Consequences


AUTHOR: CORDELIA’S DESTINY (aka Jules)
SUMMARY: An unknown force has far-reaching consequences.
RATING: R
POSTED: 17 Nov 2006
CATEGORY: Romance / Humor / Mild Angst
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A, S/B. W/X, Joyce/Giles – Set AU after BTVS – Lover’s Walk
WARNINGS: None Listed
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) Although this universe goes AU after Lover’s Walk, it does not take place immediately afterward. The intervening events will be explained in the exposition of the story. For all intents and purposes, this story takes place two months following Lover’s Walk.
2) Thanks: To Lysa and the NWC writers…y’all are fabulous!


Prologue

Darkness, as thick and oppressive as the inside of a tomb, choked Angel awake. He gasped as if reliving the first panic of his undead existence. It pressed in on him, weighing him down. For a moment he panted as if oxygen starved, writhing slightly under the weight above him, his eyes wide and seeing nothing. Panic gripped him, adding to the illusion of suffocation. Struggling, he wriggled his arms out from under the weight on top of him, hands searching for what held him down.

Angel’s panic fled the moment his fingers touched warm, living flesh.

Further exploration gave him a shock he wasn’t prepared for. The nude body, hot against his, was definitely not Buffy Summers. A shapely woman fit tightly against him with curves in all the right places, pressing up against all of his right places. He groaned softly, fingers brushing her shoulders to push her away. She whimpered above him, instinctively gripping his biceps and refusing to move. Their hips shifted together and his mouth dropped open as he was unable to help his own body’s response to her movements.

Sighing, he gingerly explored further, trying to determine who she was. His hands came up, brushing her small shoulders and finding impossibly soft, silky skin. A slender neck was dwarfed in his big hands, his fingers lightly tattooed by her steady pulse. His thumbs cupped her jaw, stroking her full lips where they rested just against his neck. Her hot breath burned his fingers, and he moved them away, up into her long, wavy hair. The movement stirred her scent, and all at once, the aroma of cinnamon and vanilla surrounded him like thick, narcotic smoke.

Oh, God. Cordelia.

~*~
Rupert Giles shifted uncomfortably on the hard floor, his arm half-asleep as it pillowed his head. He groaned, head pounding, eyes opening to a blackness that defied his senses. Thick, scratchy carpet irritated his hip, eyes widening as he realized that he seemed to be without his clothing. His breath left him in a gasp as the warm mass against him wriggled, then sighed, a decidedly female sound.

What the hell was going on?

In the background, he could hear the faint clicking of the vending machine in the hall. His vision was blurry, but light appeared now, a blue glow emanating the streetlights beyond the window, but he couldn’t make out any objects very easily. Concentrating, he made out the indistinct form of a table and scattered chairs, only then realizing that he was inside the school library, stretched out in front of the stairs and beneath the window. One arm was draped around the unclothed body of a woman he had yet to identify.

As if on cue, she stirred, her mouth nuzzling his neck as she yawned, snuggling further into his arms.

“I’m cold,” she whispered, her hand coming up to stroke his shoulder. Then, as if she’d suddenly found awareness, she froze, her hand gripping him tightly.

“W-what’s going on?” Panic was etched in her tone.

That question was said at full volume, enough for Giles to identify his companion.

“Joyce?” he said in disbelief.

“R-Rupert?” she squeaked, jerking away from him, crossing her arms over her bare breasts protectively. “What happened?”

He finally found his breath again, running his hand over his jaw tiredly. “That’s what I’d like to know.”

~*~

“Oh, please. Make it stop,” Xander moaned, clutching his head in his hands and curling his body into a ball. His prayer went unanswered as the pounding continued. He had a sudden vision of the USC marching band’s drum line tapping cadences against his skull.

Whimpering, he opened his eyes, blinked, then tried to open them again, only to discover they already were. Pitch blackness pressed in on him, silence ringing in his ears. For a moment he entertained the hysteria that he’d gone blind, but as his eyes adjusted, he realized he could see a small line of light coming from underneath his door.

His legs were tangled in his sheets. Kicking, he tried to free himself but only made things worse. With a groan of pain he sat up, clutching his forehead with one hand while jerking at the sheets around his calves with the other. The harder he pulled, the more the pounding in his head increased, and eventually he gave up, flopping back onto the bed, sighing heavily and flinging his arms wide.

He froze when the back of his forearm landed on a person and not the mattress.

“Ow!”

The complaint was feminine but muffled, and Xander’s heart rate increased exponentially. There was a girl in his bed. A girl. In. His. BED!! A huge grin broke out on his face as he realized he’d just had sex. The pounding in his head vanished instantly as euphoria set in. His chest swelled in pride. God, he felt great!

Wait a second. He’d had sex? And he didn’t remember it? And who the heck was this woman? He definitely didn’t remember bringing anyone home with him last night. And it wasn’t like he’d had a great track record with women so far. Giant bug woman, demon girls, Cordelia…well, she was hot, but not exactly his smartest choice. So who could this be?

As if realizing the same thing, his bed partner squirmed around, apparently tangled up in the sheets. He heard a rattle, then realized she was searching on the bedside table for a light, and a wave of panic overtook him. If she turned on the lamp and didn’t like what she saw…Oh, damn. What she saw! Holy Moses, he was naked from the knees up!

He scrambled for the sheet as he felt her move farther away, heard a crash as his clock tumbled to the floor, and then, ‘click,’ the lamp flicked on. For a few seconds he flinched as the light blinded him, then blinked rapidly as his eyes focused on the goddess before him.

A goddess with the most perfect breasts he’d ever seen.

And red hair.

He blinked, stunned, as Willow dove beneath the covers and gaped at him.

“Oh, goddess,” Willow breathed, a flush spreading across her face. “We’re naked!”

Xander scrambled backwards, suddenly as panicked as she was. Willow. His eyes slid shut in a mixture of relief and horror. The marching band came back for halftime.

“Did we…” she whispered.

Xander didn’t seem to hear her. “Oh my God. Willow. I didn’t sleep with Will. I’m dreaming. I’ve gotta be dreaming. Wake up, man,” he pinched himself, “Wake. Up!!”

His eyes popped open and she was still there. Still naked. Still so damn beautiful that he couldn’t help but stare.

“You’re really here,” he said in wonder.

A tear tracked down Willow’s cheek, and Xander felt something in his heart snap as he saw her confusion and pain.

“What happened to us?” she whispered.

He reached for her hand and felt his stomach twist as she flinched away from him.

“I don’t know, Wills,” he whispered back, suddenly desperate for a reason why he had to lose his virginity with his best friend but barely remember the heat of it. “But we’re damn well gonna find out.”

~*~

Every muscle in Spike’s body ached, his joints stiff and creaking. Sitting up, he groaned. Three times his age. That’s what he felt right now, as if his body would fall apart at any moment. He hadn’t felt this bad since waking up the morning after his last bout with Angelus. Underneath the bone-weary exhaustion was a sense of satisfaction that he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Maybe never. The kind of satisfaction one only found right after a long night of wild…

No. that was ridiculous. Dru was gone, and there was no one else…was there?

Yawning, he rubbed his eyes and stretched, moaning as his muscles rebelled. He made a move to get up, bracing his hands on the side of the bed. Just before he stood, something moved across the mattress. It rolled over, a warm hand with long fingernails snaking around his wrist, rubbing his skin familiarly. His breath caught and he bolted away, standing upright.

Only then did he note that he was in the old factory he’d been staying in; the place he’d abandoned with Dru months ago.

The figure spoke. “Come back to bed,” she whispered, her voice a sultry breathiness. A white sheet pooled around her waist as she sat up, her form barely discernable in the darkness. Dry mouthed, he made out her slight but enticing curves in the shadows.

“Wait!” Clarity seemed to be coming to her tone. “What—where am I?”

Apparently he wasn’t the only one who’d had too much to drink. “You don’t know?”

“N-no.” She sounded panicked. Reaching down, she grabbed the sheet to cover herself. “What happened?”

“Buggered if I know. Who are you?”

His deep, British-accented voice seemed to make her jerk back as it reverberated in the quiet room. “Spike?” she squeaked, shrinking back against the wall. “Oh, God.” She sounded mortified.

Suddenly, a familiar scent registered, but he refused to believe it. “Slayer?” he said again, this time slowly, with a hint of menace in his voice.

“Oh my God,” she breathed again.

Her heartbeat thundered in his ears. “Just what the bloody hell happened here?”
Part 1

Angel’s mind raced with the speed of lightning. A kaleidoscope of images bombarded his thoughts: colors, smells, sounds all blending into one hazy but incredibly passionate theme. Golden skin glistened with dewy perspiration, tangled silky hair that smelled of cinnamon and sinful gratification, breathy moans reverberating from her mouth to his, all of it mingling together in a kind of surreal dream.

Only one thing was certain: last night, he had known the incredibly selfless passion of a woman unlike any other he’d ever met. He had only snatches of memory, bits that tantalized him. The stroke of her fingers on his skin, a satiated sigh that escaped from her lips, the light scratch of her nails. Even now, his skin tingled from where her frenzy had branded him, and he knew that there would be visible marks as a testament to the greatest sex of his entire existence.

Above him, Cordelia slept on, her warm body rising and falling gently with each steady breath. He’d tried to rouse her once already after he realized who she was, but he hadn’t tried very hard. The vibrations of last night still thrummed through him. He wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the warmth of her body against his.

Absently stroking soft skin, his thumb graced the slightly wrinkled place where her upper arm met her shoulder. The other arm tightened around her back, curving down around her hip and drawing her more tightly into his arms. She felt so right here with him; it was one of the reasons he was so bewildered.

No one had ever fit him so perfectly, not even Buffy.

For that very reason, Angel could feel the weight of regret sinking in his gut. Why, oh, why, did he have to have sex with Cordelia, of all people? She was the one woman Buffy would never tolerate as his mate, not that he needed her approval. Still, the pain he’d felt as she’d told him they couldn’t even be friends had taken a lot of time to fade, but fade it had, and they were just starting to get comfortable with each other again.

Even so, their breakup had driven such a wedge between them that he’d thought they might not recover. It was a feat he’d never thought they’d accomplish: turning over a new leaf in their relationship and finally progressing to something meaningful besides star-crossed lovers. Still, they’d done it. He didn’t want to jeopardize that.

The two months since they’d killed the mayor and saved Faith from his clutches had been a veritable roller coaster of emotions. Faith, in all her desperate darkness, had had an epiphany of sorts, and had agreed to be sent to England to be trained by the Watchers Council and attend therapy for her many emotional issues. After she’d left, their lives had lacked demon villains and evil plots, but it seemed that emotional apocalypses were doomed to replace them.

Angel frowned in the darkness, his fingers pulling away from Cordelia’s tempting skin to run roughshod through his hair. Something else was bothering him: last night wasn’t just a casual fling he’d gone into with all his faculties intact. He couldn’t even begin to remember how he’d ended up here, in his bed in the mansion, with Cordelia–of all people–wrapped around him like ivy climbing a marble column. In fact, although he’d had fleeting sexual thoughts about Cordelia Chase since he’d met her, he’d never genuinely considered pursuing her. The whole experience was hazy, like a movie filmed with gauze draped over the camera lens, the images soft, muted, blurred.

Cordelia stirred against him, a wriggling serpent against his body. Stifling a groan, Angel took advantage of her movement to take her shoulders in his hands and shake her slightly.

“Cordelia,” he said at normal volume, right in her ear. “Wake up.”

She did nothing more than squirm against him again, inciting a response in Angel that he didn’t want at the moment. He couldn’t afford to be aroused by her right now. It was already bad enough that they’d been together the one time last night. Well—Angel’s expression turned to a wince of regret—maybe that was four times. Oh, God. She was going to hate him.

Another slight shove to Cordelia’s shoulders made her whimper indignantly. Moving her mouth against his neck, Cordelia began to rain soft kisses on Angel’s skin, her small hands coming up to stroke his face. Thick-lashed eyelids remained stubbornly closed, and it seemed that she was searching for his mouth with both her own and her fingers. She finally found it, tracing the outline of his slightly open mouth with one fingertip.

By the time she kissed him, Angel had had just about had enough. He couldn’t take this. Couldn’t control this. Because by God, if she stuck her tongue in his mouth and did what she did last night, he wasn’t going to be responsible for his actions. He had to get away.

Her tongue slid along the seam of his lips.

Oh, damn it! He had to get away now!

Almost violently, Angel shoved her away from him and slid out from underneath the heavenly warmth of her body, the cold air of his bedroom shocking him into full awareness.

“Damn it, Cordelia, wake up!”

She sat up abruptly in the darkness, one hand pressed against her forehead as if a headache pained her.

“Geez, yell much?” Cordelia said, wincing. Her voice was hoarse from sleep. “Think you’d see I’ve got a doozy of a hangover.”

Angel sank into a chair near the bed, then suddenly realized his lack of clothing. Snatching up his sweatpants from the floor nearby, he jerked them on quickly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cordelia raise the sheet to cover herself.

“Why am I here?” Cordelia’s voice was cool enough to be royal.

Angel snorted. “I think that’s pretty obvious.”

“Oh, for the love of…” Haughtiness evaporated in favor of dismay. “Angel?”

A sigh escaped him. “Yeah.”

“What…what the hell happened last night?” The darkness prevented him from seeing her expression, but he could picture the consternation on her face quite clearly. “‘Cause what I’m remembering is a whole lot of sweaty but mind-blowingly amazing sex and I know that you’re Mr. No Sex.”

The words “amazing sex” immediately plunged Angel into a swirling pool of lust as he was again bombarded with images from last night. Angel jerked himself out of it before it threatened to engulf him. Walking over to the panel on the wall, he turned the lights on to a dim setting. It surprised him to find that even that small amount of light strained his eyes.

“I don’t know what happened. I can’t remember much of it either. But I don’t think we just got drunk.”

“Duh,” she replied, an eye-roll a perfect complement to her flippancy. She stood, and remorse flooded through him as he watched her grimace.

Stretching an arm above her head while the other clutched at the sheet, Cordelia attempted to work out some of the kinks, and Angel couldn’t help the sudden intake of breath at the sight of her so wanton and disarrayed from a night spent in his bed. Her dishevelment was his fault, and there was no small measure of satisfaction in knowing that he was responsible for the sexy tangle of hair, the smoky, tired eyes, and the twin punctures marking her neck.

His eyes widened. Oh, damn it. He’d bitten her. He needed a closer look, but now was not the time.

“We should get dressed,” he finally said.

“And then what?”

He shrugged. “Giles?”

“Great,” her wry tone matched her frown. ” Like that’s gonna be a fun conversation. ‘Hi, Giles. I just had hot wild sex with your precious girl’s soulmate! Wanna have some tea?'”

Hand on thrust-out hip, face opened in faux-brightness, she made a picture that could only incite Angel’s laughter. That, and her sarcasm was a welcome reprieve from the guilt he was harboring.

“I guess it won’t be an easy conversation, but do you have any other options?” He crossed the room to his closet, perusing the contents for something suitable.

Nose scrunched up in irritation, she turned sharply on a heel toward the bathroom. “No, smarty vamp, I don’t. Giles is the researchy guy. And we know this wasn’t something we thought up on our own.” Turning back, she eyed his muscled back appreciatively. “But I can’t say I didn’t have fun.”

She skittered away to the bathroom. He was pulling out a black silk shirt when he heard her gasp and wail through the half-closed door. She ran out a moment later, eyes wide, fingers pressed to his bite at her neck.

“What did you do to me?”

Angel sighed, then thanked whatever gods would listen when the phone rang with a call from Giles, saving him from an explanation he wasn’t prepared to give.

********

Giles’s hand lingered on the phone just a moment longer, his mind drifting as his own words and instructions to Angel faded away. He was so confused. And so unnervingly satisfied.

It was weird, this way that he felt right now. In all his life, Giles couldn’t remember a time that compared with this morning, a time when he’d felt so emotionally relaxed and physically uncomfortable, all at once. When he awoke, just before awareness crept over him, he hadn’t felt like he’d slept on the library floor all night. He’d felt as though he’d slept in a cloud of feathers, heated by the passion and warmth of a beautiful woman.

Then he’d shifted slightly, and pain had destroyed the bubble of pleasure surrounding him. Suddenly, every muscle ached and he had this weird feeling that something wasn’t right at all. The next few moments were the most astounding of his life: the discovery of Joyce in his arms.

And then, like a deluge of floodwater, hedonistic fragments of memory came rushing back to him. His whole body had flushed as he’d realized just how glorious making love to her had been. She was so different from him: smooth, golden, soft. They were a study of opposites, a beauty of contrasts that made his breath catch. She was a dream come to life. The perfect woman who’d always eluded him.

But she was Joyce.

It was different from the band candy incident, yet so much the same. Then, they’d been unaware of the candy’s influence on them, and they’d been subjected to all the hormonal rushes of teenagers without any of the conditioned inhibitions. But afterward, it had felt like two strangers had shagged wildly in public for the shock value of it.

He and Joyce had had only one conversation about their wild night together where they’d agreed never to speak of it again. Frankly, he could remember little of it now that time had faded, and he doubted that she could, either. Certainly he cherished the memories he did have, even if they seemed like images from a movie starring two strangers. Bottom line, he hadn’t been himself that night, and neither had she.

This time, however, it was as though two dear friends had found a soul connection and become cherished lovers. Last night, it was he, Rupert Giles, and she, Joyce Summers, who had lain in each others’ arms. Two friends with divided loyalties and unconfessed attraction for each other. It was as if all their inhibitions had been stripped away and they’d been left with only themselves, bare to the soul, free to act out their true feelings for each other in the most basic form of physical expression.

Giles sighed, burying his head in his hands as reality obliterated any euphoria that remained.

She was Buffy’s mother, for God’s sake. A woman he’d silently sworn to protect but never touch again. While the potential for a fiery and fulfilling relationship lay dormant between them, their responsibilities for Buffy were in direct contrast to one another, and it was a tacit agreement between them that contact of any kind would be minimal.

Touching her seemed tantamount to betrayal.

Just the thought of betryaing her trust made him recoil inside. A shudder passed through Giles as he remembered how shocked she’d been to realize who he was and how embarrassed she’d seemed as she’d leaped up, gathered her clothes, and sailed out the door with apologies streaming behind her. As if the fault somehow lay with her.

At his desk, Giles rubbed his eyes in futility. Of all the people he knew, it had to be Joyce. A woman that he’d always been attracted to but could never have. Why couldn’t it have been some nameless woman? Someone he barely knew and could sever ties with quickly? Someone who wasn’t Buffy’s mother? Why did it have to be someone he’d have to see all the time and remember how it had felt to be inside her?

Desperate to escape this train of thought, Giles stood quickly, straightening the books on his desk. He was still reeling from the frantic phone call he’d received from Buffy just after her mother left, the one in which she’d told him of her wild night with Spike. Ten seconds after he hung up with Buffy the phone rang again, a shaky-voiced Willow on the other end, bewildered and sniffling over a hurried story of her own debacle with Xander.

A quickly placed call to Angel had confirmed the most unlikely union, the souled vampire with Cordelia. It seemed that everyone had suffered the effects of…well, something…last night. Damned if he knew what it was, though.

But blast it, he was going to find the answers to this mess if it killed him. If only he could make Joyce forget last night happened, maybe he could find his sanity again, too.

**************

In the pre-dawn darkness, Cordelia chanced a quick glance over to Angel as they walked quickly through one of Sunnydale’s many cemeteries on a shortcut to the high school. Their feet made barely a sound on the damp grass, plumes of mist escaping from her lips as her warm breath made contact with the cool air. She shivered in her borrowed coat, the leather feeling decadent against her skin. She inhaled, taking in the earthy scent of leather and the deeper, darker complex scent she knew instinctively was Angel himself.

Her quick glance at his face hadn’t given her much information; he was staring straight ahead as they walked, his stoic expression set in granite. The hotly passionate lover she’d discovered last night had retreated beneath familiarly closed features. But that was where the fascination was, wasn’t it? How she’d never realized his fuddy-duddy ways were merely a facade?

They exited the cemetery and as the high school came into view, Cordelia seized up in anxiety, her feet coming to a halt on the sidewalk.

Angel noticed her abrupt stop immediately and turned to face her. Apprehension was written over every tense line on her face and his features softened as he came to stand in front of her, concerned brown eyes holding hers.

He was a bulwark of strength, and Cordelia felt her tension easing just from being in such close proximity to him. Her fingers tingled as she fought an urge to reach up and place her palms on his chest and take solace in his strength.

Forcing a smile to belie her jitters, she shook her head at him. “Um, you’re in my way.”

One dark eyebrow raised in amused disbelief. “You’re the one who stopped.”

“Rock in my shoe.”

“Uh-huh,” Angel answered dryly, half a smile on his handsome face. “Wanna try again?”

Sighing, Cordelia looked away from his knowing gaze. “So I don’t have a death wish. Is that so wrong?”

Confused, Angel looked from her to the high school behind him and then back again. “Death wish?”

“Duh,” she mocked. “Pissed off slayer versus gorgeous and fabulously manicured but defenseless regular girl. I think my Celebrity Deathmatch is gonna end up with my claymation head ripped off.”

The MTV reference went way over his head, but Angel ignored it. “Buffy won’t do anything. We’re not together anymore.”

“Right.” Disbelief colored her tone. “I don’t think the ‘Property of the Slayer’ tattoo on your butt comes off that easily.”

“I have a tattoo on my butt?”

She swatted his bicep. “Angel! You’re missing the point!”

He grinned and Cordelia was suddenly devoid of air. Damn, the man was beautiful.

“Look, we couldn’t help it. And you’re taking this all really well,” Angel commented softly, surprised at her lack of hysteria. The Cordelia Chase he’d known before last night was more likely to scream than anything else. She wasn’t bait girl for nothing.

She frowned at him. “What do you expect me to do? Cry?”

“Most girls would.”

“I’m not most girls,” she countered, and the twinkle in her eye caught him off-guard. Cordelia Chase had layers. From the looks of it, lots of them. He’d misjudged her; they all had.

“No, you certainly are not,” he admitted, and the small smile that curved his mouth made his eyes melt to the color of liquid milk chocolate. Strong hands rose to cup the soft skin of her jaw, and long fingers lightly traced over it as he searched her face for answers that neither of them had.

“You—” she gasped as his fingers slid over the bite marks on her neck. “You certainly knew what you were doing last night.”

He noted her sensitivity to his mark and felt an answering possessiveness deep within. “If you mean that I know how to please a woman in bed, you’re right. But I must’ve been delusional when I chose to be in bed with you.”

Shock, then annoyance snapped Cordy’s eyes open. “Delusional? I was that bad? I mean, I know I have no experience, but I have natural talent. At everything.”

A chuckle escaped him; he couldn’t help it. “That’s not what I meant. It’s just that this creates a world of problems for us. We may not be together, but I don’t want to hurt Buffy’s feelings unnecessarily.”

She sighed resignedly. “So you admit she might go postal on me.”

“She won’t.” There was a promise of protection in his voice that made her feel warm inside.

Softening against him, she added, “And Xander’s feelings, too.”

“I thought you didn’t care what Xander thought after he and Willow—well, you know,” he finished lamely.

“I don’t care what he thinks,” she insisted, but he could see the truth in her eyes. “But he’ll be mad anyway.”

Reluctantly, Angel slid his hands from her face and sighed. He stepped back.

“You ready?”

“Let me at ’em,” she answered sarcastically, but the cool hand Angel slipped in hers went a long way to help her actually start moving again.
Part 3

Angel stared in fascination at Cordelia’s mouth as she talked animatedly to Giles. She had plump lips, something he’d always loved in women, and he knew for a fact that she knew what to do with them. Several things she could do with them, in fact.

He adjusted his position on the chair.

“…and I couldn’t seem to help myself,” Cordy finished her recount of last night’s sexcapades, not once looking at Angel.

Giles nodded, scribbling furiously on his notepad. “Any unusual visions, feelings, or smells?”

“Smells?” Confusion wrinkled her brow. “What do you mean by unusual? Like jalapeño jelly beans or something?”

Both men blinked at her odd example before Giles recovered and cleared his throat. “No, ah, I mean with the initial stirrings of, well, when you felt–”

“Go ahead, Giles, you can say it. When we became total horndogs and attacked each other.”

Angel couldn’t help the snicker that escaped him, and Cordelia shot him an incredulous look, as if she’d never heard him laugh before. Well, he supposed she hadn’t. There hadn’t been much to laugh about since he’d known her.

“I suppose that’ll do,” Giles said dryly.

“Nope, no weird smells that I remember. Or anything else. It was all kinda hazy, though.”

“And the bite mark?” Giles stood up, gesturing to the wounds on her neck with his pen, then throwing a piercing, fatherly stare over his glasses at Angel.

“Eh,” Cordy shrugged in an effort to cover her total case of the wiggins over that very topic. “Just a bite. No big, right? It’ll go away.”

Angel wondered about that even as she said it. She should’ve begun healing already. Not in a way noticeable to humans, but he’d sense it, and he didn’t in her case. The problem was, he could remember drinking from her and licking the wounds afterwards, but he couldn’t remember actually biting her.

“What were the circumstances of it?”

Cordy gave Giles her patented ‘dumbass’ look. “I thought we already covered this. Hot, sweaty sex all night long and somewhere in the middle, Angel had a snack. What’s to tell?”

“Angel didn’t say anything? Or bite you anywhere else?”

“Ah, well…” she trailed off, and Angel tensed visibly as she fidgeted.

“Okay, so he bit me someplace else. But it’s covered, so we’re all good. All the bites will heal, and things will go back to normal, and we can kick the hell out of the idiot that did this to us. Yay us!” She gave a little power cheer fist into the air, but it fell flat as her words sunk in and Angel’s suddenly hoarse voice followed.

“All the bites?” he croaked.

“How many are there?” Giles asked, eyes wide.

Cordy crossed her arms over her chest and smiled warily up at him. “Um, three?”

“I didn’t bite you three times!” Angel denied, gaping at her. “I only remember once!”

“And you remember the rest of the night so clearly,” Cordy retorted.

“I remember you pole dancing against my bedposts,” he muttered, then thought better of it when Cordy blushed furiously and shot him a murderous look.

Giles narrowed his eyes at Angel for a good minute before he turned back to Cordelia. “Where are the bites?”

She bit her lip. “That’s kinda personal, Giles. C’mon.”

He tapped his notepad. “It could be important.”

Her eyebrows shot up to her hairline. “Where Angel bit me is going to make a difference in us finding out who started it all? Yeah, right.”

Giles stared her down and finally, she huffed, “Fine. Neck. Boob. Inner, um, well, we’ll go with thigh, okay?”

A flush glowed on her face as her entire body overheated with the vague snippets of memory she had to go along with those bites. Vampire bites were supposed to be painful, right? Well, these were far from it. All she remembered was an exponential increase in pleasure as Angel drew blood from her body. The multiple penetration in itself had been mind-blowing, but Cordy distinctly remembered a feeling of incredible fulfillment in his domination of her. She glanced to her right and immediately looked away; seeing Angel’s broad shoulders only heightened the power of those memories.

Angel caught Cordelia’s heated glance and felt his body go colder than usual. Oh, God, what the hell had he done? She had absolutely no idea what the placement of those bites meant. He chanced a glance at Giles, who was writing on his notepad again. The watcher didn’t seem to have recognized the significance of it, and Angel wasn’t about to enlighten him. It was a good thing he hadn’t said the ritual words along with all that biting…he didn’t want to think about what would’ve happened then.

Angel’s chest clenched when Giles intuitively asked, “And Angel didn’t say anything when he bit you?”

Oh, damn it. He did know.

“Hmm?” Cordy came out of her daydreaming and finally looked at Giles again. “Ah, no. I don’t think so. But like I said, I don’t remember much of it. To be honest, I don’t even remember the other two bites; I just saw them in the bathroom this morning. I do remember the neck one, though. That one was–” She made eye contact with Angel and suddenly stopped, pupils dilating as the lust arced between them again at the memory.

“Very well,” Giles sighed, sitting back down in his chair and setting his notepad back on his desk. “Finish out your school day. We’ll meet here tonight at eight to start researching. I need to compile all this information I’ve gathered and I need to talk to Joyce, too.” He stood, ushering them to the door.

“Be sure to let me know if you begin to feel anything out of the ordinary, Cordelia. Side effects from last night or from the bites.”

Cordy looked at Angel before she nodded, and Giles disappeared back into his office, shutting the door behind him.

Silence settled like a thick fog around them before Angel finally dispelled it. “I’ll see you tonight?”

Nodding, Cordelia chanced a glance up at him again. What she saw in his eyes held her mesmerized; he was nervous. She could sense it.

A small smile curved her lips as she closed the distance between them and placed one hand on his arm. “It’ll be okay, Angel.”

The corners of his mouth quirked up. “Aren’t I supposed to be reassuring you?” he asked, covering her hand with his.

She shrugged and grinned. “I’m not much of a follow-the-rules girl, if you haven’t figured that out by now.”

“I’m beginning to.”

Brown eyes turned nearly black as he cupped her jaw in his hands and brushed his lips across hers in a kiss that felt like hello and goodbye all at once. Cordelia leaned into him, her breath suddenly stopping as the tingles sizzled like sparklers across her lips.

When he pulled back, her knees were weak. Gasping air she’d forgotten, she managed a tentative smile before quipping, “Must be some magic juice left from last night.”

“Must be,” he agreed, but the look in his eyes said otherwise. His fingers dropped down to her neck, one thumb skimming across the marks in a caress that made her whole body shudder.

Pulling her close one last time, Angel whispered, “Have a good day at school, Cordelia.”

When she opened her eyes again, he was gone.

*****************

Joyce Summers attacked her kitchen sink with the ferocity her daughter would’ve shown a rogue demon. Tears blurred her vision as she scrubbed the hapless porcelain, but it didn’t seem to matter that the sink was cleaner than it had been new. A sink was nowhere in her vision; instead, images from last night and this morning haunted her, and even the frenzy of housework couldn’t erase them. Rupert Giles had made love to her. Again.

It had been the most glorious experience of her entire life.

Defeated, Joyce threw the sponge into the sink and turned, slumping as she leaned one hip against the counter and sighed. He was coming for dinner tonight and she’d have to see him again, look into those hazel eyes and find some way to keep from drowning in them. The problem was, she didn’t really want to find a way to avoid him. She wanted to trick him into her bedroom upstairs, lock him in, chain him down, and keep him forever.

It was a few moments before Joyce caught her reflection in the microwave door and, horrified, wiped the dreamy smirk off her face. Her face heated as she realized she’d just taken that little fantasy on to its very satisfying conclusion. Every nerve ending she had was sparking like motion lights at Christmastime. It occurred to her that she hadn’t felt this alive since before she left Hank. Since long before she left him.

Turning to the refrigerator, she pulled out the ingredients for dessert for tonight. Her mind started to wander again as she began preparations. It wandered from her fine china to the tapered candles she had hidden in the dining room hutch drawer, then to the lavender-scented bubble bath in her bathroom and finally resting on the lingerie she’d purchased just last week for only God knows why. She hadn’t had a lover since the last time she and Giles had been affected by the strange supernatural occurrences in this odd little town, but she had to admit that his face had flashed through her mind when she’d spied the emerald green satin in the department store.

Throwing the ingredients into a mixing bowl, she turned on the oven and set it to preheat, then attacked the batter until her arm ached. Giving up, she spooned it into a baking pan and leaned back into the counter to wait for the oven. A sigh welled up and she let it escape resignedly, finally admitting to what she’d been resolutely avoiding for the past year.

She was insanely attracted to Rupert Giles. And magic had nothing to do with it.

If she were honest with herself, she’d admit that the first sparks of attraction were there during their initial meeting, but she’d squelched them at the time. When she found out what Buffy really did at night, resentment for Giles’ role in putting her daughter in danger began to creep in and swallow up that attraction. It was stubborn, though, like Bermuda grass spoiling a finely manicured lawn. No matter how hard she tried, those little zings were there every time she saw him, even when Buffy had obviously just been in harm’s way.

At least she’d viewed it negatively then. Now, she couldn’t even hide behind that facade. She glanced up at the clock. Giles wouldn’t be here for another four hours; plenty of time for dinner to stew in the slow-cooker and the cake to cool before he arrived.

As if in sync with her thoughts, the oven beeped its message that it was ready for her dessert. Just as she finished closing the door and setting the timer for baking, the back door flew open and Buffy stalked inside, head down, striding resolutely toward the front of the house.

“Buffy?” Joyce asked as her daughter was about to walk right past her.

“Mom? Oh, hi,” Buffy looked startled. It was obvious her mind was elsewhere.

Joyce was surprised to see a mixture of confusion, anger, and hurt on her daughter’s face. “What happened? Did Giles find something?”

“Hmm?” It seemed that it took a minute for Joyce’s question to sink in. “Um, no. Nothing.” Buffy’s face twisted into a pained smile. “Absolutely nothing at all. Nothing there to find.”

“What do you mean?” Joyce began to panic. If they weren’t affected by something abnormal, then that meant that she and Giles had decided of their own free will to–oh, God, no–wait–

“Not that, Mom,” Buffy soothed as she saw the growing panic on her mother’s face. “Giles is still researching. I’m just dealing with my own issues, that’s all.”

Joyce gave her a sympathetic smile. “Spike, you mean?”

Buffy sighed, leaning against the counter. “Yeah. Spike. Evil, horrible Spike.”

“Not too horrible,” Joyce pointed out, “or you wouldn’t have been with him last night.”

Buffy’s blush could’ve lit up New York. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Realizing the need for retreat, Joyce nodded. “I’m here if you want to talk about it, honey.”

“I know, Mom. Thanks.” Buffy started out of the room, then stopped, her hand resting on the door jamb as she turned back to face her mother. “I’m here for you, too, you know.”

Joyce blushed, not meeting Buffy’s eyes. “Thanks, sweetie. I know you are.”

Lingering at the doorway for just a minute more, Buffy watched her mother’s trembling hands as she fussed in the kitchen. It gave her some peace to realize she wasn’t the only one with problems this time.

*************

“So, anybody up for some midnight bowling tonight?” Xander suggested through a mouthful of pizza.

His tablemates looked at him in disbelief.

“Everything that’s going on and you want to go bowling?” Cordelia asked incredulously.

Xander shrugged. “What’s the big deal? Weird things happen to us all the time.”

Willow looked up from the salad she was rearranging on her plate and glared at him, eyes swimming with frustrated tears. “Would you just shut up, Xander?”

He blushed and looked away, grabbing his soda and gulping the rest of it down. “Just trying to get our minds off it, Wills.”

“Well, I’m glad you can forget so easily. Some of us can’t,” she whispered, and biting her lip, stood quickly, gathering her salad and walking over to the trash can across the cafeteria.

“Way to go, Xander,” Cordelia hissed, elbowing him. “Now I have to deal with mopey Willow all afternoon. Thanks a lot.”

All of Xander’s frustration morphed into anger. “Lay off, Cordy. You think I don’t know I’m being an ass? I just don’t know how to handle this. I mean, God, I slept with Willow. Willow! My best friend since birth. It’s like finding out I slept with my sister.”

“That didn’t stop you from making out with her when you were dating me,” Cordelia couldn’t help but add.

Xander flinched. “Temporary insanity.”

Cordy watched Willow navigate her way back to their table, noticing that the redhead’s eyes never left the floor. A pang of sympathy struck her before she shoved it down.

Xander squirmed next to her and Cordy noticed that his eyes kept darting over to Willow and then sliding away. The sympathy came back, and she sighed with frustration. When the hell had she become such a softie? God knew Xander and Willow didn’t deserve any of her sympathy, but here it was, rearing its ugly head.

Finally giving in, she asked, “Was it really that bad?”

“No,” Xander admitted, looking relieved to be talking about it. “Physically, it was amazing. I felt invincible, protective, and loving all at once. I remember the look in her eyes, Cordy. She got as much out of it as I did. But when it wore off…”

“You realized what it all meant,” Cordy finished for him.

“Yeah.” He crumpled his soda can in one hand. “And everything crashed on our heads.”

Willow slid onto the bench across from them, not meeting Xander’s eyes.

He stood up. “I’ll see you at the research party tonight.”

“‘Kay, bye,” Cordy said absently, noting Willow’s apathy and rolling her eyes at the concern that welled up.

Xander walked around to Willow and placed a hand on her shoulder, straddling the bench to sit beside her and meet her at eye level.

“I’m sorry, Wills,” he whispered, running two fingers down her cheek.

She nodded, still not looking at him. “Bye, Xander,” she whispered, and it seemed to Cordelia that multiple meanings echoed through the words.

After hesitating a moment, Xander left.

The sounds of the cafeteria settled around Willow and Cordelia as they sat silent. Cordelia continued to pick at her food, annoyed and guilty at the same time. She wondered how to proceed. A driving need to console Willow’s obvious depression was overtaking her, but it wasn’t like she and Willow were buddies who could hash it out slumber-party style. They were, at best, wary acquaintances.

After a moment or two of studying the remnants of her lunch, Cordy took a deep breath of frustration and gave into the inevitable. She had to admit Willow hadn’t really earned the leper status Cordy had been giving her, despite the redhead’s betrayal with Xander. Her sometimes inept social skills and her obviously poor choice in friends were other good reasons to avoid her, and yet, Cordy felt drawn by the sadness on her face. Still, it wasn’t like she could just jump right in and ask Willow to confide in her; she doubted she had her trust, and that hurt more than it should.

It startled her when Willow asked, “Why are you still here, Cordy?”

Cordelia met Willow’s eyes, still annoyed with herself. “I’m worried about you, okay? Geez, touchy, much?”

A pained look crossed Willow’s face, and Cordy immediately felt bad for adding to Willow’s current strife.

“Why would you care about me?” Willow finally asked in small voice. “You never have before.”

Crumpling up the trash from her lunch, Cordy weighed her thoughts carefully before answering. “I do care.”

Willow looked skeptical.

Toying with a ripped edge of her napkin, Cordy contemplated how far she wanted to indulge this benevolent streak. Finally, she rolled her eyes and huffed, “Look, I’m sorry I’ve been such a bitch to you for so long, okay? You’re not such a bad person, despite your boyfriend-stealing tendencies.”

Blushing and biting her lip, Willow looked away. “I am really sorry about that, Cordy.”

“I know you are,” Cordy said frankly. “That’s why I still talk to you. My only excuse is that I didn’t ever really get to know you and I misjudged you. Now I know better, and I kind of like you once in awhile, although sometimes I don’t know why.”

“I feel the same way about you,” Willow admitted, and Cordy was astonished to feel a warm swell of pleasure at the other girl’s words. It had been a long time since someone had admitted they actually liked her.

“I don’t act on it very often, I know,” she added after a pause, “but you don’t usually give me a chance. It’s not like you run to me when you have a problem. That’s what Buffy’s for.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Willow muttered caustically, then caught herself and stammered, “I-I mean, um–”

Cordelia laughed. “Don’t worry; I won’t say anything. But I’m not surprised. Buffy’s had some serious personal issues in the last year. I’m not surprised she’s forgotten how to listen to anybody else’s problems.”

“I just can’t bring anything up, you know?” Willow’s eyes shone with unshed tears. “I mean, somehow my B+ on a math test doesn’t compare with her having to send her serial killer boyfriend to hell.” She shrugged. “I just got out of the habit. And now…”

“Now she has problems with Spike, so it’s not like she’s gonna be objective.”

Willow’s shoulders rose in a sigh. “Yeah.”

“So tell me about it,” Cordelia encouraged, and the words sounded genuine to even herself. Maybe she actually did like Willow. Weird.

Wariness crinkled Willow’s brow. “Are you serious?”

Cordy pfft’d and rolled her eyes. “Duh, wouldn’t have said it if I wasn’t.” She paused before continuing. “You know, I don’t really have anybody to talk to, either. It’s not like Harmony is going to be sympathetic or objective.”

The redhead’s smile was genuine, albeit tentative. “I guess you’re right. Maybe we need each other?”

A shrug lifted Cordelia’s shoulders, but she felt strangely vulnerable; Willow’s friendship seemed to mean more than she ever thought it would. “I guess we do,” she admitted, and in a moment of decisiveness, threw her reservations to the wind. “So, spill. Why is this bothering you so much? Xander is so close to you. I’d think you’d be glad you didn’t make it with a stranger.”

Willow’s eyes widened. “I guess I hadn’t considered that. But it’s Xander! it’s so weird. Like sleeping with my brother.”

Cordy smiled. “Huh. That’s just what he said.”

“Xander didn’t like it?” Willow said quickly, her eyes wide. “Wait–I didn’t mean–”

“No, he liked it all right,” Cordelia said, grimacing a bit at the thought of Xander and Willow together. “He just said that it’s the repercussions that are wigging him out.”

Shoulders slumping in defeat, Willow rested her elbows on the edge of the table and rubbed her temples with her fingers. “What if we can’t get past this? What if I’ve lost my best friend forever?”

“You won’t lose him,” Cordy said matter-of-factly. “Xander loves you, even if he’s not in love with you. He’s already proven he’ll put you before anything else. You’ll get past it.”

“You think so?” Willow’s gaze was hopeful.

“I know so.” Bitterness rose up, a last tribute to her loss of Xander’s love. Ruthlessly she shoved it away. She’d moved past this. Of course now she had this debacle with Angel to deal with. To Willow she added, “Count yourself lucky.”

Willow eyed her perceptively. “So you and Angel, huh? I never would’ve guessed that.”

“You and me both,” Cordelia muttered, twisting the straw in her soda a little more viciously than was necessary. “I can’t stop thinking about him, and I can’t have him.”

“Why not?”

It was a simple question, but it stunned Cordelia anyway. “Why not? He’s a vampire!” The “Duh!” was implied, but Willow ignored it.

“So?” Willow shrugged. “He’s got a soul.”

Cordelia gaped at her. “I can’t believe this. When Buffy dated him you weren’t down with the vampire love.”

Willow had to think about that one for a moment. “I thought they were good together at first,” she finally answered. “I mean, Angel’s kinda cute and Buffy really loved him. But then he went sorta nuts with the whole Angelus thing and I realized after he got his soul back that they weren’t right for each other. They’re too much alike; they have too many emotional issues. I think Angel needs someone more like you.”

Warily, Cordelia asked, “What do you mean, someone like me?”

“Someone who will lighten him up and give him some perspective.”

“You mean someone who will yell at him.”

“And make him laugh,” Willow added, eyes twinkling. “I never realized it until you started dating Xander, but you’re funny.”

“Robin Williams funny or Richard Simmons funny?”

“Case in point,” Willow giggled, and Cordy found herself smiling, too.

“So what’s with the Angel parade all the sudden?” Cordy asked. “Last month you were still glaring at him for killing your fish.”

“I liked my fish,” Willow shrugged. “But there’s something vulnerable about Angel. I don’t know. Even though he was so evil as Angelus, Angel doesn’t deserve to pay for all that. He can’t help it.”

Cordelia gave her a wide-eyed stare. “Don’t let Giles hear you say that.”

Willow’s smile was wry. “I know. Or Buffy, for that matter. As much as she thinks she loves Angel, she can’t get past it.”

“Neither can I,” Cordy muttered.

Willow scrutinized her expression. “You don’t mean it in the same way, do you?”

“Huh?” Wide-eyed, gaze darting around the room, Cordy forced a smile and hedged, “Yeah, sure I do. Angel. Vampire. Bad. Remember?”

“Uh-uh,” Willow shook her head. “Not gonna work, Cordy. What do you mean?”

Sighing, Cordy rested her chin on her hand and frowned. Did she really want to share this much with Willow, of all people? After a moment of consideration, she decided she did. Willow was loyal and a good listener, even if those traits had never been directed in Cordy’s direction. Besides, Willow was the only person she knew, besides Buffy, who could really understand what it meant to have a boyfriend who had a supernatural dark side.

She finally met Willow’s eyes again. “The darkness draws me,” she admitted, feeling incredibly vulnerable. “I mean, he bit me. I should be freaked out. And I was, at first. But then I remembered what it was like when he did it, and I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Willow’s voice dropped to a whisper, an awed but intrigued look on her face. “It didn’t hurt?”

“Heck no,” Cordy whispered back, flushing. “It was hot. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Just thinking about it makes me…”

“Shivery?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Willow gulped, mesmerized by the spell that seemed to be cast around Cordelia. “Is that all? Just the biting?”

Frowning, Cordelia considered her answer. “No. I have this odd awareness of him. Like earlier, I could just sense that he was nervous, when if you looked at his face, you couldn’t really tell. It was weird.”

“Like you’re on the same wavelength.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Wow,” Willow sighed, a dreamy look on her face. “That’s kinda romantic.”

“Yeah, if you’re a masochist with a mind control fetish on the side.”

Willow snorted a giggle, then covered her mouth in embarrassment. “It is romantic. And it doesn’t really sound that bad. Kinda hot, actually.”

A raised eyebrow preceded Cordy’s reply. “I didn’t realize until just now that your fuzzy pink sweaters are completely misleading. You’re hiding a kinky side, aren’t you?”

Willow shrugged evasively, but her blush said everything. “I think you should see where this thing with Angel goes.”

“Why’s that?”

“Cause it looks like in your case, bad vampire could be really, really good.”

Cordy smirked, then sobered abruptly. “Maybe. But whatever it goes, getting there scares the hell out of me.”

*************

The clear, crisp winter night was beautiful with its velvet-blue sky and glittering diamond-like stars, but Spike didn’t notice. One earth-bound diamond kept catching his attention as she walked by his side, blonde hair swinging in a rhythm that was hypnotizing. He couldn’t help but keep a half a pace behind her so that even in his peripheral vision, he could see her face clearly. Then again, he wasn’t trying very hard to hide his staring; he wanted her to notice. Wanted her to get mad and yell at him for being a pig. Wanted her to show something. Anything.

Anything but this cold demeanor that made him feel as alive as one of the tombstones they were passing.

Thoughtfully, he turned his head and stared at her openly, feeling a measure of satisfaction when her jaw twitched and her eyes flickered over to him. He watched as her hand clenched a stake tighter and her stride lengthened. He let himself fall behind, taking a place directly behind her and watching the sculpted muscles in her legs and butt flex as she walked.

It only took five or six strides for Buffy to realize what he was doing.

“Will you back off?” she growled, whipping around and brandishing the stake in his face as he jerked to a stop behind her.

“‘m not doin’ anything,” he growled back, closing the space between them and letting the point of her stake rest firmly against his chest. “Just enjoyin’ the view…” her eyes flashed, “…of such a beautiful night.”

Buffy’s eyebrow raised as she pulled back, crossing her arms in front of her. “View of the night? Is that all?”

His eyes flickered down to her lips, then her breasts, before he met her eyes again and smirked. “Yep, that’s all.”

She snorted indelicately. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

“Having tea, Slayer. What the hell does it look like I’m doing?”

It seemed as if Buffy was at a crossroads; she pursed her lips in indecision before finally answering, “Looks like you’re looking to get lucky.”

Spike’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Well, color me shocked. Can it be possible that the Slayer is actually saying what she thinks for once instead of hinting around like a schoolgirl playing games?”

Rolling her eyes in irritation, Buffy whirled around and stalked away. “I knew this was a mistake.”

In seconds, Spike was at her side again. “What was?” Spike knew he was setting himself up for disappointment, but he couldn’t help himself.

“Letting you live,” she muttered, dodging a tombstone in her path. “I should’ve staked you the second I realized what I’d–we’d–you’d done to me.”

A menacing growl escaped Spike before he could stop it. How dare she lay all the blame at his feet? He reached out and yanked her to a stop, his fingers digging into the hard muscle of her bicep.

“You just hold on a minute, Slayer. Don’t think you didn’t have a hand–or several other body parts–in this, too.”

She jerked her arm away from him, but despite the fury of the gesture, Spike could see tears shining in her angry eyes. “You think I don’t know that? God, I must be mental. Why, of all people…no, wait. Why, of all demons, would I choose you?” She spat the word as if it befouled her mouth to form it.

Curiosity at her vulnerability kept him from reacting with anger. “Why did I choose you?” he countered. “You’re wrong for me for all the same reasons. Still, I’m man enough to admit that you’re by far the best I’ve ever had.”

Buffy’s mouth dropped open in shock. “What? Not even Dru–” she clamped her mouth shut as she realized what she’d been about to say.

Spike’s smile was gentle rather than derisive. “Not even Dru,” he agreed, taking her arm again, but this time with tenderness rather than violence. His fingers stroked her skin, sending tingles snaking up her arm. “No one in my entire life and unlife has affected me the way you did, Buffy.”

She bit her lip, again in indecision. “It was the same for me,” she admitted.

Spike could feel the wall of ice melt between them. “Do you remember how it happened?” his voice was husky, like fine sandpaper, and Buffy shivered in remembrance as it all flooded back.

“We were patrolling,” she began, and their eyes met and held.

“Like we are now,” Spike added. He closed the distance between them, sliding his arms around her waist.

Buffy swallowed convulsively. “It was like I was taken over by everything primitive in me, no common sense at all. Like you were everything.”

“Like you were the only one in the world who mattered.”

“Yeah,” she sighed, eyes closing, biting her lip. “And I didn’t care about anything except–”

“–being with you,” they said together.

She opened her eyes and her gaze caught his, and something elemental passed between them. They were under no delusions; there was no love here. Still, the undercurrent of desire and the memories of last night were strong, and it ceased to matter whether love or the future was important. There was something between them too strong to deny, a chemistry that only came along once in a millennium. It was an opportunity that neither of them–despite their animosity, their warring personalities, or their incompatible moral codes–could ignore.

Breath hitching, Buffy ran one finger down Spike’s chest. “You know this means nothing,” she whispered, eyes full of an emotion that both of them felt but neither could describe.

“I know,” he whispered back. “It means everything.”

Against all within her that screamed for her to flee, the smoothness of his cheek drew her in, her hand coming up to stroke it gently. She nearly whimpered at the sensation on her fingertips, a myriad of memories assaulting her from the night before.

The gentle movement was the spark to Spike’s smoldering flame. He ignited, his arms tightening around her in a powerful grip, palms splayed across her back as his mouth assaulted hers in a kiss that was fierce in its intensity. It took only a moment for her to wrap one arm around his neck, her fingers splaying in his hair, the other arm snaking around his waist, her hand grabbing his ass and squeezing firmly. Spike moaned into her mouth and she molded her body to his.

After that, everything became a sea of sensation as they reveled in the ferocity of their unique brand of lovemaking, took pleasure in giving and taking while holding nothing back. It didn’t matter that they had nothing in common, everything in opposition, and absolutely no future. For now, the euphoria of physical pleasure was all that mattered.

**********

Angel felt frozen where he stood in the shadows of the cemetery and watched Buffy reach up and touch Spike’s cheek. Longing was etched on her face despite the confusion in her eyes, and it seemed as if she were drawn by some kind of magnetism into Spike’s body. Angel only blinked, incapable of tearing his eyes away.

He’d been outside in the night air as soon as it dusk had fallen, unable to take being cooped up in the mansion with Cordelia’s scent still redolent in the air, taunting and teasing him in turns. The minute his senses gave him clearance to be outdoors, he’d abandoned his home, prowling the back streets and cemeteries in search of a fight or two to mitigate some of the confusion he was feeling about his emotions toward Cordelia.

Seeing Spike and Buffy intertwined in such an intimate embrace only heightened his confusion.

Shouldn’t he feel at least some pangs of jealousy at the sight of them? He felt barely a tinge of dismay. It would be natural for him to be filled with rage at the thought of Spike claiming what was rightfully his, but the idea wasn’t unappealing. Angel felt as though he’d become a detached observer, clinically studying the pros and cons of a Buffy-Spike relationship and deciding that it might not be all bad. They might even be good for each other.

It should be an appalling thought, but it wasn’t.

When the display in front of him became undeniably carnal, Angel knew he should turn away, but he couldn’t. Angelus had had a penchant for voyeurism, and despite his soul, Angel still felt that pull. What kept him interested tonight, however, was not a perverse pleasure in seeing Buffy and Spike in flagrante delicto. What kept him here were the substitutions his imagination was making. Blonde hair was replaced by brown, slight curves substituted with lush ones. The male’s body became brawnier, the female’s more lush, and no longer did he see Buffy and Spike.

He saw himself and Cordelia.

Angel’s eyes slid shut, the image of their writhing bodies imprinted on his mind, and he leaned back against a tree for support. His fingers clenched into fists, his breathing ragged. He felt frantic, needy, desperate for the feel of Cordy’s velvety skin under his fingers. His clothes felt restrictive, confining, a poor substitute for the blanket of her body against his. He drew a deep breath to steady himself, but every molecule of air seemed saturated with her scent, and he groaned, his body and soul jerked painfully in needy unison.

“Angel?”

It took only a microsecond for Cordelia’s actual presence to register before his eyes shot open and he grabbed her, clamping a hand over her mouth and shushing her. She put up a token struggle before relaxing against him. He felt rather than saw her noticing the explicit display a few feet away. Angel stifled a groan as he felt her body crushed against his, and it was all he could do to tamp down the lust that was so close to spiraling out of control.

Cordy craned her neck around to gape at him with wide eyes and he removed his hand from her mouth.

“Why–oh, God. Do I really want to ask you this question?” she whispered furiously, eyes darting back and forth between him and Buffy and Spike, as if she watched them against her will. “Why are you spying on them?”

Tightening his arms around her, he pressed his chest against her back and spoke low in her ear. “I wasn’t,” Angel tried to explain. “I was minding my own business, walking through the cemetery, and suddenly there they were. And before I knew it, they were making out, and then…”

“Then a freeview of skinimax?” She whispered back and felt him nod in assent, his lips resting against her neck. She shivered.

Cordelia was shocked, bewildered, and aroused all at once. It was a double assault: the Buffy and Spike action at her front, Angel’s solid, sexy body at her back. One sane part of her mind was frantically yelling for her to come to her senses and run, screaming, in the opposite direction. It was also telling her that Angel’s voyeurism was disturbing. But that sane part of her brain must have been hidden behind some type of barrier because it was incredibly easy to shut out. To ignore it and to focus only on the carnality of what was happening in front of her and the solid, virile strength at her back.

Angel could sense the struggle within her, the pull toward the carnal that already held him in thrall. He tightened his grip around her, palms splaying wide across her flat stomach, thumbs resting just under her breasts, teasing the bottoms of their curves. Her hair teased his skin, and he couldn’t resist the need to taste her, flick his tongue across the feather-soft skin of her neck, and drink in the scent of arousal that floated around her and increased with every passing second.

Cordy stood frozen for a few moments, mesmerized by the frantic nature of the slayer and vampire coupling and the added layer of Angel’s lazy nibbles on her skin. Then the foreplay was over, Buffy and Spike’s clothes were gone, and the writhing bodies met in a fury that was suddenly too much to take. She turned in Angel’s arms and buried her face in his chest, desperate for some escape, even if it meant going from the frying pan into the fire.

Angel licked his marks once and at her shiver, hugged her, then pulled her out of view. He looked down at her, felt her warm body pressed against his, her racing heartbeat, her rapid breathing, and it became too much.

“Cordelia,” he whispered, and tilted her chin up before crushing his mouth to hers.

It was a kiss born of fire and wickedness.

Cordy’s head was swimming so fast she felt as though she’d been sucked into a vortex with no chance to escape. Angel’s mouth was everything her mama should’ve warned her about, but didn’t: hot, desperate, and sinful. His tongue delved into her mouth as his big hands cupped her backside and pulled her so close she could feel every hard inch of his body pressing up against hers. His voraciousness only served as an accelerant to the fire that had been stoked in her since she’d woken up in his bed this morning, and her fingers clutched desperately at his shirt. For a moment, they became not Cordelia and Angel, vampire and regular girl, but one pulsing, volatile entity.

Angel felt his inhibitions shatter as the enigma that was Cordelia took him over. He couldn’t kiss enough, feel enough, taste enough, grab enough to even take the edge off his hunger. Every movement made the urgency increase, and it was that very loss of control that scared him into pulling away.

With great care, Angel stepped back and let his hands drop from where they’d come to rest on her sides. Cordy wobbled a bit, wide-eyed and weak-kneed, her breathing harsh and ragged. Their eyes were still locked, and for a moment, the kiss continued if only in their imaginations.

“Oh, God. Slayer!”

Spike’s triumphant, climactic yell echoed through the cemetery, and Cordy’s mouth went dry at the sound of pure pleasure those three words seemed to encompass. Immediately following was a long wail and a groan from Buffy, and then all was silent. Cordy swallowed and looked away. Angel moved closer and she took a tentative step back, but all Angel did was gently grasp her hand and lead her out of the cemetery and down the street toward the high school.

There was still research to be done, after all.
Part 4

The slow cooker’s lid rattled as steam created pressure and tried to escape from inside. Homey aromas of roast beef and herbed potatoes permeated the air, and Joyce’s chocolate cake sat frosted and decadent on a crystal platter.

She’d given into temptation and had set the dining room table with a simple white linen tablecloth and silver candleholders, but she’d managed to stifle the urge to break out the good china and silver; every day dishes and flatware would suffice. Joyce knew her eyes showed her hunger for him well enough, so she didn’t need to throw a bad June Cleaver impression in the mix. That was a level of desperation on par with placing a personal ad on the bulletin board at the local Clip’n’Curl. She hadn’t crawled into that pit yet.

Buffy was out on patrol, and as Joyce made her way up the stairs to put the finishing touches on her make-up, she wondered if she should be happy about that or nervous. Having Buffy there would provide a buffer between her and Rupert, but it would also keep them from really talking about what had happened to them. But did she really want to talk about it? Or just sweep it under the rug and forget all about it?

Stopping in front of her dresser mirror, Joyce eyed her ensemble critically. She’d gone classic chic: chocolate brown slacks and a soft green sweater set that made her skin and eyes seem radiant. It was cashmere and clung to her curves, but the cut was conservative. Well, nearly conservative, she conceded as she noticed the hint of cleavage she displayed at the V-neckline. Nature hadn’t blessed her with a voluptuous figure, but Wonderbras weren’t just for co-eds.

Picking up a compact, she began to powder the bit of shine on her nose and cheeks. Her eyes sought the clock and widened when she realized he’d be here any minute. Rupert Giles, her lover, would be here for dinner. In the house alone with her. For hours.

The compact clattered to her dresser top as Joyce leaned on it for support. She searched her eyes in her reflection and noticed the flush in her cheeks with some chagrin. She was a mature woman, a divorcee with a grown daughter and a successful career. So why did she feel like a thirteen-year-old with a crush? It didn’t make sense.

A curt knock at the front door prevented her from pondering her situation any further. Forcing herself not to race down the stairs, Joyce sedately walked to the front door and pulled it open, her eyes finding Giles’s immediately. She relaxed just a fraction when she noted the nervousness that clouded his eyes.

“Hello, Joyce,” he said as he walked in, and her knees turned to Jell-o.

Joyce closed the door behind him and leaned against it for support. Giles had turned to face her, and when their eyes met, it was everything she’d ever read about in bodice-ripping romance novels but never experienced in real life. Standing with his feet slightly apart, hands planted in his pockets, Giles looked every inch the confident alpha male and it made Joyce’s heart rate bump up a notch or ten. She watched in fascination as his eyes bored into hers, darkening as he saw her blushing response and a smirk upturned the corners of his mouth. Her eyes dropped there, and she swallowed nervously.

Joyce stood trembling against the door as Giles let his eyes roam down her figure, his gaze lingering at each curve and hollow as if he were memorizing the map of her body for a tactile navigation later. When their eyes met again, Giles’s practically smoldered.

Suddenly desperate to escape, she hurried away toward the kitchen. “Dinner’s ready,” she informed him over her shoulder, leaving him staring after her.

Giles watched her leave with something akin to awe. He’d been unaccountably anxious as he’d walked up the front steps, standing in front of the door for five minutes just gaining the courage to knock. But the moment she’d opened the door and he’d greeted her, all his nervous energy had morphed into lust. One look at her had reduced him to pure hormonal responses. And Giles was a practical man; this wasn’t something he was used to.

Following her into the kitchen, he watched her finish dinner as he leaned nonchalantly against the door jamb. His eyes roamed her body freely, and the clothing she wore was driving him insane. It was conservative, but that only heightened his response; he knew what treasures lay underneath. He also knew that his open ogling in the foyer a few minutes earlier had flustered her, but even though he knew he should be appalled at his behavior, he was more amused by her response than anything else.

“You can have a seat at the table,” she informed him without meeting his eyes, and began gathering up bowls and platters to transfer to the dining room.

He moved to her side and grasped the bowl in her hand, their fingers brushing. “I can take that.”

“Thanks,” she whispered, curling her fingers in as if keeping his touch with her.

Minutes later, they were settled, he at the head of the table and she just to his right. They ate, though neither of them were very hungry. Dinner was quiet, punctuated occasionally by mundane questions or topics that both of them felt safe discussing.

It wasn’t until Joyce was cutting the chocolate cake that Giles shattered the mirage they’d so carefully crafted around themselves.

“We need to talk about last night, Joyce.”

The way he said it, so quietly and confidently, made Joyce drop the knife to the table with a soft thud. Her hands trembled, so she clenched them into fists and dropped them into her lap.

“Why?” she finally asked, not meeting his eyes. “We were both there. What’s to talk about?”

Giles leaned across the table and grasped her upper arm in one warm hand. “Joyce, look at me.”

She did, reluctantly, and her breath caught at the tenderness in his gaze. “This is important.”

Sighing, she relaxed and nodded. “I know,” she admitted.

Giles pulled back, and reaching into his pocket, pulled out a notepad. “I need to know exactly what you remember so I can have a complete picture before our research begins.”

Her mind went blank. “Research?”

“Yes.”

All warmth she’d felt under his tender gaze vanished. The muscles in her jaw began to tense, and she had to breathe deeply before continuing.

“That’s why you’re here? Because you want to find out what made this happen?”

Giles looked confused at her questions, but that only made her anger grow.

He eyed her askance, then said a bit patronizingly, “Well, yes, I need to know what you were feeling, what you remember, so we can pinpoint the–”

“Yes, I understand,” she snapped, eyes flashing as she stood and began gathering dishes noisily.

Giles watched her, noting her grim expression and the way she stacked plates like they were weapons she planned to hurl at him. What could possibly be the reason for this petulance?

“Wait, what did I say?”

She stopped, setting the last bowl on the top of her stack with a clatter, then turned to him with an arched eyebrow and said, “Nothing, Rupert. Absolutely nothing.”

He shook his head in confusion. “Then can the dishes wait? I’d like to ask you–”

“No, they can’t wait!” she interrupted him again. “Five minutes, Rupert, and I’ll be back and you can ask whatever damn questions you want.”

His mouth dropped open as she grabbed the stack of dishes and marched into the kitchen. She was obviously upset, but why? She knew he was coming over here to talk about what had happened. He went over their conversation, trying to determine where he’d gone wrong. Three times through it, and he still hadn’t figured it out. She must still be experiencing an increase in hormonal activity from last night; there was no other explanation.

In the kitchen, Joyce resisted the urge to scream and throw the entire stack of plates on the floor just for the satisfaction of hearing them shatter. Rupert Giles was an idiot. Here she had done everything she could to make this crazy situation more comfortable to the both of them, the atmosphere more conducive to talking about the ramifications of last night to their relationship, about their feelings over what happened and what they should do about it all, and the man wanted to take notes. To research. To ask her clinical and embarrassing questions about her physical reactions to him last night, made under the influence of god-knows-what.

As if what happened between them meant nothing.

Tears stung her eyes. He’d openly flirted with her at the front door! She hadn’t mistaken the sexual heat in his eyes. So what was this to him? Some fling to write down in his precious watchers’ journals for hundreds of stuffy old men in the future to laugh at and commiserate over? Because it certainly didn’t seem to be to him the life-changing experience it was to her.

Fine. Two could play this game. She could be just as cold and clinical as he was being. She could sweep this under the rug, too, and pretend that nothing happened.

A few moments later she walked back into the dining room and sat primly in the chair across from him, meeting his eyes with an expression that could freeze the Amazon.

Giles felt her anger bite into him like a blizzard’s wind. His confusion heightened, and he reached across the table to take her hand in his, but she nonchalantly slid it off the table and into her lap before he could reach her.

With measured movements, she took the knife again and began cutting the dessert with quick, precise movements.

“Cake?” She asked, gesturing to him with the knife, and Giles swallowed nervously as he watched her wield the frosting-covered weapon.

“Sounds delicious,” he murmured, and accepted the dessert with no small amount of trepidation.

When they’d both had a bite of the rich dessert, Joyce turned to him and lifted her chin in a gesture that could only be defiant. “You had some questions for me?”

“I did,” Giles admitted, “but maybe we could talk about it later.”

She shrugged. “It must be important, or you wouldn’t have brought it up. I know that every time I sleep with someone I need a good debriefing afterwards. It’s important to catalogue everything. For efficiency, of course.”

The sarcasm was unmistakable, but it made Giles smile.

Her eyes narrowed at his expression. “You find something funny in this?” she said in barely controlled tone. “Because, please, share.”

Giles shook his head and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. God knew that would only make things worse. “I didn’t mean to offend you, Joyce. It’s just that this entire situation smacks of the ridiculous.”

She stiffened, but he continued. “To think that I’d dreamt of being with you again so often that it nearly felt like reality, but it took another supernatural force to actually make it happen.”

Giles’ softly stated admission made Joyce’s heart flutter, and a small smile broke her stern countenance. “I thought I was going to die of mortification after that candy incident.”

Giles smiled back and this time when he took her hand, she didn’t pull away. “Did you ever think about it? What it was like between us?”

Joyce’s eyes widened and she nodded, her mouth dry. “I dreamed about us,” she admitted in a whisper. “Being together again.”

“Me, too.” The deep timbre of his admission gave her goose bumps.

“And now?” She asked, her eyes tearing. “What do we do now, Rupert?”

He swept an errant lock of hair from her brow and cupped her face in his hand. “We figure out why this happened, and then we determine how to proceed.”

“But does it matter how it happened?”

He shrugged. “I suppose not, in a way. But I’d still like to know.”

She let that go without answering.

“There’s one thing I know for certain, though,” Giles added after a charged moment of silence.

“What?”

“My dreams will ever be enough again.”

*************

A gently curving driveway circled in front of Cordelia’s house, alight with a golden glow cast by understatedly elegant light fixtures. Wealth exuded from every hand-hewn stone, mullioned window, and carefully manicured bush. The cobblestone drive was the same in name only as those Angel had walked in his youth; the stones were too smooth, too strategically placed, too aesthetically pleasing to be authentic. Towering, verdant trees hid the sprawling home from curious passers-by, but the gate he’d walked through had been unlocked. It seemed that the Chases were keeping up appearances. After all, there was virtually no crime in Sunnydale, save the vampire contingent, and locks were useless against them.

It was with no small amount of trepidation that Angel climbed the front steps and knocked succinctly at the front door. His mind had been filled with nothing but her since they’d left each other mere hours before, and while he ached for her return to his arms, he was also very wary of what this obsession seemed to be doing to them. It was as if each time they kissed–no, touched–their reservations disappeared, the connection and longing deepened, and what was left was a lasting passion too strong to ignore. His concerns never truly vanished, even in the heights of need; it was just that the intensity of his passion superseded them until they became moot.

That intensity scared him to the very marrow of his bones.

Several minutes passed before Angel realized that his knock, and subsequent doorbell ringing, had gone unanswered. Listening closely, he took in the familiar sounds of the night, and just as concern began to edge into his concentration, he heard a distinct splash, then smaller water-related noises. The scent of chlorine was faint in the night air, and he smiled as he realized that she’d gone for a swim. Now this would be interesting.

Cordelia in a bathing suit. His mind could barely contain the prospect.

It took seconds for him to locate the pool, nestled in a gated area to the side of the house, abundant flowering vines covering a cedar fence completely obscuring it from view. Silently, he opened the gate and slipped in, melting into the shadows, his eyes immediately searching out the graceful form moving through the water with deep, sure strokes.

She was mesmerizing.

Glistening golden skin covered gently rounded shoulders and perfectly formed arms that appeared, then disappeared, as her body undulated through the water. Her face, half hidden from his view, was a study of concentration, and when she stopped at the shallow end and waded toward the stairs, he saw her smile wistfully.

Like a siren surfacing from the deep, she slowly rose out of the water one glorious step at a time, head tilted back, long hair heavy with moisture, rivulets of water coursing down, around, and through every delectable hill and valley in her exquisite body. Dewy drops beaded on her tanned skin, darkened by the night, and glittered like sapphires in the silvery moonlight. One droplet clung to the curve of her breast, suspended in time for a mere second, and his whole world stopped as he waited for it to fall.

He swallowed convulsively when it did.

Her hands rose, elbows out, spine arching and breasts thrust toward him as she twisted her hair, wringing the moisture out in one long pull that strained her sculpted arms and twisted Angel’s insides into a maelstrom of nearly unmanageable longing. She twisted the hair, pulling it over her shoulder, then hissing and switching it to the other shoulder as it brushed over the bite marks on her neck.

The reminder made Angel’s passion turn to dust.

It was undeniable that those marks had been born in the most intense pleasure imaginable, but they were proving to be a thorn in his side. With each passing hour, his fears mounted. They weren’t getting any less sensitive. And more troubling, they weren’t healing.

He growled in frustration, and Cordelia jumped, eyes watchful, as she quickly grabbed her towel and backed away from him toward the house.

“It’s me,” Angel said simply, stepping into the moonlight. He was relieved to see her relax.

“Geez, Angel! You have to quit scaring me like that. One of these days you’re going to scare me to death.”

He smiled slightly at her warning. “Not gonna happen.”

“No?”

“No. Besides, I’d just turn you, and then you’d be all better.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Hmm, I don’t think the homicidal, soulless version of me would be very pretty.”

He closed the distance between them, raising a hand to cup her cheek, swiping at the water droplets there. “Any version of you would be breathtaking,” he whispered, and Cordelia’s eyes slid shut.

After a moment of charged silence, Cordy slid away from him and grabbed a terrycloth robe on the chaise nearby. “Why’d you stop by?”

“I thought you might want to go to the school together.”

“Sure,” she replied nonchalantly. “Just let me change clothes.”

He swallowed as he watched the motion of her hips as she walked away.

This was going to be a long night.

***************

“So what exactly are we looking for?” Xander asked, eyeing the head-high pile on the library table with wariness.

Giles peered down at his notes. “The symptoms all seemed about the same. Initial lightheadedness, a touch of nausea for a moment or two, then an overwhelming lethargy accompanied by a powerful wave of lust. After that, no one remembers anything clearly. We all, however, remember waking up with tremendous headaches and body aches.”

“Hell of a hangover, that was,” Spike muttered, glancing over at Buffy with a smarmy grin. She squirmed and looked away.

“I think we should divvy up the piles,” Giles suggested. “We should be looking for references to anything we’ve come in contact with in the last two months that may cause any or all of the symptoms I’ve listed here.” He pointed to a whiteboard nearby where he’d painstakingly documented everything for the group’s reference. “I’ve also made a list of all the supernatural beings, places, or objects we’ve encountered in that same time frame.”

Cordy squinted at the board. “Is that in English? ‘Cause it looks like Sanskrit to me.”

“Yes,” Giles answered wryly, and Cordy shrugged as if it didn’t really matter anyway.

“Fine,” she sighed, sinking languidly into a nearby chair. “Point me toward the prettiest one.”

Willow raised an eyebrow. “What does beauty have to do with research?”

Cordy smirked and lifted a colorfully-decorated tome on the stack in front of her. “Beauty has to do with everything,” she said solemnly as if it were sage advice. “And besides, if the pictures are pretty, at least I won’t fall asleep.”

A wry smile and shake of her head was Willow’s only answer.

There was a momentary lull in movement as everyone took in the seating arrangement and then readjusted their positions to their greatest advantage. Giles looked on in amusement as he saw the group shuffle once, then twice, and finally again before everyone seemed settled. It seemed that Buffy didn’t want to sit next to Spike, Spike didn’t want to sit next to Xander or Angel, and Willow kept inching away from Xander while he kept trying to close the gap.

Cordy pretended not to notice how closely Angel had slid his chair to hers, but it became impossible and her concentration waned. His leather-clad arm would brush against her periodically as he perused the pages of the demonology book he’d selected. Cautious but deliberate adjustments to his posture would bring his shoulders in closer to her, or his foot nearer to hers, and every movement startled and distracted her. It became a pretense to merely flip the pages at an excruciatingly slow rate, to slide her eyes over the book, over to Angel, and back again, never really noticing the words on the page.

Angel knew he was flustering her, but he couldn’t help it. Every time he got in close proximity to her, her scent would engulf him, the image of her stepping out of the pool would swim in his vision, and subsequently he couldn’t think of anything save ravishing her again. He nearly grunted at his use of such a corny term–ravishing–but it was the only one that described what he wanted to do to her. Last night had merely been a prologue, a teaser, a simple hors d’ouvre to tempt his palate for the lavish banquet he’d planned for later. When, later, he wasn’t sure, but he did know one thing: tasting her had only whetted his appetite for more.

Even now, his mouth salivated at the thought of sampling her again. Tonight in the cemetery had been not nearly enough. The intensity disturbed him, certainly, but not enough to tamp down the voracity that raged deep within.

Across the table, Spike haphazardly surveyed the pages of the book in front of him while casting surreptitious glances over at Buffy. It was his usual modus operandi at the few research sessions he’d attended, and it still amazed him that they’d slowly but surely begun to acknowledge his usefulness. No one liked it, he knew, especially Giles and Angel, but he was viewed as kind of a necessary evil. True, he’d never risen above much more than a paid informant, and an unappreciated one at that, but acknowledging his worth as something other than an arch nemesis had been a step up.

He’d been particularly useful about a month and a half ago when they’d needed his connections to infiltrate a vampire cult, and since then, he’d been reluctantly called on for information or muscle. He’d had his hand in just about every problem they’d encountered in that time, and it was probably the reason he’d ended up in bed with Buffy, now that he considered it. If he hadn’t helped them out, he’d probably have moved on by now, in search of something that would fill the ache Dru had left, the unfaithful bitch.

He’d even taken to leaving his victims alive, albeit weakened, and occasionally, he bagged it. In his defense, Giles had refused to pay him until he conceded, and he’d needed the blunt. Still, some unnamed emotion had emerged at their acceptance of him after making that one concession, and he’d been strangely reluctant to return to the old days. It was nice to be needed again.

Not that he’d ever admit that at the point of a stake.

Now, his eyes skimmed over Buffy in a light caress as she sat turned away from him, her posture stiff. He felt a twinge of regret at his inability to resist her. Their impromptu loving earlier that night had been incredible, but it had left a bit of an ache in Spike’s heart, something he’d rarely experienced since dying and rising as a vampire. They’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms afterward, the cool, damp darkness cocooned around them, and he’d been lulled into a sense of rightness, of belonging that he’d not felt in a century or more, maybe ever.

When she awoke, the feeling splintered into nothingness.

Her wide-eyed gaze after the fog of lust had cleared, after the afterglow had faded, had ripped his heart in two; her regret had been palpable. Almost more disturbing was the silent way in which she’d gathered her strewn clothing, her glistening eyes straying to his more than once as he did the same, and the tentative way she’d nearly reached for him once before darting off, a smothered sob echoing in the night, had wrenched him more than any vitriolic words might have done. He’d expected her anger, even girded himself for it when he’d awoken first, but he hadn’t expected the silence, the mantle of self-loathing she’d placed on herself.

His guilt was going to make him an arse. Either that or a ponce, he didn’t know which. Neither option was acceptable.

A startled movement and a gasp made everyone’s concentration break.

“I think I’ve found something,” Willow said, her lips pursed in concentration. “There’s a monastery near here that we visited two weeks ago. We went to get that medallion for the Charuk demon spell, remember, Giles?”

The older man nodded, coming to peer over her shoulder in interest. “The ruins of the Monasterio de San Tomas,” he confirmed.

“It says here that the monastery was cursed by a witch who had fallen in love with one of the monks. They’d been lovers in their youth, and after an argument, he impulsively took the monastic vows which separated them forever. In her anger, she cursed everyone of the monks to a life of–ewww!”

“What?” Xander peered over, suddenly interested.

Willow slammed the book, her face suddenly green. “There’s a picture. Believe me, you don’t want to see it.”

Behind her, Giles shifted uncomfortably, having already seen the etching that had disturbed her. Always one for delicate phrasing, he explained. “They were cursed to a lifetime of sexual need.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “So they were randy all the time. Isn’t every man?”

“Not in this way,” Giles stammered, “They were in a constant state of, shall we say, physical readiness?”

“Huh?” Xander said, grabbing the book back from Willow and flipping it back to the page she’d been reading. “Oh. OH!” He slammed the book shut as well, shoving it far away from him. “You were right. Don’t look at the picture. Oh, God, I don’t want to even think about that.”

Spike and Angel turned a paler shade at the thought of dealing with the pain such a condition would bring.

“Did they give a cure?” Angel asked, squirming a bit in his seat as his mind contemplated the possibilities if this was the source of their condition. “Because I don’t know about you three, but I don’t have that problem. Yet.”

Willow opened the offending book again distastefully, carefully placing her hand over the picture as she continued to read. “It seems that the only cure was–” she swallowed, then sped ahead so quickly the others almost couldn’t understand her, “constant sexual gratification.”

“Huh,” Cordy said, leaning back in her chair and staring off in thought. “Makes sense.”

Xander gaped at her, his mind obviously unable to move past the monks’ problem. “Come again?”

Spike snickered. “Think that was the point, mate.”

The others groaned at his bad joke, but the humor broke the tension.

“She wanted her man back,” Buffy answered for Cordy. “The only cure was for him to go back to her and make love over and over again.”

“No pain, no gain,” Cordy quipped, and Giles gave her a stern look of reprimand.

“Hey!” she complained. “Spike didn’t get the Giles-look-of-death. And his pun was worse than mine!”

Spike shrugged. “Devious woman. Got to admire that, if she weren’t such a ball-buster.”

“Literally,” Angel muttered, and the two vampires shared a dark laugh while Xander turned a deeper shade of green.

“C’mon, guys, let’s stop talking about this.”

“But what if it’s us?” Willow worried, flipping the pages beyond the entry she’d read. “There’s no more information in here.”

“Curses can usually be revoked somehow,” Giles reminded them, “but it might take a rather strong incantation. However, considering our physical state doesn’t match that of the monks–”

“–yet!!” Xander interrupted worriedly.

“–I think we’d better keep looking. If it happens again, we’ll deal with it then.”

“There’s one other thing wrong with this one,” Buffy pointed out. “There’s no symptoms mentioned for women.”

“We were just as turned on as the guys were,” Cordy agreed.

Giles frowned. “For now, let’s keep it on the list.” He wrote it up on the whiteboard. “We should exhaust all our resources before we begin to exclude anything remotely plausible.”

Two hours later and they’d had only one more possibility. They’d killed a mated pair of vampires three weeks ago who had been using the lustful power of their lovemaking to fuel the spell they’d been casting. There’d been a shockwave of magic released at the moment Buffy’s stake had penetrated the female’s back, and another when she’d dusted the male almost immediately afterward. They’d all been present.

“Could the magic have had a residual effect?” Willow wondered.

“Perhaps,” Giles acknowledged, adding it to their list, “but it’s unlikely. I did find another possibility, however.”

He reached for a thick volume on the table near his elbow. “I was reviewing the properties of natural spell ingredients, and I remembered that I’d restocked my supply of Argon root.”

“But that’s harmless!” Willow pointed out, familiar with the ingredient.

“It is,” Giles agreed, “But several years ago, a coven experimented with crossbreeding two varieties to increase it’s potency. The resulting hybrid turned out to have a nasty side-effect. It renders any in contact with it completely incognizant of anything except the desire to mate. Needless to say, the coven quickly destroyed the supply they had left, but they’d already distributed a significant amount of it to various magic shops around the world. As with any recall, a small percentage of the product was unaccounted for.”

“So how would all of us be exposed to it?” Angel asked.

Giles frowned. “I used it in that protection spell I cast before we went to fight the Charuk demon. All of us were exposed.”

“And my mom?” Buffy wondered. “She wasn’t there with us at the monastery, or when the vampires were staked, or even when you cast that protection spell. How could she have been affected?”

“In each instance, simply living in the same house with you, having simple physical contact, could’ve been enough for the effects to transfer to your mother. Especially in the last two cases, if you hugged her or spent a significant amount of time with her shortly following either incident.”

Buffy slumped in her chair, defeated. “I did. We had a chick flick night after the vampires and she’d had a really bad day at the gallery after the Charuk demon. I remember hugging her several times.”

“I have a contact at the coven who might have an antidote to the effects, if our problem is indeed the Argon root. The only problem is that the coven is in seclusion for Samhain; they won’t be receiving phone calls or e-mail for at least another six weeks.”

“Are you kidding?” Xander gaped. “What if we’re hit by this again? What are we supposed to do?”

Buffy and Spike glanced at each other guiltily, and Cordelia fought the urge to look over at Angel.

Giles sighed. “Do the best we can, I suppose. I don’t really have a solution. In the meantime, we can check out the other two possibilities. We can revisit the monastery and cast an energy detection spell to determine if the curse still is, or ever has been, active.”

“And the voodoo vamps?” Cordy asked.

“That’s relatively easy. I know a practitioner a few hours away who will read us for a small consultation fee. She can detect if we have any residual magic remaining.”

“We still have a few books left,” Willow reminded them.

“Oh, c’mon,” Xander complained. “Don’t we have enough on our list?”

“And let some other possibility go undiscovered?” Giles asked.

Xander grumbled but grabbed a book.

Ten minutes later found Cordy staring at a book that fascinated her. Maybe the unappealing plain cover had repelled her before, but she’d definitely grab this one first next time. It was a book of vampire customs, rituals, and lore. She was deep into a retelling of the vampire origination myth when she heard Xander’s chair scrape the floor loudly as he stood, stretched, and gave a loud, prolonged yawned.

“Anybody want some pizza?”

“Do you mind?” Cordy frowned darkly. “Some of us are trying to read here.”

Xander scoffed. “Right. Like you really do the research. You just look at the pretty pictures, remember?”

“Shut up, Xander. I’d like to get home before dawn, okay? Your gastric proclivities are no concern of mine.”

He gaped at her big words. “Geez, I think I need a dictionary to translate what you just said. What the hell are you reading?” He skirted the table and yanked the nondescript book from her hands.

“Xander!” She growled in a warning tone before yanking it back from him and hitting him with it. “Go order your pizza and leave us in peace.”

He just rolled his eyes and sauntered into Giles’ office for the phone.

Cordy sat back down, straightened her clothing, and opened the book down the middle where she supposed she’d stopped. An interesting heading leaped out at her, and she began reading voraciously, eyes widening as the details became more and more alarming. And then, in the middle of the page, her breath caught. What she saw made her blood run cold.

There, in Latin, a language she didn’t understand, an incantation burned into her soul.

Nos es connexus.
Mens,
Cor,
Corpus corporis.
In sanguis,
nos connexus marital
Intemporaliter.

“Um, Giles?” she stammered, her face ashen.

“Cordelia? Are you all right?” Giles was at her side in moments, and Angel’s arm wrapped gently around her shoulders.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Angel whispered in her ear. “Let me have this.” He pulled the book away from her and stood behind her chair, his hand still on her shoulder, as he and Giles saw what she’d been reading together.

“My God,” Giles whispered, his face paling as well. “You recognized this, Cordelia?”

“Yeah,” she said, voice shaky. “Is it really what the heading says it is?”

Angel’s heart sank as the words reverberated in his soul. Wordlessly, he handed the book to Giles and sat beside Cordelia again, taking her cold hand in his.

Giles leaned on the edge of the table and set the book down quietly, meeting Cordelia’s eyes with a tender sympathy.

“It’s exactly what it says it is. It’s a vampire bonding ritual.”

“What does it mean?” she whispered, somehow knowing, but not knowing, all at the same time.

He picked up the book again, adjusting his glasses before following the words solemnly with his finger. “‘We are joined,'” he translated, “Mind. Heart. Body. In blood, we are joined eternally.”

The silence in the room was deafening.
Part 5

The silence in the library thickened, seeming to spread around the room like a choking fog. Buffy stared, teary-eyed and confused, at the closed door to the hallway. Giles, Angel and Cordelia had just disappeared through it, Giles muttering something about needing privacy for the explanation of whatever it was that Cordy had found. The way Angel had avoided her eyes only intensified the pain of being excluded; all of it wore on Buffy’s already frayed nerves. Silently, she reached across the table and grabbed the book Cordy had been reading, determined to get some answers for herself.

“Pepperoni goodness is just minutes away,” Xander said cheerfully, sauntering back into the room from Giles’ office. He came to an abrupt halt as he noticed the departures and stony silence.

“Who died?” he quipped, throwing his legs around the back of a chair facing Buffy, Spike and Willow.

Buffy ignored him, tossing the book back onto the table as its vague entry frustrated her. Her eyes shone with tears as she turned her gaze to Spike’s. “What were they talking about?”

Spike slouched in his chair and sighed, trying not to wear his sympathy on his sleeve. “If I’m remembering that bloody poem right, Angel claimed her,” he tried to explain. “It’s a kind of bond, a blood tie that can’t be severed by anything except death. That’s what the words were for, like vows.”

Willow gaped at him. “They’re married?”

“Angel’s married?” Xander choked. “To Cordy? My Cordy?”

Willow glared at him. “She’s not your Cordy anymore.”

Xander flushed and looked away.

Spike scoffed at Xander’s discomfort, then shrugged in answer to Willow’s question. “Hard to make a comparison in human terms. Guess marriage is the closest one.”

“I don’t suppose there’s a chant for a vampire divorce in there?” Buffy whispered.

“No, love.” Sympathy wrapped his tone.

A moment passed before Buffy, bolting upright in her chair, pinned him with a horrified stare. “Oh, God! Did we–”

“No, Slayer,” Spike rolled his eyes. “We’re not bonded. Didn’t say the ritual words, didn’t bite you, much. Can’t bond if you don’t bite.”

His gaze softened and he leaned toward her, fingers trailing across her trembling arm. “It’ll be okay. He didn’t deserve you, anyway.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Buffy’s eyes flashed and she shot to her feet, fists clenching in an effort to control her rising anger. “I’m going to patrol. I need to dismember something fanged.”

Striding toward the door, she snatched an axe from the counter. At the last second, she whirled around, catching her peroxide shadow a foot behind her. “I’m going alone, Spike,” she growled, slapping the axe handle against her palm for good measure. “Unless you want to be the one in a pile of dust?”

He stood back, hands raised in a gesture of peace. “Cool it, Slayer. I’m not planning on spoilin’ your fun. Just gonna watch your back, is all. You tend to be a little blinded by the rage when you’re like this. Wouldn’t want some little fledgling wanker to have his good day.”

She snorted. “Not tonight,” she shot back, eyes narrowing. “Nothing would dare get in my way tonight.” She swirled away, brandishing the axe in a wide sweep in front of her.

Spike watched her walk away before stalking after her, muttering something threatening about slayer mood swings.

After a bit of silence, Willow said in a small voice, “You ever get this weird feeling that they kinda belong together?”

Xander scrunched up his face in disgust. “Ewww. Please, you’re grossing me out, here,” he protested, but stared at the closed door in a moment of contemplation. After a pause, he recanted. “I guess. Kinda. But if you ever tell them I said that, I’ll deny it.”

Willow nodded, a knowing smile on her lips. “Gotcha. But who’d believe me?”

He grinned. “Good point. Besides, even if they were together, it’s not like I’d have to go to their Goth wedding and babysit their fanged toddlers. They’ll have to hide it from Giles and I can still sit back and continue to pretend one of my best friends doesn’t have the hots for the undead.”

“K-kids?” Willow whispered, her face turning white as she stared across the table at him. “Oh, God.”

Xander had missed the look on her face as he rearranged the books on the table, looking for his missing half-full soda. “I know,” he snorted. “Spike with kids. What a nightmare.” He shivered. “Can you imagine? God. Gives a whole new meaning to the word hellion.”

“No, It’s not–”

The weakness in her voice caught him that time and Xander’s head shot up in alarm. He rushed over to her side and slid into the chair next to her, taking her cold, shaking hands in his. “Wills? You okay?”

“Kids, Xander. I–I could be–”

“Huh?” His face was the picture of confusion.

“I’m not on birth control. I could be–” her voice dropped to a whisper “–pregnant.”

His face drained of color. “Oh.”

“What are we going to do?” She whispered, eyes brimming with tears.

Xander realized in that instant that, as much as the thought of being a dad terrified him, he needed to be the strong one here. Taking a deep breath, he plastered a reassuring smile on his face. “It’s too early to know,” he reminded her. “We’ll just have to wait and see. We’ll be okay, Wills, whatever happens.”

His hand cupped her face, and he watched in relief as she straightened her shoulders and put on her resolve face.

He turned to the table and eyed the remaining books with distaste. “Okay, I so do not want to be the only two left in this majorly boring needle-in-a-haystack search. Wanna go get some ice cream?”

Willow looked away, pulling her hands from his and straightening her clothing nervously. “Well, I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t want to, ’cause I do, but it’s just that I, I mean we–”

“Hey,” Xander stopped her, a friendly hand on her shoulder. “It’s just ice cream. In public. Lots of people around. No smoochies, no other stuff we shouldn’t be doing. Just two old friends, having fun while enjoying sugary sweetness. And avoiding responsibility.”

Willow let her lips form a tentative smile. “Okay,” she acquiesced. “I’d like that.”

***************

Huddled in the corner of her darkened science classroom, Cordelia stared sightlessly at the rain that pelted against the windowpanes. Rivulets trickled down like tiny rivers forking into tributaries, winding and cascading in a hypnotic, earthy rhythm that soothed even amidst the clamor. Her lashes glittered with a wetness that seemed in sympathy with the elements. The world was weeping, and so was she.

Cordy sniffed and blinked, adjusting her position in the hard school desk she’d appropriated. She leaned forward, resting her head on the pillow she made with her crossed arms. The words she’d found in that vampire book echoed in her mind, and Giles’ hefty explanation following had done little to calm the strange duality of terror and belonging that she’d felt when reading them for the first time.

Giles had ushered them out of the earshot of the others, and it wasn’t until they were down the hall and in an empty science lab that the enormity of what she’d read fully impacted her. Trembling, she’d clung to Angel for support, somehow desperately needing the tactile reassurance even though her mind was screaming at her to run.

“You’re bonded,” Giles reiterated when they were finally alone.

“That means nothing to me,” she said, shaking her head in confusion.

Giles sighed, leaning back against one of the lab’s counters. “Angel can explain it better than I; it’s a vampire tradition, not practiced often from what I understand, but still binding. It’s rumored that its origins date back to the early days of the clans and their development; clan leaders would bond to each other in a mockery of human royal marriages, the most powerful male and female showing by an empathic and physical link that they were dominant over the other clan members. The bond allowed them to share power and maintain dominance over their own clan and stand against the other clans who would try to usurp their territory.”

The rambling professor mode gave her time to gather her wits together again and her trembling subsided to a tolerable level. But even she had limits.

“Enough with the history channel crap already. This has to do with Angel and me how?”

He suffered her flippancy with his characteristic aplomb. “The ritual was eventually adopted by any vampire couple who wanted to strengthen their commitment to each other by linking themselves physically and mentally. By invoking the spell we read and ritually drinking each other’s blood, the couple bonded themselves until death.”

“Literally,” Angel added. “If one of the pair dies, the other follows soon after. It’s like the energy drains away from them.”

“So that’s why you asked me this morning if Angel said anything while he bit me last night?”

“Yes. The placement of the bites could have been coincidental, but combined with the words of the spell they take on a symbolic meaning. Each location–the reproductive organs, the heart, the primary artery–all connote power and a claim on that power. The power to give, make, and take life.”

“But these are vamp couples,” Cordy pointed out hopefully. “I’m not a vampire. Wouldn’t it not work?”

Giles shook his head, a sympathetic look on his face. “There are a few scantly recorded instances of vampires bonding themselves to humans. I’d have to do a bit more research to confirm, but I believe that most of those involved only claiming in one direction: the vampire claiming the human. If I recall correctly, there weren’t very positive side effects for the human, but I’m not sure of the details there.”

“So I’m screwed,” Cordy summed up, wilting into a nearby chair.

“Not necessarily,” Giles tried to reassure her. “I do remember one account of a reciprocated claim between a human and a vampire, but the details are almost nonexistent, as the human disappeared almost immediately thereafter.”

“A slayer?” Angel questioned.

The watcher nodded grimly. “The council tried to track her, but lost the trail. The vampire was her lover, turned by an enemy. Before her disappearance, there were rumors of the bond being beneficial to her, not detrimental.”

“I’ve heard of it,” Angel acknowledged. “The story was passed around but mostly rejected by the vampire community.”

“The council eventually concluded she was dead because a new slayer was called,” Giles continued, “but there were rumored sightings of her for years afterward.”

“That, I remember,” Angel agreed. “The rumors died down, but somebody claimed fifty years later to have seen them and that the woman hadn’t aged a day. She could walk in sunlight, but her life-span seemed to be matched to his. Nobody believed it.”

“So what were the bad things for the other humans who were claimed?” Cordy asked.

Giles and Angel exchanged a cryptic glance.

“I’m not sure,” Giles hedged. “I need to do some more research. I’ll let you know in a day or two.”

She gaped at him. “You mean I’m just supposed to live like this until you figure it out?”

Giles’ shrewd eyes studied her. “Live like what? Are there symptoms you haven’t mentioned yet?”

“I don’t know!” Her frustration was evident in the harsh tone of her answer. “I mean, nothing seems important enough to bring up. But I’m different somehow. I can’t explain it.”

“Try,” Giles encouraged her. “Physical and emotional responses to Angel, even dreams or strong feelings you have that seem uncharacteristic, could be important.”

She stood up, pacing between the lab counters, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. “It hasn’t even been 24 hours, Giles! I haven’t even slept since then, so I don’t know about dreams. But all I do know is that since this morning, every time we’re near each other, or he touches or kisses me, I feel almost out of control. Like I have to touch him or suffer. And when I’m away from him, it’s like some vital part of me is missing.”

She turned, looking at Angel briefly before turning her attention back to Giles. “But then this other part of me is telling me I’m an idiot–that he’s a vampire and he’s dangerous.”

Angel had been silent for so long that Cordy was startled when he spoke. “Am I hurting you somehow? When I’m with you?”

“No!” She looked stricken, closing the distance between them, desperately needing to touch him. Resting a palm on his chest, she hesitated before looking up into his eyes. “It’s just that the need to be near you is almost physical. Like there’s something inside me that’s crazy mixed up until I’m touching you, and then I’m calm. At least part of me is. My brain isn’t so happy with it all, but deep down, I feel connected to you.”

Angel put his arms around her and rested his chin on her head.

Giles cleared his throat nearby. “I’ll look into the side effects and what can be done to alleviate them until we can find a way to sever the connection. Until then–”

Angel’s growl interrupted them, and Cordy squeaked as his hold tightened. “I won’t let you sever it.”

Cordy pushed against him, suddenly panicked when his arms refused to give way. Leaning her head back, she looked into eyes so dark they frightened her. A low rumble vibrated in his chest, a warning.

“Angel,” Giles began warily, “it can’t be healthy for her to continue–”

“I said no!” Angel thundered, eyes flashing gold as he fought to control the rising of his demon.

Cordy whimpered, staring up at him wide-eyed, and Angel’s rumbling growl grew softer. His hand swept up to cradle the back of her head and he leaned down, nuzzling her neck, drawing her scent into his nostrils. Fangs scraped lightly at her rapid pulse, and when his tongue swept across his mark, Cordy jumped, then wilted, shoulders drawing forward as her head bowed submissively. Carefully, Angel pulled his arms from around her subdued form and set her gently from him.

In seconds, he closed the distance between himself and Giles so menacingly that the smaller man backed up into the counter.

“Do your research, Watcher. See if you can find a way to make it better for her. But you will not find a way to break my connection to her.”

“There’s got to be something,” Cordy implored him in a weak voice, not able to meet his eyes. Some of her autonomy seemed to be restored as her proximity to him decreased. Her arms crossed across her chest as she backed a step away from him, his power seeming to reduce her to a quivering flower in the face of a thunderstorm. “Just let him look, please–”

“He won’t find anything,” Angel said confidently, still glaring at Giles for good measure. “A claiming is irreversible.”

A shiver ran through Cordelia at the memory of Angel’s emphatic, almost triumphant statement, bringing her back to the present, the cold classroom, and the storm beyond the windowpanes. She hugged her arms closer to herself.

Giles had answered Angel’s demand in a way that had placated the vampire, but he’d shot a covert look at Cordy that promised he wouldn’t give up. He’d hovered until Cordy reassured him she was fine, and he finally excused himself to his office and the library. She’d kept her distance from Angel after that, and after a few moments, she finally felt like she was free from the control Angel had forced on her earlier. She’d smiled at him tentatively and insisted she needed some time alone. Angel reluctantly left.

She wondered at the sudden change in Angel’s demeanor. He’d been different all day, somehow more broody than usual, if that were even possible. His intensity seemed to be increasing, and the violence that had always been present in him seemed very close to the surface. She shivered again as she relived the way he had dominated her in front of Giles. He’d never been so aggressive, so animalistic and territorial before. Cordy had never realized that Angel was very good at hiding his vampiric qualities.

Until the last 24 hours, if she hadn’t known his true nature, she might never have known what he was just by casual observation. Maybe she’d think he was a little dark, but he’d never really seemed violent. But now, there was no mistaking the raw edge that seemed to have been exposed by their night together. It was as if the facade he’d carefully crafted to fit in with humans had been stripped away, and his baser urges were brought up to the surface.

Looking into his eyes was a scary and exciting thing. Each time it happened, she had this instant gut-clenching reaction, one of fear, excitement, and arousal all wrapped up in a heady tonic that zipped through her veins. The darkness he was showing was enticing, but it filled her with a restless dread. And when he really wanted to take control, to dominate her, she didn’t seem to have the power to resist him. With one touch on his bite mark, he seemed to wield a power over her that was terrifying in its completeness. She didn’t know what to do with it. How to control it, or herself.

It scared the hell out of her.

And what about the side effects that Giles had mentioned? Cordy had no idea what they might be, but none of it sounded good. It was bad enough that she felt an almost undeniable craving to be with him. Even now, when she was completely alone, her body sang with its need for him. She felt restless, chaotic and incomplete without him.

A loud clap of thunder startled her as it shook the windows. Lightning flickered, casting eerie shadows on the walls, and Cordy decided that her pity party would be much better at home. Maybe a hot bubble bath and some champagne stolen from her parents’ stash would help her forget the turmoil that had reduced her to a quivering, needy mess. Maybe a Keanu marathon and a home manicure afterward would distract her.

Maybe.
***************

“You know, there’s a nest of Minok demons in a crypt nearby if you need to hurt something.”

Angel started and whirled around as Spike spoke, his game face flashing before he could hide it.

A slow grin spread across Spike’s face as he sauntered forward, coming to stand beside Angel on the bluff that overlooked Sunnydale. “You’re a little off your game, Peaches, if I could sneak up on you without even trying.”

“Back off, William,” Angel said, a thread of Angelus’s characteristic impatience threading through his tone. He was in no mood to put up with Spike’s twisted version of small talk. Not after the night he’d had.

“Nope,” Spike said cheerfully. “Not gonna do it. You need someone to talk to. A shoulder to cry on, as it were.”

Angel snorted. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Spike shrugged. “Way I figure it, I’m the only one who could possibly understand what you’re going through. Not to mention it’s fun to see you miserable.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“No problem.”

They stared at the city lights in silence for a few awkward moments before Angel called Spike’s bluff. “I thought you hated me. Not to mention you’re evil. Why the sudden conscience?”

Reaching into his coat pocket, Spike pulled out a cigarette and lit up. “It’s no secret that I can’t stand you,” he admitted after a long drag, “especially since this thing between me and the Slayer got–”

“Disgusting?” Angel finished.

“Complicated,” Spike countered, glaring at his grandsire. “There’s something there between us, and not even she can deny it.”

Angel scoffed at that. “That’ll be the day.”

Spike grunted a reluctant agreement. “Can’t admit it, stubborn chit.”

“Thought we were supposed to be talking about my problems.”

“I’m getting there,” Spike growled, flicking the ash from the end of his cigarette in a flare of glowing embers. “Look, I can’t say I like you, but the soul is a sight better than Angelus, the rank bastard.”

A grunt was Angel’s only acknowledgement.

“Still,” Spike continued, “When the cheerleader read the bonding spell and I realized what happened to you, I remembered Russia.”

Angel flinched. “Don’t remind me. I haven’t been able to think of anything but that pathetic girl since I realized what I did to Cordy.”

Spike snorted. “You got off on watching Gregor with the girl. Admit it.”

“Angelus did, yes. But the memory makes me sick now.”

They both paused to remember. Gregor, a Russian master vampire older than Angelus, had met up with Darla and Angelus for the occasional bloodbath or orgy, sometimes both at once. The last time they’d seen him, Spike had just been turned. Gregor had flaunted his human playmate and had told Dru she should’ve left Spike human and claimed him.

“It’s such a rush,” he’d said with a demented laugh, hugging the emaciated girl to him so hard she whimpered. “She’s so needy, so mad and vulnerable, and she craves me. The more depraved I am, the hotter she gets. The more I hurt her, the more she begs for it. She makes me feel like a god. You all should get one. A human pet,” he’d smirked, then fed on her in front of them.

Angel’s stomach turned at the memory. “Gregor was a bastard for putting that girl through that. I’m a bastard for doing it to Cordy.”

“Gregor knew what he was doing. You couldn’t help it. It just happened.”

“I still should’ve stopped it. Somehow, I should’ve known how wrong it was.”

“Oh, please,” Spike scoffed, flicking the butt of his cigarette on the ground before stomping it out with his boot heel. “We were pissed. On whatever sodding spell or nonsense it was. You think I would’ve screwed the slayer if I’d been in my right mind? I’m surprised she hasn’t castrated me yet.”

“Good point,” Angel conceded.

“Still, I saw the look on your face when you realized what your girl had found in that book. I felt sympathetic. If I had claimed Buffy…” he shivered. “Christ, what a nightmare.”

Angel looked at his grandchilde in disbelief. “You? Sympathetic? Right.”

“Hey!” Spike complained. “I know I haven’t been the bleedin’ poster boy for selflessness in the last century or so, but whose fault is that, eh, granddad?”

Angel rolled his eyes. “It’s not like you complained when I taught you everything I know.”

“I couldn’t. You’d have staked me.”

“Maybe not staked…” Angel let the statement hang and Spike squirmed. It was true; staking would’ve been over too quickly for Angelus’ tastes.

Spike smirked when he recovered. “And besides, your pain is my entertainment. Payback is a vindictive bitch, isn’t she?”

Ah, now there was the Spike he knew and disliked. “This is so therapeutic, Spike. I’m so glad you’re helping me cope.”

“Right. Back to that.” He lit another cigarette. “So how’s the chit taking it?”

Angel shot a wary glance over at the younger vampire, wondering if he should expose his wounds to someone who could, and probably would, exploit his pain. But he did need to talk to someone, and Spike, while annoying, did have a point. Spike was the only one who knew all the angles as well as he did. Not even Giles knew everything yet.

Taking a leap of faith, he responded, “She’s not taking it well. She’s scared to death, as well she should be.”

“She showing signs of it yet?”

Angel’s jaw tightened at the implication, remembering Gregor’s pet again. “A few.”

“Are you?”

He flinched, remembering what Gregor had become. Studying Spike, he found himself strangely touched by the genuine sympathy he saw in Spike’s eyes. “Definitely. I about ripped Giles’ head off for saying he’d find a way to break the bond.”

Spike laughed. “Bet that was fun. Would’ve paid good money to see his face.”

“It was kind of funny,” Angel admitted.

“Do you think he knows about it?”

“The side effects?”

“Well, yeah. The major one, at least. For her.”

Angel’s chest seized up at the thought of what was in store for Cordy in the next days, weeks, and months, if they let it get that far. God, they were in deep trouble. “I don’t think he knows yet, not for sure. I thought maybe he did, but then he kept going on about research and I think he’s only guessing.”

“You think she’ll do what it takes to cure herself?”

Angel’s heart sank as he thought about the answer. “I don’t know. You know as well as I do that it only gets worse with time. If I can’t convince her soon–”

“It’ll be too late,” Spike finished for him.

 


…TO BE CONTINUED…

THIS APPEARS TO BE AN UNFINISHED FANFIC


 

One thought on “Consequences

  1. Jennifer says:

    I find your stories absolutely great and exciting! I want to know so much how it goes on with the couples Buffy/Spike, Joyce/Giles, Willow/Xander and of course Cordelia/Angel.
    I love Cordelia and Angel as a couple 😍!!
    Please, please continue with the story 🙏!!
    I am already excited 😊!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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