned, now clutching the phone to her chest. Her expression drew immediate concern from her two friends.
“No,” she swallowed down the bile rising in her throat. Her eyes were large circles of remorse in a ghostly pale face. “Something happened.”
“Told ya it was too good to be true,” Xander nudged her with his elbow before reaching in for another fistful of popcorn. “Just tell me we don’t need to bring a bazooka to the mall again.”
Buffy slammed down the phone causing them to jerk in surprise. “It’s bad. Let’s go.”
“You okay, Buffster?”
Hesitating only for a moment, she told them, “Angel called Giles who called me.”
“Dead Boy called Giles?” Xander picked up the popcorn bowl dropping it on the couch cushion beside him as he bounded off the couch. There was only one reason he could think of for Angel to pick up a phone.
Willow was slower to move, but her brain caught his line of thinking lickety-split. “Angel wouldn’t call if it wasn’t important. This has to be about—”
Xander blurted the name first, “Cordelia.”
“C’mon,” Buffy urged as she opened the front door. “I’ll tell you everything on the way.”
65: Speeding Eastward on Oak Park Street, Central Sunnydale
After securing his passenger side seatbelt a notch tighter, Wesley braced himself on the dashboard. Giles appeared to be trying out for the British Grand Prix. The tires actually screeched at the last turn; it was a wonder they did not fall off in the process.
“Perhaps arriving in one piece would be more productive,” he yelped as the angry driver of the blue car they passed repeatedly sounded the klaxon. “Is it quite necessary to drive this fast?”
Giles barely spared him a glance, which was probably for the best considering their current speed. “Yes,” the clipped answer preceded a tense reminder, “we need to sort things out before the local authorities get involved.”
Wesley had not been privy to either telephone call having been engrossed in a particular passage of the prophecy scroll at the time. There was only a cursory explanation given when the elder Watcher hauled him out of his seat telling him, “There’s been a murder.”
“A murder!” His raised voice had reverberated around the empty library. Then he asked with a whisper, “A murder?”
“I just received a call from Angel,” Giles had said. “He’s at the scene. Your girl is there.”
“My g— oh, my Slayer,” Wesley finally clued in. “Faith actually witnessed this atrocity?”
Giles’ jaw tightened, “Apparently, she tried to put up a fight.”
He had seen Faith last night at the Bronze dancing with a passion and energy that matched the music. From a carefully chosen vantage point, he spent an hour in silent observation. He watched her dance, flirt and skillfully fend off would-be suitors.
Everything he had read in her profile suggested this would be a worthy challenge. One he hoped would gain him some respect in the eyes of his father. Wesley had thought himself prepared for meeting Faith face to face, but felt that the Bronze was an inappropriate setting. Now it appeared his prepared words for such an auspicious moment would have to be revised.
“Did Angelus provide any specifics?”
Giles corrected him, “Angel.”
“Yes, of course,” Wes’ eyes narrowed behind the rims of his dark-rimmed glasses. He had read everything available in the Council texts about the Scourge of Europe before making the journey to Sunnydale.
The thought of meeting the infamous ensouled vampire was quite overwhelming. He felt a bit giddy, though that might be due to being flung forward and jerked to a halt by his seatbelt as the car stopped in front of their destination.
Wes clutched his chest, an ache where the seatbelt held him in place, and turned his neck from side to side expecting to hear a crack. Over his right shoulder, he noticed the small house, quite modest by Sunnydale standards. Perhaps by anyone’s standards, Wes revised his opinion, as he looked closer at the aged appearance of the one-story building.
Reaching out, he grabbed Giles’ arm preventing him from leaving the car. Waiting to speak until the other man’s troubled gaze turned to meet his, Wes asked, “You never mentioned the name of the victim.”
66: Revello Drive near the Crossroads, Central Sunnydale
“It’s Cordelia, isn’t it?” Xander panted the question as he tried to keep up with the Slayer who was setting a mean pace up Revello Drive.
Buffy nodded and then blurted, “She’s…gone. I can’t believe the last thing I said to her today.”
“What did you say?” Willow asked. It was easier to focus on that than what Buffy said about Cordelia.
The pallor was gone from Buffy’s face. “Nothing,” she denied quickly. At the responding look of doubt, she added solemnly, “It’s not worth repeating.”
“When you say gone,” Xander cut in to steer the conversation where it needed to be, “do you mean Cordelia is on a shopping spree and forgot to leave a note? Because I can totally see her doing that.”
Stopping, Buffy placed her hands on Xander’s shoulders. She knew that he still cared about Cordelia. No matter how much of a bitch she could be and despite her suspicions about her status with Angel, Buffy would never really want any harm to come to her.
“Giles didn’t know all of the details,” Buffy hoped to soften the news because it was going to take them another fifteen minutes to get to Quincy Street. Causing Xander to fear the worst about his ex-girlfriend was not going to make getting there any easier, but he deserved the truth. “Angel told him that Cordelia is gone and Faith is down.”
Willow remembered, “It was Faith’s turn to guard her.”
“There was a fight,” Buffy explained. “S-someone is dead.”
“Not Cor.” Shaking his head, Xander denied the possibility. “Gone doesn’t mean— dead,” he whispered the word. “Could Faith be…” his voice dropped off as if he could not even say the word again. It was not exactly a more welcome option.
“I don’t know.” She hugged him tight and then let go. “Angel didn’t give Giles a chance to ask too many questions. We’ve got to get going.”
They followed along as fast as they could until Buffy rounded the corner at the end of the drive. “Buffy, wait. Wait!” Xander called out as he realized they were moving away from Cordelia’s normal hangouts.
“Cor’s house is the other way.”
Buffy paused, glancing over her shoulder again. “That’s not where we’re headed. This happened at her grandmother’s house. According to what Angel told Giles, she’s living there now.”
After they caught up, Buffy started moving at a slow jog allowing them to pace her. Willow was panting for air as she shared her confusion. “I didn’t know there were any mansions on the Upper East Side.”
“There aren’t,” Xander answered instead. It was the poorest section of town. Now that he thought of it, Bev Quinn was not exactly dripping in diamonds when she came to the hospital. “When did Cor start living with her grandmother?”
“Beats me,” Buffy answered.
Willow was just as clueless, “I dunno. I didn’t even know she had a grandmother until she showed up at the hospital with Angel.”
Cor had seemed like an open book to Willow ever since the days of the We Hate Cordelia Club, a superficial, spoilt princess who got everything she ever wanted, the tactless bitchy girl who once ruled the school. Every run-in she had with Cordelia flashed through her head as they entered what was quaintly known as the eastside slums.
They cut through the motel parking lot toward an area containing the Sunnydale Trailer Park and a street of dilapidated old houses. Willow paused at the corner, catching her hands on her knees and panting for air. She saw that her friends were already off the sidewalk crossing the front lawn.
Giles’ car was parked out front. He had beaten them there, of course. She gulped as she reached the edge of the lawn seeing the screen door hanging on its hinges and a crowd gathered in the front hall. Not quite certain that she wanted to find out if it was Cordelia or Faith who was lying there, she prompted herself to move on, “Time to find out.”
67: The Quinn Residence, 21 Quincy Street, Eastside, Sunnydale
“They’re here,” Angel’s words caught Giles’ attention as he neared the end of his report to the 911 Operator.
Giles glanced toward the front door where it hung open to the night air, the outer screen door dangling from broken hinges. He presumed that the vampire’s acute hearing detected the approach of Buffy and her friends. With their arrival, he saw Angel move for the first time in the last few minutes.
He had been standing watch over Faith when they arrived; her bruised and bloodied body unmoving, unconscious. From the looks of the place, she had put up a hell of a fight— and lost. Angel had not said much, letting the evidence before them speak for itself.
From the dark determination on his face, it was certain Angel was not going to let those responsible go unpunished. Considering what the vampire was capable of doing to his enemies, Giles counted himself lucky not to be among them. There was a visible tension in his shoulders, he observed, no doubt caused by waiting around here when he needed to be out there searching for—
“Where’s Cordelia?” demanded Xander as he pushed past Buffy who had stopped short upon catching sight of the pooling blood on the hall floor.
Buffy reached for Angel, wrapping her arms around his waist. He did not react for the first few moments, then put an arm around her shoulder as they stared down at the pale corpse that was once Cordelia’s grandmother, Beverly Quinn, her pale skin mottled blue, the hilt of an ornate dagger deeply lodged in her chest.
“It’s Grandma Bev,” Willow squeaked in horror as she stumbled into the hall, wide-eyed with shock. “But she was so nice.”
Giles cleared his throat, stepping forward. “I’m afraid that bad things happen to nice people, Willow. Mrs. Quinn evidently got involved with whatever happened here tonight.”
“Is Faith gonna be okay?” asked Buffy as she moved out of Angel’s loose embrace and approached the unconscious Slayer. Then, glancing at the stranger in the room, “Who’s that guy?”
Squeezing away the tension building up behind his eyes, Giles touched his fingers to the bridge of his nose, his glasses lifting and then falling back into place. “This is Faith’s new Watcher.”
Crouched next to Faith, the young man looked quite starched in his suit and bow tie. Giles could see that Buffy was sizing him up. From the moment they stepped into the house, Giles could tell that Wesley had never seen anything like this up close. Perhaps in pictures or slides, studied, but not experienced.
Standing up straight, he introduced himself with a noticeable stutter, “W-Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I arrived just yesterday. We have not had the opportunity to meet. I wish the circumstances had been more,” he glanced down at his new charge, “pleasant.”
“Why don’t you go outside and direct the ambulance when it arrives,” Giles said when Wesley started to look a bit green about the gills. It would not do to have the man lose his supper in front of the others.
Wesley looked startled by the suggestion, but nodded. Carefully, he stepped over Faith’s sprawled form in order to find a clear path out the front door. He paused at the threshold, looking puzzled for a moment and then, realizing why, met Giles’ gaze with a concerned frown before heading out of the house.
“What happened?” Buffy asked him as she knelt next to Faith. Coming up with her own conclusions, said, “The demon did this. He came after Cordelia, killed her grandma, and Faith couldn’t stop him.”
A hoarse sound came from the girl lying on the floor, “No.”
With a hand on her shoulder, Buffy called out, “Faith!”
“Dear God, you’re awake,” Giles instantly focused on her.
“Where’s Cordelia?” Xander moved down to join Buffy at her side and Giles joined them while also noting that Willow stood statue-like near Bev Quinn’s body, apparently too caught up in staring at the congealing blood to move.
Exposing these children to such a ghastly scene was something he would have to think about later. Right now, his priority was discovering what Faith could tell them. It might provide the means to Cordelia’s rescue, assuming that the demon had not already made her a sacrifice.
Faith groaned in pain, barely conscious, but coming around fast. It was almost too much to try to speak. When her eyes opened, through the gaps between the huddled forms around her, she saw Bev. Her own horrified scream echoed in her ears, but she did not recognize its sound as her hand stretched outward.
Someone caught it, held Faith’s hand while muttering words that did nothing to sooth or calm her. “No, no!” Denial rang out, but the sight of Cordelia’s beloved grandmother stretched out on the floor did not change.
“Faith,” she heard Giles’ voice as if from a distance, “you must try not to move. Save your energy. We must know what happened here.”
With a grunt, she turned over, shaking off the hands trying to provide comfort she did not deserve. Faith scooted past them to reach Bev, ignoring the blood. She grasped onto the hilt of the dagger ignoring the, “Perhaps you shouldn’t…,” advice coming from Giles’ direction and with her remaining strength pulled it from Bev’s body.
She dropped it and the dagger clanked making a circle on the tile floor next to Willow’s feet. Faith’s head lay on Bev’s stomach as she collapsed against her. In the distance, the sound of sirens began to wail.
“What now?” asked Buffy as she helped to move Faith over to the couch. “Faith isn’t going to be much help finding Cordelia.”
Faith’s eyelids fluttered as she struggled to open them. She swallowed thickly, bruised lips crusted with blood. When she opened her mouth to speak, it was only a whisper, “Angel?”
“Hey, Dead Boy,” Xander turned around after hearing Faith ask for the vampire. “She wants to say someth— hey, where’d he go?”
Buffy whirled around. “Angel?” He was gone. She darted over to the door thinking he might be waiting with whatsisname, but there was no sight of him.
Clearing his throat, Giles spoke up, “Angel only agreed to stay until you got here. He’s got a lead to follow.”
Irked that he left without her, Buffy asked, “What lead?”
It was Faith who answered them, her voice a little stronger, “Drusilla.”
“But—,” doubt clouded Buffy’s feature. She glanced at the evidence around the room. This was not the work of a vampire. “Drusilla was here?”
“Yes,” Giles confirmed. “Angel told us that he could still scent her here. Though it is unknown whether she arrived before or after Cordelia was taken. For that, we must turn to Faith.”
Everyone literally turned staring expectantly as Faith struggled to sit up, her hair and clothes matted with blood, most of it not her own. Wiping a hand across an oozing cut on her chin, she only managed to smear the blood further. She did not notice, nor seem to feel the weight of their stares as she continued to look toward Bev Quinn.
“C-Cordelia?” asked Xander his voice going up an octave.
Faith’s dark brown eyes lifted slowly bypassing Xander for Giles. “This is all my fault.”
“I think she’s in shock,” Giles muttered to the others. Then more loudly as if Faith had not been able to hear him before, “The demon is responsible. You tried to stop him, a valiant attempt against such a strong adversary.”
Faith pressed her swollen lips closed, her gaze sliding over to Buffy who watched her with a growing sense of suspicion. The look on her face proved that much and Faith knew it was well deserved. She had kept things from Buffy and now Bev Quinn had paid the price.
“You don’t understand,” Faith unsteadily found her way to her feet. Pointing at it, told them, “That’s my dagger. She’s dead because of me.”
68: Following a Trail . . .
Precious time had already been lost. Waiting for the others to arrive kept Angel at the house far too long. Picking up a trail already gone cold was not easy even for a vampire. Traces of Cordelia’s intoxicating scent were already diminishing. Drusilla wore no perfume and her lightly floral earthiness was just as faint. They were not alone. The crosathnam demon’s pungent scent was far easier to track.
Angel could not be certain if it was Drusilla who had taken Cordy from the house or the demon. Who was chasing whom? He bet on Dru. The trail he followed was a wayward path, an escape route leading southwest across lawns, back alleys and into the wildwood skirting Sunnydale Park.
They had had a head start on the demon from what he could tell, a distance that had closed quickly. In the places where their passing was obvious, where the ground was soft, he found only two sets of footprints. The impression of Drusilla’s shoes was deeper than her usual light tread.
The reason seemed obvious: she was carrying Cordelia. The distance they had gone suggested no struggle had occurred along the way. He scented blood, its coppery tang hitting the back of his tongue as he breathed it in deep.
Human blood, but whose?
Drusilla’s premonition echoed in his head and the fear he had bottled up as he went inside the house threatened to break lose. His anger overwhelmed it, pushing the fear back, but it was hard to stay calm and rational when he knew that Cordelia’s blood would spill as the events within Dru’s vision unfolded.
Vamping out further enhanced his ability to scent the trail, but brought his violent side closer to the surface. Angel did not see it as a problem. Violence was all part of the plan, assuming there even was a plan beyond finding Cordelia. What he was going to do when he got there did not take a lot of thinking.
The demon’s scent was marked with human blood. Angel figured that it belonged to Faith or Cordelia’s grandmother. At least, he hoped that was the case. If it was Cordy’s, there’d be hell to pay.
Crossing through a thickly overgrown garden, Angel recognized his location. He was close to home, but the trail of broken branches led away from Crawford Street. Dru was not bringing Cordy back to the mansion. If that had been her intention, she had changed her mind, perhaps because of the closing pursuit behind her.
Dru’s entire purpose here in Sunnydale remained clouded. The revelation of some details from her vision did little to assuage Angel’s fears. If his eldest childe had a purpose for her actions beyond the desire to please him, he could not fathom it.
When the trail ended suddenly, Angel was left standing on the edge of a cement gully, a storm drain. One end opened up from the sewers, a foul smell masking all others nearby. The other disappeared into the distance as a thin stream of dirty water carried bits of trash toward the ocean.
Between the night-blooming plants in the garden, the stench of the sewers and the night breeze blowing it down the gully, the final traces of the trail he had been following vanished. Angel dropped down from the edge landing gracefully. He searched for signs that Drusilla or the demon had gone one way versus the other.
Standing hands on his hips, Angel dipped his head low, eyes closed as he thought of all of the possible tortures Cordelia might endure because he had failed to find her. Perhaps the crosathnam had caught up with them and taken Cordy. If that were the case, she would be sacrificed to its god fulfilling her part in the prophecy.
He growled at the thought of the other demon laying a hand on her feeling the irate rumble deep in his chest. Before he let that happen, he would rip the bastard apart piece by piece and hang him with his own entrails.
Assuming Angel could find him first.
The location of the demon’s lair remained unknown. It might be within the maze of the sewer system or somewhere above ground. Angel knew that he could not chance a blind search of the sewers. He was running out of time. If Cordelia was not with Dru, then he needed to find someone who could tell him exactly where to find the Crosathnam.
Angel’s vampire features faded back to softer human form, his face a mask of pure determination. He was not about to give up.
If Dru was not taking Cordelia to the mansion, Angel figured she was heading back to her place. Presuming the demon lost their trail just as he had done Drusilla might have taken her back to her crypt at Kingman’s Bluff. It was on the far side of town, but they were already halfway there.
Angel ran at a pace no longer suitable for the subtleties of tracking. Now that he knew his destination, he took the shortest route to get there. Crossing suburban streets, leaping fences and bushes and making his way over rooftops, he kept going until the crowded township opened up to a view of the bluffs and the ocean beyond.
All seemed quiet. Too quiet, he noted as he slowed his forward progress deciding on a stealthier approach than just kicking down the crypt door. Only the sounds of the waves beating against the rocky base of the bluffs filled his ears as Angel strained to hear anything that would tell him Cordelia was alive and well.
There was nothing.
With the crypt door before him, Angel forgot all about stealth and subtlety. He gathered his strength and kicked in the door. It hit the wall with a bang and a creak of rusty hinges. “Cordelia!” he called out her name only to hear it echo back at him.
The place was empty.
69: Somewhere in the Dark . . .
Even before she was fully conscious, Cordelia’s hand slid up to cover the healed scar on her abdomen, a protective move that she remained unaware. Scattered images flashed, her senses reeling, warning of danger even as the phantom ache she tried to rub away sparked an instant of deja vu.
Cradled by darkness, a pulse of fear jarred her awake, a gasp on her lips. There was no light in the room when her eyes opened, pure blackness all around her as encompassing as when she had been unconscious.
Her head throbbed. It took a moment to remember why. “Bev!” It was a choked whisper as emotions welled up so fast they swallowed her scream.
Cordy never discovered how the demon had gotten inside. She had been back in the bedroom changing her clothes when it happened. When Bev’s scream of terror was followed immediately by the sounds of a fight, Cordelia knew they were in trouble.
The living room was hardly large enough for a bulky bad guy and a nimble Slayer to tussle. Bev was on the sidelines of the fight. She had obviously gotten over the eye-opening realization that there were such things as demons and moved right along to being seriously pissed that said demon was wrecking her house.
“I can handle this,” Faith had promised Bev simultaneously dodging a blow while arching her leg up behind her. Her booted heel connected sharply, knocking him off balance.
The lampshade went flying as the demon landed hard on the end table breaking the ceramic lamp into shards. While it was down, the demon turned its attention to her. Cordelia remembered the beady-eyed red stare; standing frozen under its intense gaze as she realized it would do anything to get to her.
“Why you—,” Bev was incensed at it all, aware only that the ugly thug had broken into her home. Picking up the hall phone, “I’m calling 911.”
“Cor, get out now. Both of you,” Faith had warned just as the demon gathered itself up launching back to its feet.
With a start, Cordelia took a jerky step toward her grandmother as Faith stepped in between them and the demon. Mister Beady Eyes let out a roar of irritation and took a swipe at them despite the superhuman punches pounding him in the gut. With a shriek, Cordy grabbed Bev’s wrist and tugged her toward the front door.
Despite Faith’s efforts, the demon slipped past. After that, only flashes of memory came back to with any clarity. The rest was a blur. Cordy remembered that Faith had pulled out a knife.
The demon lunged, knocking Bev aside and making a grab at Cordelia who was incensed at seeing her grandmother tossed down the hall like a rag doll. Her own efforts to fight back were merely an annoyance to the creature, but distraction enough that Faith got in a few arcing slices, a stab or two and another hard kick.
“It’s after Cor,” Faith’s hasty explanation spurred Bev into action. “Just go. I’ll try to hold him off.”
Now it was her grandmother’s turn to try to get her out of the house. Cordy knew Faith would have had an easier fight without them getting in the way. Getting Bev to safety was her top priority even before her own.
Only the demon was not about to let them go.
The demon lunged for her, unwavering determination on its gruesome face. What happened next took place within seconds. Bev pushed her out of the way sending Cordelia stumbling out the door. The ground came up hard and fast.
Dazed, Cordelia had turned to see Bev blocking the demon’s path. Faith then ran up to stop him, dagger in hand, ready to plunge it into the demon’s back.
Cordelia’s hand slipped up to her own throat noting its soreness as she swallowed down the memory. The screams were hers.
There had been a flash of movement, bodies shifting faster than her hazy brain was able to follow. Then Bev toppled over with Faith’s dagger imbedded in her chest. The fighting continued, but Cordelia saw none of it as she crawled back toward the steps.
Someone hauled her to her feet, restrained her and then whispered in her ear. It barely registered as Cordelia struggled to break free. A rush of adrenalin gave her the strength to pull one arm out of the binding grip of her captor. She reached out for Bev whose dying gaze was focused on her.
The distance was too great for her outstretched fingers. As the light faded from her grandmother’s eyes, Cordelia’s world suddenly went black.
Sitting up, surrounded by darkness, Cordelia tried to push aside her grief to focus on the here and now. She swiped at her tears with the back of her hand, sniffing the rest away. The still air was cool against her skin and she noticed for the first time that her clothing was gone, all of it.
Cordelia gasped wondering who had stripped her bare, a flash of anger sweeping over her. She instinctively reached out to pull up the soft cotton sheets and only afterward realized that she was on a bed. Hardly the expected accommodations for a future sacrifice, she considered, unless the bed and the nakedness were all part of the ritual.
Shuddering at the thought, she tugged the top sheet loose and wrapped it around her body in sarong fashion. Edging off the mattress, Cordelia tested the flooring with her toe, hoping she wouldn’t find anything gross or alive down there. It was roughly textured cement.
She wobbled to her feet, groaning at the whoosh and sudden dizziness as her blood rushed downward. “Whoa! Headrush.”
Her head was still reeling when a creaking door sounded behind her. Cordelia turned as fast as her tightly wrapped sheet would allow. “Back off, you bastard! Unless you’re here to return my clothes, just get out. There will be no sacrificing tonight whatsoever,” she snapped.
A crack of light appeared around the door as it opened, the air stirring up a familiar metallic scent. She knew this place, dreaded the memory of it as it haunted her dreams. Cordelia’s hand moved to her abdomen again, subconsciously covering the site of her old rebar injury.
The fear she had felt at the moment of awakening returned full force along with the shadowy memory of sharp and then dull, persistent pain. Cordelia felt the sting of salty tears again as the door opened fully to reveal the dark silhouette of her captor.
70: The New Lair, Somewhere in Sunnydale
Angel’s pretty princess was awake. The steady thump of her heartbeat quickened as Drusilla pushed the door open to meet Cordelia’s widening tear-laced gaze. A fearful gasp sparked a little thrill that wrapped around Dru’s heart as she stepped into the room shutting the door behind her.
The room plunged into darkness for a moment until she lit some candles lined up on an old copper pipe near the entry wall. One by one until their glow spread out to chase the shadows away.
“You!” Surprise and recognition came next. Cordelia raised up one hand as if to stave off her approach. Clutching the sheet wrapped around her with the other, Cordelia took in another stuttered breath before demanding answers. “Why am I here? I was— oh, God, my grandmother is…”
“Dead,” Drusilla supplied the rest when her voice cracked with anguish. A sob of denial that followed resonated. Cocking her head, Dru raised a finger to her mouth, silently observing the play of emotions crossing Cordelia’s expressive face. “So tragic,” her eyes turned smoky as the coldness left her voice. “So much rich, warm blood wasted.”
Fury instantly dried the tears she could taste on the air. “Don’t talk about Bev like she was a missed meal.” Cordelia hurled the nearest object she could reach, a pillow that Dru easily caught and let drop to the floor. “Just tell me what the hell you want from me, you crazy bitch.”
“Language!” Dru clucked like a disapproving governess as her pretty new pupil gathered up the loose sheet and dared to step closer. Emotions ran wild in this one, rage flushing to the surface, mottling her smooth golden skin with a tinge of pink.
Placing one foot in front of the other, Drusilla walked an imaginary tightrope that led straight toward Angel’s little pet. That is what Spike liked to call the girl: a pet. Cordy did not like hearing that. Neither did Dru, who knew she was meant for more important things, and not to be treated as property. This one had so much to learn.
Scolding her sharply, “Naughty words shouldn’t come from such a pretty mouth.”
Drusilla watched idly as Cordelia began to pace despite the confined space like a caged tigress, eyes flashing defiance, refusing to cower in the face of her fears. Though distraught over her own vulnerable state and her grandmother’s death, she did not fold despite the devastation of her loss.
Others would not withstand such circumstance. They crumbled, surrendered in the face of darkness. Let it take them. Just as Drusilla knew that long ago, she had given in to Angelus’ torment. This girl was different. She could sense it.
“Daddy doesn’t like naughty words,” Dru told her with a smirk spreading across her red lips, “except when he wants to hear them.”
Cordelia’s jaw dropped open, snapping shut just as quickly. “Eew! Thanks for that mental image— not. Pfft! I really don’t need another one of Angel’s ex-girlfriends to tell me what he likes. I have Buffy for that.”
A throaty chuckle emerged from Dru’s throat full of dark delight. “Tell me, kitten, do you whisper sweet nothings into Angel’s ear and tell him of the naughty things you want him to do to you?”
Momentarily distracted from her rant when curiosity took over, Cordelia delighted Dru by pausing to ask, “So he, um, likes that?”
“My Angel likes a lot of things, precious,” Drusilla reached out to twirl a finger around a curling strand of Cordelia’s hair.
An embarrassed little mewl rattled around Cordelia’s throat before emerging as a short huff. “Well he won’t like the fact that you’re keeping me here. You’d better let me go.” Her bare foot stomped the concrete floor. “Like now!”
Not wanting to hear it, Drusilla easily distracted herself by gazing down at the red velvet overskirt of her gown. Velvet and silk, velvet and silk, pretty layers of red upon red the color of blood. As she spun around in a lazy circle, watching the way her skirt billowed, Dru felt Cordelia brush past her in a rush toward the door.
Reaching out, she snagged her by the wrist, yanking Cordelia back and leaning in to whisper, “You’ll spoil my surprise.”
Slowly, Drusilla released her waiting to see if she would run again, but Cordelia stood her ground. Her loose hair streamed wildly around her bare shoulders and she tucked an errant strand behind her ear before licking nervously at her lips. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, but I don’t want to be here.”
A sullen pout formed on Dru’s lips, “But I promised.”
“Promi—? Oh!” Cordelia’s eyes rounded in remembrance. “Look, it’s nice that you want to tell me how to make Angel happy, but I think I’d rather figure that out on my own. Plus, there’s that part about him turning evil that I’d prefer to avoid.”
After a deep sigh that ended in a little growl, Drusilla wrapped a hand around her neck before Cordelia could react. She could practically taste the girl’s fear skyrocketing along with the heady sound of her pulse. Pressing her cheek against the warm column of her throat, Dru muttered, “So warm. My Angel must adore your heat.”
“Now we are going to have some fun,” Drusilla pulled back expecting the same delight on Cordelia’s face that she felt at the prospect.
Inching back, Cordy’s eyes popped open, her hand waving defensively in front of her. Dru could not understand why.
“Fun?” Cordelia gulped loudly, “Look, I’m not that kinda girl.” Wondering what kind, Dru watched her hop nervously out of the corner into the open space in the middle of the room. “Really not.” Rolling her eyes, Cordy added, “God save me from kinky vampires! Dru, I don’t wanna die, but I don’t want to have fun either.”
“You don’t like tea?” asked Drusilla curiously and saw Cordelia’s gaze narrow.
Giggling at the look on Cordelia’s face, Dru skipped toward the door and swung it open just enough to give her a peek of the adjoining room. There had been no time to decorate everything, but Drusilla had managed to fix up one area. A small table was draped with fine linen atop which was an exquisite little tea set with delicate china cups.
“That nice man in the china shop helped me find just what I wanted,” Drusilla revealed, only to let her little smile bottom up into a frown, “but he started to yell at me when I tried to leave. He wasn’t very nice after all.”
A hasty assumption followed, “So you bit him.”
“No,” Dru gasped at the thought of it. “He didn’t smell right. Spike had a word or two with him.”
Cordelia stepped away from the door, readjusting her sheet. “Spike’s here?”
Drusilla shook her head. “It’s just us girls: you, me and Miss Edith.” The latter was now sitting primly in her place on the table. Noting that her position was quite near the plate of sugary biscuits she had laid out, Dru scolded the dolly, “Wait for us, dear.”
Closing the door again, Drusilla confided, “Miss Edith can be such a naughty little girl at times.” Whispering, “She never listens to Daddy.”
“Let me get this straight,” Cordelia cut in abruptly, gaze narrowing, “you brought me here for tea?”
Nodding, Dru pointed out, “That nasty demon wanted to take you away from us. Our Angel wouldn’t like that at all.”
“No,” she agreed. “Neither would I. So, um, thanks for the rescue, I guess. That is if this is really just about having a little Girl Talk, cos I can totally handle that.”
Sensing what Cordelia left unsaid, Dru admitted that it would not be long before Angel discovered their location. “He will come for you soon enough, sweet kitten.”
“There’s just one little thing. No big if it is a problem for you, but— hello! Naked here,” Cordelia flapped the edge of her sheet. “Why am I naked? Please tell me that you did not let Spike undress me.”
Drusilla let her gaze follow Cordelia’s curves both revealed yet hidden by the sheet. A little flash of jealousy rose up at the thought of Spike’s lustful comments about Daddy’s new princess, flecks of yellow appearing in her eyes. “My Spike knows better than to ask. I sent him away tonight before I went to find you.”
“Yeah, well… good.” Cordelia visibly relaxed before reminding her, “Now about the naked part.”
Walking over to a set of metal shelves that had once been part of the factory’s storage spaces now draped with clothing, Drusilla sifted through to find what she was looking for. Finally, she held up a long gown of cream-colored silk with a scoop-necked bust line. A diaphanous layer of chiffon streamed from its empire waist down to the floor.
“Uh— that’s not exactly my style,” Cordelia started to glance around the room for her own clothes only to be told by Dru that she had thrown them into the furnace.
“This one is for me. I have a very special gown for you. Our Angel will love taking it off.” She tittered at Cordelia’s gaping stare. “You have wanted and dreamed and yearned for a dress, so I found one just for you.”
Drusilla draped the white gown over the end of the bed and returned to the shelves to retrieve a large cardboard box with an unfamiliar logo. Cordelia looked sad rather than grateful as she opened the lid to reveal a cloud of gold tissue paper. “I have been saving up for a prom dress,” she told Dru as if realizing that the vampire already knew the details. “Bev promised to pay half if I got a job.”
“Poor pet. Angel will kiss it all better for you.” The visions dancing in her head told Dru that Cordelia enjoyed Angel’s kisses, and caresses. “He makes you tingle all over. Take solace in him, sweet kitten. Heal the wounds in your heart.”
Annoyed at the soft words of advice, Cordelia turned her attention to the cardboard box on the bed. The dress was made of the softest chiffon. Sleeveless, with a tight bodice, it had a slew of tiny pearl buttons down the back. Silver accents rimmed the neckline and waist. It looked new, but the design hinted at some long ago era.
It was gorgeous, but nothing like the dress she had put on layaway at April Fools. That one was modern, chic, and made her sparkle like a movie star on the red carpet.
“Why this dress?”
Holding her secrets close, Drusilla’s mouth curved at the corners. Explaining, “Proper tea deserves proper clothes.”
The elegant dress whispered innocence with its pink blush hue, but Cordelia recognized that it might have the opposite effect. “Don’t bite me for pointing this out, Drusilla, but there won’t be anything proper about that dress when my boobs do an imitation of Dolly Parton wearing a Wonderbra.”
Dru blinked owlishly, but stayed silent on the matter.
Holding the bed sheet close, Cordelia reached for one of Spike’s red t-shirts. “How about this? Better yet, give me my own clothes.”
Drusilla copied Cordelia’s earlier foot-stomping routine. “No! Wear the dress,” Drusilla pouted holding it out of the box so that the skirt unfolded to its full length. Quite used to being indulged, she did not like being refused. Vamping out, she growled, “Put it on.”
When Cordelia snagged the dress from her hands, Drusilla smiled serenely and let her features shift back to human form. Giggling, she watched as Cordelia turned her back on her while struggling to maintain her hold on the sheet and pull the gown on over her head. Mumbles mutated into curses as Cordy got stuck with her head somewhere in the middle of the bunched gown, arms above her head and sheet clinging to her hips.
“I’ve got it!” Cordelia huffed, yanking the gown into place when Drusilla came over to help her out. She glanced down at the low neckline and brought a hand to her chest. Complaining loudly, “I know you’re like really old, but that’s no excuse for not keeping up to date with the latest fashions.”
That was just something Dru would have to think about later. Helping Cordelia fasten the long string of buttons at the back of the gown stirred memories. “My sisters used to dress for tea at Auntie Tessa’s. Pretty bonnets, lace collars, white gloves.”
“We loved to have tea. Auntie made the nicest crumpets.” Dru fastened the last button and turned Cordelia around to examine her work. A frown marred her pale features, as she sighed. “Angel ate Auntie Tessa.”
“Oh, er— sorry,” Cordelia commented, smoothing her hands down the snug waist of the gown. “Speaking of Angel…”
Drusilla interrupted, still caught up in thoughts of her family and seeing the way Cordy filled out the gown. “My little sister Anne loved pretty clothes. She wore a blue dress with an organdy fringe the day Angelus came for me.”
“Can we just get on with the tea thing?”
“He made me watch. I screamed and screamed, but nobody heard. Nobody came to stop him.” Drusilla confided randomly, “It’s impossible to get blood out of white lace gloves.”
Balking, Cordelia paled as Dru shared the details. “Please, I really don’t want to hear this. Angel is not like that anymore, at least not when he has a soul. I know that he’s sorry for what he did in the past.”
“Sorry doesn’t make up for taking my family away,” Drusilla grabbed her by the wrist again. “Bad, bad Daddy.” Tugging Cordelia toward the door, there was little resistance. Other than an attempt at pulling out of her grasp, Cordelia followed behind as Dru led her toward the table. “It’s been so long since I had a sister to share secrets.”
Cordelia’s mouth formed a circle, “Oh.” She sank down into the chair gripping the edge of the table. Her little pink tongue swept across her full lips before she said, “You’ve got secrets. What is it you want from me, Drusilla?”
Sitting down opposite Cordelia, Dru unfolded her napkin and placed it in her lap before answering. “It’s what our Angel wants that’s important. Listen carefully.”
71: The Quinn Residence, 21 Quincy Street, Eastside, Sunnydale
“You have the right to remain silent” the police officer tallied off her Miranda rights as Faith held her wrists out to be handcuffed. “Anything you say can…”
The words faded into a thunder of whitewashed noise as Faith’s vision clouded. All she could see and hear was a replay of the events leading up to her arrest by the Sunnydale P.D. It was all a blur.
Out of nowhere, the demon broke into the house. They fought. She pulled out her knife, the one Wilkins had given her to put an end to the ring leader of the Bingo parlor debacle. He had wanted her to kill Beverly Quinn because she continued to embarrass him at every turn, even daring to organize a picket line in front of City Hall.
Now she was dead. Cor’s grandma was dead.
She looked down at Bev’s corpse, congealed blood spread thickly across the floor around her. Sunnydale’s CSIs were standing by ready to pull her prints from the dagger and try to make sense of what happened here tonight.
Faith laughed, momentarily distracting the officer’s required spiel. She was not the one to kill Bev. The demon had taken the knife from her hand and Bev had just gotten in the way. A tragic accident, but one that was not exactly easy to explain considering that the mayor was indirectly involved. Not to mention the now missing demon.
In the end, Faith supposed, it did not matter that it Bev’s death was the mayor’s idea or that the demon had actually done the killing.
“It’s my fault,” Faith looked toward Giles and the others. They were standing in a huddle where the police had told them to await questioning. Buffy and her two sidekicks were dumbstruck, standing there with looks of horror as she was cuffed.
For the first time, Faith noticed they were not alone. Some starch-necked guy in a blue suit and wearing a bow tie was standing with them. He stepped forward to caution her, “Faith, perhaps you should withhold further comments until you are provided with some appropriate council.”
“Do I know you?”
His identity came to her even as he started his introductions. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, your new—,” aware of the police officer listening, he balked at saying anything more.
“It’s time,” the officer cut in during the overly long pause in conversation. “We’ve got to take you downtown to book you.”
Faith gave Wesley a wry smile. “Guess I’ll have to take a rain check.”
She ignored the gaping-jawed, wide-eyed stares of her so-called friends. It was not their opinions she was concerned about. Giles, on the other hand, was a different matter. His expression was solemn, concerned and they both knew there was far more at risk than her facing life imprisonment.
Just as they got to the door, Faith jerked back on the cuffs before the police could haul her outside. Inwardly, she cringed at the disappointment Giles was trying to hide behind his supportive veneer. “Looks like I let you down after all.”
72: Kitten Poker Game, Willy's Place, Central Sunnydale
“I’ll see your bet and raise you one tabby.” Spike reached into the burlap sack at his side. He pulled out a small orange and white fur-ball tossing the mewling kitten into the basket at the center of the table.
Clem glanced down at his cards and contemplated pulling out the ace hidden in one of his skin folds. The vampire actually had some poker skills, but he was still new to this game and Clem had not had a chance to pick up his tells. He was shifty eyed and cocky like any other vampire, but this one had a reputation.
Sticking to the game, Clem decided to hold off on his ace and play his hand. He wanted the Siamese he had lost in the first round and knew Spike was purposely holding it back just to piss him off. So, he decided to play it safe this time and try again with the next round. Adding another tabby to the mix, Clem called for a show of his hand.
The smirk on Spike’s face widened into a full grin as he flipped over his cards one by one: two queens and three nines. The Full House easily beat Clem’s hand and he was forced to grit his teeth when the vampire crowed his triumph, opening the squirming bag at his feet to stuff his winnings inside.
Spike’s true talent appeared to be gloating.
When the door silently swung open behind Spike to reveal a large, looming shadow, Clem held his tongue. There was no mistaking the newcomer’s identity and it was highly unlikely that he was here for a hand or two of kitten poker.
The poker game had already cost him and Clem considered that the fun was about to end. He picked up his snack bowl of candied beetles and tossed one into his mouth hoping that the crunching noise would drown out Spike’s gleeful cackling. It did not matter what the night had cost him because he had a ringside seat for what he hoped was Spike getting his ass kicked.
The look on Spike’s face when Angel hauled him out of his chair…priceless!
With his bowl full of beetles, Clem munched as he watched, flinching now and then until Angel managed to secure Spike facedown against the poker table. His arm was twisted up behind his back in a painful wristlock. He knew it had to hurt because Spike was gritting his teeth and growling, his golden eyes narrowed as he strained against it.
Angel was not exactly fooling around, either. He was vamped out and frankly as scary as Clem had ever seen him. Back when he got rid of the soul, he had been a cold bastard who would just as soon kill you for staring at him the wrong way, caring about nothing.
Seemingly, the soul changed things a lot, Clem noted with interest, continuing to watch as Angel leaned down to growl into Spike’s ear, “Tell me where to find Drusilla.”
“Why the hell would I tell you anything?” His growling increased as his arm was twisted back even further.
“Don’t play games with me. I’m in no mood for it,” Angel pushed Spike’s head back hard against the table.
One of them knocked over the woven basket in the center of the table. Clem’s horrified gasp followed as he realized the kittens were getting away. “Hey!” He started to point out that the pot of tabbies was now empty only to cringe when Angel turned his angry gaze on him.
One growl was all it took for Clem to settle back into his chair clutching his bowl of beetles to his chest.
“Oy! Get off you prat,” Spike tried to find the leverage to escape, but was pushed down again. “Dru’s at home having a little Girl’s Night, playing dress up with Miss Edith.”
“She was at Cordelia’s house.”
The name sparked Clem’s memory. The pretty human girl Angel had brought to the bar that night. That was what the vampire had called her: Cordelia. Clem had been sitting in his usual spot at the end of the bar, and had quite enjoyed watching their bar fight with those gravlock demons. Every now and then Willy’s place managed to have some actual entertainment.
In retrospect, Angel had been quite possessive of his little friend. It did not sound like he was pleased that his childe was visiting her house. Even Spike sounded surprised by the news.
“What’s she doing going there?”
“You don’t know?” Angel demanded the truth. “Dru told me about her vision.”
Spike made a grab for something to smash over the other vampire’s head only to have it knocked out of his hand. After another short growl, “All I know is that she was planning a bloody tea party. How the devil am I supposed to know she was inviting your pet?”
With a grunt of frustration, Angel stepped back and instantly hauled Spike to his feet, muscles rippling with fury. There was no trace of coldness now. Gripping his collar with both hands, he gave Spike one hard shake as if to get his attention. Anger thickened his voice, “Tell me where to find them,” and the underlying threat was all too clear.
Clem saw desperation amidst the anger and those riveting ochre eyes hinted at a trace of fear. He doubted Spike noticed being so close to those killer fangs.
The blond vampire looked angry rather than intimidated. Still, he coughed up the truth. “We moved.”
Angel did not seem pleased about the answer. His grip tightened on the leather jacket’s collar. “I already know that.”
“If you think I’m just going to tell you, you’ve got it wrong, mate,” Spike pushed at his chest and looked relieved when Angel released him to stand on his own. He had enough brains not to move, though.
Angel apparently understood, but it took Clem another moment for it to click to it as Spike added, “I’m not letting you get anywhere near Dru when you’re in such a black mood. She’s done nothing but yammer on about your hot little bint since we saw first her.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Angel demanded stepping forward to use his height to his advantage. He made Spike look rather scrawny, Clem stifled a laugh at the idea. “Dru told me about her vision. That Cordelia’s blood would spill before this was over. Blood and death will follow.”
Spike snapped back, “Since when do I know anything about the bleedin’ visions?”
“Stop stalling,” warned Angel curling his fists at his sides. “If you’re not going to tell me where to find Dru on my own, you’re going to take me there.”
Clem could tell that Spike was not happy about the idea. Finally, he agreed, “Fine.”
Spike started to follow Angel out the door toward the main section of the bar, but paused, obviously remembering that he had left his winnings behind. He bent down to pick up the burlap sack on the floor and Clem’s jowls trembled against the urge to laugh aloud at the look on his face. The sack was completely empty.
“What the—?” Outraged, Spike threw the sack on the table, leaning forward to stare into Clem’s eyes. “Where’d they go?”
The kittens had all escaped out the open door and had no doubt been snatched up by the other bar patrons by now. Free snacks. “I-I tried to warn you,” Clem pointed out that it was Angel’s fault. “He came in when you had the sack open.”
Spike looked like he was about to lunge across the table anyway and Clem was highly relieved when Angel called out, “Now, Spike!”
With a final glare, Spike pushed away from the table and turned on his heel, his leather duster swirling behind him. Pointing toward Angel who had already moved beyond Clem’s sightline, Spike swaggered after him with a grumpy whine, “Sod it all. I was winning. You owe me seven kittens.”
73: The Factory, Westside, Sunnydale
“The boys have arrived,” Drusilla clapped with delight. “Wait here,” she instructed and left Cordelia behind with Miss Edith as she ran from the room into another part of the factory.
Cordelia sat motionless for a moment more because she was letting Dru’s little secret sink in than compliance with her wishes. Then it hit her that Angel was really here. He had come for her.
She could hear his voice in the distance firmly demanding that Dru take him to her at once. Spike was there, too, shouting at Angel, telling him to back off. The three of them were all yelling at once until it got really quiet.
Suddenly, Angel appeared, his broad shoulders nearly filling the frame of the doorway, a look of concern and then contrasting relief on his handsome face as he caught sight of her. The tears she had been holding back for the last hour returned to sting her eyes. Bold strides carried him across the room as she shakily rose to her feet only to be wrapped up in his arms the moment he reached her.
“Cordy,” the sound of her name on his lips washed through her like a wave of heat. She leaned into him as Angel slid his hands up her spine and buried his face into the crook of her neck, rubbing his cheek there.
He lifted his head and gave her a funny look. “You smell like Dru.”
Tittering behind them as she walked in with Spike, Drusilla her arm draped through his.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well you both seem to enjoy rubbing my neck. Vampire thing?”
Spike pulled out one of the chairs from the table and sat down, his legs sprawled in front of him, crossing his booted feet. He grabbed one of the cookies from the plate and sniffed at it. “Seeing as we’re all taking turns, I’ll have a go,” he offered cheekily, “and that’s not the only thing I’d like to rub.”
Ignoring him, Angel was too busy checking Cordelia out for scrapes and bruises. There were a few minor patches of skin that were already turning bluish-green, but nothing to indicate that she had been seriously injured. Sweeping his hands up and down her frame, he felt her taut flesh fill his palms beneath the soft barrier of the dress she wore just to prove to himself that she was okay.
He bent his head to press his mouth against the pulse point of her throat, rubbing softly, then opening up to scrape his blunt teeth there just resisting the urge to bite down. Angel let out a satisfied grunt when only his scent remained, kissing gently one more time before lifting his gaze to her overly bright eyes.
She kept her arms around him, needing his strength and touch to chase the tears away. Cordelia did not want to cry in front of Spike. That would be too humiliating. It was not his business.
“I want to leave,” she told Angel, her fingers at the nape of his neck, the pads of her fingers stroking at his hair. “Please, let’s go.”
Angel nodded, leaning in one more time, capturing her mouth with his, careless of the audience. Lips and hands clung to her as if he was afraid releasing her would make her disappear. His emotions were still running rampant. The fury he had felt, the fear, his demonic desire to kill anything in his path to get to Cordy, to protect her all swirled inside him. Add to that the untimely lust that made him want to bury his face in her tempting cleavage and Angel was having a hard time letting go.
Sliding his mouth up to her ear instead, he whispered, “Nice dress.”
He was rewarded for the compliment with a hard slap against his shoulder. “Look your fill, buddy, cos you won’t catch me in this get up again.”
Cordelia was actually grateful for the distraction, pushing back the urge to break down and cry. His big hand cupped her cheek, fingers spreading through her hair. She closed her eyes for a moment and just let herself be soothed by his touch, a sigh escaping.
“What is it, Dru?” asked Angel when he sensed her hovering nearby. He gently pulled Cordelia behind him into an instinctively protective stance threading his fingers through hers and clasping her hand.
Edging closer, Drusilla looked a little forlorn over the lack of attention. Angel recognized it instantly and caught Spike’s eye. Unfortunately, he only smirked in return, silently refusing to do anything to stop his sire from doing whatever she wanted.
Angel was not certain what to expect from Drusilla. In the past, she had been jealous to the point of murder taking delight in dealing with anyone that caught Spike’s eye. It was fortunate that Spike was quite loyal to her. Darla’s presence had also sparked jealousy, but his own sire took supremacy over his childe. And Angelus had never been one to let his women rule his existence or control his pleasure.
He wondered about her motives. Somewhere in her tangled web of thoughts and visions, Drusilla was up to something. Angel knew her actions had probably saved Cordy’s life tonight. Despite bringing her here to the one place that Cordelia probably never wanted to return, and dressing her up like one of her dolls, Cordy seemed no worse for it.
Yet, he remained suspicious.
Drusilla’s outstretched fingers came close to Cordelia’s hair, but did not actually touch it. At Angel’s curt warning, her hand paused mid-motion dropping back to her side. “Will you be happy now, my Angel?”
Though he wasn’t 100-percent certain of her meaning, Angel figured it had to do with Cordelia whose hazel eyes he sensed were now focused on him. “You saved Cordy tonight. That deserves some thanks.”
“Yes,” Cordelia agreed. Despite the fact that Dru managed to scare the heck out of her at first, she soon realized that the vampiress had no intention of harming her. Not when it was apparently up to her to make Angel ‘happy’. Hooboy!
That was just something Cordy did not want to think about right now. She wanted to get out of here and find some place to scream for about twelve hours straight, or just let go the tears that were building up.
“Thanks for the rescue,” Cordelia moved so she could see Dru. “It’s been fun. We should hang out again sometime— say in thirty years or so. Angel, let’s go.”
Angel would have asked about the details of Drusilla’s vision just to confirm the fact that the blood she had seen was Bev’s blood, family blood, and not that of Cordelia herself. There was no telling if tonight was the night that Dru saw in her vision, or if the warning was intended for the future.
The firm tug on his hand told him that Cordy was not in the mood for delays. She had been through so much tonight, so Angel decided to let it drop for now. “I need your car keys,” he held out his other hand toward Spike.
“You’ve got a bloody lot of nerve, Peaches,” growled Spike as he reached into his back pocket to pull out the keys to his DeSoto. “I’ll do it because I want you out of here, but I expect it back without a scratch.”
Catching the keys, Angel let out a sarcastic grunt, “You could tell?”
“And we’ll talk about those kittens you owe me!” Spike folded his arms across his chest.
Drusilla pressed a hand to his chest, seemingly missing the entire conversation since her last question. “Don’t you want to be happy?”
Caught off-guard, Angel growled, “Of course I do.”
Spike let out a laugh, turning his attention to Cordelia, leering at the luscious curve of her breasts visible above the low-cut neckline of the dress. “Happiness would be easy with that warm little bit tucked into your bed.”
“Shut up, Spike.” He did not need any reminders of what he could not have. Angel had already been pushed to the limit tonight. Having another vampire’s attention on her right now was not making it any easier to control his instincts. The words just seemed to come out of nowhere, but he meant every one of them, “Just put your fucking eyes back in your head before I rip them out.”
“Ooooh!” Spike laughed in the face of the threat, considering it an empty one. Angel was not about to start a fight here and now with his precious little pet being so vulnerable and in need of consolation. “Too bad your soul is such a stuffed shirt, Angelus. Guess it means you won’t be getting any anytime soon.”
A low rumble started to build up in Angel’s chest, but before it emerged into a growl, Cordelia tugged again at his hand. “Don’t even think about Angelus right now. It’s not an issue. Just get me out of here.”
Slowly, Angel reeled his anger back in. He nodded, “We’ll go.”
Cordelia sighed in relief. The last thing she needed right now was Angel getting into a brawl with Spike. She glanced at Drusilla who was watching her through the veil of her hair as she peeked out from between the shining black strands. The corners of Dru’s mouth curved upward into a secret smile, one that left Cordelia blushing.
74: The Factory, Westside Sunnydale
“Get ready for the world to be sucked into hell again,” Spike sneered at his grandsire’s back as he and his bit of human fluff left the building. That girl was all neck and curves. It did not take a genius to figure out the appeal. “Was that the plan all along: Peaches gets happy…Big Bad Daddy returns?”
Drusilla glanced at him over one shoulder. She had been staring after the departing couple except that her expression was wistful and dreamy-eyed in a way that gave Spike lusty shudders. He knew what that look meant. Watching anticipatorily as Drusilla crossed the space between them, he was fully prepared when she grabbed him by the shoulders to push him hard against the back of the chair.
She kissed him until his mouth was smeared with her bright red lipstick and he could hardly remember his own name. He felt her teeth tug playfully at his lower lip as he hauled her into his lap.
Leering, “Someone’s saucy tonight,” Spike muttered as Drusilla plucked open the buttons of his shirt one by one. He did not care that it was Angelus’ visit that sparked this sudden bout of lustiness as long as he reaped the benefits.
Sex with Dru was such a contradiction. There was the side of her that responded only to gentility, to the part of him she protected and coddled, that he showed only to her. Dru often let him be the aggressor, the dominant one despite her status as his sire, but every now and then, she reminded him.
Fluidly, she moved from his lap to the floor, the diaphanous layers of her gown pooling around her. Her red nails dug into the material of his jeans just enough to let him feel her scrape them down the inside of his spread thighs. “Rrrrowl,” she made a little sound at the back of her throat leaning in to rub her face against the bulge of his erection.
Drusilla lifted her head to look up at him, silently licking at her smudged lips. “I’m going to eat you up,” she warned playfully.
It took Spike less than three seconds to unbuckle his belt, unzip and give himself an eager squeeze of anticipation as he readied himself for the pleasure to come. He stared down at Drusilla, his nerves on edge, aching with it as he waited for her to take him into her mouth.
Only her attention was suddenly elsewhere.
“What the—?” Spike glanced in that direction to find the goggle-eyed china doll facing them on top of the table with her prim little mouth, taffeta dress and shiny black shoes just so.
He was about to fling the doll across the room when Dru’s flingers slid around his rampant flesh to grasp him tightly. Spike looked into her sparkling black eyes as she started to move her hand, helpless to find any words as he clutched at the arms of the chair.
With a wink, Dru purred, “Miss Edith likes to watch, the naughty girl.” And then Spike promptly forgot about his irritation over the voyeuristic dolly as Dru moved down to swallow him whole.
75: Outside The Factory, Westside, Sunnydale
“This is Spike’s car?” Cordelia’s face scrunched in disgust as she pointed out the beer bottles littered just inside the back window. “Gross! He’s disgusting.”
Angel kept his opinions about Spike to himself as he led her around to the other side of the car. Pausing at the passenger door, he decided that it was time to put a halt to her random comments about her dress, tea with Dru and Spike’s choice of transportation. She had not said a thing about her grandmother yet.
Maybe it was Cordy’s way of avoiding the pain, but Angel figured it was better to face the truth sooner than later. It occurred to him that she might not know what happened. Deciding that he could deal with her pain and the tears— if he had to, Angel touched her cheek so that she turned her face to his.
As gently as possible, Angel explained that Bev had died during the fight with the demon. Cordelia held on tight to her crossed arms as Angel’s hands rested on her shoulders. He could see her fighting the tears until finally the battle was lost. One tear streamed down her cheek, soon followed by another.
“I’m so sorry,” he choked on the words as she flung her arms around his waist to press her moist cheek against his chest.
Tears dripped onto his shirt as Cordelia sobbed, “Bev’s dead because of me. She didn’t deserve this. She only got in the way to save me.”
Angel wrapped his arms around her holding her close. He pressed his lips to her hair, one hand soothing as she stifled the tears, the other anchoring her to him. All the while, he felt his anger stirring again. Cordelia had been through so much already. Someone was going to pay for this and he did not care what had to be done to make it happen.
He continued to hold Cordelia even after the tears had stopped, for his own sake as well as hers. It struck him that he thought he had lost her tonight. That if not for Dru’s interference, the crosathnam would have taken her back to be a sacrifice for some demon god whose identity was still a mystery. The chances of discovering their base of operations and getting to Cordy in time had not been good.
They had become friends, gotten close, ventured into doing things together, and to each other, that for everyone’s sake could go no further. He felt things for her that he should not. For that reason, he would not put a name to his feelings. They were all tangled up with his wants and fears.
Just thinking of his desires made him taut with tension. Those lustful thoughts had no place being in his head right now, not with Cordy being so vulnerable, aching with loss and traumatized by the events of the night. Angel lectured himself against thinking with his cock and not focusing on the situation.
He needed to contact Giles with the news that he had found Cordelia. The others would be worried and waiting to hear about the outcome of his search. There was the business of ensuring Cordy’s safety to deal with, something he had to do even when all he wanted was to wrap her up in his arms, or spread her out beneath him.
Cordelia obviously sensed his conflicted emotions. “What?”
One look at her puffy, red eyes and stained cheeks and Angel wanted to erase all traces of her tears. His dark gaze dropped to her parted lips wanting them under his. Yes, his mouth on her, everywhere, the thought lit fire to his groin making him hard. Tasting her tears, her inner heat, her sorrow, were almost too tempting to resist, and Angel had no intention of taking advantage of Cordelia just to sate his demon’s need to taste her pain.
“Get in the car,” his clipped words sounded almost harsh.
76: Back at the Factory. . .
Spike’s head lolled back against the chair, “That was brilliant.” He ran his hand through Drusilla’s soft black hair as she rested her cheek against his thigh.
Licking at her lips, Drusilla savored the taste of her lover. “Will you be as happy as my Angel when I am gone?”
“Bloody poof,” Spike began only to catch that last part of the question. “Gone!”
Drusilla rose to her feet, forcing Spike to crane his neck to see that a dark glint had replaced the sexy spark in her eyes. She snatched Miss Edith off the table and turned dismissively, walking away at a casual pace. Spike stumbled out of the chair and tucked himself back into place, only half-zipping his jeans before following.
Before he could catch up, she was already inside their makeshift bedroom having slammed the door in his face. Spike jammed his hands onto his hips as he stared at the door trying to figure out how best to handle this.
Anger and frustration roared inside as Spike grappled with his feelings recalling that he had just followed her all the way to Brazil and back. Hell if he was going to just let her say something like that without an explanation. She was in one of her moods now and that took careful dealing if he wanted to get anything out of it.
Hitching up his pants as they rode low on his hips, Spike reached up to rap his knuckles lightly against the door. “Dru, baby, let me in.”
77: Bev's House, 21 Quincy Street, Eastside, Sunnydale
The body was gone, but the blood spot remained. Buffy tore her eyes away from it for the hundredth time. She could not sit and wait like the others. The need to go patrolling was making her antsy.
Giles and that new guy were playing grown-ups, standing off in the corner talking about it all as if they actually had control over the situation. Talking about Faith’s arrest, Giles commented, “I should stop by the station tonight.”
“Perhaps I should do that,” the new Watcher stressed. “It is my duty.”
The nod that followed came reluctantly and Buffy could tell that Giles was having a hard time relinquishing his own sense of responsibility over Faith. How was he to know she would turn into a grandma-killer? Even as she thought it, Buffy felt a strange sense of wrongness. Faith might have confessed to killing Bev, but it was an accident.
Trying to put herself into Faith’s shoes, Buffy imagined how terrible she would feel. She actually felt sorry for both Faith and Cordelia, one hauled off to the hoosegow and the other missing.
“I should be doing something,” Buffy’s loud interruption of the somber discussion taking place. She looked toward Willow and Xander for support, but they both sat staring back as if she was acting out at a funeral.
Xander stood slowly, releasing his hold on Willow’s hand. “You don’t think I feel the same way? We all do.”
It was not the same at all, Buffy wanted to argue. “Angel left me behind. I should have been with him, stopping the demon, or Dru, or whoever it is that’s behind all of this.”
Holding his arms open, Xander offered her a hug that she gratefully accepted. Willow joined in, “Hey, I need some huggage, too.”
Waiting for their little group to break apart, Giles commented, “This has been a difficult evening for all of us. I suggest that you three—”
The sound of the phone cut off his words. Being closest, the newcomer picked up the receiver, “Wyndam-Pryce here.”
Wesley! That was his name, she recalled as soon as she heard the rest of it. Buffy held her breath as she listened to the one-sided end of the conversation.
“Excellent,” Wesley nodded. “Might I inquire— oh, I’ll inform the others. Yes, that is a relief.”
Giles was holding his hand out for the phone while Buffy leaned closer to ask, “Was that Angel?”
“Did he find Cordelia?” Xander bumped into her on his way forward.
Continuing on, Wesley gestured a thumbs-up to Xander. “Yes. No, I’m afraid the police decided to press charges....The city morgue, I’m afraid…No, Mr. Giles is right here….Oh? Oh! Certainly.”
Wesley handed the phone over to Giles. “For you.”
“That was Angel, right?” Buffy grabbed his elbow to get his attention. Giles had told them that he had given Angel his cell phone with instructions to call when he had news. What was unclear was whether Giles knew Angel planned to leave without her.
“Yes, that was Angelu— Angel,” confirmed Wesley while brushing out the wrinkle she had made on his suit jacket. His chin hitched up a notch. “Your friend is alive and well.”
Xander let out a, “Whoot!” Willow squealed and Buffy simply sighed in relief. Then she noticed Giles was putting the phone down. She had completely missed out on his part of the conversation.
“Oh no!” Willow gasped before Buffy could question him.
Giles asked, “What is it, Willow?”
“Cordelia can’t come home to a big blood stain,” she pointed out the nasty spot of congealed blood. “We’ve got to clean it up. Quick! We need Comet or Ajax or—”
“Donner and Blitzen?” Xander quipped feeling too relieved about Cordelia to let that one slip by.
Clearing his throat, Giles told them, “We can’t touch anything. This is technically a crime scene. Frankly, I’m surprised the police allowed us to remain here.”
“Probably thought it was a cut and dried case,” Buffy shrugged. Besides, this was the Sunnydale P.D. they were talking about.
“No matter, we won’t have to be concerned about Cordelia returning tonight,” he informed them. Buffy sensed he was about the say something she would not like. “It has been decided that it would be safer if she remained at Angel’s place rather than come home.”
Buffy did not think that was necessary. “What about my house?” The crazy offer caused ringing gongs to sound in her head, but it was better than the alternative.
Hedging a bit, Giles tugged at his suddenly too tight tie. “I suggested that option, but Angel tells me that Cordelia feels more comfortable about remaining at the mansion.”
“Oh?” Buffy’s voice went down an octave. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Without knowing any of the dynamics involved, Wesley offered a suggestion, “Perhaps she preferred not to place your own family in danger considering what has happened to her grandmother.”
True, Buffy had not thought of that. She certainly did not want some big ugly demon barging in on her mom in the middle of the night. She suspected something different in Cor’s motives, though. Wesley Hyphenated Watcher had a lot to learn about Cordelia Chase if he believed she was not thinking about herself when that decision was made.
“I think I should patrol,” Buffy turned to Giles again. “Y’know, go see what’s happening …around town. Maybe I can sniff out a clue or something.”
“Rather than patrol,” Giles had other ideas, “I was hoping you three would gather some of Cordelia’s belongings and drop them off at the mansion.”
How convenient. Buffy answered so swiftly, “Okay,” that Giles barely had time to finish speaking.
78: The Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale
Cordelia waited for Angel to end the phone call before asking, “What’s wrong with Buffy’s house?”
Not that she wanted to stay there. She just found it very interesting that Angel would tell Giles she preferred to stay at the mansion without actually asking her preference on the matter. The muscle at his jaw twitched, his hands curling around the steering wheel a little tighter before he glanced in her direction.
Though she was expecting one of his adorable stuttering responses that proved he actually had an inner dork, Angel’s intense gaze foreshadowed what was to come. “I’m not letting you out of my sight tonight.” Cordelia raised an eyebrow as he ground out, “Maybe not until this is over.”
Since she couldn’t face the thought of going back to Bev’s place anytime soon, it was hardly necessary to argue about it. Angel seemed strangely tense and a little growlier than she was used to. The creepy mansion was not exactly the lap of luxury, but Angel would be there. That made all the difference.
Changing the subject, she asked about Faith, having overheard the conversation, or at least his side of it. When he gave her a brief explanation, Cordelia was not sure what she felt, if anything. Faith had taken the blame for Bev’s death.
Numbly, she stared out the window at the rows of houses along Oak Park Street. “Faith was arrested?”
“Apparently, she confessed.” Angel heard the confusion in her voice and tried to keep his steady. “The police took her into custody.”
She said nothing until Angel turned the DeSoto onto the circular driveway leading up to the mansion. “This sucks,” Cordy muttered as the car came to a halt. Her eyes glitterd in the moonlight. “When did I get sucked into hell? I don’t deserve such a crappy life.”
Having no answer for her, Angel had to watch as she scrambled blindly for the car door handle, pushing it open to escape onto the drive. He shared her turmoil, felt helpless against her tears, and that only riled him up again. Pocketing the car keys, Angel followed as she ran barefoot toward the front steps, her hair and long skirt billowing behind her.
Reaching the door, Cordelia pressed her hand against it, leaning into it until her forehead touched its solid surface. Even on the cobblestone drive, she could not hear Angel’s approach, but the weight of his stare fell heavily just the same. It forced her to pull herself together. No way was she going to act like a whining ninny. Her little outburst just then— there would be no repeats.
“You hurt your feet.” She barely noticed the sting of the pebbles cutting into her skin, but it was apparently enough to draw blood.
Cordelia glanced down, but saw nothing except her bare toes peeking out under the gown. “It’s nothing.”
Nevertheless, it was not long before she was seated on the edge of Angel’s bed with the vampire crouching in front of her. With a soft wet cloth, he gently wiped the surface of her foot washing away traces of the factory floor and cleaning the tiny cuts made by the broken cobblestones. Cordelia leaned back, watching as he set the foot down and moved his attention to the other.
The massaging motions of his thumb while rubbing her foot started to seem a lot less like cleaning with every passing second. Angel was not even looking up at her, just attending to his task. The tingles his touch created left her hot and flushed.
“That’s good,” Cordelia almost moaned and pulled her foot out of Angel’s grasp. Quickly correcting, “Um, that’s enough. I’m sure I won’t get gangrene.”
Angel walked over to the open bathroom door. He tossed the washcloth into a small basket hidden behind a cabinet door and then turned to the sink to wash his hands. Suddenly intrigued by such a mundane task, Cordelia walked over to lean against the doorframe, watching him.
She leaned in further when she caught sight of the mirror, noticing his lack of reflection. He stood there drying his hands on a small towel that seemed to be floating in midair in the mirror. Intrigued, having never really paid attention to it before, Cordelia stepped up beside him turning so her bottom rested against the edge of the counter.
Cordelia traced her fingers across his jaw noting the smooth skin beneath her fingertips. “How do you shave without a reflection?”
He caught her roving fingers bringing them to his mouth for a lingering kiss that did more to distract her than her own curiosity. Every little touch seemed to make her simmer and the way he looked at her made Cordy shudder with want. Only it was bad to think about having his hands on her again. Right now was not the time. She felt guilty about how easily he could turn her on even at a time like this.
Angel seemed to be of the same mind. Though he leaned in close, releasing her fingers to let his own travel across her wrist to follow the line of her arm, he did not claim her mouth. “I’ve had years of practice.”
“Was that your sexy voice again?” Cordelia teased and turned back toward the mirror. Only this time, she noticed her own reflection. “Ack! Earlier, when I asked if I looked like I’d been crying, and you actually told me yes, you failed to mention that I also looked like Cruella de Vil.”
Most of the swelling had gone now and there were only a few visible tearstains. “Who?” Angel stood by to hand her the towel as she rinsed her face.
“Never mind,” Cordelia muttered something about puppy killers into the towel, which she tossed into the sink. “I feel crappy and grungy and want to take a shower.”
Angel started to back out of the bathroom. “The towels—,” he pointed toward a cabinet.
“I’ll find them.”
His gaze dropped down to her bosom as it bounced just a tiny bit as she moved toward him. “What about—?”
“Things are a little too breezy under this dress,” Cordelia cut in. “So I hope you don’t mind if I rifle through your drawers. There has to be something I can wear to bed.” Not that she imagined being able to sleep for the next… maybe, ever.
Cordelia was thinking along the lines of grabbing one of Angel’s shirts, or a t-shirt and some boxer shorts. That is if he owned any. They had not actually gotten to the point that she knew those details. Boxers, briefs, or—
“Hey, buster, eyes in,” Cordelia poked at his chest as she forced him to move out of the bathroom. Just because she had implied she was not wearing any panties did not mean Angel had to be such a guy about it and try out the old x-ray vision routine.
He did not go far. Angel cupped her chin in his hand before planting a soft smooch on her lips when she least expected it. “Take what you want,” he dropped his hand, but did not move away. “There’s a bathrobe behind the door. I’ll just go check—”
“No, don’t,” Cordelia hastily grasped his wrist to stop him from leaving. “Wait here. It’s stupid, but I’ve got these creepy slasher movie thoughts going on in my head.”
Angel pointed out the lack of windows in the bathroom. “There’s no way anyone can get in there. You’re safe.”
“I know,” she shrugged. “I told you it was stupid.”
“It’s not. You’ve been through a lot tonight,” Angel took her in his arms again for a moment trying to sooth her frazzled nerves while hoping that having her there would serve to quiet his own.
Ever since he had found her safe at the factory, it was all Angel could do not to imprint himself on every inch of her. She had been threatened, and taken from him— even if it turned out that his own childe had managed to steal her from harm’s way. Cordelia was bereft, in need of some tenderness and understanding, comfort that he badly wanted to be able to provide.
Each touch demanded more. He wanted to protect her, cherish her and show her that she was not alone in this evil world, but those tender feelings were in a tug of war with the possessive, sexual urges tethered within. The last thing she needed right now was to be touched by the deep-rooted instincts that ate at his soul.
Unwilling to reveal his inner struggles, and wanting to shield her from it, too, Angel took a step back, forcing himself to let go of her warm body. A little sound emerged from her throat in protest. Angel summoned up a promise from the depths of his heart. “I’m here for you, Cordy.”
“Then why are you so far away?”
Angel did not have much of an answer to that. Telling her that he was getting aroused by the scent of her tears and traces of spattered blood on her skin would probably not make her feel at ease around him. He wanted her to trust him, needed her to feel safe.
Confused, she reached out a hand to reel him back into her space. The simple action made him sweat a little. Touching her hand made him think of other touchable parts draped in soft pink chiffon. He wanted to rip it away. Enjoy the sound of it tearing as he revealed those temptingly soft curves and hidden valleys. From there it was all too easy to imagine what else he wanted that had nothing to do with his promise in her hospital room to keep her safe.
Kiss. Taste. Possess.
What he wanted was dangerous and he knew it, but could not stop his desire any more than he could have prevented that meteor from falling from the sky. Angel let her hand slide across his palm, enjoying the gentle squeeze as she threaded her fingers with his.
“Want to know something crazy?” she asked erasing the distance between them. Angel already felt like he had gone a little mad after the events of the night, and needed some distraction from the lustful turn of his thoughts. He gave his assent with a nod.
Standing on her bare tiptoes, her soft lips brushing against the edge of his jaw, Cordelia whispered a startling confession into his ear. “You make me so horny, Angel. I want you so much.”
That was his Cordelia without a doubt, giving nothing less than the unvarnished truth no matter how inappropriate. Those same desires pulsed straight to his groin, causing him to breathe raggedly in some kind of reflexive way. Somehow, he managed to speak, in spite of the croak in his throat, “That’s not crazy. I want you, too.”
The soft lips he wanted to kiss formed a circle of surprise, as if she never expected him to say it. “Oh. That’s good.” A brilliant smile lit her face for a moment before some stray thought got in the way. “Too bad our timing really sucks, huh?”
The words echoed: horny, want you, sucks.
Angel nearly lost it as the image flashed through his head in colorful detail of Cordelia on her knees at his feet, one warm hand on his bare thigh, the other gently squeezing his balls as she enthusiastically sucked him off. Just as quickly, he tried to scrub the image away, reminding himself that she was a virgin and he was cursed.
Raking his hand across his mouth only brought Cordelia’s scent where he could taste it. He stared at her intensely, his jaw muscle twitching, saying nothing in response to her rhetorical question that was not all too obvious.
Backing toward the bathroom door, Cordelia kept watching him, staring boldly into his eyes, and making him wonder at her thoughts. As if the minx knew something that he did not and was teasing him with it. That was a dangerous tactic, but he liked it even if it pissed him off.
One step away, Angel pressed his hands into the doorframe instead of taking hold of her. Gazing down at her from his taller vantage point, he focused first on the mouth he wanted to plunder. Watching as the pink tip of her tongue scraped along the seam of it, he subconsciously mimicked the action, licking his lips. Jesus, he wanted to tangle his fingers in her hair, fisting it tight in his grasp, and drag her to her toes.
Before he could act on the impulse, Cordelia flashed him another grin, saying, “Later,” just as she shut the door in his face.
79: Meanwhile . . .
“This isn’t the way to the police station,” Faith noticed that the cop passed the turn-off continuing on down State Street. They hung a left at Maple Court leaving her no idea where they were headed. “You guys got a craving for donuts?”
The driver snapped, “Shut your trap.”
Faith knew she had hit a raw nerve and bet it had nothing to do with donuts. The guy’s partner glared at her through the thick mesh divider. Giving her the once-over, his leer accompanied a look of disgust.
“You got friends in high places.” He said it in a way that shed doubt on it.
Flexing her sore jaw, she glared back. “Maybe,” she shrugged casually wondering how he knew that. “What’s it to you?”
A casual shrug followed. “It ain’t my job to ask questions.”
The conversation was over. Faith turned her attention back to the window where she saw that they had driven past the mall. They entered a maze of alleyways that connected several old warehouses and came to a halt a few yards away from a black limousine.
Somehow, its presence did not surprise her. There was only one person it could be. Faith did not struggle when the cop hauled her out of the car and led her to the open door of the limo. The familiar face of Mayor Richard Wilkins smiled back at her from within.
“Good evening, Faith,” he gave her a cheerful greeting that seemed at odds with the whole situation. Glancing at her handcuffs, he teased, “Is this a new fashion statement?” chuckling.
“I could do without the jewelry.” Faith held her hands out toward the cop who was still standing there, but the mayor waved him off.
When they were alone, Wilkins looked her over, tut-tutting as he went from head to toe taking in the numerous bloody scrapes and dark bruises. “What have you been up to tonight? Surely the old biddy didn’t put up that much of a fight. I don’t like seeing my girl hurt.”
Faith told him it was nothing, “Just a demon,” but her clipped explanation roused his interest.
“Slayers do seem to attract them.” He paused, hands propped on his knees as he gave her an expectant look, waiting for more.
Faith could not tell him why the demon had busted into Bev’s house without telling him about the prophecy, only that he did. “Guess so. He must’ve been after… something.”
The mayor frowned in a way he rarely ever did. Even when he was angry he managed to keep smiling. Doing so now told Faith that he was not buying her bullshit explanation. “Beverly Quinn didn’t have two cents to rub together.”
“Maybe he just had a thing for old ladies.”
Wilkins pulled out a manila folder from a seat pocket flipping through the pages. Faith caught sight of some glossy photographs: a black & white one of Bev and her husband, a recent photo, and one of Cordelia. The latter seemed to draw the mayor’s interest.
“Now where have I seen that girl before?” Suddenly, it occurred to her that he already had the answers. The mayor was testing her and Faith recognized the fact instantly.
“That’s Cordelia Chase,” she said as nonchalantly as possible. Adding, “Buffy’s friend,” she failed to point out that Cor was her friend, too.
Nodding, Wilkins let out a slow, “Ahhh. Now I see why Miss Summers and the gang were at the scene. Tell me, Faithy… were they there for you or Cordelia?”
Faith sat stunned by the implication as if an electric current shocked her into silence. Both of us, she wanted to say— and Bev, but she was forced to say nothing as he spun his web of lies and doubts. “It was her, wasn’t it? Yet here you are beaten and battered. Did they defend you when the police came?”
“No,” the word came out harshly. Faith remembered the accusing looks sent her way by Buffy and her pair of slack-jawed sidekicks. For a moment, she forgot the reason for this clandestine meeting and that the mayor had countless ulterior motives.
“They may not believe it,” he chuckled, “but it’s a good thing that demon crashed our little party. You can pin the rap on him. As far as the police are concerned, it was just a burglar.”
She could see the set up coming a mile away pointing out, “The cops have the dagger with my fingerprints on it.”
“Things go missing everyday,” Wilkins shrugged, “but just to be safe, I’ll make sure that the evidence comes to me. I wouldn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands.”
Faith licked at a clotted cut on her lower lip. There was a threat to his words, but that was not what was making her nervous. She did not want him to see the truth. That she had not killed Beverly Quinn as instructed. It was her assignment, the first serious task he had given her, one where loyalty was the key. All because Bev pissed him off by picketing City Hall over the damn bingo parlor, and someone suggested she should run for mayor at the next election.
“You’re the real power in this town,” Faith told him trying to stroke his ego. “Why would I want anyone else watching my back?”
Relaxed and smiling again, Wilkins laughed. “You don’t think I’d let my Faithy rot in a prison cell. You’ve got too much potential. Far too much to waste behind bars.”
He sounded so utterly sincere that Faith’s stomach twisted up in knots. Wilkins never let the façade slip. She wondered what things would be like if she had not caught on to the fact that he was trying to put a wedge between her and the others. The attention he had given her had been nice at first, but Wilkins grew covetous of her time, questioning her about her whereabouts and whether she was a friend or rival of Buffy Summers.
If she hadn’t gotten to know Giles during the past few weeks as they had teamed up to search for signs of the prophecy, Faith might not have trusted him enough to mention her suspicions. Wilkins was up to something serious that had nothing to do with politics.
She had been easy prey for the friendly mayor with his seemingly harmless attention and ways of making her feel like she was worth something. He treated her with respect, not as a sex object or an incompetent troublemaker. When he told her that he knew she was a Slayer and what that meant, Faith thought she had found someone to open up to, like Buffy with Giles.
Though she would never admit it to their faces, Faith envied their close relationship. It was the close kind of thing she had never had. Not with her last Watcher who had got himself killed and certainly not with her drunk mother or deadbeat dad.
Now it looked like she had been assigned a new Watcher. A dark laugh escaped at the thought of their first meeting. Not exactly a way to start off on the right foot, was it? The nerdy guy looked like he had not seen the outside of a library in the past ten years, so it wasn’t likely to be what she had imagined anyway.
As for Mayor Wilkins, she now knew that he had ulterior motives for befriending her. The reason for it was still up in the air, but he had fixed it so she would be under his thumb. Nobody played her and got away with it. Nobody. Considering what she was taking the heat for just to please him— the mayor was going down. Now that he was arranging her release, she would not have to do it from jail.
“Y’know, it’s nice I’ve got you looking out for me,” Faith’s dimpled smile appeared despite that her split lip stung with the effort. Finally, he grinned back. Both of them understood that he had control of the situation.
“When the going gets tough,” Wilkins clapped his hands together and held them in a show of mutual support, “we can always count on each other. Isn’t that right, Faithy?”
Trying not to grind her teeth at the annoying nickname, Faith nodded agreeably. “About these handcuffs.”
80: A Cavern, Subterranean Sunnydale
A perpetual slime clung to the stalactites on the vaulted natural ceiling of the lair. Below, riven forces had shaped the rocky surface of the limestone cavern creating the Altar of Amolon. Shimmering upon the wall behind it, a vertical pool of incandescent light shone. Its constant glow provided the only light necessary in the chamber.
Only the importance of this gathering induced Nicolau Cibran to come to this intolerable place. Dank caves were better suited to the lowest of Amolon’s many followers, not for a vampire prince of his exalted status. He could feel the thick air seep into his formal suit, handcrafted by a dozen Galician tailors, and resisted the urge to sneer.
Standing motionless as Amolon’s high priestess made her opening statements, Nicolau made an effort to listen, but he had heard the same fodder from his sire many times over during the past two hundred years. Coming from Kalesh herself made it trivially more palatable. Although, her habit of pausing for a breath every second or third word irritated him to the extreme.
“Thousands of years have passed since Amolon became attuned to the powers of this Earth, since the elements responded to his whims,” announced the golden-robed high priestess standing between the stone altar and the glimmering light.
Kalesh was outwardly withered and wrinkled with her untold years. She looked human despite her demonic origins, an old hag whose diminutive body stooped with age. Yet, she radiated power. No one in her presence could consider her a weak target. Even the sound of her voice left palpable tremors along their nerves.
Addressing the gathering of three, the old demoness gestured grandly, “He wanders the abyss, but reaches out to you across the dimensions.”
There was something timeless in her gaze at it connected with his, and a feeling of being swallowed up by it. Almost as if their demon god was staring back through her eyes.
Under his cool veneer, Nicolau was imagining a number of ways to put the demoness to death. Something he would never do, for he was truly a follower, and understood her position as the god’s right-hand of power. It merely amused him to contemplate what it might take to kill such a being.
“The great one has granted you a taste of wealth, of power, a stake in this world. Terror shall follow in his wake,” Kalesh promised. “Those who do not bow down to him shall perish.” Then she pointed her overly long finger in their direction. “Amid the chaos only the loyal shall attain power and prominence.”
The pre-ritual gatherings were a bore, just as he had predicted. Nicolau would much rather be back home in Galicia than in this backwater excuse for a town. Hellmouth or no, it was hardly the place for a vampire of his standing. As a master vampire of the House of Solaris, he found it quite vexing to be placed at the same level as these two walking blood bags.
He flicked a glance to his left where the muscle-bound biker stood cross-armed and legs braced as if he was making an effort to look tough. Garbed in leather with metal studs, Mike Mooney reminded him of a collared bulldog. Known as ‘The Undertaker’ he ran a gang in nearby Los Angeles.
“Those who prove their loyalty when Amolon crosses from his dimension into ours shall know his true power,” Kalesh droned on forcing Nicolau to consider the rest of the competition.
With the casual flip of his formal great cloak over his right shoulder, Nicolau afforded himself the opportunity to peruse the other human in his midst. This one, at the least, appeared civilized dressed in grey Armani, Italian leather shoes and accessories, and wore a Rolex glinting from his wrist. Unlike their biker comrade, Jake Devries was just an underling, a lowly middleman representing the Senior Partners at Wolfram & Hart.
Now they were worthy adversaries, Nicolau conceded. Though in this case, at least for the moment, they were technically not his rivals, but also followers of Amolon. The law firm was positioning itself for the eventual arrival of Amolon and obviously knew what would happen if the god looked upon them and their Senior Partners with disfavor.
Nicolau detested such falsehood, but he knew he would say nothing to Kalesh. Devries might only be a workhorse for his superiors, but he brought with him their influence & real world knowledge. The Hellmouth and its environs were new to all of them. For the Rites of Tavrok to open the dimensional gate and bring Amolon to Earth, all necessary elements were required.
It was to discuss the details of that particular necessity that Kalesh had called them together. Kneeling before the altar, head hanging low and arms open in supplication was the crosathnam mercenary assigned to recover the human sacrifices described by Kalesh as the Varstrae, the Pure Ones. He was battered from a fight with dried blood, both human and his own, covering his clothes. Once again, his prey had eluded him.
Kalesh’s breathy voice grated as she turned her attention to the demon at the base of the altar. “You have failed to bring the next sacrifice. The Rites of Tavrok cannot succeed unless the Varstrae stand as one. They alone can unlock the gate,” she gestured toward the lights shimmering on the wall.
“The girl is special, my priestess,” the demon prostrated himself even lower on the floor. “The one who guards her is a Slayer.”
“A Slayer?” That finally caught Nicolau’s attention. Perhaps this meeting was not going to be such a bore after all. “You are still alive. Did you kill this Slayer?”
The crosathnam demon kept his eyes on the ground knowing better than to look in his direction. “No, I was forced to leave before finishing her off.”
Nicolau sneered until his fangs showed. He glared at the lawyer, Devries, blaming him. “This incompetent fool was your idea.”
“It was not known that we would be dealing with a Slayer,” Devries defended harshly, while still looking a little nervous.
“What’s a slayer?” asked Mike ‘The Undertaker’ Mooney with a shrug. “We got demons out the wazoo in LA, but I ain’t never heard of slayers. Unless you’re talking ‘bout that gang o’ street kids.”
Oh, the degradation of it all. Nicolau felt like he had found the cesspool of the world and it was swallowing him whole. If it were not for the power granted the leaders of his clan by Amolon, he would be delighted to be rid of them all.
Turning his attention back to the crosathnam mercenary, Nicolau demanded to know what possessed him to leave an injured Slayer behind. The answer came swiftly, “The Pure One was taken.”
“Taken?” Kalesh herself posed the question, a sense of alarm setting in. The air itself seemed to crackle.
“Yes, priestess,” he nodded shamefully. “It was a vampiress.”
All eyes in the chamber suddenly turned toward Nicolau who pressed widespread fingers against his chest. “Why do you stare?” He morphed back into the softer human features that drew the envy of men and the sighs of women. Knowing his pleasing looks provided added charisma, he used them to his advantage.
“Kalesh, my priestess,” he bowed graciously. “The House of Solaris is not involved in this abduction. I assure you that my entourage remains ensconced within our quarters.”
At Nicolau’s insistence, the crosathnam provided a description of the one who dared to steal his prey. Afterward, there was silence as the master vampire let his words sink in. “Pale as moonlight,” he mused. That could describe anyone. As did ‘long hair dark as the night’, although Nicolau had to admit, “You’re rather poetic for a demon assassin.”
It was not until he pictured the dress the demon described in surprising detail— not bad considering that he was in the middle of a fight when he caught sight of the female vampire absconding with their sacrifice— that it struck a chord. For a moment, Nicolau forgot about the others, a sound of malicious delight pouring forth from his chest reverberating around the cavern.
“Sunnydale must be ripe for some attractive new faces. I think it is high time my childe and I made ourselves known to the community.” A wicked smile spread across his face. “Leave your missing sacrifice to me, Kalesh. It will be my honor to recover her for you.”
Kalesh nodded. “This you may do, Nicolau Cibran, but first there is one thing I wish you to handle.”
Their eyes connected, the image of the priestess’ wishes made instantly clear as she shared the powerful thought. Even before the crosathnam could fully sense the danger, Nicolau was behind him using his speed and strength to wrap an arm around his neck. Two powerful sharp twists cracked his neck. Releasing him just as quickly, the demon fell lifeless across the stone altar.
“Hey,” Mike Mooney walked closer to point out, “he’s supposed to be looking for the other Pure Ones. Whose gonna do that now?”
There were five sacrifices required by the Ritual of Tavrok. This troublesome one had managed to elude capture, but it would be done. Others remained as yet unidentified.
“That is your problem, human,” Nicolau had already reached his limit of tolerance. Now that he had killed, he was starting to get hungry and damned if the Bulldog did not look tasty. “I shall get mine. You two can play with the rest of them.”