False Claims


AUTHOR: SKAUBLE (aka SARAH)
SUMMARY: Angelus is forced to claim Cordelia.
RATING: NC17
POSTED: 31 Mar 2005
CATEGORY: CHALLENGE FIC / DARK ROMANCE / ANGSTY / NOVEL-LENGTH FANFICTION
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/Aus
WARNINGS: Explicit Sexual Content, BSDM, Violence, Language
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) This is based on a challenge by Impress which is included below. It’s set in S2 of BtVS, and it spins out of canon from there. Although I do use things that happened during the show, I do so to fit my purposes with little or no respect to canon. It’s my world gosh-darnit and I’ll make it how I like it. 🙂
2) Impress’ Challenge Criteria: I want to see a fic where Angelus is forced to claim Cordy. Musts: * Angelus can not have had a previous desire to claim Cordy. *Show at least two consequences of the claiming. (for ex: Possessive!Angelus, bonding, craving for blood and/or sex…whatever you can come up with.) *Feelings developing between the two. *Smut
STATUS: Incomplete


PART ONE – THE RULES OF BUSINESS
Prologue
She was running again. Geez, what was it with Sunnydale and the running, Cordelia wondered as she tried to force her legs to even greater speeds. But the truth was that when you live on a Hellmouth you ran or you died; and tonight it looked like she might be doing both. Dammit! As the tombstones flew by in a blur she couldn’t help but wonder how she’d gotten into this situation. Oh, now she remembered. Like everything crappy in recent memory it started with Buffy.

~~~~~Earlier That Evening ~~~~~
The heavy wooden doors swung violently open slapping the walls behind them, the loud noise incongruous with the library setting. Of course, considering the fact that said library was currently demon fighting HQ, leeway could be given to the unexpected.

Perhaps more startling than the abrupt sound was the petite blonde who stalked in. The epitome of suppressed violence, she carried with her a frenetic energy that warned even those not of a supernatural ilk to be wary.

That warning extended even to those who counted themselves as part of the slayer’s mission. Although in no way psychic, the watcher and his three students knew that something had apparently happened on patrol and all were present and accounted for to offer whatever help they could. Well, most were present and accounted for. Noticeably absent was the young gypsy teacher, Miss Calendar, who was still persona non grata for withholding what turned out to be some rather crucial information regarding Angel’s cruse, earning herself a seemingly endless spot in Buffy’s bad graces.

“Buffy, I’m glad you’re here. We were just-”

“Angelus.” Buffy’s implacable tone sliced through she was sure was about to become another well meaning yet extremely boring research summation from Giles, and concisely conveyed the fact that tonight’s priorities had changed.

“We were just Angelus?” Xander questioned from his perennial research position. “I don’t think so Buffster. I’m pretty sure I’d remember being Mr. Tall, Dark, and Homicidal.”

As far as jokes went that particular one, like most of Xander’s dropped with the all the delicacy of a bowling ball on a carton of eggs. Although rarely used it except in times of extreme trouble, Buffy’s slayer voice was a sign that serious was the new order of business and levity was to be left for later. Unfortunately no one ever thought to send poor Xander that memo.

Shooting the dark haired boy a withering look Giles returned his attention to his slayer. “What about Angelus? I understood that there had been no sighting of him for more than a week. Has that changed?”

“No. He’s still making with the vanishing act, and I think I know why. I stopped by Willy’s on my way over here. I…” Buffy hesitated, thinking how best to phrase what had taken place at the demon bar earlier. “…encouraged him to do his civic duty and explain to me the rumors about the new demons in town who, well to be honest, we desperately don’t want to research tonight.”

Ignoring Giles’ disapproving sigh at what she knew he saw as a shirking of her sacred duties, Buffy plunged ahead. There was no point not to, with what she’d learned today there’d be no Bronzing it for the Scoobies tonight. God she wanted a day to just be normal. With everything that had happened recently she knew that wasn’t too much to ask, but duty called and apparently she forgot to turn on the machine. Don’t people ever get tired of trying to end the world, she wondered wearily? ‘Cause, hello! Where are they going to live? Apparently villainous plots and common sense don’t mix.

With effort, Buffy pulled her mind back to Slayer endeavors. One would think that straightening to her less than impressive height and adjusting her powder blue cardigan with little pearl buttons wouldn’t seem intimidating, and yet gone was the teenage girl and in her place stood the protector of the Hellmouth.

“According to Willy, there’s a new group of demons with powerful ties in the community. Astoria or something or other.”

“A’toreal” Giles corrected, a force of habit and in no way motivated by any erroneous belief that the teenagers before him might actually attempt to learn something.

“Uh, yeah, them. Well Willy said they’re here to do a little hell raising, which in our neck of the woods usually means a literal Hell raising.”

“So what’s the problem? We see, we slay, and by we I mean you, and then we party all night long, and by we I mean us. Don’t worry, Buffy, I got your back.”

As Xander quickly outlined the plan that would get them soonest to the Bronze, Cordelia looked Heavenward as if somehow God might appear and explain why her boyfriend was such a dumbass.

She knew there were reasons she dated Xander but at moments like these she couldn’t recall one of them for the life of her. With a twist of her rust, silk covered shoulders and a flip of her glossy, dark hair she turned to the boy with the dopey smile and acerbically pointed out the massive flaw in his plan – which, in this case happened to be his entire plan.

“Look you goof. I hate to rain on the plan that’s designed to get us all killed, but 1) If the demons were all that easy to kill then why wouldn’t Buffy be out there killing them instead of her wasting our “non-Chosen” time. 2) Obviously this has something to do with Angelus, ‘cause I’m pretty sure that she wasn’t just shouting out psycho-vamps name just so we could all remember that she boffed the soul out of her boyfriend. 3) If there was an easy way for her to end up at the Bronze I’m sure she would be taking it ’cause I’m not really seeing the dedication to duty. And 4) I’m sure that any plan that includes you watching her back she’d be desperate to find a way to revise.”

As Xander faced his clearly irate girlfriend, he did the only thing that a man in his position could do – he cowered away and tried to collapse into himself. He knew that there were reasons that he dated Cordelia but at moments like these he couldn’t recall one of them for the life of him. As she heaved a sigh of what he could only assume was disgust in his direction his attention was redirected towards her breasts, firm and perfectly formed, straining against the eye catching material of her blouse, and suddenly he recalled one, well two, reasons he put up with Cordelia’s abusive honesty.

As she watched her boyfriend’s eyes shift as if magnetically drawn to her chest she took another deep breath and let it out. She knew that she’d been kind of hard on him and really, letting him oogle her was the least she could do. Well, until they could make it to a broom closet that was.

Not that she felt bad for the things she said. They were true, and she didn’t have the time to invest in dishonesty, even if was cloaked in the need to make everyone feel better. Still, even she sometimes wondered if discretion might not be, well maybe not the better part of valor, but certainly some, minuscule part of it. It wasn’t that she couldn’t keep her thoughts to herself, it was more like, with this particular group of people, she didn’t even want to try. I mean, sure, she and Xander had always had an antagonistic relationship, but it wasn’t even that. It was…Buffy.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like Buffy. Well, no, she actually didn’t really care for Buffy. But it wasn’t like the normal way she didn’t like people – because of the clothes they wore or the music they listened to. You know, things that didn’t really mater. No, with Buffy it was an actual reason.

Cordelia understood that in the game of life Buffy got a crappy hand. After watching Buffy at her slayer duties over the past few months she could honestly say that she wouldn’t wish that kind of responsibility on anyone. Buffy was right when she said her life wasn’t ever normal. She was right when she complained that having to fight vampires and demons and God knows what else that skulked in the shadows in this rotten town was gross, disgusting, thankless work. Buffy was even right when she went on, endlessly at times, about the slayers plight – lack of choices and itty bitty life span. If that was the train Buffy was conducting Cordelia thought, “All aboard.”

Honestly, she sympathized with every point the young blonde made. But the part that really chapped Cordelia’s designer clad hide was that Buffy’s life may be one big overdose on the supernatural, but the only difference between her Chosenness and the rest of them was the Buffy was actually equipped to handle it. She was super strong and super fast and super heal-y.

Buffy wasn’t going to die young because there was some kind of slayer virus that would strike her down, she would most likely die young because she was always in a million dangerous situations, and – Hello! Who was always right there behind her? The “Scoobies”. (Actually Cordelia thought she might die simply from the shame of being constantly compared to a cowardly cartoon dog who could be easily bribed with snacks. Although she could clearly see how Xander had earned the nickname.)

Willow and Xander and, more and more often recently, herself, were always there to help Buffy with the staking and the magick and the rituals and the decoying. Not because it was their sacred destiny, not because they had some Watcher riding their ass (and wasn’t that a disturbing mental image), no, they did it because it was right, and no matter what their problems were they seemed to not be able to live in Sunnydale and not help, and Cordelia should know ‘cause she had certainly tried.

Sure, they could walk away, but so could Buffy. She, like the rest of them choose not to. And while Cordelia was grateful for that fact ‘cause Lord knows she didn’t want to hang out on Hell central without a slayer, Buffy never seemed to acknowledge that if her life was a sinking ship, well she had a lot of company in that boat and she was wearing the only life jacket.

Even the endless whining about Angel/Angelus rubbed her the wrong way. I mean, let’s face it, Angelus was going to kill all of Buffy’s friends before he ever got around to his obsession, so they were all in danger. Yeah sure, tragic love story, star-crossed lovers, blah, blah, blah – the bottom line is that they were all going to die terribly, but at least Buffy got herself some salty goodness while all she’d gotten was Xander’s wandering hands while a mop dug into her back.

In all of the superficiality that was Cordelia’s life she knew to the bottom of her soul that it was only her honesty that kept her sane and that honesty would mean nothing if she never applied it to herself, so she did, ruthlessly and often. She knew, beyond doubt, that she was very egocentric, sometimes bordering, hell, crossing the border, into obscenely selfish. Life had taught her early and hard to look after herself because no one, no one else ever did. But whatever her reasons for her tunnel vision, at least she could own it. Whether she was admitting it to herself or someone was shoving it in her face (which they often did), she took the responsibility for her own behavior.

But Buffy, who was, admittedly much like herself, so often absorbed in her own angst that she missed what was going on with everyone around her (Can we say raising of the master’s bones), was practically idolized. She was placed on a pedestal so high that she was nearly untouchable.

And in a moment of honesty so deep it almost hurt, Cordelia had to admit that maybe that’s what bugged her most of all; not that Buffy was like that, but that Buffy was like that and came off looking so much better than Cordelia did for the same kind of behavior, to people who were, for some horrible, unknown reason starting to mean something to her.

Oh crap. Once again, intense self-examination had screwed Cordelia over because she had just missed everything that Buffy had said.

“Excuse me, Buffy, but could you go over that once more for those of us who couldn’t hear over your extremely loud skirt?” Okay…that might have something to do with them liking Buffy more then her, too. Oh well.

Shooting Cordelia a look that was clearly intended to hasten the statuesque brunette’s early demise, Buffy snapped back, “I’m sorry if were disrupting you fashion moment with our unimportant end-of-the-world talk, but if you could extend you attention span to more than 30 seconds we could actually use your help.”

Caramel eyes clashed with blue steel and surprisingly it was Cordelia who acquiesced first. If there was one thing she understood inside and out it was pride. She knew how hard it was for Buffy to ask for her help, and she knew that she didn’t make it easy for the slayer. Whether that was because of her personal issues with Buffy or because of the way that they just kept assuming that she wouldn’t help even though she was always helping. Either way, seeing the stress lines etching themselves more and more often into the blonde’s face of late, Cordelia decided that being nice just this once wouldn’t kill her. After all, the way things were going with her and Xander she was going to be hanging around with Buffy for a long time to come, and she certainly didn’t want to be starring at unsightly wrinkles the entire time.

“I’m listening.”

And Buffy, shocked to hear no sarcasm in Cordelia’s reply, blinked in surprise and, deciding not to tempt fate began outlining her plan once again.

“Our newest group of demony tourists to our little paradise are here for some kind of necklace. Apparently Tiffany’s doesn’t make jewelry evil enough so they’ve come to evil central here to accessorize. Here’s the bad part. Okay, on a side note how sucky are our lives when heinous, fashion conscious demons *aren’t* the bad part.”

“Angelus is supposedly getting the necklace for them. I’m not sure what he wants from them. Willy wasn’t very forthcoming and I believed that he honestly didn’t know. After all, we all know that Angelus doesn’t exactly work and play well with others, so who knows what he’s after. However, it’s a very safe bet that whatever it is we’re better off if he doesn’t get it; and it seems that the first step in shutting down his grand plan is getting our hands on this necklace.”

“The good news is that we know where the necklace is now.”

“Let me get this straight, the *good* news is that we know where we can go to fight Angelus for a necklace that a bunch of demons would be more than happy kill us for.”

“Yes, Xander, do shut up. Buffy, continue.” The watcher’s matter of fact redirection of the conversation was, in its way, almost as tension reducing as Xander’s attempts at humor.

“Apparently the necklace is in the Van Warren crypt in the old Sunnydale Memorial Cemetery. We’ve got a little daylight left, so vamps aren’t our main problem. But Willy did tell me that there were other demons in the area that seem to be keeping an eye on things for Angelus.”

“Giles, Xander and I will create a diversion. Willow, you and Cordelia will go in and get the necklace. It’s supposed to be on the body of the Van Warren family patriarch, but who knows which corpse that will be, so grab every necklace you see.”

In apparent agreement with Cordelia’s echoing ewwww, Willow timidly offered, “Maybe we could distract and you could grave rob?”

Tossing her best friend a sympathetic smile the slayer continued, “Once you’ve got it you need to get to your car, Cordelia and drive to your house. Angel never had an invite and with whatever else is there focused on us you two should be safe as houses.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And thus the crappiness ensued.


Chapter One

It had actually been a fairly simple plan. Grope the dead guys, steal their jewelry and drive to safety. Okay, make that a simply disgusting plan. Still, what could go wrong?

Well, for starters, demons could have swarmed all over the decoy detail, the fighting blocking the path from the crypt to Cordelia’s car leaving her and Willow stranded in the house of the dead. Then, the sun could have set just as they were able to make a run for it. And of course, by the time they got within sight of the car Angelus could have been leaning against it. All of that could have happened.

And it did.

Which is why Cordelia was now running. Since she and Willow had broke and run in different directions she figured she had a head start. The Scoobies had always believed that she was ineffectual, even when Angel had still been around. Actually, even more when Angel had been there. So it only stood to reason that Angelus would believe that it would be Willow who would find and transport the necklace.

But it wasn’t going to take Angelus long to learn that he, like most people had misjudged her. Cordelia fervently hoped that he didn’t learn that lesson by killing the quiet redhead.

As she whizzed past a fairly new grave she came to an abrupt halt. Cordelia knew that no matter what anyone else thought the one thing you couldn’t deny was that she was smart. She was a Chase, after all. Although she had a unique kind of logic all her own, when it came down to reality she could be as clear and analytical in discerning how to come out on top of a situation as the most seasoned of businessmen. That’s why, even as she was being chased through a graveyard by a demon who would have no qualms about killing her, she stopped.
Chase Business Rule #1 – A good businessman never enters a situation without leverage. Good business deals could only be made when both parties had something the other wanted.
Knowing this to be true, Cordelia set about creating herself some leverage. And with that thought in mind she carefully scanned the landscape for anyone, human or other that might be watching, and made her way over to the grave that had caught her attention. What had really drawn her eye to the plot was the headstone.

Made of granite, the headstone was nothing out of the ordinary, especially by Sunnydale standards. Simple, yet elegant, it bore the name Emily Winston and the dates of both her birth and death. Attached to the marker, below the writing was a brass vase proudly displaying a clutch of white carnations that were far past their prime.

This vase was what now drew Cordelia. Determined to make the most of the only leverage at her disposal, she quietly slipped the necklace into the vase where it was quickly hidden by the dying blooms.

The necklace seen to, she took of running once again. As she finally reached the edge of the cemetery she paused briefly to decide which way to go. Although there were houses in each direction this was a much older part of Sunnydale so they weren’t set close together, cutting down on her opportunities for help.

With a sixth sense that comes from being the prey of a much stronger animal, Cordelia knew that her time was fast running out. Looking once again to her right she saw a large house that was fairly well lit, certainly giving the impression of being currently occupied. Making her decision in an instant, she gathered what was left of her stamina and made a mad dash for what she could only hope was some kind of safety.

Reaching the door, Cordelia began pounding with all her might, begging for entrance. Repeating the mantra in her head, “Don’t look back – Don’t look back” she of course found herself looking back. As a blur of dark color reached the edge of the cemetery, she knew that lady luck was fast abandoning her. In desperation she reached for the door handle, and to her surprise it opened under her touch. Thankful for the homeowner who must be new to Sunnydale since no one who’s lived her for any reasonable amount of time would leave their front door unlocked, Cordelia threw it open and quickly made her way to safety.

Hearing sounds coming from what she assumed was the living room, Cordelia made her way towards the voices. Knowing that even if these people were unaware of the true dangers of Sunnydale they still might react poorly to a stranger just barging into their house she prepared to announce her presence.

A small, manufactured cough turned the heads of everyone in the room. As Cordelia struggled to catch her breath felt an odd shiver run down her spine. Surviving on the Hellmouth meant trusting your instincts and her instincts were screaming that something here was off.

She had about 2 seconds to give this potential trouble some serious thought when she became aware of definite trouble as two strong arms wrapped themselves around her waist, pulling her back against a hard cool chest. Even though she knew, without a doubt in whose embrace she now found herself, hearing the deep voice, smooth and silky still shot fear through her heart.

“Excuse us.”


Chapter Two

“Excuse us.”

With those words Cordelia’s world turned into a blur of colors as she was pulled at superhuman speed out of the living room, across the hall and into what appeared to be a small study. As quickly as it began the wild ride ended and she tried to calm her dizzy senses. Looking around the room with great trepidation her eyes only confirmed what she had already guessed, she was now in the company of a being rightly called a scourge.

Completely dominating the small room, the vampire stood in a deceptively relaxed position, leaning against the door, his leather clad legs crossed at the ankles; his silk covered arms crossed over his chest.

“Unfair!” Cordelia cried. “How did you get in here without an invite?” Disgruntlement clearly written all over her face, she seemed almost like a young child who’d been cheated by a playmate and was about to call for a do-over.

“Funny thing; I only need an invite when the house belongs to humans.” Angelus paused to let that sink in. Upon hearing something that vaguely sounded like “Oh, crap”, he assumed that she had grasped the gravity of the situation in which she now found herself.

Rolling his shoulders, he pushed himself away from the door and took a step closer to the unhappy girl. Breathing deeply, he scented her fear, but to her credit he could honestly say that he’d smelled far more terror on many adversaries who were actually better equipped to face a vampire such as himself. It couldn’t be because she believed in any imminent rescue by the slayer. After the way she tore out of the graveyard she would have to know that the slayer had no idea where she was.

Could it possibly be that she, like Buffy, believed that there was some of Angel still languishing inside of him fighting to escape the demon’s control? Oh, if only that were true. To force Angel to be the one who sits silent while the soul’s instincts are ignored instead of the demon’s. What a delicious torment that would be. But alas, when the soul had departed it had taken off to parts unknown and Angelus could honestly say that he wasn’t sorry about that fact.

Well, whatever delusion she was harboring that was allowing her to contain her fear was certain to shatter when he killed her. With that happy thought in mind Angelus crowded in on the cheerleader.

“Give me my amulet, Cordelia.”

Cordelia shivered as Angelus’ sensually menacing tone seemed to flow over her body like a carnal caress. Endless nights of research had taught her that fear to vampires was like blood to sharks – it would push them into a frenzy, drawing out the predator to the exclusion of all else. So, struggling to maintain some small vestige of her outward composure she adjusted the wispy silk blouse much too nice to die in, and smoothed out the creases in her beige linen slacks and then forced her eyes to meet his.

“I hid it.”

Lips curling up in a smirk, Angelus slowly circled behind her and bent towards her ear. “Well, while I’d love to search you, I’m somewhat pressed for time so why don’t you be a good girl and hand it over.”

Surprisingly, it wasn’t horror that Angelus felt flaring out from the teenager’s body, but irritation.

“Don’t be a dumbass. Why even bother to hide it if I’m just going to do so on my person? Then you could just kill me and take it. What kind of leverage would that be?” God she was tied of people constantly underestimating her.

Angelus had killed people for much less than speaking to him in such an insolent manner. Hell, he thought, he’d killed people for simply speaking, or not speaking, speaking too loudly or to softly. He just really enjoyed killing people.

“If you give it to me now I can make your death quick and…relatively painless. The longer you make me wait, the longer I’ll make you wait. How long to you think you can stay sane when I’m peeling off your skin, Cordelia?”

Suppressing the urge to vomit all over the vampire, although he clearly deserved it, Cordelia jerked her chin up and somehow, even through the waves of fear she was giving off, managed to look disdainfully over her shoulder at him.

“Let’s face it, I’d probably crack pretty quickly. I’m not one for the stiff upper lip and all. That’s probably more Giles’ thing. But I’m willing to bet that I can hold out long enough for those demons out there to come in here to find out what’s going on. Not only will you have to explain why a teenager, and not the almighty Angelus has their necklace, but I’m pretty sure that I can be terribly convincing when I tell all those nasty demons that they’re in trouble ‘cause this has all been a setup and now Angel is gonna kick their ass while we wait for the slayer. How do you think they’d take that; thinking you’d tricked them?”

“Well I could kill you, that should prove who I am.”

“But that would leave you without your necklace, so we’d both be dead. Besides, I get the feeling that having my neck snapped in some freakish display of power for those demons would be far preferable to what you’d do to me if you had more time. And if I’m dying anyways, I might as well take you with me.”

Cordelia could hear the words coming out of her mouth. She knew that she was, literally, digging her own grave, but she couldn’t seem to stop. She’d worked so hard telling herself to be brave that she couldn’t seem to quit and she was fast crossing the line into stupid. Taking a deep breath she tried to redirect the exchange of death threats into a more productive, less murdery type of discourse.
Chase Business Rule #2 – Don’t be afraid to make an offer. Every successful negotiation has to start somewhere.
“Look, you want your amulet thingy and I want to get out of here with my pulse in tact. Why don’t we make a deal? You get me home, safe and sound, and I’ll give you back your necklace. You can come right back here and carry out your nefarious jewelry plotting to your heart’s content.”

Angelus stepped around in front of the girl, assessing her with new eyes. He would never have given her this much credit. The slayer had certainly never had anything complimentary to say about the girl. Of course, that was almost a recommendation to his way of thinking. Whatever she had to say was sure to be interesting, and since he seemed to have no choice he decided just to go with it and see where it took him. Of course, if it didn’t take him where he wanted to go he could always rip her beautiful head off of her shoulders.

“Making deals with the devil, Cordelia? Now, now, now, what would the slayer say?”

“Who cares as long as I’m alive to find out?”

A very valid point from her, Angelus followed it up with one of his own. “How do I know you’ll keep you end of the deal?”

Cordelia gave him a look that severely questioned his sanity. “You’re kidding right? ‘Cause yeah, that’s what I want to do – piss off the new homicidal maniac on the block. In case you’re missing it here, I’m not trying to be a hero, I’m trying to get home in an entirely not dead state. To that end I could care less about your evil accessories. You’re welcome to it if it gets me home. Believe me, I’m no Buffy. I’m not dying to save the world. If I’m going to be dead, frankly the rest of the world can go to Hell for all I care.”

If it wouldn’t have given her away, Cordelia would have crossed her fingers in the hopes that Angelus bought her bluff. After all, if she didn’t care then why would she have been there tonight. Still, she really wasn’t a part of the group when Angel was around, so he’d probably just remember her as Buffy’s bitchy nemesis.

Angelus realized that whatever he decided he’d have to act fast. Frustrated, but knowing that the demons wouldn’t wait forever, he realized he had no choice but to work with the young brunette and then kill her once he had the amulet.

“Alright.”

Cordelia blinked at the abrupt turn around. Knowing she shouldn’t question her good fortune she couldn’t help but ask, “Alright what?”

“You – home, safe and sound; the amulet with me.”

Almost dizzy with relief that there might be a light at the end of this tunnel that didn’t have people beckoning her towards the afterlife, she quickly accepted. “Deal. Let’s go.”

At Angelus’ continued pause Cordelia tuned wide, questioning eyes his way. “What now?”

As if explaining to a child, Angelus pointed out, “You do understand that they’re not going to believe that I’m palling around with a human for no reason.”

“Well then you better think of one.”

Cordelia knew that the smirk on his face did not bode well for her, but she was also supremely aware of her lack of options.

“Oh, I already have.”

With those chilling words, Angelus used his preternatural speed to pull her to him, restraining her with his left hand, while winding his right hand through the heavy silken strands of her hair, he snapped her head back and barred her throat. Sliding his left hand up over her generous curves to cover her mouth, he stifled her scream as he sliced his fangs through her velvet skin and into her jugular.

As Cordelia’s essence surged into his mouth in time to the accelerated pounding of her heart, Angelus experienced things about her that only a vampire could ever know.

He tasted the fear crashing through every cell, invading every molecule. He was impressed that she was able to hide so much fear so well. Most people were reduced to hysterical sobbing and incoherent pleadings for their life by now.

Beyond the fear he tasted a myriad of emotions; feelings he wouldn’t have expected from the beautiful and popular cheerleader – pain, solitude, emptiness, so many emotions that run contrary to the persona he had always associated with the girl.

There was also the fiery taste of her anger. She was mad as Hell that he’d dared to bite her, and if he wasn’t a powerful demon he’d be extremely wary of the ire rushing through her entire system.

But as Angelus waded through all of those sensations, each alluring in it’s own way, each giving him access to places she would never willingly allow him, the thing that startled him more than anything was something he had never anticipated – her innocence.

Angelus had long been a connoisseur of virgins. Some might say it was his specialty. Although his fixation had started as a way to mock Darla – always chasing purity, valuing it above all else, knowing that it drove his sire mad to be constantly reminded, no matter how subtly, that she was a whore. But whatever the reason the hobby had grown into a lustful infatuation. There was no denying that the blood of the untouched was different somehow. It was sweeter, thicker, it held hopes and dreams unspoiled by time or experience. It had an almost mystical feel to it, which wasn’t odd if one considered that it was often used in rituals and magick ceremonies.

But whereas most virgins, being untried by life, were timid by nature, Cordelia was an intriguing dichotomy of strength and fragility. She was a swirling mass of loneliness and despair held back by sheer force of will alone. She was confidence and pride, which she used to cover a tender heart and gentle soul. She was a puzzle, the likes of which he’d never seen before, and he wondered, briefly, at the kind of demon she would make.

That thought brought Angelus crashing back to reality as he realized that he had a house full of powerful and influential demons waiting for him. He sadly concluded that this was not the time to be indulging in these particular fantasies. In a way he was somewhat relieved. He’d hate to think that because of a few sips of, admittedly amazing blood he’d be stuck with someone like Cordelia Chase for eternity. One undead bitch in his life had been more than enough, thank you.

With those sobering thoughts in mind Angelus withdrew his fangs from her neck and gently laved his wounds with his tongue, sealing them. As he pulled his head back he admired the twin punctures now adorning her neck. They were red and angry and it was already apparent that they would leave an impressive scar. The sight sent a frisson of possessiveness running through him but he easily tamped it down. After all, he was a master vampire, he could rule his instincts when the need arose. Thankfully though, the need rarely arose.

Tearing his gaze from her throat and meeting her eyes, he smiled slightly to see Cordelia’s fierce look of anger and betrayal. As she slapped her hand over the wound on her throat Angelus bit back a growl as the torn flesh disappeared from his sight.

“What the Hell are you doing? I thought we had a deal!”

He flinched at the high pitched screech that assaulted his ears. “We did, I’m just keeping up my end.”

“By snacking on me?” Disbelief dripped from every syllable.

“By giving you a legitimate reason for being here.” The vampire scowled.

“Dinner?!?”

Slowly the scowl turned into a mischievous grin. “Pet.”

Cordelia’s mouth opened and closed as she struggled to swallow the rage in her throat long enough to speak. Angelus enjoyed what he was sure was a rare moment of silence from her, but as the seconds went by he found himself wishing for her to regain the power of speech just so he could here whatever surprising thing she was sure to say next.

Cordelia finally managed to pull in a lungful of oxygen, which she promptly spit back out in a flow of acerbic words. “What? No way, buster. I’d rather let the demons kill me.”

Even though Angelus knew that time was short he couldn’t help winding up the livid girl in front of him. “Now baby, what kind of master would I be if I let someone damage my property?”

Cordelia froze at the condescending question. “God, you’re such a bastard!”

Grabbing hold of her chin he pulled her face up so that her gaze locked with his. “It would be wise not to forget that, sweetheart.”

“Geez, you’re such a guy, except instead of your penis all your decisions are made by your fangs. Do you have no impulse control?”

Moving his hand from her face to her arm, his other hand came forward to grasp her shoulders in a punishing grip. “You think I’m happy about this?” The intimidating words growled deep in his throat.

Shaking off the restraining hands, a clear indication that he was ready to let her go, Cordelia spat back, “You bet you are. There’s nothing wrong with my blood, buddy. I taste great…and isn’t this sothe wrong thing to be telling a vampire.”

The smirk tilted Angelus’ sensual lips once again as he pretended to consider Cordelia’s rash words. “Actually, I didn’t take that much. To make an informed decision as to the quality of your blood I’d have to have another sample.”

Even as he said the words he knew they were a lie. He’d imbibed more than enough of Cordelia Chase to say that, without a doubt, she was one of the most intoxicating flavors that had ever teased his pallet. But in the remarkably short time he knew her he could deduce, with absolute certainty, that this was information she would find neither reassuring nor complimentary.

In a testament to the strength of her will, Cordelia pulled herself together, straightened he spine and affected a cold and disinterested look. “Pfft, whatever.” She dismissed his ridiculous offer with a wave of her hand. She hesitated for a moment, a look of indecision crossing her face. “Look, this shouldn’t be so hard, right? It’s just acting and I’ve been thinking about taking drama when I get into college and out of this hellhole, so this will be good practice. So,” Cordelia looked up at Angelus in expectation, “what’s my motivation?”

Wondering if he’d ever been in a situation that made less sense than this, Angelus questioned her ludicrous statement in confusion, “What?”

“My motivation. You know, why I’m doing this.”

Well, at least that was fairly obvious to him. “So you’ll live to be killed another day, remember?”

“Duh. We know that’s my motivation, but they” Cordelia wildly gestured to indicate those outside of the room, “don’t know that. What’s my motivation for them?”

“Look,” Angelus bit out, slightly stunned at being duhed. “Outside this room is a clan of A’toreal demons. I need their backing to solidify my hold on this truly Godforsaken town. They’re concerned about rumors of my soul. The amulet is a way to show them that there’s nothing here but 100% demon. You don’t need a motivation for any of that. You just need to keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking. Now let’s go.”

Showing how little he knew of Cordelia Chase, Angelus considered the matter closed and began pulling her back towards the room full of demons eagerly awaiting an explanation of their earlier sudden arrival and departure.

As they entered the living room the demons rose from their seats to greet them. As they addressed Angelus Cordelia took the opportunity to inspect them more closely.

Dressed in casual yet upscale clothing, they gave the impression of nothing more sinister than businessmen gathering after hours to network over some drinks. Humanoid in appearance Cordelia really couldn’t find anything that would betray their demon status until what appeared to be the leader of this little get together turned his gaze to her.

A shiver of fear worked its way up her spine as, underneath a shock of yellow hair, she peered into eyes that were completely black, as if the pupil had expanded to engulf not just the iris but also the whites. It was a stark reminder that this was not one of her father’s business parties and she would do well to be on guard. That warning in mind she forced her attention to what was being said.

“Angelus,” The demon spoke to the vampire but his stare was trained disdainfully on Cordelia. “I’m glad you could make it. But I must say, I’m rather surprised that you brought your pet.”

Shit, Angelus cursed in his head. Gaining the trust of the A’toreal clan was essential to his plans. This task was difficult enough without one of the slayer’s damn do-gooders tagging along. God, he was going to enjoy killing her.

As Angelus went to answer the demon’s unspoken reprimand he was brought up short by the voice already answering the query. It was soft and feminine; a voice he didn’t know intimately, but one with which he was certainly familiar. But no, it couldn’t be. He was sure that they had agreed that she would keep her mouth shut and he would do all of the talking. Through the white hot blaze of his anger came the idle question of whether or not ripping Cordelia’s constantly moving tongue out of her head in front of these demons would do more to help or hurt his cause.

Forcing himself to listen as Cordelia ruined all of his hard work, he heard what he knew must be the most asinine statement to ever cross her lips.

“Not a pet.” Cordelia said in a soothing, introductory tone. “I prefer to think of myself as a business asset.”

Angelus, who was still holding Cordelia’s hand in his began applying an enormous amount of pressure to that particular extremity in the hope that she would shut up and let him rescue what he could of this debacle. Although his grip was not designed to break, it would definitely bruise and it was to her credit that her smile never faltered for an instant.

Once again as Angelus would have interjected he was beaten to the punch, this time by the head of the A’toreal clan.

“Business asset, really?” The flaxen-haired demon questioned skeptically.

This time, Angelus consoled himself, he had actually gotten his mouth open before he was cut off.

“Indeed.” Cordelia agreed as if the demon’s reply had been a reassertion of her statement rather than a questioning of her status. “How do you think your little trinket got away from the slayer tonight?”

His attention completely diverted by mention of that which they so desperately sought, the demon eagerly questioned, “The amulet? You have it?”

Finally, the vampire thought, someone was going to let him speak. Usually he didn’t have this much trouble commanding attention, but he felt that it might be counterproductive to start ripping the limbs off of the very people he was bargaining with just so he could get a word in edgewise.

“It’s safe.” Angelus confirmed. “It’s waiting to be returned to you as soon as we reaffirm that our deal still stands.”

Cordelia wondered exactly what the amulet did as the demons before her began practically salivating at the thought of their prized possession being back in their grasp. She doubted it was actually a fashion accessory, because no one here was wearing anything that wouldn’t completely clash with it.

“Of course, of course.” The disapproving demon of mere minutes ago was gone, replaced by this new obsequious version. “Once the amulet is in our possession you can be assured of both the backing and the gratitude of the A’toreal clan.”

“That’s good to know. Gentlemen.” As far as Angelus was concerned this nightmare was over. He’d managed to smooth things over with this powerful and influential band of demons, he was within minutes of getting his hands on the amulet, and he’d have the pleasure of killing the obnoxious girl next to him before the sunrise. All in all a good way to end things.

These pleasant musings were brought up short as the demon, oblivious to Angelus’ plans to leave, turned his attention from the vampire and back to his “pet”.

“So, you say you got the amulet from the slayer tonight. You don’t seem to be possessed of any supernatural powers, certainly nothing to rival a slayer’s. So how, exactly, did you accomplish this feat?”

Now assured of the return of the amulet, the demon had dropped his almost accusatory tone and adopted one of mere curiosity.

Although Cordelia didn’t lie often she knew that lies were easier to manage the more truth they contained. To that end she carefully formulated her answer using as much reality as she could without giving herself or the vampire next to her away, thus hurling herself towards a grizzly death.

“Simple. The slayer told me where it was and sent me to retrieve it for her. I hid it instead and came here.”

To say that her words were shocking to the room full of demons would have been like saying that Xander liked a little snack now and then – a complete understatement.

As the demons rushed to assume defensive positions, an older demon from the back of the room came forward. “You work with the slayer?” He practically spat the question at her.

Cordelia, deciding that the most expedient way to calm the now tense atmosphere was to ignore it, flashed a truly evil smirk that rivaled that of Angelus himself and clarified. “Well, the slayer thinks I do.”

As if she had let them in on some joke at the slayer’s expense that she found vastly amusing, her warm, sultry laughter flowed over the occupants of the room, soothing the demon’s frayed nerves.

That velvety caress of sound, however, had the opposite effect on the only vampire occupant of the room, heightening his tension and tightening his pants. He was so astounded by this new feeling regarding the girl that he almost missed that she had continued spinning her tale for the demon’s who were now riveted by her engrossing presence.

Turning so that she could better see her audience, Cordelia placed her back lightly against Angelus’ chest in a show of unity that was the ultimate fiction of the evening

“You don’t honestly believe the slayer is still around because Angelus can’t kill her?”

As many of the demons looked away, confirming that very thought, a soft growl echoed from Angelus’ chest to Cordelia’s back in a clear command to drop this dangerous line of inquiry.

Of course, Cordelia was never one to stop when she considered herself to be ahead. Then again, she was never one to stop when she considered herself to be behind, either.

“No” Cordelia corrected what she implied was their misconception. “The slayer’s still around because she can’t kill Angelus. She has all these feelings.” The disgust with which Cordelia apparently viewed the slayer was evident in her voice. Leaning back into Angelus’ as if to erase the slayer’s claim on him and replace it with her own, she was surprised to feel his arms twist around her waist, pulling her in much closer than she, personally thought was necessary for their little show. Suppressing the small fluttering in her stomach as his lips brushed the top of her head, she continued.

“She loved him, and she can’t conceive that he doesn’t love her; that it’s all been a game. And really, why on earth would Angelus kill a slayer who can’t work herself up to kill him just so a new one would be called who could? Not that a slayer would ever be able to kill you baby.”

Acting was turning out to be way harder than Cordelia had originally thought as, forcing down her natural inclination to gag, she turned her head up towards that of the vampire’s and gazed at him in what hopefully appeared to be genuine adoration.

With wicked humor glinting in his rapidly darkening eyes, Angelus moved quickly to capture the lips turned so temptingly towards his own. Thrusting his tongue between startled lips he proceeded to once again submerge himself in the essence of Cordelia Chase, and although the taste was somewhat muted in comparison to her blood, it was still, truly sublime.

With a small cough the demon interrupted the kiss, much to the relief of Cordelia who was finding herself drawn into the moment far too deep and far too quickly. Pulling herself back to reality she tried to concentrate on the demon’s words and ignore the intriguing and lingering taste of the vampire on her lips.

“A game you say?”
Chase Business Rule #3 – People will believe anything if they think that it was their idea.
Biting back a supremely self-satisfied grin, Cordelia nodded her head and widened her eyes as if greatly astounded. “You know, Angelus told me that your clan was a very influential force in Hellmouth politics, but I’m truly impressed. Most people don’t get it even now that he’s dropped the soul act.”

The A’toreal representative spoke slowly, trying to find out more without looking like he didn’t already know and thus embarrassing his clan. “Act…”

Angelus was torn between stopping the impetuous girl in his arms before she misspoke and letting her go just to see where her fanciful story would take them. After all, everything she’d said so far had been extremely beneficial and it was certainly more convincing coming from her than from him.

Cordelia gestured sagely towards the demons and spoke as if confirming something that they obviously already knew and silently gave thanks to Giles for droning on endlessly about the Aurelius Order after Angelus had appeared. It was stuff that, much like algebra, you were always surprised to find had real world applications, and she solemnly vowed to never again hope that his tweed spontaneously combusted.

“Yes, and kudos to you for spotting it. As you know, Angelus dumped his simpering sire a century ago. She just didn’t have the long term vision needed for greatness. Then my sly fox set about gathering what he would need to claim the Hellmouth.”

The demons, feeling as if they were now privy to inside information listened with rapt attention as she continued weaving her web of deceit.

“But with the Master getting ready to rise there would have been quite a shake up in the Order of Aurelius. So Angelus shows up as “Angel”, tortured vampire cursed with a soul.” Cordelia added a snort her for good measure. “He goes on and on about how he wants to make up for all of the wrongs he’s done, the lives he’s ruined.”

The leaders of the A’toreal clan, getting into the spirit of these fascinating revelations, chuckled at Cordelia’s melodramatic tone and the arm which she’d thrown over her eyes in mock horror.

“So our poor, remorseful do-gooder is accepted into the slayer’s good graces, her tender heart, and finally into her bed. And really, let me just say, ewww! Talk about taking one for the team.”

Laughter again erupted into the spellbound room, quickly calming down as they waited for her to continue to enlighten them.

“Of course, once her feelings are all involved he “convinces” her” Cordy pauses to make air quotes, “to remove all of the obstacles to his taking control of the Order.”

“First, he uses her to lure Darla to the Bronze, away from the majority of the Master’s minions, so he can stake her.” She takes a moment her so that they can appreciate the deviousness of a vampire willing, not just to murder his sire, but to cold bloodedly plan it out.

“The he has Buffy kill the Master, thereby eliminating any challenges to his claim. Then the “curse” is “broken” and he “loses his soul”, taking away the slayer’s “true love”, the rock in the turbulent ocean of her life.”

Okay, now Cordelia was making herself sick reliving the angst that was the Buffy and Angel debacle. And she was pretty sure that her fingers were going to cramp from all of the air quoting. Still, if this got her in her own bed tonight with the majority of her own blood running through her veins then it was worth it the boost she knew she was giving Angelus in his evil-type endeavors.

“So” she persevered, “not only is he in the perfect position to take the Hellmouth, but he’s also broken the slayer, leaving her weak and ineffectual.”

The demons were beginning to look at Angelus with something akin to awe. And, much to Cordelia’s disgust he was preening under all of the attention.

“But, why the story about losing the soul. Why not just tell the slayer that she’d been duped?” This astute question came from the back of the room where the older members of the A’toreal clan sat.

Cordelia, feeling the high of successful improvisation continued piecing together a plausible story.

“Actually, the story serves two purposes: One, It keeps the slayer off balance. Every time she sees Angelus it hurts all over again because she’s lost her soul mate. But no matter how much it hurts she’ll never kill the big guy because she keeps holding on to the hope that she’ll get her Angel back one day. We laugh about that a lot.”

She looked lovingly once more at Angelus but seeing the twinkle in his eyes and remembering how this gambit had played out last time she jerked her head back around before he had a chance to take advantage of her momentary lapse.

Covering her unease, Cordelia flashed the crowd a blinding smile and launched into the finale that she hoped would push her into the not killing category.

“Now the second reason is a bit more complex, but with your leading role in the power structure here I’m sure you can appreciate how difficult it can be to keep the…lesser demons in line.” Cordelia’s smile, which seemed to indicate that they were all conspiring together, had them all inclining their heads in agreement.

“Not many of the demons around here are as observant and discerning as you. Unlike your clan, they weren’t able to see that it was all a ploy. If they were told what you’ve been able to figure out they would feel stupid and humiliated. Allowing them to keep their pride is much easier than killing them all for being less than cooperative.” That last part was all truth, because Cordelia had no doubt that anyone who wasn’t pro-Angelus was just dead. Honestly, wasn’t she just being pro-Angelus to avoid her own untimely demise?

With that disturbing thought she decided that now would be a good time to wrap things up. So, gracing them with a wink and another brilliant smile she finished. “Besides, what fun is ruling with no subjects. It’s a wise leader who can forgo violence for expediency…” A shark like look transformed her face. “Now matter how fun violence may be.”

Cordelia relaxed back against Angelus to indicate that she was finished. As his arms dropped down to her hips he pulled her in tightly, allowing her to feel, up close and personal, the effect her “help” had on him. If there was one thing that Angelus loved more than virgins it was strong resourceful women. The fact that he’d found all of those things in Cordelia was, as she could attest, more than arousing.

Feeling Angelus’ appreciation pressing into her backside the phrase, “Out of the frying pan, into the fire” ran briefly through her mind. On the other hand, Cordelia figured that she had a better chance of turning him off between here and her house than she would convincing him not to kill her, because she really had no illusions that sometimes spending time with her made people more homicidal rather than less.

The lead representative of the A’toreal clan straightened to his full, rather unassuming height and stepped forward, extending his hand to the vampire. “Well, Angelus, your foresight has certainly come to fruition. It’s well past time that the Hellmouth sees some leadership with long term vision and long range plans. Be assured that you definitely enjoy the support of the A’toreal clan. Maybe with someone like you at the helm here we could be convinced to spend far more time in Sunnydale.”

As Angelus shook his hand, Cordelia thought she might be sick. The demon world was apparently just like the real world – The woman does all the work, the guy gets all the credit. She could barely keep herself from rolling her eyes.

Angelus, however, had no problem at all with receiving the credit for the night’s work. In a voice that was almost purring with satisfaction at this successful endeavor he took his leave. “Well, gentlemen, as fun as it’s been, my…asset” he paused just long enough to run his hands up and then back down the curves of Cordelia’s lush body, sending chills racing through her, “and I have things to do before I send my little wolf back into the slayer’s flock. So, if you’ll excuse us.”


Chapter Three

Acting quickly so as not to give Cordelia a chance to disrupt the delicate balance of power that she had established, Angelus wrapped his right arm around her, securing her to his side, and before she knew it they were out of the house. Another blink of swirling colors and they were back in the cemetery.

Suddenly everything stopped and then started again as Angelus released his grip on all except her hand which he used to spin her around to face him. Cordelia, sure that all of this speeding around was going to make her hurl, briefly considered aiming for the big dumb vampire and his lovely cobalt blue silk shirt. Although destroying his shirt would be satisfying, wardrobe damage probably wasn’t worth her life. Besides, she knew that she’d probably be better off trying to destroy some of Xander’s shirts. Not only would that not get her killed, but it would be a good dead almost worthy of the slayer.

As soon as the nausea passed the anger took over. “What the Hell did you think you were doing in there?” Cordelia brought her hands to her lips and began scrubbing furiously, but still Angelus could make out the nearly hysterical words coming out of her mouth. “Ewww! Vampire lips! Lips of the undead! Bah!!!” Suddenly the scrubbing was replaced by spitting noises. “Ptuey! Ptuey!”

Angelus frowned at the spectacle of the cheerleader jumping up and down in the cemetery trying to disinfect herself as if she’d been attacked by a leper. What was wrong with his lips? He’d kissed thousands of women with these lips and he’d never had any complaints. Sure, most of them died soon after and the least of their grievances against him would have been his kissing technique. But not all of them died and they never said anything derogatory. Hell, even the slayer liked his lips – and wasn’t that a disgusting image. Suddenly he, too, felt like spitting and wiping away imaginary cooties.

What was it about this girl that made the world seem slightly over tilted on its axis? A mission that should have involved nothing more than her death and the instant retrieval of his amulet instead turned into a night of amazing revelations.

He had actually claimed the girl. Not just marked her as part of the Order, but claimed her as his own. At first the thought hadn’t bothered him because he’d assumed that he’d be killing her before the night was through. But now…he wasn’t so sure.

A claim was a strong bond between a vampire and their human. While marks were given to human minions to delineate them as part of an Order, protect them while on clan business, and make them more malleable, claims were much different. They denoted a vampire’s emotional investment in a human; a taking of a pet. It was a bone deep infusing of one’s scent that declared, “This is mine and mine alone” and bespoke of the wrath that would be faced should one dare to trespass. And while it wasn’t frequent that one saw such a bond between a vampire and a human, it was by no means rare. Some vampires actually preferred to claim a human years before they turned them, thus strengthening the already compelling sire/childe bond.

Generally bonds worked best on weak-minded humans who were often chosen as servants, but even strong willed people would feel the pull. A claiming bond was infinitely more potent than that, cracking even the strongest of wills.

Angelus thoughts flew back to 1824 when Darla had claimed a demon hunter who had followed them for months all across Europe. He had a remarkably fierce will and it had taken months for the bond to break him, but when it did there was nothing he could do to resist.

Of course, that was the deconstructing of a fanatic. Most normal people felt the compulsion of the bond at once. And yet, here was Cordelia Chase acting as if his touch was repellent and she couldn’t wait to cast him from her sight.

That couldn’t be right. There was no way the shallow, self-centered bitch of Sunnydale High whom the slayer’s little gang spoke of with such contempt could be this strong. She was dating the moron for God’s sake.

He briefly considered that maybe he’d done it wrong. It had definitely been a while since he’d done anything like that, over 100 years. Maybe he was a little rusty. But no, he could smell himself all over her. And wasn’t that intoxicating – his scent mated with hers, swirling around her, declaring his possession of her.

For the bond was certainly not one-sided. The vampire, too, was affected by it. Possessive and demanding by nature, a claiming bond magnified those feelings exponentially. Just as it, over time, increased the submissiveness in the human’s nature it also increased the dominant nature of the vampire. The drive to own the person, to control every aspect of their life until everything they had was yours – their obedience, their loyalty, their love, became an imperative, escalating until it became painful for the human not to give and for the vampire not to receive.

He could feel the need to be acknowledged already churning in his gut. Why was she feeling nothing? She couldn’t be that accomplished of an actress, could she?

But of course she could. Hadn’t he seen for himself tonight as she pretended to be his adoring pet and his partner in crime. He’d hoped that when this night was over he’d be one step closer to his ultimate goal, and yet instead, he found himself immeasurably nearer to consolidating his position on the Hellmouth. And though he would never admit this outside of his head, he owed a lot of that to Cordelia Chase. A lot of it, Hell, he owed almost all of it to her.

Her quick thinking had solved problems he’d been struggling with for weeks. She created not just a plausible, but a beneficial explanation for the slayer’s continued existence. More than that, in less than an hour she’d undone the century of damage done by the soul.

Her cunning mind and easy grace had led the demons to every conclusion she wished them to reach – that the slayer had been duped, that he’d organized what amounted to the assassination of those above him in the Order, and most magnificently, that he’d never had a soul, that it had all been a ruse to gain power – an honor worthy pursuit in the demon world.

But the coup de grace had been convincing them that they were brilliant for seeing what no one else had. By implying that only lesser demons would have been taken in by the artifice, she guaranteed that by this time next week the entire demon community would not just be claiming that he had no soul, but each asserting that they had known all along.

For there was no way that the A’toreal clan would keep this juicy bit of information to themselves. No, they would want to preen and posture, basking in the glow of knowing something others did not, and in an endless jockeying for position and face saving all the other demons would jump on the bandwagon.

Still somewhat stunned by the doors that Cordelia had opened for him he chose to ignore her childish display and got back to business.

“Where’s the amulet, Cordelia?”

Cordelia stopped her pantomime of spitting and looked up at the vampire who loomed far too large in this dark graveyard. “Nuh-uh. Home, safe and sound. That was the deal. My car’s just a few rows over. Once I’m home you can have your Crackerjack prize.

Angelus controlled his rumble of discontent and once again grabbed her arm. Thankfully he chose not to use his demon speed, maybe sensing that Cordelia’s stomach couldn’t take much more and wanting no part of that unpleasantness. Still, with his large stride Cordelia was rushing to keep up.

Reaching the car, Angelus held his hand out in a silent demand for the keys. This time Cordelia made no effort to contain her eye roll, and loudly pffted almost directly in his face as she pushed passed him, unlocked the door and slid into the driver’s seat. Her life was certainly important, but come on, this was her beautiful sports car. No one drove it but her. Not Xander, not Harmony, and certainly not the guy who could crash it with impunity knowing that he’d survive any crash except maybe one into a lumber mill.

Shooting her a death glare as he climbed into the passenger’s seat Cordelia replied to his ultra-clear nonverbal communiqué.

“What?! You haven’t even been around since they invented cars.”

Angelus ground his teeth at her response as he managed to grind out, “I can drive.”

“Not my car you can’t.” As she looked over at the fuming vampire she decided to try to give that discretion thing one more try before she was strangled with her own tongue.

As they passed through the security gates and pulled up in front of the Chase home it was clear that no one was home. Angelus was out of the car and around to Cordelia’s door before she could even shut off the motor.

Escorting her to the front door he turned her to face him. “Here you are, safe and sound.”

“No,” Cordelia replied, “I’m here, but I’m not safe ‘til I’m on the other side of that door.”

Angelus smiled, surprisingly, not unkindly at her. “You know I can’t let you go in there without telling me where the amulet is, Cordelia.”

In a ploy that had been working for her very well tonight, Cordelia let Angelus think that he was in control of the situation. Letting him believe that his crowding of her was intimidating she slowly inched her way until she was leaning entirely against the door.

Chase Business Rule #4 – Just because you’re in business with someone doesn’t mean you have to trust them.

Before Angelus could react, even considering his great speed, the Chase’s large wooden entryway opened causing Cordelia to fly backwards into an elegant entrance hall.

As he watched all of his plans crumble as Cordelia scrambled backwards, Angelus began expelling rapid fire obscenities and beating his hands futilely against the mystical barrier preventing him from snapping her neck.

Cordelia, finally assured that he couldn’t follow, held up her key chain before the amber eyes of the now fully vamped Angelus. Gesturing to a small black device dangling amongst the keys she explained. “Electronic locks. They automatically open the doors to the car” Cordelia pointed to the appropriate button, “to the garage door” again displaying the correct control, “and this one – the front door. Daddy likes me to be safe”

Angelus’ words took on a guttural tone as he barely managed to push words through the rage choking him. “Safe? You bitch, when I get a hold of you they won’t be able to identify your body, if they can find all the pieces – ”

Cordelia waved of his threats and hurried to cut off talk of her imminent death at his hands. “Geez, don’t get your knickers in a twist, grr guy. Your necklace is in the cemetery in the flower vase of Emily Winston’s tombstone.”

Pausing in the process of attacking the barrier once again, a confused look crossed Angelus’ face and, as if finding an appropriate home, seemed to settle there. All other thoughts escaping him he asked the one question that wouldn’t flee in light of this shocking concession.

“Why?”

Although in the short time they’d spent together that evening Cordelia had spent most of her time lying, the eyes that lifted to meet Angelus’ now clearly contained nothing but a pure and unvarnished truth far more characteristic of the lovely brunette.

“Look Buffy can build her mansion in the land of denial for all I care. But you and I live in reality…well, I live, you exist. Your big plan for Buffy is to kill her friends, kill her family and leave her broken and alone. I get that.”

“But Buffy doesn’t want to believe that because then she’d have to kill you and she doesn’t want to do that. She believes that, deep down, there’s some of Angel in you still. Of course, you and I both know that, salty good exterior aside, you’re no Angel. She’s just not prepared to understand that the only constant thing about Angel is you. You’re the natural state, although not the preferred one, and Angel is the temporary component in this equation.”

“So I know that everyone around her slayership is on your list, but I figure – Buffy and I, not the greatest of friends. In fact, killing me might actually be a favor in her mind. So I have to believe that I’m fairly low on the “Angelus’ List of People to Kill Today”.”

“Why’d I give you the necklace? Simple; I don’t want to move up.”

Angelus considered her explanation. Short and to the point it underscored his earlier thoughts that Angel and the entire Scooby gang had severely underestimated the girl standing before him.

Not entirely sure whether he was taunting the brunette or genuinely enquiring he probed her understanding of the ramifications of her decision.

“You do understand that by giving me the amulet you’ve basically guaranteed my ascendance to power in this town.”

Hazel eyes shot him an incredulous look. “And I care because? Whether you’re in charge or the arterial clan – ”

“The A’toreal clan.”

“Gee, thanks Giles.” Cordelia shot back, sticking her tongue out at the vampire.

Angelus had the grace to look chagrined, knowing that he had, indeed sounded just like the watcher. But embarrassment was soon overtaken by lust as the tongue he had feasted on earlier that evening came into view.

“Anyways” Cordelia carried on having no idea the directions the vampire’s thoughts were now heading, “like I care which demon runs the Hellmouth. You’d all kill me as soon as give me a second glance.”

His thoughts still filled with better ways she could use that tongue than mocking him, Angelus slowly let his gaze wander down her body, eyes pausing to gauge the fullness of the breasts straining against the thin burgundy silk of her blouse, appreciating the firm curves of her hips highlighted by the thin material of her pants, the endless length of her legs. His blatant desire was an almost physical caress as he burned his way back up the path he’d just descended, meeting her eyes and flashing her a smile that would rarely be seen outside of the bedroom.

“I don’t know, Cordelia. I’d certainly give you a second glance.”

Despite the rapid beating of her heart and the aching deep in her belly that accompanied the mental stripping the vampire had given her, she attempted to retain at least her outward composure, and, pinning him with the easy glare of one often admired, dismissed what she assumed he thought passed for a compliment.

“And now I have to take two showers.”

He paused for a moment. That was never the reaction he got from the opposite sex, especially once he expressed an interest. And dammit all, she was his! She should be feeling something.

As the absurdity of the entire evening came crashing down on him, Angelus threw back his head and laughed, a deep, sensual sound.

Cordelia was right in her assessment of his intentions. He was planning on killing everyone in the slayers life. What he hadn’t planned on was Cordelia Chase. She’d spent the evening surprising him continuously, and after a quarter of a millennium, that wasn’t that easy.

She’d definitely accomplished her goal – She’d moved herself to the bottom of his kill list. Maybe off it entirely.

After all, limited exposure to each other should restrict the bond, and he certainly had no reason to hang out with the girl. Even with the soul he’d rarely spent time with her.

Besides, it could only help his reputation in the demon community to have a pet in the slayer’s camp. Yes, Cordelia Chase was certainly off the killing agenda.

Angelus’ kindly musings were interrupted by Cordelia once again. “Of course, the biggest reason I’m giving you your amulet is so that I can watch the slayer kick your ass getting it back.”

And she was back on the list, Angelus thought as she winked and closed the door in his face. But breathing in her lingering scent which stirred his predatory instincts in for more than just homicidal ways, he knew that she was indisputably at the bottom.

As Angelus turned to make his way back home his steps were contemplative as he wondered whether Cordelia Chase presented a burden or an opportunity.


PART TWO – THE ENCORE
Chapter Four

For the first time since he began in his capacity as Buffy’s watcher Giles was giving his slayer only half of his attention. As she talked about studying for tests and the new band at the Bronze tonight (a not so subtle hint on her part in the hopes that he would release her from her duties early), his thoughts were more and more on the young cheerleader who had yet to grace them with her presence.

Although he appreciated her calling him last night and letting him know that she was safe and the current state of the amulet, he had to admit that he had been left sleepless by an endless array of questions, starting with what the purpose of the amulet might be, and ending with why Cordelia was still alive.

Not that Giles would wish for any other outcome than one that ended with the girl’s safety, but the fact that Angelus would let her live was as confusing as it was relieving. If only she would hurry along so that he could put these nagging uncertainties to rest.

As if by magic, which on the Hellmouth was always a possibility, Cordelia made her way into the library. Dressed in a pair of faded yet obviously expensive jeans and a copper hued turtle neck with sneakers of a matching color, her casual look was completed by a dark clip which gathered her thick, lustrous hair, pulling it away from her face and holding it securely at the back of her neck. The young women looked strikingly lovely, and yet oddly overdressed for the unseasonably warm day.

Seeing Cordelia garbed in a manner less then her usual sophisticated apparel made her seem more vulnerable, as if her fashion choices functioned almost as a form of armor. It reminded Giles not just how truly young all of these children were, but that this particular child had spent the last night in the midst of a trauma the likes of which most people could never conceive.

Never did a day go by that Giles didn’t feel the tremendous weight of his crushing guilt for what these students were giving up. Buffy thought that he didn’t understand her desire to be a normal girl. Of course he did. If he could take her destiny on his own shoulders and give her the life that she deserved he would do so in an instant. But he knew that was an impossibility.

Many were the days when he wanted to relieve her of her duties and tell her to go, leave this place and pursue her dreams of normalcy. Yet how longs would that idyllic life last without a slayer to stem the rising tides of darkness. It was unquestionably cruel that such a heavy burden fell on such slim shoulders, and yet he knew that it must remain so. For if the slayer were to falter, truly the world would fall.

As a watcher, Giles had been able to learn over time to accept the role this girl must play in the supernatural theater. He didn’t pretend to like it, but its necessity could not be denied. In that he was a complete and utter realist. What he had never prepared himself for was the sacrifice that those around his slayer would make.

Slayers were, by design, loners. Indeed, all watchers new that the slayer was she who stands alone against the forces of darkness”. And yet Buffy defied this convention at every turn. In her quest for a life separate, greater than that of her role as slayer, she had made commitments, forged relationships, garnered loyalties. And those loyalties had certainly proven fierce. Time after time those close to the slayer had stood shoulder to shoulder against the evil inherent to the Hellmouth with nothing more than their bravery and their endless confidence in their friend to protect them. Giles knew an entire council full of people who understood the dangers of this mystical convergence of evil and yet none stood here ready to fight. These children put them to shame.

But as the days passed and his knowledge of each of his charges grew, so did his guilt. Buffy had little choice but to be the slayer. Until her death and the calling of the next, she was the champion of the light. Abandoning her post would do nothing but hasten the demise of the world, herself included. But the others had no such constrictions. They could leave at any time, and while he had serious reservations about the future of Xander Harris, he could definitely see bright prospects for the others. They could live happy and fulfilling lives far away from this place of evil, but still he let them stay, let them fight. And while the sorrow at that decision increased daily, so did his understanding that these young people did more than just fight with the slayer; they made her better.

For generations slayers stood alone, however Giles was finding that having them do so may have been a mistake. What drives one to fight unendingly when one had nothing for which to fight? Buffy had friends and family that gave her a connection to the world and, in doing so, made it a place worthy of the battle she constantly waged. And so he let this children’s crusade continue.

But for all of that insight, seeing Cordelia standing there looking all of her tender years, he found himself once again questioning his decisions.

Setting aside his doubts he called to the girl still hovering close to the doorway. The uncertainty was at odds with her usual overwhelming self-confidence, and it only increased his uneasiness as to the events of last night.

“Cordelia, do come and sit down. You’re looking well, considering. Our conversation last night was rather brief and I have some questions that I hope you can answer.”

As his girlfriend made her way into the seat next to his Xander grabbed her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. He too had spoken briefly on the phone with her last night, and although assured of her physical safety, he knew that she must have been scared out of her mind.

When the group had realized that they had greatly underestimated the resistance they would meet with last night, Xander’s first thoughts had been for his best friend’s safety. Sure that Willow would have the amulet, he was terrified at thoughts of what Angelus might do to her to get it back.

When the had finally dispatched the last of Angelus’ hired guns and made their way to where the redhead lay, shaking on the ground, Xander had been unbelievably relieved.

That relief was soon to give way to heart-stopping terror as he listened to Willow explain that it was Cordelia, and not she who had the amulet. Realizing that Angelus had taken off in pursuit of his girlfriend, Xander wildly asked which way Cordelia went and took off running in that general direction.

An hour of searching, first for the cheerleader, and then just for her body had stretched Xander to the breaking point. It’s true that you don’t know what you have until you loose it. He had never realized that the love/hate relationship that had developed between him and Cordelia was fast becoming one in which love far outweighed the hate.

Walking back to the library last night after the fruitless search, Xander was surprised at the continuous flow of tears down his cheeks as he contemplated never seeing Cordelia alive again, never tasting her lips. He even felt a loss at the thought of never hearing her cutting remarks belittling him in front of whoever happened to be present at the time.

The others thought that Cordelia was nothing but a bitch, but he knew better. Her life wasn’t something that they’d understand. They saw the money, the popularity, the designer clothes and they thought that was the whole picture. But Xander had learned in the past few months that there were more layers to his girlfriend than he could probably discover in a lifetime.

Cordelia’s life may look like a bed of roses, but it was more like a thicket of thorns. Although she would never do anything publicly other than present the picture of familial perfection, her parents often had less to do with her than his and Willow’s put together. When they did deign to be around it was only to crush her with wildly unrealistic expectations of perfection. Cordelia’s entire persona was built on satisfying these expectations. More to the point, it was about staving off the scathing disappointment that her parent were all to willing to heap upon her at the slightest deviation from their master plan for her life.

Hadn’t he seen this very thing when Cordelia had taken him home to meet her parents; a term he would use loosely? While the Chases had politely excused themselves to the adjacent room to speak with their daughter, the mahogany doors did little to muffle their ever escalating voices.

With the attitude Xander had witnessed from Cordelia in the rest of her life, he had assumed that he had front row seating for the battle of the century. But not once did he hear her raised voice escape the room. Instead, her parents had railed at her, heaping on a never-ending litany of abuse. Although Xander expected the conversation to concern his deficiencies as boyfriend material, it had centered rather on what a disappointment Cordelia was as a daughter. When they reentered the room, Xander expected to be told to go home. He expected Cordelia to tell him that she wanted nothing more to do with him. No words could ever express his shock and his pride when Cordelia informed him that the two of them would be eating out that night.

Leaving her fuming parents behind, he and Cordelia had endeavored to enjoy their evening. However, when Xander tried to broach the subject of her parents, Cordelia coldly informed him that particular topic was not up for discussion, refusing to break in front of anyone, even him.

The others might mistake Cordelia’s attempts at self-protection as shallowness on her part, but not him, never again. She’d given up more than they knew to be with him, her friends, her status, her parent’s approval and in a way he felt deeply ashamed that he hadn’t realized how much that meant to him until last night.

Determined to make up for any shortcomings on his part in their relationship, Xander had spent the day attempting to be the perfect boyfriend. Unfortunately, he had no idea what that entailed. About halfway through lunch after Cordelia nailed him in the chest with her half eaten apple and the demand that he “stop hovering”, he gave up his efforts to be perfect and just tried to be supportive. He knew he must be better at that by the way that Cordelia was now grasping his hand like a lifeline and smiling thankfully up at him.

As she took her seat Giles adjusted his glasses both to see better and to allow him a moment to gather his thoughts and decide on the right way to approach what, surely for the girl, was a delicate topic.

As both Buffy and Willow took their seats, Giles began the interrogation.

“If you could, Cordelia, go over last nights events it would be very helpful with any attempts we make to retrieve the amulet.”

This was the part of the day Cordelia had dreaded since closing her front door last night. This confrontation, which had her dragging her feet from her last class to the library in the hopes of forestalling the inevitable seemed, almost as if it was going to be worse that the evening she’d spent with Angelus. At least she’d gotten out of that alive. After giving away the amulet she wondered if she’d be so lucky today.

Still, Cordelia was a survivor and last night she’d certainly survived, which is more that most people could do while being uncooperative with a master vampire. Straightening her spine and strengthening her resolve she readied herself for the questions coming her way. She was Cordelia Chase, she did not break, she did not bend. Okay, maybe she bent a little, but that was only in the face of an extreme tortuous death, not because her school librarian might be upset with her.

After all, what could Giles really do? Raise her library fines? Beat her with a crumpet? Have his ultimate killing machine, Buffy rip her heart out? Okay, so not the good thoughts.

Actually, as she looked at him now she was surprised to see nothing but compassion and an underlying curiosity on his face. Maybe she was so used to the disappointment of her parents that she just naturally expected it from Giles.

At that thought Cordelia recognized that she was being unfair. Giles had never been anything other than kind to her, even in the most difficult of circumstances. The man seemed to have the patience of Job and she would do nothing but give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Well, Willow and I found the necklace right where it was, unfortunately supposed to be – on a dead guy. After a brief discussion about who should get the honor of stealing the dead guys valuables, which, by the way, is probably a curse worthy act here on the Hellmouth I just grabbed the damn thing so we could get out of there.”

At this point Willow, a look of guilt spreading across her face, interrupted. “I’m sorry, Cordelia. I should have gone ahead and taken it.”

Cordelia, who was not one to be overly generous to the redhead, smiled reassuringly at her. “Not an issue, Willow. One of us had to grab it, and there’s no way anyone could have known what would happen, so don’t beat yourself up.”

As Willow sat in shock of a reply from the brunette that carried no trace of her usual cattiness, the rest of the gang wondered what other effects the near death experience had on the girl.

For her part, Cordelia was extremely grateful the she and not Willow had taken the amulet last night. Although she was undeniably brilliant, Willow tended to crack under pressure. So while she probably would have been able to devise a much better escape plan than getting herself bitten by evil incarnate, she probably would not have been able to execute her plan in any reasonable manner. Worse, she probably would have spilled the whole thing to Angelus at the first glare he threw her way. Willow did have a tendency to babble.

At the clearing of Giles’ throat, Cordelia realized that the brief lull had become an uncomfortable silence filled with the anticipation of most of the room’s occupants.

“When we were finally able to reach the car the sun had set and the embodiment of evil was leaning against it. I wonder if that’ll damage the paint.”

“Willow ran one way and I ran the other, ‘cause that whole safety in numbers thing has really turned out to be a bunch of crap.”

Now came the difficult part of her story. Reminding herself that she trusted Giles, she plowed ahead.

“As I was running through the rows of headstones I saw one that looked kind of new. It had some flowers in a little vase, so I hid the amulet inside. Then I took off running again because I figured that by than Angelus would have figured out that Willow didn’t have it. By the way, glad to see he didn’t kill you to get that info.”

A shy but sunny smile brightened Willow’s features at the words of concern from a girl that she was sure hated her. “Thanks.” Willow said softly, feeling as if maybe Xander was right and they didn’t know all there was to know about Cordelia.

“So when I reached the edge of the cemetery I stopped to see if there was some place safe to run too. Most the houses there looked pretty empty, but one was all lit up. I figured bang on the door, get inside, call the cavalry.”

“A sound plan, but obviously not what happened.” Giles interjected her to give Cordelia a moment.

“Not exactly. Sure, I got to the house. Then I saw Angelus coming and I let myself in. The door was unlocked and believe me, that’s the last time I’ll trust anybody who doesn’t lock their front door in this miserable town.”

“The occupants of the house?” Giles asked, somewhat confused as he had thought that Angelus had been the threat last night.

“Demons! Of course, here in Sunnydale I guess it’s a given that any house you enter gives you a 50/50 shot of being in the presence of demons. But this was even beyond that. It was that stupid clan of arterial demons – and oh my God don’t you correct me Giles!”

Giles’ mouth snapped shut at the preemptive reprimand. After all, if the children wanted to flaunt their ignorance it was of no concern to him. He knew that if he repeated that philosophy enough it was sure to become true.

“I guess they got a place next to the cemetery for the meeting with Angelus. So just as I’m about to make my presence known, ‘cause I certainly don’t want to get shot by some ticked off home owners, who should grab me from behind but the fanged wonder.”

Good Lord, thought Giles. This was worse than he’d originally thought. Not only did Cordelia have to deal with Angelus, but also a room full of A’toreal demons. How on earth had she managed to escape? Restraining his barrage of questions he waited patiently for her to continue.

“Angelus pulled me into a study and we cut a deal.”

“A deal? With Angelus? This is the same “Kill your family, kill your friends” Angelus that we’ve come to know and loathe, right?”

Xander’s amazement was slightly more colorful, but no less indicative of the shock flowing through the rest of the group. Angelus was not the kind of demon with whom one simply made deals. In fact, were vampires ever able to experience childhood their report cards were sure to be filled with “Does not work and play well with others” commentary. And probably a number of parent teacher conferences in which the vampy parents were gently encouraged to teach their children that it’s not good citizenship to eat their fellow classmates.

Deciding to ignore the stares of disbelief, Cordelia addressed Xander’s question. “Yes, Xander, a deal. That’s why I’m here now and not a bloodless corpse on Buffy’s porch.”

Wincing not only at the vivid imagery, but also the extreme likelihood of that scenario, Giles probed the depths of this “deal”.

“Yes, when you say deal, what exactly does that entail? I assume you gave the amulet for your safety, but how did you get that Angelus to let you go once he’d taken possession of it?”

Hearing no censure in Giles’ voice at the fact that she’d given Angelus the amulet, Cordelia breathed a soft sigh of relief and continued her story.

“Oh, believe me Giles, I didn’t trust Angelus to let me wake up this morning with a pulse, so I didn’t give him what he wanted until I was already safe.”

“You see, first we had to go make up some lame ass excuse for the demons as to why Angelus didn’t have their jewelry and why he was dragging a human around with him. Once we did that he drug me out of that house super quick. I think he was probably afraid if I opened my mouth one more time everything would go to Hell in a hand basket. Which isn’t a very long trip from here.”

“When we got back to the cemetery I told him that the deal was for me to be home. I think that he just wanted to get everything over with because he agreed and we took my car home.”

“When we got there the big, fat liar said I couldn’t go inside ‘til I coughed up his stupid amulet. He was trying to intimidate me by squishing my personal bubble.”

Xander cringed at the thought. Not just of Angelus being so close to her, but the memories of all the times that he had received the wrath of Cordelia Chase for crimes against “the bubble”. If he wasn’t a sadistic, homicidal maniac who slept with the girl he’d had a crush on for over a year, Xander might just feel sorry for Angelus.

“So I let him think that I was all scared and cowering and them BAM!”

“Good Lord, he hit you?!” Giles exclaimed as he straightened to his full height intending to rush to the girl and examine here for injuries.

Cordelia rolled her eyes and waved away Giles’ concern, a look of self-satisfaction stealing over her features. “Pfft, I’m sure. Of course I didn’t mean BAM – he hit me. I meant BAM – I used my remote to the electronic locks on the front door and fell through backwards and out of insaniac’s reach.”

Xander smiled at his girlfriend. The few times he’d been to the Chase home while her parents were away he’d been fascinated with that particular security feature. Using her remote to open the door repeatedly, Cordelia finally grew bored with his childlike glee, informed him that he was a first class dork, and went for a swim. If there’s one thing to pull a guy away from a remote it’s a woman like Cordelia Chase in a bikini. Needless to say the door was abandoned in favor of frolicking in the pool.

“Yes, well, excellent thinking, Cordelia.” Giles was truly impressed. The numbers of those dead at Angelus’ hands had never been calculated with any certainty, but must surely rank in the thousands. That this young, beautiful girl, a friend of the slayer’s, had manage to walk away without serious injury was a credit to her quick thinking and steady nerves.

Unsure how to ask the next question in a way that did not sound callous, Giles heard Xander beat him to the punch. Nor had the young man discovered how to couch his question sensitively, obviously.

“So if you were safe, why’d you give him the amulet?”

As both the blonde and the redhead cringed and mentally said farewell to their friend, Cordelia’s spine snapped into an upright position as a look of absolute fury swept her face.

“Why’d I give it to him? Why’d I give it to him?” Giles winced as Cordelia’s voice crept steadily higher. “I’ll tell you why I gave it to him Mr. Xander “apparently my girlfriend is expendable” Harris.”

“Do you know what he threatened to do to me if he didn’t get his precious amulet back? Let’s just say the choices were me without my skin or me in little pieces. And most of us in this room have no doubts that he would have done it.”

“Sure, I could’ve never gone outside for the rest of my life, but then again, last night taught us nothing if not that Angelus has plenty of daytime help.”

“So what was I supposed to do, Xander? Keep his necklace on principal so that I could spend today being carved up like a Christmas turkey?!”

Surprisingly it was Buffy who cut off Xander’s stuttering reply. “I’m sure Xander didn’t mean it that way, Cordelia. You were right to give him the necklace. Withholding it just would have made you a target of God knows what kind of sick revenge plan. The most important thing here is that you made it through and you’re okay. We can worry about getting the necklace back later.”

Buffy knew that she’d shocked Cordelia the defense of her actions the previous night, but she’d meant every word. She and Cordelia may not really be friends, but she was helping them, and at great risk to herself. Being demon bait – not a super safe profession. She was in even more danger after last night’s debacle. As she could attest, catching Angelus’ eye, even in a small way was never good for a person’s health.

That’s what made this especially hard. Buffy always felt responsible for the supernatural happenings in Sunnydale. But this was more. Even if no one was saying it, she felt to blame for unleashing Angelus on the world once again.

Her friends were completely supportive, telling her that she was no way that she could have known about that stupid happiness restriction to Angel’s cure. And yet she felt the burden of every death Angelus caused and every act of evil he wreaked weighed on her soul as if she were causing it herself. All of the faceless victims surely meeting their end at the vicious vampire’s hands haunted the slayer’s dreams. She couldn’t imagine the endless nightmares she’d endure were she to have a face to put with the name. Especially one she knew well.

Dragging her thoughts from their downward spiral she soldiered on. “Now we just have to figure out how to get the amulet back.”

“Yeah, well I told Angelus that you were gonna kick his ass and take it back.”

Surprised at the ringing confidence in Cordelia’s tone, especially after how poorly last night went, Buffy’s eyes snapped to the cheerleaders and the two shared a small smile.

In the midst of the easing of tensions Xander once again threw in his two very unwanted cents.

“Here’s a thought. Why don’t we just kill Angelus and then we won’t have to worry about this amulet anymore.”

Willow expressed her opinion at that suggestion by kicking Xander under the table much harder than one would expect from such a delicate looking girl. Even Cordelia was looking at him, the unspoken “dumbass” spelt out clearly in her hazel eyes. Her words weren’t any more comforting.

“Geez, Xander, why don’t you be a little more insensitive. Oh wait, you can’t. Besides, the amulet was for the demons, not Angelus. By the time we get to him he’ll probably have given it to them, if he hasn’t already, so we’ll still have to worry about the damn thing.”

On seeing Xander’s face fall at the realization that he’d hurt Buffy, Cordelia felt torn. Her first instinct was to be mad. Xander never worried about her feelings the way that he did Buffy’s. It was exhausting sometimes to feel like you were always in competition with someone you couldn’t beat ‘cause they weren’t even playing the game and it was still neck and neck. She had no illusions that Xander would stay with her if Buffy expressed an interest.

On the other hand hadn’t her boyfriend spent the entire day demonstrating how much he actually did care about her in his own dorky way? It wasn’t really Xander’s fault that he was blinded by the slayer. After all, who wouldn’t be ensnared by a genuine super hero in trampy clothing? Sometimes she truly wondered if Xander was worth all of this effort.

Still, even though she’d read him the riot act, she didn’t completely disagree with him. So, laying a gentle hand on his arm she delivered a friendly warning. “Xander, don’t wish for things that just aren’t going to happen.”

Hearing Cordelia’s words Buffy found a target that was sure to be more satisfying than Xander, and pinning Cordelia with a hard look, blew off some of her steam at a girl she wasn’t sure was entirely wrong.

“Don’t, Cordelia. You just don’t understand.”

Cordelia couldn’t suppress the laughter that bubbled up, and frankly she didn’t even try.

“Don’t kid yourself, Buffy. I understand more than you know.”

“I get that with Angel losing his soul in such a seemingly arbitrary way you can’t help that if you wait long enough something equally random will happen to bring it back. Maybe Angelus will even chow down on another gypsy girl and boom – instant Angel, just add magick and stir.”

“And while I’m not judging ‘cause, let’s face it, for all I know I just gave him the key to the Hellmouth’s deadbolt, I am allowed to be a little bitter. After all, I’m the one who got chomped on by your psycho ex last night.”

If Buffy had tried to devise a better plan to get everyone’s attention off of her fantasies about saving Angel, she couldn’t have created anything more distracting than Cordelia’s last statement.

“What?” Xander cried jumping up to stare in horror at Cordelia, images of Jesse crowding his head.

Giles too felt the need to interject. “He bit you?”

Cordelia expected the reaction from Xander, but the anger and concern radiating from the watcher on her behalf warmed her heart and made her rush to set his mind at ease.

“It’s okay guys, ‘cause…umm not dead here. Did you guys really think I’m wearing last season’s turtle neck to revive an ancient fashion trend?”

Willow, who’d been fairly quiet up to this point, was overcome by her ever-present need to understand.

“Why didn’t Angelus, you know…drain you. Not that I’d want him to ‘cause then you’d be – well, a dead Cordelia. Ooh! Or an undead Cordelia.” Willow’s voice slowly petered out as she lost herself in wide-eyed contemplation of the unholy terror that would be a vampire Cordelia.

After a night spent dwelling on just that very thought Cordelia was quick to move away from that subject.

“Look, from what the fang happy freak told me it was just window dressing to make it easier for the demons to accept me being there.” There was no way that she was going to discuss the degrading “pet” talk. She’d never hear the end of that.

Buffy was more than willing to take Cordelia’s explanation on faith. Knowing that Angelus was that close to killing her best friend’s girlfriend was making her vaguely ill. Desperate to change the subject she did what slayer’s do best and started formulating a plan to address the immediate problem.

“So, you can show us where the demons are?”

Cordelia, also wanting to redirect the conversation from last night’s humiliations, gratefully followed Buffy’s lead.

“Yeah, but I got the feeling that wasn’t their normal place, more like a meeting place for the amulet exchange.”

Giles, with the same attention to detail that enabled him to pass as a librarian declared, “We should still check it out.”

“You bet we should.” Agreed Cordelia, already making her way to the door. “After all, I may not know what kind of mojo that amulet’s gonna let loose, but I do know that Angelus is trading it so that he can stage a hostile takeover of the Hellmouth and become the big cheese.”

As she passed through the doors on the way to her car, Cordelia missed the horrified looks on the faces of those who couldn’t seem to make their bodies move to follow her.


Chapter Five

Well, that was a complete waste of yet another afternoon, Cordelia thought as she remembered the last three days since the amulet incident. Endless hours spent combing every part of the house she’d been in, searching records, and reading dusty old books in the hopes of finding where a bunch of amulet wearing demons might hide. But there were no A’toreal demons, no Angelus, and absolutely no reason for them to waste time they could have been spending at The Bronze.

Well, better late than never she thought as she climbed out of her car. Reaching back into the passenger seat she pulled out a silk scarf. It matched the emerald green silk of the blouse she matched up with a pair of black, velvet slacks, and would hopefully, with the help of her hair cascading in gentle waves over her shoulders, hide the still raw vampire bite on her neck.

As she straightened up and closed the car door she let out a chocked scream as she was swept off her feet and spun around. Finding herself in a darkened corner of the parking lot, she was trapped by the arms banded around her, pulling her into a rock hard body as she heard a sadly familiar voice purr into her ear.

“Miss me, baby?”

Dammit all, she’d been so close to The Bronze, so close to people who…well, actually they probably couldn’t help her much. She had a feeling that whatever was going on now Angelus would see them as more of an appetizer than a substitute meal.

“Not as much as I’m going to miss my heartbeat if you keep grabbing me out of nowhere.”

Resting his head against the side of hers, Angelus couldn’t help but take a moment to inhale Cordelia’s new and improved scent. Emanating not just from his mark but from every pore in her body was her unique aroma, a blending of sweetness and spice like cinnamon swirled with sugar, and his own scent – age, danger and an unrestrained power few would be foolhardy enough to defy.

He whisper into the ear so temptingly close to his lips, “Maybe I like grabbing you.”

Cordelia Chase was an awesome flirt, but even she could admit when she was out of her depth. Maybe if it had been Angel standing here. He’d been controllable; the slayer had certainly proved that, tugging on his leash more times than she cared to remember. That, however, was not the case with the vampire who stood before her now. Dark and menacing, Angelus was not in anyway a candidate for either harmless or serious flirting.

Deciding the direct approach was called for, Cordelia pushed down the shivers produced by the soft words blown into her ear. In the mood he was in she immediately discarded the suggestive, “What do you want?” and went for something more likely to keep their libidos on an even keel.

“Why are you here?”

The gentle nuzzling of her hair ceased as Angelus felt the irritation of the other night flood back into his system. Feeling his body begin to harden just at the scent of her, the feel of her lithe body pressed into his, his annoyance grew by leaps and bounds at her continuing cold demeanor. Didn’t she understand what that did to a demon? Like a red cape to a bull it drove him to wild with thoughts of pushing the issue, touching her in ways she couldn’t deny.

But those were games for another day as he pushed down his instincts to possess and reminded himself that tonight he need her cooperation. It would certainly be easier if she gave it even somewhat willingly.

Angelus allowed his arms to drop to his side but entwined the fingers of one his hands with her own. While Cordelia was in no way fooled that this was a tender gesture, knowing that the move was only to ensure she didn’t try to run, she was still grateful for the reprieve. Despite her outward iciness she was unsure how much longer she could have remained in his arms and not melted into a puddle of well dressed goo.

What the Hell was wrong with her? This wasn’t just an evil demon. No, apparently, with her help, he was king of all the evil he surveyed. He was off limits in the worst way and this hormone driven craving that she had to lean back into the body that had just granted her space was insane. Where were her survival instincts? God she hated being a teenager.

“Well, my dear, it seems the A’toreal’s are giving a dinner tonight in my honor, a public return of their amulet and a show of loyalty to me in front of the ruling members of the major demon clans in the area.”

Knowing that he could not be heading in the direction she thought, Cordelia gave him her sunniest smile. “Well, you have fun with that. Parties are always a lovely break from the grind of…uh…evil doing. Now if you’ll excuse me.”

She knew it wouldn’t be that easy, but she was still disappointed when the hand holding hers tightened, refusing to let her flee to the relative safety of the nightclub behind her.

“Actually, we’ve both been invited.” Angelus stressed, a sudden sly smile cutting across his face. “Isn’t that sweet, it’ll be our first date. Apparently the A’toreals were very taken with you.”

Cordelia decided to ignore his asinine allusion to them dating and cut to the real matter at hand.

“And that matters to me because?”

Using their connected fingers to jerk her once again flush with his body, Angelus explained. “That matters to you because you’re my little business asset. And when you cease being my business asset you become my business liability. And when that happens my only option will be to liquidate you.”

It was like being threatened by her economics teacher, if he happened to be a demon. A possibility that Cordelia had often considered. And yet she was chilled to the marrow in her bones. Not by the threat per se, but by how absolutely unconcerned he seemed about killing her.

Cordelia knew that here, cornered in a dark parking lot, she was out of options. The best she could do was to try to find out what his plans for her might be tonight. After all, she didn’t think that the electronic lock trick would work twice.

“This isn’t like the last time. My leverage is fairly limited. How do I know you won’t kill me as soon as dinner’s over? Kind of like a vampy dessert?”

The predator in Angelus suddenly became far more pronounced than it had been even when he was threatening her life. “You don’t. Hopefully that will motivate you to be on your best behavior.”

“Honestly, I could kill you now. The A’toreals are demons, they’d understand. Still, it’s beneficial for me to have you there. Do a good job for me and I’ll cut you the same deal as before – you home, safe and sound.”

Cordelia had the nagging suspicion that she was not just looking her gift horse in the mouth, but counting its teeth, yet she couldn’t seem to leave good luck unquestioned. “Why?”

Angelus had already asked himself that question a number of times. He was slightly uncomfortable with his lack of murderous intent where this girl was concerned. Sure, he’d kill her in a heartbeat if he felt like it. What bothered him was that he didn’t feel like it more.

“Like I said, you’re useful. Besides, I’d like to have the Hellmouth politics out of the way before I start killing off the slayer’s band of merry men. I want to be able to give her my full attention.”

“Why?” Angelus let his demon face come forward. “Are you trying to work your way up my list?”

Cordelia blew out the breath she didn’t even know she’d been holding, resigned to another night in the vampire’s company.

“No. In this area of my life I’m absolutely ecstatic about being last. So what do you need me to do?”

Satisfied, Angelus’ features faded back to his human semblance.

“There’s my good girl.”

Teeth grinding almost painfully Cordelia knew she was taking her life in her hands, but she wouldn’t put up with this condescending crap one more minute. She was a person, not a dog, and more than that she was Cordelia frickin’ Chase. She had pride, she had dignity, she had –

“First we go shopping.”

“Oooh, shopping!”

Immediately distracted from her internal tirade, Cordelia found herself feeling pleased for the first time since the vampire grabbed her. After all, evil and shopping was certainly better than evil and no shopping.


Chapter Six

If Cordelia had known what they would be shopping for she would have taken her evil straight up, without the splash of shopping. As she surveyed the picture she presented in the dressing room mirror she was once again drowning in the depths of Angelus inspired humiliation.

Gone were the clubbing clothes she’d carefully chosen for a night on the non-demony social scene, and in their place was…well, almost nothing.

Having dragged her to one of Sunnydale’s surprisingly prolific leather stores, Angelus told her to wait in the dressing room and proceeded to select what was obviously the smallest scrap of leather he could find. And frankly, Cordelia thought bitterly, finding it probably required a magnifying glass.

She nearly jumped out of her skin, most of which was exposed, at the swift and heavy pounding on the door.

“Cordelia, get your leather clad ass out here. We don’t have time for this. How hard can it be to put on something so small?”

The last was muttered to himself as he waited for Cordelia to emerge.

For her part, Cordelia was trying, and miserably failing to pull the bottom of the skirt down without her breast spilling out of the undersized top.

Covered with a spattering of white leather, the amazingly eye catching contrast to her bronze coloring couldn’t be denied. The top was cut in much the same shape as a sports bra. However, instead of reducing the natural bounce of her breasts, it seem designed to enhance it as the tight material thrust her breasts upward, spilling them over the low, heart shaped neckline.

The skirt was no better, ending far above her knees; it was cut in such a way that hem line was a diagonal, showing far more of her left thigh than her right. The top of the skirt rested low on her hips, leaving her gently curved naval on erotic display.

But by far the worst part of the ensemble were the two delicate, silver chains that dangled from the lowest edge of the material underneath her breast, crossing just above her bellybutton and attaching to the top of the skirt at her hips. Tow identical chains in the back completed her outfit making it impossible for one scrap of leather to be moved without displacing the other.

It wasn’t the lack of material that was necessarily the problem. Cordelia had worn less than this at the beach on many occasions. And yet somehow she felt more naked now than she had in the briefest of her bikinis.

As she considered this she concluded that it must be the situation. Wearing something of the microscopic variety while those around her would be far more appropriately dressed made her feel more exposed than being completely naked, but with others who were nude also.

Still, she didn’t know much about what demons wore, not having read Villainy Vogue, so maybe she wouldn’t stand out.

Her pep talk was interrupted by more banging on what, in retrospect, wasn’t seeming like all that sturdy of a door.

“Cordelia, open this goddamn door! I’m not asking you again.”

“Again?? I’m still waiting for you to ask the first time.” Cordelia called out as she finished zipping up the stiletto heeled, calf length boots Angelus had tossed to her over the door earlier.

Hearing Angelus’ hand on the doorknob, she realized that he was more than willing to crush it and break the door down to gain entrance. Cordelia swallowed her embarrassment and moved to let him in grumbling beneath her breath, “Geez, keep your pants on. Lord knows I wish I could keep mine on.”

As the door swung open Angelus stilled in the middle of his headlong rush into the small room. The stunned look in his eyes carried over from brown to burning topaz as his true features pushed forward.

Cordelia’s step back from the clearly agitated vampire was wasted as hands gripped her bare waist, pinning her to the wall and locking her in with the weight of his heavily muscled form.

If seeing her drove Angelus wild, nothing prepared him for what touching her would do. Reason was slowly being stripped away as an incinerating passion began to sweep through him. Being driven solely by instinct he buried his face in her neck his cool tongue soothing the still raw skin in preparation.

Before his deadly fangs could spill her blood once more, Cordelia’s voice called to him, pulling him back to rationality.

“Dammit, no! No more biting. This one’s plenty new. I thought we had a deal.”

“Oh, we have a deal Cordelia.” Angelus rasped the words into here neck where his questing lips remained. “Like I said, it’s the same as before, and I certainly seem to remember biting being a part of that.”

“Besides, what’s a nibble compared to your life? Because if I don’t get what I want from you tonight then you’re no good to me and I might as well take it all as a mouthful.”

Knowing she had no choice but compliance, Cordelia stopped fighting and closed her eyes, allowing herself to relax as much as one could with a vampire, literally at their neck.

Confined sight was soon restored, as shock forced her eyes open when, instead of a bite she felt Angelus’ lips crash into her own.

Swamped by an instantaneous passion, Angelus delighted in the amount of skin available to his touch. The silky textured beckoned him, and he heeded its siren’s call, splaying his hands as widely as possible to maximize stimulation.

His tongue thrust into her mouth and crowded her own, compelling her participate in the oral assault, moving against him with her own silken appendage. Angelus growled deeply as the taste of her inundated him with half forgotten fragments of erotic dreams which had haunted him since he’d tasted her last.

His wandering hands had yet to still as they skimmed her diminutive skirt and, running down soft, velvet legs, came to rest against her exposed, inner thighs.

As his cool hands roved skin slightly dampened by the overexertion of their lustful embrace, Cordelia’s incoherent murmurs of encouragement rolled from her tongue directly to his. The sounds were Angelus’ undoing and all thoughts of their night’s destination were pushed to the background as he firmly eased her thighs apart.

Cordelia’s legs spread to accommodate the hand now pressing against her silk covered juncture, her eyes squeezed fast as fingers danced over the moist material. Tearing her mouth free she gasped, both in the search for oxygen and astonishment at the new and nameless need that drove her to thrust forcefully against the probing digits.

Angelus used the newfound freedom of his lips to navigate the exquisite length of satin between her lips and his mark. Reaching his destination, he pressed reverent kisses to the scarring wounds. As enameled blades scraped teasingly over the healing flesh his fingers slipped past the elasticized barrier and moved to gently circle her now erect and throbbing nub.

As the scent of her arousal filled the still air around them, Angelus could wait no longer and pierced through the scarcely sealed holes freeing the blood pounding wildly beneath.

Cordelia’s moan of pleasure deepened to a harsh discordant sound that only comes when pleasure is intermingled with pain as Angelus’ fangs slid home. The pull of his mouth on her neck and his fingers on her clit overwhelmed her senses and left her shaking with need.

The sound of patrons making their way towards the dressing room cleared away just enough of Angelus’ prurient bloodlust and allowed him to acknowledge Cordelia’s swoon to be one of blood loss as opposed to delight. Knowing that his pleasure had come all to quickly to an end, he couldn’t help but pause a moment, and push forward, driving his fangs further into the delicate curve of Cordelia’s neck, making his newer mark far more prominent than the first.

At the simultaneous withdrawal of both his fingers and teeth, Cordelia mewled in disappointment. Swimming through a sea of tactile sensations she slowly surfaced to find that instead of Angelus confining her with his solid, immovable shape, she was now clinging tenaciously to him, her hands wound into his shirt, her body leaning into his in a bid to remain upright.

As the awareness returned incrementally to Cordelia’s eyes, Angelus smirked down salaciously at the trembling girl whose unsatisfied state was only surpassed by his own throbbing ache. He could see the moment she began to process what had happened in this small room and its repercussions.

Any woman who can defy a vampire to his face certainly has a fiery temper. After their night together he had more than enough proof that Cordelia Chase was just such a woman. He had no doubt that the fireworks that were about to begin would be spectacular. His gleeful expectation showed on his face as he waited for the yelling, the indignant accusations, and the fervent disavowals of her libidinous actions.

Cordelia’s voice was deep and husky and she wondered at the effort it took to push the words through her lips. “Wow. That was almost worth dying for.”

Shock dropped Angelus’ jaw at the maiden before him making no maidenly denials. Of all the things he expected to make their way out of her delectable mouth, not one of those was this open acceptance of what happened between them and how it affected her.

The thought stirred his lascivious yearnings once again as he was faced with yet another facet of this intriguing girl’s personality. He was finding in her almost the perfect woman. She was virginal yet passionate, strong yet vulnerable, and her unrestrained response and honest reaction were more arousing than he had ever thought possible.

Although thoughts of the claiming tried to push their way to the forefront, begging to be considered before further actions were taken, Angelus thrust them aside as he reached to pull Cordelia back into his arms, public location be damned.

“Whoa, Mister Touchy-Feely, I said almost.”

“I may have enjoyed what just happened here a little…well, maybe a whole frickin’ lot, but I’m a ball of hormones. It could’ve been anyone with that amazing technique, it just happened to be you. But that doesn’t mean it can keep happening.”

“Besides, I have a boyfriend. You know – Xander? And sure, I’ve wanted to wipe all memory of his existence from my mind plenty of times, who hasn’t? But I can’t. I have a commitment to him. He may seem like a loser to you, well…actually to me, too – but he’s my loser so the kissing thing is reserved for him.”

Angelus’ game face was out in an instant as his dull roar echoed throughout the confined space. Who the Hell did she think she was? Hormones? Boyfriend?? She had to be kidding right???

Here he was thinking that Cordelia was finally acknowledging the bond, admitting his dominion over her, but no, she thought it was nothing but a case of being a randy teenager.

Doubt began to cloud his thoughts as he wondered. That couldn’t be true, right? What had just happened proved that the claim was affecting her. After all, he was only acting on instinctual feelings of lust that any beautiful woman would arouse in a vampire. But her, she was afraid of him. She had a virtual fit trying to wipe his first kiss from her skin. That had to mean something. It was more than just her hormones. It’s not as if teenagers just fell into his ar – shit!

In Angelus’ time as a vampire he had often found that the best targets were indeed teenage girls. Full of suppressed desires and unfulfilled needs they were painfully easy to whip into a frenzy of lust which almost always ended in their deaths. Why would Cordelia be any different? The fact that her first coherent thoughts were of the moron made it abundantly clear that she was in no way feeling his mastery of her.

Still, it enraged him that she would mention that half-wits name while his mark was even now pulsating on her neck. He wasn’t sure if the growls escaping him now were frustration at their unfinished business, anger at her continued denials of his ownership, or possessiveness of the girl herself. His best bet would be a mixture of all three.

Cordelia had no idea what was causing the grr face to make a reappearance or the rumbling to increase, but she was willing to bet it had something to do with Xander. If she had an inner demon Xander would certainly be the thing that triggered it. He definitely had no problems triggering her inner bitch.

As she observed the fury on Angelus’ face rapidly growing, Cordelia began to fear for her life. Hoping to put a damper on any thoughts of that sort she untangled her hands from his shirt and began to smooth out the wrinkles.

“You seem a little…upset. Not really understandable since you’ve recently been fed, and let’s face it, gropin’ me, not exactly a hardship. Still, in light of your anger issues I think I should point out that if you eat me you won’t have anyone to take to dinner.”

Thrusting a long finger towards himself, golden eyes met hazel as he darkly informed her of an apparently forgotten reality. “Vampire, sweetheart. I can eat you and still take you to dinner.”

Cordelia paled at the not so subtle reminder that being turned was always a possibility when in his company, but she repressed her fear, rallying to cast him a raised brow look.

“Maybe, but we wouldn’t make it to dinner tonight, would we?”

Angelus studied the brunette before him. He could smell her buried fear which was a direct contrast to her outward self-assurance. That contrast, like many things he’d found about her was exhilarating and his game face faded as laughter replaced his growls.

Grasping her wrist, Angelus began pulling her out of the dressing room. “Come on; let’s get this show on the road.”

And Cordelia, who was still trying to get used to seeing Angel’s face covered in happiness of any kind, could do nothing but follow.


Chapter Seven
As Angelus pulled Cordelia along behind him towards the exit, their progress was delayed by a fawning salesman. Eager to please an apparently frequent customer, he bowed immediately to Angelus’ demands that bill for Cordelia’s dress be sent to him.

The exchange between the men made Cordelia aware of just how much leather vampires actually wear. Curious about the phenomena she figured she’d never have a better chance to inquire than this. Well, she hoped to God she never had a better chance.

“So, what’s with all the leather? Is it a whole dead wearing the dead thing?”

Angelus hadn’t spent much time around the cheerleader now at his side, but he had a feeling that an endless supply of lifetimes would never be enough to grasp the workings of her mind.

“No, it’s more that when you’re going to be around for an eternity you want a wardrobe that’s fairly durable.”

“Well, that and leather pants make my ass look hot.”

Whoa boy, could Cordelia attest to that fact. Actually, if it hadn’t been for the coverage of his long, black duster, she’d be tempted to reconfirm that assessment right now.

Angelus didn’t even notice Cordelia’s surreptitious glances at his back side. Coming to a halt so abrupt that Cordelia ran headlong into his back, Angelus began to take note of the men on the street around them, running their filthy gazes over his property.

He may not have wanted to own Cordelia Chase, but that didn’t change the fact that she was his. For others to trespass, even visually, was a challenge he was hard pressed to ignore. In fact, if tonight was not of such great importance to his master plan, he would gladly rip the gawking eyes out of every man there, feasting on them, loudly, allowing them the full horror of their disrespect.

He slowly ran his eyes over each man, committing their faces to memory. Sunnydale was a small town and he was sure to run across these fools again when he had the time to make their deaths fittingly excruciating.

Until then he had to settle for a spine tingling growl that carried outward in all directions and the flash of his demonic face at those in question.

Sunnydale residents were almost purposefully unaware of the goings on in their little slice of Hell. Blissfully burying their heads in the sand they believed that what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them; a philosophy proven wrong time and time again.

Yet for all their denials, they still had the basic human instincts handed down from their cave dwelling ancestors. Like a hiker face with a mountain lion the men leering at Cordelia’s nearly nude form had the innate, primal understanding that they were facing a creature who could very well mean their death. And while the view would most likely be fodder for every masturbatory dream they ever had from this moment on, it was certainly not worth the death promised in the amber eyes and inhuman face scowling at them.

Cordelia, still trying to regain her footing on the high heels after such an unexpected stop was surprised by the noise emanating from the vampire in front of her.

Those thoughts were cleared from her mind momentarily and her world was suddenly made dark as heavy leather swirled around her. When the light returned she found herself tightly ensconced in Angelus’ duster.

Slightly confused by both his manner and the seemingly kind gesture, but grateful for the coverage the coat provided, she stared up into his face, still adorned with bony ridges and golden eyes.

“Thank you.” The words of gratitude were soft as Cordelia’s brow wrinkled in question. “What happened?”

As Angelus stared down into Cordelia’s concerned features he didn’t know how to explain to her that demons were not like humans. Humans are tied to civilities and conventions to dictate their behavior. They need some kind of traditional, external sign to know that a person was unavailable. A wedding ring was one of these symbols, clearly marking a person as “off limits” to others. Of course, even that minor protection was often violated.

With demons it was completely different. They were governed by instincts, not societal customs. They didn’t need visual cues to know what was acceptable and where boundaries lay.

Sure, he’d marked Cordelia in a highly visible place because he loved to see his brand on her every time he so much as glanced her way. The placing had been merely his preference and convenience. It certainly wasn’t necessary for the demon community at large. Angelus could have marked Cordelia anywhere – her full, thrusting breasts, her firm, gently curved stomach, the creamy interior of her thighs.

Starting to become aroused at the endless possibilities as he catalogued all of the places he could leave his mark on her delectable body, he dragged his thoughts back to the topic at hand.

The point was that the actual scarring wasn’t what warned off others of his kind. It was the scent. Every being carried their own scent, like DNA or a fingerprint.

When a vampire marked someone, he altered that scent to include his own. When the claim was made, the person became drenched in the new scent which was noticeable, even from a distance. Any demon who came across them would know, without question that they were definitely spoken for.

It wasn’t just a matter of respect that kept other demons from touching what wasn’t theirs; it was also the unpleasantness of being a creature of primal drives and having a pet that reeked of another.

The problem with humans is that they were too cultured and their sense to limited to appreciate a demon’s claim. A deficiency that often resulted in their deaths.

That was why Cordelia could wear such a costume tonight to the dinner they were attending. Because while to the humans it said, “Look at this.” To the demons it would say, “Look at this, it belongs to Angelus.”

Although these were absolutes in the demon world, driving truths about a society which Cordelia was now, albeit unwillingly, a part, he didn’t think that even she was ready for that kind of honesty tonight.

Angelus still needed her assistance, so it was probably better not to wind her up too much about demon culture before once more throwing her into it. Besides, she didn’t need to know.

Whether she was aware of it or not, she was covered in his essence. She’d never be able to walk into a room again without her very presence screaming to every demon there that she belonged to him. For now that was more than enough.

Seeing the concern still lingering on her face, he ran his fingers down the side and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. A wolfish smile crossed his face. “Only I get to look at you like this.”

Cordelia’s snort of disbelief at his reasoning was loud and indelicate.

“Yeah, you and every A’toreal demon on the Hellmouth.”

Angelus toyed again with the idea of explaining, but with time at a premium he simply resumed walking, pulling Cordelia reluctantly along.


Chapter Eight

The night was a disaster.

Sure, in terms of amassing power, tonight’s festivities had been successful beyond Angelus’ wildest dreams. But in terms of his personal life, tonight had been a humiliating bust.

It wasn’t Angelus’ his nature to brood about things, that was the domain of the soul. He tended to be more of an “if you don’t like it, change it” kind of demon. Living for pleasure, he tended not to let things get him down and if they did, well, as a vampire of action he formed a plan of attack and destroyed all obstacles.

And yet he was consumed of thoughts of Cordelia Chase and their stupid, apparently nonexistent bond. The longer the evening went, the more she shied away from his touch, the more obsessing he did on her chilly deportment.

He’d been cheered earlier by the passionate interlude in the dressing room. Finally believing that he could free himself from these ridiculous concerns, he was appalled to hear her explanation that it was nothing more than overactive teenage hormones on her part. Even worse was the immediate thought that her reasoning was far from unsound.

It wasn’t as if he really wanted the girl, it was the principal of the thing. He was by no means driven beyond control to have her. He was a vampire of some years, he could exercise a great deal of restraint when he so chose. His age and the power that came with it would allow him much more time before the bond was overwhelming.

No, this wasn’t the mystical side effects of the claim, propelling him now was an even greater imperative – his pride.

Yes, Cordelia was an extremely beautiful woman. Her classic features, dark, rich coloring, and long, lithe body could arouse a corpse – and did, he thought, smiling. Some of the feelings he was having could be laid at the door of her beauty and even her dynamic personality. But it was more than that.

While the claim was by no means overwhelming, he could still feel its pull, like an itch you just can’t reach. Not like a rash, but more the gentle distraction of someone running a feather over your skin as you slept. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but it left him vaguely unsatisfied. It wasn’t enough to be more than mildly annoying, but it was still something. It was still there.

But Cordelia, who should be much more susceptible to the claiming influence, seemed to be feeling no effects. The question was, “Why not?”

Actually, given his solution oriented nature, the question became, “What was he going to do about it?”

Being a demon was all about dominance and control. If he felt the draw of the bond to a greater extent than Cordelia then she became the dominant individual in their quasi-relationship. It went against his very nature to be submissive in any respect, especially to someone weaker than himself. His need for control in all things would not allow this state of affairs to continue, even if he were the only one to know of its existence.

The only way that he could see to rectify this power imbalance was to force the bond on the girl. Not a lot, naturally. Just enough to make her aware of the as yet unawakened need for him she now carried in her very blood.

Forced exposure to him would, theoretically have a greater impact on her than on him; although in light of recent events he might be willing to argue that theory. This should leave her ever so slightly dependent on him, and leave him relatively unchanged.

The bond would still be more than manageable because his new position assured that, after tonight, there’d be no reason for contact with the vexing girl.

Although the consequences would linger for Cordelia, the worst would probably be a small but definite dissatisfaction with the opposite sex. Of course, with her dating Harris she’d have to get used to disappointment. And if she ended up too dependant, well he could always drain her and leave her artfully arranged amid the stacks in the library – a present for the slayer and her watcher to defile their sacrosanct haven.

But he hadn’t lied to Cordelia when he told her he wasn’t ready to start killing off Buffy’s friends just yet. No, killing Cordelia would be a last resort. Once he could see concrete evidence of the bond from her then he could let this go and never have to worry about the gregarious cheerleader again. And not questioning why that thought made him ache, just a little, he knew one thing –

It was a plan.


Chapter Nine

The night was a disaster.

True, she’d made it through alive, and that was always a plus, but she was so confused by the evening’s events that she didn’t know which way was up and which was down.

It had started alright. In fact, she was surprised when they arrived and she was deprived of Angelus’ shielding coat how much calmer she’d felt than when the left the store earlier that night.

She might not be sexually experienced, but she wasn’t naive. Before Angelus had cloaked her near nudity with his duster she’d felt the heavy weight of male stares crawling over her.

Yet throughout the festivities, although she’d certainly been studied by curious demons, their clear gazes lacked the haze of lustful intent that had characterized those of the human’s.

Whether that was because they knew enough to fear Angelus’ wrath or because, as a human they found her unattractive was unclear. If it was the former, they were certainly wise to placate their new leader. If it was the latter, the non-attraction thing was completely mutual.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Of the 150 or so demons there, 149 were a complete turn off. But oh, that 150th demon – Good Lord!

Cordelia didn’t understand herself, she knew that Angelus was a vampire, a member of ClubDead, and therefore wasn’t just on the no-bone list, but was all of the top 100 entries.

Even with Angel who was of the good vampire variety, well, not a variety, more like just one, but even Angel fell off of her list of “guys to do” once she found out about the bloodsucking demon thing.

And yet here was his evil, soulless, leather wearing, inner bad ass and she was practically jumping out of her skin…and onto his.

And what the Hell was up with the constant touching? From the moment he removed her coat until the dinner was over his hands had been almost constantly on her. Sliding down the curve of her spine, toying with the silver chains as his fingers drew abstract patterns around her navel, grasping her hips in an unbreakable hold as he tugged her bottom securely into the cradle of his thighs, even now the memories threatened to drive her into an orgasmic frenzy.

She knew that he wanted to prove something to the assembled demons, but did he have to do it in a way that liquefied her legs and made information gathering for Giles nearly unthinkable?

Sure, she could totally get the gropage on his part, but what she didn’t understand was her response. When the touching first started she was angry and being who she was, she didn’t suffer silently for long.

“Get your undead hand off my ass!” She hissed during one of the all too brief moments they’d had to themselves.

Said hand contracted, inciting even greater rage from the scantily clad young woman, and it was all she could do to keep her voice to a whisper.

“Look, being your whore wasn’t part of the deal.”

Angelus bent down, his lips resting against the shell of her ear. The picture they presented of young lovers was clearly at odds with the chilling menace in his voice.

“The deal, Cordelia, is that you do whatever it is I require of you. Whether that’s letting me cop a feel of your oh so enticing ass, or letting me throw you down on the nearest table and fuck you until you can’t even whimper my name, you’ll be with me every step of the way.”

“Cause tonight, Cordelia, you don’t have anything I want except your compliance. So when I put my hands on you you’ll smile and shut the fuck up. Just remember, there’s a million and one things I can do to your body, and two thirds of them wont be nearly as pleasant as groping your ass.”

Wrapping his arms completely around her, he enclosed her in his hard embrace. Although his voice lost the undertones of peril to her life, they took on new undertones of peril to her virginity.

“Of course, the other third would ruin you for other men, if that’s what you want to call that imbecile you’re dating.”

His voice became liquid, swirling in her ears and cascading down her spine.

“And that last one would make you come so hard your bones would shatter.”

God, his words were enough to drive her past the brink of sanity with the images they conjured in her overloaded mind. But far more disturbing was the flood of arousal she felt as his hard length pressed into her rapidly heating center separated by two, far too inadequate stretches of leather.

Which brought her back to the question of why she responding to the monster holding her life hostage to his grab for power?

She knew that she was a healthy teenager with a natural interest in sex, but she’d never felt anything like this with Xander. Sure, he didn’t have centuries of experience pleasuring women of every sort, but what he lacked in prowess he made up for in not wanting to killing her in bloody and terrifying ways. You would think that would even things out.

Well, she was never one to cry over spilled milk. If you can’t go back then there’s only forward was her belief. So whatever was going on, whatever kind of freak she was turning into the more time she spent with the over-sexed vampire, there was only one solution and she was going to take it.

It didn’t matter what he did to her during his stupid power play, not how he spoke to her, not how he touched; she would give no evidence of the swirling mass of sexuality he unleashed in every cell of her body. No, her humiliation would be hers and hers alone. After all, once tonight was over they’d probably never see each other again until it was her turn to be killed for the great Buffy obsession.

So from now on, every touch avoided, every undertone ignored. And, not questioning why that idea left her feeling slightly hollow, she knew one thing –

It was a plan.


Chapter Ten

As Angelus walked Cordelia home the tension settled thick around them.

Both concentrating on their chosen course of action, Cordelia was constantly drifting to the side to avoid any unnecessary contact, while Angelus’ was fast losing his patience watching her move continuously away instead of towards his touches.

Shit this was frustrating, Angelus thought in aggravation. Obviously Cordelia was defective.

Since before recorded history vampires had been bending humans to their will. How could it not work on this one slip of a girl? Her next words were hardly a balm to his irritated mind.

“Now that you’re the head honcho around here you’ll probably be finding yourself a dead first lady, so this is gonna be our last little get together, right?”

His jaw clenched painfully at what he was hearing. Now she was telling him that she didn’t want to see him anymore. That he should find someone else and stop bothering her. He could feel his fangs slipping down as he tried to hold onto his human visage.

Risking a glance to the side, Cordelia was surprised to see the flicker of his true face before he regained control. Not knowing what caused the vampire’s new show of temper and realizing it was still not out of arms reach for the demon, she stepped quickly to the side and away from her companion.

The low sound of discontent that had been building in Angelus’ chest found voice as a muted bellow of rage. Moving faster than her eyes could see, Cordelia found her wrist grabbed in a punishing grip as she was yanked back towards the seething figure who resumed walking, hoping the exertion would release at least a small portion of his ever growing fury.

Did she not grasp the danger she was in? Had tonight not shown her that he would do as he wished and it was her job to submit?

Hoping to return things to a state where she feared death at his hands, but not her imminent death, she tried to lighten the dark mood.

“Well, I’d thank you for the new dress, but since it was really humiliating I think I’ll pass. Besides, not highly rewearable.

Cordelia, whose wrist was still being gripped tightly in Angelus’ hand, was forced to stop as the vampire stilled.

Like gasoline to a fire, Angelus felt himself blazing out of control at the mere thought her words brought to mind. The growl was back in his voice as it rasped through his throat.

“Too true. You will never wear this dress for anyone but me.”

Cordelia, oblivious to the inherent possessiveness in that statement was blithe in her reply.

“Duh. Who else would I wear it around? None of the other people I know are kinky pervs, and I’m certainly not wearing it to school, ‘cause that would go over well – Showing up dressed like a slut in case there are one or two people left who don’t think I put out.”

The timely reminder of her innocence calmed Angelus and he turned once again towards the Chase home. He took in the sight Cordelia made as she walked along side of him, her face and hands the only parts of her visible as the leather of his coat swallowed her.

“You don’t sleep around. You haven’t slept with anyone.”

Startled by the certainty in his tone, Cordelia couldn’t help asking, “True, but how would you know? Even if that were the type of thing I’d share with people, I’d hardly have shared it with Angel. Besides, I know he would’ve just believed whatever Buffy did, and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t complementary.”

Angelus’ pleasure at Cordelia’s words help drain the earlier tension from his body. He was glad that she saw Angel as a separate entity. While Angel may have had the demon, Angelus certainly didn’t have the soul. The slayer couldn’t seem to grasp that fact, and though it made hurting her that much easier, he hated to be mistaken for the blubbering mass of guilt that was the soul.

“I know you’re pure. I could taste it in your blood.”

You could taste my virginity?! Ewwwwwwwww!”

Cordelia scrunched up her face in disgust at the thought. Then, her natural curiosity overcame her distaste and the questions spilled forth.

“What else could you taste? Can you tell my blood type? Do you know what I had for lunch? Ooh, can you see my future??”

Angelus had to wonder at the fact that Cordelia worked with a vampire slayer and yet seemed to no next to nothing about vampires. And yet, listening to her inane questions he couldn’t help feeling as if her were caught in the midst of a whirlwind, and in many ways it was exhilarating.

If there was one thing Angelus loved, it was surprises. Even bad ones kept him on his toes. A fact not often appreciated by humans, but when eternity looms ahead of you, you tend to bore quickly.

That’s often why vampires grew more vicious with age. The more you’ve done, the more you have to do to get the same feelings. Over time they learn to forgo the immediate kill and in favor of new and ever escalating torments.

Even before the soul his existence had become stagnant, routine. Spending time with this unpredictable girl had certainly alleviated much of that boredom.

Angelus smiled slightly at her naiveté. “Yes, there is a difference discernable between blood types. No, I have no idea what you had for lunch. And other than the fact that I plan on killing you before long, I have no idea about your future. I can tell other things, though.”

“Even without seeing you I’d know you were female. I’d be able to guess your age within a year or two. I can tell that you’re healthy and disease free. But that’s the instinctual part of vampirism, not the enjoyable part.”

Moving his body closer to hers, their shoulders now brushed as they walked.

“No, what’s truly wonderful about your blood isn’t the trivia it contains, but the potential.”

“Human blood is rich and layered, depending heavily on the emotions evoked at the time of imbibing. Unlike pig’s blood,” he practically spat the words, “the taste of human blood can be altered to a great degree.”

“When I tasted your blood the first time, I tasted all of those small, inconsequential facts. I also tasted your robust health and your innocent state. But mostly I tasted your fear. Oh, you hid it admirably on the outside, but the blood doesn’t lie. The adrenalin released in response to the fight or flight instinct is like caffeine for a vampire. It’s a rush, a high, it’s addictive, and the more fear I create in you the better you’ll taste.”

“It’s almost the ultimate delicacy. Almost.”

“As much as I savored your blood that first night, it held no candle to the way you tasted tonight. The only thing greater than fear laced blood is blood pulsing with burgeoning arousal.”

“As your body heats up in the throws of passion your blood thickens, slowing to pool in erogenous places. As your desires clog your arteries with the succulent mixture of pleasure and anticipation, the flavor deepens. At the moment of the “little death” when fantasy finally merges with reality, mere blood is transformed into ambrosia as it’s released from it’s physical constraints to nourish the one feasting upon it.”

It was fortuitous that the were walking in such close proximity as Angelus’ words invoked a pounding heat in Cordelia’s loins that was so distracting that she managed to trip on an uneven portion of the sidewalk. While normally the stumble would not be cause for alarm, teetering precariously on the heels of her new boots, she was less than her usual, stable self.

Grateful, for once, for the speed of his demonic reflexes, Cordelia almost sighed in relief to find herself caught mere inches from the ground.

As he stood her up, Angelus smirked at seeing her reaction to his words. Surely this proved that the girl was not immune to their bond. However, any thoughts of victory were cut short when, on returning her to an upright position, she promptly scrambled out of his arms.

Bad mood back in place he quickened his pace, Cordelia trailing in his wake.


Chapter Eleven

As they arrived at the door to the Chase home, Angelus once again noticed the lack of occupants. Although it was certainly to his benefit, he had to wonder at parents that would leave their offspring unattended in a town like Sunnydale.

As Angelus was occupied with those thoughts, Cordelia removed his duster. Looking down as her tiny ensemble once again came into view; a lopsided smile tilted her mouth.

“Well, I guess I could always wear this for my turns as bait girl.”

Without warning, she was once again pinned to a wall, hands held forcibly overhead, trapped by his immovable bulk. Obviously psycho vamp had gone from “code red” to “code homicidal rampage” quicker than her car went from 0 to 60.

Game face firmly back in place, all thoughts of limiting their bond were wiped from Angelus’ mind. Instead, all he could focus on were thoughts of her lying in some graveyard inured or dying.

It wasn’t the idea of her being hurt that bothered him; rather it was the idea of her being hurt by someone other than him that was now driving him wild. The very thought that anyone would dare to trespass on what was his, to damage what was his alone to mar, ripped at the very core of his demonic being.

Snarling down at her through tightly clenched fangs, he made his intentions in this matter perfectly clear.

“That’s over.”

Unfortunately, they only seemed clear to him.

“What?” asked Cordelia, slightly dazed.

Shaking her slightly Angelus reiterated, “Being bait girl. That ends now. You will not be doing that anymore.”

His expression became more thoughtful than enraged as his faced lost all trace of the demon and he assumed that, having clarified, Cordelia would comply. Slowly the bruising hands loosened and began to caress the upraised arms unnoticed by both.

Looking at her fresh mark on her neck and knowing that it clearly distinguished her as the property of the Master of both the Aurelius Order and the Hellmouth, Angelus mused aloud, “Frankly, I’m not sure it would work anymore. But then there’s always that one demon with no respect for tradition or someone new who doesn’t understand the players or the rules. No, you definitely won’t be wandering around anymore cemeteries asking for God knows what to attack you.”

Cordelia gaped at the order and the matter of fact manner in which it had been delivered. He spoke as if everything had been decided, as if she were not Cordelia Chase, master of her own fate, captain of her own ship, and all that other crap.

Suddenly noticing his caress she quickly brought her arms down and wrapped them around her waist.

“Just who do you think you are?” Cordelia snapped at him. “Being bait is my job; my contribution to the team effort. It may not be much in the glamorous world of slayage, but it’s what I can do and you can’t make me stop!”

Angelus’ hands returned to her arms as his body leaned even further into hers. With threat etched into every line of his face he questioned her resolve. “Do you want to bet your life on that?”

A look of confusion crossed Cordelia’s face and registered clearly in her voice.

“I don’t get it? Why do you even care?”

“Sure, we’ve been thrown together by this whole stupid necklace thing, but we both know that aside from that, you couldn’t care less about me. So what if something kills me before you get a chance to? It’d probably save you some time in my opinion.”

Why did she have to keep putting that picture in his head – Other hands making her bleed, other ears hearing her screams, other eyes swimming with the glorious vision that would be Cordelia, writhing in agony. Couldn’t she see this was hardly supporting her case?

By now the furious vampire was so still he seemed to be wrought from granite, his words made all the more sinister by the hush surrounding him.

“Listen, little girl, you are mine. Mine to play with, mine to torture, mine to kill. My mark decrees it and you’ve all but admitted it to the demon community. Do you think I would let someone else damage my “asset”?”

“Don’t worry, when the time’s right I’ll get around to killing you. But your death will be at a time of my choosing, no one else’s.”

Well, at least now the possessiveness made sense to Cordelia. To her mind it wasn’t motivated by herself, per se, but more by the fact that his reputation was, in a weird way, tied to her. She could understand that, but he needed to know that he couldn’t dictate her life.

“Look, I guess I can sort of see how that might be bad for your reputation. On the other hand, if something got me you could go all vampy on their ass and everyone would know not to mess with you.”

Cordelia seemed so excited by the prospect that Angelus wondered if she had lost sight that she was speaking of her death. While he pondered that, Cordelia continued her ill-advised tirade.

“Not that I’m planning to let anything happen, mind you. That’s what the slayer’s for, you know. But I suppose accidents hap-

Commanding Cordelia’s attention by grabbing her wildly gesturing hands and returning them to their previous position above her head, he managed to halt the flow of words that were beginning to push him past the limits of reason. While he would never admit that explaining this to her was beyond him, maybe it was time to let cooler heads prevail.

“Cordelia, I think it’s time you tell Rupert what’s been going on. Everything that’s been going on.”

Cordelia remembered just how much had been going on – kissing, touching, groping. Things she’d never even want to associate with Giles even in her head, much less discuss with him.

“Well,” she hedged, “maybe not everything.”

“Everything, Cordelia. And if you leave anything out, soften the truth, preserve some misplaced pride, I’ll know. Don’t push me in this.”

Cordelia’s eyes widened suddenly as a thought struck her.

“Good God, is this about getting to Buffy? Geez, why can’t you just stalk her directly like a normal vamp?”

“You know, the other vampires I’ve met on the Hellmouth, they just want to kill you. They don’t need your name, address, and a list of your nearest and dearest.”

Refusing to be distracted by Cordelia’s bizarre conversational turns, Angelus instead threw her a predatory smile, an unholy fire lighting his eyes as the hands holding hers contracted, almost crushing her wrists and pulling a whimper of pain from the ensnared girl.

“Cordelia, tomorrow, the watcher, everything.”

The hostility suddenly leached out of his tone and it was as if her were merely passing the time with a pleasant chat.

“If you don’t talk to him Cordelia, then I’ll have to. I wonder if he’ll survive that.”

With that he pushed her towards her door. In the porch light she examined her wrists, knowing they’d have massive bruises the next day.

“Geez,” she said, almost to herself, rubbing her injuries. “You don’t have to break me.”

Halting her just as she was about to enter her home, he gently tilted her face up to meet his gaze.

“No, I don’t have to break you, Cordelia. But it certainly would be fun.”

And as Angelus turned to make his way back towards the mansion, he was surprised how good he felt about including the watcher in this private party. While normally he would resent the Giles’ interference in his business, because, absolutely, Giles would interfere, he instead found himself arrogantly content in the knowledge that Rupert would know that the girl was his. For Giles, far more than most, would know what his claim meant.

Deeper than that, though, was the dark pleasure of forcing Cordelia to recount every word, every kiss, every touch that passed between them. Making her relive each experience again to a man that she admired and respected was almost as gratifying as knowing that with every word she uttered she would be asserting his claim over her.

His plans of limiting his exposure to Cordelia were slowly being forced from his mind as the lure of tomorrow’s delectations seeped in.

Cordelia, however, was not fairing quite as well as she made up to her room with slow measured steps.

She didn’t for one minute doubt that Angelus would follow through on his threats against Giles if she didn’t bow to his ultimatum. Cordelia Chase did not like being dictated to, her natural reaction being defiance. But with the soft spoken librarian’s life on the line, she knew she would comply.

Funny, even though he was an expert on all things that go bump in the night, she had always associated Giles with a safety of sorts. For the first time she felt a tremor of fear race through her at the thought of seeing him tomorrow. Not a fear of his reaction, but a fear of what he might reveal.


PART THREE – A WATCHER’S WORK IS NEVER DONE
Chapter Twelve

A watcher’s instincts, while nowhere near comparable to a slayer’s, were still quite impressive. Honed by years of training and field work, their senses became adept at perceiving patterns outside the established norm.

It was that oft used ability that told Rupert Giles that something was out of place in the quiet library beyond his office. The hour was still early, the school day not set to begin for quite sometime. This fact heightened his apprehension to an even greater degree. Not that one’s awareness was ever completely relaxed when one worked directly on a rather loosely sealed mouth of Hell.

Reaching for the ever present crossbow from within his desk drawer and preparing for what would dare to intrude upon the territory of the slayer, Giles was truly caught off guard by what he saw.

There, in the crack of the barely opened door was the top of a silky brown head and a pair of deep hazel eyes peering at him in a silent quest for entry.

“Cordelia?” The surprise at the unexpected arrival could be heard clearly in the watcher’s voice. “It’s very early. Was there a meeting of which I was unaware?”

Taking that as permission to enter, Cordelia moved through the doorway and perched on the edge of the leather couch facing the desk as if preparing for flight should it prove necessary.

“Actually, Giles, I was hoping that I could talk to you before the others show up.”

Hearing the uncertainty in her voice, Giles felt the stirring of relief. As a watcher he knew better than most the trauma the supernatural could inflict even on those who were, sadly, somewhat accustomed to it. Obviously Cordelia had been more disturbed than she had let on by the incident with Angelus and the A’toreal demons.

Although he assumed that, if she were to open up, it would most likely be to Xander, he was somewhat honored that she would place such trust in him. After all, despite the fact that it seemed that Cordelia never had a thought that didn’t somehow find its way out of her mouth, he had begun to notice that her tactless words often hid what he sensed were deeper truths about herself.

“Of course, of course. I have to admit that I was hoping that you would seek out someone in whom to confide. The worst thing you can do is to hold these things inside. It’s alright, you know. Everyone understands how difficult it must have been for you caught between Angelus and a clan of hostile demons.”

“Yeah,” Cordelia muttered her agreement. “Last night was no picnic either.”

Hand frozen in the process of replacing the weapon in his desk, Giles could only stare in shock at the girl who had spoken words he must have surely misheard.

“Ex-excuse me?”

“Last night Giles. That’s kind of why I’m here.”

Even though she knew that it would be difficult to come to Giles with this, Cordelia was still saddened by the look of dismay on his face. Sure, Giles had been supportive about the necklace thingy, but if he found out how she’d acted, would he hate her? Damn Angelus for this, she thought as her eyes slid away from Giles’ still form.

Horrified at the idea that this child had been once again subjected to the viscous vampire with none of them the wiser, he was relieved as years of training pushed to the fore, tamping down emotions that would only upset the girl and prevent him from learning what had occurred. And how to make certain that it never occurred again.

“Cordelia, listen to me, you were right to come to me. Whatever Angelus has told you, whatever he has threatened you with to remain silent, know that we will let no harm come to you. You just have to tel-“

“No. God Giles, you don’t understand.” Cordelia rushed to interrupt the watcher who, while very sweet, definitely had the wrong idea. “Angelus doesn’t want me to stay quiet. In fact he told me that I had to come and tell you everything.”

“And he didn’t threaten me, Giles. He threatened you.”

All of Giles’ previous shock and horror came to an end as confusion swamped him, obliterating everything in its path.

“Why on earth would Angelus want me to know? Certainly if this was some kind of message he would have killed you and left….”

At the sudden pallor of Cordelia’s face, Giles rushed to cover his blunder.

“Good Lord, Cordelia, I’m being quite the fool. There’s no sense in looking at what might have been because you are, quite thankfully, sitting here safe and utterly alive and I personally intend that you stay that way. So whatever message Angelus gave you to pass on, rest assured that we shall endeavor to make sure that it will be addressed with no further involvement on your part.”

Giles’ reassuring smile and the fact that Angelus had let her go with no deception needed on her part, helped soothe her nerves and allowed her to collect her thoughts.

“Look, Giles. There isn’t really a message per se. But this is totally about Buffy. He wants to mess with her mind; make her weak. That’s why he told me that I had to tell you everything.”

Giles felt a sense of dread growing within his tightly clenched stomach as he wondered just what, exactly, “everything” might mean.

“That’s why I think it would be better if we didn’t share this info with Buffy. After all, Angelus didn’t say we had to.”

“Cordelia?”

“He just said that he’d know if I lied or left something out. He wouldn’t though, would he? I mean, how could he know.”

“Cordelia?!”

“Oh well, I still can’t take that kind of chance with your life, can I? And he knew it, bastard -”

“Cordelia!”

Giles’ shouting finally had the desired effect of quieting the ranting girl.

“Are you saying that Angelus specifically told you to tell me? He didn’t mention Buffy.”

Thinking about it a moment Cordelia, too found the omission disturbing. On reflection though, she realized that, of course, Angelus would expect the watcher to go right to his slayer with this.

“Just you, Giles. But hey, I’m sure that he figured that you’d go to Buffy with this so that she could protect me or herself or try harder to kill Angelus…or at all.”

“I, for one, vote that we don’t tell her. I mean, come on, we’ll just be playing right into his evil hands. Besides, Buffy isn’t exactly rational when it comes to the whole Angel/Angelus thing, and frankly, I’ve had enough pain for a while.”

Giles’ mind having been on the vampire’s intentions in making himself specifically, and not Buffy, aware of what transpired between him and Cordelia, he only half heard her ravings until the last sentence grabbed his attention.

“Pain? Cordelia, did Angelus hurt you?”

“Duh. Evil, mass murdering vampire, Giles. Of course he hurt me.”

With that, Cordelia pulled up the sleeves of her copper colored blouse. Falling well past her wrist, Giles could see the reason for her fashion choice as two rings of swollen, heavily bruised skin came into view, one adorning each wrist like macabre bracelets.

“Giles, this has got to stop. Having to accessorize with all of this violence is hard even with my extensive wardrobe. I’ve been through my closet twice. I have nothing that goes with abuse!”

Adroitly avoiding the pitfalls of Cordelia logic, Giles examined what he knew and came to one solid conclusion.

“The account of the other night was highly edited, I assume.”

Hearing no condemnation, only the watcher’s seemingly endless curiosity, Cordelia admitted, “Maybe a little. But I hit all the highlights.”

Seeing her hesitancy, Giles understood that Cordelia was afraid of his reaction. It dawned on him that she absolutely did not want to do this and it seemed that only her genuine fear for his safety had convinced her to share this difficult tale with him. Moved by her for his concern well being, he attempted to comfort her.

“Cordelia, you must understand that nothing that happened while you were with Angelus was your fault. Anything that you did, anything, was justified because it kept you alive, and your life is definitely the most important thing. The amulet can be retrieved another day. Honestly, you should be extremely proud. You managed to survive the Scourge of Europe not once, but twice. There are thousands of people who can’t say the same.”

Acknowledging Giles’ unconditional support, Cordelia took a deep breath and began.

“It went just like I told you.”

“I had the necklace, ran, hid it, and stumbled into the demon’s house. Angelus grabbed me and took me into some kind of study.”

Giles listened patiently. So far this matched, exactly, everything that she had already told them. He was sure that he would have questions soon, but he had learned over time that most questions would be answered if one were just allowed enough time to speak.

“Angelus wanted his amulet back so he could give it to those demon guys. I told him that I hid it. He was…not happy. He threatened to torture me if I didn’t tell him where it was. You know how it goes – Blah, blah, blah kill you slowly. Yada, yada, yada rip off your skin. I swear, if he keeps that up Hallmark’s gonna sue him for copy write infringement.”

Knowing that her words were merely a cover for her discomfort, he silently waited for her to continue, bracing to hear of the young woman’s terror at the all too real threats from a monster that had instilled fear in an entire continent.

“So I told him if he killed me that he wouldn’t have his precious necklace. I also informed him that pretty soon those weirdo demons were going to come and see what our wacky behavior was about and that when they did I was going to tell them that he was really Angel, it was all a trap, and that the slayer was on her way.”

At this point, even had Giles wanted to question the girl, he knew that he would be incapable as he was literally struck dumb by the words spilling from Cordelia’s mouth. Of all the things he had conjectured that she might have done to survive, never in his wildest imaginings had threatening Angelus ever crossed his mind.

Oblivious to the stunned watcher who was staring, mouth slightly ajar in continuing shock, Cordelia let her momentum carry her forward.

“He threatened to kill me some more, but he was running out of time and we both knew it. That’s when we struck our deal.”

“I promised to give him his hideous amulet if he got me out of there safe and sound.”

A look of betrayal chased briefly across her face. “Of course the minute I believed him the bastard bit me!”

Seeing her building agitation, Giles felt it was prudent to interject, giving her a moment to calm herself.

“Ah, yes. Window dressing I believe you called it.”

The moment clearly wasn’t enough to allow a decrease in her irritation.

“Hmmph. Well that was way better than what he called it. Can you believe that jerk called me a pet?!”


Chapter Thirteen

In Rupert Giles’ time in Sunnydale unfortunate timing seemed to have made itself his constant companion. Today was, sadly, no exception as the librarian took a sip of his bracing Earl Gray tea just as the last sentence left Cordelia’s mouth. Spine snapping to attention in shock, Giles, never a true multi-tasker, nevertheless managed to choke on the slightly sweetened liquid, dump the cup and its remaining contents in his lap, and half eject himself from his chair.

This time it was Cordelia whose jaw dropped in shock as the normally unflappable watcher had, what appeared to be, some kind of fit.

Sure, she’d been enormously offended when Angelus had used that particular term in conjunction with herself, but she understood that, in the grand scheme of things, if that was the worst thing the vampire ever did to her (and it most certainly was not), then she would have been let off lightly. So what on earth was giving Giles the coronary?

Whipping off his jacket and using it to blot up some of the tea quickly soaking through his pants, Giles rattled off a number of seemingly nonsensical words which Cordelia was fairly certain would cause blushes if she had any idea what they meant. Why the heck couldn’t Giles speak the kind of English a person could understand?

Cordelia would have been surprised to learn that despite being covered in his beverage of choice, the watcher’s crass language was inspired by her revelation and not his graceless maneuverings.

Finding his voice for words not of a risqué nature, Giles hectically questioned the girl.

“A pet? He called you his pet?”

“Yeah, I know, Giles. I was upset, too. In fact, if he hadn’t just been talking about killing me I would’ve -”

“Cordelia!” Although he had planned to let her story flow naturally, Giles broke in before she could work herself up and delay the desperately important questions at hand. “A pet. Are you sure those were his exact words?”

“Of course I’m sure. I’d hardly forget being compared to Lassie.”

Realizing that this may be much worse than any of them had imagined, Giles noticed that Cordelia’s neck was once again hidden from view; this time by a light, earth toned, gauzy scarf.

Wanting to do anything other than ask Cordelia this favor, Giles had no choice but to request that she remove her scarf and allow him to view the bite.

“Alright, Giles, but haven’t you been a watcher for like…ever? Surely you’ve seen two red dots before.”

Cordelia’s minimalist words did nothing to prepare Giles for the transfixing sight on her neck. Far deeper than a mere feeding bite, yet lacking the damage of an actual attempt on her life, Giles had the sinking sensation that what he was now starring at was the mark of Angelus.

In fact, in light of the vampire’s words to the girl, Giles had the sneaking suspicion that things were much worse than that and that she had, in fact, actually been claimed by the monster in the familiar guise of Angel.

What the Hell had Angelus been thinking? Comprehension struck Giles as a blow as he realized that, of course, he’d been planning to kill the cheerleader until she’d pulled that little trick with the lock. He smirked at the thought of the great and feared Angelus being duped by a teenage girl.

The sly grin quickly left his face as it occurred to him that while he might have been fooled the first night, it would be beyond the realm of credibility to believe that Angelus had left himself open to such trickery again. And yet here Cordelia sat, which seemed to indicate that the vampire had let her walk away, relatively unharmed.

Supporting this hypothesis was the fact that the vampire had ordered Cordelia to recount both encounters, in their entirety. This actually disconcerted Giles more than the happy fact that Angelus had let her live.

While Cordelia may be correct in her assumption that this was a ploy to distract the slayer, Giles couldn’t shake the fact that he was missing a more direct explanation. It’s true that this news would upset Buffy, but Angelus had not specified that she be told. In fact, according to Cordelia, the vampire seemed only concerned that she engage in this act of honesty here with him.

Seeing that this was upsetting the girl, he decided to return to his original design of allowing her to travel at her own pace through this trying narrative. Helping her to find her place in the course of events he redirected Cordelia’s attention.

“At this point you met with the A’toreal demons?”

Grateful to be away from questions of a biting nature, Cordelia quickly replaced her scarf and picked up in the general area in which she had left off.

“Yeah. And what’s up with their freaky eyes?”

Not giving Giles a chance to answer, ‘cause Lord knew he’d have a long ass explanation, she continued.

“Anyway, I didn’t like that whole “pet” thing from them anymore than I liked it from Angelus, so I told them I was more of a business asset.”

Almost two years fighting demons on an active Hellmouth, shoulder to shoulder with the slayer, it was ironic, thought the lightheaded librarian that it might be this one, lovely, young woman that would cause him to loose consciousness in a fit of incredulity.

Shock leaving him no other recourse than to interrupt, Giles asked the most pressing question since…since…well, since he’d last interrupted to ask her an important question.

“You denied Angelus’ claim in front of the A’toreal clan?!”

The more he heard of this tale, the harder Giles found it to credit the fact that Cordelia was here, in one piece, still breathing.

“No, not really. I just pointed out that I was the one who got their precious amulet for them.”

Cordelia paused for a moment and looked up at Giles. The vulnerability he saw reflected in her face tore at his heart.

“You know Giles, despite what people may think of me, I’m not stupid.” Ignoring his halfhearted attempts at a denial, Cordelia plowed ahead. “I knew that no matter what deal I made with Angelus he was still planning on killing me at the end of the night.”

It had been disturbing enough for Giles to imagine the predicament in which Cordelia had found herself when he could believe that she had been somewhat blissfully unaware of the danger she had been in, thinking herself protected by her “deal” with Angelus.

Now, realizing the terror that she must have felt the entire time, Giles had an even greater appreciation for his young charge and her astonishing ability to survive.

“I knew there wasn’t really a point in trying to give him a reason not to kill me. Let’s face it, he’d kill me on the slightest whim and never look back. So I figured the best thing I could do was to wait for a chance to escape, and then give him an excuse to let me go.”

“An extremely sound plan.” Giles said with honest sincerity.

“That’s because you haven’t heard the rest.”

Seemingly drained of her normal self-assurance, Cordelia’s gaze drifted away from the watcher’s, finding the floor and remaining there. Still and somber, her downcast eyes gave her the appearance of one on the verge of confessing some great sin.

“Angelus told me that the amulet was to prove to the demons that he didn’t have a soul. He said he needed their support because he was staging some sort of Hellmouthy coup.”

“I kind of convinced them that he’d never had a soul. I told them it had all been an act to gain power. I said that he’d told Buffy that he had a soul so that he could seduce her into helping him thin the Aurelius ranks. I let them think that Angelus had orchestrated the killing of Darla and the Master by playing on Buffy’s love. And I implied that he faked the soul loss to break the slayer so that she couldn’t kill him because he still might be her true love.”

Giles looked at the young woman, still focused on the floor, in absolute wonder. He wasn’t sure which he found most amazing – That her agile mind had been able to weave such a complex and effective fabrication in the midst of what must have been heart-stopping terror. Or the fact that one of his students had not only listened to what he said, but absorbed it and then used it in an appropriate way at the appropriate time. With the exception of Willow, he hadn’t been sure that he’d ever see the day.

“I’m sorry, Giles. I know that I helped Angelus, but -”

Desperate to relieve some of her obviously overwhelming anxiety, Giles quickly broke into her unwarranted apology. “Cordelia, you have absolutely nothing to either regret or repent in this situation. We should never have gone after the amulet so unprepared. We let our own personal issues with Angelus color or judgment.”

“Please, if nothing else, believe this. The fact that you were able to think so quickly on your feet is a credit to you, and should be, in no way, a cause for self-recriminations.”

Giles’ unexpected words of support drew her lowered gaze back to his in surprise. Cordelia felt tears sting her eyes at the acceptance and warm regard she saw there in the face of the man she’d viewed a thousand times, but had never really seen until this moment. Far more accustomed to the disappointment and derision so often reflected in the eyes of her parents, the unbounded concern she saw now aimed at her was like a soothing balm to her troubled soul.

But as lovely as that feeling was, it made her unease concerning the events of last night even greater. Still, she had no choice. After the fatherly display of concern she had just experienced she was even more determined to give Angelus no reason to harm the man in front of her. And so the nightmare of humiliation continued.

“I figured since I gave him the damn amulet he would leave me alone. But no, of course I had to get caught up in demon politics.”

“Demon politics?” Giles queried, wondering if there was to be any end to the strangeness of this saga.

“Yeah. Apparently the black eyed, necklace wearing demons wanted to make a big ol’ party out of getting their amulet back. So they had some kind of dinner for Angelus because, with their support, he seemed to be the uncontested leader of the Hellmouth. Talk about a crappy job.”

“And honestly Giles, what sort of self-respecting demons give banquets for other demons? I mean what kind of lame ass behavior is that for evil doing fiends? What’s next, satanic Tupperware parties? Not that I’m complaining, but we have to be on the most pathetic Hellmouth in history.”

Unsure how to answer that bit of utter nonsense, Giles wisely kept his own counsel.

“Well, I guess I’d made quite an impression on the Miss Manners demons; which actually is the only part of this whole thing that makes sense,” Cordelia interjected with a return of her natural self-confidence. “‘Cause they requested my presence at their little soiree.”

Still a bit unsure of how to respond, Giles managed a hesitant, “Are you saying that Angelus took you on a date?”

Cordelia remembered Angelus similar statement and her face tightened in vexation. Forcing the words out through clenched jaws, she corrected his erroneous assumption.

“It was not a date!”

“What? Oh, no. No, of course it wasn’t.” Giles hurriedly backtracked, seeing the girl’s understandable distress at the comparison of her time at the mercy of the Scourge of Europe to dinner and a movie with Xander. Although Giles himself had to wonder which of those alternatives would be the most disturbing. At least with Angelus one could hope for death.

Cursing himself silently for his insensitivity, he asked Cordelia to continue.

“Well, I was on my way into The Bronze. Of course he had to harass me when I finally get to do something non death inducing. He grabbed me and it was weird, because he was all flirty, and his face was waaaay to close to my neck for my liking.”

“He told me about the evil shindig, and made it clear that I had two choices – Go with him or death. Which really wasn’t much of a surprise since his options always seem to be something ultra-hideous and death. So I really didn’t have any choice. You see that, right?”

Giles could see that recounting the previous night’s events was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for Cordelia. Although he shuddered inwardly at what the next revelation would be, outwardly he rushed to reassure the agitated young woman.

“Of course you didn’t, Cordelia. You were right to go along with what he wanted and the proof of that is your presence here now.”

Despite the constant comfort of Giles’ positive affirmations, Cordelia still feared the repercussions of her full disclosure.

As she considered and discarded several ideas on how to ease into the subject she concluded that there was really no delicate way to say that she’d made out with a Buffy’s boyfriend’s power hungry, psycho alter ego in a dressing room.

Her teeth pressed into the smooth surface of her lower lip anxiously as she decided that, much like with cold water, it was best just to dive in. Sure, the shock hurt, but at least you got it over with all at once.

“I guess Angelus, the Joan Rivers of the Underworld, didn’t think I was dressed appropriately for a demon gala. Personally, I’m taking that as a compliment to my wardrobe. I mean, my outfit that night was so today it was almost tomorrow. Well, except that I have to keep adding these damn scarves to everything ‘cause some dead guys wont keep their pokey teeth to themselves.”

Giles cleared his throat to interrupt the coming diatribe on proper Hellmouth attire. “Yes, well, I’m sure that Angelus was quite callous in his lack of appreciation for your fashion sense, but if we might continue before the others arrive.”

The reminder of the impending arrival of the Scoobies was all Cordelia needed to steer her back on course.

“Anyway, he dragged me down to that leather store; you know the one on Forth and Palm? And of course you don’t know. You and leather – yeah, not so much.”

“So, he picked out this dress. Well, not really a dress, more like two leather handkerchiefs and some chains.”

Giles’ irritation at Cordelia’s allusions to tweed clothing dissipated instantly at the picture her words created in his head. Despite what his students might choose to believe, Giles was very much a normal male, and as such, the young cheerleader’s evocative words produced an automatic response that could only be described as truly disconcerting. Shaking the disturbing image out of his head, and remembering that, for all intents and purposes, Cordelia was much like any other victim of violent crime, he regained his focus on her words.

Said focus, however, promptly deserted him as he tuned in for the last bit of her sentence.

“…and then we may have kissed.”


Chapter Fourteen

Cordelia’s mortification seemed boundless, and crimson stained her cheeks as she wished with all of her might that, for once, the Hellmouth under the library floor would open at an opportune moment, instead of with it’s usual crappy timing, and swallow her whole before she had to expand on her previous statement.

“I’m sorry Cordelia. What was that?”

Damn worthless Hellmouth!

As Cordelia was cursing her rotten luck at not being immediately sucked into Hell, Giles was, for the first time since this conversation started, relaxed. Certain that there was no way that Cordelia could have said what his brain had obviously mistakenly heard; he sat back and waited for her to repeat her sentence so that his brain could process it correctly.

“I couldn’t help it, Giles. I swear. I just opened the dressing room door and he was all over me. He had his face in my neck again, and his hands – well, let’s just say they were wandering.”

“I told him not to bite me, but he said it was part of the last deal, so it was part of this one, too. And then he bit me, and his hands were…and his mouth…and oh, it was…”

While Cordelia lost herself in the apparently vivid memory of the moment, Giles quietly observed. He certainly didn’t need vampiric senses to see that she was clearly aroused by the mere recollection.

As the desire on Cordelia’s face was chased away by embarrassment at her behavior both of that night and here in this office, Giles was struck by the sudden realization that the girl had no idea of the bond she now shared with Angelus. She believed her actions to be merely wanton, not understanding that the more she was in the vampire’s company the more she would be compelled to touch and be touched by him.

That son of a bitch. It was becoming all to clear why Angelus was forcing Cordelia to engage in this intimate recitation. It wasn’t that he necessarily wanted the slayer or even himself, as Buffy’s watcher, to know about the ramifications of his claiming of the girl. No, the vampire clearly wanted Cordelia to be made aware of the, quite possibly dire consequences.

Whether Angelus was leaving the task of explaining this to the unsuspecting girl because he didn’t want to do it, or because the insensitive bastard wanted him to know, Giles was unsure. But whatever the demon’s reasoning, the fact remained that Cordelia had to be made aware of the grave circumstance in which she now found herself.

Pausing a moment to gather his thoughts, Giles removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose, and sighing as if the weight of the world was suddenly thrust upon him.

“Giles, it was just a little making out. I mean, true, it was with the undead, so major yuckage; but it certainly can’t merit a removal of the glasses and a sigh.”

Cordelia’s attempt at levity sailed past the watcher as he tried to marshal his thoughts and find the words to explain to her that her life had changed on a very basic, fundamental level.

“Cordelia, we, in this little group we’ve managed to form, fight the evils of vampires everyday. And yet, there are so many things regarding these demons of which you children remain unaware.”

Leaning back into the cushions of the sofa, Cordelia settled in, sensing a patented Giles lecture coming on.

“Creatures of evil, there is much that is still unknown, even to the Council, about these eternal beasts of darkness. Delineated as supernatural beings, they exist outside of the boundaries and restrictions of humanity.”

“Sustained by the blood they take from others and convert to their own, it is by this very blood that bonds are created within their community. These ties are of a mystical nature, and thus often beyond our understanding, but they seem to govern the instinctual behavior of those under their sway.”

“A sire bond, for instance links both childer and minions to their sire. As with all vampiric bonds it affects the weakest individual the greatest. Therefore between a sire and a childe, the childe would feel the stronger instinctual pull, and thus be at the mercy of the less affected sire.”

“Giles, look, I really do appreciate the how-to-win-friends-and-influence-vampires lesson, but-”

“Cordelia, the bonding works with humans, too.”

“Okay, I get it, lots of bondage. Eww, I mean -”

“Cordelia!” Giles hadn’t realized how loud he’d spoken until he saw the startled look on the brunette’s face. Although angry at himself for further traumatizing the girl, he knew of no other way of regaining her attention. Once Cordelia started on a given topic there was no stopping her.

Cordelia was slightly put out. Not that Giles had raised his voice, but because her no so subtle ploy of bringing the lecture to an early close had failed. She couldn’t help but wonder if she was ever going to get out of that office. ‘Cause really, once Giles started going on about something there was no stopping him.

“Cordelia, please try to pay attention. I know that this all seems dreadfully boring to you children, but it’s not without purpose. I believe that Angelus may have done more than just bite you. What you have alluded to as “window dressing”, I believe may actually be a mark of Angelus.”

Trying without much success to control her apprehension at the watcher’s words, Cordelia settled for merely camouflaging her doubts.

“Well, duh, Giles. Of course it’s a mark of Angelus; he’s the undead jerk who bit me.”

“When I say “mark”, I don’t mean an area that is altered to stand out from its surroundings. I mean it more in terms of a brand.”

Even though Giles had done things such as call forth demons in his misspent youth, nothing had ever seemed as scary as Cordelia Chase did in that moment as a killing rage swept across her face in response to, what he was fast becoming convinced were his very poorly chosen words.

At Cordelia’s terse, “Excuse me?” Giles jerked as if he’d been shot with his own crossbow, which he was starting to wish he’d left out.

“Ah, yes well, what I meant was… I mean to say… Dammit all Cordelia, this isn’t the time for delicacy. Vampires are possessive demons by nature and when they consider something to be theirs the mark it to warn off other demons who would seek to encroach on their territory.”

“While childer and minions are marked at the time of their turning, humans can also be marked. These marks are used to identify the human as either a servant or a…pet.”

Cordelia’s uneasiness which had been expanding with each word from Giles’ mouth, reached critical mass as that last, all too familiar phrase tumbled forth.

“Giles, I don’t care what kind of weird dental rituals vampires engage in. I’m no one’s pet and I haven’t gotten all bindy with Angelus. I would know if we had some kind of mystical thingamabob. If my instincts were all catawampus then I’d see it. Believe me, I know who Cordelia Chase is and if I started acting differently…”

The diminishing of Cordelia’s voice seemed to be in direct proportion to the widening of her eyes as she recognized just how out of character her behavior had been the night before. Hadn’t she spent the entire evening trying to figure out what the Hell was wrong with her? Well now she knew – That sneaky, underhanded bastard had worked some kind of bizarre, mystical mojo on her. God, just when you thought you couldn’t hate undead bloodsuckers any more one of them goes and tries to turn you into some kind of pervy love slave.

Giles watched understanding wash over Cordelia and waited for the hysteria – or the anger. After today he couldn’t be sure which emotion would burst forth from the unpredictable young woman.

“Well, this certainly explains the rest of the night.”

Hmmm. Of all the sentiments Giles might have expected, tears and fury being his first choices, thoughtful acceptance hadn’t even rated a mental mention.

“The rest of the night?”

Jerked out of her quiet reflection, Cordelia remembered her original purpose here and resigned herself to finishing her recital of the tragic farce which was her life.

“Yeah. I mean, I got all the touching. Guys are always about looking like they’re getting some in front of their friends. I doubt death changes them that much. Besides, hello! Major hottie here. If I was an evil dead guy I’d certainly want to spend an evening feeling me up. And isn’t that the disturbing thought of the day?”

“What I didn’t really get was all the bossiness afterwards. All the “do this” and “don’t do that”. Geez, who knew vampires had so many rules. Aren’t they supposed to be all devil-may-care?”

Not wanting to dwell on the specifics of “all the touching”, Giles instead focused on the bossiness. “What specific requests did Angelus make of you, Cordelia?”

“Ha!” Cordelia snorted at Giles’ suggestion. “I don’t remember any requests. But boy did the orders keep a comin’.”

“First he bought me that stupid dress and then told me I couldn’t ever wear it around other people, like the whole entire evil population hadn’t just seen me in it.”

“Then he tells me that I can’t be demon bait anymore. And it’s not like that’s my favorite thing to do or anything, but it’s still my job and we sort of got into it about that. ‘Cause sure, I know he’s got his reputation to protect and me getting eaten by some random demon might be an issue, but how much can it really affect anything. We haven’t even spent an entire day together, and I told him that he could avenge my death and come off looking like a major bad ass.”

“That’s about the time he started with the bruise making and told me I had to come drop all this stupidity in your lap.”

And with Cordelia’s words came clarity. A rare moment of enlightenment in this otherwise bewildering morning. Unlike Angelus’ most recent intrusions into their lives, this wasn’t even remotely about Buffy. The vampire wasn’t making sure that Cordelia told him everything so that the slayer would eventually find out and be rendered less effective. No, Angelus was making sure that he was aware of these events because the bastard wanted him to validate his claim and enforce his rules. And honestly, Giles could see no other choice.

“Well, as much as I hate to agree with Angelus in any matter, I do have to admit to some relief at the thought of you ceasing activities as “bait”.”

“What?!” The pain inducing quality of Cordelia’s screech was apparently not limited to vampires. “No way Giles. There is absolutely no way that I’m letting that idiotic corpse run my life. See, I don’t even want to do what he says, so maybe there is no stupid bond thing.”

“Cordelia, the claim doesn’t just scream “I’m a mystical bond” like a neon sign. It’s an instinctual tie that grows the more time you spend in each other’s presence.”

“While it’s not extremely rare for a vampire to claim a human, it is unheard of for the vampire to leave the human their independence. Therefore the bond tends to grow at an alarming rate. However, given the situation involved in the inception of this alliance, your bond should remain minimal do to a lack of exposure.”

“See, that just proves that this was all just for show. He doesn’t want any binding crap anymore than I do. After all, he’s only bugged me when he needed my help.”

“That may be true. Lord knows I pray that’s the case. But this in no way means that the bond will remain dormant. If Angelus decides to press the issue he can impel your connection to strengthen by his merely forcing prolonged contact between the two of you. This is to be avoided at all costs.”

“Cordelia, this is a gauntlet that Angelus has thrown down before us. We need not pick it up. In this case I think that compliance is our best course of action.”

“Giles, you don’t get it. Even if this bond is almost non-existent, if I just do everything he says then it might as well be in full force. My life is just that, my life. I can’t give that up. I won’t. And if I want I can wander around in any one of Sunnydale’s oh so many graveyards, slayer or no.”

The desperation in Cordelia’s voice was not lost on the watcher. Giles could clearly see that she was struggling to hold onto the control that she felt she might be losing as the ramification of Angelus’ “window dressing” sunk in. As much as he longed to help her hold on to that sense of self-mastery, he didn’t have that luxury and neither did she.

Hating to play on her tender emotions in no way deterred Giles from doing just that. This was too important to Buffy, to the safety of the Hellmouth, but most of all to the frightened yet brave girl in front of him.

“For some reason that is as yet unknown to us, Angelus has given us this brief respite that we are now enjoying. From what you’ve said today it probably has a great deal to do with his consolidation of power and position. But whatever his motive, this is the only chance we are likely to have to regroup and fortify our own defenses.”

“Your defiance of Angelus’ seemingly arbitrary orders is most certainly your right. But you must consider that rebellion in this matter will bring down the vampire’s wrath on us all. Any opportunity we have to prepare for the horrors to come at his hands will be lost.”

“Cordelia, I may not know you as well as I know the other children yet, but I do know that despite your need for independence I won’t soon find you wandering in any of Sunnydale’s cemeteries.”

Cordelia’s shoulders slumped as the weight of so many lives pressed down on her shoulders. Was this what it felt like to be Buffy, she wondered? She sympathized with the slayer, but still felt gypped on the superpowers deal. She made one last, whispered grab for her independence.

“How do you know?”

A small, sad smile touched Giles’ lips at the quiet question.

“Because no matter what the others may think, no matter what impression you may try to give, I know that you’re a good person who wants only to help. Otherwise, this matter wouldn’t have been worth arguing about with a demon who has no ends to the way he could have killed you.”

As her eyes met his Giles felt a pang of sorrow to see his own sad smile mirrored in her expression. Standing slowly as if her years had multiplied tenfold, she turned as she reached the door.

“Giles?”

“Yes, Cordelia?”

“You know that stuff about me being a good person who wants to help?”

“Yes, Cordelia?”

“Don’t let that get around.

“Yes, Cordelia.”


Chapter Fifteen

Rupert Giles was having one of those days. It was the kind of day that creeps in through your bleary eyes, stands behind them and slightly to the left, and stabs at your brain, repeatedly, with a rusty nail.

And those were the good parts.

After a grueling morning spent with Cordelia, navigating the mine field that Angelus had left in his wake, the afternoon had seen no improvement as the children gathered for the daily rundown of suspicious happenings in Sunnydale.

One would think that Giles would feel some measure of guilt, no matter how small, at the information he was now withholding from his slayer. These past few years had certainly expanded his capacity for that particular emotion. And yet, there was none to be found.

Although he believed that Cordelia was incorrect in her assessment of Angelus’ motives in regards to his ultimatum that she share her terrifying experiences with him, Giles did know that the young woman was accurate in her predictions of Buffy’s reaction to what had happened.

For as fearless as Buffy was as a slayer, she was still a teenage girl. More than that, she was a teenage girl suffering through her first heartbreak. As difficult as it would be for him to help guide Buffy through this situation under normal circumstance, the fact that her boyfriend was a vampire who lost his curse induced soul after sleeping with her on her birthday made any rational attempt at handling this on his part an impossibility.

But finally he was home. Back to his quiet, back to his journals, back to his scotch.

It was nights like these that Giles found that he missed Jenny the greatest. No matter how weary he was or how ancient he felt, her youthful presence invigorated him, pulling him out of old, established patterns and thrusting him into the new and unknown. It was, at times scary, but always a joyous challenge.

The worst part was that it wasn’t his anger that was keeping them apart. Of course, when he had first learned of her true identity his sense of betrayal had been fierce. But as time passed he found the he could sympathize more and more with her plight.

Jenny had felt that she had no choice but to remain silent regarding her true purpose in Sunnydale; that she was bound by duty and loyalty to her family. When her deceit had come to light, Giles had been upset that she had not come to him, chosen him over her other responsibilities.

But now Giles knew that, if he were simply librarian, without the burden of his watcher’s duties, he would forgive Jenny her deception in an instant and welcome her back with open arms.

But there was Buffy.

His young slayer had difficulty with the mere mention of the computer teacher’s name. A good hearted girl, Buffy was strong both inside and out. Yet Giles would be a rather poor watcher if he were unaware of Buffy’s slightly self-oriented outlook. It was fed by circumstances which conspired to place her consistently at the center of universally important events and a support system that looked to her constantly for guidance. But in a young woman who would most likely not live to see 20, this small flaw was easily forgiven.

And so he’d given up his budding relationship. Sacrificing it on the altar of duty, Giles now found that he knew exactly what had motivated Jenny’s decision…too late.

But he knew that even if he had understood immediately, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Buffy needed him and she needed to be away from Jenny. And so there would be no grand romance.

Somehow that truth was harder to swallow at night. However he could definitely wash it down with some of that scotch if he could just – find – those – damn – keys.

Finally locating them in his inner coat pocket, he sorted through them, trying to find the house key amidst those to various storage lockers for weapons and books.

Any progress he had made was impeded as a shadow fell across him, obscuring his sight.

“Hello, Rupert.”

The dark, melodic voice rippled over Giles’ frayed nerves with a timbre that would have been soothing had the watcher not been all too aware of the tortuous death that lay hidden in those dulcet tones.

Raising his eyes to meet the slightly smirking face of Angelus, Giles felt a certain amount of fear at the knowledge of what the vampire was capable, but he held himself in check, refusing to let terror overtake him.

“My, my. Aren’t you the brave watcher?”

Irritation rushed through Giles, pushing the fear back even further. Although there was always a risk of death when one stood mere feet from a demon, Giles knew that his demise was not Angelus’ intention this night. Obviously the vampire had come concerning Cordelia, and although that fact worried Giles in some part of his mind, the majority of his brain was too exhausted to work up a commensurate amount of distress.

“What do you want, Angelus?”

The watcher’s tired, resigned question pleased the vampire, knowing that he was responsible for wearing down this man’s soul. It was enough to make a demon proud, breaking a watcher and his slayer. But that was for another night. This night was about understandings.

Knowing that both Cordelia and Giles understood that the edicts he had laid down concerning the girl were to be followed in their entirety would allow him to finally leave this mess behind him. His position almost assured, he would soon be able to give his whole attention to crushing Buffy. But first this matter had to be settled.

“You know what I want, Rupert.”

“I know she came to you. I know she told you everything. She’d never take a chance with your life; that’s what made it such an effective threat.”

Angelus slowly started to circle the watcher. Knowing that he was no match for the heightened vampiric abilities of his opponent, Giles chose to remain still. That prudent strategy did not, however, calm the chill that crawled down his spine as the smooth words continued behind him.

“She must have told you how I bit her…more than once. Did she tell you about the dressing room? How her tight, perfect body was writhing, nearly coming apart in my arms?”

“Did she tell you that I claimed her?”

Having completed his circle, Angelus was once again looking down into the watcher’s eyes. The look of wicked satisfaction shining in the brown depths left Giles slightly breathless.

“No, of course she didn’t tell you that. She didn’t know. But you did, didn’t you, Rup?”

“So how’d you break it to her? How’d you tell her that I own her, that she’s my property, my pet?”

Giles ignored Angelus’ questions in favor of his own.

“That’s what this was all about, wasn’t it? Cordelia was wrong. It wasn’t Buffy. Oh, I’m sure you’d see it as a happy bonus if it hurt Buffy, but this was never about her. No, this was about having me do your dirty work – inform Cordelia of her new status, validate your claim.”

“What kind of vampire needs a watcher’s help to explain being claimed to a teenage girl? Apparently when your soul left it took your balls with it.”

Almost before the words left his mouth, Giles found himself thrown against his front door, pinned there by a very angry vampire whose amber eyes blazed hatred into his own.

“You would do well to choose your words with care, Watcher. Unless all of Sunnydale has invested in electric locks, you’re in a vulnerable position right now. If you think I won’t kill you, Rupert, you’re sadly mistaken.”

As he stared into the face of a demon who could end his life in a heartbeat, Giles found himself filled with the conflicting emotions of anger and bone-weariness. Having spent the day watching two confident, capable young women struggle to deal with the wreckage this vampire was making of their lives, Giles was too disgusted to be cautious.

“Actually, Angelus, I don’t think you’ll kill me. Oh, I’m sure you’ll try eventually, but not tonight. After all, if you kill me who will enforce your rules with Cordelia?”

“That’s why you had her tell me, right? So that I would moderate her behavior, make sure that she adhered to your commands?”

“She says that this was all about circumstance, not desire, and that may be true, but in your mind she’s still yours, still bound by your decrees, even if you don’t want her.”

Angelus’ features returned to their more palatable state, and he slowly released Giles, large hands smoothing the creases he had created in the watcher’s shirt. A smile touched his lips as he considered what he’d heard.

“I doubt that any action concerning Cordelia Chase is ever truly absent of desire. I mean, you see her everyday. In those skin tight pants, those short flirty skirts, that snug little cheerleading outfit. I bet you’re a walking hard on most days, eh Rupert? Did it make you all hot and bothered when she described my hands all over her, my fingers and fangs buried deep inside her?”

As anger and disgust warred for supremacy on Giles face and his mouth opened to unleash a tirade upon the vampire in front of him, Angelus swiftly cut him off.

“You know what, watcher, it’s probably best you don’t answer that. You’re right about a lot of things. You always were smart. Dull, but smart.”

“I don’t want to kill you tonight. I may not necessarily want Cordelia as a pet, but she still bares my mark, she’s still a possession of the Master of the Order of Aurelius. She can hardly go wandering around at night asking for demons to attack her. How would that look, letting a bunch of filthy animals endanger what’s mine and then leaving her to the protection of the slayer? No. Whether by chance or design, Cordelia is mine and she needs to act accordingly. And for that, you’re right; I do require your help.”

“Of course, if you don’t want to extend it I would understand. I could always just kill the girl and you. That would solve my problem, too. The choice is yours, Rup.”

Giles wondered at Angelus’ threat. While he could understand the postponement of his own death as the vampire’s desire to slowly break Buffy, he could not see the reasoning behind letting Cordelia live.

Although Giles was pleased that the girl seemed relatively safe for the moment, he knew that the expedient solution to Angelus’ unwanted claim would be merely to kill the young woman. That he was instead willing to go to these lengths to let her live caused no small amount of concern in the watcher’s mind.

“As you know, I have spoken at length with Cordelia today. She has agreed to cease patrolling with the others. She fully understands the consequences of such acts to both herself and others. Believe me, I explained the nature of the bond you now share, and she was in no way eager to strengthen it, even slightly, by her defiance and thus having to deal with you once more.”

Angelus’ pleased smile at Cordelia’s compliance turned into a scowl of irritation as the full import of the watcher’s words hit him.

Yes, Cordelia was going to be a good girl and follow orders, but only so she wouldn’t have to see him anymore. This was yet another attempt by the girl to avoid him, to avoid what he was to her. First his touches, then his orders, now his very presence – how far did this girl think she could push her denial of him.

If Giles was troubled by the growls accompanying the waves of gold flashing through Angelus’ eyes, it was nothing compared to the cold hand that gripped his heart at the vampire’s words.

“You know the girl’s not right, don’t you? Even accounting for the soul time, I spent a good 150 years as one of the most vicious vampires in history. I’ve marked humans before, had servants, pets. They’ve all been compelled to be near me, they’ve all needed me, craved my approval. But Cordelia she’s just a big wad of obstinance. Do you know she told me to find some dead women to be with so I would leave her alone? I’m telling you, she’s broken.”

The honest confusion on Angelus’ face was proof to Giles of the assertions that both the demon and the girl had made that the vampire’s intention was not to make Cordelia into his pet. Yet underneath the confusion Giles could sense the one idea that would be more dangerous to the young woman than any other – a sense of challenge.

Angelus truly didn’t understand why his claim was not having its usual potent effect. Right now he was satisfied with the idea that Cordelia was in some way faulty. Because the claim was not initiated under the usual circumstances of desire and bloodlust, Angelus was dealing with this in a fairly rational manner. At this time the situation lacked the emotional components and the physical proximity necessary to send either of them out of control. And so, except for setting a few guidelines, Angelus seemed willing to let the matter drop.

However, vampires were not notorious for the stability of their feelings. Were his puzzlement to drift more towards the obsessiveness inherent to his demon’s nature, Angelus could, indeed, present a dire threat to Cordelia. If he, even briefly, ceased viewing the girl as an anomaly and began envisioning her as an opponent over whom to prevail or a prize to be won, then they were all in serious trouble. For there was no way that they could allow Angelus to have the girl, and if he chose to exert his claim there was no way he would ever let her go.

Determined to solve at least part of this mystery in hopes of preventing or at least deferring the seemingly imminent peril to Cordelia, Giles pointedly questioned the vampire.

“Why? Why are you willing to let this go? Why did you allow Cordelia to live?”

“I didn’t know you were so anxious to see her dead, Rupert. Aren’t you guys supposed to protect people from vampires, not point out the flaws in letting them live?”

Giles chose not to rise to the bait. Waiting patiently for an answer, he was rewarded as Angelus continued.

“If Cordelia did her job correctly, then you know that the first night I didn’t “let” her go, she escaped. As for the second night, well honestly, the girl had done me a world of good in the demon community. She cleared up my pesky soul problem, explained away the still living slayer, and helped me secure a ruling position here in our hellish corner of the world. So I owed her. I’ve liked humans in my times, just not that many. But Cordelia, she’s…interesting. She’s a perfect body housing an endless array of fascinating contradictions.”

“When you’ve been around a while you begin to appreciate things that lie outside of the norm, things with depth that capture the attention and create a sense of intrigue. Those things are too few and far between to simply cast them aside.”

“Not that I wouldn’t kill her in an instant if I felt like it.” Angelus finished with a sharp smile.

Despite his last words, Giles was not comforted. Leaving aside the oddness he felt that a direct death threat against Cordelia would have actually been comforting, he focused instead on the already developing enthrallment Angelus seemed to have for the girl. Fortunately, he was either in complete denial or completely unaware of these, apparently, growing feelings.

This would work in their favor as Angelus would most likely cease seeking the girl out and the bond would fade. Giles hated to think what might happen with even a few more fleeting exposures.

During their discussion this morning Giles could see that Cordelia was far from unaffected by the bond between herself and Angelus. And while his admiration for her soared to new heights at her ability to conceal this fact from the vampire, he was increasingly worried about the outcome should further resistance be required.

Seeing the wisdom in bringing this discussion to a speedy end, Giles resumed his search for the correct key.

“Is that everything, Angelus?”

Angelus smiled in amusement at the watcher’s dismissal. It was like watching a zebra trying to stare down a lion. Cute, but ineffectual.

“Remember watcher, no matter the reasons, Cordelia Chase is mine. As such, she either does as I bid her or she gets punished. And actually, the punishment would be terribly pleasurable for one of us. I’m sure as smart as she is, Cordelia can figure out just which one of us that would be.”

And with that, the vampire faded into the night’s shadows and disappeared, leaving only his disquieting threats in his wake.


PART FOUR – THE BALCONY
Chapter Sixteen

The edge of oblivion is a warm place. It’s the first day of spring, it’s the last day of school, it’s your grandmother’s cookies and a fire on a stormy day. It’s the precipice on which you stood and gazed into the welcoming abyss of slumber. And as the nothingness washed over you…some stupid tapping craps it up.

What is that? Cordelia’s brain screamed as she tried to shake of the early stages of sleep.

Cocking her head to the side, she listened carefully to the night’s sounds in the hopes of identifying those which ripped her so callously from her mandatory 8 hours of beauty sleep.

Tap Tap Tap

Snapping on the small bedside lamp, Cordelia made a careful survey of her room. Creepy closet noises? No. Creepy under the bed noises? Nope. Creepy balcony noises? Ding Ding Ding!

Even in her drowsy state, Cordelia knew that whatever was out there, and in Sunnydale it couldn’t possibly be anything good, would have either come in and killed her already or was mystically barred from entering. Demon or vampire? Vampire or demon? It was hard to know which to root for. Of course, since vampires couldn’t come in without an invite, they tended to be the frontrunner. However, if her visitor was who she thought, she would seriously consider rooting for the demon with a free pass to kill her horribly.

Hearing the tapping again, she realized that she wasn’t going to get any sleep unless she dealt with this. Dammit, she spent Lord knows how many hours a week with the stupid Scooby Gang. Why could he never bother her when she was “on duty”?

Sighing as she climbed out of bed and made her way to the window, she pondered how odd her life was that she was longing for a normal, home grown serial killer right now, instead of the supernatural mass murderer she knew she would see when she opened the drapes.

Bracing herself for the unpleasantness sure to follow, Cordelia let her fingers caress the heavy, golden fabric separating her from the face that recently haunted both her nightmares and her dreams. Never one to postpone the inevitable, she curled her hands into the material and pulled it aside.

The jolt of electricity that rushed through her system caught her off guard. She had no doubts that it would be Angelus at her door, so the flutter of what she assumed was surprise seemed out of place.

The vampire standing on the other side of the tangible, fragile glass, and the intangible, unbreakable barrier was also unprepared for the frisson of energy that shot through him at her sudden appearance.

As Cordelia came into view, backlit by the muted bedside light, Angelus couldn’t stop the sensual smile that curved his lips. Admittedly, Cordelia Chase was always a desirable woman, but somehow, standing there still slightly overheated from her bed in her baby blue tank top and matching cotton shorts, she embodied a vulnerability that was as genuinely erotic as the confidence she normally projected.

As his strong hands traced patterns known only to himself on the transparent panes, his voice eased past the glass, through the magic and would it’s way around every nerve ending in her body.

“Open the door, Cordelia.”

Dark and erotic, his voice pulled at her as if the sound were in fact, mystical tendrils overriding her freewill. For that very reason Cordelia was shocked to see her hand on the handle of her balcony doors. Pulling it back as if she’d been burned, she shot a sharp glare at the vampire.

Not remotely deterred, Angelus simply leaned in closer and let his eyes slowly caress the golden skin his demon eyes had no trouble seeing, even in the dim light.

“Cordelia, don’t be difficult. We both know I’m stuck out here until you invite me in.”

Opening the door she informed him, “Well then I guess you’ll be out there ‘til Satan needs to break out his snow shovel, huh?”

Although Cordelia knew that this was Angelus’ morning, it was still her night and she wasn’t sure if she was up to another confrontation with the pesky vampire, especially since it was avoidable what with her be inside the house and him not.

Emptying her lungs in a sigh of resignation she ran a hand through her tousled hair while she gathered her thoughts to put an end to this interlude.

“Look, Angelus, as much as I appreciate this little social call, you can’t be here.”

Normally opposition roused his demon instincts and brought no end of pain to those standing against his whims. But seeing Cordelia standing there, sweet and sleepy, with the illusion of nothing but air between them, he couldn’t help but smile as he was heated by the fire burning from her spirit.

“I can’t?”

The smirk was clear in his voice as was his obvious humoring of her.

Cordelia’s mouth tightened and her jaw clenched as she recalled exactly why the vampire shouldn’t be anywhere near her, much less on her balcony.

“No, you can’t. Giles told me what you did. The only good that came out of the most humiliating experience of my life. I don’t get it, you’re good looking, you’re like king of the Hellmouth or something, you’re a real catch for a dead guy. Can’t you find another way to get women than the whole hypno-hickey thing?”

“Geez, this is worse than when Jason Einertson gave me mono in 8th grade.”

The smile slowly slid off of Angelus’ face as he began to comprehend the meaning behind Cordelia’s nonsense.

“Are you comparing my claim to a communicable disease?” The incredulous question rasped through his lips.

“Well, if the infectious overbite fits…”

Cordelia’s dismissive shrug made clear that even with the watcher’s help she was no where near grasping the seriousness of his hold on her.

Angelus was brought out of his possessive thoughts by Cordelia’s new and yet equally inflammatory, words.

“Seriously, Angelus, you have to leave. Giles was specific about how much time I should spend with you – a big gigantic none.”

As she turned to close the door she was surprised by the lack of grumbling from the vampire. In fact, all she heard was…what was that?

Turning back to the open doorway to identify the sound she saw Angelus, lounging against the invisible barrier flicking a sliver lighter open, igniting the flame, and then smothering it with the cover. He repeated the action a number of times, watching the fire disappear and reemerge.

Catching her eyes following his movements, he smiled at her.

“No, I understand Cordelia. Go back to bed. I’m sure that we can talk in a little while, outside while we wait for the fire department.”

No matter how tired she might be, Cordelia grasped the threat to burn down her house instantly. God, would she never have control of her life again?

“What do you want, Angelus?”

Seeing that she understood that there was no option but submission, he slipped the lighter back into his pocket. Sliding down the unseen wall, he stretched out his legs and, to Cordelia’s dismay, seemed to make himself comfortable.

“Sit down, Cordelia, relax. I only want to talk to you. This can be a painless process, and for once the choice to make it so is up to you.”

“Aren’t these supposed to be your special Buffy stalking hours?” She asked bitterly as she complied with what she had no doubts were Angelus’ orders.

Choosing to sit facing him in the opposite corner of the doorway, Cordelia’s legs were nowhere near as relaxed as those that rested along side hers on the other side of the thin veil of magic.

While Angelus seemed satisfied to just sit and enjoy the enticing picture presented by the scantily clad brunette, Cordelia was less pleased by the ongoing silence.

“Well, if you’re not gonna go, the least, and I emphasize least here, you can do for me is explain this whole claiming thing. I mean, Giles sort of did, but it involved a lot of stuttering and historical references, so not so much with the curiosity satisfaction.”

“I always thought you grr guys were supposed to want to eat us, not date us. After all, I don’t eat a Big Mac and then ask Bossy the cow to the prom.”

Every moment spent with Cordelia was a new and unexpected experience for the vampire. Which was probably why he was here with her once again, despite his better judgment. Sure, he’d told himself that he needed to make sure that the girl understood and accepted the limits that he had set and that the watcher had explained. But being here now, enjoying simply sitting in her flustered company, he had to wonder just how much he’d been kidding himself.

“Don’t believe everything you hear from the Watcher’s Council, Cordelia. Really, with their vested interest in the slayer how unbiased do you think they can be?”

“Are you kidding?” Cordelia almost laughed at his apparent accusation of Council propaganda. “I don’t need a bunch of uptight, tweedy, old men to tell me that vampires want to eat me. ‘Cause hey – Hellmouth resident here. Do you think that I spend most nights running for my life because I need the exercise? Because clearly I don’t.”

Her eyes dared him to deny that her body was anything but perfect, and although he would certainly have no basis for that assertion even should he chose to make it, he took his time surveying her form as if giving the thought careful consideration.

“While it’s true that humans are the drink of choice in blind taste tests, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t entertaining in other areas.”

Cordelia’s disgust was clear in that endearing crinkling of her nose. “Yeah, I bet we’re just great for the beating and the torturing and hey, when you get that multiple homicide urge, who’s better than those oh so convenient humans. On behalf of my fellow homo sapiens, let me just say that we’re sooo glad we could entertain you.”

Angelus’ laughter at Cordelia’s none to subtle sarcasm cracked like a whip across the silence of the night. She couldn’t begin to understand the boredom inherent in immortality. True, his fellow demons generally regarded humans as a relief for their momentary desires, but every once in a while you met one who was more than that. A human who promised to hold the tedium more continuously at bay. As Angelus studied the girl sitting warily across from him, he had a sneaking suspicion that she was one of that small minority of mankind.

“Well, I can’t in all good conscience – ” Angelus paused for Cordelia’s snort of disbelief at his reference to having any type of conscience, “I can’t say that all of the activities which you so ably catalogued aren’t tremendously fun. But you just don’t get vampires. Too much running and not enough conversing. Not that you need to be talking to any vampires other than myself.”

Cordelia was surprised as the light joking tone turned menacing so quickly. Not knowing the cause of the abrupt change she could only look at him in confusion.

“You’re kidding, right? I don’t even want to be talking to you. I’m definitely not going out to find other psycho vamps to pester me endlessly.”

With only a slight frown passing fleetingly over his lips, Angelus ignored her reminder that she didn’t want him there and concentrated on her original question.

“Vampires are different than humans in more ways than those musty research books of Rupert’s will tell you. Youth, the preferred state for humans is often the enemy of the vampire.”

“Most minions die relatively young. They are created to serve and their ability to be easily replaced makes their deaths inconsequential. They, like all new vampires, are driven by instincts, the demon drive to kill and feed overwhelms what little good sense they may have, and their carelessness in pursuing those desires tends to make them vulnerable to those who hunt our kind.”

“Childer also tend to die young, but the percentage who do is much lower than with minions. Childer aren’t created to serve, they are turned for companionship. As such much more effort goes into their creation and early years and the fact that they are almost constantly at their sire’s side gives them a certain amount of protection.”

“For a vampire, power comes with age. Not just the strength that the passing of the years brings, but the ability to see long term. That existence isn’t merely for the moment, but an eternity. Delayed gratification isn’t always fun, but it is effective. Learning to savor the anticipation that makes whatever you’re doing just that much sweeter is a lesson wasted on newer vampires.”

“However, the power of age has its price. After the first century or so, boredom begins to set in. Sure, the first thousand people you kill are fun enough, but then you start to want more.”

Cordelia’s face was once again arranged in an expression of disgust. Angelus knew he wasn’t garnering any sympathy for his kind, but that really wasn’t his intention. He didn’t want her understanding; he just wanted her to understand.

“Eventually the lack of limitations leaves one jaded. The killing escalates, not necessarily in numbers, but in cruelty, each death having to top the last to maintain that feeling. But as the years pile up the endless, random killing begins to loose its allure. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s still pleasurable as hell. But the newly developed patience tends to lead to more directed, useful killing.”

“Take young Harris for example. Even the soul wanted to kill Xander every time he saw him. So you can imagine how much more difficult it is for me to refrain. But I know that if I wait the satisfaction will be that much greater when I break every bone in his body and leave his corpse propped up on the slayer’s porch. See how I’ve denied myself the immediate pleasure of ripping out his throat for what I know will be the far greater pleasure of killing him as part of my goal to destroy Buffy?”

Cordelia didn’t even try to hide her shudders of disgust at the picture painted by his gruesome words.

“If telling me exactly how much joy you get out of killing humans was supposed to demonstrate how you manage to like people I gotta say you probably weren’t captain of your debate team in school…if they had debating back then…oh, or school. Did they have school?”

And the strangely appealing oddness continued.

“Yes, Cordelia. We had school when I was a boy. We also had fire and the wheel.”

Even with their bloody topic still fresh in her mind, Cordelia couldn’t prevent the smile tugging at her lips at the exasperation in his voice.

“Cordelia, you need to understand that to me, people are merely a way to accomplish my goals. A means to my end. As objectives change over time, so do my use for the humans around me.”

“When I was young and almost constantly driven by my instincts, I killed because that’s what satisfied me. As I grow older I want different things. I want to be entertained for more than an instant. In adjusting my perspective to include the long term, I’ve found there’s value in anything that breaks up the monotony of immortality, even if it comes in human packaging.”

“There have been plenty of humans I’ve enjoyed over the years. And I don’t mean as a snack. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have killed ‘em if the mood struck me, but there have been people that I’ve genuinely liked.”

Pausing for a moment, Angelus waited until Cordelia’s eyes lifted to meet his own.

“I like you.”


Chapter Seventeen
“I like you.”

Cordelia’s mouth formed a small O of surprise as she tried to figure out which idea bothered her more – that he liked her, or that he thought that would make this situation more tolerable for her. Either way, he was clearly a dumbass.

Sarcasm once again heavy in her voice, Cordelia made her feelings on that particular statement known.

“Well gee, doesn’t that make me feel safe.”

Although Angelus smirked at her attitude, his eyes darkened with the intensity of his words.

“Safe isn’t a feeling, Cordelia. It’s a lack of feeling. It’s an absence of fear, of anger…of love. After all, does love make you feel safe? No, it makes you feel passionate, and possessive, and vulnerable. But not safe. Never safe.”

Stilling the shivers caused by his smoky voice, Cordelia covered her confusion at the effect he had on her by lashing out.

“What do you know about love? Demons can’t love.”

Angelus looked at her the way one looks at a child who still believes in fairytale endings simply because he hasn’t lived long enough to see his dreams crushed under the unrelenting heel of reality.

“Humans; you think that everything begins and ends with you. There are more beings in existence than you can imagine Cordelia, and more realities than you can begin to comprehend.”

“I’m a vampire, true. But that doesn’t mean that I lack feelings. I just lack a conscience – the unending burden of regret to temper my desires. If I want something, I take it. If I want to do something, I have no internal motivation to refrain. And if I choose not to do something, not to take something that I want, it’s not because I’ll regret the action, it’s because I’ll get something I want even more by the denial.”

“So when I love, as with everything else I do, it’s about me, about what I want and my satisfaction. It’s obsessive in nature because the object of my affection is simply the means to fulfill my needs.”

“Human love, when true, is selfless. It’s about being happy because your partner is happy. It’s about wanting what’s best for them even when that conflicts with what is best for you. And in that, it’s a weakness.”

“A demon’s love, by contrast, is a strength. It’s ultimately one more way of achieving my goal of my own enjoyment of existence.”

Leaning forward in an eagerness to share these truths with the girl in front of him, Angelus’ voice deepened with the sincerity of his words as he continued.

“Do you know what the greatest part of being a vampire is? It’s not the power, the immortality, or the endless youth. It’s the lack of restriction. Humans spend all of their short, pathetic lives denying their own happiness to do what’s “right”, or to ensure the happiness of those they love.”

“With every decision you make, no matter how selfish, a part of you still wonders how it will affect other people. Even if you decide to do it anyway, some place deep inside of you still questions.”

“I don’t suffer those delicate sensibilities. I understand that every action I take is for myself, and no part of me, no matter how small, is bothered by that. In fact, I revel in the thought that, ultimately, no one matters but me.”

“But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel. It’s just that all of my feelings are self-oriented. When I love it is real, it is passionate, and it does hurt when it’s taken away.”

To her credit Cordelia sat silently and allowed Angelus’ words to slowly filter through her mind, weighing each idea as she turned it over and examined it from all sides. Knowing that most people would reject that idea out of hand as not being “real” love, he was impressed by her ability to reserve judgment and analyze new concepts.

Cordelia wondered if Angelus was right. A thought she hoped to never entertain again. Just because demons felt differently than humans, was it right to dismiss them entirely as being incapable of emotions? Sure, she was still all for the human way of doing things, but the vampire way seemed to work for them, so who was she to diminish its importance.

Curious despite her internal warnings, she questioned the vampire, not knowing why she wanted to understand, but knowing that she did all the same.

“Is that how you felt about Darla?”

Angelus seemed surprised by the inquiry. Even though Cordelia appeared to be giving the ideas he had laid out fair thought, he still expected her first verbal reaction to be one of denial. But if she was going to be open about this, then he would do no less.

Thinking over her question, he gave a small chuckle. “Love? Not exactly.”

“Darla was my sire. That’s a bond all its own. I was Darla’s choice, but she was never mine. She chose to turn me for all of the reasons I’ve given, and she did love me. But as I’ve said, that was about her, my feelings didn’t enter into her decisions.”

“I didn’t stay with Darla for so long because I loved her, I stayed because the bond between sire and childe is compelling. It forces a response from the childe who, being younger, is the weaker of the two. And though in some small way the childe resents it, it’s impossible to resist when one is young and difficult at best as one grows older.”

“For that reason I’m glad that Darla’s gone. Although it leaves that place in me that longs for my sire unfulfilled, it also frees me from her control. It allows me to be my own master with no interference.”

“But don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed a lot of my time with Darla.” Angelus’ voice took on a reminiscent quality and his eyes unfocused as he was drawn into the past. “She was a sadistic bitch, there’s no denying that. She was feared with good reason.”

“But she was limited. She had no creativity, no vision. She always wanted to rush things, to hurry things up. Never wanted to stop and kill the roses.”

“Do I miss her viciousness? Sure. But I don’t like submission. Not to Darla, not to the Master, not to anyone.”

Well that was something Cordelia could easily understand. She, also, hated to be dictated to. It always brought out her rebellious nature, even when she gave in as she often did with her parents.

So as easy as it was to see how a sire might be a problem, it seemed like children were the exact opposite.

“So, if your children -”

“Childer.”

“What?” Questioned Cordelia, confused at the interruption.

“Childer, their not called children. Children are between meal snacks. Childer are our offspring.”

“Okay, first of all, ewww. Thanks for the therapy requiring mental picture there. And secondly, if your childer are so dependent on their sire, why don’t you just turn the humans you like and then have a great vampy relationship with them?”

Angelus smirked at the thought that Cordelia had no idea what she was asking, but with a glint of humor in his beguiling eyes he made it perfectly clear.

“Are you asking me to turn you Cordelia? Would you like to be my childe? To feel my fangs slide deep within you and know that they would only leave you as your life ebbed away? Would you like to be eternally connected to me, to share a timeless bond as we carved out our bloody place in the world?

More than the fear of the bond they already shared growing, this was the subject that caused Cordelia no end of dread. And although she knew the actual choice was out of her hands, this kind of thinking needed to be nipped in the bud.

“Absolutely not. I’ll take growing old, losing my looks, and living out my final years drooling as an anonymous patient in a nursing home over the whole living dead thing, thank you.”

Angelus wasn’t sure why, but that thought disturb him on a deeper level than it should. Maybe it was just the thought of the loss of such an endlessly surprising personality in an undeniably alluring package.

At the frown on Angelus’ face, Cordelia wondered if she had bruised his recently revealed feelings. Deciding not to open that can of worms, she redirected the conversation to its original course.

“I just meant that if the sire/childe thing is so great for the sire, why even bother with humans at all?”

Angelus thought about how best to answer her question. These were things that were intrinsic to his demon nature, not thought about, but automatic responses born of ingrained drives. Normally he wouldn’t even bother to explain such things, but Cordelia’s genuine desire to understand the things he was telling her pleased him and to reward that he would satisfy her curiosity as best he could.

“When a vampire loves another vampire, it’s an endless battle for domination, because both parties are only focused on what they want. With a sire it’s a given that the childe will consistently loose the struggle, but the conflict is still always there.”

“That’s why human pets can be so intriguing for a vampire. It’s rare to find a human that seems worth the effort, but when you do it can be a sublime experience.”

“As Giles obviously made you aware, claiming a person creates a bond between the vampire and the human. That bond will eventually engender love like feelings in both parties if they didn’t exist to begin with.”

“For the vampire these feelings involve self-satisfaction and being with their “pet” is a way to achieve that. As in all relationships the vampire has, it’s about getting their own needs met regardless of how that affects anyone else.”

“For the human, these feelings are an expression of human love. Selfless and devoted, the human can only find fulfillment in the joy of their partner. When two humans love that devotion is returned and creates a balance for the participants. But in a vampire/human bond the focus becomes solely centered on the vampire’s needs. After years of fighting for dominance with other vampires, the results can be intoxicating.”

No matter how open minded Cordelia was attempting to be, that just sounded horrible and disturbing. Giles was definitely in the right when he set the zero tolerance policy on her spending time with her inferior half in this bonded wretchedness.

But since she seemed unable to enforce that policy and, short of Buffy showing up and staking his ass, which apparently came in under “sex with” on her list of things to do to vampires, she couldn’t force him to leave, she might as well find out as much as she could about this bizarre world she’d been thrust into.

“What about Spike?”

Cordelia swallowed her laugh at the look of distaste that comically twisted Angelus’ features.

“What about him?” Angelus definitely did not want to waste time talking about his obnoxious grandchilde. Even thoughts of the slayer were less annoying. Of course those thought usually involved killing her, so that could be the difference.

“Well,” Cordelia continued, “Spike loves Drusilla and he seems to want her to be happy. He’s a vampire so why isn’t he all on board the demon love train?”

“First of all, Spike isn’t a very good vampire, so he’s never effective as a vampiric example. But that aside, I think you may have misunderstood me earlier. A vampire’s love isn’t about making the other person unhappy. It’s about making sure you’re happy. If your happiness is at the expense of the other person’s happiness then that’s not really a bothersome fact. But often a happy partner is even more attentive to one’s needs, so if their unhappiness isn’t required then ensuring their happiness can often be a step in securing greater pleasure for yourself. And really, that’s what it’s about – maximizing your own pleasure.”

“As for Spike and Dru, don’t fool yourself that Spike is selfless in his devotion to Drusilla. Spike gives in to her desires to get what he wants – her to stay with him. As her childe, Spike is in the submissive role as Dru could leave whenever she chose, whereas Spike is still somewhat bound to her whims. But Spike’s love for Dru is completely selfish.”

“Drusilla is my childe, and as such she’s utterly devoted to me. It’s always her preference to be with me. Even when I had the soul, Dru would have stayed.”

“Now if Spike’s love for Dru was so altruistic in nature, he wouldn’t have a problem with her being with me. He’d simply want what she wants. But make no mistake, if Spike thought he had a chance of killing me he’d take it in a heartbeat. It wouldn’t matter that Dru would be inconsolable by losing her heart’s desire, because he’d be gaining what he wants – Drusilla all to himself.”

“Spike’s love for Drusilla is real, but it’s not selfless. Even if he’s pathetic enough to want to believe so.”

The couple sat silently, each on one side of the doorway, lost in a world of their own thoughts. Cordelia was the first to surface, and she took the opportunity to study the distracted vampire.

She could see why he took a name so evocative of Heavenly beings. He was truly beautiful. “The face of an Angel” was no understatement when applied to the being before her.

The pallor of his skin, so unappealing in most vampires, served only to heighten his dark good looks, deepening the fathomless pools of his eyes and the dusky sensuality of his sculpted lips.

He was exquisite in every way, from his powerfully muscled form to the innate magnetism that surrounded him both as Angel and Angelus. He was almost a justification of vampiric turning as, although the demonic process were surely a crime against God, it would be one far greater that the beauty He created were allowed to be ravaged by time.

Angelus felt the fine hairs on his neck prickle in awareness as the predator in him sensed the intense scrutiny which he was currently under.

Glancing up he found himself trapped in the smooth, liquid caramel of Cordelia’s gaze. He hadn’t been lying when he told the girl that he liked her. It wasn’t just her beauty, although she had that in abundance. No, it was her spirit.

Cordelia was the strongest of all humans – she was a survivor. There was nothing life could throw at her that would break her. Though circumstances may briefly overpower her resolve it could never completely annihilate that confidence that was an integral part of her make-up. Sure, sometimes she may appear more confident in a situation then she truly felt, but that deep down belief in herself was so much a part of her that it could never really be stripped away.

And that, honestly, was what would make her such an excellent pet. If it weren’t for her association with Buffy he would give serious thought to exerting his claim over the girl. But right now his priorities were consolidating his power and breaking the slayer.

Because as sure as he was that Cordelia could never be completely undone, he was just as certain that Buffy could. Slayers, as a rule, worked alone and died young. One would think that Buffy’s refusal to accept that was a sign of strength, but it wasn’t really.

Although not much for conversation, Angel had been an excellent listener. As such, Angelus knew that even with the divorce of her parents, Buffy had always had tremendous support through her mother. Once called, that need for affirmation transferred itself to her slaying and she created a support system for herself in that endeavor, too.

Buffy was not, and never would be, a loner. And therein lay her weakness. Her fundamental need for people made her ultimately vulnerable to their loss. The Council knew this, that’s why slayers worked alone. His plans to kill all of her friends and family weren’t about pleasure, although there was no denying that it would be an almost orgasmic undertaking. No, stripping away her support system would leave Buffy with no one but herself. And since she didn’t believe that was enough, why should he?

Cordelia broke the silence, asking, once more, her original question in the hopes of drawing this peculiar evening to a close.

“What do you want, Angelus? ‘Cause as informative as out chat has been I don’t think you Romeoed yourself up to my balcony just to run down the finer points of vampire romance.”

Shaking off thoughts of the slayer in favor of the more pleasant undertaking of speaking with Cordelia, Angelus recalled his original intentions in visiting the young woman before him.

“Actually, I came to make sure that you had a firm understanding of the things Giles explained to you last night. He seemed to believe that you had been made sufficiently awa-”

“What?!” Cordelia straightened up in panic almost leaving the safety of her room in her fear for the librarian’s safety. “You promised. You said that it I told Giles you would leave him alone. What did you do? If you-”

“Cordelia!” In a voice that would have awakened her parents, had they been home, Angelus stopped the cheerleader’s rambling. Although he had been the one to use the watcher’s safety as a motivation for Cordelia’s compliance, he found himself increasingly irritated by her continuing concern for the man. As Angel he hadn’t sensed anything between the two, but then the bumbling soul hadn’t seen much beyond the slayer. Disregarding thoughts of his own age, he reasoned that the watcher was far too old for Cordelia. Although authority often impressed young women.

A low growl was building in his chest as the brown of his eyes was slowly being overtaken by rings of amber. If the watcher was touching what was his then he’d die slowly, plans for the slayer be damned.

Oddly, seeing Cordelia’s face, filled with fear, allowed Angelus to regain some control over his wayward emotions. Knowing Cordelia to be innocent and Rupert Giles to be an uptight prude, he could allow that it was most likely his possessiveness that was sparking his wrath, rather than any inappropriate interaction on their part. True, her obvious concern for the watcher was upsetting, but it also afforded him greater control in her life, so it was worth the aggravation.

Forcing a more reasonable tone, he addressed her urgent inquiries so that they could return to the topic at hand.

“Cordelia, I spoke with good old Rupert last night. As you most likely saw for yourself today, he’s in perfect shape. Well, as perfect as his shape can be. I didn’t hurt him; I just wanted to make sure that he and I were on the same page when it came to my expectations of you. Of course, being Giles, he was very reasonable regarding my requirements and took great pains to put my mind at ease as to your compliance.”

“But somehow hearing Rupert’s reassurances aren’t the same as hearing them straight from you. We both know that you can tell the watcher one thing and then go on your merry way planning to do exactly what you want. I’m here to make sure that’s not what happened. It’s not, is it Cordelia?”

The menace was back in his voice and the danger that oozed out of his every poor seemed to blanket her in a suffocating layer of threat.

“No, that’s not what happened. Giles explained to me why it would be in the best interest of the group for me to lay off the bait thing and I agreed with him. So no, you won’t be seeing me running around Sunnydale wooing demons anymore. Happy?”

Was he happy? She was doing what he wanted, but she was doing it for the benefit of their little do-gooding group. He wanted her to do what he said simply because he had spoken. So while the results pleased him, the process of attaining them left him agitated and unsatisfied.

No, he needed to remember that this was not the relationship that he wanted with this girl. Their connection was merely a necessity of circumstance and she was nothing more than a tool to help destroy the slayer. Anything else was just the fallout from the bond and he needed to stop obsessing on why he was feeling that pull and she still seemed untouched.

True, he wanted his mere wishes to compel her obedience, but in this instance he would settle for her compliance no matter how it was obtained.

Slowly rising to his feet, Angelus brushed the dust from his snug leather pants. Sometimes it was easy to forget that the vampire before her was not the creature cursed with a soul. This, however, was not one of those times. As a look of evil intent transformed his features into a sinful and yet in no way unattractive expression, Cordelia knew that whatever sprung next from his lips was not going to be to her liking.

She was absolutely correct.

“Happy? Not quite.” And reaching out a hand to the still seated girl he revealed what would induce a more joyous state. “Kiss me goodnight, Cordelia.”


Chapter Eighteen

Angelus wasn’t sure where the idea had come from, but once the words had left his lips he knew that nothing would remove him from that balcony until she acquiesced to his demand.

Cordelia, for her part, was in a far less anticipatory state. If he thought for one instant that she was leaving the safety of her home to swap spit with the undead, then the theory that wisdom came with age was being soundly disproved.

Seeing the directions in which her thoughts were quickly traveling, Angelus decided to put a stop to the useless rebellion before it started and further annoyed him.

“Cordelia, understand this. In this, as in all things to do with us, you have no choice. I may, at times, allow you the illusion of control, but for your own sake you must accept that is at my whim and not because of any power you hold. My willingness to do anything to achieve my own ends combined with your concern for others in your life ultimately ensures that, in the end, you will accede to my wishes.”

“Now if it helps you I can threaten to burn your house to the ground or to rip out the watcher’s throat, but I think that you already know that not only am I capable, but that I’m more than willing to do those things. So why don’t we save me the time of saying them and you the trauma of hearing them. In the end, you will obey me, and in the only choice I’ll allow you to have with any regularity, you can choose how painful a trek it is to your compliance.”

Knowing that what he said was true and despising him all the more for it, Cordelia slowly passed her arm through the protective barrier and grasped Angelus’ extended hand.

Before she had time to gasp in surprise she found herself spun off of the ground and into the vampire’s cool embrace. Trapped between his large, unyielding frame and the iron railing of her balcony, Cordelia could only gape in shock at the position in which she now found herself.

Now that he had her in the confines of his embrace, Angelus felt comfortable moving at a more leisurely pace as he brought his mouth down to caress her still slightly parted lips.

Feeling the warmth of her breath escaping from her mouth into his, a rumble deep in his chest expressed his pleasure at the sensation. The taste of her floating on that whisper of air tantalized his senses and drew him in to search out the source.

Running his tongue over her plush lips, Angelus gently eased into the awaiting warmth. The spicy flavor, like crisp, heated apple cider, exploded on his questing tongue, rushing over his enhanced senses. The sensation burned through his body with erotic flames that licked at his nerves and settled in his loins.

Far from unaffected, Cordelia began to tremble as large hands pulled her impossibly closer to the hard body encompassing her. Settling her against him until all distance was eliminated, those commanding hands began long, smooth sweeps up and down her spine, learning her curves and ensuring her closeness.

Cordelia’s moan was swallowed by Angelus’ demanding mouth as the arms embracing her wrapped tightly around her allowing his hands to run gently up her sides and cup the outer sides of her breasts.

Moving his hands back down the path they had just traveled, they ascended once more but this time with no barrier between her inflamed flesh and his unexpectedly tender caress. Reaching her breasts once again, it was his turn to moan as their weight filled his hands.

Freeing his right hand to tangle in her hair, holding her mouth steady for his renewed assault, he eased his left hand further across the satiny skin brushing the tips of his fingers gently across her nipple, brining the sensitive flesh to a straining peak.

Cordelia wasn’t sure if it was the play of his fingers or the thrust of his tongue that caused the whimper to escape from where she was sure she had secured it.

The erotic sounds coming from Cordelia were shooting darts of electricity to rapidly hardening parts of his anatomy. The feel of her, quivering in his arms was fast undoing him and without even realizing he’d moved he found that he’d balanced Cordelia on the iron railing in front of him, forcing her to bring her legs around him to maintain her balance.

If her warmth had infused him previously, nothing could have prepared him for the blast of heat that swept through every cell of his being as his hips thrust upwards, bringing him jutting into her core. The leather of his pants was no barrier and certainly the laughably thin material of her cotton shorts was no protection from the straining proof of his desire.

A sound that could only be described as a purr issued from the vampire’s throat as he tore his mouth from hers, leaving a moist trail as he worked his way down her throat, honing in on his marks, beckoned by their mingled scents.

As his demon features flickered across his face he could feel his fangs elongate and scrape gently against her sweat-slickened skin. The urge to bite was fast approaching overwhelming, the need to reestablish his claim, declare his ownership of the enchantress in his arms was pushing all other thoughts from his mind.

With a jerk of the hand still buried in her hair he exposed her neck to his hungry gaze. Even through the haze of desire that enveloped her, Cordelia’s survival instincts warned her that something potentially lethal was occurring. As her small mew of protest hit his ears Angelus stilled.

What the Hell was he doing?

It was a given that Cordelia was the epitome of desire with her lush, lithe body seared with need and burgeoning lust. But this was the one woman with whom he couldn’t afford involvement. Their unwanted bond and her importance to the slayer made her a better hands off investment than hands on. Even though hands on felt so amazing.

With his single, remaining shred of willpower, Angelus untangled himself from the dazed brunette. Turning towards the doors he punished them both by sliding her slowly down his body, pressing his rock hard length into her abdomen before stepping back.

“Go inside, Cordelia.”

The gravelly timber of his voice brought home to him just how razor thin the edge was on which he now teetered. Cordelia wasn’t helping him to maintain that balance as she continued to stand there looking at him with her swollen lips and heavy lidded desire.

Giving her a gentle push, Angelus sent her back through the barrier trying desperately to forget how easy it had been to breech.

Once she was back in the illusory safety of her room, reason began to return to Cordelia. Shaking off the quaking tremors of need still pulsing through her body she slowly reached forward as if moving through molasses and closed the doors, pretending that was enough to keep her monsters at bay.

As the door closed Angelus grasped the ornate railing and launched himself over, landing easily on the ground below.

He was tempting fate with these interludes with Cordelia. It had been almost impossible to leave this time, who knew if he would even make the effort next time.

And that was precisely why there couldn’t be a next time. He had been honest with Cordelia about humans being tools to achieve his goals. Cordelia, just like the slayer and all of her slayerettes were simply pawns in his game and he couldn’t forget that Cordelia already had an assigned part in this play.

No, no matter how many brunettes he had to fuck and kill to get his mind off this one, he’d do it. Because this definitely had to stop.

As Cordelia switched off her lamp and slowly crawled between her covers for the second time that night, she realized that, despite being outside she was warmer than she’d been when she first got up to confront Angelus.

And why wouldn’t she be with all of the physical activity they’d engaged in? Cordelia cringed with the realization that once again she’d been in a compromising position with Angelus. Worse, she acknowledged, was the fact that she’d been in any position with Angelus.

Giles had spelled out precisely why she couldn’t be around the vampire and the dangers that even the smallest of exposures could create. While she didn’t have his books on the subject, Cordelia was pretty sure that her big ol’ ho routine counted as a major exposure.

And that was the very worst part of all. ‘Cause a part of her was hoping that the bond had taken at least a minor effect. Cordelia may have indulged in a few make out sessions with Xander, but she was no slut. She’d lost interest in Angel as soon as his lack of life was revealed. So she couldn’t possibly be acting like this on her own. Could she? This had to be some sort of mystical whammy. Didn’t it?

At least Angelus hadn’t told her she had to tell Giles about this latest adventure. The natural optimism that kept her grounded through even the greatest of trials reasserted itself to pick out the one decent thing about the night. After all, she wasn’t sure how she could explain to the concerned watcher how the plan to spend no times with Angelus turned into spending lots of time with Angelus – necking. No, that was a conversation that ranked right up there with “Mom, Dad, meet my boyfriend, Xander.”

Emptying her mind of thoughts, Cordelia tried to will herself to sleep. But even her best attempts were thwarted by a single thought that resurfaced again and again – This absolutely had to stop.


PART 5 – A BRONZIN’ WE WILL GO
Chapter Nineteen
It was a night made for love.

The luminous moon hung low in the sky, suspended by delicate chains of glittering stars. Her gentle, pale light rained down on the earth below, softening the shadows on which it settled and imbuing the evening with a sense of wonderment that only touched those whose hearts were enamored of another.

The breathless whisper stirred the night air. “Oh, Angelus. It’s so beautiful here.”

“Ah, you’re the beauty here, lass.” Melodious, with just a touch of an accent, the vampire’s voice curled around the lovely brunette at his side, melting her further into his embrace.

Pushing back a long lock of sable hair, her trembling voice betrayed the depth of her emotion. “I love you so much.”

“Do ya now, darlin’? Angelus’ serious tone was belied by the wicked twinkle in his eyes. A twinkle missed by the girl in his arms.

Moist, chestnut eyes gazed earnestly into his as if the pain of him believing otherwise was simply unbearable. The drive to convince him, to prove her love was overwhelming. How had she ever thought herself happy before Angelus came into her life? Why had she ever fought against this feeling?

Delicate hands curled into his shirt as desperate words spilled over quaking lips. “Of course I love you. You know I do. I left my family, my friends, all for you. You know I’d do anything for you. Anything.”

“Anything at all, my love?” The dark intent was there to be seen, but only by willing eyes.

“Yes. Yes!” The tragedy of a young girl so desperate for the approval of a monster would have distressed anyone with the slightest degree of sympathy. Unfortunately that was a characteristic sorely lacking in this particular monster. “Angelus, please listen to me. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you!”

A look of what appeared to be genuine warmth transformed the beauty of his face to a near heartbreaking level. “Would you lie for me?”

“Of course.” Quick. Decisive.

“Would you steal for me?”

“In an instant, Angelus.” Confident and sure.

“Would you kill for me?”

The girl struggled with the small remnants of her former personality, the morals and ideals in tatters at her feet begging for recognition, but nothing could withstand the need for his approval. She wondered that she could have changed so much so quickly, and yet the need to be anything other than what Angelus wanted, to please him in all things, seemed a lifetime ago.

“Yes.” The whisper was anguished, but still the confirmation he desired. He just needed to know one more thing.

“Would you die for me?”

This answer was much easier for the girl. Would she die for him? Absolutely, for she could never exist without him.

“Always.”

No sooner did that single, doomed word fill the cold night air then her head was snapped back as razor sharp teeth ripped into her throat, easily slashing through the young, supple flesh and freeing the blood below in geyser-like bursts.

Having imbibed to his dead hearts content, Angelus seemed mildly disturbed by the gurgling sounds coming from what was left of the throat of the girl in his arms.

“Please sweetheart, all of this noise is hard on the digestion.” And reaching down, Angelus proceeded to ensure the silence needed to enjoy his dinner by snapping the young woman’s neck, mercifully ending her suffering, although in no way were his motives altruistic.

“Ahhh. What a night.”

Letting the body fall carelessly to the ground, Angelus straightened his clothing and wiped away the stray rivulets of blood from his chin in preparation for the night’s next pleasures. Reaching down he allowed himself one more caress of the rapidly cooling skin.

“Janine, my dear, rest easy in the knowledge that your death has indeed brought me a great deal of pleasure. I’m sure that’s what you would have wanted.”

And it was true. The girl’s demise did fill him with a sense of contentment. It wasn’t the actual killing, nor was it the feeding. No, Janine was far more than that. Janine was the proof that Angelus hadn’t been damaged by the soul. She was the shining validation of his vampiric drives and their ability to survive Angel’s nauseating quest for redemption.

Although definitely not something that he’d want widely known, Angelus was beginning to doubt his ability to initiate this kind of bond. After what seemed like an endless string of non-productive encounters with Cordelia he had begun to question the very fundamentals of his demon nature. Self-doubt was not an emotion that Angelus wore well. His natural state of being was a confidence that more often than not crossed far over the line separating self-assurance and arrogance.

After their last heated interlude, Angelus began to wonder if Cordelia was responding to his hold over her or merely his experience. The nagging uncertainty refused to leave the dark corners of his mind until finally he could bear the internal taunting no more.

Then, three days ago, he saw her. Her back to him, she was a tall, statuesque beauty whose dark coloring and healthy tan tantalized him with erotic images of a similar girl not easily forgotten. Turning, she allowed him a glimpse of her face and he noted with satisfaction that the similarities in outer semblance continued. But as pleasing as this girl was to the eye, Angelus had to admit that she was nowhere close to approaching the goddess-like beauty of Cordelia Chase. Still, she’d more than suit his purposes.

He could see the moment that he caught her eye. The spark of interest that flared to life in her gaze sealed her fate, but innocent of this fact, she smiled boldly at him. Never one to pass up an easy opening, Angelus slowly made his way towards the girl.

In the four days since he’d last seen Cordelia he’d managed to leave quite a trail of dead brunettes in his path as he tried to clear the scent of her out of his head, the taste of her out of his mouth. Even though he’d given it his best and enjoyed the effort, his mind strayed constantly to the girl he reluctantly owned.

Even Dru was no substitute. Although he was always ready for a tumble with his favorite childe, lately her dark, silky locks ignited fantasies that her cold, pale skin instantly dispelled leaving him angry and unsatisfied. Never a good combination.

And so it was that he’d found himself in the bar that night, flirting with a pale imitation of the one he wouldn’t admit to craving. Ever the gentleman, until it was time for the rape and murder, Angelus offered to walk his newest conquest home. With every step they took he found himself comparing her more and more to Cordelia and finding her increasingly lacking. Even her scent was disturbing. Unlike the compelling aroma of spice, arousal, and himself that had swirled around Cordelia at their last parting, this girl smelled merely of herself; bland and ordinary.

And inspiration struck.

Maybe this was the answer to all of the unsettling questions crowding his brain. Surely the deficiency in this pairing with Cordelia was on her part and not because of any inadequacy in himself. And perhaps his response to her wasn’t because the bond was strong upon him, but simply because it had been so long since he’d sensed himself so intimately connected with a warm, enticing human.

So, reordering thoughts and adjusting plans, Angelus decided that this young woman, the lovely Janine, would be his new pet. He would prove to himself that he could enamor her, enslave her thoughts, and, ultimately, remain untouched.

Now, as he stared down into her dull, lifeless eyes, he reveled in the accomplishment of his goals. He had done what he had set out to do – He clearly established that there was simply something amiss with Cordelia. Maybe too much time with the slayer had created an immunity of sorts in her. Whatever it was, his success with Janine had shown that he was fully functional as not just a vampire, but as Master of the Order. Certain that his growing obsession with Cordelia was merely the result of his downward spiral of doubt, he felt confident in his ability to finally put the enticing brunette out of his mind.

After all, he had new games to play, and those games started tonight.

For weeks now Angelus had pushed the slayer to the back burner. He’d wanted things settled before he broke the girl who’d been foolish enough to entrust her heart to a demon. He intended to enjoy every moment of the destruction of Buffy Summers. Every anguished cry, every decimated dream would nourish his cold dead heart in the eternity that lay before him. And, if there was any justice in this world, somewhere, the soul that had bound him for a century would feel every torturous wound to the slayer’s spirit and writhe in helpless agony as Angelus had for a hundred years.

Yes, his position assured, his power consolidated, tonight was made for pleasurable pursuits. A fine meal washed down with a slayer’s tears. What more could a demon ask?

And to be sure, Angelus had left nothing to chance. Finding a demon willing to be used in a diversion for the slayer was not easy. But it was amazing the compliance he obtained after publicly ripping the limbs off of the first five demons that had declined his offer. Because, in the end, the slayer would just kill her foes, while the vampire would engage in a buffet of endless, sadistic delights with those who defied him.

After making it perfectly clear that the slayer was not to be grievously injured, Angelus sent the Lorapred demon to wait at the cemetery, while he went to Willy’s to give the bartender a “tip” to pass on to the girl.

Angelus knew that Willy wouldn’t let him down. For the very humanity that ultimately protected the bartender from the slayer would simply make him even more fun for Angelus to kill.

Now that everything was set, all that was left was for Angelus to pick his sacrificial lamb. He headed to the Bronze where the flock was sure to be, knowing that this would be the best place to find one of Buffy’s little schoolmates.

It was time to bring death much closer to the slayer. Although not ready to kill someone in her immediate circle, one had to be subtle, of course, the time was definitely right to begin giving her victims whose faces she couldn’t forget as she walked through the halls of her school each day knowing that there was one less student. It was time for Buffy to have names for his victims; names she couldn’t stop hearing as she cried in her bed each night knowing she had failed.

Although the intent was dark and devious, the plan was fairly simple – Find a suitable victim, rip them open, and decorate Buffy’s locker with festive chains of intestines. Existence was almost too good, he thought as he made his way to Sunnydale’s hottest night spot.


Chapter Twenty

“Well, that was…interesting.” Buffy muttered as she stood over the body of a Lorapred demon.

“Yeah, Buffy. What was up with the self-slayage? If all your patrols are this easy then I’m not sure why you’re pullin’ in the big bucks.”

Buffy smiled distractedly at Xander, but her mind was still preoccupied with the fight. Not that it could really be classified as a fight.

From what Willy had told her earlier the cemetery was gonna be ground zero in some serious evil doing tonight. So of course, she gathered the troops, such as they were, and headed off into battle.

Weaving in and out of the tombstones, they finally stumbled on the impressively intimidating Lorapred. Grey scales and a slimy, thin, mucus-like fluid meant that he passed the first “Slayer Bad Guy Test” – He would definitely be messy to kill.

As he opened what she assumed was his mouth, he passed the second “Slayer Bad Guy Test” – He was dumb as a post.

Before she could even get to the third test, the inevitable spilling of all the evil plans just to hear themselves talk, the grey behemoth lunged at her, tripped over his gargantuan feet, and impaled himself on her sword. She hadn’t even finished her first quip of the evening. It was…unsettling. And it was even more disturbing that having a free night to Bronze wasn’t bringing the buckets of joy it normally did.

Although who the Hell knew what normal was anymore?

“Ah, Buffmiester? I hate to interrupt the all important prolonged ogling of the oozing corpse, but what might be equally fun would taking turns stabbing our eyes with sharp sticks. Oh, hey! Or we could go get my girlfriend and take ourselves to the Bronze and shake our victorious booties. Whadda ya say, Wills?”

“Well, my booty is feeling particularly victorious tonight.” Willow said with a faux serious nod in Xander’s direction.

And there was another weird thing in Buffy’s world today. Cordelia.

When Buffy first burst into the library with the evil tidings from Willy, her plan had been to use Cordelia as bait to lure the demon out into the open for more effective slayage. Of course, in retrospect, bait would have definitely been overkill in this case, but they hadn’t known then that he was dying to…well, die.

But as soon as she’d mentioned that plan Giles practically fell out of his chair. Muttering something about highly important research for which, and Lord only knows why, Cordelia was required, Giles put the breaks on any ideas that involved the cheerleader leaving the library.

So the question that had been plaguing her, besides the whole demon self-shish kabob thing, was why on earth anyone, much less her watcher/librarian, would want to voluntarily spend time with Cordelia Chase. Well sure, Xander did, ‘cause he was gettin’ some. But Giles…

Oh – My – God!

No! No!! No!!!

Oh God, how do you poke out your inner eye???

Of all of the horrific things that Buffy had seen in her short tenure as slayer, not one could match the terrible, terrible image burning into her brain of her watcher groping Xander’s girlfriend. In a desperate bid to focus herself on something more palatable, she turned her eyes once again to the corpse at her feet, gratefully allowing the night’s carnage to push away pictures that had to be some sort of after killing, slayer hysteria.

“Buffy, are you okay?”

Willow’s soft inquiry broke into Buffy’s musings, and the caring expression on the redhead’s face had her shaking off her evil thoughts.

“Yeah, Will. Let’s go give Giles the lowdown on the Lorapred. Only, when we tell him about it, let’s make me seem a little more heroic. Otherwise it’ll be all “extra patrols” this and “preemptive sweeps” that. And my victorious booty wants to shake too. Even if it was only victorious on accident.”

“Ah, come on Buffy.” Xander cheered the slayer as he threw his arm over her shoulders. “I have the utmost confidence in your posterior.”

As Buffy watched the two best friends she’d ever had joke good naturedly back and forth she wondered how she had gotten so lucky. That thought caught her by surprise. It had been a while since she had considered good fortune a part of her life. Since her birthday. Since the night she fell asleep with Angel’s arms and woke up in his demon’s sights.

But Willow and Xander, they looked at her in awe and wonder, so sure she was a hero. They didn’t understand that they saved her every day. She couldn’t make it through any of this without them. Not school, not slaying…not Angel.

And although their unrestrained friendship was sometimes all that kept her going, at moments like this, she knew why slayers worked alone. If anything were to happen; if she were to loose Xander or Willow…No. It didn’t even bear thinking about.

In the end she knew that this would be why she’d finally kill Angelus. And it crushed her. To know that he was out there killing people, unleashing unspeakable evil, and that those actions would never be enough to conquer her love for Angel.

Even though she writhed in inner shame at the knowledge that the only way she would be able to kill Angelus was when he threatened those she cared about directly; when the pain he was threatening was poised to surpass the joy Angel gave her, she knew it to be true. Good God, she was only seventeen. Wasn’t she allowed any natural immaturity?

And as quickly as her moment of contentment had come, it passed, leaving her cold and alone with duty; her own, personal sword of Damocles.


Chapter Twenty-One

Forty two minutes. According to Giles’ watch that’s how long Cordelia had managed to keep up her pretense of being completely engrossed in the research book she had grabbed to lend credibility to the lie he told Buffy.

His fabrication had sounded pathetically weak, even to his own ears. And yet the truth would have been so much worse. Sending his slayer into a fight with her mind filled thoughts of her demonic ex-boyfriend was not on his list of ways to ensure fast and effective victories. So he lied.

And he had to hand it to Cordelia. She was certainly making the most of his untruth. She kept her nose in that book as if her life depended on it. And as if she could actually read it. Which was doubtful given that it was written in ancient Sanskrit.

It was the sense of avoidance that he was getting from the girl that was disturbing him. Cordelia Chase was many things – brash, tactless, honest, smart, courageous, and annoying. But the one thing she wasn’t was hesitant.

Unfortunately, he was. And so he’d sat there for forty two- forty three minutes, wondering just what it was Cordelia was working so hard to conceal and how to best go about asking her.

His dilemma was simply this – If she was hiding something about this situation with Angelus, then for everyone’s sake he needed to know. However, if something of a personal nature was troubling her that had nothing to do with the vampire, then for his own sake he needed not to know.

Giles had learned in his time working with Buffy just how traumatic almost anything could be to a teenage girl. So if the stakes of a given interaction with the young woman were not apocalyptic in nature, then he felt it best to give the conversation a miss. It’s not that he didn’t care, but rather that one had to know their limitations. Effectively dealing with the everyday angst of adolescence seemed to be his.

Screwing his courage to the sticking point Giles leaned forward, his eyes catching Cordelia’s as she snuck another glance at the clock. Seeing that he had her attention, Giles straightened his spine, his eyes flinty with purpose as the concerned librarian fled, leaving the hardened watcher in his place.

Pushing aside forty-seven minutes of reluctance Giles opened his mouth and said –

“Buffy.”

He hadn’t meant to say Buffy. He’d meant to say something commanding yet comforting that would firmly encourage the young brunette to confide in him. And yet, he found his comment oddly appropriate since there, seemingly out of nowhere, stood his slayer.

Ooookay. If Buffy had thought that her night at the cemetery had been weird, and she had, nothing could have prepared her for the positively electric atmosphere contained within the library. Unfortunately Buffy doubted that it had anything to do with the opening to Hell tucked securely under the floor on which they were standing. And if it couldn’t be chalked up to a quirk of living on a mystical convergence, then that could only mean that it had to do with the other occupants of the library; Giles and Cordelia. But why?

Unbidden, absolutely one hundred per unbidden, her earlier suspicions returned full force. There was Cordelia looking every inch the young sophisticate in a little, black dress with flirty straps that exposed her long, well toned arms, a short yet full skirt that showcased her long athletic legs, and another of her apparently endless supply of long silk scarves that had sparked a new fad among the students and was fast becoming her trademark accessory. Clearly she had dressed with Bronzing in mind.

Never a breakout star in their drama class, Cordelia’s acting was no better here as she was obviously pretending to read a book that Buffy wasn’t even sure the girl was holding right side up. She looked anxious as if she could barely prevent herself from jumping up and running from the room. In fact, beyond the nervousness she seemed…guilty.

And so Buffy found herself, poised in the doorway of the library, with dark suspicions whispering through the shadowy recesses of her mind. “What would create the currents of tension in the air? What would bring forth such rarely felt intensity from her watcher? What would put a look of guilt on the face of a girl that seemed only capable of disdain?”

And although the situation begged the questions, the slayer begged with equal fervor that they not be answered. So much of her world was already lost to her, Buffy wasn’t sure that she could survive the knowledge the Giles, a man who was closer to a father then her dad had ever been, might be having a relationship with –

No, she couldn’t even form the words in her head. Whatever was going on here had to have a preferable explanation – Demonic possession, alternate dimension, hey, maybe these were shape shifters sent to assassinate her. Anything, anything at all had to be better than the possibility that the tension swirling in the air, the fire in Giles’ eyes, and the guilt in every line of Cordelia’s figure was because she had walked in on something too personal for them to share.

She couldn’t do this. It was too much. There was a limit to what anyone could deal with, even if they were the slayer. She may be “chosen”, but it couldn’t have been for this. No, Buffy knew what the others said about her in those moments before they realized she was outside the door. They said she was in denial, that she wouldn’t admit what was really going on. She may be in denial, but she was more than aware of that fact.

But who wouldn’t be? She was the slayer; born simply to kill things until her untimely death. Her boyfriend was a vampire who, after she’d given him her virginity on her freaking birthday for God’s sake, lost his soul and began a campaign of terror the likes of which she hadn’t seen, and wouldn’t stop until she drove a stake through his unbeating heart.

And now her watcher, father figure, and mystical confidant was messing around with her best friend’s girlfriend and all around nemesis. If this was reality then everyone could keep it and stick it where the sun didn’t shine! Denial sounded just right to this particular slayer.

And with that, Buffy pushed down all of her observations, forced her lips into mimicry of a smile, and turned to meet Giles’ inquiring gaze.

“Uh, yes, Buffy. I have to say that I didn’t expect you to return so quickly. Was the information you received faulty?”

Xander and Willow, having choosing that moment to enter the library, Xander having needed to stop at the vending machine for a sugar fix, put operation “Bootyshake” into action.

“You should have seen it G-man. This thing was 10 ft tall if he was an inch. Gray and scaly and definitely not a devotee of that whole shower trend. As soon as he saw Buffy he knew she meant business. Making his move he lunged for her.”

At this point Xander jumped across the room and grabbed at Willow who had turned towards the computer intending to check her e-mail before they went dancing. Willow shrieked in surprise as Xander spun her around and continued his colorful recitation of the night’s events.

“Ah, but our Buffy, she’s a cunning slayer. She faked left, she faked right,” Xander’s moved towards a now retreating Willow matched his words, “then she thrust forward, impaling her less than worthy opponent triumphantly, if messily, on her sword.” With that he propelled his arm in Willow’s direction in a dreadful parody of swordplay to which the young redhead responded by grasping her abdomen as if mortally wounded and collapsing to the ground in a ridiculous over dramatization of the throes of death.

Even the staid watcher couldn’t help but grin slightly at the antics of the children. He knew, better than anyone, how difficult Buffy’s life had been since her calling. Although they merely considered themselves her best friends, Giles understood the gift that they were to his weary slayer.

“A most interesting patrol report. Would it be considered an accurate accounting, Buffy?”

Buffy bit her lips as she wrestled with her conscience. The two people inhabiting her body, one a slayer of evil, the other a 17 year old girl dying to cut loose, argued briefly over how to answer that question. At seeing Giles’ earnest expression of expectation a third persona reared its head – that of the dutiful daughter who, together with the inner slayer kicked her fun loving teenager’s ass and ‘fessed up to Giles.

“Well, except for the part where I did anything other than stand perfectly still while the demon ran towards me, tripped, and stabbed himself to death on my conveniently outstretched weapon. Other than that it’s spot on.”

“Hmm. Fascinating. Not at all what one would expect from a Lorapred demon.” As Giles began a mental list of all the questions needing to be answered concerning this development he looked up in time to catch the slumping of Buffy’s shoulders.

“Look guys,” she said to the others of similar defeated posture, “why don’t you guys go on ahead. No point in everyone at the Bronze being denied all of us tonight. I’ll try to catch up later if I can.”

It was odd. Since their first meeting Giles had been adamant that Buffy needed to develop a greater sense of responsibility towards her duty as a slayer. And yet now, seeing his work come to fruition, he was amazed at how sad the sight made him. Buffy’s need to balance her slaying along side her “normal” life had often caused him fits, and yet her determination to do so was inherent to who she was. That fierce sense of self was the source of Buffy’s greatest strength. To see it wane in light of recent events in her life was far worse than the resulting emphasis on her work as a slayer was a blessing.

Knowing he would regret this, but unable stand by and watch Buffy loose herself to the slayer inside, Giles spoke.

“That’s quite alright, Buffy. I have more research that needs to be done tonight. The matter of the Lorapred demon can keep until morning. Why don’t you join the others.”

Unsure of such an unexpected reprieve, Buffy let her thoughts drift once again to the probability of demonic possession. But, ever the optimist, she concluded that if Giles were possessed, at least it was by some obviously kind hearted demon who understood the importance of post slayage partying.

“Thanks Giles. I’ll check in first thing in the morning.”

And then, as if they were all endowed with slayer speed, the four youths fled the library in pursuit of the non evil portion of their evening, leaving the librarian alone in his refuge of tomes to ponder the mysteries of vampire’s pets, suicidal demons, and the oddities of youth.
Chapter Twenty-Two
Mmm. There was nothing like the smell of hot, young bodies. Unless it was a hundred hot young bodies. It’s what made the Bronze, even on a weeknight such as this, the prime takeout joint for vampires of the Hellmouth.

As Angelus soaked in the sensation of a predator literally drowning in prey, he began a cursory inspection of potential victims, wondering which would best serve his needs. Gift shopping was always so difficult, especially so last minute. Who do you kill for the girl who has everything?

Angelus froze in the midst of his musings as a shiver danced its way down his spine, tingling each nerve on its decent. He knew that feeling; or rather he knew its cause.

Cordelia. She was here; in this building, in this crowd. Even hidden in this sea of humanity he could feel her surging through his veins, burning away his perpetual chill and leaving licks of fire in her wake.

Despite his resolve to steer clear of the bewitching young woman after their last encounter on Cordelia’s balcony, he began to scan the crowd for her familiar form. He needed to see her, to fill his other senses with her. Like an alcoholic in a liquor store he was fast convincing himself that just a little wouldn’t hurt. Just seeing her, merely hearing her voice. One, brief touch. That would sooth the snarling beast rising inside of him, and he could stop. He was in control.

As his searching became more agitated his eyes passed a familiar blonde head. Skidding to a halt and retracing his visual steps, Angelus was more than surprised to find himself staring at the laughing face of the slayer.

As he watched her talk with the little hacker he wondered what could have gone wrong tonight. Angelus had no illusions that the Lorapred demon he had sent would beat, or even truly test the slayer. That was never the point. Still, the hulking giant should have been enough to keep her busy for a good part of the evening and recovering for the better portion of the night.

And yet here she sat, looking fresh and new, joking and giggling with her little friend in a seeming mockery of his plans for her of suffering and anguish.

The anger that was building at the interruption of his plans for the slayer was swamped as his attention was grabbed once more by the pull of Cordelia Chase. She was closer. He could smell her, taste her on the air. And as the flavor of rich, spiced wine teased his palette all thoughts of the slayer fled.

Closing his eyes he attuned himself to the bond they shared, letting it fill him until it became a living, tangible thing. Tugging him forward. Turning his head. Opening his eyes.

A growl ripped from his throat. A noise, so inhuman in nature that those within hearing distance prepared for flight although from what they couldn’t say.

He was touching her! That pathetic maggot had his hands on her.
Chapter Twenty-Three
There she was, a nubile young goddess, her sun kissed skin draped in a flurry of black silk as if night had married the day and given birth to the vision before him. Every movement she made, the gentle tilt of her head, the sensuous arch of her back, the rhythmic sway of her hips were all an erotic invitation. Innocently offered and all the more compelling for the lack of intent, she beckoned the lesser beings around her like a siren, daring them to breach her shores. And, like the sirens of old, all that awaited those who would dare accept what she unknowingly offered was death; terrible destruction in the form of the demon even now planning her partner’s painful demise.

A shiver passed over Cordelia’s skin leaving goose bumps where the unease touched her. Her movements slowed and finally stopped as the sense of disquiet continued to plague her.

“What’s wrong?” Xander called to her over the heavy beat of the music.

Untangling herself from Xander’s spastic limbs, Cordelia felt marginally better as their physical connection was severed. Thinking that she must be coming down with something she decided to regroup in the restroom and see if she could salvage something of this night.

“I’m heading to the ladies room, Xander. While I’m gone, try not to embarrass yourself.” As soon as she turned to leave she swiveled back to face the sweet and gangly young man. “Actually, not much seems to embarrass you judging by that shirt you’re wearing, so try not to embarrass me while I’m gone.”

Cordelia wanted to soften her normal waspish words with a kiss, but found herself almost sick at the thought of touching anyone at that moment. Weaving her way through the throng of people, she could only hope that whatever it was she’d obviously caught was of the 24 hour variety.

As Angelus weighed the pros and cons of removing Xander Harris’ head as opposed to the more time consuming option of ripping off his limbs and then using them to beat what was left of him to death, he was pulled from his mental carnage by the sight of Cordelia heading straight for him.

Thinking that she must have seen him, he soon realized that couldn’t be the case; for while the luscious brunette looked mildly out of sorts, if she knew that she was delivering herself directly into his hands, discomfort would have quickly been replaced by a genuine fear. Especially after her little performance with Harris.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Bronze was an interesting club; designed to let one be “seen” at the town’s only hotspot, it was also rife with small alcoves of privacy. These islands of intimacy were scattered throughout the club, as couples wandered in and out, making the most of every private moment they could grab. With an ease that marked him as a true predator, Angelus faded into the shadows of one of these convenient romantic retreats and awaited his quarry.

His muscles, already strained to the breaking point, grew impossibly tighter as Cordelia’s scent pushed ahead of her and surrounded him, clinging to his senses and making his head swim. Each step intensified the sensations and Angelus knew that, even with his eyes closed he would know when she passed. He’d feel it, feel her, experience the drowning, the gasping for air, although he didn’t need to breathe.

It was building now; stronger, deeper than before. Her presence, his rage; possession and bloodlust were pounding through him like crashing ocean waves blinding him to all but her. And then she was upon him.

With lightening speed the unsuspecting beauty was plucked from the floor and deposited in the shadowy corner the vampire had occupied. Locked in by the hard, sinewy form that tensed in angry anticipation, Cordelia could only stare in bemused apprehension, nonplused at the sudden manifestation of her nightmares.

His voice did nothing to calm her rampant fear, nor was that his intention as his ground out inquiry scraped like broken glass across her frayed nerves.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

Cordelia knew that, although the slayer of all things evil was currently in the building with her, she was on her own with the furious vampire. There was no way her cries for help would be heard over the nearly deafening music and, as she was completely hidden by the body crowding her against the wall, all Buffy would see should she happen to observe them would be a large, dark haired man enjoying some private time with an unseen partner.

With those depressing thoughts in the forefront of her mind, Cordelia swallowed as much of her fear as she could without choking on it and resorted to the only thing she knew – attitude.

“I’m dancing with my boyfriend, obviously. Although the way Xander dances I can see how you’d be confused.”

Angelus was a contradictory demon; he loved a fiery spirit, yet demanded submission. It was forcing that passionate soul to yield to his will in all things that drew him like a moth to the flame. But in this matter he had no time for games, he would have his answers and her compliance.

Amber darts shot through the dark chocolate of his eyes, a warning of barely suppressed rage as his lips pulled back over elongating teeth and vicious snarls spilled forth.

“He was touching you.”

Cordelia, never one for patience was quickly being overcome by her exasperation, not just with the current situation, but with the vampire’s apparently endless and controlling presence in her life.

Glancing down at the tightly constricting hands grasping her upper arms in a bruising grip, she looked back into the glowing eyes of the demon before her and declared pointedly, “He’s allowed. That happens to be one of the perks of being my boyfriend.”

The rage, now a living beast within him was beating at him with relentless pressure. And yet his words were deadly calm as if they were of such deep and abiding truth that they did not require the force of his anger to make his will manifest.

“Xander Harris is not your anything, and if he’s gone even slightly beyond this fumbling touching, he’ll never have the chance to be anything at all.”

Although the part of Cordelia’s brain that dealt with self-preservation and the preservation of her friends screamed at her to quietly acquiesce in this matter, it was overruled by the building fury that seemed to be spilling from the vampire into herself.

“God! What is your damage?! This is sooo not happening. I’m not going to let one mistake ruin my life – and I stress here, my life.”

It was eerie the way that Angelus’ voice could get softer and yet the menace could increase proportionately. It sent chills spiraling through her, chills magnified immensely by his next words.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Cordelia. It’s not your life. It hasn’t been for weeks now and your denial and some pieces of silk won’t change that.”

With that decree still hanging in the air between them, Angelus tore the scarf from her neck and ran his fingers over the proof of his possession. Her sharp intake of breath ignited a conflagration in his brain and her convulsive shudders shot spears of electricity straight to his groin.

Moving his hands to her waist he pulled her upwards until her feet left the ground. Pinning her even further into the corner, Cordelia had no choice but to but to wrap her legs around Angelus’ waist. A sense of deja vu swept through her as she remembered back to her last interlude with the vampire and how they had ended up in just this position.

But within the blink of an eye those thoughts were driven from her head as Angelus’ hips thrust up to meet her own, his arousal large and rock hard against her rapidly moistening center. Cordelia’s mindless moan was swallowed by the vampire’s mouth as he wrapped a hand in her hair and forced her head up for his kiss.

The taste of her exploded through him, making a mockery of his attempts to escape this woman in the blood of others so immensely inferior. How had he thought that anything could compare to the nectar that flowed through every cell in her exquisite body.

This was what he sought. This quieted that unreachable itch within him; made him whole. Even as the thought formed in his head his mind rebelled, warning bells sounding. With an effort Herculean in scope he surfaced from the depths of passion long enough to focus his thoughts on the disturbance in his pleasure. He was, after all, a creature of instinct, and ignoring those primal drives rarely led to desirable circumstances.

So, pushing his inexorable lust down for just an instant, the thought he’d been trying to pin down materialized briefly. The bond. If he did this there would be no going back, no avoiding the girl to negate their connection. He had to consider this; he had to be careful to make this decision based on his grand design and cool, clear logic and not his dick…his throbbing, aching dick which was right at this moment tucked between Cordelia’s thighs as they grasped his hips, her weight pressing her molten core snugly to him.

Her skirt had ridden up during their hormonal tussle, and her panties did little to separate him from Cordelia’s most intimate secret. But in his licentious frenzy even that small barrier was too much. Running his free hand down the voluptuous curves of her body he settled on her thigh. Exploring the silky texture with nimble fingers, he skimmed her supple skin as he made his way to the scrap of silk and lace that barred him from her heat.

Twisting his fingers in the thin material, his growls echoed in the cavern of her mouth as, with a slight movement of his wrist he removed the last impediment to his lascivious wanderings.

Thrusting his tongue even deeper into her mouth, he robbed her of her breath, taking advantage of her distraction to thrust a long finger through her slick folds, burying it deep within her until it found the proof of her innocence.

Encountering the evidence of her untouched state every thought, logical or otherwise, vanished from his inner sight and he acknowledged that there would be no stopping, regardless of the consequences. There was no way that he would end this night in any other way than with Cordelia Chase underneath him.

As for the bond, well, he’d fuck her then he’d kill her. Her blood called to him, and while it would be a loss to annihilate such perfection, a pet just wasn’t part of his plans. Even one as delectable as the girl writhing in his arms.


Chapter Twenty-Four

Lightening. It had to be lightening striking her skin, Cordelia thought through the haze of pleasure overwhelming her. What else could explain the electricity flowing through her, prickling her skin and igniting her senses? She wanted to tell him to stop, she wanted to beg him to continue, but she could do neither. His tongue, cool, strong, and dominating, just like the rest of him, was plumbing the depths of her mouth, preventing speech even had she been able to form a coherent thought.

The taste of him filled her head with a strong, masculine flavor and all of her other senses dimmed, bowing to the superior experience her tongue was relishing as it wound around his, desperate to fill every possible space inside of her with a part of him.

She’d never felt anything this powerful, and the intensity would have frightened her if passion wasn’t overriding all else. Her breasts tightened with need and she thrust them further against the sculpted marble of his chest in an effort to ease their demand for friction. Their lustful moan merged into an erotic symphony as the taut peaks pressed through her dress and teased him with the evidence of her hunger.

But nothing compared to the feel of his thick finger piercing into her heat. Filling her perfectly, a sense of completeness settled in her blood. There was a rightness in his mastery of her body that no part of her could deny.

That vague concept floating in the far reaches of her mind triggered another thought. The bond. She wasn’t supposed to be doing this, she shouldn’t be anywhere near him. But how could she stop. At that moment she could sooner give up air than Angelus’ touch.

No. She was strong. No matter how right this felt, no matter how natural it seemed to have some piece of him inside of her, she had to end this. Fighting the drugging affect of his body crushed against hers, she used every ounce of willpower she possessed as she laid her hands on Angelus’ shoulders and tried to create some breathing room between their bodies.

Angelus was incredulous as he felt Cordelia’s attempted retreat. True, vampires were given to sever bouts of anger, but nothing he’d ever experienced could rival the furious storm that was forming within him.

Harsh vibrations issued from his chest as his true face pushed forward. Following her body as she attempted to move backwards he crushed Cordelia against the wall behind her. The deadly projectiles that were his lengthened teeth pierced her lower lip in warning, leaving shallow cuts to alert her to the danger she was courting with her rejection.

Although he wouldn’t have thought it possible, as he lapped at the blood in her mouth his arousal grew stronger, eliminating reason, eradicating rationality. All he could do was submit to these all consuming feelings as he planned to strip her of her innocence here in a darkened corner of the Bronze.

As Angelus slid a second finger into Cordelia’s clenching center, he shuddered as her untried muscles gripped him, urging him further.

Suddenly the mood was interrupted as a clumsy partier barreled into the distracted couple, jarring the vampire. Emotions already beyond his control, Angelus turned his demon face to the unfortunate young man and roared his displeasure.

Shock trying to root him to the spot, the boy was lucky as instincts as old as time forced his legs into motion and propelled him to the nearest exit, ending the last night he would ever choose to spend at this particular club.

The brief disruption in their prurient exertions was enough for Angelus to realize that they had to get out of there. The things he wanted to do to the body shaking with desire in his arms would take all night. And probably most of tomorrow.

Acknowledging the painful truth that it would be just a little bit longer before he could feel Cordelia wrapped tightly around him while he pounded into her until he burst forth, pouring himself into her, he slowly withdrew his fingers from the shivering brunette. Catching the sharp intake of her breath as he pulled free of his sensual confinement he caught Cordelia’s widening eyes and, holding her gaze in an unblinking stare, brought his saturated fingers to his mouth.

Slowly they pushed past his lips as his tongue curled out to meet them. Savoring every pearly drop of Cordelia’s essence, a rumbling of satisfaction shook its way through the pair. Cordelia’s pupils enlarged at the scene before her and Angelus knew that she, too, teetered on the edge of sensual oblivion.

Sliding her down the length of his body, he grasped her hand tightly and pulled the dazed girl through dancing crowd and into the cool air of the night. Even the frigid breeze couldn’t break the sultry haze that transfixed the couple.

However, that voice could.


Chapter Twenty-Five

“Leaving so soon, Angelus? Not even a goodbye; what would Miss Manners say?”

“Slayer.” That one word held all of the hostility the vampire felt at her interference in his plans for Cordelia.

“It won’t work you know. You can’t get to me through my friends. I won’t let you hurt them.”

Hating the young blonde with a virulence he hadn’t previously known himself capable, Angelus faced the slayer.

“Were you expecting me to ask your permission, Buff? Don’t delude yourself, lover. I’m not just going to kill your friends; I’m going to kill everyone you know, everyone you try to know. All you’ll ever be is alone until finally you beg me to end your miserable existence.”

“Well, if your plan is to talk me to death then you’re off to a good start.”

And with that Buffy leapt at the vampire, striking him full force in the face, knocking him backwards and causing him to loose his grasp on Cordelia. Thrown to the side, she was caught by Xander who quickly moved her to safety behind the infuriated slayer.

Eventually the two combatants realized that their ongoing battle was pointless, as neither was prepared to kill the other on this night. With Cordelia out of harm’s way for the time being, Buffy decided that a strategic retreat was for the best.

Angelus silently agreed with the slayer’s tactics as he still had months of enjoyment planned at her expense. That pleasant thought, however, was stripped from his mind as he noticed Cordelia, back in the arms of that moron. Had she learned nothing from the evening’s escapades?

Eyes shooting sparks across the distance that separated them, the newly enraged vampire spit out a warning only he and the girl he could still taste on his tongue would understand.

“This isn’t over Cordelia. You must know that the only way this can possibly end is in a hideously violent death.”

Although her friends took Angelus’ words as a threat against the cheerleader’s life, Cordelia knew that he was promising that painful end to the gentle boy whose arms held her with the honorable but mistaken notion that he could protect her from this demon.

“You’ll never get close to her again, deadboy.”

Angelus slowly looked the boy over, a smirk tilting up the corner of his lips. “Don’t upset yourself, Xander. I always keep my promises, and this one will be far more pleasurable than most.”

With that he turned and was almost instantly engulfed by the darkness.

Cordelia was still quaking, although not in fear, as Buffy made her way over to the couple.

“Don’t worry, Cordelia. Xander’s right, I won’t let Angelus get this close to you again.”

A small nod of her head was all Cordelia could manage because right then she wanted nothing more than to have the vampire far closer to her than he’d had a chance to get tonight. Her body still burned with unfulfilled desire, and even as that sent shame spiraling through her as she stood in her boyfriend’s protective embrace, she knew that she couldn’t help it.

Giles had been right in everything he’d said about the bond. A part of her rebelled at Xander’s soft touch and wanted nothing more than to shake off it’s cloying presence and follow her would be lover into the night.

But that wasn’t going to happen. She wouldn’t let that happen. She wasn’t a weakling; a mindless slut who gave into every demand her body made. She was strong with a core of steel that nothing had yet been able to break. And she’d be damned if that would change because some psychopathic vampire wanted to dive into her pants.

She’d told Angelus that this was her life and she’d meant it. And until the day he took it from her completely in his bid to break Buffy, Cordelia was retaining control.

Turning in Xander’s arms she ignored that uneasy feeling settling in her stomach at the close contact and leaned forward and kissed him sweetly.

“Thanks, Xander. My boyfriend the hero.”

The young man blushed under the uncharacteristic praise from his girlfriend. Unbelievably relieved at having her safe in his arms he pulled her in closer to his body, attributing her stiffened posture to the lingering fear of her ordeal.

“Why don’t we get you home Cordelia. We can sort out what to do about this in the morning.”

Buffy hadn’t had an easy time of it that evening, and even with her slayer healing she would still be pretty banged up come morning. Realizing that she wasn’t the only one who needed to be home Cordelia nodded to the slayer.

“How ‘bout Xander and I get you home Buffy.”

Buffy could only stare at the girl. Having prepared herself for another diatribe on why she needed to kill Angelus, the concern, especially from one of his victims, was startling. Of course, what Cordelia giveth, Cordelia can taketh away.

“‘Cause you know, black and blue are sooo not your colors, and you definitely don’t need anymore fashion strikes against you.”

If Cordelia’s worry had been surprising, it was nothing in comparison to the shock Buffy felt as a genuine smile lit her face. Usually Cordelia’s insults were tedious and annoying, but this time the sense of normalcy and the clear indicator that the shaken brunette was basically alright were reassuring. And catching Cordelia’s soft expression from the corner of her eye she wondered if the young woman hadn’t meant her words to do just that.

As the three teens made their way to Cordelia’s car, each lost in their own thoughts, none of them noticed the dark, malevolent presence observing them from the roof of the Bronze.

~~~~~~~~~~

It was cold.

It was really cold.

As the chill dragged her out of a sound sleep Cordelia wondered what was going on. It was never cold in her house. The entire house was controlled with sensors in each room that activated the heater when a specified temperature was reached. In fact she could hear the warmed air shooting out of the vents at full blast.

So why the Hell was she so cold?!?

Opening her eyes she glanced down. All of her blankets were still in place, so that wasn’t it. Her door was still closed, so it wasn’t some kind of weird draft from the rest of the house. Skimming her eyes across the rest of the room, she was shocked to discover her balcony doors standing open.

Even though she knew it provided no real safety, Cordelia hadn’t been able to sleep without her doors locked since discovering that only a few bare feet of dirt stood between her and Hell. So she knew, without a doubt, that the open doors were not her doing.

Sliding out from between the sheets, Cordelia slowly made her way around the bed. As she approached the other side she pushed back her rising fear as the floor, littered with roses and sheets of paper came into view.

Telling herself, repeatedly, that it was daylight, she carefully navigated the thorny flowers and bent down to pick up the page nearest to her.

And then she screamed.


PART SIX – BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO
Chapter Twenty-Six

God, there was so much screaming. It was so loud she couldn’t focus. Why didn’t someone help that poor girl? Why couldn’t she think?

As if a frozen moment of time suddenly regained its natural momentum, Cordelia slammed back into reality and realized that the screams she was hearing were pouring from her mouth. Forcing it to close the piercing sounds converted to muffled whimpers as she bent her shaking legs and lowered herself slowly to the floor. She never felt the thorns puncture her delicate skin as the contents of the other pages became clear.

Images covered every available inch. Horrible, frightful images. Things she’d never imagined; acts she couldn’t conceive. And every one of the perpetrated on Xander’s tall, thin body as torment cut into every torturous line of his face.

Her kind and tender boyfriend, skin split under a barbed lash.

His throat ripped open as blood streamed out of his gaping mouth.

His neck wrapped in a noose, his eyes bulging and his right arm lying on a nearby table.

And finally her eyes traveled back to the drawing clutched in her trembling hand.

A knife, buried in Xander’s chest, leaving a bloody chasm from its entrance just bellow his naval. His head was thrown back, howling in agony as his innards spilled onto the floor below in a bloody heap.

The pictures conveyed every likeness with a clarity that bit into Cordelia’s soul. And yet, what shook her to the foundation of her very being were the dark red smears staining each surface, giving terrible life to the writhing figure in his various stages of death.

Overwhelmed by the vileness surrounding her, Cordelia began to retch, emptying the contents of her stomach onto the floor.

No. No. No.

The repetitive thought rang so loud that she wasn’t sure she hadn’t said it aloud.

This couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t. Not because of her. Not because she’d touched the jovial boy, not because of her kisses. She wouldn’t believe it. Not until she knew for sure. Not until Giles condemned her as a whore for her actions and Buffy stilled her betraying heart with a stake.

He’d warned her. Giles had told her what would happen, how the vampire would act. And though Cordelia had tried to stay away, to escape every encounter, that logic eluded her now in the face of these possible atrocities and all she could feel was the crushing wait of the blame she was sure should rest on her shoulders.

Rising from the floor, heedless of the blood marking her knees, she ran to her dresser, and frantically seized the phone. Dialing Xander’s number with shaking fingers she struggled to breathe as she waited, desperate for a voice that could end this nightmare.

On the seventeenth ring, Cordelia could bear the suspense no more a hurled the phone across the room. Pausing only long enough to grab her keys, she ran down the sweeping staircase, out the large double doors and rocketed into her car.

Flying down the roads at speeds the transformed her vehicle into nothing but a red blur, Cordelia would never remember the trip at that breakneck pace to the Harris residence. Skidding to a halt half on the road and half across the sidewalk, she jumped out before the car had even stopped and flung herself at the door, banging on the wood in a blind panic.

Tears flowing down her face, she cried out, begging someone to come to the door, beseeching them to allay her overpowering fears. As her knuckles split and blood painted the entryway, her mind raced to other locations at which Xander might be, safe and unharmed.

The library. Buffy would be there early today, and wherever Buffy was Xander was sure to be close behind. Oh, if only that proved true today she would never again ridicule his need to stay close to the slayer.

If the trip to Xander’s house had been dangerous, her drive to the library was positively suicidal. Not knowing how she made the trek from the parking lot to the library, she suddenly found herself surrounded by books.

Looking frantically around, she saw Willow in her exclusive seat in front of the computer. As Cordelia’s mind spun dizzily she wondered how the girl could be so calm. Didn’t she know that her lifelong friend was missing, probably ripped to pieces at the hands of a demon.

The opening of the door to Giles’ office caught the overwrought girl’s attention. From the library’s inner sanctum stepped the slayer, her watcher, and – Oh God – Xander! At the blessed sight of the tall, lanky young man, hysteria overcame Cordelia as she collapsed, sobbing to the ground.

The room’s other occupants looked on in horror at the normally immaculate young woman who kneeled now on the hard floor, heedless of her form clad simply in a thigh length T-shirt obviously meant for sleeping, as giant tears trailed down her face and convulsive weeping caused shudders to rack her body.


Chapter Twenty-Seven

Although both Giles and Buffy were skilled in dealing with crisis, it was Xander who was first shaken out of his stupor at the sight of the broken girl before him. Rushing to his girlfriend’s side he bent down to take her into his arms.

“Cordelia?”

Snapped out her nearly catatonic state by the sudden move, Cordelia scrambled backwards, relief forgotten as she focused on the only thought left in her head – protecting Xander.

“No! Don’t touch me. God, don’t touch me! He’ll know. He always knows. He’ll – He’ll, God, he’ll -” Whatever else Cordelia might have said was lost as the crying returned and her words became incoherent.

Xander’s confusion was palpable and hung in the air as Giles waved the boy aside and bent down beside the now rocking brunette. Careful not to touch her, he kept his voice low and soothing as he tried to coax her out of her trauma induced trance.

“Cordelia, it’s okay. You’re safe now.” Moving slowly closer he observed her breathing begin to even out with relief. In order to help her he would need to discern what had happened, and that hardly seemed likely without Cordelia’s help. “May I see what you’re holding?”

Looking down in shock, she was surprised to see that she still clutched the proof of the evil that was fast overshadowing her life. Dropping the hideous page as if burned, she reared even further back as if physical distance could erase the scenes forever burned into her mind.

Undeniably curious, yet with great trepidation, Giles reached down to retrieve what he suspected to be the cause of the girl’s suffering. It took the discipline of every year of training he had to keep his face relatively impassive in the face of the stomach turning image he was seeing.

Noticing Giles’ distraction, Xander moved towards Cordelia once again, hoping that her calming demeanor would allow him to offer her some kind of comfort.

Before he got within a few feet of her, Cordelia’s head shot up and the warning fell once more from her lips.

“Stop! Don’t you understand? I can’t – We can’t. I- I can’t see you anymore.”

Not knowing what could have possibly caused this sever emotional reaction in his usually stoic girlfriend, Xander felt an even greater urgency to ease some of her obvious distress.

“Cordelia, don’t worry, honey. Whatever it is, we’ll work -”

Wild-eyed, she almost screamed her denial at him.

“NO! I can’t see you anymore. Never again. Don’t you get it?” Turning to the watcher her eyes begged him to confirm for Xander what they both knew to be the only viable course of action. “Giles please.”

Understanding completely what had happened; Giles rose to his feet, dreading the drama about to unfold.

“Yes, Xander; I’m afraid that I have to agree with Cordelia.” Acting quickly to ward off the protests that were even now forming on the boy’s lips, Giles pinned a stern look to his face and inserted a tone of extreme gravity into his voice. “Sit down children.”

Bowing to the authority of the only adult present, and grateful in some way for what they hoped would be a voice of reason in the utter weirdness that was their morning, they sat.

Reaching his hand out to the still distraught girl, Giles continued the use of his firm pitch in the hopes that Cordelia would respond automatically as the other’s had.

“Cordelia, I want you to come and lay down in my office.”

After a moment of hesitation, Cordelia gripped Giles’ hand as if it were a lifeline in her sea of turmoil. Allowing him to escort her to the very couch she had sat upon barely a week before spilling her secrets to the librarian, she stretched her body out, caught unaware by the exhaustion sweeping over her.

Covering her with a blanket, Giles made his way to his desk and retrieved a bottle of Scotch that he kept for those days that made him question the wisdom of working in a high school as a cover for his real profession. Pouring a small amount in a glass, he turned to Cordelia’s still form and placed it in her hands, silently urging her to drink.

Rousing herself slightly, she looked in Giles’ eyes. Seeing the endless concern in his gaze she relaxed and allowed him control of the entire situation. Knowing that Xander was safe left her swimming in relief so intense it was almost as painful as her panic. Suddenly the golden numbness contained in the tumbler that was offered seemed like an oasis in the desert. Swallowing it quickly, she grimaced as it burned its way down her throat and into her stomach. But it was more than worth that small discomfort as warmth spread through her and her eyes finally drifted shut.
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Satisfied that he had settled the girl in his office to the best of his ability, Giles crossed over to the large table at which the children sat, with a dire sense of foreboding. While the two young women showed nothing but confusion and concern on their earnest faces, Xander’s face told a different tale.

Skin tight with anger and eyes tinged with fear, the sincere adolescent demanded answers, the frustration and confusion clearly expressed in his voice.

“What the Hell is going on Giles? My girlfriend shows up half crazy, bleeding, and still in her pajamas. She collapses to the floor and won’t let anyone near her but you. Then, to top off the most bizarre day of my life, and around here that’s saying something, my high school librarian breaks up with me! Will you please to me happened to Cordelia?”

Giles, knowing that protecting them from the truth was no longer an adequate defense, reached into his pocket and withdrew the drawing. Silently sliding it along the table, he winced at the reaction it elicited as he watched the last vestiges of innocence being stripped from their lives.

Willow was up like a shot. Having seen the morbid portrait only momentarily, that was apparently more than enough to start her stomach heaving, and she only just made it to the trash can before expelling the donut she and Xander had bought on their way to school that morning.

Buffy, although used to carnage and death, paled a sickly white to rival that of any vampire. Under Giles’ scrutiny she appeared to wilt as she seemed to acknowledge that the charcoal fate was more than just a remote possibility for those in her life.

Turning his attention to the last of the children, Giles saw Xander’s throat convulse as he attempted to swallow the bile rising up. Shaking visibly, the young man nevertheless confronted, courageously, the absolute hatred that flowed in every line of the macabre artwork.

His slayer was the first to find her voice.

“I guess break time’s over.”

Sighing, Giles silently acknowledged that this was going to take a great deal of time and diplomacy.

“Yes and no, Buffy.”

Giles’ answer did nothing to clear up the matter for the disturbed teenagers, and their ire was clearly rising at his unenlightening answer. The librarian waited patiently for the redhead to resume her seat, a cup of water in hand, before he began his unsettling tale.

“The night of our misguided attempt to retrieve the amulet, more went wrong then you children currently know. Although Cordelia told us that Angelus bit her, what she didn’t say was that it was, indeed, far more serious than that.”

At this point, Xander broke into Giles’ recitation.

“Is she alright? What did that bastard do to her?”

Deciding that straightforward was the best path to follow; Giles was honest with the boy seeking reassurance.

“No, Xander. Cordelia is most certainly not alright. Due to circumstances apparently beyond both Cordelia and Angelus’ control, the vampire was forced to claim her.”

“C-Claim her?” Of all the children it was no surprise that it was Willow who understood the seriousness of Giles’ words. Her shaking voice alerted both Xander and Buffy that whatever claiming was, it was not of the good.

“Yes, Willow. Angelus claimed Cordelia as part of their deal to deceive the A’toreal demons.”

Buffy had a feeling that, as a slayer, she should already know what all of this meant, and that feeling of ignorance sharpened her voice, making it harsh and defensive when she only truly wanted comprehension.

“Back up and explain, Giles. What’s a claim? How did it help Cordelia escape Angelus? And if it’s such a big deal why on earth didn’t Cordelia tell us?”

Buffy hadn’t meant to blame Cordelia, but as a slayer it was ingrained in her very nature to find a cause for every problem and eliminate it. Her protective instincts, far more developed than that of any mere mortal, were screaming at her after what she had seen and the drive to resolve the problem was overwhelming.

Inside, she understood that the blame for this lay, ultimately at the vampire’s door, but she also knew that, even with this provocation, she wasn’t ready to eradicate the last remaining piece of Angel. And so she turned to a secondary target. One not deserving, but infinitely safer.

Giles’ features arranged themselves in an uncompromisingly stern visage. He understood, completely, Buffy’s thought process, and while he sympathized with her motivations, he could not, would not, let any further harm befall the terrified girl in the other room.

“Buffy, Cordelia, like yourself, had no understanding of the importance of the mark she received at Angelus’ hands that night. When she reported the happenings to us she did tell us that he had bitten her, but she had no way of knowing of the significance behind Angelus’ act.”

“The short version, and I don’t believe we have the luxury of indulging in the long version at this time, is this – Although vampires tend to kill humans outright unless they are in the need for minions or desire the companionship of a childe, there are exceptions to this rule. Often, despite having minions, vampires are in need of servants who can attend to their business during daylight hours. For this purpose they will sometimes mark humans as part of their Order.”

“The humans chosen are usually fairly weak minded, and the mystical bond that grows as a result of the marking, easily overtakes their will and leaves them at the vampire’s command.”

“However, when a vampire desires a more intimate connection with a human, the person is claimed by the demon in question. This bond is immensely stronger than that accompanying a simple marking. It allows the creation of a “pet”. A person whose sole focus becomes the vampire and their needs and desires.”

The sound of Xander’s chair crashing to the floor was startling in the silence of the library. Agitated and unsteady, his hands cut through the air as his furious gestures underscored his angry words.

“You’re wrong, Giles. Cordelia’s not connected to that monster. Not in any way. I saw them last night. He was trying to kill her and she came to me, stayed in my arms, and called me her hero for saving her. She didn’t give a damn what that son of a bitch was thinking or what he wanted. She kissed me, Giles. She was so glad we rescued her that she threw her arms around me and kissed me. So whatever you think is happening here, it’s not that.”

“Dear Lord.”

That less than eloquent response was all Giles could muster in light of Xander’s revelations. The understanding that had been forming in his mind of the events leading up to this morning finally crystallized as he comprehended exactly what had incited the vampire’s heated response.

Although it was still fairly clear that Angelus was not exerting his claim over the girl, having made no move to take her from them, it was also painfully obvious that, like all demons, he did not intend to share what was, however inadvertently, his.

These horrific depictions, as gruesome as they were, were merely a warning to Cordelia of the consequences of not confining herself to the role of property, even if Angelus had no real wish to own her. And, although the watcher despised seeing the girl forced into that particular box, he could not ignore the undeniable threat to all of them were she not to comply in this manner.

And, honestly, though the poor girl had obviously been terrorized by the proceedings of the morning, Angelus had made no real move to hurt either her or her friends. Sadly, no matter how scarred this had left Cordelia emotionally, it could, in its restraint, be termed an act of mercy by the vampire. Although were Giles to truly attempt to categorize the unaccustomed lack of action on Angelus’ part, he would be far more likely to attribute it to the vampire having plans of a greater scope than killing one high school boy.

Returning to the matter at hand, Giles saw that all eyes rested on him expectantly, waiting for an explanation of his invocation of the Lord’s name.

“Xander, I was in no way implying that Cordelia was under the control of such a bond. Merely that it does exist between her and Angelus.”

“When Angelus and Cordelia struck their deal that night, the return of his amulet was contingent upon the safe arrival of Cordelia to her home. In an effort to provide the A’toreal clan with a logical justification for her presence, Angelus presented her as his pet. For this ruse to be successful, he had to claim the girl.”

“This situation is, to my knowledge, unheard of. Vampires don’t claim humans that they don’t want in some way. So, to their benefit, both Cordelia and Angelus have been able to approach this in a semi-rational fashion. Each understanding that the bond will remain fairly inert without contact, they have both endeavored to keep their distance from each other.”

“But Angelus remains a vampire, with all that entails. He may have no personal desire for Cordelia, but she is still marked as his property. Therefore he has set some guidelines for her behavior. He has demanded that she cease her activities as a lure for demons. He insisted that I be made aware of these events to ensure her compliance. And, apparently, he is making it quite clear that Cordelia, who he feels belongs to him, should not be seen in the romantic company of another.”

“Although this is grossly unfair to Cordelia, and indeed, to all of you, I can’t help but agree with her assessment of these circumstances. Xander, Angelus will not hesitate to kill you over this issue, and his lack of any real interest in Cordelia will make no difference. She is making the mature and rational choice in this matter and you must at least attempt to understand that. Until the situation with Angelus is resolved your dating Cordelia is simply out of the question.”

Xander’s large frame shook with barely suppressed fury as harsh words spewed from his lips.

“Well, here’s an idea. How ‘bout we “resolve” this situation by killing the bastard and then no one will have to worry about being murdered by the sadistic cadaver. I mean we’ve let him run around, have his fun, sow his wild oats. Is there ever going to be a time when we can kill the guy?”

Willow flinched as Xander’s voice climbed in volume. Then she flinched again as she caught sight of Buffy’s face. Not believing that the slayer could have lost anymore color, the concerned hacker was proven incorrect as that last bit of blood in Buffy’s face fled, leaving her looking like death not remotely warmed over.

Normally this would be the time where Willow would interject, calming Xander down in the face of Buffy’s unrelenting emotional distress. But now, with those heinous pictures fresh in her mind and the sharp taste of her vomit hovering in her mouth, she couldn’t find it in herself to disagree with her infuriated best friend.

She loved Buffy, and she’d cared about Angel. If there was a way to fix this for them she’d do it in a heartbeat. But not at the expense of Xander. Never that. She’d already lost one friend to a brutal vampire of this line. She wasn’t losing another. If it came down to a choice of who had to die, there was no hesitation in her mind – It was Angelus. And if it hurt Buffy but saved Xander’s life; well, she could live with that.

So Willow, despite her role as the peacekeeper, chose to say nothing.

“Enough!” Giles’ exclamation effectively ended fight that was brewing. “This is not the time to loose our heads or fight amongst ourselves.”

“Xander, I realize how difficult this is for you. Being apart from Cordelia is a sacrifice, but not an indefinite one. We will fix this. But we can’t do that by running into a dangerous situation unprepared. Our doing that once is what created this dilemma in the first place.”

“This is the time for unvarnished honesty, and the truth is this – Buffy is the slayer. She’s the only chance that we have of stopping Angelus. But were she to go after him now she would fail. She would die and we would be left, not in the same position in which we find ourselves now, but in one substantially worse.”

“There will come a time when she’s ready, Xander. But that time is not today. As difficult as this is for you to loose Cordelia, even temporarily, can you not see how much harder it must have been for her to loose Angel permanently?”

His chair still on the floor, Xander slid silently down into the chair next to Buffy. Reaching his hand over, he grasped one of Buffy’s from its place, clenched in her lap and squeezed in a silent apology, communicating without words that their solidarity remained unbroken.

As the slayer felt the support from the boy beside her, tears filled her eyes. More than anything at that moment she wanted to be able to kill Angelus. She wanted to beat him until he couldn’t stand and the drive a stake through his heart until even his dust was scattered by her continued blows.

She was just so tired. So tired of hurting, so tired of death, but mostly she was just so tired of the guilt. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that this was her fault. She was a slayer. She should have known that nothing good could come from loving a vampire. But she didn’t care. She had ignored every voice of reason and thrown herself into her own personal version of Romeo and Juliet. And now they were all paying for it.

But sitting there with her hand so securely clasped, she felt a little of the pain ease and she moved one step closer to being able to kill Angelus in some place other than her mind.

Giles released his breath in a sigh of relief as he saw the potential rift in the tight knit group mend itself. And while it left a scar, they were stronger for learning that they could come together even in the worst of adversity.

“We will figure this out, children. But our first concern must be for Cordelia. Xander, if you won’t stay away from her for your own sake, then do it for hers. Although you may be willing to take your own life in your hands in defiance of Angelus, ask yourself if you’re truly prepared to sacrifice hers. For while certainly Angelus will kill you without hesitation for encroaching on his territory, that does not ensure that he will leave Cordelia unpunished.”

“This has been harder for her than you know, and she has been subjected to the vampire’s dangerous presence on more than just the occasion of which you are aware. He’s hurt her, both emotionally and physically, and her overriding priority in all of this has been the safety of the people in this group.”

“Cordelia Chase has never struck me as a woman given to doing the bidding of others. And yet she has bowed to the whims of Angelus numerous times, often because of specific threats to those around her. She’s handled this in the finest way she knew how, bravely facing what needed to be done, no matter how she despised doing it. And for that, she deserves our respect and understanding.”

“Honestly, even with their restricted contact I’m amazed at how well Cordelia has managed to resist Angelus. She is strong beyond my wildest imaginings, but she still needs our support. All we can do is make this as easy as possible for her until the time comes to end this. And I will accept nothing less than full cooperation from you all, understood?”

As they all nodded, silently pledging to support the girl who had been unwittingly bound to a monster, Giles outlined his plans for the day.

“Buffy, I want you and the others to prepare for class. I’m going to take Cordelia home before people begin arriving to avoid any awkward questions. I’ll meet you all back here after school is done so that we can begin researching the incident with the Lorapred demon last night.”

And with that, the weary watcher returned to the office, hoping that maybe these new measures would keep the vampire at bay, if only for a little while.
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Lying on her bed, Cordelia watched the sun gradually sink from the sky. Bathing her room in fiery hues of oranges and golds, the beauty was lost on the sole occupant as she forced her mind to return to the problem at hand.

Angelus.

This day had been a waking nightmare. It was strange to think that hands that had aroused her to such heights of passion the night before had brought forth such gut-churning terror that morning.

As her mind shied away from both memories, as it had all day, she strove to focus on the one thought she could hold.

Keeping Xander safe.

This was the only concept that could rest in her mind for any length of time. She needed to make sure that her boyfri- her ex-boyfriend wasn’t hurt in any way. And, though she loathed the mere idea, the only way she could think to ensure Xander’s good health was to make Angelus aware that she’d received his message loud and clear and that she would expressly obey.

The subservience of that thought made her blood boil. She hated it and she hated Angelus for forcing this submission from her. And it was in that thought that her salvation lie. For as the hatred grew, so did the rage, and the anger that had been lost to her in her traumatic haze gave rebirth to her untamed spirit as a phoenix, rising from the ashes.

Leaving her pillowed refuge, she made her way to her closet. Noticing for the first time the lack of both sketches and roses, she realized that Giles must have removed them when he brought her home.

She had been so locked in the horrors of the morning that she hadn’t been aware of leaving the school, the ride to her home, or the work he must have done to put the room back to rights. He had apparently even cleaned the carpet where she had been sick earlier.

Warmth blossomed and flowed through her at the thought of someone taking care of her. For the briefest of seconds she allowed herself to picture what her life might have been like had a man like Giles been her father. But in an instant the image was gone. Cordelia Chase was a realist. She played the cards that she had been dealt and in a move that defined the strength of her character, she choose to feel lucky for having Giles in her life in any capacity instead of feeling deprived for not having him in the capacity that she would prefer.

Grabbing some jeans and a sweater, Cordelia quickly dressed. Going to the night stand, she opened the drawer and removed two items, shoving them into her pocket. She walked down the stairs she had run down earlier that day, and made her way out into the crisp night air.

Sitting at the wheel of her car, she pulled to the end of her driveway and paused. This was the moment she dreaded.

Last night, while dancing with Xander a strange feeling had overtaken her. Causing her an almost physical discomfort, she now understood that she had been responding to the bond; to Angelus’ presence and his anger.

Not wanting to in any way, but knowing that it was the best chance they all had to remain safe, Cordelia focused on that feeling now.

It was weak at first. It lacked the close proximity and the violent emotions of the previous night. But it was there. Deep inside of her she felt it. Like a tug on her soul. A gentle pull that beckoned her towards something she couldn’t see but knew nonetheless.

As she concentrated on flutter inside of her it grew stronger. And even though that had been her hope, it scared her almost senseless to think that she was feeding the black hole of a bond that had already consumed so much of her life.

Recapturing her purpose, she shut out everything except that frisson of awareness of the vampire that she sought. Turning her car to the right, she was off.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A cemetery. Of course.

After 30 minutes of driving; backtracking and finding ways around dead end streets, she found herself sitting outside of Oak Haven Cemetery.

Driving through the gates, Angelus’ presence was much easier to detect. Strong and vibrant, she followed the path it set out effortlessly, stopping her car under one of the large oaks for which the graveyard was named. Nature had come to her aid as a full moon shown down on the tombstones, spilling light on her surroundings.

And there he was.

Sitting on a large tombstone he was relaxed, long legs stretched out before him as he appeared to wait patiently. Scanning the area for what he was expecting, Cordelia noticed the fresh grave slightly to his left.

He was waiting for a vampire. Her stomach clenched as disgust poured through her at the thought of another life taken by the devil with an angel’s face.

Knowing that each second she stayed there was a dangerous encouragement of their godforsaken bond; she swiftly approached the seated figure. Before she’d gotten within 20 feet of the vampire, the dark liquid of his voice poured over her.

“Good evening, Cordelia. I must admit, this is a surprise.” Turning to face the girl he looked her over carefully, last night’s lust flaring to life in his eyes. “Did you like my present, sweetheart?”

The mocking tone stiffened her spine and strengthened her resolve. Crossing the last of the distance that separated them Cordelia glared up angrily into his burnt chocolate gaze.

“It worked, alright. I got you message and Xander and I, we’re through. That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? To ruin one more thing about my life? Well, fine. You did it. You’re the all powerful Angelus. Just leave Xander alone.”

For once Angelus wasn’t bothered by her going on about another man. No, he thought as a satisfied smirk took its place on his chiseled lips, he wasn’t bothered by this development at all.

“So, the pictures were a success? And people say that artists aren’t appreciated in their own time.”

Cordelia had never been so angry in the whole of her life. And worse, she knew that because of the bond he felt it and was mocking her still. She had to get out of there. She’d done what she came to do. Angelus knew that Xander was no longer an issue. She needed to leave; now, before she did something that she would probably not live to regret.

As she turned back towards her car she felt her waist encircled by steel bands that could only be Angelus’ arms. Her fears were confirmed as those arms propelled her backwards, pulling her in tight against his chest.

Burying his nose in her hair, he breathed her scent in deeply. His lips pressed against her ear as he purred into the delicate shell, “You aren’t thinking of leaving so soon, are you Cordelia?”

Unlike the girl straining to escape his iron grip, Angelus wanted nothing more than to pick up where they’d left off last night, before the slayer so rudely interrupted them. He knew that the bond was fast getting out of hand, especially in light of his use of it last night and Cordelia’s obvious use of it today, but that didn’t bother him. His earlier plan was a good one – fuck her, kill her, move on. And what better place for that than here. After all, if you removed the corpses from the equation, with the exception of himself, Oak Haven was really quite a romantic site.

Soon her smell and the mere feel of her in his arms weren’t enough, and in a blur of movement he spun her around in his arms, anchoring her against his chest as his mouth swooped down to catch hers in a crushing merge of lips.

His mind was instantly awash with the heat he always found in Cordelia’s embrace. But tonight he was willing to drown and he groaned at the thought of finally sliding into her body and losing himself to the passion only she seemed to ignite.

She was lightheaded. She couldn’t tell if it was the lack of oxygen or the swirling pleasure that his touch called forth. It pulsed inside her, racing through her system, yet tonight it was doomed to failure. Tonight she was already riding a high that even this sensual overload couldn’t match.

With each move he made, the caress of her cashmere covered breasts, the thrust of a strong thigh between her legs, her fury grew. Her eyes, which had closed of their own volition, bust open as her left hand was grasped and brought up to his mouth.

Watching his eyes darken, she knew he had noticed the cuts from her desperate attempts to rouse the Harris’ that morning. As he drew her middle finger deep into his mouth, Cordelia forced herself to remember that he was the cause of those wounds, even as she groaned at the erotic sensation as his tongue gently reopened them.

Knowing he was lost in the taste of the blood that was trickling into his mouth, Cordelia slowly maneuvered her right hand down to her pocket.

It’s funny; her father was always overly concerned with safety devices. Maybe it was because, on some level he felt that it made up for never being there personally to see to that particular need. So the Chases had it all. State of the art alarms for the house and all the cars. Unbreakable gates for the property. Electronic locks for the doors. And this.

A rape whistle.

Cordelia Chase was nobody’s fool, and despite her parent’s lengthy absences she had still learned the Chase creed – Know thine enemy. And she knew this one.

Putting the whistle to her lips she blew into the instrument designed to reach near deafening levels that would bring help from all those within hearing range. Although Cordelia knew there was no one to save her in this place of death, that was not the point of this particular exercise. In fact, the purpose of her actions became clear as the vampire’s grip loosened and her finger slipped from his lips as he crashed to his knees, his hands covering and protecting his sensitive ears.

That brief moment’s respite was all the time she needed to pull the remaining object from her pocket. Cordelia was alerted to the ending of her reprieve as Angelus roared, his demon face lifting to pierce her with eyes blazing amber flames.

Before he could lunge, the clear intention of every taut line of his body, she took the small bottle she had pulled from her jeans and upended it, dumping the contents in the enraged vampire’s face.

If his first howl had been loud, it was nothing to compare to the noise now pouring from him. And even as Cordelia was filled with a fierce sense of satisfaction, her fight or flight instincts took over and unilaterally picked flight.

Running to her car, she never looked back, knowing that to do so would mean her death. And so, as her tires spun so fast that black trails followed her exit she missed the dark vampire rising to his feet, a look of intent on his face so unholy that it would have made the bloodcurdling terror of the morning seem like a lover’s walk on a wind swept beach.


Chapter Thirty

Spike heard the heavy doors to the mansion open. Angelus was home early. As he sat in the darkened room he thought about how much he hated the older vampire.

It wasn’t always like that. They’d had good times before the soul. There’d been a sense of camaraderie between them that had bound them like brothers at the best of times. Of course, it never seemed to overcome Drusilla.

That had always been the true problem between them. When it had been the four of them, Darla, Angelus, Dru, and himself; Darla, as Angelus’ sire, had taken up enough of his time to leave Dru alone for long stretches. Sure, he was still fiercely jealous of the time that his dark goddess spent with her daddy, but Angelus seemed content to share, and as that was the way of vampires, he took what he could get and was glad to have it, even if he always wanted more.

But then Angelus was gone and Darla left soon after and Spike had what he’d always wanted; his beloved sire all to himself. But could the bastard do the decent thing and stay cursed? No. Shoddy gypsy craftsmanship and a slayer who spreads her legs for demons had to muck everything up. Now the bloody wanker was back and all Dru wanted anymore, and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it stuck in this miserable chair.

Flipping on a light, Angelus walked over to the bar in the corner of the room and poured himself a drink. Leaning back against the maple surface, he grinned at his sour-faced grandchilde.

Taking in the ragged appearance of the face grinning at him, Spike speculated aloud as to the cause of the damage.

“So, decided to take on the slayer with our face, did we? Of course, with your looks it’s not as if it’s much of a loss.”

Spike’s smirk changed to an expression of confusion as Angelus threw back his head and laughed at the insults. Mentions of unsuccessful dealings with the slayer usually caused at least some measure of displeasure from the vampire.

“Not the slayer, Spike.” Angelus informed him as he fingered the still raw wounds on his face. “This was courtesy of my new pet.”

Angelus liked that. He liked the way it felt on his tongue, the way it sounded in the air.

As soon as the holy water had hit his face he’d known – she was his.

After everything he’d done, the threats, the abductions, the biting, the terror that he could taste on her still lingering from his warnings about Harris, after all of that she’d hunted him down, met him on what was undeniably his own turf, and not just challenged him, but beat him! She had literally brought him to his knees and escaped unscathed. No one else alive could say that. And it made him crazy for her.

Giving her up, relinquishing his claim on her, that had been insanity on his part. But he saw clearly now. He wanted to drown in the pools of her ardor and burn in the fire of her rage. He wanted to fill her in every way there was ‘til nothing else existed in her but her and him fused in an ebb and flow of desire and satisfaction.

It was ironic. All he had wanted originally was proof that the bond that lived in him existed in Cordelia, also. By finding him in that cemetery tonight she had proved conclusively that she, too, felt the pull. But now that he could lay that worry to rest and give her up it was too late. To much time, too many exposures had transformed the desire for conformation into the need to own.

And as he surrendered the steely control that he’d been using to keep their bond at bay he felt almost drunk with relief. Giving in to what he wanted felt so good that it made the wanting even greater.

Now the confusion gave way to understanding as Spike felt the waves of obsession rolling off of Angelus. But some pieces of this puzzle were obviously still missing, because – “Didn’t you just kill your new pet?”

Not liking the comparison of that second rate trollop with his perfect Cordelia, Angelus’ voice was sharp as he made the distinction.

“She was an experiment, Spike. Not a pet.”

The blonde vampire looked up incredulously. “An experiment? God, you can’t be that rusty, mate. I’m surprised you manage to feed yourself.”

Angelus shot a condescending look to the injured demon and returned the offensive volley. “Well, Spikey, since that’s more that you can do, I wouldn’t be so quick to criticize.”

“Yeah,” Spike shot back, “well at least I don’t get my ass kicked by my own pet.”

If he had expected a violent reaction from Angelus, either verbal or physical, he was quickly disappointed as, instead, what could only be described as a dreamy expression overtook his face.

“Yeah. You should have seen her, boy. She was fire and ice. She told me what I wanted to hear and then beat me down in my moment of weakness. She was… magnificent.”

Angelus’ voice reflected the awe he still felt at not just Cordelia’s daring, but her success.

Pouring a glass of whiskey for Spike and refilling his own, he drifted over to the couch next to his grandchilde. Leaning his head on the cushions he seemed to lose himself, momentarily, in his thoughts.

“Ah, Will. I’ve been so remiss. I’ve been pushing my girl with no declaration of my feelings. I’ve cheated her out of a proper courtship. No wonder she’s refusing to acknowledge our bond. After all, she’s no common whore. No, Cordelia’s a good girl and her first time should be special.”

Spike started at hearing the name. No, even Angelus couldn’t be that reckless; that stupid.

“You don’t mean the cheerleader? The slayer’s little friend? That’s just askin’ to be dusted. Besides, isn’t she shaggin’ the moron?”

Angelus was on him in an instant, knocking his chair backwards and crushing Spike’s neck between his hands and the floor.

“Don’t ever talk about Cordelia like that. She’s mine and she’ll only ever be mine.”

In one of his lightening fast mood shifts, Angelus released Spike and returned him, wheelchair and all, to his previous position. Pacing the length of the room, Angelus began to ponder his next move.

“Now, how best to declare my intentions.”

Spike rolled his eyes. Angelus had always been so bloody melodramatic. Always had to drag everything out. Usually he’d ride his grandsire mercilessly about his elaborate plans, but this time they could work to his favor.

Sure, Angelus had had pets before, but he’d never seen him this worked up. This girl was special to him and had obviously been the reason for much of his recent absences. It was those periods, without the older vampire, that had given him a chance to woo Drusilla back to his side.

A pet would drive Dru mad, not that that was necessarily a long drive. But it would definitely push a wedge between her and her daddy. And then Dru would do what she always did to get back at her sire – She’d spend all of her time doting on her childe.

But Spike had a sneaking suspicion that this time Dru’s antics wouldn’t distract Angelus and that the path back to his eternal love might finally be clear.

With those pleasurable thoughts dancing seductively in his head, Spike tuned back into the conversation, although Angelus seemed, technically, to be talking to himself.

“I could always approach this the old fashioned way – Ask her father’s permission as I killed him.”

He paused to consider the merits of that idea.

“But killing loved ones this early in the relationship…It’s like proposing on the first date.”

A steady growl built up in his chest. “Besides, I’d have to find her parents in order to kill them. Their neglect of Cordelia is truly criminal.” The rumbling stopped as a smile crossed his face. “Oh well, she has me now, and I’ll make sure she’s not alone anymore.”

Listening to Angelus drone on about his plans, Spike felt the need for a smoke. Lighting up one that hadn’t been crushed by their earlier altercation, he took a deep drag, filling his dead lungs with smoke. He blew it out in satisfaction as he looked pointedly at the still pacing vampire.

“Yeah, you’ll take care of her – ‘til you kill her. Never could take care of your pets.”

Angelus spun around, quick to protest. “That wasn’t my fault; you know how Darla was – jealous streak a mile wide. She was always sneaking around, killing my pets. I was always surprised that she put up with Dru the way she did. Probably only ‘cause Drusilla was my childe.”

“But,” Angelus finished happily, “Seeing as I killed her, I don’t really see that as an impediment to my plans.”

Spike had to admit that Angelus had a point. Although the thought of a soul made him sick, he did have to envy him the control it gave him in dealing with Darla.

“So, when do we get a formal introduction to the chit?”

Angelus shot an indulgent smile at the younger vampire.

“Come now, Spike. We haven’t even started dating and you already want her to meet the in-laws? You have to remember, she’s part of the white hat brigade. It’ll take time to bring her over, but she’s more than worth the investment.”

Angelus’ complete about faces should be routine by now, and yet they always seemed to throw Spike for a loop.

“Isn’t that what you said about the slayer you fickle git?!”

The shadow that normally crossed his face at the mention of the slayer was missing as he answered Spike’s question.

“No. Hurting the slayer is an investment in as much as it guarantees a weakness in our enemy. Torturing her, making her every waking moment and most of her sleeping one’s unbearable is just…well, fun; but it’s also necessary.”

“But eventually, she’ll break. My guess is sooner rather than later. And really, there’s nothing less fun than a broken toy.”

“But Cordelia, she’s enduring. I don’t want to break her, I want to possess her. I want to savor her; own her. I want to be the focus of all of that blistering passion. I want her every thought to be of me, her every desire to be quenched only in my arms. I’m going to be her world, Spike.”

“Will I still destroy the slayer? You betcha. But is it my top priority anymore? I don’t think it is. No, now Buffy’s business. But Cordelia? She’s all pleasure.”


Chapter Thirty-One

Cordelia entered the school and headed directly for her locker. It had been a full day since she’d seen Angelus; almost 36 hours since she’d burned him with holy water, and she was desperately clinging to the hope that the lack of any attempts at reprisal meant that he had accepted that she was no longer seeing Xander and had moved on.

Still, she couldn’t help but be skittish, which is why she jumped when Buffy, who had come up behind her, called her name.

“Are you okay, Cordelia?” The slayer asked, seeing the cheerleader’s reaction to the simple morning greeting.

“No, I’m not okay! What is it with people in this town always sneaking up on a person?”

Cordelia knew her reaction was out of proportion to the situation, but she couldn’t help the overflow of emotions as adrenalin poured through her body. She had been through so much the last few weeks that her body prepared for an emergency at the slightest provocation.

Taking a deep breath she turned to the subdued slayer.

“Look, I’m sorry, Buffy. It’s nothing personal. I’m just a little edgy and apparently you can’t help your sneaky genes.”

Sneaky genes? Buffy wondered. She didn’t have sneaky genes. Sure, she had slayer DNA, but – oh. Well, actually she could see Cordelia’s point. Still, couldn’t she find a better term for it?

Cordelia had turned back to her locker, dialing in the combination by rote. As she yanked open the metal door in an effort to grab her history book and make it to class on time, she was unprepared for the flood of photographs that cascaded to the floor.

Bending down, Cordelia felt as if she were in a dream as she reached for the first glossy image her hand met. She wasn’t sure she could look. The last time Angelus had left pictures for her, and she had no doubt that this was his work; she had nearly suffered a breakdown of sorts. If this were something hideous, something graphic and gory, how would she –

“It’s you.”

Buffy’s voice cut through her escalating panic. If the pictures were of her, it would be okay, wouldn’t it? After all, she was right here, in one piece. But bringing her eyes to the photograph she knew that nothing would be okay ever again.

Buffy was right. Every picture was of her. Recognizing her outfit she could tell that they’d all been taken yesterday. Scenes of her getting into her car. Arriving at school. In her math class. Her English class. P.E. Driving home. Curled up on her parent’s bed because she couldn’t stand her own room.

It was disturbing, knowing someone was watching you. Knowing you didn’t know. And while none of the pictures were threatening in their content, they were troubling beyond measure because they were all, every one of them, taken during the day.

Every portrait that she saw of the hundreds scattered around her had been shot while the sun was shining. A clear message that there was no safety. Nowhere to hide.

And as frightening as that message was, it wasn’t what evoked the terrible fear now shaking the girl. No, that was caused by the writing on each and every picture. Over every image of her body, her face, were the flowing, artistic strokes that spelled out one word.

MINE

“Cordelia?”

She heard her name from far away, but she wasn’t sure from where.

“Cordelia!”

This time she was shaken and the fleeting break her eyes were given from their haunting view allowed her to reconnect with the world around her and the slayer who was painfully grasping her arm.

As the Buffy pulled her into a standing position, Cordelia saw what it was that had captured her attention.

There, in her locker, resting atop her books was a beautiful red, velvet box. Far larger than any jewelry case she had ever seen, it was adorned with a ribbon which secured to it a note. With a sense of hollow resignation, Cordelia reached for the note.
My dearest Cordelia ~

The beauty of this bracelet brought your face immediately to mind.

Wear it, my love, and think of me.

Counting the hours ‘til we’re together,

Angelus
Forcing her hands forward, she lifted the lid. Angelus was right. The bracelet was exquisite.

If one could get past the fact that it still rested on the previous owner’s wrist.

Cordelia was very proud of herself – This time it was Buffy who screamed.


PART 7 – A FINE ROMANCE
Chapter Thirty-Two

Would he never finish this infernal research, Giles wondered as he heard the library doors slam open. When the bell had rung earlier, signaling the beginning of classes, he had felt safe in abandoning his post at the outer desk in favor of the books in his office that might contain references to explain the strange behavior of the Lorapred demon a few nights before.

But apparently his dedication to study was not shared by whichever misguided student felt that they could avoid class by hiding in his library. Making his way into the larger room, Giles was shocked to see Buffy. It wasn’t her presence that surprised the watcher, she often showed up in the middle of class. After all, protecting the Hellmouth was rarely a predictable business.

No, what worried him at this moment was the dazed look on her distressed face. Pale beyond reason, she seemed to drift, almost aimlessly, through the doors she had just forced open. Her arms were full of photographs clutched haphazardly to her chest.

Giles knew of only two things that could put that look on his slayer’s face. One was an injury to someone she loved and the other was Angelus. And if it was the latter there was every chance that it was also the former. The hundreds or so pictures that she was currently carrying towards the table gave further credence to his theory that the vampire was involved.

As the girl dumped her bundle onto the polished, wooden surface, Giles was distracted by the entrance of another of his young charges. In what he presumed was a bad omen, Cordelia carried a mid-size, red velvet box in her hands. He could only venture a guess that the contents of said box were extremely objectionable given the look of distaste on the brunettes face and the fact that she held the box as far away from her person as her long arms would allow.

She too went directly to the table to divest herself of her burden.

“Geez, Buffy, I don’t know why I had to carry this when you’re the one that kills things as a hobby.”

And the harbingers of doom just kept coming, Giles privately acknowledged as he walked, reluctantly to where the girls awaited. He couldn’t help but notice the differences in their demeanor.

Cordelia was right. Buffy dealt with death on a daily basis. She, herself, was often its cause. And yet every new blow to her life or the lives of those about whom she cared demolished her anew. It was a part of her open nature, evidence of her willingness to trust. This facet of her personality was both an asset and a liability. It allowed her to connect to the world and those in it in a way that enhanced her ability as a slayer. And yet that same strength was often compromised by the simple fact that when you’re an open door, anything can enter. And when it’s something unpleasant the results could be devastating. Angelus was the quintessential example of this.

By contrast, Cordelia was brimming with acerbic attitude. Unlike Buffy’s openness, whatever tragedies had plagued this girl’s life had built walls around her heart of the strongest stone. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, quite the contrary as her efforts to protect him from Angelus’ wrath had demonstrated. No, she cared deeply. But whereas Buffy expected people to return her affections and was therefore blind sided by betrayal; Cordelia anticipated heartache in all of her dealings, and when it occurred she accepted it as a validation of her beliefs and erected her walls that much higher.

Whatever happened must have been of a most severe nature as those walls were in full evidence now. And as he picked up one of many similar images, Giles was saddened to be proven correct.

The pictures of Cordelia in any manner of routine situations were all obscured with the repetitive declaration of ownership scrawled across each depiction of the girl. And while Giles mind reeled with the implications of Angelus’ assertion, it was working to the extent that he numbly observed that every pose in which the young woman was captured was lit by daylight.

Apparently Angelus had a new obsession and he had help.

Wanting to face the problem head on, Giles reached for the box and snapped open the lid before either distracted girl could voice a warning.

“Dear God.”

How many times would he end up uttering that phrase before this ordeal ended? He hoped it wouldn’t be needed on too many more occasions. However at this moment it was entirely justified. A hand! A goddamn hand. Someone else’s life had been sacrificed by the vampire, and for what? A sick offering to a girl who reviled him?

And yet, even through his haze of anger and disgust his agile intellect was conceiving questions which would require answers. Knowing that he should be comforting the children who appeared to be retraumatized by the opening of the parcel he still could not prevent one of these questions from springing forth from his lips.

“Why on earth would he send you a hand?”

“What? A hand? Of course he wouldn’t send me a hand. Well, I mean obviously he would send me a hand, but not just a hand…”

Cordelia stopped when she realized that she was hardly contributing to Giles’ understanding of the situation. Taking a deep breath she tried to focus on explaining this new development, but her attention was understandably diverted by the unattached hand artistically arranged on a soft bed of velvet. Leaning forward she quickly snapped the lid shut and employed and “out of sight, out of mind” strategy.

“Yes, Angelus sent a hand. However, he said the gift was the bracelet.”

Giles eyes shot from the box to Cordelia’s as he caught her last words.

“He said? You spoke to him? Did he give this to you personally? Are you alright, Cordelia?”

She knew things were bad when she babbled, but for the normally concise watcher to begin to ramble was most likely a sign of the apocalypse. Of course, only in her life could a chatty librarian trump a stumpy hand.

“Don’t worry, Giles. This was not a vamp to door delivery. I found it in my locker, along with all the proof I’d ever need for a restraining order.”

“Yes, indeed. Please, sit down girls.”

At that point even Buffy was able to briefly surface from her haze of denial long enough to join Cordelia in throwing a glare at the watcher that all of the “ewwws” ever spoken could not wholly express.

Comprehension dawning that he had just asked them to share space with a severed limb, Giles quickly rectified the problem by snatching the box from the table and placing it on the desk in his office.

Exiting his office once more, Giles began to question the now seated girls.

“Cordelia, I know that this must be trying for you.” He paused as Cordelia rolled her eyes at such an overwhelming understatement. “Yes, well. Things have obviously changed from Angelus’ perspective. Can you pinpoint when this change might have occurred?”

Glancing over at the blonde seated with her, Cordelia considered lying to the concerned watcher. She had thought having to pour out the intimate details of her encounter with Angelus had been hard when it was Giles. Never had she considered having to do the same with Buffy.

How do you tell someone that their vampire ex-boyfriend was stalking you and making with the romance? Cordelia rolled her eyes again, this time at her own stupid thought. Of course she didn’t know how to break that news. Who the Hell ever had news like that to break??

Knowing that Giles wouldn’t let her leave without answers and Buffy wouldn’t leave while there was a chance that Giles could force them out of her, Cordelia gave a mental shudder and the prepared to relive events she had planned to never again to revisit.

“Giles, the day after Angelus talked to you he came to my house.”

That captured the attention of both the watcher and his slayer. The watcher wondering why the demon had plagued the young girl once again, and the slayer wondering why her watcher had spoken with Angelus and not told her about it.

Seeing the look of betrayal creeping across her classmate’s face, Cordelia quickly nipped that in the bud.

“Look Buffy, I know that you want this to be about you and your tragic love affair with the dead, but today is about my trauma, and just ‘cause you helped cause it doesn’t mean you’re the center of it.”

It was bitchy but it worked as the blonde bit back the chastisements she was planning to unleash in Giles’ direction, and instead she sat back in her chair and waited for further revelations which seemed to have been purposefully concealed from her.

Having stopped that potential drama in its tracks, Cordelia continued, now addressing her remarks to Giles.

“He said that he was there to make sure that I was behaving, that I wasn’t planning on doing the bait thing while you weren’t looking. ‘Cause yeah, that’s my favorite hobby.”

Buffy’s spine stiffened as it suddenly dawned on her why Cordelia had stayed behind during the fight with the Lorapred. It wasn’t because she was sleeping with her watcher. It was because she’d been threatened by her psychotic ex. It was difficult for her to pick a feeling out of the emotional deluge swamping her. She’d narrowed it down to ecstatic joy or unbelievable horror. Giving herself a break today she decided to go with joy, knowing that she might as well get it where she could.

“So we talked and stuff and he disappeared into the night.”

Giles understood what was meant by “stuff ” and he respected Cordelia’s need to not dwell on specifics in Buffy’s presence. He was about to consol her but to his dismay she continued.

“Then, the other night at the Bronze some more stuff may have happened before he dragged me out of there.”

Giles turned his eyes, momentarily towards Buffy as he saw her curiosity begin to grow as awareness came that Cordelia was speaking in a sort of code. As a slayer she had amazing instincts and as a young woman she was quite intelligent. It was only a matter of time before she deduced what the brunette was trying wholeheartedly not to say.

“Then -”

“Oh dear God.”

The apparently staple phrase of his vocabulary slipped out, once again, before he could halt its escape. He felt even worse at the interruption as lovely hazel eyes turned to his, sympathy spilling from their depths. The knowledge that she had had yet another encounter with the brutal killer and her concern was reserved for those who had clearly failed to protect her was more than he thought he could silently endure.

“Actually, Giles, this one was okay. In fact, I totally kicked his ass.”


Chapter Thirty-Three

And Giles knew. Just as surely as he had known that Cordelia’s open display of affection to Xander had been the cause of the drawings that had littered her bedroom floor, he was absolutely certain that whatever Cordelia had done to present herself as a challenge in Angelus’ eyes had sparked this personal level of possessiveness.

“You kicked Angelus’ ass?”

Cordelia scowled at Buffy’s incredulous tone. Sure, she may not be a slayer but she could handle herself. Not that she’d want to put that to the test every night, but she was more than up to the occasional challenge. Besides, she was not going to let Buffy chip away at any of the confidence she’d gained from her last encounter with Angelus. She better than anyone knew that she’d most likely need every scrap of it in the days to come.

“Just because you’re not ready to take him on doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t. Besides, some of us just don’t have the luxury of waiting.”

“Because he’s targeting you.” It was more of a statement than a question from the slayer and she was shocked at the reply the cheerleader gave.

“Because he was targeting Xander.”

Cordelia turned her gaze back to Giles as she tried to explain the reckless actions of which she knew he would not approve.

“I had to go. It wasn’t enough to break up with Xander unless I let him know. You see that, right Giles? I didn’t have a choice.”

As he stared into the girl’s worried eyes he wondered once again at the notions the rest of the group had about her. While the safeguards protecting her heart were numerous and quite strong in nature, the heart that they were protecting was larger than even his greatest expectations. He had often heard Buffy and Willow talking in the library about what Xander saw in Cordelia. They had always settled on the expedient answer that the boy was enamored of her beauty. But the greater knowledge he’d recently gained of the girl had shown him exactly why Xander was drawn to her. Sympathy welled up in the watcher for the cheerful young man and what he was losing to the monster who was their former ally.

“It’s alright, Cordelia. I know that Angelus has offered you little choice in your dealings with him. I am also aware how truly difficult this is for you to revisit. However, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to insist on hearing the specifics of your last encounter with Angelus. Please, Cordelia. If the key to this new obsession is contained in those details then there may be a chance for us to undo whatever was done.”

Giles felt like a cad for dragging the tormented girl back into what must surely have been a nightmare, but there truly was no other choice. If, indeed, there was any hope of returning to their previous status quo it would be found in the recollections she was now about to share.

“Well, you now about the drawings. Even after I saw Xander safe in the library I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that he was still in danger. I knew that breaking up with him wouldn’t be enough if Angelus didn’t know about it. Although he always seems to have the 411 on everything else in my life.”

“So I went out to tell him that I’d done what he obviously wanted. I found him at Oak Haven -”

Despite the fact that Giles always went into these conversations intending to listen patiently to the entire story, he found himself staying true to form as he disrupted her tale for his pressing questions.

“You found him at Oak Haven? Please tell me that you weren’t wandering the cemeteries of Sunnydale trying to track him down.”

Seeing the look of guilt that shot across her face, Giles realized that the truth she was about to reveal was actually worse then a young woman, alone, at night, scouring graveyards on the Hellmouth. Feeling an odd gurgle in the pit of his stomach, he wondered if he might not be developing an ulcer.

“I might have used the bond.” Seeing the watcher about to erupt in a massive spewing of large words and lecture-like tones, Cordelia spoke quickly to forestall him. “I know I’m not supposed to use it, Giles. But this was an emergency. Xander’s life was at stake and I didn’t think just once would be that huge of a deal. And like you said, I couldn’t very well spend the evening traipsing across random cemeteries.”

If Giles had felt like a cad before it was nothing to how low he felt at this moment. This girl had been thinking of nothing but protecting someone she cared about, and her use of the bond was at great personal danger; a risk she seemed willing to take in exchange for Xander’s continued good health. He had no place to reprimand her, and although his response was motivated purely by concern, he had to remember that she was desperate and traumatized, being stalked by the undead, and she was handling it in the best way she knew how. In fact, far better than he believed most people would.

“Yes, you are quite right, Cordelia. Please, continue your story.”

“I told him that I’d broken up with Xander so he should leave him alone. The jerk was so smug; he just wanted to pick up where everything had left off the night before.”

At this point it was becoming more and more clear what Cordelia had meant by “stuff”. The thought turned Buffy’s stomach. Sure, she’d slept with that body, but it had a soul in it at the time and that had to mean something. She clung desperately to that hope, as she felt the chill in her heart concerning all things Cordelia start to thaw as she realized that Cordelia didn’t even have that to hold on to.

“So I waited ‘til he was distracted and then I blew the rape whistle my dad gave me when I turned 14.”

And the admiration doubled. For both watcher and slayer the girl had jumped considerably in their estimation. And while, for Giles, this was a recurring theme in his dealings with Cordelia, for Buffy this was unfamiliar territory. Respecting this particular girl was something that had never once crossed her mind.

“Of course that dropped him like a stone.” Cordelia smirked at the memory, one of the few that Angelus had provided that she enjoyed replaying. “Then, when he looked up and got ready to grab me I doused him with holy water.”

Cordelia wasn’t sure, but she thought that the stunned, slightly opened mouth expressions on the faces of her audience might just be an insult. Did they really think she was that helpless? Sure, she was the first to admit that her plan had worked because she had the element of surprise, but that wasn’t a random occurrence. That had been her intention all along.

And did they really think that she would face a master vampire set on ruining her life without some form of weapons? How low was their opinion of her? Oh well, she thought with her characteristic realism, at least it can only go up.

“And he just let you go after that?” Surprise had driven Buffy’s voice up an octave to an ear piercing level that had both Giles and Cordelia wincing.

“Hell no!” Cordelia looked at the other girl as if she’d lost her mind. “Duh, I ran to my car and peeled out of there while he was still trying to find what was left of his face.”

All three paused to enjoy that image. Even Buffy savored the picture it brought to mind, glad to know that someone could hurt Angelus, even if that someone could not yet be her.

That thought, on top of the ordeals that Cordelia had been suffering while she’d been completely oblivious saddened Buffy. What kind of slayer was she if she couldn’t even slay something that was threatening everyone she cared about and yet Cordelia Chase could hunt him down in a cemetery and kick his ass? She wondered if it were possible for slayers to lose their edge.

It wasn’t the first time today that she’d asked herself that question, either. When Cordelia had opened the box in her locker and Angelus’ gruesome token of affection had been revealed, to her everlasting shame it was her who had screamed, and not the squeamish cheerleader. But there was no way that she could have stopped her horror from vocally expressing itself. She’d seen plenty of body parts of all kinds, but knowing that this was from Angelus made it personal in a way that none of the others had been. And that, more than anything is what drove the shrill sound from her throat.

As Giles watched the play of emotions on Buffy’s face he wondered how any of them would make it through what was sure to follow. Angelus had claimed Cordelia in action as well as theory. His gifts clearly demonstrated that he had moved past the idea of necessity and onto pure want.

Giles wanted to tell the girl to run, but he doubted there was a refuge out there in which she could successfully hide. No, her best chance of remaining outside of the vampire’s grasp was here, alongside the slayer.

This, too, confused Giles. Why was Angelus allowing her have an existence away from his own? Like much of the particulars of this claim, it was unheard of. Not the games of course. The stalking, the gifts, the threatening or killing of loved ones were all standard “courting” behavior towards the victim that the demon intended to claim or turn. But those games always ceased once the bond was established. Not only did close proximity enable the connection to flourish, but continued distance was often uncomfortable for both the human and the vampire.

While Giles was certainly appreciative of Angelus’ apparent and uncharacteristic restraint, he knew better than to have any faith that it would continue for longer than it suited the vampire’s purpose.

“Cordelia, this changes things drastically. Your previous contact with Angelus had always centered on his bid for power and need to have you conduct yourself in ways that did not reflect negatively upon him.”

“But this, this is an open declaration of ownership. This is his way of alerting you to the fact that he intends to pursue you and enforce, in every way, his claim over you. It’s a situation I was sincerely hoping that we could avoid because if he’s truly opened himself up to the bond you share there may be no turning back.”

As sharp tendrils of fear curled round her stomach, Cordelia pushed aside the feelings of helplessness and adopted, instead, a careless, hardened affect.

“I don’t really care what Angelus wants to open himself up to. There’s no way that I’m dating the undead. Dating Xander was bad enough for my reputation, thank you.”

For once Buffy understood what Xander had always maintained about Cordelia. He had told both her and Willow that there was more to the girl’s acerbic nature than they knew. She hadn’t believed it then, but seeing the shadow of pain that crossed the brunette’s face as she spoke so lightly of her ex-boyfriend, Buffy could finally see that her words were merely the weapon she used to hold her pain at bay.

Giles, too, had notice the hurt look in Cordelia’s eyes and wanted nothing more than to assure her that Angelus would go away. That she would wake tomorrow and this would be nothing but a nightmare that would fade with every passing minute. But he couldn’t do that. If she were to survive until Buffy was ready to move against her former love she would have to be equipped with more than just a whistle and some holy water. She would need to be armed with the truth.

“Cordelia, at this time the best thing that you can do is to stay away from Angelus. The bond is no where near an overwhelming level, and it can be kept that way by maintaining a large degree of distance between yourself and the vampire. To that end, I think that the best thing to be done is for you to remain, at all times, with Buffy.”

“What?!”

“No way!”

It was objections in stereo as both girls made their dissatisfaction known. But the watcher was having none of it. This sad state of affairs called for extreme measures and he was not going to let their petty squabbling compromise Cordelia’s safety.

“Enough! This is not open for discussion. There is a monster out there who will stop at nothing to obtain his goals. If we are to meet this challenge we must do so with all of the resources available to us. This means putting aside any differences and focusing on getting through this with everyone’s life not just intact, but relatively unchanged.”

Cordelia could hear in the watcher’s tone that this was non-negotiable, and as it was motivated by genuine concern for her she decided to acquiesce – to a point.

“Alright, Giles. My parents will be home on Monday. Buffy can stay at my house ‘til then.”

Seeing that this was the greatest concession that he could obtain from the girl and that Buffy looked unhappy with even that compromise, Giles decided to accept what was offered and address the problem again come Monday.
Chapter Thirty-Four
“Why are we here again?” Buffy questioned Cordelia as the woman in front of her pulled her left hand forward.

“We’re here because I want a manicure and you need one. I mean really, with your extracurricular activities you’d think you’d be in here every other day.”

For the 372nd time that day Buffy reminded herself that Cordelia was going through a “traumatic ordeal” and that’s why she was being so undiplomatic. Which of course didn’t explain her bluntness all those times that a vicious maniac wasn’t trying to date her.

Of course she did have to admit that her nails looked fabulous.

Hair done, face facialed, and nails painted, the two attractive young women made their way to the front of the salon to settle afternoon’s bill. As Cordelia withdrew her trusty gold card she was surprised as the woman behind the counter waved it away. No one dismissed a gold card. Just as Cordelia was about to inquire into this unheard of oddity it was explained.

“The bill has been taken care of Miss Chase.”

Then again, Cordelia thought, that explained nothing at all.

“What do you mean it’s been taken care of? I always pay when I’m through.”

“Yes Miss Chase, but today’s session was charged to your account.”

“Excuse me, my account?”

The receptionist was beginning to look put out. What kind of person argued about a bill that had been settled?

“Yes, your boyfriend came in yesterday evening and set up an account for you. All your future visits have been paid for. If you don’t mind me saying you’re very lucky. He was terribly sweet and so handsome. He said that you always look so beautiful for him that the least he could do was see that you didn’t have to worry about the cost.”

As Buffy blanched at the ramifications of this new development Cordelia leaned forward and slapped her card down on the counter. Forcing the words out past her grinding teeth she made her position perfectly clear.

“I can pay for it myself. So take it off my “account” and put it on my card. Now.”

The older woman looked at both the card and its owner wearily as if dreading what she was about to say. Glancing at her blonde friend for help she saw that there would be no support forthcoming from the girl wearing an oddly stunned look on her face.

“I’m sorry, Miss Chase, but your boyfriend spoke to the manager and apparently they reached some sort of agreement because I was told that under no circumstances was I to accept any money from you.”

Cordelia wanted to scream. She could just imagine what kind of agreement Angelus would have made with the manager. Sure that it included the threat of dismemberment, Cordelia would normally sympathize with the woman, but dammit she wanted control of her life back! How had it come to this; that she couldn’t even go to the salon without the obsessive vampire being a part of it?

As her temper ignited a tentative hand on her shoulder reigned in her anger for the moment.

“Cordelia,” Buffy began hesitantly, “there’s nothing to do here and it’s not their fault. You know that.”

Cordelia’s frustration grew at Buffy’s words. She knew that blame didn’t rest with anyone here, and she knew that there was nothing that they could do about it. But that only made her more upset, not less. Helplessness was not a state that she endured well, and yet it was an increasingly large part of her life since that fateful, cursed night.

Turning her glare on the slayer she bit out an abrupt, “Fine” and stormed out the door leaving the slayer to convey a silent apology with her eyes as she rushed out to catch the fuming brunette.

Reaching her, Buffy took hold of Cordelia before she reached her car.

“Geez, grabby much? Isn’t it bad enough that your loony ex-lover is not so slowly dismantling my life, but now you’ve got to ruin my outfit?”

Taking a deep breath and counting to three because she didn’t think Cordelia could last until ten, Buffy explained herself.

“Come with me. I want to check something out.” And not waiting for an answer she dragged her companion into the exclusive dress store situated next to the salon they had just left.

Pulling the resisting girl up to the counter, Buffy addressed the salesclerk.

“Excuse me; my friend would like to buy that dress.” Buffy indicated a dress at random with a sweep of her arm. “How much will that be?”

The clerk looked over at the seething brunette, her eyes narrowing then opening wide in recognition.

“Excellent choice. That dress is $843.00 without tax. Shall I put that on your account, Miss Chase?”

As Cordelia’s attention focused entirely on her, the unfortunate shop employee actually shrank back from the venom contained in her stare.

Once again Buffy was left to smooth over the situation.

“Actually, I think we’ll come back later. Thanks anyway.”

Grateful to simply be out of the laser-like glare of the tall brunette, the young employee smiled and nodded rapidly at the thankfully rational blonde who was prodding her friend in an effort to obtain a silent retreat. Feeling the anger flowing off of “Miss Chase”, she wished the smaller girl luck.


Chapter Thirty-Five

The sun had set by the time they made their way back to the Chase estate. Buffy had dragged Cordelia to three more stores at which she had sworn she never shopped only to have it confirmed that there were evidently charge accounts set up in all of them and none would accept payment of any other sort.

The amount of time and effort that must have cost would have made such measures impossible for most people. And yet, Angelus’ new position and his access to the Hellmouth’s resources, both demonic and human must have greatly eased the undertaking.

As the scope of the vampire’s actions became clear Cordelia grew more and more silent. Not that Buffy could blame the girl. Slowly but surely Angelus was insinuating himself into every facet of her life. Buffy had fought with Angelus since his return, but she had escaped this intense, unrelenting focus. She wondered if she would have if Cordelia hadn’t caught his eye.

As the girls exited the car and made their way to the entrance, it was as if thoughts of the vampire had called him forth; for there he was, pacing restlessly in front of the large double doors, obviously waiting for Cordelia’s return.

Seeing Cordelia, Angelus’ eyes raked over her taking in every detail. Once satisfied with his detailed inventory he turned his burning amber gaze to Buffy. Anger coating his tone, he barked out his displeasure.

“What do you think you’re doing keeping her out this late, slayer?!”

Both girls were nonplussed by the question, although Cordelia seemed to recover much faster than Buffy.

“Excuse me! Did I turn seven when I wasn’t looking? It’s a half an hour after sundown; I’m hardly violating my curfew.”

Angelus swung back to face Cordelia, his eyes still golden but alight with a fire far from anger as they perused her figure once more. Smirking slightly he caught her hazel glare and held it effortlessly.

“Baby, you’ve just had the wrong people setting your curfew. You know that any time after sundown is dangerous and even my protection can only stretch so far.”

“Well, buddy; maybe I don’t want your protection.”

The smirk designed to annoy transformed into a genuinely indulgent smile as he addressed the girl’s complaint.

“Sweetheart, I’m not actually giving you a choice. You’re mine, and as such your security falls to me.”

Angelus was being completely truthful with the beauty before him, but he had to admit that his honesty was in large part motivated by the fury overtaking his wondrous pet right before his eyes.

Knowing that her control was precariously balanced he gently pushed it over the edge with his next question, intent on enjoying the fireworks soon to follow.

“Tell me Cordelia, did you like the bracelet?”

The reins of her temper broke with an almost audible snap as Cordelia lunged for the smug vampire before her. Just as she was about to make contact with his beautiful, hated face she was grabbed around the waist and swung out of reach of her target.

As Buffy tried to restrain the surprisingly strong girl, she was caught off guard by the dangerous snarling sounds coming from behind her.

“Don’t touch her, slayer.”

The words, uttered low, vibrated with a hatred that went bone deep.

Buffy jerked towards him, dropping into a fighting stance, but he paid her no attention as he stepped closer to Cordelia. In a quiet, soothing voice, the polar opposite of that which he had used with the slayer he spoke.

“Are you alright, Cordelia? You’re not hurt?”

Confusion swept through her body where rage had previously burned. “Are you serious? You push my buttons with your grotesque presents and stupid questions and you’re upset ‘cause Buffy stopped me from kicking your ass…again? You’re insane. Buffy never had to put her normally unmanicured hands on me until you came along. And then you’re all concerned?? What’s wrong with you? Seriously, does that whole blood loss thing before you die cause brain damage?”

Buffy rushed to put herself between Cordelia and the sure to be furious vampire when said demon threw back his head and released a shout of hearty laughter. She didn’t know what to make of this vampire. Where she had only ever experienced his overpowering dislike and vitriolic rhetoric, this new side of tenderness and humor was more than she could take in.

Angelus’ laughter melted away at the slayer’s actions. His voice reflected the seriousness of his warning as he cautioned the girl, “Don’t get between me and my pet, Buff.”

Looking over Buffy’s shoulder he grinned at Cordelia.

“Are you going to hide behind the slayer, Cordelia?”

A look of patently false distress came over Cordelia’s face as she addressed Angelus’ criticism.

“Oh no.” Her voice trilled in a mockery of disappointment. “The sadistic vampire thinks I’m a coward. Let me regain his good opinion by throwing myself into his death grip.”

Rolling her eyes scornfully at the wildly entertained demon she continued her tirade.

“Sheesh, you know that trick stopped working when I was like five.”

Far from being upset at not getting his hands on the openly scoffing girl, he was instead pleased that she could keep her wits about her even in her anger.

“That’s my girl, always thinking.”

“Pfft. Yeah, that’s what all this is about. You want me for my mind.”

As Angelus was about to detail exactly what he wanted her for, Cordelia continued.

“Look, I don’t know what you hope to gain with your little stunt at the crappy stores in this worthless town, but I can take care of my own bills. That’s why I have my daddy’s gold card.”

“Yeah,” Buffy muttered over her shoulder. “Way to be self-sufficient.”

Angelus’ face rippled, demonic features flicking on and off as his anger at the slayer’s words threatened to overcome him. Cordelia was his. His to care for and his to hurt. No one else had that right and he’d make sure Buffy new it even if he had to rip out her lungs as a reminder. He settled now for growling at the interfering girl although his eyes never left Cordelia’s.

“She doesn’t need to be self-sufficient and she doesn’t need her daddy’s credit card. She has me now.”

Although his attention had been on her he had been speaking to the slayer. But now his words were directed solely at Cordelia and the force of them sent shivers swirling across her skin.

“I’m giving you time, Cordelia. I don’t have to. I can take you now and we wont have to worry about who cares for your needs. The matter will definitely be settled in my mind, and yours.”

“You’re mine. I own you. Your mind, your body, your soul, they all exist for me now. I may have thought that I could be satisfied with having you in name only, but that was before I realized how truly glorious you are. No one’s done what you’ve managed to do. You challenged me, laid me out and walked away unscathed. How could you possibly think I’d ever let you go after that?”

“No, Cordelia, you are mine absolutely and I take care of what’s mine. No one else.”

Not willing to let that go unchallenged, Cordelia began her arguments.

“I don’t belong to anyone, least of all…”

Cordelia wasn’t one to hold back. When something crossed her mind it most likely fell out of her mouth. But the death promised in Angelus’ eyes as she rejected his claim to her stilled the words in her throat.

Angelus’ smile seemed carved from ice as he made clear the menace his gaze held. He knew that his luscious pet thought herself the recipient of the retribution he was foretelling, but she still hadn’t grasped that he had no intention of damaging her when hurting those around her would be far more effective.

“Let me be perfectly clear about this. To me this problem is easily solved by killing your father and thus eliminating the annoying “gold card” conflict. Allowing him to care for you anymore than I have would be a denial of my possession of you. Nothing would incite me to do that. You’re mine and mine alone. And Cordelia, I don’t share.”

Pressing even closer towards the shaken brunette Angelus put himself well within staking range of the slayer to deliver his dark ultimatum.

“If you buy anything in this town, use any services that I don’t provide, I’ll punish you, Cordelia Chase. And believe me, sweetheart, I’ll enjoy every minute of it.”

Tanking advantage of both girls’ distraction, Angelus reached forward and seized the slayer’s arms, jerking her from her protective position in front of Cordelia. With Buffy out of the way and Cordelia still stunned by his sudden movement and his earlier threats, Angelus surged towards her pulling her around to face the recovering slayer and tucking her body tight into his chest.

Running his hands down the long lines of her body, they groaned in unison as the eternal embers of their passionate fire flared to life. Denial of this all consuming force was getting harder for both of them even though they knew, each for their own reasons, that tonight could not bring the final inferno.

Angelus wanted more time. Time to sooth and shape his pet. Time to mold her into his perfect pleasure.

Cordelia wanted to survive and she knew that any chance she had at freedom would be lost the minute she tasted the full spectrum of delights to be found in Angelus’ arms. Those arms that wound around her now, calling forth a response she never knew rested within her.

Although it only took Buffy seconds to right herself and produce a stake, by the time she spun around she was in time to witness the almost pornographic show that the vampire and the cheerleader were providing.

Sensing that the slayer’s attention was now focused on them, Angelus decided to mix a little business with his obvious pleasure. The feel of his little pet writhing in his arms was amazing, but knowing that he was hurting the slayer took the eroticism to a whole new level.

Driving his steel hard member into the firm curves of Cordelia’s ass, Angelus dropped his head to the gentle slope of her neck drawn by his scent, sure and strong, pulsing through his woman. Pressing his lips to the mark that proclaimed her as his he smiled wickedly as he felt the shudders roll through her.

Touching his tongue to the healed wounds he tightened his arms as Cordelia’s legs failed her and his strength was all that kept her upright. He reveled in his effect on her. Knowing that right now she despised him, her heated reaction was just further proof that she was falling deeper and deeper under the spell of her bond to him and nothing she or anyone else did could alter that reality.

Buffy shook herself out of her stupor at seeing her boyfriend’s body draped all over Cordelia’s smaller frame. Raising her stake and stepping forward she paused once more as Angelus’ head jerked up and flashed his fangs at her in a clear threat to the neck of the girl he was holding.

Now it was Cordelia’s turn to pull from the haze encompassing her as she saw the Buffy pause in her effort to free her from the vampire’s grasp. Feeling Angelus’ elongated fangs tenderly abrade the skin on her neck, she new what had given the slayer pause.

“What are you waiting for?” Cordelia called out to the hesitant blonde. “He’s bitten me before. I’ll live; go ahead and kill him.”

She felt the rumble of his chuckle deep within his chest as he yanked her head back. Thinking he was exposing her neck for a vicious bite she was surprised when instead he trapped her with his liquid velvet gaze.

“Ah, Cordelia. I love you too.”

And although his tone was mocking for the slayer’s benefit, what she saw in his eyes scared her to the depths of her soul.

He meant it. He actually believed that he was in love with her. Remembering what he had told her of vampiric love she shuddered in horror at the thought that he wanted her to participate in such a one-sided relationship. She wouldn’t, couldn’t become a slave to his desires, his needs.

Feeling her stiffen Angelus knew she received his message loud and clear. Satisfied with this night’s work he released Cordelia and gave her a gentle push in Buffy’s direction.

“Take better care of her slayer, or I’ll relieve you of that duty.”

And with those words Angelus whirled around and, as was his habit, disappeared into the night.


Chapter Thirty-Six

As Cordelia walked out of her bedroom in her pajamas she was disheartened to see Buffy camped on her bed, clearly wanting to talk. Crossing the room and taking a seat she trembled in remembrance of that morning that changed her life.

“Alright, just spill it Buffy.”

“We have to see Giles about this.”

That wasn’t what Cordelia was expecting and definitely not what she wanted to hear.

“And what is Giles going to do Buffy? Go and hunt Angelus down? Kill him? Even if he wanted to we both know how that would end. And if he decided to be sensible he’d just end up wallowing in guilt that he couldn’t keep me safe.”

“Giles doesn’t wallow in guilt.” The slayer protested.

“Oh my God, Buffy. Have you ever even met the man? He feels responsible for everything. You being the slayer, all of us helping you fight, me being stalked by a deranged demon. You know I may not be overstocked in the tact department, but at least I’m not blind.”

Buffy was hurt. Not just by Cordelia’s words but also by the thought that there might be some truth to them. But wouldn’t she notice if Giles felt bad? After all, she spent more time with him than anyone. There was no way that Cordelia Chase would notice something about her watcher that she hadn’t. She believed that. Right now she needed to believe that.

That concept held firmly in her mind she lashed out at the far too perceptive brunette.

“Of course, Cordelia. You don’t want to tell Giles about tonight for his sake and not because you come off looking like a skank.”

Cordelia’s eyes flashed at the insult, and although she was the slayer, with all the strength and power that entailed, Buffy found herself shrinking back from the building rage she could feel flowing from the girl.

Realizing she was backing down from Cordelia, she straightened her spine and continued, even thought she knew her words weren’t entirely fair.

“You were all over him. You let him be all over you. And you were enjoying it; enjoying being touched by Angelus.”

On some level Cordelia understood how difficult this whole situation must be for Buffy, but, honestly, she’d had just about enough of pretending that it wasn’t her life that was being systematically dismantled, and not the blonde’s.

“Hello! Being compelled by a mystical bond here. What’s your excuse? After all, I may have been making out with the bastard, but you slept with him.”

Buffy shot of the bed and glared daggers at Cordelia as she refuted the verbal slap in her face.

“Shut up! I don’t need any excuses. I didn’t sleep with Angelus. I slept with Angel. You know the one with a soul who doesn’t send his loved ones body parts.”

“Pfft.” Cordelia waved away Buffy’s reasoning. “Who do you think was in there, watching, waiting, wrapped in that thin covering of Angel? Angelus may not be Angel, but he’s always been inside of him, every moment of you perfect little love affair.”

Things were fast passing the point of no return as the two distraught young women poured their frustrations out in the form of hateful barbs towards each other, the closest target at hand, while the true cause of their turmoil roamed the night unharmed.

“As usual, Cordelia, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Well Miss Whorier-Than-Thou, I know this – I’m the one dealing with all the fall out from Angelus while you’re the one who set him free.”

Buffy was literally shaking with anger. Even though she had thought the exact same thing, she didn’t need to have it thrown in her face by some stuck up cheerleader.

“What should I have done, Cordelia? Checked for a medic alert bracelet that said “Allergic to Bliss”? Besides, Angel didn’t know either.”

“Well whose fault is that?”

Buffy was momentarily shocked into silence. What was Cordelia suggesting? Was she saying that this was Angel’s fault? Was she implying that he wanted to lose his soul?

“What do you mean? How was Angel to know about the stupid happiness thing? It’s no like he and that gypsy clan were on speaking terms.”

Cordelia wasn’t buying that lame excuse for a second.

“All I know is that if some gypsies put a wacky curse on me I’d have spent at least some of my century of down time trying to get a copy for my records.”

“Why?” Buffy’s voice was steadily rising. “How could he have possibly expected that Angelus would be back?”

“Back?!” Cordelia’s voice rose to meet the level of the slayer’s. “That’s the thing, Buffy. Angelus has always been there. No matter how deep he may be buried, no matter how hard Angel might try to ignore him, he’s there, 24/7. Angel’s a vampire, so Angelus will never be gone.”

“Don’t you get it yet? Angel is the temporary one. He’s the one that comes and goes. He’s just something the Kalderash added to make the demon suffer. He’s an additive. A desperate attempt to improve on something crappy. He’s like a slayer on the Hellmouth, like a candy apple paint job on a Yugo, he’s like a brand new baby on a fading TV show.”

“Face it, Buffy. Angelus will always be the Big Mac here. Angel, he’s just the side of fries.”

As Cordelia’s words burned their way across her brain, Buffy’s fury grew by leaps and bounds. Even as a part of her acknowledged the truth of the words being flung at her, a larger part just wanted them to stop. All she had left in this nightmare were her memories of Angel. She clung to those with every ounce of strength she had, slayer or otherwise. There was no way she would let Cordelia contaminate those with thoughts of Angelus.

And so she lunged at the brunette who retained enough good sense to throw herself to the side, avoiding the slayer’s blow.

“Buffy, no!” Cordelia shouted from her haphazard position on the floor. “We’re just arguing, no one needs to die.”

Buffy stopped her surge forward, an appalled look crossing her face.

“I wasn’t going to kill you, Cordelia. I was just going to hit you.”

Sensing that the immediate danger had passed, Cordelia picked herself off of the ground and made a show of brushing off the imaginary dirt that wouldn’t have the nerve to grace the Chase floors.

“Well, as fun as that sounds, I didn’t mean I would die, I meant you.”

For the first time that day Buffy felt genuine humor overtake her.

“Really Cordelia, I hardly think you could -”

“Geez, not me you idiot! Angelus. What do you think is going to happen if I show up to my apparently never ending photo shoot tomorrow with a black eye? I hardly think he’ll believe that I ran into a slayer shaped door.”

“Next thing you know I’m getting another special delivery, only this time its boxes filled with Bits o’ Buffy. God, I’m going to be in therapy ‘til I’m forty as it is. If I live that long.”

At that sobering and all too likely possibility, the girls decided to end their fighting for the night and get some rest in the hopes that they’d be better prepared when the real enemy came calling.


Chapter Thirty-Seven

“Cordelia, wait up.”

But waiting up was the last thing Cordelia wanted to do as she made her way to the side of the bleachers. Bending down to retrieve a bottle of Gatorade from her bag, she hoped that Kyle had taken the hint that she wanted to be left alone. It was odd because a year ago she’d have loved to be on the receiving end of the tall, athletic blonde’s charm. Now it just annoyed her that his hair wasn’t dark, his eyes weren’t brown, his body wasn’t angles of cool, sculpted – Oh God!

The eyes that had drifted closed shot open as she realized that the picture forming in her mind was no longer of Xander but Angelus. Turning back towards the field in self-disgust, she instead ran smack into the young man she was trying to avoid.

“Hey, Chase. What’s your hurry?”

Letting out a frustrated sigh, she wanted nothing more than a little down time before she had to go back to cheering her team to a victory that, for once, she couldn’t care about less.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on the field Kyle?”

“Nah, the coach is going over plays with Matt. So I thought that this would be a good time to see what’s up with my favorite girl. I hear your back in now that you dumped that loser, Harris.”

Kyle was oblivious to the small start Cordelia gave as pain washed through her body and settled in her eyes at the thought of Xander.

It had been a week since Angelus’ gruesome ultimatum had resulted in her ending the only real relationship in her life. It was still painful, tearing at her heart when she saw him in class or passed him in the halls.

Giles had insisted that she continue to do research with the gang, most likely to keep an eye on her even though her parents had returned. But more often than not she found herself taking her book and drifting into Giles’ office, not enjoying torturing herself with cold have beens and not wanting to hinder the easy camaraderie shared by the others.

She was alone…again.

But even that was better than hanging around Kyle Sanderson.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Kyle. For all you know Xander dumped me.”

“Sure, Chase. Pull the other one.”

And with that he swung his arms across her shoulder and pulled her into his side.

“Friday night. You, me, dinner and a movie. What do you say, Chase? Ready to start working your way back up the social ladder?”

Her pain filled eyes slowly darkening with rage, Cordelia leveled her near black gaze at the foolish boy before her.

“I’m not sure what planet you live on, but if it’s one where I would ever go out with you then I hope a comet hits it and knocks it into the sun. I’m Cordelia Chase. I don’t climb social ladders, I build them. And let me tell you Kyle Sanderson, you wouldn’t even grace the lowest rung. Now you have three seconds to remove any body part from my personal bubble that you’d like to take home with you tonight.”

Kyle sneered down at her, but his bravado didn’t extend to actually testing her threat and he quickly pulled away from the seething brunette.

“You know, Chase, for a slut you’re pretty frigid. I can see why Harris would dump you.”

As Kyle made his way past the stands and into the bright lights of high school superstardom, Cordelia felt her hands clench at the unfairness that was her life. In one more burst of universal humor at her expense, the increased pressure on the bottle in her hand caused the red tinted liquid to shoot through the sports cap and rain down all over her uniform.


Chapter Thirty-Eight

Muttering under her breath about Hellmouths and incompetent bottle manufacturers, Cordelia made her way into the locker room to try to wash out what she could of the cheery, red spots covering her.

Stomping over to the sink she grabbed a handful of paper towels, dampened them and began dabbing at the spill.

“Had an accident, baby.”

Cordelia spun around so fast she nearly fell over as she tried to pin down the location of that voice. Seeing the vampire resting comfortably against her locker she wondered if it was coincidence or if he knew that it housed her belongings. Rethinking that she realized that of course he knew. After all, he’d known just where her hall locker was, hadn’t he.

Starting as she meant to go on, her voice was firm as she questioned his presence there.

“What are you doing here, Angelus? Don’t you have things to kill, people to eat?”

Angelus grinned at the picture she made. He loved all of her moods, but this one, when she thought she was in control, was so adorable that he almost wanted to let her delusion continue. Almost.

“You know, I didn’t think you’d do it. I really thought you’d know better by now, Cordelia.”

Despite her resolve to retain some kind of command of this conversation, she still shivered as chills danced gently down her spine at his sinister tone. But brave to the end she tilted her chin up and faced him squarely.

“I’m not sure what your talking about, but with your endless list of rules that you seem to add to daily, that’s not to surprising. You know, for a demon you’re incredibly anal.”

Leaving crass puns by the wayside, Angelus focused instead on the original source of his displeasure. Straightening from his place at her locker where the echo of her scent had surrounded him, he made his way towards her to breathe in the real thing.

“Did you really think this would be okay, Cordelia? That I’d let you dance around in front of a sea of other men, wearing almost nothing? How could you possibly imagine that I’d let you bounce around, exciting a bunch of witless animals who have no concept of the fact that you belong to me.”

“If you want to jump around nearly naked, I have a large bedroom waiting for us at the mansion, where you can wear all the skimpy outfits you please until I peel them off your supple, sumptuous body. Until then, if I see you on that field again, your game’s going to be called on account of massive deaths.”

Even before he had finished Cordelia was shaking her head at his words and the disturbing images they created. She could see that he was deadly serious about this new decree, but she wasn’t sure, even under the threat of torture, that she could give up one more piece of her life to this monster. Hadn’t she sacrificed enough? Panic leaking into her voice, she asked the only question her mind could form.

“God, when will you get out of my life and just leave me alone?”

Closing the distance between them, Angelus pulled her into his arms, laughing happily. His left hand pressing against the center of her back, keeping her anchored to him, his right hand came up to her chin, a long finger gently tilting her gaze up to his. With an aching tenderness so at odds with what she knew of his brutal nature, he dried the tears of frustration slipping softly from her eyes.

“Never, Cordelia. I’ll never leave you and you’ll never have a life without me in it. Don’t you understand yet? You’re mine, and eventually, you won’t be anything else. You won’t want to be anything else.”

Frightened by the certainty in his eyes Cordelia needed to infect him with the doubts plaguing her.

“You’re wrong. This bond isn’t everything. Giles says -”

Cordelia’s voice ground to a halt as she was hit with the fear that this line of defense might be putting Giles in danger. Her worries were confirmed as Angelus tensed and the warm eyes from moments before became cold and frosty.

“Giles says what, Cordelia? What ideas has our watcher been filling your head with?”

“Leave Giles alone!”

They both knew from past experience that this was most definitely one of Cordelia’s weak spots. Honing in on that and willing to make the most of these opportunities as they presented themselves, Angelus flashed his even, white teeth at her in a mockery of a smile.

“That’s not how it works, Cordelia. It goes more like this – You do as I say and I do what I want.”

Sometimes all Cordelia felt she had left was her pride, but she was willing to cast even that aside if it would keep safe one of the few people to ever really care about her.

“Please. Please, Angelus, don’t hurt him. Just leave Giles alone.”

Although her constant need to safeguard the watcher bothered him, he couldn’t deny that her begging was turning him on. Seeing this proud, stunning woman, his pet, pleading with him in a blatant admission that his will was supreme was stirring his body in pleasurable, but tonight, ultimately unsatisfying ways. And yet he couldn’t deny himself at least a taste of her luscious charms.

Looking down at her earnest expression his previous warmth returned.

“So, it’s a negotiation. Now we just need to figure out what you’re willing to offer for good old Rupert’s safety, and what I’m prepared to accept.”

Knowing that she was completely at his mercy in this matter she closed her eyes in resignation and asked the question she would give anything but a life to keep unspoken.

“What do you want?”

Not wanting to push the girl more than necessary, Angelus buried his satisfied smirk in her neck. Starting at the beckoning mark on the base of her throat, he slowly made his way upwards, trailing wet, open kisses as he went, making frequent sweeps with his tongue over satin skin to capture the warm, honeyed taste of her.

Reaching her ear he bit gently at the fleshy lobe, swirling his tongue around the dainty curves. His voice, smooth and thick with the passion she was evoking curled its way into her overloaded mind.

“A date.”

Trying to break the ethereal chains that held her in his thrall, Cordelia blinked several times in an attempt to process what she had heard.

“A -A date?”

Setting her a step back from his hard, aching body, he captured her confused gaze once more.

“Yes Cordelia, a date. I want a night out with my girl.”

Still feeling trapped in a surrealistic nightmare, the denial came unbidden to her lips.

“I’m not -”

As his heated look penetrated the fuzziness blanketing her mind, Cordelia thought better of antagonizing the vampire when they had just reached an agreement.

“Fine.”

Cordelia’s tone conveyed her unhappiness with this outcome, but true to the nature of a teenage girl, she couldn’t help herself from asking –

“What do I wear?”

Relishing her acceptance, Angelus allowed her to put another step between them. Looking her at her lithe body, barely covered in taut, flexible fabric, he knew he’d have to leave soon before his plans were sacrificed to his need to fill Cordelia with him ‘til she was bursting and there would never be any distance between them again.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of that.”


Chapter Thirty-Nine

“Come on, Kyle. Wakey, wakey. You won’t be any fun to kill if I can’t her you scream.”

Kyle Sanderson could make out a voice as he swam up out of his unconscious state, but the words were fragmented, and what he could make out he was sure he was mishearing. Forcing his heavy eyes open, he surveyed his surroundings.

The room was dark and lit with candles, large and small and scattered across every surface and in many of the nooks recessed into the stone walls. There were no windows, or at least none that he could make out, and that being the case, he was at a loss for what time it was.

Attempting to read his watch, Kyle found that he could not move his arms. Testing other limbs he discovered that his movements, in general, were inhibited by what felt like some kind of coarse rope.

Hearing the sharp sound of metal scraping across metal, he turned his head to the side. Now within his view stood a tall, dark haired, muscular man. Realizing he must have been the one to speak, Kyle was having a difficult time reconciling the pleasant voice with the waves of menace and danger rolling from the large form.

Turning abruptly, the candlelight spilled over his captors face and Kyle couldn’t help thinking how good looking the chilling man was. Not that he liked guys or anything, he thought to himself to bolster the manhood badly shaken at being tied up by another guy.

“So, Kyle. Can I call you Kyle? ‘Cause really, if you can’t be on a first name basis with the guy who plans on peeling off your eyelids, then there’s just no interpersonal connections left in this world.”

Angelus smiled at the scent of terror that literally filled the room from floor to ceiling as his words penetrated into Kyle’s mind.

“Look man,” Kyle blathered out as he began to grasp the hopelessness of his situation. “Whatever you want, it’s done. My parents are loaded. They’ll give you anything you want. Anything, man.”

Angelus paused in gathering his tools and looked at the young man secured tightly to a large, antique chair.

“Hmmm. Negotiating. I’ve been doing that a lot recently. Tell you what, Kyle. I think that you and I need to work a few things out. But I don’t want anyone to worry about you while we take care of our business.”

“Now I’m thinking, a young, good looking man such as yourself must be fairly popular, right?”

Kyle wasn’t sure what this maniac wanted, but if discussing his life prevented anymore talk of eyelid ripping, then he was an open book.

“Yeah, I have friends.”

“And would you be willing to call one of those friends here to take your place?”

Kyle blanched at the thought, but as a twinkling light caught his eye, he realized that the man in front of him was twirling a rather large knife. Frightened beyond reason, Kyle could only say whatever he thought the deranged man wanted to hear.

“Sure man, whatever you want. Just let me go, okay.”

For the first time since he’d awakened he saw his captor’s pleasant demeanor slip and the underlying disgust shine through. Not understanding his next words made them no less chilling.

“She wouldn’t offer up her friends to me. She’d do everything in her power to protect them. What kind of man are you, Kyle.”

The friendly mask was back.

“Oh, that’s right. You’re the kind of man who touches what doesn’t belong to you.”

Although the words were all the more disturbing for the congenial way in which they were uttered, at least they had a meaning that Kyle could quickly grasp.

“Hey, is this about a girl? ‘Cause I have a girlfriend, so I don’t need to go chasing anyone else’s. Honest.”

Angelus leaned forward until he was mere inches away from Kyle’s ear. In a voice low and dangerous he enlightened the terrified young man.

“It’s not about a girl, Kyle. It’s about the girl. It’s about my girl and it’s about you thinking that you had any right to put your filthy hands on her.”

This man was deeply unstable, and Kyle knew that if he didn’t do something soon he wouldn’t get out of here alive.

“Look, I have no idea who your girl is, but if she said I touched her, she was lying. I haven’t touched anyone!”

Kyle had thought he knew the pinnacle of fear, but as he watched brown eyes submerge in a sea of amber his terror soared to new heights as he realized that he was in the presence of something inhuman.

“Cordelia wouldn’t lie. Which is immaterial since I saw you touching her. I could smell you all over her. And she’d be punished, too, except I saw deal with your stupidity.”

Shit! Kyle knew now why Cordelia had blown him off earlier that night. This must also be why she dumped Harris. He briefly wondered if she knew her new boyfriend was a psychopath. But that thought was quickly swamped as his overwhelming fear returned full force.

“I didn’t know, man. I didn’t know you were dating her.”

Rising to his full height Angelus smirked down at his horror-filled captive.

“I don’t “date” Cordelia. I own her. She’s mine. Even if she’d wanted you to touch her, doing so would have cost you your life. But touching her when she told you to stop? You can’t even begin to grasp what that’s going to cost you.”

“Please! I’ll do anything to fix this. Anything! What can I do???”

Leaning against a wrought iron table, Angelus shot the boy a conciliatory smile.

“Well, Kyle. Like I said earlier, you and I have things to work out and I really don’t want your loved ones to worry. So here’s what we’re gonna do. You’re going to call one of those many friends you have and tell them that you’re taking off to L.A. for a while. That you’ve gotten tired of small town life. You do that and I guarantee that you’ll make it through the night alive. You don’t and -”

As Angelus stood he placed his hand on Kyle’s shoulder and proceeded to squeeze until he felt the joint dislocate. Enjoying Kyle’s howls of pain, he retrieved the cordless phone from the corner and calmly inquired as to the number he wished dialed.

“Now, now, Kyle, you have to stop screaming or you’ll give everything away. You’re tough. You’re an athlete; you know how to play through the pain. Don’t you want to live to see tomorrow?”

Finally Kyle managed to choke back his screams enough to make the call. Although his friend seemed worried at the tone of his voice, he was more envious of the fact that Kyle would be living the dream – Away from parents in a place like L.A.

Ending the phone call, Angelus replaced the phone and brought back, in its place he held a long, straight edged razor. Placing it where Kyle was sure to see it, Angelus sat back and waited for the inevitable.

“No. NO! You said if I called you’d let me go.”

Angelus shook his head as he tsked the young man disappointedly.

“Do you get through school with those listening skills, Kyle? What am I saying, of course you don’t. You’re a football player. Well, if you’re not going to use them.”

And before Kyle could form a single response to what had been said, Angelus reached up, and with a flick of his wrist, neatly sliced off Kyle’s ear.

As the screams bounced off of the walls of the small room, Angelus continued talking as if nothing was amiss.

“Let me tell you something, Kyle. You’re terrible at making deals. Cordelia was much better at this than you. At least she always included “home; safe and sound” in her requirements. Not that I won’t keep my word, Kyle. You’ll definitely live to see tomorrow, but by then I’ll bet you wished you hadn’t.”

Circling around the hysterical football player, Angelus pondered where to strike next.

“You know, I’ll try not to make it too terrible. After all, that phone call was a huge favor.”

A blur of motion and a scarlet trail running down Kyle’s chest were the only evidence that a new cut had been made.

“You see, I have to kill you because you touched her. You felt the satin feel of her skin, the silky waves of her hair. You breathed in her alluring essence. And Kyle, all of those things are mine. And as I’ve already informed Cordelia, I don’t share.”

Another slash and the bones of three of the fingers on Kyle’s left hand came into view.

“But I don’t really want her to know I killed you. And you don’t know me, but that’s kind of a new thing for me.”

A gleam of light and his thigh was laid open.

“Usually, I’m a leave the corpse in your bed kinda guy. But here’s the thing. There are a lot of people in Cordelia’s life that I’m going to have to kill. But all of those deaths, they’ll break her down and tie her to me. Each one will leave her more and more alone until the only choices she has are me and the dark abyss of absolute solitude.”

A quick turn and a visible knee cap.

“But you, well, she won’t really care about you. Oh, she’ll be upset that I killed you, but you aren’t close enough to her to break her spirit, just enough to build up her resistance. So it’s all cost and no benefit.”

A silver arc and a precise incision through the naval.

“Now, Kyle. It’s getting late and your day’s almost up. So before I rip out your tongue; tell me what you know about Cordelia.”


PART 8 – THE DATING GAME
Chapter 40

God, the waiting was unbearable. As she anxiously checked her watch for the 27th time Cordelia though that whoever said “Thank God It’s Friday” should be beaten. Then shot. Then beaten again.

The whole day had been crappy. Of course, any day that culminates in a date with the evil dead probably isn’t going to be all flowers and sunshine. But still, did it all have to suck?

Apparently so, she thought with a sigh as she checked her watch yet again.

First she’d run into Xander in the hallway after English. Not the ‘see you across the way’ run in, but the ‘wasn’t looking where I was going drop all my books’ kind of collision. Xander had, of course, immediately begun to pick up her books, but Cordelia hadn’t been able to hide the automatic look of panic at his nearness. A corresponding look of hurt crossed his young and earnest face and he limited himself to retrieving his own books, leaving Cordelia’s to her.

A sharp pain pierced her heart at the memory. She’d wanted so badly to reach out to him then; to tell him that things would work out. But she was starting to believe that they wouldn’t. After all, if things were working out she’d hardly be standing here now, pacing in her foyer, waiting to spend the evening with someone who considered her a pet.

And, as if the encounter with Xander hadn’t been hard enough, Giles had cornered her in the library before she left and tried to get her to agree to spend the weekend with Buffy again. An idea which she’d immediately nipped in the bud.

Explaining to Giles that her parents were home, Cordelia had stressed that she needed to spend time with them this weekend or they would begin to think she’d fallen in with a bad crowd.

“Which,” she’d added with a roll of her eyes, “wouldn’t be far from the truth.”

Luckily Giles didn’t know that she could probably disappear off the map for months and as long as she didn’t do anything to “embarrass them”, her parents weren’t likely to notice at all.

Still, her ploy had worked and she was sans Buffy for the next few days. Of course the fact that Buffy was just as reluctant as Cordelia to spend the weekend together and therefore did little in the way of rebutting her arguments, helped.

Then she’d arrived home to find that a package had been delivered for her while she was at school. Thank God Constance had accepted it and not her parents, because while it’s not likely that they’d question her about it, this was the Hellmouth and she really needed to save all of her luck for tonight.

She knew the moment that she saw it that it would be the outfit Angelus had promised her. Eyeing the box she noticed that it wasn’t big enough for the body to be in with attire, so that was a plus.

Expecting a repeat of the last time he’d dressed her, Cordelia was surprised at the dress she found buried in layers of tissue paper.

Hunter green silk overlaid with the sheerest chiffon in a lighter shade of green, the dress was far more modest than she would have ever expected from the vampire. Although the halter top left her neck and shoulders bear, it completely covered her breast with no cleavage showing whatsoever. And though it clung gently to her figure, the soft flair in the fabric at her hips ended in a swirl of material that brushed almost demurely at her knees. Although the effect was stunning, it was so far a cry from the leather and chains of their first “date” that she almost questioned that it had come from Angelus.

Of course, the accompanying card cleared up any lingering doubts.
Cordelia ~

I expect you ready at 8:00. Making me come looking for you would be a mistake.

You have an appointment at 4:30 at Reynard’s. Don’t worry; the bill has been taken care of.

~ Angelus
That last part had her seeing red, which was obviously what the stupid vampire had intended. Knowing that was one of a billion sore spots between them he just had to push the issue to reinforce her helplessness. Cordelia thought she might choke on her hatred even as she climbed into the car and drove to the salon as ordered.

When she’d arrived they’d seen to her immediately, making her wonder exactly what Angelus had done to them to make them treat her with such kid gloves. Not even asking what she preferred, they set to work, giving her a facial and a manicure, doing her makeup, and sweeping her hair up into a complex, ornate style that she noted seemed to emphasize the scar on her neck that she worked so hard to hide.

Arriving back home she dressed, slipped on a pair of sandals which added 3 unnecessary but confidence building inches to her height, and took up her current position at the front door.

It wasn’t that she was eager to begin another night of torment; it was just that she wanted to head Angelus off before her parents saw him. They’d probably be so grateful that he wasn’t Xander that they’d invite him in without a second thought, and that was a good as a death sentence in this instance.

Cordelia was pulled away from such morbid musings by the pair of headlights she could see through the ornately carved glass panels in her front doors. The last thing she’d expected was him to show up at the door. Dammit, they had security gates for a reason, and she really didn’t want to know how the vampire had procured the code for them. Grabbing her purse and her wrap she managed to fling the door open just as Angelus was preparing to ring the bell.

Angelus’ hand hovered over the doorbell in shock, not due to the sudden opening of the door, but to the picture of loveliness before him.

Soft and elegant, she was the epitome of femininity. Her skin appeared lit from within against the material that tenderly caressed each curve that it touched. Although in no way revealing, it was almost more erotic as it made one picture, in painful detail, what was concealed by the thin kiss of fabric.

“You’re a vision.”

His voice was husky and throbbing with the same desire that darkened his simmering gaze, and for Cordelia there could be no doubting his words.

Although she had never lacked admirers, at that moment, as the focus of this being’s unwavering longing, Cordelia felt wanted in a way that she’d hadn’t imagined she could. And although she knew it should appall her, instead it caused a liquid heat to surge through her body leaving her teetering on the edge of something she didn’t quite understand.

It frustrated her, this dual nature of his. Tender and concerned one moment, possessive and overbearing the next. What bothered her most was that it was starting to not bother her.

Although, intellectually, she knew that was the bond, it was beyond her control to inhibit. Angelus was right; there were people she cared about, that she wanted to protect, and his willingness, eagerness to hurt them gave him an unlimited amount of control over her.

All she could do was to keep reminding herself that Angelus was a killer with no redeeming qualities, and any feeling she had to the contrary was a result of the bond he was slowly forcing on her. That was really the only defense she had left, and she knew that if she lost sight of that, if she allowed herself to see any other side of him, for even a moment, she’d be lost.

Cocking his head to the side, Angelus pushed his senses past the sensuous sight before him and extended them to the house beyond. Hearing two additional heartbeats, he realized that her parents were home. Oh, he knew they were back in town. There’s no way that something like the return of Cordelia’s parents could occur without him knowing, but the fact that they were actually in their home and not out at some business dinner or society party was surprising. It certainly explained his greeting at the door.

“So Cordelia, isn’t it only proper for me to meet your parents? Declare my intentions and all.”

Angelus couldn’t contain his shout of laughter at the absolute look of horror that crossed Cordelia’s face at his suggestion. Before he could say another word she was outside with the door firmly closed, her wrap and her purse which were already in her hands further proof that she was intending to head off any interaction between him and her parents.

“There’s no way I’m letting you anywhere near my parents. It’s bad enough that I have to put up with this without getting them involved.”

“Eventually they’re going to have to know. I mean sure, they’re not great parents by a long shot, but don’t you think they’re going to wonder what’s going on when you’re living with me?”

Cordelia’s mouth fell open in stunned disbelief at his proclamation. Closing it with an audible snap she resolved to ignore all such statements tonight. The last thing she wanted was to have this argument of ownership over and over again. Besides, even as rebellious as she knew she could be, a part of her worried that if she pushed him too far, defied him too often, he’d end this bizarre courtship and make good on all of his threats. She just had to keep reminding herself that these were just words. Horrible, endlessly distressing words, but words nonetheless. And, being the realist she was, words were definitely preferable to actions in this case.

“Look,” Cordelia hissed at him, “you wanted a night out which, by definition means not being in. So why don’t we get going. After all, the sooner we start the sooner we’ll be done, right?”

Now it was Angelus’ turn to let unpleasant words flow by. He could allow Cordelia to hang on to her denial a little longer. Tonight was about pleasure, showing Cordelia that there was more to him than the nightmarish tales that she’d been told. Not that those tales were untrue, they just weren’t all there was to him. And although usually those were the parts that he wanted people to know about him, in Cordelia’s case he wanted her to see more than that. It would make it easier for her in the long run. True, with the bond between them eventually she’d come to him no matter what she thought about him; but he wanted more than that. He wanted her to want him, genuinely want him; above and beyond their connection so that there wasn’t a part of her that wasn’t consumed by him.

And the first step to that end was a lovely evening. Starting now.

Relieving Cordelia of her wrap he swirled it in an arc so that it landed gently around her shoulders. Pulling her into his side, arm firmly around her waist, he escorted her to the passenger side of a black Plymouth convertible.

“You have a car.” Cordelia felt kind of silly having pointed out the obvious, but the idea had never really occurred to her. “I always thought you preferred to skulk around everywhere all stalker-like.”

Laughter welled up once more in Angelus’ chest. She really was so entertaining.

“While the joy of skulking can’t be overstated, sometimes driving is necessary. Like when accompanied by a beautiful woman for the evening. You didn’t honestly expect me to drag you all over Sunnydale on foot, did you? If so, those heels are ridiculously inappropriate.”

Cordelia suppressed her smile at his gentle teasing. There was no room for anything but hatred where her feelings for Angelus were concerned. And suddenly she had the disconcerting feeling that tonight was going to test that particular resolve.


Chapter Forty-One

The restaurant was beyond beautiful. Just outside of Sunnydale, the small establishment was hidden at the end of an oak lined lane, nestled on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. The decor was elegant yet understated doing nothing to distract from the windows running the lengths of the walls that captivated the diners with breathtaking panoramas of the dark ocean below.

Seated in a dim, sheltered corner, the romantic atmosphere was not lost on Cordelia who was already having a difficult time controlling the tingles running through her body even before they’d reached this lover’s hideaway. This was so the opposite of what she needed to be doing. She just had to remember that this was about saving lives; lives that were in danger thanks to the monster across from her. The incredibly hot monster across from her. And the need to refocus grew.

A waiter, so discreet he nearly blended into the surroundings, quietly approached to provide menus. Waving them away Angelus ordered dinner for her and what sounded like two very expensive bottles of wine.

Cordelia gave a token thought to protesting his nerve in even this that he didn’t think that she could choose dinner for herself. But in the end she knew that this was minor compared to everything else going on.

“Let it go.” She repeated silently to herself. When that didn’t work she moved on to the deep breaths. Glancing up she caught the amusement spreading across Angelus’ face.

“You know, you’re going to hyperventilate and pass out.”

“Wow. And miss some of this fabulous evening. God forbid.”

She’d tried as hard as she could, but holding back was never Cordelia’s strong suit.

“You know, I can manage to order for myself. Been eating almost all my life; I’m pretty clear on what I like.”

“Tonight’s our time to get to know each other, Cordelia, and I don’t want you having to think about anything but me.”

“Well that plan’s working.” She snapped back. “‘Cause all I can think about right now is what a jerk your are.”

Angelus leaned back and watched Cordelia’s not so subtle pouting. It was amazing what love could do. Behavior that mere weeks ago would have resulted in an immediate neck snapping was now cute and endearing.

It was a common misconception among those rare few people who knew about vampires and hadn’t been eaten by them, that they lacked feelings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why would an eternity be worth living if you couldn’t truly experience it? And right now he was enjoying the Hell out of every emotion the young woman in front of him pulled kicking and screaming from his chest.

Resisting the urge to laugh out loud at the girl and interrupt the show, his willpower was wasted as the waiter approached and Cordelia arranged her lovely features into a passive expression; obviously perfected by years of exposure to situations requiring the phoniness generally known as “the social niceties.”

The waiter set an artfully arranged salad in front of Cordelia and filled her glass from one of the two bottles of wine. Turning to Angelus he poured from the other bottle; a dark red liquid that was a little to thick to be simply fermented grape juice.

Bringing the glass to his lips Angelus raised an inquiring eyebrow at the girl across from him. “Does it bother you?”

“That you drink blood. Pfft. Like that never occurred to me before. Gross but not shocking. And bonus points because at least it’s not mine.”

If she’d known how much her answer pleased him, Angelus was sure she would have responded differently. He was glad that she wasn’t hiding from who he was. Sure, it would make the adjustment a little more difficult for her, but it was something she was going to have to accept sooner or later; her tendency to deal with things head on and her casual acknowledgment just now meant that it would probably be sooner. He hoped it would be soon enough.

Tonight, just sitting here with her it was almost more than he could do to keep from bundling her out of the restaurant and dragging her back home with him where she belonged. She’d adjust. She’d have no choice. But he wanted more from Cordelia. He wanted her to need him. He wanted her to burn for him. True, he could shape her with violence and agony, but given the choice he’d rather mould her with desire and passion. She would be an endless source of pleasure for years to come; he could certainly afford to invest this time in her.

In an effort to avoid Angelus’ increasingly heated gaze Cordelia began to eat her salad with a single-minded purpose. But as time passed she couldn’t help but throw covert, questioning glances his way from beneath her lashes.

“What?”

Obviously her glances hadn’t been quite as covert as she’d intended.

“Excuse me?” Cordelia opted for denial.

Angelus’ mouth tilted in a way that made him seem all too boyish. An innocent look that Cordelia thought nature should not have allowed this vicious predator even as it tugged at her heartstrings.

“The considering looks. I assumed that this began the portion of the evening where explained to me, once again, why we can’t be together.”

Well, since he’d brought it up. “Would that work?”

“No.”

There was a finality in those words that settled despair around the brunette with such weight that it seemed to bow her figure.

Genuinely curious Angelus asked the dejected girl before him, “You didn’t really think that would work, did you?”

Letting out her breath in one long sigh Cordelia straightened her shoulders as her resolve rebuilt itself right before his eyes.

“Not really, but I’m running out of hope here.”

He smiled at her with an odd sense of understanding.

“Good. You don’t need hope, Cordelia. You have me.”

Picking up her fork once more she stabbed at her salad muttering, “I’d rather have hope.”

This time there was nothing hidden about the glare she threw his way.

“Of course, at this point I’d rather have a terminal illness.”

Laughter seemed to be the order of the night as Angelus’ head tilted back and the merry sound poured forth.

“If this is how you act on all your dates I can see how you were forced to settle for the moron.”

It was as if he’d struck her. She flinched as the words hit her ears and her face drained of color. In a pained whisper borne of the anguish pooled deep inside her one word slipped out.

“Don’t.”

As exquisite as she wore her suffering, Angelus was torn by the hurt he was witnessing. On the one hand it was proof the she was indeed keeping her distance from the boy. On the other it was merely more evidence that she’d given a part of herself to someone other than him.

That thought would drive him to distraction if he let it, and that’s not what this night was about.

“You’re right. This is not the time for unpleasantness. This is the time for us to get to know one another.”

Sometimes Cordelia wondered if she shouldn’t just stay in a state of shock around Angelus to save herself the grind of switching gears so often.

Laughing harshly she derided his festive date activity.

“Let’s see. You – crazy, sadistic vampire. Check. Me – not. Check. Well, this has been fun.”

As she threw her napkin on the table and started to rise she was halted by Angelus voice which, while amused, would clearly brook no argument.

“True, I may be slightly sadistic,” He smirked, being unable to keep a straight face at such a tremendous understatement, “But I’m hardly crazy. I’m the product of my nature, Cordelia. My behavior may be abhorrent to you, but it is exactly as intended.”

“Yes, I’m a predator, but so is the lion. Do you hate him for eating the gazelle? Do you hate the wolf for eating the rabbit?”

“What gives humans the ultimate rights to existence; to decide what’s necessary in the universe and what’s superfluous? Believe me; I understand why people want to kill vampires. After all, it’s only fair, we want to kill you. But to think that somehow it’s wrong that we exist; isn’t that rather arrogant of you?”

Cordelia wondered if it was the bond when the things he said like this made a weird kind of sense. In some ways it made her wonder about the information they got from the Watcher’s Council. Not Angelus’ earlier, laughable claim that they were putting out vampire misinformation, but maybe they just didn’t know everything there was to know about this particular type of demon. Sure, they did lots of killing, but was that all they did? And would the Council know? ‘Cause really, how many vampires would want to hang out with them? How many people would want to hang out with them? She cared a lot for Giles, but he certainly wasn’t the most exciting book in the library.

Still, if Angelus thought that convincing her that he was a natural born killer was going to further his cause he was indeed, crazy.

“That just sounds like more reason for me to stay away from you.”

Angelus’ reply required no thought. “Not happening.”

Swirling the liquid in his glass he captured her gaze. “Cordelia, those things are part of who I am, but they’re not all I am. I have interests other than killing…they’re just not as fun.”

The wink that accompanied that statement as he took a drink from his wineglass sent a shot of amusement through her; and wasn’t that just wrong.

“Yeah,” Cordelia shot back, “‘Cause Angel sure seemed like buckets of fun.”

If she was trying to upset him with the mention of his souled persona, the upturn of his lips declared her failure.

“The soul.” Angelus let out a longsuffering sigh. “The soul had two hobbies – brooding and feeling guilty. Luckily, I share neither of those interests. But before the soul, I remember a time…”


Chapter Forty-Two

Her sides actually hurt she’d laughed so much. This was definitely not the way she’d envisioned the evening going at all. Angelus had more than lived up to his claim that he enjoyed past times other than killing and he had spent the evening regaling her with of tales of days gone by that were fascinating both for their content and their historical context.

As the waiter left the last of their dinner dishes she couldn’t help returning to his latest story to pepper him with questions.

“So you’re saying that Spike started a war in Africa?”

Angelus could only stare at the enthralling image before him. Flushed from an evening of laughter her skin was tinted a pale pink and her hazel eyes were like bright jewels in her flawless face. Her curiosity and increasing delight pleased him no end and he gave thanks to Spike and his antics for which, at the time he’d usually beaten his unruly grandchilde.

“Well, I wouldn’t say that he started it, per se, but his being there certainly didn’t help. Of course, not many people can be around Spike for long without losing control of their violent impulses. He has that effect on people.”

Rising gracefully to his feet, Angelus held out his hand to Cordelia. Her eyes dimmed just a touch at the realization that the carefree part of the evening was over and now she was journeying back into uncharted waters. Still, she grasped the hand offered her and allowed him to pull her to her feet.

He must have been known at the restaurant, because there was no bill to settle, nor did they stop except to gather his coat and her wrap. Making their way out into the clear night, Cordelia was caught off guard as she was suddenly enveloped in his long, heavy coat. Knowing that it couldn’t possibly be for the same reasons as the last time he covered her in this manner and since her velvet shawl was more than adequate for a walk to the car in the still evening she looked at him in inquiry.

Encircling her waist with his arm, Angelus led Cordelia down a brick pathway on the side of the restaurant. It was canopied by arching oak branches, and when they stepped out from beneath the cover all Cordelia could do was gasp at the captivating sight before her.

Spread before her was a garden filled to overflowing with flowers. Every kind imaginable was there in colors that even the moonlight could barely dim. This was a place of fairytales; of princesses who didn’t bother waiting around in towers but still lived happily ever after. It was thrumming wit life in a way that only certain areas of nature can be; and it pulled her into its harmonious atmosphere with less effort than it took for her to cross the threshold into this paradise.

“It’s beautiful.” She breathed out in awe as she pulled away from Angelus to make her way through the blooms.

“You’re beautiful.” And she was. Of course, Cordelia was always beautiful, but standing in the moonlight, enraptured by all that she saw, swamped by his coat, he believed that in that one moment in time she was perfection.

“Yeah, that’s me, beautiful Cordelia, beating the boys off with a stick.” And it was true. That was who she used to be; before Xander, before Angelus.

Taking a moment to inhale the delicate fragrance of the honeysuckle, Cordelia missed the vampire’s angry demeanor and his rapid approach.

As he spun her to face him she realized instantly what had upset him.

“Stop.” And with the kind of daring only Cordelia seemed to posses, she smacked the vampire in the chest as she rolled her eyes at him. “Geez, why do you always have to be so possessive? Have you never heard of trust?”

Angelus studied the girl before him for a moment, not sure if she was serious or not.

“So you’re saying I could trust you to stay with me?”

Cordelia paused for the briefest of seconds, wondering if she should lie. But lies weren’t all that easy. They were difficult to remember, and even if you could keep them straight they took on a life of their own. Just look at the lies she’d told for Angelus.

“No. No matter what I’m feeling right now or how much I’m enjoying being with you, I can’t forget who you are. What you are.”

Not the answer he wanted to hear, but in its own way it was almost better. It was so full of honesty. She hadn’t lied to get him to relax his guard, and more than that she’d admitted to having feelings for him and enjoying his company. It was rare to find someone who was so honest even when it didn’t necessarily serve their purposes.

He still remembered when Buffy returned the summer after facing The Master. She’d toyed with Xander’s feelings and with the soul’s. And while he couldn’t care less about either of them, it was that kind of game that he hated. And sure, Buffy had been going through something, but no one could argue that Cordelia wasn’t going through just as much, if not more. And yet she seemed prone to leave those games to others.

Turning his mind back to her statement he replied, “What makes you think that I want you to forget? Cordelia, I’m not Angel. I like both who and what I am. I don’t want redemption; I don’t want to right the wrongs of the world. I don’t long endlessly for the sun.”

Cordelia had no illusions that it was Angel before her, so most of his remarks came as no surprise. That last one, however, caught her unawares.

“You don’t miss the sun?” She couldn’t fathom not being able to walk out in the bright golden light.

“What do you think moonlight is, Cordelia? It’s just reflected sunlight, purified and safe.”

Casting him a teasing glance from beneath her lashes Cordelia asked, “So I’m not the sunshine of your life?”

Angelus found himself laughing once again. This whole night had been surprising in that regard. Not just his laughter, but hers also. He’d meant it when he’s said he wasn’t Angel. Angel didn’t just live in misery, he wallowed in it. Sometimes he wondered how he’d ever managed to get happy enough to lose the soul. Must be low standards. But brooding? That wasn’t Angelus’ style. He liked being happy, and he’d certainly been right about Cordelia, she was making him increasingly happy.

“Hmmm…The sunshine of my life? No, like the moon, you’re a glorious reflection of the sun’s light. You’re safe and warm but you never burn. You’re my own personal moonbeam.”

Putting his arms back around her Angelus began leading her back to the car. And as she left this little Shangri-la on the Pacific, she wondered at the sad state of her life that that was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her.

Since Cordelia was already secured in his coat Angelus decided on having the Plymouth’s top down for their ride home. It was one more romantic facet to a night that was already leaving her awash in a sea of confusion. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be, she was sure of it. She understood the hormonal component. She didn’t like it, but she understood it. But these feelings, she wasn’t sure where they were coming from.

Angelus had told her, that night on her balcony that the bond created feelings of love in both parties, but she hadn’t thought that was possible. How could a bite make her love anyone, least of all a killer? Her affections were still hers to give, right?

That thought and others like it crowded her head ‘til her conclusion flew from her lips.

“They aren’t real. These feelings aren’t real.”

If his hearing wasn’t quite so sensitive her soft statement would have been lost in the rush of wind that whipped around them. Shifting his eyes momentarily from the road he was captivated by the poignant expression on her face, her bottom lip caught between her even, white teeth as she lost herself in her thoughts.

Turning his attention back to the road he spoke, his strong voice carrying over the wind.

“You think because of our connection your feelings aren’t real? They’re real, Cordelia. They’re emotions. They are what they are for as long as they last. There’s no right and wrong, and the bond doesn’t make this artificial.”

“A mother loves her newborn child. Why? She doesn’t know who they are or what they’ll be. Their potential for evil and their potential for good are both equal in the unwritten book of their life. And yet she’s enraptured by the life she’s created. Because, like us, they have a bond. Does that make her feelings for her child false, worthless? Of course not. Our feelings are real, too.”

Reaching over, Angelus took her hand in his firm grip and intertwined their fingers. It was a simple gesture, the least erotic of all the touches they’d shared, and yet there was something profoundly moving in the chaste joining that seemed to tighten something unknown in her chest as something equally unrecognized seemed to loosen.

Not knowing what to make of all these new feelings and knowing she’d never sort them out in the presence of the vampire beside her she closed her eyes and let the sharp bite of the night air distract her from her deluge of whirling thoughts.

As the wind died down Cordelia realized they must be approaching her house. She let her lids flutter open as the car rolled to a stop. Releasing her hand, Angelus exited the car and opened her door. Helping her to her feet he escorted her to the door.

Turning to face him she knew she was pushing her luck, but she had to ask, “That’s it? It’s over and I’m home?”

Not being able to resist her upturned face Angelus gently ran his knuckles down the velvety softness of her cheek.

“Isn’t that our standard deal? You, home, safe and sound?”

Cordelia had a feeling she was being mocked. That he knew that any deals they made were subject to his whims and not to any real control she had. And yet the teasing, like so many things that night, was so gentle that it was comforting instead of grating.

Still not ready to deal with these emerging feelings, she busied herself pulling her keys from her purse. Turning towards the door she was startled as they were swiftly extracted from her grip.

Suddenly the fingers that had caressed her face grasped her chin tilting her lips up to meet his descending mouth. With a whisper soft stroke his lips brushed hers, an ethereal touch meant to last mere moments in time but to linger in the heart.

Pushing the button to unlock the doors in front of which they stood, Angelus pressed the keys back into Cordelia’s hand, smiling down at the dazed girl.

“Goodnight, Moonbeam.”

Snapping abruptly back to reality, Cordelia turned without another word and walked into her house. Closing the door she leaned against it and rubbed a hand over her eyes wearily. She had a feeling that of all the dangerous situations she’d been in with Angelus tonight was the worst. Tonight he’ managed to become more than a monster, to be more than the sum of the lives he’d taken. And for the first time her terror was for more than her life. It was for her heart.


Chapter Forty-Three

As her heels started to sink, once again, into the soft ground beneath her, Cordelia wondered what had happened to her life that her Tuesday night concerns were not the midweek pop quiz in biology, but rather how to keep from sinking into someone’s grave while she and the “Scoobies” set up some anti-demon ritual. Life sucked.

“Geez, guys, any day now.” Cordelia didn’t want to rush them but…well; actually she did want to rush them. Even her homework had to be better than this.

Apparently finished drawing the necessary symbols within the large circle he’d made, Giles stood and addressed the group.

“Alright, everyone stand within the circle and repeat the words exactly as I say them.”

Before Giles could quote the first passage of the incantation, he was interrupted by a high pitched shriek. Looking up he encountered a chilling sight as he watched Cordelia being wrapped in the iron embrace of Angelus.

“Watcher.” Angelus’ voice was nothing but a vicious snarl. Ignoring Buffy who had a stake out within seconds of seeing the vampire, his focus was instead reserved solely for Giles. “I thought I’d made myself perfectly clear about Cordelia’s place in your little gang.”

Even with his slayer armed in at the ready Giles felt chills race down his spine at the menace coming from the dark figure in front of him.

“God, do you like get a nickel for every rule you make? I’m gonna need some kind of book if you keep this up. You said to stop with the bait thing. Well, guess what? I’m not bait girl tonight. I’m ‘get rid of a demon ritual’ girl. I’m not the target and everything was going fine until you showed up.”

Sometimes Cordelia thought fate would have nothing to do if it wasn’t mocking her. For the moment she proclaimed the safety of their little group an enormous demon burst through the bushes and rampaged its way towards them.

Pushing Cordelia behind him, Angelus turned toward the creature approaching them and his features rippled to reveal his true face as a low rumble built in his chest and radiated outward in threatening bursts.

Loathe to turn her back on the vampire, Buffy had no choice but to also face the hulking figure baring down on them. However she needn’t have bothered as it came to an abrupt halt, eyes focused on Angelus.

Something almost animal passed between the two non-humans and, as recognition flared in its eyes, the demon, who moments before would have charged a slayer, spun on its heels and fled.

Slayer instincts screaming at her not to let the evil behemoth escape, but knowing that she couldn’t leave her friends at the mercy of Angelus she whirled to confront the vampire only to find empty air that had previously been filled with the vampire and his obsession.

“Damn it!” Giles bit out as he realized the couple was gone. He knew how dangerous it was for Cordelia to be so near the vampire. He worried less about it affecting Angelus as he seemed to have completely given into it, but Cordelia still had a chance.

Cursing himself for letting her come out with them tonight no matter how important it had been to have a fifth person for the spell, he motioned to Buffy to follow the demon.

“Hey!” Xander was livid. Not only had Angelus snuck up on them and taken Cordelia, but now they weren’t even going to go after her?

He wasn’t stupid. He knew that the decisions Cordelia had made recently had been about protecting everyone. Protecting him. And he knew it was killing her. He could see it in her eyes every time their gazes clashed before they could look away and pretend that they hadn’t been searching each other out.

“I think that Cordelia takes precedence over a demon that’s so pathetic he runs away at a little grumbling.”

“Xander, while I appreciate your feelings concerning Cordelia and I share them completely, the demon we just saw didn’t leave because of “a little grumbling” as you’ve so quaintly phrased it, but rather because he recognized Angelus as the dominant force here on the Hellmouth. The vampire was making it clear that his territory was being compromised and so the demon left. Sadly for us the forces of darkness here are far more organized than one might believe. There’s a hierarchy of power and at this time Angelus resides at the top.”

“As for the merits of pursuing the demon over pursuing Cordelia I would choose to chase after the former simply because we may actually stand a chance of overtaking it, whereas Cordelia won’t be found until Angelus is ready to return her.”

“I know it’s difficult for you to hear this, but I have reason to believe that not only will he not hurt her, but that Angelus will return Cordelia relatively soon. We won’t be able to find her and while we spend the night in fruitless searching that demon will be out killing people. The best thing that we can do is to let Buffy do her duty as the slayer while we return to the library to await word from Cordelia.”

Giles’ voice was suddenly weary as he lost the authority of a watcher and became simply a person who was missing someone he cared for, just like the boy in front of him. “I’m worried about her, too, Xander.”

Hearing the anguish in the older man’s voice did little to still the anger and helplessness warring for supremacy in his eyes Xander brushed past the watcher on his way back towards the library. Pausing for a moment he turned back.

“You know this is wrong, Giles.”

And with that he started forward again, heedless of the dangers of the night.

As Willow began quietly collecting their supplies she heard Giles mutter, “More wrong than you can know.”


Chapter Forty-Four

“Stop. Stop! I’m gonna hurl!”

And that stopped the roller coaster as Angelus hastily set the wriggling bundle in his arms back onto her feet.

“What is your damage? You’re upset, I get that. But what’s with the vomit making rush through Sunnydale? You seemed to be doing just fine getting upset in the cemetery. Why’d you have to drag me here?”

Cordelia stopped her tirade briefly to take in her surroundings. “And where the Hell is here?”

It was a tightly controlled voice that answered her angry questions.

“Here is Willy’s. I have a meeting her tonight. And as for why you’re no longer in the cemetery, I think a better question would be what were you doing in the cemetery to begin with? And don’t give me that shit about you not being bait. There’s not a place in this town that you could stand that wouldn’t have all manner of demons panting after you. You certainly don’t have to compound that by spending times in graveyards.”

“This is non-negotiable, Cordelia. I’ve let you stay with your friends for now because I thought we all had a clear understanding of acceptable behavior. If I can’t be assured that the most basic of precautions are being taken, then I can easily arrange for your time with them to end. Do we understand each other?”

Cordelia cast him a considering look. Part of her wanted snap at the big, dumb vampire in front of her. The other, more honest part had to admit that they did nearly get attacked by that demon in the cemetery tonight, so he might have a tiny, minuscule point about the dangers of Sunnydale after dark.

To push or not to push, that was her eternal question. Which, honestly, she almost never bothered asking and just went straight for the pushing. But spending large amounts of time with a homicidal maniac had done more to develop discretion in her than anything else in the entirety of her life.

Taking a deep breath Cordelia began pacing back and forth as she prepared to walk as fine and delicate a line between tact and honesty as her nature could allow.

“Look, you’re obviously an idiot and your rules are arbitrary and obnoxious. However, I understand that I don’t get a lot of say in this right now. I didn’t go to the cemetery tonight to piss you off, I went because you didn’t say I couldn’t help and I figured it would be relatively safe with the slayer and the whole ritual designed to get rid of that particular pest.”

“I think I’ve been pretty clear about how I feel about all your rules. But I’ve done my best to limit myself, and sure, usually that’s because you’re all, “I’m gonna kill this person or maim that person.” And I cave. We both know it. But I still think I’ve done better than either of us expected. So cut me some slack here, alright.”

It seemed that the more Cordelia paced the more she worked herself up and the more agitated she became the less discreet she was. Stalking back in his direction she stopped directly in front of him and reaching out a finger she poked the startled vampire in the chest.

“Frankly, I don’t see how you even have the nerve to complain. This is all your fault if you ask me.”

Having too much fun to point out that nobody had actually asked her he merely cocked an eyebrow in her direction and waited for her to enlighten him as to his culpability in this situation. He wasn’t left waiting long.

“You’re all ‘King of the Hellmouth’ guy. Why do you let the demons run wild? What kind of management technique is that? Can’t you issue evil doing permits or something? ‘Cause if you’d bother to control this crap I wouldn’t be all needing to save the world on a Tuesday night. You know, I’ve got homework. I have quizzes, dammit!”

In the mood she was in Angelus wasn’t certain what she’d do if he laughed in her face, but he was about to find out as he couldn’t restrain his mirth one moment longer.

Cordelia’s response was lightening fast.

“Arrgh!” And she turned with every intention of stomping off into the night.

Laughter still lurking in his voice, Angelus cut thoughts of escape short.

“Now don’t be like that, sweetheart.” Reaching out he caught her arm in a gentle but unyielding grip.

Well, if looks could kill he’d certainly be deader, but that could hardly bother him now that she was here with him. Ignoring her somewhat humorous attempts to break free he tugged the struggling girl behind him as he made his way into Willy’s. Not sparing a glance for the nervous owner behind the bar, Angelus towed the fuming brunette to the back of the room. Sitting with his back towards the wall and the entire establishment within his view, he gave an easy pull on Cordelia’s still entrapped wrist, his arms sliding around her waist as she fell onto his lap.

“Angelus.” She hissed out as she squirmed, trying to find a way out of the predicament in which she now found herself.

Moving his arms lower so that they encircled her hips he pressed her tight against him, ending the gyrating movement of her lower body.

“Cordelia, as much as I’m enjoying this, you might not want to start things you’re not ready to finish.”

The hard length pressing into her backside convinced Cordelia that Angelus was no longer teasing her, and while she didn’t care for the current seating arrangement she certainly didn’t want to make a bad situation worse. Stilling immediately she held herself rigid so as not to rock the large boat currently nestled against her.

“Now there’s no need for both of us to be stiff.” Angelus told the unmoving girl as his arms slid back up her waist, turning her slightly and settling her back against his chest. Rubbing his right hand slowly up and down her back his cheek swept over her silky hair, drawing the sent of her into his lungs as he kept his eyes on the door.

Cordelia could feel her eyelids begin to slide closed as Angelus hands smoothed over her spine stopping every now and then to rub in small circles. She was in a demon bar in the arms of her enemy, and yet she felt almost boneless as she floated in a sea of relaxation. She tried to work up some anxiety. To be a good almost Scooby. But it was almost as if the world outside the arms that held her had ceased to exist. Maybe Giles could find a spell that would reverse this insanity. She’d ask him tomorrow. But tonight…well, she just snuggled closer. No point fighting if there’s no chance you can win, right?

Angelus rested his chin on the top of Cordelia’s head, a satisfied smile settling on his face as he felt her cuddle closer into his chest. She was so soft and warm and she fit in his arms so perfectly that he almost decided to skip his meeting. But patience was the word for the day and his self-control might be seldom used, but it was strong. Although he was loathe to admit it, years of denial gave him an edge over his appetites even without the soul.

Besides, he’d always enjoyed anticipation. It was a fact that something that took hard work to get was more valued. And Cordelia would definitely be valued for years to come. Sometimes he wondered if she knew what was in store for her. He questioned how specific the watcher was with her. But mostly he didn’t care. He wanted her, and that desire was far larger than her need to understand or her acceptance. Those things would come in time, and that was certainly something he had plenty of. She was in his arms now and that would be a far more frequent occurrence in the near future.

And he had to admit that he loved this feeling. Cordelia, being human, thought the bonding process was something foreign, an external force manipulating her emotions, so she fought it. But as a vampire he’d always been a creature of bonds. They defined all of his relationships and there was nothing more natural to him than to succumb

He had a feeling she’d be angry if she new about the hours he’d spent on her balcony while she slept, using the proximity to help cement their connection. Maybe he’d tell her. There were few things more enjoyable then a spitting mad Cordelia.

Except maybe the version nestled into him now, fighting sleep as it tried to overtake her.

Suddenly he saw his servant walk through the door. With a casual motion of his free hand he waved him over.

Unkempt and harried but otherwise unremarkable he approached the table. He waited to sit until the vampire indicated that he could with a nod towards the chair.

“Master.” The man began respectfully.

No matter how many times he heard that title it never grew old. It reminded him of who he was and what he had accomplished. He was the Master of the Order of Aurelius. He alone held control of the Hellmouth. It almost made up for a century of being burdened with a soul. And he owed so much of it to the girl who’d given in to exhaustion and was lying in peaceful repose in his arms.

The tender smile that crossed his face was so at odds with any expression the man had ever seen on his face during his time of service, that he couldn’t help but follow his master’s gaze to its source.

Although her face was only partially exposed her beauty was obvious with even the most cursory glance. And seeing the girl, so tranquil in the arms of the most vicious creature he’d ever met, his glance lingered, quickly turning into a stare.

“Monroe.” The words, ground out and rasping snapped his eyes back to the vampire’s face. Gone was the look of affection he’d bestowed upon the young woman, and in its place was a terrible gaze, hard as nails and cold as ice.

Abruptly recalling just why he was there he began his report.

“The watcher’s phone calls have all been fairly normal. Both from his office and his home it’s mostly standard local calls. The only ones of note are 7 from the slayer and 3 to the Watcher’s Council. The ones from the slayer were all about odd goings on, demons that she later killed. The ones to the Council were also fairly routine. Most of his dealings with them are in the form of written reports, and the calls all centered on research into adversaries that the slayer was facing.”

“Is that all?” Angelus asked in a much calmer manner.

Assuming the Master appreciated a job well done Monroe was quick to nod his affirmative. “Yes Master, that’s everything.”

With a smooth movement that was a blur to the human eye Angelus pulled a knife from it’s leather sheath on his belt and sent it flying through the air only to have it bury itself with a nauseating sucking sound into Monroe’s throat.

Pulling the still sleeping Cordelia closer to his chest he rose from his seat. Rounding the table he bent over his still gurgling servant, staring into his wild eyes.

“She’s mine. Nobody touches her; no one soils her with their sordid stares. And I’m sure you would have learned your lesson if you weren’t about to die.”

Walking towards the door he turned to Willy.

“Send me the bill for cleaning up the mess.”

And then he was gone.


Chapter Forty-Five

“Cordelia. Cordelia, wake up, baby.”

Brushing a kiss across her forehead he found he couldn’t stop and let his lips trail down her cheek until he reached her lips. Slightly parted in her sleep he took advantage of the opening and swept his tongue inside to taste her. It had been far too long.

Walking home with her warm body curled against him had stretched his control to the limit. He knew there was no way she was disappearing behind her protective barrier without feeding the beast she’d raised within him.

Releasing her lips he noticed that her eyes had finally opened. Still dazed from sleep and the drugging passion of their kiss she graced him with a look he’d never seen on her face before. It was the closest thing to love he’d ever gotten from her. Of course she usually only had two expressions with him, one of anger and one of annoyance. This was definitely a step in the right direction.

Coming more fully awake Cordelia realized in whose arms she was and just who she’d been kissing. The annoyance of which Angelus had just been thinking settled heavily on her face, turning down the lips that had just been pressed against those of the vampire who was still holding her tightly to him.

Pressing against Angelus’ chest, Cordelia tried to put some space between them so that she could wiggle her way back to her feet.

Although he was ready to set her down, her desire to escape brought out Angelus’ contrary streak and he held her tighter to his body. He could feel her force herself to relax as she got the point he was conveying. When she was completely pliant in his arms one more he released her legs, sliding her body down the length of his.

As he swallowed his groan at the feel of her supple form pressed against him he saw her reach for her dainty purse slung carelessly across her shoulder. Knowing that she was about to retrieve her keys he stayed her hand.

“Not yet.”

And before she could react she was back in his arms, crushed in his embrace as his lips crashed into hers, forcing her mouth to open as his tongue plunged it hungrily. His hands slid down her back to cup her bottom, pulling her hips into his while pushing his hips into hers.

Cordelia could feel his rigid shaft straining against her through the thin cotton of her pleated skirt. Overwhelmed with the sudden need to touch him she slid her hands inside his jacket, running them slowly over his ribs. As she reached his nipples she paused, the pressed lightly with her palms, rubbing gentle circles over them.

For all of her inexperience, Cordelia knew she’d done something right as his hips jerked roughly against hers momentarily lifting her feet off the ground. Running on nothing but the feelings bursting through every nerve ending in her body, the only thought she could hold was that she needed his cool skin under her fevered touch.

Abandoning his hardened peaks she slid her hands over the smooth silk of his shirt and down towards it’s end. Grasping the material she drew it upwards allowing her hands to slip underneath.

As soon as flesh met flesh Cordelia felt the earth spin and suddenly she was once again trapped by the vampire against the front of her house. But this time was different. This time it wasn’t fear that made her breath catch. It was desire. It was an all consuming lust that robbed her of thought as it bent her to its will.

Suddenly the firm shaft that had been pressed against her was gone and replace with his long, knowing fingers. Cordelia groaned. They’d done this dance before and it always ended in frustration as she was left teetering on the edge of oblivion only to be interrupted before she had a chance to fall over. With the hunger that was building in her belly and slowly seeping through the rest of her she didn’t know how she’d stand to walk away once again, longing for something she didn’t quite understand but that she knew, instinctively, had been almost within reach.

But even those thoughts were lost as the hand slipped past her silk panties to spear her with one, then two fingers. Angelus pulled her in closer to him, anchoring her with his right hand while his left whipped her into a mindless frenzy. Feeling his lips against her ear her mind could barely process the words that fell, heavy from his lips.

“Tonight you cum for me, Cordelia.”

Before he’d even finished declaring his intent his thumb began to slowly circle her clit; teasing the sensitive area while avoiding direct contact with the throbbing nub. As her hips thrust forward to force the contact she so desperately needed he simply forced them back with his own hips, holding her in place while his fingers deftly prolonged her torture.

Leaning down he gently bit his way down her neck with his blunt teeth, stopping only when he reached the scar he’d placed on her and drawing the twin marks into his mouth. His voice was rough with passion as he pulled his mouth away and whispered, “Don’t make me threaten you tonight.”

Jolted fleetingly out of her haze of pleasure Cordelia comprehended Angelus’ meaning. To far gone for a battle and knowing that she never really had a choice she tilted her head to the side and willingly drown herself back in the pool of pleasure he was creating within her.

Angelus’ demonic visage surged forward at what he was fairly sure she didn’t understand to be an act of submission. But whether or not she realized the meaning of her behavior it roared through his brain like a wild fire, setting all that it touched ablaze. Within mere seconds of her offering his fangs where buried deep in her flesh as her blood surged past his lips and bathed his tongue in an endless flow of flavors and emotions.

The same instant that his penetrating teeth pierced her skin his thumb hit its final target as the rough pad scraped over her engorged clitoris, causing the girl so snugly surrounding his surging fingers to stiffen, then throw back her head as shudders rocked her down to her toes and the scream trying to burst from her chest, caught in her throat.

Feeling her shiver convulsively Angelus forced himself to pull away from her throat keeping his arm firmly around her until her muscles stopped quivering and he felt that she could stand on her own. Reaching into her purse he extracted her keys, unlocked her door and opened it for her.

Cordelia was still reeling from the unbelievable pleasure echoing through her from her orgasm. Dazed as she made her way to her door she was confused when she could no longer move forward. Searching bewilderedly for what had stopped her she became aware of Angelus’ hand wrapped around her arm, preventing her from entering her house.

Raising her eyes to his she saw his smile, filled with self-satisfaction, and she would have said something scathing in the face of such arrogance if she could have put two words together.

“I’ll see you Friday at 8:00, Moonbeam.”

Cordelia stared at him, her mind still befuddled by the mass of sensations she’d experienced and the loss of blood.

“Friday night, Cordelia. Say it.”

Blinking in an attempt to catch up with the conversation she was able to do what he asked.

“Friday night.”

“Good girl, now go call Giles. I’m sure he’s waiting for you.”


Chapter Forty-Six

The park was really quite lovely this time of night. There weren’t a lot of lights in Sunnydale, so the stars were bright in the crisp night air. Cordelia hadn’t been out in a park at night in years except when she was trying to lure demons out, and that was hardly conducive to enjoying the scenery.

But tonight she actually felt safe. Odd since she was here with the epitome of that which goes bump in the night. And yet, here she sat, pleasantly full after an amazing picnic dinner provided by the guy who doesn’t eat, and warm from the glass of wine that she’d tried to explain she was too young for. Of course she’d given up when she realized that if he didn’t follow all the laws about not murdering people he was hardly going to bother with the legal drinking age.

She also found herself once again wrapped in his coat. She’d never tell the possessive vampire, but she was starting to enjoy being ensconced in the folds of the heavy duster. It smelled like him, and she found that strangely comforting. She knew it was the bond. She hoped it was the bond. Sometimes she just wondered if she wasn’t a freak. The more she dwelled on that train of thought the stiffer she became.

Angelus sighed as he saw Cordelia’s posture grow more and more rigid. Tucking his finger beneath her chin he turned her face towards him.

“You know, the point of tonight was not to make you miserable.”

Fighting the urge to jerk her head away she couldn’t help asking, “So what exactly was the point?”

“Well, mainly to make me happy. But that doesn’t mean that it’s about making you unhappy.”

Cordelia looked at him with a deep sadness shadowing her eyes.

“If it’s not about making me unhappy then why am I always unhappy because of you?”

Cordelia was caught of guard by the tender sympathy reflected in his eyes as he gazed down at her. Catching her shoulders in an inescapable caress he pulled her down until her head was resting in his lap. Looking down in her face her he began to run his right hand through her dark, silky hair.

“Honestly, when it comes down to your happiness or mine, mine will always come first, Cordelia. But that doesn’t mean that I want you to be unhappy. I’ll secure your happiness whenever I can. Don’t you know how important you are to me? Your happiness is second only to my own. I’ve put you above all others.”

Looking at her beautiful face with its complete lack of comprehension Angelus tried to explain that, for a demon he’d made every allowance possible for her.

“You may not appreciate this, but I’m being very patient with you. I’m giving you time to acclimate; to get used to me, to our relationship. I find it beyond admirable that I haven’t dragged you home and chained you to our bed.”

“Our bed?” Cordelia thought. She knew that in his own way Angelus was trying to comfort her, but every word that fell from his lips increased her fear exponentially. She wanted to stem the explanation, to tell him to stop, but before she could open her mouth she was distracted by his left hand which lifted to softly run a finger down the side of her face in a calming movement that she supposed he thought would make these revelations easier to hear.

“You know, it’s not easy. My body, it calls for you all the time. Each minute of the day I’m emptier than the minute before because you’re not with me, not there to touch, to hold. Every instinct I have screams at me for letting you out of my sight, out of my reach.”

Pushing her fear of the answer aside for the moment Cordelia couldn’t help but indulge the natural curiosity that was a much larger part of her than the fright.

“Then why do you bother? I mean, I’m certainly not trying to rush the whole sexual captivity thing, but you’re always saying that you do whatever you want.”

Angelus smiled at her. He could tell she was scared. He could taste the fear that hovered around her. And yet she relegated it to the background so she could investigate every part of the issue, even knowing that she probably wouldn’t like what she heard. He loved that part of her; that part that made her bright and inquisitive. It shown from her beautiful hazel eyes and made her a worthy companion for him.

“You’re right. I do what I want, when I want. But if the reward for waiting is greater than the immediate pleasure than I just might want that more. I have an eternity ahead of me. Believe me; I can afford to wait for some things.”

Lifting his hands and letting the glossy strands slip through his fingers, his eyes darkened with emotions that seemed frightening in their intensity.

“You still don’t understand, do you Cordelia. You’re not a momentary delight and you’re definitely not a cheap lay. You’re a long term investment. I love you.”

Angelus hadn’t said that since that weekend she spent with Buffy. In light of the things he was saying tonight it filled her with more dread now than it had then.

“You don’t love me. How can you love me, you don’t even know me?”

Angelus just smiled at the question and turned his attention back to the fingers now tracing the curves of her cheek.

“Your favorite color’s orange, which you’ll never admit that because you think it makes you look hideous, but you keep a bright orange stuffed kitten under your pillow that your father won for you at a carnival when you were 7. You get up at 5:00 every Saturday morning because you like to watch Roadrunner cartoons and you always eat cinnamon toast while it’s on. You tell your dates to bring roses but you really love tulips. When you went with your parents to New York last year you were all supposed to see Les Mis, but they got called to a party so you sold your ticket and went to see the Lion King instead and you cried when the father died, just like you did in the movie theater.”

Cordelia began to shake her head as much as his hand in her hair would allow. She tried to sit up, move away, but Angelus wasn’t ready to let her go.

“How?” She chocked out, needing to know how he knew these things about her, but more afraid of this answer than any before. It wasn’t that these things were secret, but they were private. Things that very few people knew. Why would they share them with Angelus?

His brown eyes lit with sparks of topaz as his stare bore through her.

“Does it matter? Did you really think I’d allow you to have secrets from me; that there’d be a part of you I didn’t know?”

“Besides, those are the things about you that lie at the surface. They’re there for anyone to know, but there are ways I know you that no one else ever will, Cordelia.”

“I can feel you fear. Not smell it, not taste the residue on my tongue, I can feel it inside me like an echo of your scream. Your heartbeat; I hear it no matter where I am, no matter where you are. And sometimes, when it’s quiet and everything’s still, I draw air into my lungs because you need to breathe.”

“I know you Cordelia because I’m a part of you. How can you doubt that I want your happiness?”

Cordelia hoped that he could feel her fear and that he was chocking on it right now like she was.

“You’re lying! You don’t love me; you don’t care about me at all. You’re going to kill everyone I know, everyone I love. How will that possibly make me happy?”

Angelus knew she wouldn’t understand, that it would just take time for her to see that he was right. But he truly did love her, so he’d explain it to her if that’s what she needed.

“Baby, I do want you to be happy. You could love me Cordelia. But you fight. You fight against the bond like no one I’ve ever seen. And I know why you do it, but I just can’t figure out how.”

He paused a moment and pondered, again, what had become an increasingly difficult puzzle to solve. Shaking off the moment he returned his attention to the girl on his lap.

“It doesn’t matter. Your strength, it calls to me. The more you push me away, the more I need you. And Cordelia, I need all of you. There’s our problem.”

“You think I don’t know you, Cordelia Chase, but I do. You’re a survivor, and while even the tiniest sliver of hope remains, you’ll fight. With everything in you you’ll fight me. So I have to strip you of that hope. I have to tear it from you bit by bit.”

“You give pieces of yourself to those you love and in return they give you the hope of something better; mentors, lovers, friends. That’s why they have to die, Cordelia. Their hope takes you away from me.”

“I admit that I hate them all for the part of your heart that they hold, but I won’t kill them out of hatred, and I won’t kill them to make you unhappy. I’ll kill them because I’ll never let you go, and so the only happiness you’ll ever find will be with me, and can’t you see that they’re keeping us apart?”

“I have to kill them to set you free, Cordelia. Free to be happy with me.”

The sympathy was back in his dark gaze and it was all the harder to see as the chilling words kept pouring forth.

“I can make it quick for them, Cordelia. I can make sure that they don’t suffer. Not because I don’t want them to; I do. Especially your parents. But more than that, I want you to settle in quickly.”

“The bond will help. Even though you fight it admirably, eventually you’ll give in. Your body has, now I just need your heart. It belongs to me, Cordelia and I intend to have it all.”

Despite the horror coursing through her body, Cordelia found her voice. “I’ll hate you.”

“Actually, you won’t. Remember, I know you. Your greatest fear is being alone. When there’s no one left for you and no possibility of anyone new, all you’ll have is me or nothing. By then the bond and your own fears will force you to choose me.”

“I know you think that’s not true, that you’d never choose someone who’d desolated everything you know, but you’d be surprised what you’ll cling to when the choice is that or nothing. Like I’d be willing to bet that you wouldn’t want to be shot to death. But if it was a choice between being shot or being turned you’d take the bullet in a heartbeat.”

“Sometimes it’s not about what you choose, but what you avoid.”

“You’re scaring me.” Her words were even softer than before and held a vulnerability that few people ever got to see in this girl.

The hand in her hair tightened as the feather-light touches continued.

“You should be scared. This is going to be hard. Harder than anything you’ve ever been through. You’ll hurt in ways you’ve never imagined, but like steel, you’ll be tempered by the fire, not burned. This will make you stronger because it makes us stronger and there’s nothing about you that isn’t about us anymore.”

Silent tears began to slip from Cordelia’s eyes. “Stop please.”

Angelus gave her a sad, almost pitying look.

“It doesn’t stop, baby. This never stops. I never stop.”

Sobs began to wrack Cordelia’s body as she realized he really wasn’t ever going to stop. And as her weeping became almost hysterical, Angelus pulled her up and onto his lap, wrapping his arms securely around her as he whispered nonsensical words of solace into her ear. And as she buried her face in his neck and clung to his shoulders she allowed his soothing words to wash over her. Because no matter what she knew about the bond, or Angelus’ plans; no matter how scared she was or how much she fought; she could no longer deny the fact that she felt safest in his arms. An epiphany which made the tears fall all the harder.


PART 9 – STRATEGIC RETREAT
Chapter Forty-Seven

This was harder than she’d thought.

Buffy sighed deeply at the realization. They were arguing about Angelus; a normally sore spot for the young slayer, but now, with the inclusion of Jenny Calendar things seemed even more tense than usual. And Buffy hadn’t really believed that to be possible.

The worst part was that she was the reason Jenny was here to begin with. She’s called the computer teacher earlier that morning and asked if she would come over to Giles’ place and help them come up with some kind of plan to deal with the vampire.

It wasn’t that Buffy actually thought that they needed Jenny’s help. No, the inspiration for what was feeling more and more like a stupid idea was Cordelia. And why didn’t that surprise her. Ever since last weekend, when she and Cordelia had argued in her bedroom, Buffy hadn’t been able to push the cheerleader’s words from her mind.

Did Giles feel guilty all the time? Was she missing the emotional signals her watcher was putting out? Was she really so focused on her own issues that she was blinding herself to the turmoil of those she cared about?

Well, over the past week she’d learned the answer to those questions was a big gigantic “Hell yeah!”

Okay, she had to admit that the fact that Giles felt bad for letting the others involve themselves in the slaying business wasn’t so much of a shock. And his guilt for her not being able to have some normalcy in her life was less of a revelation, although certainly unexpected given his original opinion on the subject, and more of an idea that she shoved aside because sometimes she needed to have someone to blame when she had to cancel a date to save the world. It wasn’t that she really believed that it was Giles’ fault; it was just that he was one of the few safe people with whom she could vent her frustrations. He loved her, and she knew, absolutely, that her semi-childish rants at him would be forgiven.

But what had surprised her was Jenny Calendar.

Giles missed her. Not in the way that you wish someone would call or write and let you know how they were doing, but in the pained, longing looks, thought of a thousand little things to tell you today and you weren’t there sort of missing.

And it wasn’t just Giles. Willow missed her, too. Now that Buffy knew what to listen for she realized that Willow had practically bit her tongue to keep from mentioning Miss Calendar at least 8 times before she’d stopped counting in self-disgust.

It wasn’t that she had wanted to keep everyone away from the young teacher. It was just that Buffy had assumed that everyone felt the same way that she did. She thought that they had all felt betrayed and wouldn’t want the reminder of those lies that Jenny would bring. It hadn’t even occurred to her that some of her friends might have cared deeply enough for the teacher to be hurt by her absence.

Buffy didn’t want to ignore the pain of those closest to her. Truly she didn’t. She loved them, and she’d never purposefully do anything to hurt them. She knew that this situation had been hard on everyone. She wasn’t that blind. She just hurt so badly every minute, that it was sometimes hard for her to remember that other people were hurting, too.

And boy, that realization didn’t ease away any of the pain. No, now she just had more to feel bad about. Well she had decided that some of that stopped today. She might not be able to get Angel back, and she might not be ready to kill Angelus; but there were things that she could do. Things that would relieve some of people’s pain and maybe begin to unmake this mess for which she knew in her heart she would always feel responsible.

And so she’d called Jenny.

It had been hard, but when Jenny had arrived and Giles saw that she was there at Buffy’s request, the look on his face had more than made up for any lingering discomfort the slayer felt.

One thing down, 999,999 more to go.

As Giles watched the play of emotions on Buffy’s face he couldn’t stop the flood of affection that rushed through him. He knew how difficult this was for the girl. Despite the vast amounts of time she spent dealing with the vilest creatures walking the earth, things such as betrayal and dishonesty always caught her off guard. She expected the best from everyone and was therefore unprepared for the all too common human error.

But Buffy, for all the narrowness in the scope of her affection, deeply loved those around her. And though she may be slow to see their pain, when she did she would go to great lengths to end it. It was to that fine characteristic he knew he could attribute Jenny’s presence in his apartment.

God, he had missed her.

True, at first he’d been hurt by her omissions. But as the initial pain had faded he’d pondered the amount of people he’d kept in the dark concerning his true profession. He was even encouraging a young girl to hide her destiny from her own mother. Over time his belief in his right to judge Jenny had dimmed and instead he’d found himself simply wanting her comfort throughout this ordeal.

But Buffy had needed him, and though he didn’t regret for a moment standing with his slayer, it had left a hole in his hear that he was still struggling to fill.

But now, just having her there, seeing her face, smelling the musky spice of her perfume was a balm to his all too wounded soul. Love was a rare visitor in his often dreary life. Jenny had been his sunny day in the midst of a long frigid winter. But all too soon she’d been gone and he was left with nothing but the biting cold of loneliness once more. To have her close, to have a chance to regain what he had thought lost was the greatest gift his slayer could have given him.

Giles rubbed a hand wearily across his forehead. He knew that Buffy would have to grow up eventually, but why did it have to happen like this? Although he appreciated her new found maturity, the price was so high and he wondered, more than once, how she would be able to handle the emotional fallout when she was finally forced to kill Angelus.

Of course, right now when it came to the vampire Giles was far more concerned for Cordelia than he was for his slayer. Buffy’s problems were more internal as she tried to reconcile her love for Angel with the loathing inspired by Angelus. However Cordelia’s plight was external in nature, stemming from the demon and the bond he’d created with the girl.

Although Angelus had taken Cordelia from them that night in the cemetery, Giles’ instincts had proven correct and Cordelia had called him a few hours later from her bedroom, declaring all to be well. She had sounded groggy and confused, but since she was safe within the confines of her home, he had chalked it up to the unrelenting stress of a pursuing vampire.

Still, things had been quiet since then and Cordelia seemed to be handling things as well as could be expected consid –

“I’m leaving town.”


Chapter Forty-Eight

“I’m leaving town.”

Giles had been so lost in thought that he hadn’t even heard the door open or the whirlwind that was Cordelia Chase enter. She was casually clothed in stonewashed jeans coupled with a deep red tank top and the lengthy tresses of her hair fell in attractive disarray down her back. She carried with her an air of urgency that bespoke more of her intention to flee than did her sudden proclamation.

“Cordelia. Sit down and tell us what this is all about.”

At the “us”, Cordelia glanced around the room, taking in the presence of the slayer and Jenny Calendar. Focusing again on the watcher she waved aside his request.

“I don’t have time for a chat, Giles. I just didn’t want you to worry when I didn’t show up for school on Monday. So, that’s done. I’ll just be going.”

With a nod of his head to Buffy she silently placed herself in between the brunette and the doorway while Cordelia was saying her abbreviated goodbyes. Thus Cordelia was brought up just short of escape as Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, making it clear that she would not be moved. To those who didn’t know the blonde girl the picture would have been amusing. But all in this room were more than aware that the door behind her would not open until she permitted.

Giles took advantage of Cordelia’s frustrated distraction to approach the brunette. Placing a hand on her shoulder the flinch he felt rock her was not unexpected given the circumstances, but the immediate relaxing on realizing it was only him was a surprising glimpse at the trust this young woman had placed in him.

“Cordelia, please, let’s just discuss this for a moment. We don’t want you to do anything rash. I know that this has been terribly difficult for you, but I believe that it would be foolish at this time to leave the protection afforded by the slayer.”

“Protection? Protection!”

Giles winced slightly as Cordelia’s voice climbed in both volume and register.

“Giles, there is no protection. Not for me, and certainly not for any of you. Don’t you see, he knows. He knows that you’re all my strength…and my weakness.”

“You’ve seen him again.” Not a question, but a statement. This new need to leave the vampire’s sphere of influence was, Giles was positive, motivated by some new and frightening trauma to which the girl had been subjected. “What did he do?”

Turning to look up at him, Giles heart nearly tore in two at the haunted look of desperation visible behind the sheen of tears in Cordelia’s eyes.

A hush fell over the room for which Giles gave thanks, for otherwise he never would have heard Cordelia’s whispered response.

“He’s going to kill you. All of you. All of my friends, all of my family, teachers, fellow cheerleaders, everything that makes me who I am he’s going to destroy ‘til all that’s left is who he wants; a person who desires nothing but him.”

Giles had known all along that this would be part of Angelus’ plan, but to hear Cordelia speak of it in an empty monotone caused shivers to flutter across his skin as repulsive pictures filled his mind. Careful to keep his voice even, Giles attempted to gather further information on her interaction with the vampire.

“That’s what he did when you saw him last? He revealed his plans?”

Slowly the pained look in the glassy, hazel depths was being replaced by burgeoning self-recrimination.

“No. He made me understand them.”

Giles bit back a silent curse when, at his start of surprise, the internally directed loathing in her eyes bloomed and her bitter explanation poured forth.

“He gave me all the details, Giles. He wanted me to know why he was going to hurt me so badly. He wanted me to get it, and how sick am I, ‘cause I do.”

Cordelia grasped Giles shirt in a silent plea, almost as if she planned to shake him. Her wild stare pinned him in place as a torrent of words could no longer be denied.

“He’s right Giles. Angelus is right. As long as even one of you are alive, one person who ties me to who I am at this moment, I’ll never stop trying to find a way to get back here, to where I was, whoI was.”

“He promised to do it quickly, not to make you suffer, but he’ll kill you all because he knows that I’ll choose to be with him if my only other choice is being alone. And – and Giles…I’m not sure that he’s wrong.”

Giles reached up and encompassed Cordelia’s hands in a soothing clasp. He needed to find the words to soothe the near hysterical girl, to make her see that there was nothing wrong with her and that these feelings were the product of mystical forces and the mental manipulations of an evil creature centuries in the making. But for all his wisdom, all his years, those words didn’t come. And in the end, all he could do was agree with this young woman who had amazed him with her strength and surprised him with her compassion.

“Where will you go?”

The air rushed from Cordelia’s body leaving her slightly lightheaded as she saw acceptance radiating from every line of Giles’ body. She had struggled all night trying to figure out what was wrong with her that she had seen Angelus’ point of view. Sure, she’d thought it was nauseating and horrific, but his logic had been clear.

But Giles also seemed to understand and there was nothing wrong with him, so maybe she was okay, too. Of course Giles hadn’t cried himself to sleep in a monster’s embrace. He hadn’t been carried home, yet again in his enemy’s arms. And he hadn’t been sent back to safety with a demon’s soft endearment and gentle push. Nope; there was definitely something wrong with her.

Which was just one of the many reasons that she had to go. Now. If she left then Angelus wouldn’t need to kill anyone. And if he followed her, well, she’d be careful and he certainly wouldn’t be killing anyone here if he was out searching for her.

Dragging her attention back to Giles she smiled wryly as she denied him his answer.

“You know it wouldn’t be in any of our best interests for me to tell you that.”

Giles gave a small nod of his head to concede the wisdom of her words.

“What will you do, then? You know you won’t be able to go to anyone you know, use any financial resources that can be tracked, do anything that would be characteristic of you that might attract notice?”

Suddenly this situation seemed just a tiny bit more tragic as Giles remembered the children researching in the library not all that long ago as Xander teased Cordelia about her acting aspirations. One more thing this girl would never do now.

“I know, Giles. Don’t worry, even Cordelia Chase can blend. I’ll just wear tacky clothes and try to look mediocre. Buffy does it everyday, how hard can it be?”

With a roll of her eyes and a slight twist of her lips, Buffy let the remark glide past. Giles was proud of his slayer who seemed to understand that this was a primary defense for Cordelia and no real reflection on herself.

“Look, Giles. I have some money. Not a lot, but enough to get a place to stay for a little while. I’ve told my parents that I’m going to be part of a sister school study program that will send me to San Francisco for the next few months. By the time they realize that something’s wrong I’ll be long gone. I’ll dump my car on my way to wherever I’m going and then, then I guess I’ll start over. Don’t worry; as I’ve been told lately, I’m quite the survivor.”

A truer statement was never spoken, and Giles knew that it was probably that more than anything else that drew the vampire to her. That internal core of strength sheathed by her extraordinary external beauty would be a hard combination to resist under any circumstances, but for a pleasure seeking demon with no concept of self-denial it was most likely impossible.

“When are you leaving?”

It was the first time Jenny had spoken since Cordelia had arrived. Although this morning she’d finally managed to convince Buffy of the fact that she hadn’t known about Angel’s ability to lose his soul until it was too late, she’d still carried the burden of guilt that if she’d been honest with them about who she was, maybe things would have turned out differently. And if she’d felt bad before, it was nothing to compare with her reaction on hearing of Cordelia’s plight. Knowing that another young, beautiful girl was being sacrificed to Angelus’ evil because of her clan’s arrogance in their belief that they wielded vengeance when it had so clearly wielded them was almost beyond bearing.

Cordelia read the guilt in Jenny’s eyes. She could recognize it easily as it seemed to be mirrored in the eyes of almost everyone saw recently; including her own. Smiling reassuringly at the woman she was glad to see once again at the watcher’s side she gave the only answer they all knew was available to her.

“Now.”

And even though they’d all expected just that response, the rooms three other occupants all burst into excited speech, stopping only when Cordelia held up her hand for silence.

“Look, all of you,” Cordelia glanced at Buffy to include her in her next words. “I know you’re all concerned, and I appreciate it more than I can say. You’ve done what you could for me and, more than anything, I wish I had a better way to repay you than by leaving. But I don’t.”

“It’s too dangerous for me to stay here; for me and for you. It’s dangerous for you because the more I care about you all the more Angelus will be determined to kill you. And it’s dangerous for me because all he has to do anymore is threaten any of you and I’m completely at his mercy. There’s no way I can take a chance with your lives. That’s why I always end up with him, and that’s why I have to go now.”

Overcome by emotion and the realization of what she was leaving behind, Cordelia’s voice was nothing but a harsh whisper.

“I know it’s sad, and I only say this because I’ll never see any of you again, but my parents…their not so great. You guys, you’re everything I have.”

And with that startling declaration ringing in their ears they were held still as Cordelia swept by the unresisting slayer and out of their lives.


Chapter Forty-Nine

Dammit, dammit, dammit!

Cordelia felt like smacking her head against her steering wheel. Hard. Repeatedly.

How could she possibly be getting a ticket now?

Sure, she thought, she may have been speeding, but it was the Sunnydale Police Department. Since when did they care about wrong doing? Besides, if anyone could sympathize with the plight of someone fleeing from the supernatural, you think it would be them. And yet she was pretty sure that her excuse for speeding wouldn’t include mention trying to escape a homicidal vampire.

She was mad enough to spit as she realized that could actually see the ‘Leaving Sunnydale’ sign. She wondered if this wretched town would ever let her go.

Cordelia rolled down her window in response to the officers tapping and pinned a glowing smile to her face.

“License and registration, ma’am.”

“Yes Officer…uh” Glancing at his name tag she flashed her white teeth as she peeked up through her lashes. “Davidson. Is there a problem?”

“License and registration, please.”

Crap. Knowing that there was no way to get out of the ticket, Cordelia handed over her ID and fished her registration out of her glove compartment. As she watched the Officer Davidson walk back to his squad car to use his radio, she gave some serious thought to just taking off.

Tempting, but the last thing she needed was a car chase down a California freeway. Those neverturned out well, and fifteen news helicopters broadcasting her clandestine escape from the Hellmouth? Not of the good.

“Ma’am, would you mind stepping out of the car for me.”

No, no, no. Cordelia couldn’t believe this. Was there no one up there looking out for her? She couldn’t even remember if she’d really been speeding, but she sure as hell would’ve remembered driving so poorly that she’d have to take a sobriety test, wouldn’t she?

Arrgh.

Exiting the car, Cordelia was trying to remember what came after V if you were saying the alphabet backwards when she was suddenly spun around and pushed over her trunk as the officer cuffed her hands behind her back.

“What the hell is going on???”

“I’m sorry, Miss Chase, but you have an outstanding warrant for parking tickets. I have to take you into the station.”

Cordelia leaned her head briefly against the sun warmed metal of her car. She wasn’t sure that she could take anymore. But even as the despair rose within her, her proactive nature surged to the fore and began restructuring her escape plans.

She had cash on her, so whatever the tickets were she would pay them. Then she’d climb into her car and never look back at this stupid town where the police rarely did anything and when they did it was never helpful.

Straightening up she looked back over her shoulder. “Could you at least bring my purse please? And what about my car?”

“Officer Shale will retrieve your purse Miss Chase.” For the first time Cordelia noticed a female officer standing near the police cruiser. “As for your car, it will be towed to the impound lot where you can recover it when this matter is settled.”

With that he led Cordelia back to his vehicle and placed her in the back seat. As soon as Officer Shale joined them they pulled out and headed to the station.

“Look, I don’t mean to be difficult, but are these necessary?” Cordelia lifted her arms as best she could to indicate the shiny silver handcuffs biting ever so slightly into her wrists.

“Its procedure, ma’am.” Officer Davidson informed her.

With a sigh of disgust at the government in its entirety and the SDPD specifically, Cordelia wondered why anyone here even bothered to pay taxes for this kind of service. Deciding there was nothing to do but sit tight, she leaned back as much as her bound arms would allow and waited for downtown to come into view.

Only it didn’t.

In fact, not only did downtown not appear, they weren’t even passing the landmarks that would distinguish an alternative route to the center or Sunnydale. Actually, they seemed to be skirting the edge of the town and approaching the generally deserted and decaying areas.

It was as if all of her blood had turned to liquid lead and was pooling in her stomach. Knowing that what she was about to ask would destroy any small piece of mind that she might be able to retain until they reached their destination; she could not still the words begging to be spoken.

“You’re not taking me to the police station, are you?”

And even though she knew the answer before she asked the question, the reply still fell like a crushing weight onto her chest.

“You shouldn’t have tried to run, Miss Chase. You must have known he’d never let you go.”

Cordelia shivered at Officer Shale’s tone. It was as if she were being lectured on the dangers of drinking and driving instead of being instructed on her perceived duty to a demon.

“Please, don’t do this. You’re police officers. It’s your job to serve the public. Well guess what. I just so happen to be the public, so it would work out well if you let me go.”

“We serve the Master.”

With this answer, Officer Shale turned to appraise this woman so valued by her beloved Master. She was becoming legend among those who served Angelus. Taken as a pet, a bond much stronger than that which she shared with the powerful demon, and still this young woman resisted.

Being this close to her stirred a myriad of emotions in the policewoman. Knowing that without exposure to the vampire she revered she would surely die, she was in awe that Cordelia Chase would undertake to leave town.

Conversely, realizing how much she must mean to Angelus that he would allow her such defiance sparked a flood of jealousy in the older woman that she would never have the devotion that the Master seemed poised to lavish on the captured brunette.

But more than anything was a rising anger that this girl would dare to deprive the one she served of something in which he obviously found great joy. As a servant to his pleasure that idea offended what had become the very reason for her being.

Even as the building rage threatened to explode, Shale reined it in. The Master had been extremely specific that no harm was to come to Cordelia Chase while in their care. No one would risk his terrible wrath by hurting her.

“You know,” Cordelia regained the officer’s attention, “the slayer’s going to be all over your asses for this. And, trust me, she can really be a bitch when she wants to be…which is most of the time.”

If Cordelia had hoped that the mention of Buffy would strike fear into their hearts she was left greatly disappointed. This time it was Davidson who spoke up.

“The Master wouldn’t let the slayer harm us. We are his and so he cares for us.”

Knowing it probably wouldn’t work, Cordelia couldn’t help but try that oldie but goodie ‘divide and conquer’.

“Wow, ‘cause you wouldn’t know it to hear him talk. I always get the feeling that he sees you guys as expendable.”

Again she was destined to have her hopes dashed as Officer Davidson laughed and she was treated to more evidence of their creepy, mystical brainwashing.

“We serve the Master and he watches over us. You think it’s strange; I can see that you do. But you’re the one who’s strange Miss Chase. He loves you. He wants you with him every moment. How can you run from that? Why would you even want to?”

Whatever Cordelia might have said was lost as the car turned onto Crawford Street and headed up the driveway of a very spooky looking mansion.


Chapter Fifty

He was in there. She knew it; she could feel him. Ever since she’d decided, early that morning, that she had to leave Sunnydale, there’d been this dull ache that ebbed and flowed throughout her entire body. It was reminiscent of the first few days with the flu and Cordelia had put it down to the utter emotional exhaustion of the night before. Now she knew better, for with every step she took towards the large wooden doors, the bothersome throbbing eased and in its place was a kind of peace entirely out of place given the current situation.

Knowing that it was this sense of well-being that was so dangerous to her, that would make her the author of her own demise, she decided to fight while she still could. Kicking out at Officer Davidson she made contact with his leg just as she wrenched her arm free of Officer Shale’s grasp. Turning and beginning a headlong flight driveway, she used her hard won athletic balance to keep herself upright as her hands were still shackled behind her.

Still, escape was not in the crappy cards she’d been dealt as strong arms surrounded her waist and Davidson pulled her up off of her feet. Carrying the struggling girl up to the now open doorway, he spoke low in her ear.

“There’s no point in fighting. He will have you. You might as well give in and enjoy it. Any one of us would kill to be where you are.”

And just as she was gearing up to argue, or at least to spit in his face, she was released. Almost against her will her eyes were drawn to the enormous stone fire place where Angelus stood with his back to her, hands braced against the large, heavy mantle, staring down into the flames.

Cordelia shivered, a mixture of fear and anticipation that, this close to the vampire, she could not control. She watched the thick muscles of his back bunch under his shirt as he straightened to his full, imposing height and slowly turned around.

Although his features retained their human shape, his eyes burned a fiery gold; evidence that demonic instinct was driving him now. Every gliding step, every tightly controlled yet fluid movement marked the being before her as a predator of the highest order and, despite her normal inclination which was fight or flight minus the flight, every cell in her body screamed at her to remain perfectly still as Angelus circled her like a shark on the verge of attack.

It seemed that her passivity had been the prudent course of action as the towering vampire stopped to the right of her, just out of her sight. Feeling his cool touch on her shoulder, she shivered as a finger traced its way down her arm to her wrist, leaving a curiously hot trail in its wake, considering the source. Feeling a gentle tug on the silver cuffs confining her hands, she heard Angelus’ voice for the first time since her arrival.

“I don’t think we need these any more. Do you Cordelia?”

And with a movement swifter than her eyes could register, he was standing in front of her. Hearing a click she felt her hands blissfully freed from their bonds. Moving to pull her arms forward to survey the results of their confinement, she found they were already gently clasped in Angelus’ much larger grip. Drawing them from behind her he brought her wrists up to his searching gaze. Beginning with the right, his eyes carefully noted every discoloration, no matter how minor, that marred her skin. As each new mark was discovered he tenderly soothed it with a soft kiss.

As his lips caressed the last of the markings Cordelia couldn’t suppress the small quivers that shot up her arm as his tongue slid out to taste her skin. Hazel hues were swallowed by dilating pupils and as sensations rushed through her at even those small touches, she dimly heard Angelus dismissing the officers still awaiting their master’s orders.

“Davidson, Shale.” The vampire may have been speaking to them, but his eyes never left Cordelia’s. “You’ve done well. It’s good to know that Sunnydale’s finest take lost pets so seriously.”

Under his piercing gaze Angelus watched as the sensual fire in Cordelia’s eyes was doused only to be reborn in the flames of anger. He could almost hear the words of outrage forming in her mind, but placing a finger firmly against her lips he halted their flow.

“You know better than that, Cordelia. We don’t fight in front of the help.” Glancing over Cordelia’s shoulder he spoke to his servants once again. “That will be all.”

And as if they were indeed domestics of the highest caliber, they simply turned and left their master to his pleasure without a single glance back at the girl they were leaving in a monster’s care.

As she heard the heavy door close, Cordelia lost hold of the last of the illusions she’d had of escape. Still seething, the hand he’d freed came up to remove the offending digit. She watched as his lips twisted into satisfied smirk as he recaptured her wrist and pulled her inexorably forward until her hands were splayed across the hard, uncompromising muscles of his chest. His eyes closed in a moment of bliss as her warm touch seared his skin even through the silken barrier of his shirt.

Clenched lids opened to reveal molten rivers of amber shot through with darts of desire as Angelus leaned into her until his lips brushed the curve of her ear.

“You know I would have gone slowly. I would have courted you.”

His hands slid from their place over hers to glide up her arms leaving echoes of sensations in their wake. Resting briefly on her shoulders his thumb smoothed over the rarely uncovered mark on her neck, reveling in the knowledge that it would never be hidden again.

Continuing his journey, he danced his fingertips down her rigid spine in a light touch that spun a fantasy of safety that was quickly dispelled as his palms pressed into the small of her back and she was propelled forward and crushed into the iron form before her.

“I would’ve done a thousand things to help you adjust. But never would letting you leave have been one of them. Either you don’t know me at all or you know me to well.”

As one hand kept her firmly imprisoned against him, his other crept up to tilt her gaze up to his.

Searching her gaze he found fear swirling in the caramel depths and he smiled. Not a twisted mockery of merriment, but a sincere look of contentment.

“Ah. Too well it is.”

“You knew I’d never let you go. Were you hoping I’d follow? Was this all one more desperate attempt to save your little friends?”

Suddenly she was free and he was once again at the fireplace, this time reclining against the thick stone. The look that he gave her was equal parts consideration and admiration.

“And the best part, Cordelia.” Angelus said as the admiration won out. “It was a fairly good plan. I can’t be without you, so I would have had no choice but to follow. And had you actually been able to make it off of the Hellmouth who knows how long you could have evaded me.”

“I’ve learned not to underestimate you as an opponent Cordelia. That’s why I’ve had people waiting at all of the main roads out of town for days now.”

And that was true. Angelus knew after their first date that Cordelia would try to run before too long. It wasn’t in her nature to just give up. And after their picnic the night before, he’d known that the new day would see her leaving this town with nothing but a trail of dust to show she’d been here at all.

While most people would try to hide behind the slayer, Cordelia instead chose to leave and lure him away from her friends. It was a bold and caring mood that was a clear representation of her character. And honestly, it made him hot.

Even though he knew she wouldn’t win this game that they were playing, the fact that she tried, continually, excited him no end. The stronger she was the more he longed to bend her to his will. Her constant rejections would only make her inevitable acquiescence all the sweeter.

Angelus found himself stirring in anticipation as he realized that Cordelia’s flight had officially brought the ‘dating’ period of their relationship to a close.

“You know, Cordelia” Angelus purred as he stalked toward the mesmerized beauty. “Normally I’d punish you for what you did today.”

Reaching her he traced a gentle finger down the side of her face.

“You need to understand that leaving me will never be an option, and if I have to explain that to you again, you can bet that your correction would, at the very least, leave you unable to sit for days.”

He took a moment to enjoy the look of horror that crossed her face as that precise threat sank in. Brushing his thumb across the frown forming on her dusky lips, Angelus informed her why she had escaped punishment for that day’s escapade.

“Today, however, I’m inclined to let your lapse in judgment slide. Because, honestly, I don’t know how much longer I could have gone on as we were. Wanting you so badly. Needing you with me in every way. Dreaming of sleeping with you in my arms and waking you up with hard, fervent kisses as I bury myself deep in your welcoming heat.”

“No, this definitely had to end. And Cordelia, it ends now.”


Chapter Fifty-One

“No, this definitely had to end. And Cordelia, it ends now.”

Those words ended any further hopes of conversation as Angelus swung the nonplussed girl into his arms and headed upstairs.

As they reached a heavy wooden door at the end of the second story landing, Cordelia glared at the vampire and readied herself to struggle, only to be engulfed in the shattering tenderness of his gaze.

“You’re finally home, Moonbeam.”

And with that loving declaration, he kicked open the door and entered what would now be their room.

Cordelia gasped in shock, and for the first time she was grateful for the arms that held her as she was sure she could not have stood unassisted.

A cascade of colors enveloped her senses as she took in every corner of the room, every surface, every possible inch of free space, all covered with vases upon vases of tulips. As their delicate beauty beguiled her, an arrow of sweet longing pierced through her at the tender emotions conveyed in this one gesture.

As her feet gently reached the floor, she realized that he was giving her time to take in what he had done. For her.

Turning, slowly, her eyes caressed each bloom, from virginal whites to sinful reds and every shade in between as she carved a space in her heart to remember this moment. For no matter what happened between them or how this nightmare that had become her life ended, in that one instant all she could feel was the radiant pleasure of the sweetest gift she’d ever been given.

Turning back to face Angelus, Cordelia looked up, confusion swirling in the depths of her eyes.

Bending until his forehead met hers, his husky words blew gently across her lips.

“Where else would you rather be than here, Cordelia?”

“With your family? How long will it be until they notice that whatever feeble excuse you gave them was a lie? And when they do, will they even care?”

“With your do-gooder friends? Who are willing to use you when it’s necessary, but will always expect you to play second string to the slayer?”

Cordelia knew that he was right about her parents. They wouldn’t care except for the embarrassment that having a runaway for a daughter would cause. But he was wrong about her friends. She knew he was.

“Giles cares.”

“Of course he does.” Angelus continued in the same soothing and intimate tone. “But when did he start caring, Cordelia?”

“How often were you the bait for their traps? How many nights was the slayer’s life less at risk because of the danger in which you willingly placed yourself? Was the concern evident then?”

“Or did it come after your run in with me? Did Giles worry about you before? Did he make sure that you were safe, that things were alright with you? Did he mind that your parents left you alone sometimes for weeks on end?”

“It was after you’d proved yourself, wasn’t it? It was after you convinced him how strong you could be by standing up to me, how compassionate you were by keeping him from harm. That was when he cared, wasn’t it? When you were what he wanted. Strong and longsuffering, a girl standing alone against evil.”

“Giles may care now, but he didn’t even notice you until his mind could turn you into Buffy. What about when you were just Cordelia Chase?”

“But I love you. And why? What is my ulterior motive? You’ve been my enemy, threatened all of my plans, opposed me at every turn, assaulted me, rejected my love, and attempted to desert me. Of all of the beauty that I’ve glimpsed in you, none of it has been freely given. And yet here I remain, having seen the bad yet never wavering in my devotion to you.”

“All you’ve ever wanted was love, and I’ve thrown my heart at your feet. So tell me, Cordelia, right now where would you rather be?”

Her eyelashes fluttered as her lids drifted shut and, closing the breath of distance between them, she whispered her answer against his waiting lips.

“Nowhere.”


PART 10 – HOW DO YOU HOLD A MOONBEAM IN YOUR HAND?
Chapter Fifty-Two

Awash in a sea of fragrant colors, lost in a lover’s embrace; Cordelia meant it when she’d told Angelus that there was no where that she’d rather be.

For the barest moment she wondered if her answer sprung from happiness at her current circumstances or if it was indicative of the emotional wasteland that seemed to be the rest of her life.

A wisp of thought fluttered through her beleaguered mind, questioning when her life had veered down a path that lead her to this place, where the arms of a demon was her chosen haven. But before it could take shape it was gone as a cool, gentle tongue swept into her mouth and all thinking stopped.

He couldn’t stop thinking.

Angelus finally had what he’d wanted for what seemed like an eternity, and instead of reveling in the feeling of his woman in his arms at last, he was captivated by a single thought.

She’d said, “Nowhere.”

Cordelia Chase, his unwilling obsession, his radiant moonbeam said that there was nowhere that she would rather be at that moment than with him. And though he knew that was a temporary state of mind for the rebellious girl, he couldn’t help the intense satisfaction her honest answer gave him.

He’d meant every word he’d said to her, and though he’d used them like weapons to tear her from those who would keep her from him, the most he had expected was a quiet acquiescence to the inescapable. But instead of her silent resignation, she once again surprised him with her unflinching honesty.

Angelus knew that Cordelia thought that this was about sex. But he had never lacked for partners – willing and not; this much effort would never go into mere sexual gratification. If that’s all he wanted he could’ve fucked her a thousand times over by now.

No, although their joining would be nothing less than bliss, this union far transcended the physical. This would be the completion of their bond. This night would ensconce him deep within her soul for the entirety of her life. Never again would she be Cordelia Chase, an independent entity, singular in her own existence, forging her own path through life.

From here on, no matter where she was, who she was with, or the acts in which she engaged, she would always be his Cordelia. She was the embodiment of his pleasure, and after this night in his arms she would never be able to deny that her destiny was his desire.

And more than anything that had happened that day that thought heated his still blood until he was burning with it.

She was burning up. She wasn’t sure that it should be physically possible for someone with no body temperature to create so much heat in another person. Cordelia Chase was no fool. She knew exactly what would happen here tonight; knew that it had been inevitable since she’d been pulled kicking and screaming into this place. And so she understood that her instinctive, spontaneous answer to Angelus’ queries hadn’t been the genesis for what was now taking place. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow that single, whispered word had transformed this moment, lending it an intimacy that it would otherwise have lacked; an intimacy that she wasn’t sure her soul could survive intact.

Even now her body was screaming at her in hunger and longing. The part of her that would normally beg her to resist was strangely silent as the stripping of her nerves, the loneliness of her life, and the deep stroking of the firm tongue against hers all combined to create a need more powerful than anything she’d felt up to this point. At that moment she wouldn’t have been able to say if this was solely the product of the bond or a culmination of events. In fact, the only thought she could truly hold was even now causing her heart to beat a harsh rhythm of desire inside her chest – She had to touch him.

Angelus knew he would die, again, if he didn’t touch her. He’d always felt impervious to harm; indestructible even when facing slayers and a century and a half of vampire hunters. And yet, at this moment, he knew that if he couldn’t merge his skin to hers, he would cease to exist.

While Cordelia had felt relentlessly pursued over the past weeks, she had no idea of what it had cost her soon-to-be lover to proceed at such a slow and deliberate place. Every day without her had been a lifetime of solitude and emptiness to the vampire who had immersed himself in their bond. But he had known the divine dividends of every moment spent with her would far outweigh the cost of restraint; and now it was time to begin reaping the rewards of his patience.

Placing gentle hands on her shoulders, Angelus reluctantly pulled his lips from hers, allowing Cordelia air which was much needed but apparently not wanted if it separated her from him, as witnessed by her small whimper of loss. Making the most of her moment of distraction, he gazed down into her face.

Beauty was by no means a foreign concept to the vampire, and yet this particular women’s magnificence moved him in ways he couldn’t begin to describe. It wasn’t just her outer countenance, he had decimated hundreds of beauties, but they hadn’t turned his head. No, it was something vibrant in her; spirit, courage, caring, that particulars didn’t matter, just that it lit her from the inside out, lifting her far above the realm of physical attraction and transformed her into a force of nature – A whirlwind that blew through him and left him dazed yet longing for her endlessly.

Cupping her face, his eyes narrowed into slits of sultry satisfaction as Cordelia instinctively nuzzled into his touch. With a whisper of movement his thumb slid across the warm, silk of her skin as he explored the contours of her face. Soft, sweeping movements transfixed the pair, locking them in a timeless moment of need.

Finally, unable to resist tasting what he had worship with his reverent touch he tilted Cordelia’s face towards his. Finding a matching hunger in the swirling depths of her liquid gaze, Angelus groaned deeply as his mouth slid smoothly across hers.

Although her lips parted instantly to allow greater access, the vampire abandoned the temptation if favor of recreating the path of his questing fingers. Cordelia’s skin, warmed with the glowing health of youth, and slightly damp from anticipation was a delicacy beyond imagining; more so as it was freely shared with him this night.

His tongue slipped past his lips to trace abstract swirls on her skin as it blazed a sensual trail over her jaw and down her neck. Angelus was drawn, as always, to the place of their mystical joining. As he soothed and caressed each mark left by his deadly fangs, he tasted the unique blend of both Cordelia and himself. It teased his senses with its tantalizing flavor until his head swam with need; to touch, to taste, to own.

This time the sound that spilled from his lips was a deep, resounding purr; a sound of satisfaction that only comes with the attainment of the dearest of goals. It poured from him and into her, this building sense of completion, and his body shook under the weight of his desire.

Cordelia wanted him so badly that she was actually shaking with need. That thought briefly surfaced in her mind only to be once again submerged as his blunt teeth nipped at the scars he’d left behind.

There was something about that point that seemed to recognize the vampire, that longed to draw him back into the place of their first joining. In the logical part of her mind she knew that it was folly of the life ending variety to invite a vampire’s bite; but reason had abandoned her this night and all that was left were sensations, endless vibrations of body and soul that threatened to tear her asunder, and yet, for the life of her she could not wish away.

Whatever small breathes Cordelia was able to drag in stilled in her throat as Angelus tenderly drew the marked flesh into his mouth, his gentle suckling creating identical shafts of desire to spear through them both.

Feelings, foreign and frightening in their intensity, encompassed her and she reached out to the only familiar figure left in her world, uncaring that he was the cause of the deluge crashing through her. Needing nothing but to feel him, to acknowledge the reality of something in the swirling void into which she was falling, she wrapped her arms around his hard, straining form.

Slowly, as if it were a necessity to memorize every plane and angle before her, she smoothed her hands over the taut muscles of his back. The silk of his shirt eased her travels and added erotic dimension to the caress on both sides of the material. Finally reaching flesh, she teasingly danced her fingertips over his nape to draw soothing patterns in his hair with her nails.

Whether it was her specific movements or her active participation, Cordelia didn’t know, but the rumble that shot from his body to hers alerted her to his appreciation of her actions. Desperately wanting a repeat of that sensation, her fingers clenched in his hair, stroking firmly and pulling him even tighter into her neck.

The singular rumble turned into a continuous purr as Cordelia offered up more of her throat to his pleasure. Her body trembled in time to the pulsations surrounding her and each tremor shot its way through her and settled with unerring precision between her tightly clenched thighs. A pool of liquid heat gathered there as a deep ache began crushing her in its demanding grip, robbing her of her will to be anything other than a colliding mass of random thoughts and feelings set ablaze by her overloaded senses.

Pushing forward she eliminated the small slivers of air that sought to separate them. Her legs weakened as her breasts connected with the sculpted planes of Angelus’ chest. Everywhere his body touched hers was like a cool, soothing balm to the fire consuming her, and at this moment she wanted nothing more than to drown in the ravenous hunger beating through her.

Angelus was starving for her and he knew that no matter what the heights of pleasure this night yielded, it would never be enough.

Feeling her touch him, her hands molding themselves to his flesh, stroking through his hair aroused a fierce affection in him as she pleased him of her own accord. But tender feelings were soon converted to raging desire as she pulled him securely to her neck. Her acceptance was appealing, her willing participation was enthralling, but her submission, it was beyond exhilarating.

Needing to see more of her, to touch more of her, Angelus slid his arms around her waist. Skimming his hands under them hem of her shirt, her reveled in the velvety warmth of the large expanse of skin beneath his palms. In strong, broad sweeps they moved upwards, dragging the worn cotton with them until, with one movement, he’d separated their bodies and whisked off her thin shirt, leaving it to fall softly to the ground.

The delicate rose lace of her bra did little to cover the sun kissed curves of her breast. Already Angelus found himself straining against the restricting material of his pants and he paused for a fraction of a second to wonder how his control would survive further revelations of her beauty.

The view that was even now pushing the bounds of his control was suddenly obscured as Cordelia’s arms came up to cover herself in a move inherent to her untried state. Growling at the loss, Angelus grasped her hands in his, stretching them out to the sides and back, thrusting her breasts out towards him. Feeling her fight his tightening grip, he captured her gaze so that she could not doubt the sincerity of his words.

“You will never hide yourself from me again, Cordelia.”

He felt the hesitation in her defiance and his lips curved into a cruel smirk as he prepared to crumble her thoughts of disobedience.

“I could always keep you naked to break you of this false modesty.”

He couldn’t restrain the chuckle at the utter dismay that shot across her face as she realized that not only was he serious, but that he would be more than happy to carry out such a threat. In fact, Angelus almost wished for her noncompliance in this matter. Not that he needed the excuse. She was his and if it suited him to have her unclothed for the rest of her life then she would remain so and what’s more she would eventually come to love it.

He could feel the moment she accepted his will in this matter, and as he release her arms they fell limply to her sides. But, being Cordelia, he knew that her compliance would not be complete anytime in the near future, and her next words proved him right.

“It’s not false modesty.”

Angelus smiled at her words, her first and last defense. He didn’t want to steal all of her spirit, but he couldn’t allow her misconception to go unchallenged.

“Modesty is about hiding away something of yours that you want kept private from prying eyes. But nothing about you is yours anymore; your thoughts, your feelings, your body. Your control of any of them begins and ends at my discretion. Never forget that, Cordelia.”

Before she could begin to argue with his comments, Angelus pulled her back into his arms, taking her lips with a ravishing intensity that bewildered her senses even as it robbed her of her breath. Taking advantage of the momentary weakness that was causing her to sway slightly, his fingers deftly manipulated the clasp on her bra leaving it vulnerable to his slight tug which sent the filmy material to land gracefully on her discarded shirt.

Moving his knowing hands to the band of her jeans he broke their dizzying contact long enough to growl his intentions to the bemused young woman.

“These. Off – now.”

And as he began to dispose of the last major obstacle, moving ever further to his ultimate goal his mind whirled as his relentless desires sent him soaring on a current of expectation.

She was flying.

At first Cordelia thought that it was the lack of oxygen or the fire streaking through her veins that was causing the sensation of flight. But as she collided with the large, soft mattress of Angelus’ bed, she realized that she’d actually been airborne.

Feeling the cool rush of air prickle her skin she looked down to find both her jeans and shoes gone. Questioning how that had all occurred so quickly was but a momentary pause as embarrassment flooded her mind. A becoming shade of pink moved swiftly from her cheeks downwards until it had swept the entirety of her body.

Lying before Angelus, clad only is the wisp of satin that comprised her panties, Cordelia’s first instinct was to cover herself. But the weeks spent with Angelus had taught her to give heed to his threats, and his last had been disturbing on dual levels. On the one hand it offended every sense of decency and modesty she had, but on another, far more elemental level she had to admit that it appealed to some part of her; the thought of always being ready, always dangling on the cusp of this. It was the second thought that disturbed her most and kept her hands pinned to the bed beside her as the vampire looked his fill.

A movement from the end of the bed refocused her eyes and caused all thoughts of mortification to flee as she watched his long, skillful fingers begin the task of unbuttoning his crimson shirt. The heat of embarrassment quickly changed to arousal as Angelus casually shrugged off his shirt exposing smooth, pale flesh stretched taut over hard muscles that spoke to the power this body housed.

As the silk fell away, his hands returned to their work and began opening the buckle of his belt. Cordelia’s breath hitched at the sight, knowing that this final act would take her to a place she’d never been with anyone. Not even she and Xander had gone this far. Actually, Xander had always seemed so amazed to simply be dating her that he had never pushed for anything beyond their heated make out sessions.

A shaft of sadness pierced her heart at the thought of Xander Harris. A mere month ago she’d been considering doing this with him someday. Now she knew that would never even be an option. No one would. She’d never date, never have a wild college fling, never marry. This would be her life; this home, this bed, this demon. And as much as that made her hurt on one level, a part of her was so overwhelmed by the feeling of simply being this near Angelus, so bombarded with the waves of his desire that nothing else mattered. She knew that tomorrow she’d once again be preoccupied with what her heart had lost, but tonight she was so inundated with what her body had gained that lucid thoughts were few and far between.

And that particular lucid thought ended abruptly as Angelus’ black silk boxers skimmed over powerful thighs to land in a pool at his feet, along with his leather pants. If breathing had been a difficult task before, it was nothing compared to the near complete shut down of her lungs as shock held her paralyzed in its grip.

Cordelia had never considered herself naive. She’d taken sex-ed; she’d seen pictures. But either her health teacher had been woefully uniformed, or this wasn’t normal. I couldn’t be normal, could it? ‘Cause they should really warn women about something like this, Cordelia thought in near hysteria. Of course, she continued to reason, maybe they’re all like this and they don’t tell women until it’s too late because they’d all switch teams.

Having recently discussed the theory in science that, given multiple explanations the simplest is preferred, Cordelia decided to leave the conspiracies behind and attribute the discrepancy in size expectation and reality as a vampire thing. Maybe then her lungs would start to work again. Although, considering the view, she wasn’t sure that it was lack of air that was making her dizzy.

Angelus was fast becoming lightheaded as he pulled in a deep breath drenched with equal parts arousal and fear. Both scents further hardened his shaft, and the increase in Cordelia’s heartbeat gave him a burst of unadulterated masculine pride.

But even more satisfying than her anticipation and alarm was her body’s continual proof of her innocence. Every reaction she gave spoke of her lack of practical experience, from the faintly stunned O curving her full lips to the slight crossing of her legs that she must somehow imagine would keep him at bay. Planning to divest her of that foolish notion, Angelus climbed onto the bed.

Knees on either side of hers, Angelus sat back, resting his weight equally on her legs and his. His hard rod burned where it touched the satin skin of her thigh. Pausing a moment he simply looked at her; this beautiful woman, his beautiful woman.

Her long, lustrous hair spilled across the pillows, framing her face in luminous chestnut waves. The swirling hazel depths of her eyes were feverishly bright as she swung rapidly from hunger to fear and back again. Slightly parted lips were stained a deep cherry tint and hinted at the sweetness they guarded.

As his gaze became more heated Angelus noticed that it drew an equal measure of shyness from Cordelia’s. Her limit being reached far earlier than his own, she averted her eyes; turning her head and pinning her sightless stare to some point on the wall beyond.

His lips tilted in amusement as the long, golden column of Cordelia’s neck was exposed. At some point in their future Angelus thought that he might explain to her that showing a vampire one’s neck, especially one’s marked neck was never an effective method of escaping attention.

As he stared at the twin scars adorning her smooth skin, he wondered at the vagaries of fate. Generally, Angelus preferred to think of himself as the author of his own destination. And yet, had this choice been left in his hands he never would have claimed the bewitching creature spread out before him. No, Cordelia was his not merely by his will, not simply by his claim, but by the demands of destiny; and before long her was damned determined that she not only admit, but embrace that fact.

Bending down he came once more to his “deed” to Cordelia Chase. His cool, supple lips pressed against her heated flesh and he paid his passing respects as he continued his erotic exploration in a descending path of moist, whisper-soft kisses.

Running his hands up the firm lines of her body, they found the lush curves of her breasts in time with his watering mouth. Charting this new territory by taste and touch he allowed one hand to encircle her right breast while his lips caressed a dewy trail over the left. He felt the vibration of Cordelia’s moan of approval as his fingers mirrored the movements of his tongue which was swirling delicate circles around her dusky rose colored nipple.

Drawing the straining peak in he created a gentle tug that had her arching into his knowing mouth. Rolling the other lightly between teasing fingers he heard her whimper her need for greater stimulation. Not wanting to free her, even momentarily, from the sensual spell that enveloped her, he slid his hand in to replace his suckling mouth as he kissed his way across the valley of her breasts and up to feast on the puckering coral tip.

Abandoning his tender ministrations he began to pull voraciously, filling his mouth with the taste and feel of her. Her cries of passion fashioned a seductive rhythm and he could not help but be swayed by its sensual pulse. Torn between remaining in the paradise he had discovered or venturing further to what were sure to be even greater delights, Angelus was decided by both Cordelia’s pleading whimpers and his throbbing dick which was driving him onwards in a demand for completion.

Feeling the fine tremors skim the supple, golden flesh, Angelus couldn’t help but pause to create full fledged shudders as his tongue swirled over Cordelia’s belly button, tracing the indentation, dipping in and spinning out as he savored the tang that anticipation was lending to the flavor of her skin.

Finally his lustful wanderings brought him to the edge of a fragile looking pair of pale, pink panties. Tracing the boundary of satin and skin with small, amorous bites, he skated one hand down and, with a single tug, removed the last barrier between them.

Angelus heard Cordelia’s sharp intake of breath and felt the tightening of her crossed legs as she surfaced from the sensual haze in which she was floating to register the very real threat to her innocence. Smile hidden in her downy soft hair, Angelus’ hands moved to encircle her thighs and began to firmly pull them apart, placing his own legs between hers, forcing her to remain open to his attentions.

He felt a sharp tug on his hair as Cordelia made a futile to avoid the inevitable. As the pain on his scalp increased he groaned against her. He wondered if she understood that the small spikes of pain she was sending through him were only increasing his ardor, not dampening it. And then all thought was useless as the air was filled with the succulent perfume of Cordelia’s arousal. Knowing that his rumblings against so sensitive a place had reignited the spark of desire in her, Angelus pressed closer and gave his pleasure voice in an extended purr that had the writhing brunette tightening her hold in an effort to pull him nearer now as opposed to pushing him further away.

Although he had tasted her before, Angelus shivered at the though of finally being able to drink from the well of Cordelia’s passion. Sliding down, his tongue swept out to take possession of the beckoning heat before him. Her fire throbbing against his perpetual chill was apparently as shocking a sensation to her as it was to him as her hips flew from their place on the bed to encourage a greater blending of the two.

Although pleased with her eagerness, he needed her to understand that her pleasure was his to give and would come to her, but not at the expense of his gratification. And nothing at this moment could gratify him more than to delve into this spring of arousal and not cease until he had imbibed his fill. To that end he tightened the hands restraining her thighs and forced her hips back onto the bed, leaving her once again at his mercy.

With one firm push, Angelus drove past the dewy petals that guarded her innocence and into her clenching center. The slightly spiced flavors of her creamy arousal filled his mouth and, drunk on her essence, he began to thrust feverishly into her grasping core, driving both her and himself beyond reason.

Ignoring Cordelia’s wail of distress, Angelus pulled temporarily away to hone in on the hidden bud straining now for his attention. Lowering his head he gently circled the nub, teasing, but not touching the throbbing bundle of nerves.

Cordelia’s head thrashed on the pillow as she begged incoherently for completion, and her frustrated sobs heightened their tension as he acquiesced to her incoherent begging, drawing her clitoris into his mouth.

This time his hands gave her free reign to buck and thrash as his tongue rasped over her swollen flesh and his teeth gave tiny, electrifying nibbles. They’d both lingered on the edge of oblivion for to long now and hearing her scream as sensations, one after another crashed into her, Angelus knew that Cordelia was falling deep into the abyss.

Before her shudders could lessen, Angelus moved quickly up her body, and with one fierce thrust, plunged into her, obliterating the barrier of her innocence as he drove deep to touch her womb.

As her cries of ecstasy transformed into shrieks of anguish Angelus gazed down at they beauty beneath him. Although her pleasure was a wonder to behold, her pain, this pain was exquisite and he delighted in every facet. Knowing that these moments of agony were his gift to her, that no other man would ever be able to recreate this enchanting suffering, he reveled in the tears streaming down her face.

Pushing slightly deeper before her body could adjust, he tore another cry from her; a verbal testament to the same agony twisting her face, engraving this moment, his moment of absolute possession forever into her soul.

But he didn’t intend the pain to last for long. Tonight, Cordelia with her single word had given herself to him, and for that he would reward her with unimaginable bliss. And for the purpose of allowing Cordelia’s body time to adjust, to begin converting pain into pleasure, he finally stilled.

Cordelia had never known how much effort it took to remain perfectly still. But anything was worth it if it could ease the searing pain streaking through her. Nothing, not sex-ed, not gossip with the girls, not the practically non-existent mother-daughter talk she’d received which basically boiled down to “don’t give it away”, had prepared her for this. And to compound the trauma was the instantaneous passage of pleasure to pain.

So wrapped up was Cordelia in these thoughts that she didn’t realize that the very pain she feared was beginning to fade as her young, athletic body stretched as nature intended it should, and made room for the intruder lodged within her, and in it’s place was a burgeoning sense of fullness that was in no way unpleasant.

Feeling a familiar coolness at her breast, whatever small part of her brain was still functioning at that point, ceased as she once again began the upwards journey to ecstasy. Her trip that was greatly hastened as thick fingers moved between them; deft digits stroking her pulsing clit pausing occasionally to tug gently on the aching button. Muscles she hadn’t even guessed were hiding in her body clenched at the nearly unbearable stimulation, and this time it was Angelus who cried out at the motion.

Caught up in a blinding sense of need, Cordelia was desperate to recreate that sensation and hurled her hips upwards against his hand, forcing his fingers back into contact with her. The resulting spasm from the intimate pressure caused them both to groan this time as Angelus took back control, repeating the motion over and over.

Distracted, momentarily, as his lips captured her for a deep, drugging kiss, she was caught off guard by the sudden feeling of emptiness as Angelus slowly pulled away from her. Operating on instinct alone, Cordelia threw her legs around his back to halt his retreat.

Not quite able to intellectually grasp the change, but aware on a purely physical level that pain had given way to glorious pleasure, her breathy whimpers encouraged the vampire as he slid his free hand under her ass, pulling her up to meet him as he plunged back into her, setting a pace that pushed them both to the brink.

Her body having been expertly angled so that every thrust nudged a secret place of pleasure deep within her, Cordelia willingly gave herself to the forces building in her, threatening to tear her apart on a molecular level. Spinning further and further away from reality she was dazzled as brilliant lights burst behind tightly clenched lids and she came utterly undone.

Even as she was sure that the waves buffeting her body would have to recede, she felt them instead intensify as Angelus’ fingers maintained their steady dance on her hypersensitive core. Bringing them full circle, Cordelia felt her head nudged to the side as the vampire returned to his natural place at her throat. In no shape to generate even a flicker of concern, all she could do was curl her hands more tightly into his shoulders as small mewls of pleasure spilled from her lips.

She had felt Angelus’ bite on more than one occasion, but never was it like this. The slide of his fangs was an echo of his continuing penetration that sent her spiraling once more away from any sense of certainty. Her body began to shudder convulsively as the feverish heat of their love making gave way to the cooling sensations of his seed spilling into her as the blood was voraciously pulled from her. And in that final cresting moment her lover’s name flew from her lips.

“Angelus!”


Chapter Fifty-Three

Harsh breaths echoing in his ears brought Angelus back to the awareness that his lover needed oxygen. Rolling over to avoid crushing her still trembling body, he pulled her exhausted form into his arms.

He’d told Spike she was magnificent. He hadn’t even known the meaning of the word. Not until now. Not until he’d tasted her; all of her. Not until he’d buried his seed deep within her. Not until he’d heard his name, clinging to her kiss swollen mouth. Everything he’d thought he known ‘til then was but a pale shadow of the girl curled against him.

His hand entwined in the long strands of her hair, he tilted her head back until their eyes met and locked.

“I love you.”

Awareness crept slowly across her hazel gaze and he could see her struggling to make sense of what he’d said, of his obvious expectation. Taking pity on the beleaguered girl, he clarified.

“I love you, Cordelia. When I tell you that, that’s your cue to return the sentiment.”

Cordelia could only gape at the genuine sincerity in both statements. No matter how she felt, and at that exact moment she wouldn’t have been able to offer a description for the life of her, she could see that he really did love her. In whatever perverse sort of way vampires could love she apparently inspired that feeling in the vampire before her. Seeing the warmth melting his chocolate gaze, she could no longer deny that. But that he thought that she would return those feelings, that she would make some kind of declaration of undying love?

“You’re crazy.”

Although she meant that with as much as she’d meant her reckless “nowhere”, she was equally unsure of the wisdom of voicing it as his disconcerting stare continued to hold her captive. She was even more wary as the intense expression melted into a heartfelt smile.

She felt his hands slide down her back, pulling her tight against him, brining his rapidly hardening shaft into intimate contact with her once again. Even as she began to moisten with a new sense of awareness her overtaxed muscles protested even the thought of any prolonged effort on their part.

Feeling his tongue stroking languorously over the newly reopened punctures she pushed unproductively at his shoulders.

“We can’t.”

Raising his head, Angelus cast her a deceptively innocent look from beneath his lashes.

“Shhhh…I’m convincing you that you love me. Don’t interrupt…Well, except to let me know when you’re convinced.”

It was funny to Cordelia, although not in a very amusing way, how Angelus could make his threats sound so mundane. She could never tell if he did it to make them more startling by the contrast or if threats were just such a large part of his life that they really were of the ordinary. Either way it didn’t matter as they were always crystal clear and this one was no exception. He was planning to pick up right where they’d left off, and he wouldn’t stop until she proclaimed her love for him, even though they both knew that it would be a lie.

Well she wouldn’t do it. She’d given up enough; she wouldn’t have this taken from her, too. It didn’t matter how much she hurt or how good he could make that hurt feel; this was where she was drawing the line. And, convincing herself that her resolve just might be sufficient this time she allowed herself to go limp in his arms.


Chapter Fifty-Four

Three times he’d started at that particular spot on her neck. Three times that had ended in storms of ecstasy that had tightened every fiber of her being to the breaking point. And now he was back again, lending credence to everything she’d ever heard about vampires and their amazing ability to recuperate. Two hard truths burned themselves into Cordelia’s brain – Angelus would never stop this until he’d gotten what he wanted, and she could withstand no more.

In a voice hoarse from the cries of an endless night of pleasure, she managed to whisper, “Love you.”

Angelus stilled the nuzzling of Cordelia’s throat. Smiling into the well loved flesh he pushed her, willing to accept nothing but complete surrender in this matter.

“What was that?”

When no further answer was forthcoming, Angelus simply resumed his ministrations. A splash of moisture hit his face and he knew those tears were the silent signs of Cordelia’s defeat.

“I…love you.”

Her husky admission was a glorious sound to the vampire’s ears, and stretching out to his full length he pulled the exhausted girl into his arms, cuddling her close against his chest.

“I know you do, moonbeam.”

His words were wasted on the fatigued brunette in his embrace, but that in no way hindered his delight at her declaration. Oh, he knew that she didn’t love him. None of this had been remotely about her current feelings. Angelus knew better than anyone that Cordelia loathed him at worst, desired him at best, and dwelled in a land of ambiguity the rest of the time. He had no delusions as to that reality.

No, this had been about Cordelia’s future feelings. She could love him. Angelus knew it. He’d seen moments where she’d forgotten the circumstances of their relationship and just allowed herself to enjoy being with him. But her strength of will was beyond all of his previous experience and she believed that she had to keep fighting. Of course even that determination wouldn’t prevent her from loving him. The bond and his concerted efforts would make that change in her emotions inevitable.

But even when she loved him, even when he consumed every though, asleep and awake, even when she was sure that she needed his presence more than air, the greatest obstacle would still lie before them – her pride. Cordelia Chase was a fiercely proud woman. It was one of the most alluring things about her, and Angelus is no way wanted to damage that any more than was necessary. For Cordelia, the problem would not be in her ability to love him, but in her ability to admit it. Forcing her to do so now and to keep doing so when she could console herself that they both knew that the words were false was the smoothest path to overcoming that impediment to their happiness. By stripping her of her instinctual need to never give him that satisfaction, he was freeing her from the restrictions of her pride and allowing her a future full of pleasures and delights that she’d deny herself given the chance.

And while Cordelia would no doubt believe that this had been yet another manifestation of his evil makeup, she was human, and therefore would not understand that she was his, and as his, he would care for her whether she wanted him to or not. Her happiness was one of his highest concerns. And while it was not within his nature to place it above his own, he would nevertheless define his goals and then always attempt to find a place for her within those that would bring her joy or, at least, the minimal amount of pain.

Right now his objective was Cordelia; her loyalty, her devotion, her love. And that would require actions that might, in the present, bring her anguish. However, in the long term these measures would bring her a satisfaction that, right now, she would be unable to credit. And, in the absence of her trust, he would have to use coercion, knowing that, ultimately, all of this was for her benefit.


PART 11 – GARDEN PARTY
Chapter Fifty-Five

Its funny how so many awful things in life come in such appealing packages, Cordelia mused as she leaned back into the soothing shade of a large Elm tree. Angelus was certainly a prime example of that. Hottie outside, ice cold bastard inside.

And so it was with the soft tinkling sound floating on the breeze. It sounded bright and cheerful, like wind chimes in a gentle draft, and she would have enjoyed it had it not been caused by the chain attached to her left ankle.

This wasn’t quite how she’d imagined the morning after would go. Well, not that this was exactly the morning after. In fact, Cordelia had no idea what day it was at all.

She had known things about vampires for a while – what they ate, where they hung out, how to kill them; but now she was learning about the practical side of vampiric life. For instance, vampires tended to not like large, light giving windows in their homes. Because of that it had been impossible for her to keep track of time as Angelus let her grab brief smatters of sleep before rousing her again and again for hours of passion. Eventually the waking moments blurred together and time seemed to lose meaning as he satisfied weeks of frustration and self-denial. In the end, all that had truly marked the passage of time was the somewhat wilted tulips she noticed this morning as Angelus herded her down the stairs and out into the daylight…

Daylight. She hadn’t really spent a great deal of time contemplating life with Angelus; hadn’t really believed that it would come to this. But in the abstract sunshine certainly hadn’t figured into the picture. And yet not only was she now sitting in a bright, sunlit garden, but, ironically, it had been the vampire who had forced her there.

When she’d awakened that morning, everything had been black. Not the shadowy darkness of night with its vague shapes and muted colors; no, this was an absolute absence of light, a truly enveloping darkness, and given her current captivity it pulled Cordelia immediately from her sleep.

As wakefulness swept through her she realized that the lack of illumination wasn’t a natural phenomenon, but rather the result of a blindfold covering her eyes. Smooth and silky, it seemed to cover her face from just above her eyebrows to slightly below her eyes, its stretchy material clinging closely and screening out all light. Instinctively her hands moved to restore her sight, but halfway there they were caught in a pair much larger than her own.

From the shiver that licked over her nerves at even that small contact she knew exactly who was grasping her hands as they were pulled up to touch the iron rungs of the headboard. Her fingers, which had clenched instinctively in a protective manner at the unexpected touch, were gently uncurled and wrapped around the cold metal. Cool air blew across her ear as a low command was whispered.

“Every time you remove your hands there’ll be a penalty.”

The sinister words frightened her with visions of unknown punishments while at the same time the sensual promise which laced his tone made her shiver in unwanted anticipation. Unable to see, fright won out and her hands stayed where they’d been placed as she strained to determine some clue as to what was coming next.

She wasn’t to linger long in a state of ignorance as she felt gentle fingers brush the mark on her neck, circling the still raw puncture marks before skimming lightly over satiny skin to trail across her collar bone.

Angelus smiled as a tremor shook her body. All of their couplings so far had a nearly frantic edge to them as he worked out the almost physical pain of weeks spent with Cordelia without actually being with Cordelia. But now that she was here, now that she was unquestionably his, he felt playful; wanting to explore her lush body, to know the feel of every inch of her.

Gliding his hands down the slope of her chest, he grazed the curve of her breast slowing to circle her straining nipple with his whisper soft touch. Thumb lightly brushing the tip, he smiled in satisfaction as her back arched in a silent plea for further contact.

“You like that, sweetheart?” Angelus questioned as his fingers began a gentle tugging motion. “Don’t worry, today will be full of all kinds of pleasures, but you have to let me have my fun.”

Cordelia gasped as cool lips surrounded her overly sensitized nipple and without conscious thought her hands flew from their position above her head to twine in Angelus’ hair, drawing him tighter to her breast.

A cry was torn from her throat, an inarticulate sound of denial, as the drawing mouth was suddenly removed and her clutching hands were firmly grasped, untangled from his hair, and returned to their previous position.

Fear flooded through Cordelia as she realized what she’d done in response to such overwhelming stimulation. Cringing behind her blindfold she waited for the punishment Angelus had earlier promised. She didn’t wait long, as shock pulled the breath from her lungs and a sharp pain stab her where moments before had been such delicious pleasure.

She twisted her body to escape the piercing sensation, but a strong hand pressed her flat into the bed once more. As a small drop of water ran down the underside of her breast to rest on her taut stomach, she suddenly recognized what fright and visual deprivation had convinced her was cutting pain, as instead, the feeling of ice pressed against her skin.

Although still intense, she breathed a sigh of colossal relief that her punishment was meant to alarm and distress her, but not to cause her any real harm. But all thoughts of punishments fled as the ice was abruptly lifted and once again his lips touched her throbbing flesh.

Cordelia choked on a moan of unbelievable pleasure as she experienced something that she had never felt at the vampire’s hands – warmth. The ice that had rapidly lowered the temperature of her skin was now providing an illusion of heat in the Angelus’ mouth.

Raising his head from her breast he let his eyes roam over his beautiful pet from the clasp of fingers to the tips of her toes as a burning sense of possession rushed through him. He couldn’t keep the smile from curving his lips as his fingers skipped down the ladder of her ribs to roam across the velvety softness of her firm stomach.

“I love this golden skin; so honeyed and warm.”

Her sudden shout of laughter caught his attention and her head lifted from the pillow as if she could actually see him from behind the dark fabric covering her eyes.

“Well enjoy it while you can, buddy; ‘cause I’m hardly gonna be a poster girl for Coppertone living in this windowless mausoleum.”

Angelus swirled his tongue in the dip of her bellybutton as his hands slid through the silky hair at the juncture of her thighs. He could see that their little interlude with the ice had the intended effect as her hips lurched off the mattress but her hands stayed resolutely in place.

Running his questing fingers gently around the swollen nub of pleasure, he forced erotic mewls of gratification from her lips, one after another as her hips thrust forward to force an end to his sensual torture.

Gathering some of her increasing moisture with his fingertips he went back to tormenting her with his teasing touches. Raising his head to survey her taut form he responded to her taunt.

“Haven’t you learned by now that I’ll take care of you?”

Cordelia didn’t know if he was referring to her tan or the burning need stripping her nerves, and frankly she didn’t care as a long, thick finger speared into her liquid heat and his thumb blessedly pressed into her clit.

She held onto the curving bars beneath her hands for dear life, knowing she couldn’t withstand the removal of his pleasuring hand as he taught her another “lesson”.

As a second finger slid smoothly into the depths of her fluttering core she began to break apart, only barely managing to catch Angelus’ self-satisfied exclamation.

“I’ll always take care of you, Cordelia.”

Cordelia kicked her foot out, clanking the chain again. Some way to be taken care of, she thought bitterly.

“Bastard!”


Chapter Fifty-Six

Angelus laughed quietly in the darkness of the living room. Seated in a large leather chair at the far end of the room, away from the burning rays of the afternoon sun, he could still make out Cordelia’s insult as it wafted through the open French doors which afforded him a clear view of the mumbling brunette.

After bringing her downstairs he’d left her in the care of one of his human servants, not wanting her to know that he’d be watching her, desiring to observe her unguarded reaction to the new facet of what he knew she thought of as her imprisonment as opposed to her new life.

Not that he needed a reason to watch her other than the fact that it was mesmerizing. And the spell binding effect that was Cordelia carried naturally was only enhanced by the streaming sunlight kissing her skin.

Angelus recalled telling Cordelia that he didn’t miss the sun, and that was true. He preferred the night; stalking his prey; the darkness inspiring an innate fear in man that the sunlight seemed to vanquish as if his potential victims knew on some basic yet unacknowledged level what awaited them in the inky void.

So while, he had no regrets for what he’d become in that alley centuries before, right then he wanted nothing more then to storm out into the garden and take Cordelia over and over as her warm skin glowed in the bright, deadly light, shattering her last illusions of safety.

He had to admit that it had been hard to let her out into the afternoon sun; out of his reach. But he’d known that she’d need the sun at times. Not a problem with a normal human pet as they were so dependant on their bond mate that they’d never dream of leaving. But Cordelia was anything but normal, and until their bond had completely swamped her independent spirit devoting her solely to his pleasure, precautions would have to be taken when seeing to her mortal needs.

And he’d been very precise in the devising of those safeguards. He’d placed servants outside the walls of the garden, and the chain, although deceptively light was quite strong; even he’d had to exert himself to snap a length of it. And, satisfied with its strength, he’d had it bolted to the enormous stone fireplace, well out of reach of the sunlight so that Cordelia could be compelled to return to the shadows of the mansion.

But even as good as he knew his safety measures to be he watched carefully as she tested them. He knew from experience how clever she was and that only a fool would underestimate her.

And he had to admit that he was proud of his girl and her thoroughness in checking for any weakness in his plans. Her intelligence, cunning, and ability to function in situations that would make most people crumble reminded him over and over why she was such a worthy match for him.

After all, with all the time they’d spent together over the last few days making love he knew that, physically at least, the bond must be overwhelming for Cordelia and just the thought of being separated from him would bring her discomfort if not outright pain. The fact that she could push that aside and focus on escape made her even more prized in his eyes.

Somehow Cordelia never failed to surprise him, bringing delight to what was all too often a monotonous existence. The fact that she was here, in his stronghold, surrounded by his minions, chained in his garden, and still thought to defy him was challenging and provocative on a level he couldn’t remember experiencing before. Never had anyone fought him this hard, especially with the deck so stacked against them. And far from being angered by her continuing defiance, he reveled in the wondrous anticipation of what she would try next.

And she would try something. Her very being demanded she not be conquered almost as much as his being demanded he be the conqueror. Almost.

Of course one didn’t have to have an intimate knowledge of Cordelia’s psyche to see that plans were even now forming in her fertile imagination. Subtlety had never been that girl’s forte, and her actions were clearly revealing the directions of her thoughts.

When she’d been left alone in the garden the first thing she did was check the strength of the chain. She pulled on the length, she tugged on the shackle, she tried to break both the band and the links with a heavy rock she’d found in one of the overgrown flowerbeds.

At one point one of Angelus’ servants moved towards the door intent on stopping the young woman’s attempts to escape but was halted in his tracks by the menacing growl coming from his vampire master.

“Leave her. It’s not your job to interfere with her except in the specific instances as you’ve been instructed. Believe me,” Angelus’ voice crawled along the man’s spine, paralyzing him in an icy grip of terror “you don’t want to come between me and my little pet. We never did find all the pieces of the last person who tried.”

As the frightened servant scurried out of the room and away from the vampire’s wrath, Angelus once again turned his attentions to Cordelia’s entertaining antics.

Apparently deciding the chain wouldn’t break she moved to assessing her surroundings. Determined to learn the limit of her movements Cordelia walked as far as she could in each direction, stopping to see what was within her reach. When she’d checked every inch of the garden available to her she moved on to the walls. Although they were just beyond the bounds of the chain, she examined them as carefully as she could looking for holes, flaws, ways to climb over.

Under his watchful yet unseen eyes she explored every possible avenue that might lead to escape and, finding them all unsatisfactory, as he knew she would, she finally settled in her current position, no doubt trying to come to grips with the enormity of the new life she was now facing.

Although he wanted nothing more that to seize the chain binding her, drawing her back to the darkness, back to him to christen every area of this room as they had the various surfaces of their bedroom suite, he knew that her time alone would only further his purpose. Being away from him would merely serve to heighten the ever growing need Cordelia felt for him; a need so keenly felt that eventually she would be forced to acknowledge its existence.

Besides, as much as Angelus wanted nothing more than to spend his endless days and nights buried deep inside Cordelia, allowing small moments for wanton violence and feeding, he knew that there were other matters that needed his attention. Overseeing the activities on a mystical convergence was not a job to be taken lightly and those duties could not be left indefinitely. Angelus was also very cognizant of the fact that he had literally stolen one of the good guys right from under the slayer’s nose; and as confident as he was of his ability to break Buffy, keeping Cordelia was a priority; one that would be much easier accomplished with the resources of the Hellmouth at his disposal.

So, grudgingly, the vampire pulled his gaze from the glorious, sun drenched vision before him, and reluctantly left to take care of the business that helped make that particular view possible.


Chapter Fifty-Seven
Cordelia was amazingly bored as she watched the sun begin to set. She’d done just about all the investigating she could of both the small garden and the bonds keeping her there. In the end she’d discovered very little.

The manacle around her ankle was thin and yet apparently unbreakable given her limited strength. It seemed to lock in much the same way as handcuffs did, with a smaller end fitting into its larger counterpart, metal teeth prohibiting backward movement, allowing for an adjustable fit and a secure lock. The chain was also beyond her ability to damage, even with the large rock she’d found.

And if she could remove the manacle or break the chain, Cordelia knew the next problem would be getting out of the garden. Through the house was definitely not an option, and although there was a gate to the outside, careful listening on her part had proven to her satisfaction that Angelus had people placed along the outside of the garden walls.

None of those precautions on Angelus’ part had surprised her. What had caught her off guard was the fact that she had been allowed to spend the afternoon searching for avenues of escape. She had expected, at every new attempt that one of the vampire’s obsequious servants would rush out to halt her activities. Yet no one had. Which told her that either Angelus was so secure in the measures he had taken to keep her here that he felt confident in leaving her to her own devices, or those watching her were given strict orders not to interfere. Staring into the darkness of the house, Cordelia tried to discern which it was.

A noise at the doorway was the first indication she’d gotten that she wasn’t alone and hoping to glean some further information, she rose to her feet, determined to confront the mysterious presence.

“Look, I don’t know which repulsive toady you are and frankly I don’t care. If it’s time to come in just say so, don’t skulk around like some pervy voyeur and don’t you dare come out here and give me another talk about how lucky I am and how great your beloved master is.”

Unexpectedly it was a deep, accented voice that floated back to her, answering her demands.

“Well, luv, I’m the last one to be singing the praises the bloody wanker that owns you, but I gotta say that I wouldn’t mind a little bit of the pervy watching. Are you planning on doing something to make it worth my while?”

Cordelia rolled her eyes not in the least afraid of the vampire before her. It wasn’t just the sunlight which, although lessening was still enough to restrict Spike to the shaded doorway, nor was it the wheelchair to which he was confined; no, her safety came from a most unlikely source considering her current predicament – Angelus.

Before he’d settled his obsession solely on her shoulders, Cordelia had to worry about the countless dangers inherent to life on a Hellmouth, despite knowing the slayer. But now she was free of many of those concerns, bearing both the mark and the indelible scent of its most ruthless occupant. It was ironic that the danger of Angelus saved her from the threat of other demons. It was like not being ripped apart by hyenas because the lions were devouring your carcass – either way you lost. That was the story of much of her life lately.

So not only did she feel little fear for the blonde vampire leering charmingly at her, but since he seemed to be the only one around at the moment he became the focus of her frustration and helplessness.

“Great, the head honcho can’t be bothered to irritate me today so they’ve called in the second string?”

The leer was gone, replaced instantly with a look of extreme indignation at the implication that he was some kind of second rate vampire.

“Hey! Now I understand that spending so much time with Angelus is bound to make anyone a little cranky, but there’s no need to take out your frustrations on good ol’ Spike. After all, I’m not the one who shagged you for days and then chained you in the yard like a dog.”

Cordelia’s eyes blazed and her mouth opened to deliver a cutting set down worthy of the queen of Sunnydale High, when suddenly she snapped it shut and sat back down with a resigned sigh.

“Look Spike, I have enough trouble with the vampire I can’t avoid. I really don’t need to deal with one I can.”

Spike had found Angelus’ non stop waxing poetic about the girl obnoxious in the extreme, but it had peaked his curiosity about her. So, as soon as he’d sensed the older vampire’s departure he made his way down to satisfy his inquisitiveness.

He wasn’t disappointed. It was rare that a human showed no fear of him. Even trapped in that fucking chair Spike knew that a vibration of violence flowed from him that resonated deep within all who crossed his path. But this girl was different. Although he understood that a large part of her sense of security came from the fact that no one, not even him, would dare to damage Angelus’ property, especially property so cherished; he suspected that even without that formidable protection she would stand up to him, spewing her acerbic comments with lethal precision. After all, hadn’t she done that and more to Angelus? And she had absolutely no defense against him.

“Don’t worry, cheerleader; I’m just here to talk. Unlike some demons I can keep my teeth to myself.”

Cordelia’s laughter echoed off the garden walls. Genuine amusements were few and far between lately and she decided to enjoy this one.

“Are you actually implying that you’re doing me a favor by not biting me instead of acknowledging that the only reason you haven’t dragged me in there and sucked me dry is because Angelus would give you a never ending holy water enema? Besides, didn’t you get the memo; I’m not a cheerleader anymore.”

Spike’s grimace at the graphic imagery Cordelia had invoked was replaced by a look of exasperation. “Yeah, well, you can hardly expect him to let you run around flashing your goodies at every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the Hellmouth, pet.”

The fire that Spike had seen hinted at suddenly blazed to life at his unfortunate choice of words.

“Don’t call me that!” Cordelia bit out, literally shaking with the force of her anger as she jumped to her feet.

As devoted as he was to Drusilla, Spike had to admit at that moment, were the girl before him not owned by his grandsire he’d be hard pressed not to claim her as his own. The allure to which Angelus had alluded was achingly clear as he surveyed the girl before him. The setting sun encompassed Cordelia in a halo of fiery light as she stood, like a mythical Valkyrie, body taut and ready for battle.

“Spike, if you don’t leave now -”

A look of mockery settled on the vampire’s face. “You’ll what, luv? Call me nasty names? Beat me with your little chain there? Tell your master that I hurt your feelings?”

As quickly as it had come, Cordelia’s anger seeped out of her, and where previously fire had blazed in her eyes there was now a look of calculation and a spark of mischievous amusement.

“No. Tattling’s not my style. I think what I’ll do instead is come over there, climb up into your lap, and stick my tongue so far down your throat that I hit your tonsils. Do you still have your tonsils?” Cordelia mused almost to herself. “Oh well, I guess I’ll find out.”

There was no more mockery in the blonde vampire as pure horror overtook him at the thought of what Angelus would do if he returned to find his new obsession covered in the scent of another vampire. Cordelia’s earlier disturbing comment of what Angelus was capable of wasn’t even close to what Spike knew would be the reality of the retribution for such a transgression.

“Of course I’ll have to tell him how you found me out here, chained and vulnerable. How you took advantage of my defenseless state to force me back into the house where you attacked me until my screaming brought in the minions who saved me.”

Returning once more to her seated position, back braced against the solid tree trunk behind her, Cordelia tapped the tip of her finger against her lip as if lost in deep contemplation.

“Do you think Angelus will feel bad? I mean he did leave me chained in this sad excuse for a garden. And if you’re here then he obviously left me unguarded. Do you guys ever feel guilty about stuff? I wonder what I can get out of this.”

Since his turning there had never been a human Spike had feared. Vampire hunters, watchers, even village mobs; none of them had ever posed any real threat to him. Even if he considered slayers human, which was generally but not strictly true, he didn’t fear them, especially having killed two. He had to admit that this new slayer was different. The people around her, those loyal to her made her stronger than the slayers who came before her. But that didn’t make him fear her, rather it made her more of a challenge and thus more fun. No, he’d never really had cause to fear a human.

Until now.

Sure, he understood that his actual death would come at the hands of Angelus, but he would merely be the tool of the cunning woman before him. Actually, if he was honest with himself, under that frisson of fear was the stirring of arousal. Humans rarely had the advantage with his kind, and more than that, the fact that she could get one over on Angelus, use him by twisting his raging jealousy to her advantage, well, it was kind of hot.

“Hold on there, cheer- uh…Cordelia. Don’t do anything we’re both gonna regret.”

“What makes you think I’ll regret anything about watching you die, Spike?” Cordelia’s smile was almost predatory as she felt in control of something for the first time in weeks.

“Well now, I have to admit to being biased here, but ending my life would be a waste. After all, you certainly look like you could use a friend.”

“And you’re volunteering?”

Spike seemed almost as shocked as she seemed to be by the offer. But honestly, life had been a drag lately. Slowly he was regaining the use of his legs, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to share that fact, and was thus forced to keep up the charade of being helpless and limited to the confines of the mansion. So the opportunity for entertainment was more than he could pass up.

“Seems as I am. So, friend, what’s new with you?”


Chapter Fifty-Eight
It was a surreal moment; the kind where time seems to slow and you begin to wonder if the stresses of life have shattered your mind into a million pieces and put it back together wrong. And Cordelia knew that this instant couldn’t be real because instead of following through with her plan to have Spike killed, she instead wanted laugh at the unmitigated gall it took for him to ask such an unbelievably obnoxious question when she was the difference between an ongoing healthy life after death and a horrifically painful final demise. As she puffed out a breath that ruffled the lock of hair resting across her forehead, she made her choice.

“Not much is new with me really. I’ve been stalked by a viscous demon, lost my friends, my boyfriend, had to leave school, my home, and the only person I seem to have to talk to is said viscous demon’s sidekick.”

“Hey!” Spike had to resist the urge to jump out of his chair and go smack the annoying bit. Only two things stopped him – One, he wasn’t supposed to be able to jump out of his chair; and two, the sun, although low, was still hovering in the sky just enough to make any headlong rushes outside ill advised. But honestly, there was only so much a self- respecting vampire could take. Although lately he wasn’t that big with the self-respect.

“You now, this whole friendship thing works better if you’re not insulting me every other sentence.”

“Pfft.” Cordelia rolled her eyes in exasperation at the affronted vampire. “And you’d now that how? Because your hundreds and hundreds of friends told you? Yeah, right.”

Cordelia knew from her experiences with Angelus that vampire’s didn’t act altruistically, so she wasn’t foolish enough to believe that there was the potential to even remotely be friends, or that Spike wasn’t getting something out of pretending that they could be. That last thought, though, was what made her curious; and, having nothing better to do for apparently the rest of her life, she decided there was no harm in asking.

“I don’t get this, Spike; Giles always told us that vampires loathed humans. And yet, I’ve been kidnapped by Don Juan Dracula and now you want to get all Mr. Rogers on me ‘cause you’re so glad I’m living in your neighborhood. Not to be a downer here, but where’s the hate?”

Spike laughed, really laughed for the first time in a long while; certainly since the return of his grandsire. The chit was enjoyable. She was more than easy on the eyes, she had a spirit like a live wire, and best of all, she was unpredictable. Almost every one of her reactions to him had caught him off guard, and he knew, without a doubt that more than anything else this was what had grabbed and held the attention of Angelus. He thought about warning her to change that, but he was having far too much fun. Eternity could be, well, eternal; and it got boring fairly quickly. He wasn’t about to jeopardize this fount of entertainment just so she could better handle Angelus. Besides, if her earlier threats were anything to go by she would have no problem manipulating the older vampire.

“It’s not so much that we don’t like humans as much as it is that it doesn’t pay to get too chummy with the what’s on your menu. Besides, you’re all so high maintenance. With a vampire you know where you stand – he wants whatever he wants and he’ll do anything to get it. With people you never can tell what’s going on. Are they being nice, are they being selfish, are they good, are they bad? There’s something to be said for the uniformity of evil, you know. It’s comforting in its predictability.”

Cordelia found the laughter bubbling up again. Even though she knew that Spike was most likely trying to lighten the atmosphere to put a greater distance between himself and her very credible threats, she still appreciated the effort. Although Angelus had a teasing, playful side, it was almost always buried under his overbearing need to dominate and his incessant sense of melodrama. Maybe Spike, being lower on the power ladder had a smaller need to control, or maybe he just took himself less seriously. Who knew, and honestly at that moment, who cared? It was an all too brief break from the desperate hopelessness that had become her almost constant companion.

“Well, that’s an interesting viewpoint on evil, Spike, but don’t expect an Evil Appreciation day to be designated any time soon…although here in Sunnydale who knows? We may already have one.”

Cocking her head to the side, Cordelia turned Spike’s earlier inquiry back on the vampire. “So, now that I’ve summed up my miserable excuse for a life, what’s new with you?”

“You mean besides the fact that my grandsire got himself a soul and spent all his time helping the slayer kick my ass all over this hellhole of a hellmouth, then he lost his soul, which you think would be a plus for me, but no, the first thing he does is steal my minions, my town, and my girl, all the while mockin’ me in front of anyone within hearing distance ‘cause I’m stuck in this fucking chair? ‘Cause other than that it’s all daisies and kittens.”

Except for the fact that Spike was an evil, homicidal demon who’d tried numerous times to kill her, her friends, and most grievously, to destroy the mall, she had nothing personal against him. Sure she wouldn’t shed a tear if the breaks on his chair failed and he rolled out into the sun, but she did sort of feel bad for the guy. Maybe it was because the downward spiral of both of their lives had a shared origin – Angelus.

Zeroing in on their other commonality, Cordelia sent the blonde a sympathetic smile. “Sorry about your girlfriend. Breakups suck.”

She was surprised to see a smile tilt the corner of Spike’s lips, certain that this would be the thing he was most upset about.

“Actually, Cor – you don’t mind if I call you Cor now that we’re friends and all, right?” The flippant vampire continued on, making clear that her permission was incidental to his christening her with this new moniker.

“Well Cor, that’s the one part of my life that’s looking up thanks to you.”

“To me?” Suddenly her confusion cleared as understanding dawned. “Ahhh. Of course, this is why you’re so buddy-buddy with me. You were all put out ‘cause your girlfriend was spending all her time obsessing over Angelus. But lately Angelus has been spending all his time obsessing over me, leaving the way clear for your twu wuv to triumph. I’m glad my hideously traumatic life could be of help to you.”

Spike had to admire the girl. It’s not that he was trying to hide his reasons for wanting her there. But still, humans were funny and tended to be hurt when they felt they were being used. But this one, she didn’t seem surprised at all, just satisfied as if she had finally fit the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle in place.

“Well, I like to think of it more as the silver lining in your cloudy gray sky.”

Spike laughed again as Cordelia showed her appreciation for his perspective by extending the middle finger of her right hand in his direction. This was the most fun he’d had in far too long, and frankly he could see why Angelus let her get away with so much. Although he doubted that she appreciated those instances of kindness from his grandsire.

“Now Cor, haven’t we already established that that’s an offer I can’t take you up on?”

He was such a jerk that Cordelia wanted to be mad. She wanted to hate him, to hurt him, to do all the things to him that she was helpless to do to Angelus. But she couldn’t. Not because he’d hurt her, and certainly not because Angelus might punish her, but because somehow in the extremely short amount of time they’d spent together Spike had become the most familiar thing in her topsy-turvy world. He was like the boys at school – immature, irreverent, flirtatious, and always looking to have fun. And if she closed her eyes and locked out the sight of the garden, if she pushed away the weight of the chain, she could almost imagine that she was joking with on of the football players at a pep rally.

As much as she wanted to linger in that illusion just a little longer she couldn’t afford to delude herself about the realities of her situation; not if she wanted to get her life back. And really, she was kind of curious about this little dysfunctional demon family she’d been drafted into.

“Angelus explained a little about the relationship between a vampire and their childe. I mean it doesn’t seem like Drusilla can actually help wanting him so badly, right?”

Sadness briefly darkened Spike’s eyes. “No, I don’t suppose she can.”

“But he could, couldn’t he?” And Cordelia knew that she’d just discovered why Spike could love Drusilla and hate Angelus when they both seemed to be betraying him. Vampires – they really needed to turn Oprah so they could work out some of their issues.

“Damn right he could, bloody bastard. He could have any woman he wanted. He fucked the goddamn slayer! Even with a soul he’s able to get whatever wants. Could he leave something for the rest of us? No. It wasn’t so bad at first. But then he left and for the last century it’s been me that takes care of Dru; me that makes sure that unruly mobs don’t kill her, that she doesn’t have a spell and wander out into the sun, that her damn dolls always have tea. But does Angelus care about that? Is he even remotely grateful that I’ve taken care of the childe he abandoned? Of course not. All he cares about is getting his rocks off and rubbing my face in the fact that there’s nothin’ I can do about it…yet.”

Well Cordelia certainly understood the feeling of helplessness at the hands of Angelus.

“So that’s why you hate him?”

Spike pulled out a cigarette, a habit that never failed to soothe him. “There are lots of reasons I hate Angelus.”

Cordelia watched the smoke the vampire exhaled, losing herself in the gray swirls as they were taken by the wind. She couldn’t help but agree with Spike’s statement. “Me too.”

“But you know the worst part, Spike? I’m not always sure that I do anymore.”

“I know, pet.” Both too lost to realize that he’d once again used that most hated of endearments. And this time it was Spike who had to agree with her. “Me too.”
Chapter Fifty-Nine
The view was getting old. Five days of being chained in the garden was starting to grate on Cordelia’s nerves. But there were two things that made this time bearable.

The first was Spike. If one could overlook the whole evil vampire thing, he could actually be amusing. It wasn’t as if she would be issuing him any invites once she got out of this place, but he did make this situation a tiny bit easier for her.

The second was that it gave her plenty of time to plan her escape. And she had to escape. Every moment she was here was tying her more and more tightly to Angelus. Even now she felt sick at just the thought of leaving him. And the bastard knew it. He was aware of exactly what he was doing, and she knew that if she stayed much longer it wouldn’t be that she couldn’t go; it would be that she wouldn’t even want to.

And the damn vampire was cunning if nothing else. He understood that if he just took her, if he just came in and saw to his pleasure and to hell with her own, then leaving would still hurt, but it would be so much easier. He knew it and wouldn’t cooperate. But as he kept reminding her over and over, he loved her. And she was getting the sinking sensation that while the time spent with her was about strengthening their bond; the manner in which he chose to spend that time was about his “feelings” for her. After all, how else could she explain that morning?

She hated waking up to find Angelus staring down at her. But he claimed that he loved to watch her sleep, and she’d learned the hard way that he was an expert at getting his way. Of course a part of her was grateful that she’d woken up able to see him watching her instead of once again blindfolded which had only increased her sense of helplessness a thousand times over.

But instead of a blindfold he had a beautiful rose. Large and in full bloom, its velvety white petals seemed startlingly pure in the hand of the demon who held it. As it traced its way across her cheek and over to caress her lips the silky texture and enticing aroma were lost to here as she began to drown in the liquid pools of passion in his eyes.

Without warning the rose was abandoned as he swept her up in his arms. As he carried her towards the bathroom, Cordelia noticed that every step he took was on a pathway of rose petals. Her eyes screwed shut as she tried to dig deep inside herself to withstand the onslaught of another romantic interlude with the ardent vampire.

As he opened the bathroom door, managing both the doorknob and her weight with ease, steam poured out warming her exposed. Lifting her head from its place on his shoulder she surveyed the atmosphere that had obviously been painstakingly created to swamp her senses.

Candles filled the room creating a fluid tango between light and shadow. The steam that swirled around her was rising from the large roman tub, the water within covered with more of the fragrant rose petals. It was a scene straight from the pages of a Harlequin novel and for a moment Cordelia was afraid that the picture of Angelus reading a trashy romance and taking notes would cause her to laugh out loud and God only knew what the strangely sensitive vampire would do if he felt she was mocking him. Usually she wouldn’t care, but when he was in this particular mood the punishments he dolled out were invariably sexual in nature and every time she caved in she felt weaker than the time before. At least when he was threatening people she could take solace in the fact that she was strong to suffer for the safety of others. But when his chastisements were so intimate and solely about her, she felt so wrong for giving in.

As she met the water, heat poured through her, warming her from the inside out. Sleeping with a vampire didn’t make for toasty warm nights. While Angelus loved the arrangement as he pulled the heat from her body into his, without a return of the favor Cordelia was left never quite as warm as she was on her own, even when wrapped in the luxurious velvet comforter that cloaked the large bed. She briefly considered demanding an electric blanket, but thought that subject would be better broached at another time.

Angelus leaned back against the porcelain slope of the tub and settled her in front of him, forcing all thoughts from her mind as the hard body that seemed to surround her took center stage. Compelled to recline against the chiseled chest behind her, she felt fingers beneath her chin firmly tilting her head up. Expecting the crushing feel of his mouth hard against hers, she was taken aback by the gentle, oh so tender brush of his cool lips against her forehead.

A kiss as soft as the flutter of hummingbird wings, the innocence of that caress swamped her with warm emotions; emotions she had no right to feel for the demon cradling her to his chest.

She felt Angelus reaching for something, but couldn’t tear her eyes away from his simmering gaze long enough to investigate. There was little waiting as her arm was gently lifted and held aloft. Water rained down its length as an indescribably sensual fragrance filed the air. A material so soft that it was hard to tell where the water ended and cloth began moved gently over her fingers stroking every inch of her skin as it made its way down to her shoulder, leaving the scintillating scent in its wake.

When Angelus was satisfied that no part of her arm had been neglected he brought her hand to his mouth and softly kissed each finger, pressing his lips reverently to her palm before lowering the liquefied limb back into the water and turning his attention to her other appendages.

And so it went as he washed every inch of her. The quiet veneration in his touch was more damaging to the walls she’d erected than any act of violence could ever be. By the time he had finished what could only be accepted as the worshipping of her body, she was beyond words, beyond thought, beyond any understanding of them as anything other than two parts of a broken whole, and her need to create a unity between them drowned out even the loudest voice of reason in her head.

Her articulate pleas for completion died in her throat as the sensations in her body overwhelmed her, and all that managed to escape were small, breathy sighs. As if spoken in a language only lovers understood, Angelus seemed to divine the meaning in the erotic puffs of air and acceding to both their wishes, he smoothly spun her around to face him.

The new position placed her firmly against his throbbing arousal and Cordelia, unable to bare a moment more without being a part of him, making him a part of her, reached down to guide him into her burning heat.

Sliding down the rigid length, dual moans echoed in the small room. Angelus’ constant need to dominate usually placed Cordelia in a series of passive positions. But now she controlled their pleasure. The rhythm, the depth, the pace; all were hers to dictate and the power was nearly as intoxicating as the pleasure.

Caught up in her new found authority, she surprised the vampire beneath her by leaning down to lay siege to his mouth. Pressing hard against his lips, her tongue swept in, rubbing against his own only to withdraw and then return in a cadence that matched her downward plunges.

As their eyes met and locked, Cordelia could see that Angelus was finding her newfound sense of control just as heady as she was. Although his eyes were gold, his features retained their human appearance as if he knew that releasing his demon would be the end of her little dominatrix stint.

Although her lack of experience was clear as she struggled to manage the endless movements that Angelus made seem oh so effortless, the staggers in her rhythm or odd variations in her descending thrusts seemed to excite him even more as did almost anything that reminded him that he alone had touched her. And while usually that thought bothered her, at this moment she found it utterly empowering as it spoke to her ability to drive him beyond the edge over which he routinely pushed her.

As the pressure built up inside them, threatening to explode at any moment Angelus’ fingertips rose to gently brush across Cordelia’s parted lips.

“Tell me that you love me, Moonbeam.”

It wasn’t a command, but a request. Had it been anything other she could have resisted, made him work for the lie, made it achingly obvious that the sentiment was a fabrication. But it hadn’t been a demand; it had been an appeal, and it had been delivered with a sharp rise of his hips as her own surged forward. And as they met, the world seemed to fracture and the pieces slipped away as the words she longed to infuse with abhorrence came out instead in a rush of indescribable emotions.

“I love you, Angelus.”


Chapter Sixty

Even now the memory made her cringe. And honestly, she wasn’t sure if it was because it was getting so much easier to state the lie or because it was getting so much harder to convince herself that she was lying. The only thing she knew with any certainty was that she had to get out of there.

“Hey, Spike.” Cordelia called out from her shaded position next to the house. As she waited for her afternoon diversion to move as close as the sun would permit she went back to her time filling activity of building what appeared to be a small teepee out of broken sticks.

She was glad for the distraction that she knew was coming when she heard the slight metallic click of his chair as it rolled in her direction. In the days she’d spent talking to the house bound vamp she’d learned a lot about him, Drusilla, Angelus, and vampires in general. They’d talked about his relationship woes and her captivity complaints and more than anything it helped her fend of the crushing sense of isolation that she knew Angelus was trying to impose on her.

“I have to get out of here.” The thought seemed to be a broken record repeating endlessly in her head ‘til it spilled from her lips.

“And how are you gonna do that, luv?”

Cordelia’s eyes shot to his as surprise coursed through her. “You don’t mind? I thought that I was part of your master plan to win back Drusilla.”

Spike smiled at her and it reminded her that he was just as much of a predator as Angelus, and no matter how much she enjoyed his company he was always working his own agenda.

“Are you kidding? The only thing better than you being here, would be you being somewhere out there. Don’t you get it, Cor? He needs you, the same way you need him. And sure, the separation that would make you want to die would only cause him some physical discomfort; mentally he’d be hurtin’ loads more than you. Lord knows you’re not here because you want to be. No, you’re here because his head’s so full of you he’ll never be able to shake it clear again. He’s not just obsessed with you, he’s completely given in to every thought, every feeling about you that spins its way across the muddle that passes for his mind. Don’t get me wrong Cor, I’d miss you if you left. You’re fun for a do-gooder. But there’s no way in hell that if you were somewhere else Angelus would still be here. You’re a clever chit. I bet if you got enough of a head start you could stay hidden for a while. You’d keep him busy for years.”

Seeing the smirk that brought to Spike’s face Cordelia smiled in return.

“Yeah, and I bet that would just break you up inside, huh?”

“Well, we all have our burdens to bear.”

Spike’s endearing wink seemed to have the opposite effect on her as melancholy pressed down her shoulders.

“It never stops, does it Spike.”

The vampire didn’t pretend not to know what she meant. “No luv, it never does.”

“You know, at first I didn’t believe him. I didn’t think it would be like this. Not ‘cause I believed that somehow Angel was in there and he’d suddenly realize he wanted to do the right thing. No, I left that kind of denial to Buffy. It’s just – I know the frickin’ vampire slayer! I thought that would give me at least a little protection from a vampire.”

“He wants you; not the slayer and not her band of merry morons could have protected you from that.”

The note of something that sounded strangely like sympathy in the blonde’s tone let Cordelia know just how bad her situation really was.

“Then I guess I’ll just have to protect myself.”

And before Spike could enquire just how she was planning to do that she slipped off her left shoe. Setting it down next to her he watched as she rolled up her pant leg and slid her sock from under the metal cuff and pulled it off. Then he watched as she did it again. And again. And again until she’d pulled of 6 socks, leaving her foot finally bare. Under his awestruck gaze he watched as she yanked and tugged until her foot slipped through the ring that had been widened by the padding of so many socks hidden beneath her pants.

Not wanting to draw any undue attention by falling into the hysterics this situation called for Spike managed to rein in his laughter. Besides, if he was convulsed with hilarity he would miss whatever plan she must have cooked up to get her out of the mansion.

His willpower was rewarded as Cordelia picked up the extra socks, slipped her shoe back on and stood. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out a bright silver object. The laughter was threatening once again as he recognized Angelus’ lighter.

To think that all the careful planning that went into keeping the girl, the chains, the guards, expanding their bond; all undone by the stupidity of Angelus’ bumbling servants and a misplaced Zippo. It was more fitting than anything Spike could have devised had he another century just to think on the problem.

“Roll back Spike. I hear vampires are more flammable than gasoline.”

And with that warning issued she bent down and lit her little stick house on fire, the dry kindling she’d put in the middle catching instantly and blazing to life.

Wiggling her eyebrows at the vampire who was quickly maneuvering himself backwards, Cordelia shot him one final smile, picked up the shackle and moved near the garden’s wooden gate before she began to scream.

“Fire! Oh my God, the house is on fire!”

And just as she knew it would, the gate was hurriedly unlocked and thrown open to allow three large men to barrel there way through.

Seeing the fire beginning to creep up the side of the house the nearest of the men ran inside to grab one of the many fire extinguishers scattered throughout various rooms as the other two remained outside, one grabbing the garden hose while the other attempted to beat the flames out with his shirt. In all the excitement no one saw the gate open, no one saw it swing closed. And in the panic of such potential danger no one noticed that the Master’s new pet was gone.


PART 12 – CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Chapter Sixty-One

The bodies were beginning to pile up.

Three humans were strewn carelessly across the floor, their oddly angled limbs and torn, bloodied flesh testament to the violence that had robbed them of life. But they weren’t the only casualties. Spread intermittently among the human remains were small piles of dust that showed that no one had escaped the wrath of the Master.

Hands braced against the mantle as he stared into the cold embers of a fire long dead, Angelus exuded a fatal menace that had all in the room, regardless of species cowering in abject terror lest they be next to bear the blame for the actions of his wayward pet.

He could feel his childer out in the hallway. He knew that Spike had stopped Drusilla from entering the room. In some ways that disappointed the livid vampire as he would have loved to vent his rage on his brunette child, pretending that she was another, the one who’d left him. But the rational side of him was glad that Spike had the forethought to restrain his sire. While punishing Dru would be satisfying it would distract him from his primary purpose – retrieving Cordelia.

A tremor of rage once again shot through his body at the thought of her, out there, beyond his reach, running from where she belonged, from him. That fury was in no way lessened by the fact that he knew where she was headed; to the slayer.

Cordelia was no fool and she was loyal to a fault to those she considered her friends. She had to know that he would annihilate anyone unwise enough to aid her in this futile attempt to escape her destiny. But she would believe that Buffy was the only person who could possibly stand a chance of surviving his wrath. She was wrong.

If Cordelia was successful in making it to the protection of the slayer, Buffy would die. Horribly. Painfully. Slowly.

And Cordelia would watch. She’d watch it all, and when the protector of the Hellmouth was dead he’d reclaim his wayward pet in a violent possession, covering them both in the blood of the fallen slayer.

He wanted Cordelia, her loyalty and her love; and he was willing to be patient in his pursuit of that goal. But if she wouldn’t give those things to him, if she left him, denied him, he’d break her to obtain them.

As thoughts of pounding into Cordelia surrounded by the corpses of everyone she loved ran through his fevered mind, a part of him recognized that these thoughts, this massive deviation from his plans was the result of his separation from the girl.

Although undoubtedly she would be hurting by now, she hadn’t been gone long enough for him to experience much physical discomfort. Mentally, however, he could feel himself breaking apart.

Sure, he had known that his interest in Cordelia had leapt far beyond fascination and deep into obsession. He’d even admitted quite openly and often that he loved her. But he’d had no idea that his feelings for her had reached such a depth that Cordelia was necessary for his stability, his sanity.

Which was why it was imperative that Cordelia was returned to him as soon as possible; for her sake as well as for his own. As much as he truly valued her spirit, if he couldn’t see her, hold her, taste her soon he’d be crazed by the time he retrieved her and he really would destroy her.

Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, because even though Cordelia had a head start he had the advantage in this chase.

As bad off as he was mentally, Cordelia was most likely ten times worse physically. Add to that the fact that she was on foot while her pursuers had vehicles and that he was well aware of her destination and the odds shifted greatly in his favor.

He hoped it was enough.


Chapter Sixty-Two

Cordelia almost doubled over in pain. Despite the feeling that every cell in her body was exploding simultaneously she forced her feet to keep moving.

Over and over in her head she repeated, in a desperate attempt to convince herself, that the agony she was suffering wasn’t real; there was actually nothing wrong with her body, it was just the illusion of the bond that had been forced upon her.

And whether she was right or wrong about the reality of the pain, the thought gave her the strength to make it past one more house, down one more block, across one more street.

As she neared her destination further aspects of the insidiousness of this mystical force that bound her were revealed as a traitorous part of her mind screamed at her to return to her vampire lover and bury herself in his embrace. She knew instinctively that if she just turned around the pain would begin to ease. The thought alone of doing so brought a small measure of comfort. But ruthlessly she tamped those notions down, accepting the renewed burst of pain and using it to rekindle her anger, letting that emotion drive her onwards.

Revello Drive. Cordelia almost cried as she saw the sign on the corner. Two and a half blocks and she’d be there.

She didn’t want to go to Buffy’s. Not because of the ever present animosity between the two of them; quite the opposite, in fact. She didn’t want to go because she was loathe to put any of her friends in danger, even a barely, sort of friend like Buffy. Sure, they didn’t get along, but that didn’t mean that when it came right down to it they didn’t care. She was the first to admit that Buffy, in her role as slayer, had saved her life numerous times. And it had been for the health of all of their little group that Cordelia had tried to leave Sunnydale in the first place.

Which was actually what was bringing her now to Buffy’s door. She knew that no one could hide her away from Angelus. It would be suicide for them to even try. No, she couldn’t stay in Sunnydale before and she could stay now even less.

What she needed wasn’t a place to hide, but an escort out of town. And while she hated to put Buffy in more immediate danger from Angelus, she was really the only chance she had of getting past all the minions, human and otherwise that the vampire was sure to send forth to prevent her escape.

Besides, she knew that Spike was correct in his assessment that Angelus would follow her to the ends of the earth. She had believed it before when she had tried to leave and she believed it now ever more. If she could just get out of Sunnydale she had a chance to evade him and, in doing so, keep him chasing her and away from her friends. It was sadly the only hope any of them had.

Falling to her knees, Cordelia nearly vomited in the bushes bordering a small, well manicured yard. By sheer force of will she pushed down the nausea and on legs that felt suspiciously like rubber, rose and resumed her stumbling trek towards the only haven left to her.

Finally she could see it. Cordelia had lived her life in wealth and luxury, her home one of the greatest Sunnydale had seen. But at that moment no house had ever been finer to her eyes then the modest, two story house that rose up before her.

Not knowing if she was about to cry in pain or relief, she moved to take the last few steps that would lead her to freedom. Before her foot could fall she felt a hurtling force knock her sideways and then all went black.


Chapter Sixty Three

He snapped to attention, a dark smile curving his lips. He could feel her. She was close. Delicious shivers rippled through his muscles as the red haze began to clear from his mind.

As his servant came through the door carrying the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen he froze, every muscle in his body rigid with fury as he took in the stillness of the girl. Crossing the room in a blur of angry motion he deftly reclaimed the motionless figure.

The feel of her in his arms; her warm, soft body pressed against his chest calmed him as nothing else possibly could. The rhythmic beating of her heart sounded gently in his ears as he inhaled enthralling fragrance that was uniquely Cordelia wrapped tightly in his own scent. It was all working to sooth him immeasurably until he looked down at her.

The roar that split the silence chilled the marrow of every creature to hear it; living or dead. Letting Cordelia’s feet slide to the floor, Angelus pulled her close against him with one arm while the other raised, his hand sweeping the hair from her face to reveal a darkening bruise over her left temple.

“Master, she was approaching the slayer’s house. There was no other way to sto-”

The remainder of the sentence was lost in a gurgle of horror as blood arced high into the air, spurting with the force of the man’s slowly stilling heart as he crumpled to the ground.

Angelus, who had turned to shield his sleeping pet from the filth of such inferior blood, now spun back around, swinging Cordelia up into his arms. Moving his icy gaze slowly over each and every occupant in the room he warned all in a low, ominous growl, “No one hurts her but me. No reasons. No excuses. That privilege is solely my own.”

And seeing the terror in the eyes that had watched him brutally kill a man for simply doing what was asked of him, Angelus felt secure in the fear that was hovering so thick on the currents of the room that he could taste its tangy flavor. With fluid movements he turned and bound up the stairs; now that his minions had been dealt with he had a very naughty pet to punish.


Chapter Sixty Four

She was floating on a sea of bliss; serenity flowing through her where so recently only pain had dwelt. Even the nagging sensation that she was supposed to be hurting wasn’t enough to break through the idyllic lethargy that was unfurling inside of her. Unwilling to open her eyes and break this wondrous enchantment Cordelia began to reach out with her other senses to pinpoint the origin of such pleasure.

Lids that had gently shielded her eyes now screwed tightly closed as the source of her contentment became all too clear. Cool, moist lips pressed delicately against hers once more, parting slightly and to sip gently at her own. As perfect as her body felt at that moment, her soul screamed in agony at the knowledge that she was again in the vampire’s care. She’d been so close; close to Buffy’s, close to freedom, close to having her life back. She wanted to cry at the injustice of it all, but even her body betrayed her, refusing her tears in the face of such ecstasy.

The small, sucking kisses left her lips to wander up the line of her jaw, across her cheekbone, resting briefly on each eyelid before coming to rest on her forehead. Cool air blew against the damp trail left by his tender caresses as he spoke softly against her skin.

“I know you’re awake.”

As much as she wanted to hide in her warm cocoon of denial, Cordelia Chase had never been a coward; and so, opening her eyes she forced herself to face her worst nightmare – a monster who loved her.

Whatever she’d expected upon opening her eyes it wasn’t the beauteous smile that graced the vampire’s face as if having her in his arms fulfilled all his desires; granted his every wish.

“Welcome back, moonbeam.”

Cordelia hadn’t allowed for any thought other than success when she’d fled hours before, but if she’d bothered to imagine the scenario of her recapture, none of it would have been like this. Angelus was happy, more than that, he was ecstatic. It lit him from within causing a radiance that no creature of evil should house.

So caught up was she in the breathtaking show of joy that lent his face such boyish charm, that it took a moment for her to realize that the hand wandering down her body was moving over bare skin.

Despite the pleasure surging through her at every touch, knowing that he’d undressed her, held her, caressed her while she’d been in a state of oblivion made her feel extremely vulnerable. And more than the fulfillment, more than the fear, it was that helplessness that she most hated, and his next words in no way alleviated that that feeling.

“I have a surprise for you.”

The announcement slid down her spine leaving a gripping sense of unease in its wake. It wasn’t the words, but rather the sheer satisfaction with which they were uttered that caused her such concern.

Angelus’ hand skimmed its way over her skin in upwards strokes and, reaching her head, he twined his long fingers in her hair. Gripping the silky locks tightly, but not painfully, he lifted her head from its resting place on the pillow and angled her gaze towards the end of the bed.

Panic began to swallow Cordelia as she felt herself being scalded by a heavy burnt umber stare. It was knowing that a reaction was expected of her that gave her the strength to keep her features smooth and untroubled at the sight she beheld –

Spike.

The blonde vampire was naked to the waist and hanging by his wrists in his place against the far wall. From the bruises already forming on his body it was clear that his position was in no way voluntary. Arms upraised and held in place by manacles attached to a large wooden X, his wiry body hung limply, his legs seemingly unable to bear his weight.

Ignoring the slight pain of pulled hair that was still wound round Angelus’ fingers, Cordelia turned to look at the dark haired vampire, one eyebrow raised.

“I liked the picture that used to be there better.”

Angelus smiled down at the girl in his arms. Now that she was back where she belonged – naked in their bed where he could touch her at will, he was sincerely looking forward to this game; and by Cordelia’s reply he could tell that she’d already started playing.

“I’ve heard some interesting things about you and Spike recently.”

Always a loquacious girl, Cordelia’s silence told Angelus more than any confession could. When one of his human servants had mentioned that Spike had been seen talking with his Master’s pet off and on throughout the week, he’d been livid at the younger vampire for such a flagrant trespass.

Cordelia’s little escapade today showed quite clearly that he couldn’t function rationally without her by his side so there was nowhere she could go that he wouldn’t follow; hunting her with every predatory instinct buried within him.

Looking back at things, Angelus was rather shocked at the level of denial he’d carried throughout his relationship with Cordelia. The fact that he’d assumed early on that he could ever give her up was truly laughable in retrospect; a mistake that was only compounded by his erroneous belief that he was affected, but not at the mercy of the bond he shared with her.

But Spike, being outside of their relationship, would have a much more objective view. Angelus was willing to concede that many of his perceptions were filtered through a fierce sense of possession and need that colored his every interaction with Cordelia. It was that kind of thinking that allowed someone uninvolved, like Spike, to see things that instinctually he knew, but had yet to admit.

Angelus was no fool; he knew that Spike was exceedingly bitter over the situation with Dru that had developed with the demise of his soul. And although he loved pushing his buttons, he was the first to admit that neither was Spike as idiotic as he often seemed.

Having seen the weakness in his grandsire, he would have been the first to exploit it for his own purposes. Spike had to know that he would go after Cordelia if she ran, and that would only be to his benefit as it would leave him here with Drusilla. And while not for one second did he think that the younger vampire was suicidal enough to actually help Cordelia, he did believe that not only was it possible, but that it was far more than likely that Spike knew what she was up to and told no one.

It was funny, but now that Cordelia was back under his dominion, his admiration for his beloved pet soared for her bravery and daring. But his wayward grandchilde engender no such lofty feelings; and that, Angelus thought with immense satisfaction, was about to cost the boy dearly.

Freeing his hand from her hair, he trailed the tips of his fingers down the side of her face, moving on to skim her shoulder and then make his way to the lush, ripe curve of her breast. Grasping the tip gently he waited for her gasp before addressing her.

“Such a beautiful body. Perfect. Responsive. Mine. I have wonderful plans for this body tonight and none of them have to do with violent bloodshed.”

Without warning his head swooped down and his mouth took hers in a shattering kiss. Cordelia’s need to breathe put her at a distinct disadvantage as the hard thrusting of his tongue plumbed the depths of her mouth again and again until stars began bursting behind her clenched eyelids. Finally allowed to pull away from the addictive taste of his lips, Cordelia sucked in harsh lungfuls of air. As her breathing evened out she dimly heard Angelus continue his explanation of the evening’s plans.

“Now, since damaging your beautiful body just isn’t an option, ‘cause really, why should I suffer for your disobedience, we’re going to use Spike here as an object lesson.”

Cordelia glanced slowly back and forth between the vampire on the bed and the one in restraints. An incredulous look crossed her face at Angelus’ declaration.

“Let me get this straight; Spike gets hurt, and I get to lay here and relax? Where’s the downside here.”

A smile was her only answer as Angelus rose gracefully from the bed and approached the unconscious blonde.

“Let’s see if we can wake William up.”

And with that he reached down to a bucket on the floor and grasped the leather handle hanging over the side. Pulling on that handle he raised from the pail’s depths a long and rather nasty looking whip. With an expertise that bespoke of hundreds if not thousands of such sessions, Angelus snapped his wrist bringing the leather into painful contact with the blonde’s exposed skin.

Blinding pain caught Spike unawares, dragging him violently back into consciousness. His scream broke the silence as his skin split, revealing the muscle that lay beneath.

Satisfied with his handiwork, Angelus glanced over his shoulder to smile wolfishly at Cordelia.

“It’s the holy water presoak that gives it that extra something special. Only the best for my William, right boy?”

Angelus addressed the last to Spike as the leather again tore him asunder.

Approaching the bed, the whip dragging along behind him, Angelus sat next to Cordelia. Taking the face that had turned away from the bloodshed he turned it firmly towards his own.

“Pay attention, Cordelia. This is an interactive activity.”

Her entire body stiffened as she felt something cold and wet slither over her midsection. Pulling her face away from his grasp, she looked down to see a trail of Spike’s blood crisscrossing her stomach. Her disgust was magnified a hundred times over as Angelus lowered his head and began lapping the fluid from her skin.

“Oooh. Tingly.”

His perverse enjoyment of the holy water that had caused Spike such agony would have turned her stomach further if that had still been possible.

Enjoying her distress as much as his granchilde’s powerful blood, Angelus moved back up to the head of the bed, once again caressing the silken skin of her face.

“Now here’s where you come in…Promise that you won’t leave me, Moonbeam.”

One of the things Angelus loved most about Cordelia was the unreserved expressiveness of her beautiful face. He groaned inside as he acknowledged just how truly besotted he was that he was enjoying her disrespect in gazing at him as if he’d suddenly lost all claim to sanity.

“Say it, Cordelia or I’ll carve your new friend up like a Thanksgiving turkey…Although with Spike it’s probably more like a Christmas ham.”

At that moment Cordelia saw exactly what Angelus was attempting with this little demonstration. He thought that she cared about Spike and he planned to use those feelings against her as he had with both Giles and Xander. And while she did like Spike it wasn’t even remotely the same so there was no way she was going to give Angelus any more of a hold over her than he already had. Besides, Spike was a vampire, he’d heal. Determined not to give in, she kept her voice light and airy as she answered.

“Well don’t let me stop you. I’ll just lay here quietly planning my next escape.”

This time it was Angelus’ eyebrow that ascended as he contemplated the challenge thrown down by the delicious brunette beside him. It only made hurting Spike twice as enjoyable.


Chapter Sixty-Five

The three occupants of the large bedroom suite were in various states of disarray. The large, dark haired vampire was covered in spatters of blood, the splashes of color lending a macabre festivity to his pale skin.

The lithe brunette on the bed was taut as a bow string as shudders ran through her from endless sensual teasing as her body was covered in blood that was methodically removed by an enthusiastic tongue.

Unarguably in worst shape was the smaller, blonde vampire whose skin had been torn from his body so that his back was nothing more than the bloody tatters of what once was flesh. Even with accelerated healing, the pain had to be overwhelming to the vampire already recovering from massive injuries.

Angelus walked over to Cordelia again, touching her vibrating body but giving no relief.

“Do you have anything you want to say, Cordelia?”

The crushing sense of need beat against her nerve endings, but she stubbornly pushed it aside, knowing that no matter how her body cried out for his, no matter how her soul urged her to swear to stay in his arms forever, this was a contest of character she could not afford to loose. Taking a deep breath she steadied herself and fixed Angelus with a calm gaze.

“I do. Make sure you brush your teeth tonight; ‘cause you can forget your grand seduction plans if you come to bed with Spike breath.”

Brown eyes locked with hazel as the battle of wills finally came to a temporary end; and while Angelus had to concede this victory to Cordelia, he found himself strangely unperturbed by that admission. He wondered sometimes if she understood that in this game they were playing every successful gambit she executed merely succeeded in making him want her more.

Sure, she may have held him at bay this time, resisted giving him her promise, but in doing so she showed an even greater strength and determination than she had before. And really, that’s where Cordelia’s true value lay; in the endless interest and entertainment she brought to his life. Although he expected immediate obedience from those around him, her continued defiance only served to increase his fascination with her rather than dampen it.

So even when he lost Angelus knew that he really won, because both in her resistance and in her submission Cordelia was a glorious mass of endlessly intriguing contradictions that made his immediate future look imminently enjoyable.

He got his pet back, he got to beat the shit out of Spike, and he spent an hour licking blood off Cordelia’s breathtaking body. He definitely didn’t lose this round. So, whistling a jaunty tune, he rolled up his whip and left to make sure that nothing like the afternoon’s earlier events ever happened again.


Chapter Sixty-Six

Hearing the steps in the hallway grow softer, Cordelia rose from the bed and crossed over to the wounded vampire left behind. Surveying the carnage that constituted the remains of Spike’s back, she reached up and snapped the manacles open. She’d been covered in his blood for over an hour, so she wasted no effort in baulking at the rivers of red that coated her as she helped ease his body to the ground. Stepping away from his crumpled form she spoke to him directly for the first time since her failed escape.

“Don’t say I never did anything for you.”

Despite the incredible pain sweeping like wildfire through his body, his head shot up as that statement filtered through the haze of his misery.

“Bloody bitch! He’s a funkin’ evil demon who tried to kill you and all your little friends; you couldn’t just lie to him???”

Cordelia laughed, but the sound was hollow in its complete absence of humor.

“First of all, you’re a fuckin’ evil demon who tried to kill me and all my little friends, so stop tossing around all those stones before you chip your glass house. Secondly, did that collapsing church break what little brain you have? I just saved your ass! If I’d promised to give up any future chance at freedom for you Angelus would be hauling your butt in here and beating it every other day.”

“Don’t you get it yet, Spike?” Cordelia questioned in a voice rife with tired resignation. “I don’t get to care anymore; not about anyone but him. And God I hate him for that, but honestly how long will that last when I’m all alone?”

“That’s what this was about.” She quietly informed her wounded companion allowing Spike a glimpse of the insightful mind behind the stunning face.

“My escaping? Sure, he wants to keep me here, but it’s like a game to him and my winning only turns him on; you saw that. And I’ll be paying for this victory for the next few days. But beating you? That’s about reminding me what happens if I try to divide my affections.”

“Do you honestly think I wanted to spend the last hour watching your insides become your outsides? ‘Cause I didn’t. But neither of us could afford a different reaction.”

A heavy sigh and a trembling hand pulled quickly through her hair were the only outward signs of internal distress that Cordelia allowed to show through her carefully crafted façade of indifference.

“So just remember, Spike; when my next chance to get out of this nightmare comes…”

She stood up straight and turned to the bathroom where the promise of finally being clean awaited.

“You owe me.”

Spike watched as the bathroom door closed behind the retreating form of his reluctant savior. He knew she was right. What she’d done had saved them both in the long run, even though they would both be paying that night.

Dammit! It drove Spike crazy that an ass like Angelus always ended up with the best women. At least this one hated him. But still, he had her. He was such a lucky bastard.

On the other hand he had been stuck with a soul for a hundred years.

But as Spike heard the tub filling in the other room, a picture formed in his mind of her standing against the will of Angelus, naked and defiant. His grandsire was right about one thing; the girl was magnificent.

As darkness began to submerge awareness an insane thought flitted briefly through his mind – Cordelia Chase might be worth a century with a soul. Then again…

And then everything went black.


PART 13 – TGIF
Chapter Sixty-Seven

The lights of Los Angeles spread out before her, like a shimmering blanket laid across the landscape. As she took in the glittering picture strong arms slid around her waist pulling her back against a large, hard body.

“What’s going through that beautiful head of yours?”

The deep voice sent a shiver down her spine and she felt a corresponding shudder behind her as her quiver pressed her further against the muscular form.

“It’s so close.”

Cordelia didn’t even try to disguise the longing lacing her reply. Every moment with this vampire kept her separated from the rest of the world, but here, seeing it so clearly made that reality impossible to deny. Freedom was right there, near enough to touch, but she couldn’t reach it and that knowledge, more than anything that had happened so far, threatened to break her spirit.

Angelus couldn’t ignore the yearning in her voice. The whole point of this trip was to help Cordelia adjust to the inevitability of her new life. He wanted to show her the benefits of being his, the pleasures he could offer her besides the physical.

“It’s yours for the taking. I want to give it to you. Why don’t you let me give it to you?”

The soft words flowed like honey through her mind, tempting her with the promise of paradise. She could almost appreciate the irony of finding heaven in the arms of the devil.

“I can’t.” Anguish and despair weighed down her cry, pouring from the depths of her soul.

It wasn’t that her obvious hurt upset him; it didn’t. To see her face eclipsed with despair was a picture worthy of a Renaissance master and he savored her anguish with the same passion with which he relished her joy. As long as he was the cause – of her happiness, her fear, her pain then it was beautiful in his eyes.

But though her mere presence filled him with delight regardless of her wishes, he had other goals to achieve. He wanted her love. He wanted her to need him with her heart as well as her body. He wanted her to come to him, for touching him to be essential to her well being, for his presence to be a necessity. He wanted her to spend their time apart planning his seduction, for her desire for him to be the driving force behind her every thought, every action.

With that aim in mind he set about soothing her fears and misgivings.

“Close your eyes, Moonbeam.” He waited ‘til she realized that he wasn’t going to continue or release her until she had complied with his wishes. “No thinking, just feel; feel where you are.”

“Feel your slow, steady heartbeat, your smooth, even breaths. There’s no fear.”

“Feel your muscles, supple and pliant, your body leaning into mine, burrowing into my embrace. There’s no disgust.”

“So much of you understands where you want to be. So much of you wants what I can give you. It’s just your mind that keeps throwing obstacles at us. I know you think you’re protecting yourself, but do you really think I’ll ever let you go. At the most you might defy all the odds, overcome all the precautions I’ve set in place, but you know I’d follow you to the ends of the earth. I’m a demon, a hunter by nature. Even if you managed to elude me for a time eventually you know that I’d find you. No matter where you hide our bond will lead me to you. No matter how fast you run you’ll have nothing, no one while I have resources and riches beyond your imaginings. You – can’t – succeed.”

“And if you did slip through my fingers again what are the chances that I’d allow you anyfreedom after that? I’d keep you chained to our bed all day and to my side all night. Is it worth a few days of freedom, a small illusion of autonomy to end up as my slave instead of my lover?”

Angelus turned her to face him, bending to kiss the lone tear slipping down her cheek.

“Give me a chance, Cordelia. Let me have this weekend to show you that our life together doesn’t have to be endless misery. Two days with no preconceived notions of who we are, who we’re supposed to be. Just us, discovering each other without the bias of others coloring our view. If you’re right, if you truly can’t be happy with me than it won’t matter what I do and at least we’ll know where we stand. But if you’re wrong, and we can have everything – you have to be with me anyway, wouldn’t you even like to know if happiness is possible?”

“Two days; that’s all I’m asking for. They’ll be spent with me no matter what you choose, but can you be honest enough with me, with yourself to see what’s really there between us?”

A knock sounded at the door and Angelus released her, knowing that she’d need time to sift through all he’d told her. No matter what happened between them, the claiming, the courtship, the kidnapping, Cordelia was still shocked by every new demand. He knew that she used her denial to protect herself, to keep her faith in recapturing her old life. Hopefully this weekend would be the beginning of her understanding that her new life had more to offer than she thought and her acceptance that being with him would never be her choice; it was her destiny.

Opening the door Angelus relieved the hotel employee of the stack of boxes he was carrying. Setting them down on the bar, he called Cordelia over. Sitting sideways on one of the stools he pulled her to stand between his legs.

“Open the boxes Cordelia. Start with this one.”

Having been traumatized by Angelus’ gifts in the past, it was with hesitant movements that Cordelia untied the ribbon of the box that he had indicated. Pulling off the lid she was relieve to see colored fabric peeking out from the tissue paper wrapping. Peeling back the paper she removed a dress that unfurled to its full, floor length.

Her breath caught at the beauty of the gown in her hands. Red silk was smooth and cool against her palms as she examined the fitted, strapless dress. It was incredibly delicate and despite the circumstances under which it was given she couldn’t wait to try it on.

Looking down at Cordelia’s lovely face he smiled at the sparkle of excitement lighting her eyes and the flush of anticipation coloring her cheeks.

“Now the rest, baby.”

Reluctant to part with the captivating gown she nevertheless place it reverently back in the box. In the next package were sandals obviously dyed to perfectly match the gown he’d chosen. The final box was the smallest of the three, and removing the lid she was greeted an almost blinding array of lustrous jewels.

On a bed of white satin were two perfect tear drop earrings, encircled by a delicate bracelet, surrounded by a breathtaking necklace all of which featured a radiant display of exquisitely cut rubies.

Cordelia’s family had the good fortune to be quite wealthy, and yet she had never had any jewelry as fine as what she now held in her hands. Even the necklace her father had bought for her mother when she’d found him “breaking in” his new secretary wasn’t as incredible as this.

Despite what others might believe, Cordelia wasn’t shallow enough to forget who she was with or why she was there because of a few gifts, no matter their expense. She couldn’t be bought with fancy clothes or shiny baubles. But she was still a teenage girl; she still got excited by dressing up, by going somewhere nice. And she decided that tonight she wasn’t going to feel guilty about that. None of the mess her life had become was her fault. She’d been trying to do the right thing since she first laid eyes on that damn amulet.

Angelus was being honest when he said she didn’t have any choice about – well, about anything anymore. He was going to follow through with whatever plans he’d made for this weekend and he was going to drag her along with him. Was it wrong of her to want to make the best of things? Monday they’d be back in Sunnydale; him plotting to kill her friends and her planning her escape; she wondered how bad it would really be to steal this small amount of time and create a fleeting oasis in the desert of her existence. After all, being with Angelus felt like the most natural thing in the world. Every cell in her body vibrated with a sense of completion when he was near; when she heard his voice, felt his touch. The problem between them was never that she didn’t want him; it was that she didn’t want to want him. She didn’t want to need the animal who was slowly but surely dismantling her life and rebuilding it for his own pleasure.

But this weekend Angelus was here, with her. Which meant that he wasn’t in Sunnydale threatening her family, her friends. For two blissful days she didn’t have to worry about keeping everyone she knew alive to see another day. And that knowledge gave her enough peace of mind to allow her to pretend, for just a few days, a few hours, that she wasn’t a prisoner; that she didn’t have to fight. She was so tired and resting, for just a little while, didn’t seem like to much of a betrayal of her principles, her friends, herself.

Angelus slid gracefully from the stool and gave Cordelia a push towards their room.

“Go get ready, Cordelia.”

And even though he had sensed her acquiescence he was still slightly surprised as she scooped up the boxes and complied with no complaints.


Chapter Sixty-Eight

Of all the tortures Angelus had inflicted on her Cordelia thought this might have been be the worst yet. She stifled a groan as the woman on the stage started screeching out yet another torturously long song in a language she wouldn’t even understand where it being spoken instead of bleated across the theater. Trying to be positive she considered that at least the struggle to prevent her ears from bleeding was distracting her from the mind numbing boredom that had previously consumed her.

“I’ve had lynchings that were more fun then this.”

Shocked eyes flew to meet his as she realized that he was just as miserable as she was.

“Thank God. I thought it was just my innate hatred of opera that was making this seem like an ice pick boring into my brain.”

Even though they were in a private box Angelus’ laughter carried to those around them and a chorus of shushing came their way. Dismissing the reprimands as unworthy of his attention he took Cordelia’s hand and brought it to his lips turning it over and placing a chain of tender kisses on the sensitive skin of her inner wrist.

“I could always eat the director.”

This time it was Cordelia’s laughter that rang out. But unlike the vampire she felt properly chastened by the glares aimed her way and promptly covered her mouth with her free hand to stifle the happy sound.

With twinkling eyes Angelus pulled Cordelia to her feet.

“Let’s blow this pop stand.”

Giggling again she let herself be led out of the opulent theater and to the valet who retrieved their car. Sliding through the door that being held for her, Cordelia settled herself wondering what was next on the agenda. If Angelus had plans he was keeping them to himself as he started the engine and pulled out onto the busy road.

The car was filled with a silence that was surprisingly companionable as opposed to the strained atmosphere that usually surrounded them. A half hour of traveling found them driving along the coast; a mesmerizing sight as the full moon’s silvery light was doubled as it’s reflection glinted off of the calm surface of the ocean.

Pulling off to the side of the road, Angelus exited the car and extracted a blanket from the depths of the trunk. Coming around and opening her door he once again grasped Cordelia’s hand leading her down the slight slope to the glistening sand.

A small, sharp cry escaped her lips as she was swung up into strong arms. Making his way closer to the water’s edge Angelus gently set her down as he spread out the blanket. After it was smoothed out to his satisfaction he lowered Cordelia down on it and joined her pulling her close into his side.

The coolness of his flesh through the crisp shirt of his tuxedo was nice against her skin on the unseasonably warm night. Leaning into him she sighed as his hands began to trace intricate patterns up and down her back.

As his lips captured hers, she didn’t even notice as he laid her down onto the soft blanket below. As her breasts were slowly exposed to his questing hands she realized that at some point Angelus had undone the zipper along the back of her dress.

Cordelia sighed into his mouth as his fingers found her nipples, tugging gently at the straining peaks. One hand abandoned its erotic task as it slid down exposing more of her skin as it went.

She groaned in disappointment as the other hand left her breast and slid around her pulling her up against him. She felt the slither of silk against her as her body was freed of its sleek confinement. She was once again pressed down as the hard body of the vampire covered her. Slowly he kissed his way down her writhing body in lazy circles covering ever inch of her exposed skin with reverent caresses.

As he came to the juncture of her thighs he grasped her firm legs easing them open. Making short work of the removal of her lacy panties, he could feel the waves of heat coming from her accompanied by the wonderful fragrance of her arousal and his mouth watered in anticipation. But determined to make these moments last he bypassed temptation and instead began laving the supple skin of her inner thighs. As her cries of passion change slowly to whimpers of frustration Angelus finally relented and moved to the center of her need. Extending his tongue he gently traced the curves and contours laid out before him.

They moaned in concert as his tongue made its way passed her dewy opening and buried itself deep within her grasping, velvet tunnel. His taste buds exploded with the heady flavor of her creamy essence as he pulled her tighter against him. Desperate to draw her into him, to fill himself with the taste, the feel of her, he devoured her, losing himself in her over and over again until her ecstasy reached a crescendo and he tore himself away needing to be deeper inside her.

Angelus wasn’t away from her for more than an instant before he was back plunging into her so deep she could feel him in her very soul. She felt his fingers tangle with hers as he stretched their arms out to the sides allowing their bodies to melt into one another, her softness and his strength merging to become one.

Never in all of their times together had she felt like this. She didn’t know if it was her decision to give him these few days or merely the beauty surrounding them, flowing through them, but something was different. She couldn’t put her finger on it and was really too enraptured by the perfect union of their bodies to try, but it was there and somewhere, deep in the furthest reaches of her mind a part of her had the good sense to be frightened.

As she thrust her hips forward over and over to crash into his, fire swept through her burning a path from their joining outwards until it overwhelmed her, searing every nerve ’til she was quaking with the force of its power.

“I love you, Angelus.”

Still shaking in the aftermath of such a mammoth explosion as the vampire drove into her finding his own release, it never occurred to her that he hadn’t had to ask for the words this time.


Chapter Sixty-Nine

Cordelia felt good. In fact, she felt extremely good. Although she was loathe to admit it, and probably never would aloud, Angelus had been right. This weekend with him, she’d been happy. It wasn’t so much that she’d forgotten about the dangers inherent in her situation to both herself and her friends, it was just that everything she’d been told about the bond was proving to be correct. As soon as she’d let her guard down she was swamped with feelings which bordered frighteningly on love.

Being with Angelus been wonderful, as if she’d suddenly found something she hadn’t even known was lost; an integral part of herself without which she would never truly be whole. And that feeling had to be place squarely in the “Things That Are Definitely of the Bad” column, if for no other reason than it was making it nearly impossible to build back the walls she’d allowed so briefly to fall.

And the ride home wasn’t helping. Although the night was warm they were driving with the top down so Angelus had made sure to bundle her tightly in his heavy duster before placing her in the front seat. The gentle hum of the motor and the earthy scent of the vampire wrapped around her had her slipping downwards until Angelus had seen her scooching closer to the floor and pulled her over to rest on the seat with her head pillowed on his thigh.

As he began running a hand through her hair her eyes fluttered shut at the soothing sensations flooding through her. Unable to contain the instinctive reaction to press closer to the gentle caress she began to let her mind wander as she tried to unravel the confusing puzzle that had been her weekend.

If Saturday had been physically overwhelming Sunday was an emotional rollercoaster. It started when she awoke in an unusual situation – alone. Despite all of her normal complaints it was almost disturbing not to have him hovering over her or to be wrapped up in his strong arms. Turning over to locate the errant vampire her eyes instead encountered a beautiful crystal vase full of 12 variously colored tulips. The romantic gesture brought a warm blush to her cheeks as she recalled the last time he’d given her tulips. The memories of that night caused a cascade of conflicting emotions to the surface and deciding to stick with her plan of giving her brain the weekend off she determinedly pushed them down, concentrating on the beautiful flowers she loved so much instead of the mental game of chess in which she and Angelus were engaged.

Pulling out a beautiful blossom that appeared to be a living embodiment of fire with its red and golden hues Cordelia was unaware of the vampire’s silent entrance into the room. Startled by his voice so near she dropped the lovely bud as a tray was placed in front of her.

“Eat, Cordelia.” Angelus commanded as he pressed a soft, swift kiss on her upturned lips. “After you shower dress casually. We’re going out tonight.”

Before she could even begin an inquiry about his plans he was out of the door leaving her alone with her curiosity and an absolutely wonderful breakfast.

And the surprises hadn’t stopped coming. While Saturday had seen them in a theater for the ‘fine arts’, Sunday had seen them in a different type of theater – a movie theater.

She never would have figured the vampire for a film buff and his explanation for the outing stunned her.

“Cordelia, this – you and me, it doesn’t have to be all about sex…although a lot of it will be.” Angelus added with a playful leer. “When I said that I liked you I meant it. You’re more than a body, you’re a companion. You’re delightful in and out of bed. I told you that this weekend was about showing you what we could be, that you could be happy. Wouldn’t you like to do this all the time? To just spend time together enjoying each other? We can if you’d just let go, just give in. If you would only promise that you’d stay I’d believe you, Cordelia; you’d have so much more freedom. We could be so much more.”

And if she was honest with herself, which she always strove to be, she would have to admit that it had been fun. If one could overlook the wanton killing part of his personality he really was a charming escort. He was smart, witty, and his extremely advanced age made all of his stories spell-binding.

And a part of her had hated every minute.

This time together may have been truly enjoyable, but it was leading her down a dangerous path. Halfway through the movie she’d stopped paying attention to what was happening on the screen as a small voice, really a whisper in the back of her mind asked “What if you stayed?”

It wasn’t that one weekend of fun had overruled her common sense, but she’d begun to see just how strong their bond really was and how much more it would grow. And as that reality had slapped her in the face she’d started to wonder if she could at least submit on her own terms.

As much as it galled her to admit it her capitulation was starting to seem inevitable. It occurred to her that while she could still resist she might have some bargaining power. If she gave her word, if she kept it, maybe she could wring a promise from Angelus in return. If he guaranteed that he wouldn’t go after her friends or her family then maybe it would be okay to remain with him. Sure, he’d still be a killer, but he’d be that whether she was there or not; she couldn’t stop that. But if she could keep the people that she loved safe, then maybe, just maybe she could stay.


Chapter Seventy

“Hello, Watcher.”

Giles’ heart skipped a number of beats as he saw the vampire sitting behind his desk. Pushing down his fear he forced his eyes to meet the penetrating blue gaze.

“Spike.”

Spike smiled at the response. It was calm and cool delivering the type of polite disdain that only a fellow Englishmen could achieve. He had sensed the man’s initial fear, but it had been contained almost immediately, and as one rarely given to self-control he had to admire that trait in others.

“You’re in my chair.”

Admiration was one thing, but Spike was still a deadly force to be reckoned with and he deserved a certain amount of respect even from those dedicate to eradicating his kind.

“Well, you could always console yourself with the fact that I’m not ripping your throat out.”

Giles let out a long-suffering sigh understanding that Spike’s visit, as Angelus’ had been, was motivated by the need for his cooperation. So while he probably wouldn’t like what he was about to hear he most likely wasn’t in mortal danger.

“Why are you here, Spike?”

The vampire looked at Giles ’appraisingly.

“Funny thing that. I was just wondering why you lot weren’t at my place. Sure, we all know that the world revolves around the slayer, but I would have thought you all would have at least tried to retrieve the cheerleader.”

Giles could feel the blood draining from his face as the implication of Spike’s words registered. In a voice edging towards desperation Giles refuted his claim.

“You’re lying. Cordelia’s gone. She left and if this is your way of gathering information for Angelus it’s not going to work.”

Spike let out a deep chuckle. “Now why would I bother helping that bloody wanker? Of course no matter what else he is, Angelus is no one’s fool. Did you really think he wouldn’t be prepared for the girl to bolt? He’s got minions everywhere, vampire and human alike. She didn’t even make it out of town before he had her snatched up and brought to him.”

Giles sunk down on the couch to prevent his weakening legs from collapsing. Cordelia’s flight from Sunnydale had been almost two weeks ago. To know that she’d been in the demon’s clutches all of that time made him want to wretch. But aware that loss of control would do nothing towards helping free the girl Giles forced himself to calm and look at the matter as objectively as he was capable at that moment.

“If I’m to believe you Spike and Angelus really does have Cordelia, why on earth would you be here sharing that information with me?”

“Well it’s no secret that me and my grandsire aren’t what you’d call bosom buddies. It’s not like I’m sheddin’ any tears at the thought of drivin’ him a little crazier than he already is. Besides, the girl did me a good turn, and as she pointed out, I owe her.”

Although he was burning with curiosity at what would put this vile killer in the young woman’s debt Giles bit back all questions knowing his answers could wait until Cordelia had been rescued. He cringed inside at the thought of the hell she must be enduring.

He didn’t trust Spike as far as Xander could throw him, but if Cordelia was with Angelus then there was no time to spare. And if what he was claiming was true he would deal with the Devil himself to help bring her home to them.

“Is that all you came to tell me?”

With a small, put out huff Spike stood and crossed over to the door.

“You know, you think the good guys would be a bit better with the gratitude. But as it so happens that’s not all I came for. Whatever little rescue plan you and the slayer are sure to hatch, it won’t do you any good ‘til tomorrow.”

Giles rose from the couch and with an emphatic head shake made clear that that idea was unacceptable.

“Absolutely not. Cordelia won’t be spending one moment longer in this nightmarish situation than is necessary.”

“Well aren’t we the brave little soldier. But it doesn’t make a difference how noble your motives are. Angelus took the chit out of town for the weekend.”

“Where?”

Spike shrugged disinterestedly.

“I didn’t ask and believe me, I’m the last one Angelus would think to share vacation plans with. But if it makes you feel any better, and for the record I don’t really care if it does, he wasn’t planning on hurtin’ the girl.”

And oddly enough Giles’s worry did ease a tiny fraction…until Spike once again opened his mouth.

“’Course Angelus is an unpredictable bastard and Cor’s not the most calming influence, so who knows? But assuming she comes back with her head still attached to the rest of her body I can tell you where to find her.”

“And what do you get out of this, Spike? I can’t believe that there’s anything Cordelia could have done to earn this type of appreciation, and please don’t insult my intelligence by suggesting you’re here out of the goodness of your heart.”

Spike smiled. He was a direct sort of demon, a trait he respected in others. Except for Dru he liked plain speaking and this man certainly pulled no punches. Actually, if everything went well and Angelus was left as nothing more than a memory in a dust pan, he’d actually think about turning him. He wouldn’t mind having him around providing they could dislodge the stick from up his ass. And it was always handy to have a few bright minions in what was usually a fairly useless lot. Besides, nothing would hurt the slayer more than the failure to protect her Watcher.

“What’s in it for me? Here’s the deal, mate. I give you the location where you can find your stray little lamb and you and yours leave me and Dru out of the fight.”

Giles eyebrows rose at the unexpected offer.

“It’s not going to be that easy. I doubt Drusilla will just let us come in and stake her Sire.”

Spike growled at the reference of Dru’s loyalty to her ‘Daddy”, but nonetheless addressed the question.

“You let me take care of Dru. You just get your slayer over there tomorrow.”

“And where might ‘there’ be?”

“Do we have a deal?” Spiked asked although knew they did. He held the cards in this negotiation.

“Yes. Now where is Cordelia being held?”

“The old abandoned mansion over on Crawford Street. You can’t miss it; it’s the one with all the guards around it. Angelus never was the most subtle of demons.”

Spike, business done, turned to leave but was brought up short by Giles steely voice.

“Spike.” The vampire didn’t turn but the stillness of his figure showed that he had his full attention. “If this is some kind of ambush or if Cordelia’s harmed in anyway you’ll have much more trouble than an angry slayer to deal with.”

Spike was impressed. First the cheerleader and now the Watcher had delivered threats that actually came across as fairly credible. It wasn’t all that easy for humans to pull that off. Well maybe slayers, but he’d killed two of those which made it that much more impressive.

“Don’t worry; this liberation gig is in all of our bests interests. You can count on me not to interfere.”

And he was gone.

Knowing there was no time to spare Giles picked up the phone and punched in Buffy’s number. They had to be ready tomorrow. Because one thing was a complete and absolute certainty – If Cordelia was there she definitely couldn’t stay.


PART 14 – THE GREAT ESCAPE
Chapter Seventy-One

Xander Harris was dead. His still body lay where it had fallen moments ago; blood puddled around him a grotesque testament to the wounds which had ravaged his young body.

As the crimson pool slid with fluid grace across the floor, Cordelia made her way towards her fallen friend and stood silent, staring intently at all that was left of the boy she’d once loved.

Looking past the gruesome sight her eyes were drawn to the dark figure across from her; blood still dripping from his hands. As one of those stained hands moved towards her she leaned forward to meet it half way. Grasping it firmly she brought the slickened digits to her mouth and ran her tongue sensuously across them to the sounds of both their moans.

Cordelia’s heart stopped as her eyes flew open. She felt as if she was drowning in the darkness around her and tried desperately to pull air into her lung.

“Only a dream. Only a dream.” Her mind screamed at her in a futile attempt to stem the rising surge of panic that was so great it became a physical ache that beat at her chest. The images were so real that she swore she could taste the slight tang of copper on her tongue. Not knowing if she could stop her rolling stomach from heaving up it’s contents, help came for her from an unexpected source.

“It’s okay.”

The words were low and the voice was sleepy but the strong arms that pulled her closer calmed her body if not her mind.

“Don’t worry, baby. It’s okay. I’m right here.”

Despite the horror so fresh in her mind, the mystical forces at work in her life swirled around her and she began to slip back into the deep abyss of sleep. Her eyes slid shut once more leaving time for one last coherent thought.

‘That’s the problem.’

Cordelia gazed at the weightless clouds moving languidly across the sky. When she was younger, like so many children, she’d tried to find entertaining shapes in their velvety hills and valleys. But today there were no happy forms only the freedom of the sky broken into lines of imprisonment by the bars of the windows.

Ever since her escape Cordelia hadn’t been allowed outside during daylight hours and never at night without Angelus at her side. But knowing that she would require some sunlight the vampire had found what he believed to be a reasonable compromise. And so here she sat in a large room with floor to ceiling panes of glass along one wall. Unlike the windows in the rest if the house the shutters and boards had been removed to allow bright streams of sunlight to spill onto the stone floor.

It would have been an almost enjoyable experience – bathing in the warm rays of the sun, except for the large iron rods that crisscrossed the windows to prevent even thoughts of escape. It wasn’t as if they obscured the light or impeded its warmth, but it was a constant and stark reminder of her captivity. And though that thought was never far from her mind, the glaring evidence denied her even the transient illusion that this wasn’t real.

Of course as she sat in a pool of golden light she acknowledged that even thoughts of confinement would be a relief from the images currently haunting her. Since she had awoken that morning nothing had been able to draw her mind from the horror of her previous night’s dream. Terrifyingly real the gruesome images played through her head like a never ending movie. It wasn’t the atrocities committed that were now overwhelming her, but rather her cavalier attitude toward the suffering and death that had permeated every vicious scene.

During their time in Los Angeles Cordelia had come perilously close to promising Angelus that she would stay with him; to using her presence as a bargaining chip to ensure the safety of those she cared for. But now she wondered if pledging herself to a life with the vampire would actually bring more danger to her family, her friends. What if her dream hadn’t just been a reaction to the trauma of the last few months? What if instead it was a foreshadowing of things to come? Could it be that over time she would slowly become desensitized to the violence around her? Looking back she realized that the first few times she’d encountered the demons and various weirdness of the Hellmouth they had shocked and frightened her; but although common sense dictated that the fright still remained, the shock had long since worn off. Would that also be the case with Angelus; a slow acceptance of unparalleled death and destruction until it simply came to be another facet of everyday life?

Suddenly cold in spite of the sunlight surrounding her, Cordelia pulled her knees to her chest resting her cheek against them. Refusing to give into the tears filling her eyes she tried to empty her mind of thoughts about circumstances over which she seemed to have no control. She was so tired, but the fear of the darkness in her own mind kept sleep at bay and left her alone without comfort, without hope.


Chapter Seventy-Two

Angelus tuned in occasionally to the monotonous droning of the minion before him on the seemingly remote chance that he said anything of import. It was indeed a difficult effort as there were far more tantalizing thoughts swirling through his mind and every one of them having to do with Cordelia.

Last night he’d been awakened by the miasma of terror filling the room. The scent had been irresistible but he found even greater pleasure in the absolute knowledge that he was in some way responsible for the horror that had spilled from Cordelia’s very pores.

Whatever she’d been dreaming, and he had no doubts that she would refuse him the specifics of the contents, he knew that he had a leading role; and it pleased him to no end. Although he had been trying to woo her of late, he was what he was and whether she enjoyed or despised his presence the fact that she could not escape it even in slumber appealed to him on the most basic of levels. True, he wanted Cordelia’s acceptance, her love but those were things that, eventually, she would have no choice but to grant to him. But this; carving himself into every sliver of her psyche satisfied his need to possess her in ways that spoke to the very fabric of his being.

And that was the thought that he’d held onto in the night as he’d let her slide back into slumber instead of bowing to his instincts; pulling her beneath him and pounding furiously into her as he made her recount every detail, every nuance of her nightmares. But his Machiavellian mind turning even when half awake he understood that the momentary pleasure of fucking her senseless while he drowned in her fear wasn’t worth the progress he knew he’d been making with his stubborn pet.

And he was confident that his decision had been correct when she fell almost immediately into a deep sleep in his embrace. Whether she wanted to admit it or not Cordelia was coming to depend on him more and more for her emotional stability. And in the end that would be the harbinger of the demise of her independence as she would have no choice but to swear allegiance to him; the only constant in her strange and terrifying new world.


Chapter Seventy-Three

Of all the things Giles had been forced to do in his life few had been as utterly unpleasant as the task before him promised to be. Searching the sleepy faces of the children seated around the large table of the library in the dead of night it pained him to see nearly identical expressions of wariness and a morbid sense of curiosity that one often found when driving past automobile accidents. Their weary eyes, so incongruous with their youth, brought home once again the terrible injustice that had befallen them.

Clearing his throat to allow himself one more moment to gather his courage and delay the inevitable Giles finally began realizing that his small comfort was purchased by the growing tension of his audience.

“I’ve recently been made aware of some quite distressing news that must be addressed immediately.”

Looks becoming even more guarded, the slayer and her friends waited with dread blooming in their hearts for yet another tragedy to befall their small band of fighters.

“In spite of our beliefs to the contrary it seems that Cordelia never made it out of Sunnydale.”

The gasps filling the room were drowned out by the scraping of chair legs against wood flooring as Xander leapt up, a terrible fury dawning on his face.

“What are you saying Giles? If Cordelia didn’t leave where has she been all this time. Why hasn’t she contacted us?”

Although he knew the logical answers to his questions he forced himself to ask them anyway in the hopes that he was wrong. He was still hurt and angry that he hadn’t been given the chance to say good bye to the girl he’d come to care for so deeply. But to hear what he knew would be coming next – well he wasn’t sure he could bear that. He’d tried for so long to be strong, for Buffy, for Willow, for his beautiful Cordelia, but he wasn’t sure that he could take anymore. He was tired of being a pillar of dependability, tired of being the shoulder to cry on; he was just…tired.

He cared so much about Buffy, he wanted her to be happy, to smile again, but lately there were more and more days where he hated the very sight of her. And more and more he hated himself for feeling that way. But he was helpless against the emotions that crashed into him over and over, each day finding them stronger than the day before.

Yes, Buffy lost Angel. Yes, it was a devastating tragedy for her. But he’d lost something too; something far more precious than a filthy demon with a tainted soul. And although he sympathized with the sense of loss she felt it was growing harder to suppress the feeling that if she’d done something before this – stayed away from the vampire, killed him when he’d first turned evil, protected those around her weaker than herself, then Cordelia would still be here. She’d still be the snarky, sparkling young woman who’d inexplicably brightened his life instead of the withdrawn and terrorized victim she’d been when last he’d seen her.

At the most basic core of his personality Xander Harris was loyalty made flesh; and so, within him now, the feelings of betrayal and friendship warred inside him. Every instinct within him called for him to stand beside his friend as he’d done since she’d come into his life. And yet he knew that if Giles gave him the answers he feared, the answers he’d do anything to shape to soothe his terrible fears, then he wouldn’t be able to be the one to comfort the slayer, to be a shelter from her reeling emotions. If the man before him said the words he knew, deep in the darkest recesses of his heart were imminent then he would break, maybe irreparably, and he would have nothing to give to Buffy because there would simply be nothing left of him.

“I’m sorry Xander.”

Knees buckling he fell to the ground as the words washed over him and his soul cracked.. He knew without explanation what those words meant. All that time that they’d though Cordelia was safe, that she was somewhere far away free of the horror that had become her life, she’d been within mere miles of them, trapped with the source of all of her nightmares.

“How?” The voice was low and harsh as the words struggled to leave his constricted throat. “How could we not know? How do we know now?”

“Spike.”

“What?!”

This time it was Buffy who was asking the questions.

Heaving a sigh that spoke of long suffering Giles prepared to try to explain everything at once to avoid the constant interruptions that would only prolong this miserable experience.

“Last night Spike came to see me. Please,” Giles hand rose to halt the slew of questions perched on every tongue. “I would prefer to get through this and then we can address any queries.”

“Spike wanted us to know that Cordelia never even made it out of town, that she’d been with Angelus since that first day.”

Purposely blinding himself to the anguished expressions he pushed on.

“He relayed to me the address at which Cordelia was being held and the fact that Angelus took Cordelia out of town over the weekend and would not be back until today making moot any rescue effort until now.”

“I want to make it perfectly clear that Spike’s motives in revealing these things to us were in no way altruistic and indeed the information came with a price. Spike is going to insure that Drusilla is a non-issue in the fight that is certain to ensue upon our arrival and in return I agreed to let the both of them leave the Hellmouth unscathed.”

At the appalled look on the children’s faces Giles clarified his position.

“I want to be absolutely clear about this. Cordelia is our first and only priority. I don’t care if we have to let every vampire, demon, and minion go free, rescuing her is worth any sacrifice.”

Xander rose to his feet nodding in approval of the watcher’s words. Finally he felt in sync with someone on a plan of action. At last somebody agreed with him that nothing in this situation took precedence over Cordelia’s safety. It was a good feeling; empowering and he savored it knowing that no matter how reluctant Buffy might be to confront Angelus she would do as Giles said.

Resuming his seat, Xander leaned forward eager as hope surged through him for the first time in months.

“So, what’s the plan?”

“We go in today at 3:00…”
Chapter Seventy-Four
Spike gazed down at Drusilla’s serene face. It had been beyond easy to remove her from the equation regarding the upcoming fight between Angelus and the White Hats. Since no one knew about his return to health there would be no suspicion about the special powder he’d procured to knock his beloved out for what was promised to him would be almost an entire day.

Being prepared for either party to win Spike knew that should Angelus be victorious he could merely explain Dru’s absence as the result of one of her many spells. Drusilla was as viscous as vampires come, but there had always been a delicacy about her from the moment she was turned. It’s why she had been so damaged in Prague and it was why her sire would have no choice but to believe that she had truly been incapable of assisting him. After all, it was Angelus who had been responsible for her…peculiarities in the first place.

Satisfied with his plans Spike was content to sit and wait, finding himself in the unfamiliar and somewhat surreal position of actually cheering a slayer onto victory rather than planning her defeat.

Something flitted over Angelus’ sleep drugged mind. It was quiet, barely there even, but it niggled at him until it forced his heavy eyelids open. Concentrating he heard nothing out of the ordinary and was soon distracted by the gentle rising and falling of Cordelia’s chest that pressed her lush breasts against him so delightfully. Just as he was about to wake her and satisfy the need she was stirring within him the elusive noise returned, only this time it was louder and much clearer – the slayer.

Low growls interspersed with harsh obscenities broke the silence in the room as he threw on his pants and ran from the room. Exhausted from hours upon hours of unparalleled passion Cordelia’s only response was to roll over into the empty space that had been previously filled by her lover and slip further into sleep.

Rushing down the stairs Angelus could hear the clash of weapons as the endeavor to steal away his pet got underway. It’s not that the attempt wasn’t expected, it’s just that he hadn’t expected it so soon. As far as he knew the slayer and her little gang were still under the impression that Cordelia had left town in an effort to evade his reach. While a small part of him wondered how they had learned of her presence in town and the location where they currently resided, the majority of him was completely enraged that anyone, especially the second-rate slayer would try to steal Cordelia from him; to part him from his beloved Moonbeam. With a roar that shook the boarded windows Angelus burst into the vast living room and threw himself into the fray.

Green eyes clashed with gold as Buffy saw Angelus’ entrance. With graceful, fluid movements she maneuvered herself in between the incensed vampire and her friends. Their plan had been simple – strike while the iron was hot before Angelus got wind that they knew where he was, where Cordelia was. They attacked during the daylight, a plan with both advantages and drawbacks.

It was a given that they would encounter greater resistance in the form of Angelus’ minions who would be confined to the house during the day. But although the numbers would be against them they would have the benefit of an invaluable ally – sunlight. Not only would they be able to thin out some of the minions by stripping the windows of protection, a task being seen to by Willow and Jenny the latter who had been called into service around dawn as battle plans were being made, but it would also create a safe escape route preventing a lengthy and dangerous pursuit by the vampires left unharmed.

Angelus’ lips curled in a cold mockery of a smile as the slayer deftly avoided his first blow. Knowing it would take more than physical strength to defeat this opponent he began to attack Buffy where he knew her mystical abilities would not protect her.

“So, this is the grand rescue effort, eh Buff? Come to save Cordelia? How noble. Or is it?”

Buffy’s confusion at his words cost her as she slowed down just a fraction of a second and Angelus clipped her side with a spinning kick. Pushing herself back into a fighting stance she tried to screen out his voice, but even the knowledge of his intentions was not a sufficient defense against his tactics.

“Maybe it’s not that you want to save Cordelia as much as it kills you to know that I’ve finally found a real woman to loose myself in, to fill myself with, to love.”

It was the last one that struck Buffy harder than any physical blow could. He sounded so sincere that she was compelled to respond even though the logical part of her brain screamed at her that she was playing directly into his hands.

“Demons can’t love.”

Her voice was shaky, but it carried a desperate conviction that marked it unmistakably as a mantra she had repeated often, most likely in the dead of night as she cried herself to sleep.

With that pleasant thought in his head Angelus took another swing at the girl, missing with his fist but connecting with his words.

“Demons can’t love you. And honestly Buffy, don’t flatter yourself that it’s because you’re the slayer. It’s simply because you’re a bland and lackluster example of humanity who, if you weren’t by some cosmic accident the slayer, would be nothing but an obscure blur on the periphery of existence.”

“I couldn’t love you for the same reason that Angel, despite his redemption driven declarations, couldn’t. Because there is no you to love. You whine endlessly about the burden of being the slayer, but really, if you didn’t have that what would you be? You’d be nothing; nobody. You’d be a pathetic waste of space completely alone and utterly unloved.

Angelus laughed as Buffy struck out in a clumsy attack that was easily avoided and then successfully countered.

“Come now Buffy, there’s no reason to shoot the messenger. Let’s look at the evidence. You have Giles, who only gives you the time of day because he swore an oath to help the slayer. Then there was Angel, who we’ve already established wanted to be with you because it gave his life purpose, not because of any quality you might posses.”

Another thrust thrown and answered sent the slayer staggering back and into the edge of the stone fireplace.

“Let’s see; Xander and Willow? Don’t kid yourself that they care about your friendship. No, they were stuck in there boring, invisible lives until you came along and allowed them to fasten on to your slayerhood to give them even a smidgen of identity.”

“Of course there’s your mom. She adores you right? She spends time with you, even uprooted her entire life to bring you to Sunnydale. How sweet, so much love.”

“But wait.” He caught the punch streaking towards his face and twisted her around throwing her once more against the stone mantle. “You’re mom only started this bonding kick, this concern for your well being once you started getting into trouble while pursuing your “destiny”. It always comes back to that doesn’t it, Buff. In the end it’s always about the slayer never about the girl. After all, think about the one person in your life who knows nothing about your secret identity or the fall out – daddy dearest.”

Her anger creating bursts of adrenaline, Buffy was able to slam a foot into Angelus’ chest sending the taunting vampire back several feet.

Chuckling as if the lucky hit was of no consequence he continued with his cruel diatribe.

“Your dad has no clue that your the slayer. Not even the hints that your mother must be too blind or too stupid too see. And so truly he’s the only person in your life that deals with Buffy Summers the person and not Buffy Summers the slayer. He alone is the measure of your worth as a individual. And how does he see you? Oh, that’s right, he doesn’t. No, the one person who is completely ignorant of your staus as the chosen one wants nothing to do with you. Your own father can’t stand to waste his time with such a little nobody. He’s probably embarrassed that his genes produced a disappointing nothing as yourself.”

Tears blurred Buffy’s vision but hate drove her forward, her emotional agony forcing her to take the offensive no matter that she knew it was what the bastard before her wanted.

“So of course your threatened by someone as amazing, as absolutely, perfectly breathtaking as Cordelia. You need so desperately to believe that I can’t love because then you won’t have to acknowledge that she’s everything that you’ll never be and more.” With little difficulty he sidestepped both the powerful blows aimed his way and the uncovered windows and continued his verbal annihilation of the young slayer.

“She fits me so perfectly. But not just her body, Buffy. No, it’s all of her; her heart, her soul, her mind, every part of her is as enchanting as you are insipid. She brings me the kind of joy that you could only give someone by leaving a room.”

Finally seeing a flaw in his argument Buffy smirked at him lashing out with her own taunt.

“For all your endless blathering I think you’re forgetting something – I gave Angel perfect happiness.”

Expecting her barb to wound she was taken aback by the genuine laughter that filled the air around them.

“Oh please slayer; before he came to Sunnydale the soul had lived in sewer eating filthy rats to exist. Talk about someone with low expectations of life. Honestly, a decent bottle of hair gel was practically enough to give him the big happy. Angel wallowed in hatred of who he was and punished himself endlessly for things he could never change. His life was sad and pathetic and nothing but an endless attempt to pay for my illustrious past with his useless suffering. You weren’t some light in his darkness. You were just a convenient focus. You weren’t special and the only thing he cared about was what you are not who you are. It wasn’t your heart or your soul he cared about that night. It was about fucking a slayer so he could believe he wasn’t the dismal piece of shit that he was. ‘Cause if you really give it some thought he never got that elusive bliss from “loving” you. No, he only got it by screwing you.”

Catching her with a vicious backhand Angelus glanced around the room. Unblocking the windows had had the desired results and he could see the ashes of many of his minions drifting gently to the floor in the golden rays. But where the vampires had failed his human servants had stepped in and their ability to fight regardless of the light was slowly turning the tide in his favor.

Although, sadly, none of the slayer’s gang were dead, there were various injuries among them; most notably Harris and the watcher. The moron seem to sway slightly as blood streamed from a nasty but most likely superficial cut on his head, and good old Rupert appeared to be favoring one side probably do to a cracked rib or two.

It was clear to both the vampire and the slayer that this round went to the home team and a swift retreat was called for. Although loathe to leave without their imprisoned friend they would be of no help to her if they were slowly picked off in this unwinable battle.

Seeing Buffy catch her watcher’s eyes and signal a withdrawal Angelus couldn’t resist on last turn of the emotional blade.

“You know, slayer, if you’d only gotten here a few minutes sooner you could have seen first hand how much Cordelia pleases me.” A look of unmeasurable lust crossed his face at the thought as his features shifted back to the hauntingly familiar visage of “her Angel”. “Of course, if you stay a few minutes longer you’ll see the same thing.”

Smiling as his final words hit their mark he watched as Buffy cleared a path through his minions and servants alike practically throwing her friends into the relative safety of the sunlight before urging them to flee the humans who could follow and hurt them.

As they disappeared from his sight a burning fury swept through him at the thought of what they had intended to do, what they had intended to take from him. Choking on the rage sheeting off of him in waves he left the clean up to those still capable of standing and spun towards the stairs, leaping over the steps in two large bounds.

Although the door to their room was not locked Angelus shattered the wood with one powerful kick causing a boom to echo off of the stone walls and causing the sleeping young woman to jerk violently into wakefulness.

Before her head had cleared enough to even take in her surroundings she was pinned against the mattress by a large and livid vampire whose flaming eyes and lethal teeth ignited a terror in her that consumed all rational thought.

Grasping her arms tight enough to bruise, Angelus began to shake the girl below him as his fury poured over her.

“You will not leave me! I will never let you leave me! Do you understand me Cordelia?”

Caught in the vulnerable state of semi-wakefulness and completely at a loss for any explanation for what was happening all Cordelia could do was shake with fear as she slowly slid into shock at the picture above her of a seemingly berserk vampire in the grips of a terrifying rage and spattered with smears of blood.

Getting no response the out of control vampire shook her again until she looked as if she’d be physically ill but awareness returned to her eyes. Leaning down ’til his face was nearly touching hers his dark voice caressed her skin as they painted in her mind a horrifyingly monstrous picture.

“Do you know what I’d do if you tried to leave me, Cordelia? Can you even begin to imagine?”

“I’d gather all your friends, all your loved ones, anyone for whom you’ve ever had even the most fleeting thoughts of care and I’d dispose of them one by one. Oh, not a quick death. No, there’d be no mercy for even the least loved amongst them.”

“I’d start at the bottom and work my way up. Do you know how many bones rest in the human foot? 26. 26 bones, Cordelia and I’d remove every one. I’d slowly cut through the skin and muscles, peeling them back until my objective was revealed. Then one by one I’d pull them out tearing of the ligaments linking them and tossing them to the floor so they could watch the pile grow as we progress.”

“Providing they’d retained consciousness, and I am an expert at keeping my playmates awake, we’d make our way up the leg. How far do you think we could get before blood loss or shock got ’em? I think if I really applied myself I could at least manage to get a hip out.”

“We could make it more interesting you know. We could try to figure out before hand who the bleeders would be and who had the weak hearts. I’m betting Giles would last until every last drop of blood flowed out of his veins. But Willow? I think little Willow probably wouldn’t survive the first three toes. She strikes me as kind of fragile that way.”

“And you’ll be there for it all. Every slash, every tear all for your eyes. Every piercing shriek of pain, every anguished plea to stop all for your ears. Every precious moment of hideous agony all because of you, all that blood staining your uncaring hands.”

Pressing closer his lips moved to her ear filling her head with his whispered yet unalterable demand.

“Tell me you won’t leave me, Cordelia.”

Unable to grasp what had precipitated this grisly trek into violent insanity, Cordelia was unable to string together a coherent thought much less express one. Hysteria devoured her and her gasping sobs caused almost convulsive tremors to roll through her body.

Shaking her again until her head snapped back and forth uncontrollably Angelus bit out his demand for her absolute attention, for her answer.

“Tell me! Swear to me you’ll stay. Do you want them all to suffer? Do you want to see the floors run red as their life spills from the gaping holes I tear in their battered bodies? Answer me?!”

The last was a roar and it snapped Cordelia from her mute dread and propelled her into almost incoherent appeasement.

“I won’t. I won’t leave. I-I swear, I’ll never leave you, I’ll never go. I’ll stay just don’t – don’t -”

Forcing the words out between great, gasping sobs was causing a panic induced hyperventilation that was quickly depriving her of oxygen even as her terror was closing her throat.

Seeing both the truth of her words and the immense depth of her fright Angelus was more than satisfied. Easing to the side he pulled the petrified girl into a gentle embrace and began rubbing his hands in soothing circles on her back.

“Shhh, Cordelia. Shhh.” A soft rocking motion accompanied his tender words. “Hush, baby; you’ll make yourself sick. It’s okay now. You’re not leaving so everything will be okay.”

With light caresses and soothing words Angelus finally managed to calm the traumatized girl into a restless sleep as tears continued to slowly slipped from closed eyes.


Chapter Seventy-Five

Spike stretched out his body, cramped from hours in that damned chair, onto the bed. Things hadn’t gone the way he’d hoped, but he had no doubts that now that the slayer and her little gang knew about Cor’s whereabouts the wouldn’t rest until they retrieved her. So no matter how it played out it would cause nothing but trouble for Angelus. And honestly, if he couldn’t have the slayer eliminate his grandsire then having her keep him completely occupied was the next best thing. With his strength almost fully returned Spike was at a point where he could make the most of Angelus’ distraction and maybe take a more direct hand in the bastard’s demise.

Although he had no trouble hating his grandsire in light of his recent actions, it was another thing all together to be able to kill him. Killing your sire did happen in the vampire world, but it was extremely rare as their particular form of demon just wasn’t wired that way. That was truly why the demons who bought all that bullshit about Angelus never really having the soul were so impressed that he had killed Darla. Being able to increase one’s power at the expense of their own biological imperatives would definitely demonstrate the type of leadership that demons valued above al else.

So once again Angelus came out on top and it set Spike’s teeth on edge. But every insult, every injustice he hoarded to himself letting his hatred blossom and grow. He might not be able to destroy the older vampire yet but it was only a matter of time until Angelus pushed him beyond all reason and Spike was going to make damn sure that he’d be ready.

Angelus closed his eyes savoring the feel of the warm body pressed up against him. Every once in a while Cordelia would make some small noise, a remnant of her journey into hysteria that would bring a slight smile to his lips.

He wasn’t a vampire who entertained self doubts. Whether he was planning his actions with care or flying by the seat of his pants he went with his instincts and stood behind his decisions supremely confident in his ability to deal with the consequences of his choices.

However, he was also a very practical and realistic demon and he understood the value of being able to adjust one’s actions midstream should the circumstances dictate. Today had been such a situation. The arrival of the slayer had been a definite shock and it added to the growing list of questions he was planning to have answered very soon, chief among which were – How did the slayer find out he had Cordelia? How did they know where he was keeping her? Where the hell was Drusilla when all this was going on? Angelus didn’t car for coincidence unless it was working in his favor and too many of the day’s events had seemed a bit to engineered for his taste.

But once his nagging suspicions had been laid to rest he would have to admit that the rest of the happenings had worked out far better for him than his original course of action had been. For weeks now he had been trying to slowly woo Cordelia into giving him her word that she would stay. And although he knew that he had been getting closer there seemed to be something that was holding her back and he had a feeling he might not have been able to overcome it for months and months. And while he certainly had the time and didn’t mind the effort, the fact was that Cordelia was too smart and too cunning to be left to her own devices without being bound by her word to remain with him. He had no illusions that the security measures that he had put in place would only hold her temporarily until her clever mind found the one imperfection in his design and ruthlessly exploited it.

Although he knew that he was taking a chance by moving carefully with her, trying to win her allegiance rather than demanding it, he felt that in the long run it would make her transition into his world that much easier. And there was a part of him that believed that her loyalty, freely given would be that much sweeter. Well he’d learned that afternoon that belief was well and truly unfounded.

He had, mere hours before, finally received Cordelia’s solemn oath to remain with him. It wasn’t a promise based on love or affection. It wasn’t a vow given on the crest of unprecedented need. No, it was a guarantee ripped from her soul by a panic so immense it stole away her ability to breath. And after it had been given he realized one simple fact – it was the same destination regardless of the path traveled. He’d gotten what he’d wanted and he’d be damned if he was going to be anything other than satisfied about it. Now that he could relax a little he’d be able to go back to showing Cordelia the benefits of their union.

Of course something would have to be done about the slayer. He’d been loathe to finish Buffy off this early in their little game. Especially because, as Cordelia had told the A’toreal clan, having a slayer around that couldn’t bring herself to kill him was certainly preferable to one who had no compunction about pursuing his ultimate demise. Not that they’d be able to, but it was certainly more hassle than it was worth.

Besides, he loved tearing out Buffy’s heart and crushing it right before her tearful eyes. And the greatest thing about it was that it worked anew every time. One would think that eventually the girl would build up a barrier, like layers on a callous, to protect herself. But instead every thrust of the knife cut as deeply as the first.

It was funny how diametrically opposed were the women of the demon and the soul. While Buffy was an open book on whose pages anyone could leave their mark, Cordelia was a builder of nearly impenetrable walls. Instead of experiencing pain but still believing in the ultimate goodness of every human and thus leaving herself open to the same hurt all over again as Buffy did, Cordelia processed painful situations immediately and assimilated and applied what she’d learned in an effort to protect herself from that particular harm again. And for different reasons he wouldn’t change either woman.

He wouldn’t alter Cordelia because even though he was slowly having to break down all those layers of self protection, it created an effort that gave value to the end result. If a person gave their trust unreservedly to all those around them then what made it special to receive? Nothing. Faith freely given is a reflection of the giver. However, if a person hoarded their trust giving it out to only those few whom they deemed worthy, then it meant something completely different for faith earned was a commentary on the receiver.

It was, in the end, the challenge that dictated the value in Angelus’ eyes and the challenge Cordelia presented was endlessly fascinating and worthy of pursuit.

And as much as he respected Cordelia’s wary spirit he appreciated Buffy’s open nature. The slayer’s ability to believe, to open her heart completely to those around her over and over made her an endless joy to hurt. She was like a child who wouldn’t learn that fire burns and so continuously places her hand on a burning stove. No matter what he said to her, no matter what he did, every time she saw him she convinced herself that this would be the time that he’d finally be Angel for her. It made shattering her illusions all the more pleasurable. Watching her heart splinter a little more each time they faced each other and then seeing her approaching him again with it still on her sleeve tickled him. And now that the time of her impending death was at hand he found that he was going to miss that fractured pain in her eyes as he took one more thing that was precious to her and pointed out how it was wrong, a lie, or something of which she was completely unworthy. Still, it was hardly a fair battle when only one opponent had the mental acuity to fight. Playing mind games with the slayer was somewhat like hunting the elderly; not difficult but hardly a pastime of sustainable interest.

Of course that didn’t mean that her death had to be swift or ordinary. The plans he had for her demise were neither. Angelus had worried for a time over how and when to dispose of the people in Cordelia’s life. He had held off simply because he had wanted their bond to expand to a point that she wouldn’t be able to resist her feelings for him regardless of his actions. He hadn’t counted on her wondrously stubborn nature. But the happenings of the day had resolved that little dilemma for him.

The absolute, unrestrained fear and revulsion in Cordelia’s eyes when he’d described how he planned to kill everyone she knew if she didn’t voluntarily bind herself to him was genuine in every way. The graphic images he’d left in her mind would haunt her for years to come. It was the kind of trauma that the human brain was hard pressed to reconcile and brush off. And because those images would retain such a sharp focus in her mind, he knew that when he snapped the necks of the slayer and her little friends, while a part of Cordelia would writhe in grief and agony over their deaths, another part of her that on a conscious level she probably wouldn’t even acknowledge would rejoice at the quick and painless end to their lives instead of the horrific end she had expected for them all.

Of course, just because they wouldn’t suffer didn’t mean they wouldn’t suffer. While Cordelia would concentrate most on the external in relationship to the death of her friends, Angelus knew far better than most that it’s often the internal that causes the greatest pain. The deaths he had begun planning, while all physically quick and painless would be designed to create a crescendo of agony that would crash down upon the slayer tearing her soul asunder before he relieved her of all worldly cares.

It would begin with Harris. Angelus had never bothered to try to hide the fact that he hated the boy. He’d hated him as Angel and loosing his humanity had certainly done nothing to improve the boy in his eyes. Add to that that he had touched Cordelia, had felt her love and he knew that when the deaths began Xander’s would have to be first. If he didn’t do it quickly and get it out of the way he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from torturing the boy for days in ways that would test the stomach of even other demons.

Besides, Xander’s death would be the first step in the emotional destruction of the slayer; because one thing was as absolute as night following day – If Xander died Willow would never forgive Buffy for not killing him when she had the chance.

And so, with one death he would rob the slayer of the only two friends she had, and worse would be the crushing condemnation in gentle Willow’s eyes that would constantly remind the slayer that the responsibility for all of the loss rested solely on her shoulders.

Next would come Willows death. Short and sweet it would add one more impossibly heavy brick of guilt to the load Buffy was already carrying and it would devastate Jenny, the young woman’s mentor. Jenny would try not to but she wouldn’t be able to help but lay Willow’s death at Buffy’s door. This would chip away a little more at Buffy’s support and the friction between the teacher and the watcher would further erode any sense of normalcy in the slayer’s little world.

After an appropriate amount of time to let the tension beat away at them Jenny would be next. Her neck snapped like the others, he’d probably leave her at Rupert’s place just to defile one more bastion of safety for the remaining duo.

Rupert Giles was a man of great responsibilities, some given to him some he’d taken upon himself. It was clear to see even to a demon such as himself, that the stoic watcher felt that the safety of everyone he allowed into the sphere of his slayer was his duty to guard. Loosing all of his charges and the woman that he loved would be crushing for the man he was.

And better yet was that knowing that all those lives had been wasted because Buffy had been unwilling to preform her sacred obligations and he had been unwilling to push her to would cause him to resent both himself and her. And no matter how much he believed that he should be there for his slayer he wouldn’t be able to help but to pull away from her emotionally. The loss of approval from her surrogate father when she had never really recovered from that loss with her biological father would be far more painful and damaging than any physical injury Angelus could impart.

And when the salt had rubbed itself fully into her wounded soul Giles would be taken next. And there would be Buffy with nothing and no one but the ghosts of those she’d failed to protect screaming in her head that she was the author of every abysmal fate, that she alone had sentenced those she had claimed to love to death. And when he saw that final fissure in the ruins of her soul he’d end her short and pointless life with one abrupt twist.

And when Cordelia heard of the deaths, when he decided to let her know, the fact that they were nothing like the elaborate productions she had created in her mind would instill an unwanted and yet profound sense of gratitude within her that would accomplish both his goals of eliminating the slayer’s ragtag band and causing the least amount of distance between his beloved pet and himself.

So at the close of it all Buffy would end much like it was said of the world, not with a bang but a whimper; for she wouldn’t die out of any sense of personal hatred or revenge, but rather because she was predictable and boring and completely undeserving of any longterm commitment of his time, and every minute she lived was a minute that she threatened his claim on the one woman who was her complete and polar opposite.
Chapter Seventy-Six
Buffy wasn’t angry. She had been, she remembered the feeling, but it was a distant memory and not one with which she could form any emotional connection. Now all she was was numb. Finally, since that beautiful and hideous night of her birthday she was able to grasp the elusive truth that had hung for so long just on the edge of her vision like the whispers of a dream you can’t recapture.

Angel wasn’t coming back.

If she could feel anything she believed that thought would have killed her. But in her current state it wasn’t distressing, it simply was. He wasn’t coming back and any decent thing about him had been lost, taken with his soul as it fled his body.

Now that she could see the idea, now that she had turned it over in her mind and studied it’s cold and rigid contours, all that was left was to decide what to do with it. And really, what else was there to do? She had to kill Angelus.

The day before that admission would have made her heart shatter into a million tiny pieces, but now, strangely it didn’t. With a serene detachment Buffy wondered if there was no breakage because the vampire who had crushed it earlier that day had forgotten to return it, even in its twisted and battered form.

A part of Buffy understood that this complete anesthetizing of her entire being was the result of vasts amounts of both physical and mental stress combine with a devastating case of shock and that, more importantly it wouldn’t last. But she couldn’t find it in herself to either fight or regret the emotional state in which she found herself. For the first time in months she was able to see beyond the pain crowding into her and gaze upon the world at large with a crystal clarity that she’d never had until she had finally been able to remove her own thoughts and feelings from tinting reality to the shade that best suited her.

A small voice caught her attention and her head turned of its own accord towards the source of the quiet words.

“So what do we do now?”

Willow, although sharing the despondency of her friends at the failed rescue was nonetheless a devout optimist. Like her belief in her role as peacemaker she often felt the need to smooth out distressing situations. Her parents would most likely tell her that it was an unhealthy need that was quite codependent in nature and honestly, they’d probably be right. But since she was the one who spent the day fighting vampires because her best friend’s ex-boyfriend lost his soul and kidnapped her other best friend’s ex-girlfriend then she figured she deserved to indulge in whatever neurosis was going to get her through the next five minutes without a complete and utter melt down.

Fingering the bandage on his head, Xander added his reluctant two cents, not wanting to say the words for fear that it would lay to rest their rescue effort.

“Yeah, I guess we kinda blew the element of surprise. By the time we recoup, regroup, and redesign a plan of attack they’ll certainly be expecting us.”

“Then that leaves us only the unexpected.”

Giles and Jenny exchanged worried looks at Buffy’s voice, so cold and devoid of emotion. Even though they had both been busy during the fight Angelus’ taunts were not so quiet that they went completely unheard. They knew that, no matter how often it had been explained to her that Angel was truly gone she hadn’t been able to abandon that last sliver of hope. And although it finally seemed that she had crossed that last hurtle it was so disconcerting that on some level both adults almost wished for the return of her denial.

“We’re going back tonight.”

Yes, the denial was certainly looking good.


PART 15 – IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED
Chapter Seventy-Seven

She saw only one and she saw all. She was in the moment and she was timeless.

In a truly ironic twist of fate Buffy Summers had become that which she had so vehemently denied being just hours before – a slayer and nothing more. With no humanity to weigh her down she was a killing machine and nothing in her path could stand in the face of such an elemental force.

The part of Buffy’s slayer instinct responsible for tactical assessment was grateful that Angelus was absent from the night’s violence; but that side of her designed by some higher power for the purpose of eradicating the enemies of mankind longed to face her nemesis here, now when she knew without doubt that she had no feelings to interfere with his long overdue demise.

In a blur of muscle and weaponry three more vampires fell before her. Scanning the room to assure herself of the relative safety of her friends Buffy caught Giles’ eye and, with a sharp nod, indicated that it was time for him to recover Cordelia.

As the second strongest fighter among them it had been agreed that Buffy would stay downstairs as Giles ventured to the upper level where Cordelia was being kept. While the opponents they were facing had the advantage of numbers they were, in a word, stupid. Whether it was youthful minions or human servants they were all weak and far too limited to understand that any power they might possess stemmed directly from Angelus who was currently not in residence. Even the superior strength and speed of the entry level vampires eventually fell to the cunning and creativity of the humans they faced. Minions and servants were geared to be weak. It made them easily controlled and even more easily replaced. It also made them easier to kill. It was why the turnover of young vampires was high and minions of age and stature were the minority in a clan and usually owed their existence to a master who saw a spark of potential in them and took them under their wing.

It was for this very reason that Giles was tasked with Cordelia’s retrieval. The fighting downstairs was simply the first line of defense and, as in chess, the weakest of pieces were being sacrificed. If that should fail the next step in Angelus’ plan would be to have the young woman’s location guarded by those of his soldiers with greater age and thus greater power. And as the bolt from his crossbow pierced the heart of one of the sentries and alerted the remaining three, Giles was assured of two things – his theories were correct and he’d definitely found Cordelia.

Spiked glanced over at Drucilla; an illusion of absolute purity encased in a stillness only death can fashion. He was glad he’s erred on the side of caution as he’d drugged her tea earlier that day. Not that he’d even remotely suspected that the slayer would have the balls to come back with both barrels blazing when her little gang had just gotten their asses handed to them a few scant hours before. No, he’d merely wanted Angelus to be able to see for himself that his childe had been incapacitated and therefore unable to render any assistance should the slayer loose the battle.

And he had to admit that it had worked. When Angelus had stormed into the room soon after the ruckus he’d been livid at the near loss of his pet. Cursing in a variety of languages it had taken him almost a full minute to notice Drucilla’s complete and utter lack of movement.

“She had one of her spells.” Spike took advantage of Angelus’ momentary silence to explain why his grandsire had received no familial support in the previous fight. “And really, what was I gonna do; roll over them?”

The younger vampire smirked at his incensed grandsire. He’d been the butt of Angelus’ mockery for months now, being told over and over how helpless and incapable he was. It was with the greatest of pleasures that Spike threw that very weakness back in Angelus’ face leaving him no way to dispute the blond’s claim of impotence as he had been the one to assert Spike’s limitations so vehemently in the first place.

Having found no outlet for his rage Angelus left in much the same manner as he’d arrived, shouting something about needing to create new minions.

Spike jerked back to reality as he heard footsteps beyond the door. Even without checking he knew it was the watcher. They slayer’s steps would be silent in their graceful, fluid movements and the others of their little gang would be the heavy, clumsy footfalls of those with little battle experience. This was the tread of an experienced fighter and there was only one among them other than Buffy that fit the bill.

Cracking the door open slightly, his suspicions were concerned as he saw one of Angelus’ more trusted lieutenants disappear in a cloud of ash. As the remaining two converged on the lone fighter Spike knew that if he wanted his plan to succeed he would have to take on more than the passive roll he had anticipated.

Suiting action to thought he stepped into the hallway as the vampires passed his door and grabbing the one nearest by the neck he gave a vicious twist and a jerk that literally tore the demon’s head from his body. As the minion disintegrated under his hands Spike’s leg shot out connecting with the last of the guards and propelling him towards Giles who had conveniently pulled out a large stake just in time to take advantage of the momentum that had been provided to his adversary.

“Yes, well, thank you.”

Spike’s lips twisted slightly at the reluctant gratitude extended by the do-gooder whose ass he’d just saved. Thankful that he wouldn’t have to deal with the pompous, arrogant crowd for much longer he merely shook his head and reaffirmed their deal.

“Just make sure you keep the slayer clear of my door and we’re square.”

The vampire gestured towards a large, heavy door at the end of the hallway.

“Your girl’s in there, but don’t expect her to be to enthusiastic about the rescue.”

Spike had heard Angelus’ earlier confrontation with his pet. He knew that despite her extraordinary resilience the young woman had been exceedingly traumatized by the gruesome threats with which Angelus had bombarded her. He’d also heard her swear to stay to prevent those grisly possibilities from becoming reality. But despite this knowledge and regardless of the fact that he’d come to genuinely like the girl that his grandsire had so ruthlessly pursued and imprisoned, he said nothing and turned back towards his own room. After all, he had his own girl to look after.

Giles felt the ringing of Spike’s ominous words in his ears as he approached the door that would finally lead him to Cordelia. Relieved to find it unlocked he squared his shoulders in a vain attempt to prepare himself for what he might find on the other side. Stepping into the room his eyes were immediately drawn to the large bed that dominated the space. There, sleeping silently, oblivious to the conflict raging around her, was the young woman that, for her own sake, he had hoped not to lay eyes on for some time. Moving to her side Giles called to her softly wanting to wake her gently.

“Cordelia.”

When the sound, barely more than a whisper, failed to rouse her he called out more insistently, reaching his hand forward to lightly shake her shoulder.

The well intentioned but poorly thought out contact caused them both to stiffen in shock as with a small scream, Cordelia shot upright her eyes wild with a terror that ripped into his very soul to see.

“Giles?”

Her voice was faint and unsure as the fright faded from her eyes to leave a dazed uncertainty.

“It’s me, Cordelia. We’ve come to get you out of here.”

Moving slowly towards her to keep from startling the skittish girl once more, Giles began to wrap the gradually slipping sheet around her, conscious of the fact that she was most likely naked underneath.

As awareness gradually dawned within her, Cordelia began pushing Giles away as she slid further towards the middle of the bed.

“No. No.” Her hair swirled around her as her head shook in rejection of what she now understood to be his intentions. “You can’t be here, Giles. You have to go.”

Seeing the normally bright, loquacious girl so distant and withdrawn brought the meaning of Spike’s words clearly into focus.

“Cordelia, it doesn’t matter what Angelus may have told you; we won’t let him hurt you anymore. We’re going to get you out of here; we have a plan, Cordelia. We’ll keep you safe.”

The dissociative state which had gripped the girl melted under waves of agitation as hands that began to shake uncontrollably rose to ward of Giles’ attempts to extract her from the twisted bedclothes with some sort of modest covering.

“Don’t touch me! Get away from me!”

Scrambling backwards to escape the well meaning hands Cordelia registered the fiercely determined light that flashed in Giles’ eyes.

“Cordelia, I understand that you’re scared but you are coming with us.”

Even through the veil of fear covering her Cordelia sobbed out a bitter laugh at the use of a word as tame as scared to describe the utter terror consuming her. Knowing full well that he had every intention of following through on his intentions to force her to leave she felt hysteria begin to close her throat for the second time that day. Barely able to gather enough air to push forth a meaningful string of words she found herself in the humiliating but unavoidable position of babbling out a stream of incoherent words, hoping that, as a watcher, Giles could organize the thoughts that she couldn’t.

“Can’t – I can’t. Blood and bones – and God, he’ll never – he’ll just – so much screaming. So much pain. It’s me – because of me – I have to – you can’t – ”

Despite his resolve Giles froze at the nearly crazed tone that encased her words. No matter how steadfastly he put forth his objective to Cordelia, a burgeoning fear bloomed deep inside of him as he briefly imagined what threats Angelus must have delivered to this girl to render her nearly incapable of speech; the one area in which she had always so clearly excelled. Resolutely pushing doubts aside he was about to reach for her once again when he was pulled from his goal by a shocked gasp from the doorway.

Having reduced their enemies to almost nothing but a beaten down few who were manageable even by her relatively inexperienced friends, Buffy made her way upstairs to see what was taking Giles so long, hoping that he hadn’t encountered more resistance than he could handle.

She had expected to run headlong into a fight and so was completely unprepared for the scene that greeted her; one for which her slayer abilities had never prepared her.

“What did he do to her?”

Buffy couldn’t help the whispered horror of her question even though deep down she knew that she could happily live the rest of her life without the answer.

For the first time in hours a sliver of emotion shot through her. The day had been too crowded with revelations, with emotional and psychological stimuli for her to accurately pinpoint what the flutter of feeling was. Intellectually she knew that it was most likely an amalgam of a myriad of sensations – pity for the broken girl in front of her, gratitude at the protection the wounded soul was even now trying to extend to them, guilt that she has let this go so far for so long.

And as quickly as they came they were gone as the rational, detached portion of her psyche that was responsible for giving name to the sentiments beginning to bubble within her acknowledged that they were of no help to anyone present and pushed them back behind the barrier of denial so necessary to one of her calling.

Walking over to the bed Buffy nudged Giles to the side. Resting one knee on the mattress she leaned in close to Cordelia and, careful to reign in her slayer’s strength, delivered a stunning slap across the brunette’s face.

Although not unconscious, the blow was forceful enough to cause Cordelia to slump down across the blankets. Leaving her to Giles to gather her up and sling over his shoulder, Buffy made her way back downstairs to clear out any final resistance to their escape.

The cold air was bracing to the group of weary humans as they piled into the van that Jenny had procured for the night’s venture. And yet even the shock of the chill against their skin couldn’t pull the small band of heroes from the haze that had enveloped them at the state of their liberated friend.

Lying limply over Giles’ shoulder, Cordelia was conscious but seemingly immune to the frantic chaos surrounding her. Ensconced in her own little world she didn’t hear the sounds of battle, didn’t feel the gentle jolts from her awkward, upside down position. Shaking with shock she saw everything through a fog that her mind had finally provided to protect those last few precious threads of sanity to which she clung.

“Cordelia!!!”

And in an instant those paper walls shattered. Responding to the desperate fury in the deafening roar, Cordelia braced her hands against the back beneath her and pushed herself upwards, searching out the vampire still screaming out her name. Even her terror dulled mind was able to comprehend the horrific intentions so clearly visible in the twisted demonic features of Angelus’ face.

The barely restrained violence in his powerful form brought crystal clarity to his earlier threats still echoing in her head. Lost to rational thought Cordelia was a prisoner of instinct. Heaving her body to the side she tried to free herself from grip binding her thighs. With no other thought than to prevent the deaths promised in the golden gaze burning into her, she frantically tried to regain her feet; to keep the vow with which she had purchased the lives of her friends.

In the midst of an inferno of rage Cordelia saw the brief yet searing sense of satisfaction flowing from him as he watched her struggle to return to him. They both knew that, even with his speed he’d never make it to where they were even now settling into the running van. A roar of fury and assured retribution split the night and the last thing she saw was his enraged face as the slayer’s fist slammed into her face and stillness overtook her.


Chapter Seventy-Eight
Xander ran his fingers once more through the dark waves of mahogany hair spilling over his lap. It seemed so long since he had touched her that he couldn’t seem to make his hands abandoned their soothing journey and frankly he refused to invest much energy in trying.

Although they’d been driving for well over an hour Cordelia had yet to stir; a fact that bothered the boy despite Giles assurances that it was trauma and exhaustion rather than the minimal strike by the slayer that accounted for her continued sleep.

It was just another in a series of conflicting emotions that had plagued him in recent weeks. He was angry that Buffy had hit Cordelia, but he was sympathetic to the fact that she’d really had no other choice. Feelings that mirrored those he had for his former girlfriend. It hurt to see her fight their rescue, and yet when Giles told them about Cordelia’s frantic pleas for their safety his heart swelled with his love for her.

Contrary to the somewhat popular belief, Xander Harris was a fairly observant and intelligent young man. And yet he couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around recent happenings or the consequences that were sure to follow. All he knew now was what he felt, and that was a jumble of love and anger and sorrow so potent that it threatened to stagger him under the unaccustomed load. A part of him wanted to sort through the mess, to try to straighten out his head. But as with everyone involved in this endless tragedy his mind choose instead, regardless of his desires, to shield him with an almost immediate rejection of reality that, even in light of the proof resting in his arms, he could not oppose.

The van finally began to slow as a small airstrip came into view. If Xander had been worried before it was nothing compared to the fear that was beginning to stir deep inside him as they pulled alongside a sleek, private jet.

He’d understood that Cordelia would have to be hidden from Angelus, and he’d come to accept that they wouldn’t be able to see her often without leading the vampire to her door, but the realization that she would be going so far from them as to require a plane was almost one distressing revelation too many.

The side door opened and arms reached for the precious bundle he was all too reluctant to part with.

“Giles?”

The sympathetic look in the older man’s eyes was somehow worse than any expression of fear or hopelessness would have been because every time Xander had seen this particular set to Giles’ features it had been followed by news that had become progressively worse as the months had passed.

Hellmouth luck held true and this was no exception.

“Xander” weariness laced the kind voice, “she can’t stay with us. Even if we could effectively hide her we wouldn’t be able to obscure the bond.”

Reaching his arms forward, the muted depths of compassion in Giles’ blue eyes silently begged for the boy’s trust.

“I know you want to protect her; we all want that. But we have to think about what’s best for Cordelia. She needs to be somewhere safe so we can take that final step in ensuring her future well being.”

If there was anything guaranteed to sway Xander Harris it was the promise of Angelus’ death; especially when the sincerity of that oath blazed for from the very soul of the man before him. Knowing that although he was being asked he really had no choice, he forced himself to relax his hold on the sleeping brunette as Giles pulled her from his embrace.

However he began to immediately question his decision as Giles turned towards the plane only to be met by a man with a syringe in his hand. He would have jumped at the man himself but just as he cleared the doorway Buffy was already there, the unknown man’s arm caught in her firm grip.

“It’s merely a sedative, Miss Summers. Miss Chase will have enough distress to sort through once we arrive without having her awaken frightened and disoriented en route.”

Even knowing the stranger was right didn’t stop Xander from wanting to tell Buffy to break his face as he injected Cordelia with the clear fluid before waving over a man whose hulking size and inexpensive suit screamed ‘flunky’, to take charge of Cordelia’s limp form; disappearing with her onto the plane.

Now that she was really out of their care Xander wasn’t sure what to do. He wanted to storm on board and demand to go with her, to be there for her, but it would hard to rationalize the kind of immaturity it would take to delay their departure in light of the selflessness everyone else was throwing around that day.

“Damn altruism.” He mumbled, kicking the gravel as he too made the decision to do what was best instead of what he wanted and climbed back into the van.

Giles released a weary sigh as he watched the despondent, young man disappear from sight. How he longed for a return of the cold detachment he’d had when he’d arrived in Sunnydale. With every day that passed he felt the grim culmination of consequences for what he firmly to be failures that were his and his alone.

If only he’d staked Angel when he’d first arrived. If he’d insisted that his slayer work alone as tradition dictated. If he’d demanded that Angelus be killed before his play for power; made it painfully clear the horrific destruction the vicious vampire would wreak even if those revelations emotionally scarred Buffy for a time. If he’d only given more thought to what could have gone wrong that night so long ago.

It was a bitter litany that played non-stop in his head growing louder with every lie he forced through his lips. After all, while he believed that it was justice that he suffer for the sins of his inadequacy, the children around him had done nothing but their best in such impossible circumstances that he couldn’t bring himself to tell them the truth, couldn’t bare to tell them that Cordelia’s freedom would most likely come at the cost of her life.

Even though his decision had been immediate when Spike had told him of Cordelia’s captivity, he had spent all of the hours until the actual rescue attempt agonizing over the knowledge that he just might be saving Cordelia from a slow death only to deliver her to a swift demise. Having no way to judge the severity of the bond without observing the young woman all he could do was hope that, despite the lengthy exposure, she had been able to retain some small amount of autonomy that would make it possible, although most certainly unspeakably painful, to break all ties to Angelus.

When he’d first seen her that night, when she’d first spoken begging him to leave her, his heart had shattered by the belief that they were far too late if she would demand to remain by the vampire’s side. The relief that had swamped him as he’d realized that she was fighting for their sake and not her own was short lived as he was finally made privy to just a sliver of the nightmarish existence which had become Cordelia’s life. At that moment Giles realized that although she had some how managed to hold tightly to a small sense of identity, the responsibility she felt for those she cared for and the numerous of ways in which Angelus was able to use that concern to manipulate her had steadily worn the girl down to the point that even her immense strength of will might not be capable of rebounding.

Now, as he watched her being carried aboard the waiting plane he could only hope that she was either strong enough to survive the exquisite emotional anguish and physical torment of breaking the bond, or that she’d been weakened sufficiently to succumb quickly to its fatal nature. More than anything he simply couldn’t bear the thought of her prolonged suffering if death was the inescapable end to this monstrous crime against an innocent young woman.

Shaking off his thoughts, Giles forced himself to focus on the events at hand.

“You understand that I’m trusting you with her wellbeing, Matthew.”

Ignoring the slightly condescending smile on the younger man’s face, Giles waited for the assurance that was implicit but that he found himself needing to hear.

“We both know how this will most likely end, Rupert. But you know that I’ll do whatever I can for the girl.”

Taking what little comfort he could find in the promise of his friend Giles turned to go when he felt a hand fall not unkindly on his shoulder.

“For God’s sake man; you’re a watcher, not a father. You have to get your priorities back in order, Rupert. You care about these children, but that’s not the job of men like us. And between you and me, if you can’t resolve these…personal issues soon you may not have to worry about the job much longer.”

With a small shift of his shoulders Giles dislodged the restraining hand. He’d known Matthew Worthington for over a decade, and although every watcher worth his salt would deny it, the impeccably groomed and ruggedly handsome, raven haired man was the epitome of the debonair, James Bond-like image that they had all secretly envisioned for themselves when they joined the covert organization with dreams of saving the world. But despite the stereotypical exterior, Giles had always found Matthew to be a good and decent man; one of the few whom he’d trust with his very life.

In light of that Giles tried to view the advice given as the concern of a friend and not the criticism of a colleague. Sure, it still rankled, but it was nothing that he hadn’t said to himself a thousand times over already.

“Of course, if you’re right about Angelus’ connection to this girl you may not live long enough to need to concern yourself with job security.”

Again the words were nothing that Giles hadn’t considered in almost an obsessive manner. But as he heard them Giles’ eyes fell on his slayer standing guard over the vehicle holding her friends. Although the very air around her seemed to bend to the windstorms of unrelenting misfortune, she refused to bow. The childish girl who’d cast herself as a star crossed lover had finally shed that role, turning her back on the adolescent to embrace the killer that was also essential to her existence. And as sad as that would have made him a week ago it now provided the only flicker of hope in the endless night that faced them all.

Giles didn’t bother to respond. With the morbid confidence that accompanies the near certainty of death he rejoined his tattered band of fighters. He knew that Matthew was probably right, that they might not be long for this world; but looking briefly at the grimly determined faces surrounding him he realized that win or loose they were finally ready.


Chapter Seventy-Nine

He observed her closely through the two-way mirror as he had for the last ten days. He knew that it wasn’t exactly reasonable, but since Rupert had entrusted her safety solely to him, Matthew had felt burdened by responsibility for Cordelia Chase’s decline.

Not that he’d expected a different outcome. No, if anything he had expected the young woman to have succumbed to the bond days ago, dying painfully like those few before her that the Council had been able to observe in similar circumstances.

Rupert had told him of her strength of will, her resiliency; but he’d taken it with a grain of salt believing the words to be the desperate denial of a watcher far too emotionally compromised.

Now Matthew was forced to revise that opinion.

Although the voluptuous figure he’d been handed the week before was slowly vanishing as the shadows of bones replaced the lush softness of fading curves, the very fact that she was still conscious was an extraordinary feat that was the talk of the Council hallways.

Unfortunately that very consciousness was consuming the balance of Cordelia’s energy.

At first, although her hysterical ramblings had been documented they’d been dismissed as a natural byproduct of the bond she shared with Angelus. But as the hours passed they realized that she wasn’t fighting them out of any desire to rush back into captivity, but rather to save her friends from what she seemed to believe would be a fate worse than death. Familiar with the foe they faced he knew that it was very likely that her fears were well grounded.

It didn’t take long for the exceptionally fatigued girl to realize that all she was doing was wasting her breath with words that were falling on purposefully deaf ears. Since that epiphany she’d ceased any attempts at communication.

But what worried Matthew more than the silence was her refusal to eat. If it wasn’t for the fact that she was restrained twice a day and nourished intravenously she’d most certainly be dead.

His lips twisted bitterly as he realized that if things continued in this manner they were only working on borrowed time.

Knowing at this point there was nothing to lose, he abandoned proper procedure and let himself into Cordelia’s room. He knew that he would be reprimanded for this breech of protocol and he smiled wryly in appreciation of the fact that he was now engaging in the very behavior for which he’d condemned Rupert a scant few days before. Finally he was beginning to understand his friend all too well. Watching the brave, beautiful girl sitting painfully still on the floor, legs pulled up tightly against her chest in what was clearly a protective posture, he couldn’t stem the need to soothe her fears, to bring her back from the edge to which the vampire had pushed her.

Stopping a few feet in front of the small ball of humanity huddled so despairingly in the corner, Matthew waited for a sign from the girl as to how to proceed.

When none was forthcoming, not even the merest of nervous flickers acknowledging his presence, he decided that there could be no delicacy in the cessation of this ultimately fatal, downward spiral.

“So, you’re Angelus’ whore.”

And for those words Matthew was rewarded with a most beautiful sight as Cordelia’s head snapped up and her previously expressionless eyes flashed with anger.

“Fuck you.”

He could tell that these were words that rarely passed her lips, but they were music to his ears although he took careful pains not to let it show.

“Oh, I’m sure it’s not me you want to fuck. Miss your demon between your legs?”

Weakened though they were and wracked with pain her muscles nevertheless tensed in outrage.

“You don’t know anything about me.”

True, but God he wanted to.

“I know that you gave yourself to a being so evil that he’s considered the scourge of an entire continent. I know that you submitted to him for weeks on end. I know that you fought being rescued so fiercely that you had to be rendered unconscious by the slayer. I know that your friends risked their lives to save you and you begged to stay with that sadistic monster.”

Although he knew it must be draining her already depleted strength Cordelia’s body strained forward as she screamed out her anger and fear.

“And you think they’re safe now? Do you know what you’ve done? What he’ll do because of this? You arrogant bastard! He’ll kill them all. Because I left; because I didn’t fight hard enough to stay.”

They anger visibly fled her body and she began to rock gently as she curled even tighter into herself as if to halt the exodus of what little life she had left.

Whispers replaced screams and carried within them an edge of weary horror that tore at the heart of the man who’d thought himself immune to the sufferings that such evil brought.

“He’ll cut them open; rip out their bones. He’ll make their agony last for days; and for what? So I can die in this room?”

“You don’t know anything at all. You can’t. You can’t know what it’s like to have your life systematically destroyed; to be captured and trapped in a web of terror and then to hate nothing more than being freed.”

Her head dropped to her arms as if she couldn’t muster the energy to keep it raised even a moment more. It was the sign for which he’d been waiting.

“God, you must have hated him.”

A small nodding motion was the only indication that she’d heard the sympathetic words.

“Even more because you loved him.”

Her body stiffened and her arms clutched convulsively at her knees before releasing the tension as she acknowledged the truth of the statement uttered with no condemnation with another tiny nod.

As her small form began to shake with sobs of grief for all that had happened, would still happen, for all that she had lost, Matthew carefully sat beside her and, with gentle movements so as not to scare her, pulled the weeping girl into his embrace.

It took more than half an hour for the tears soaking his shirt to subside. Sensing an end to Cordelia’s cathartic release, Matthew ran a comforting hand over her hair.

“How about some breakfast?”

The nearly imperceptible affirmative bob against his shoulder was his only answer, but it was one that he’d definitely take.


Chapter Eighty

Well, that was a disaster.

Covered in burns Angelus laid on the large bed calming himself with Cordelia’s fading scent as he went over the night’s events.

In retrospect the attack on the library had probably been a strategic error. He’d thought that the element of surprise would negate the slayer’s home turf advantage. He’d been wrong and was demon enough to admit it.

Not that he’d take complete responsibility for the blunder. Ever since Cordelia had been stolen from him he could barely think straight much less construct complex and effective plans.

When she’d first been taken he’d been confident in the power of their bond to lead him to her; but after days of trying to determine her location he’d reached the infuriating conclusion that the bond was being blocked.

The only good thing to come from that revelation was the realization that such a feat would take a great deal of magic to accomplish, paring down the number of suspects and possible locations in which Cordelia could be held.

It was this last thought that helped him hold his fracturing sanity somewhat together. Since taking control of the Hellmouth his resources were immense. Eventually he was guaranteed to locate the epicenter of such a large expenditure of mystical energies.

Angelus almost chuckled at the fact that without his recently acquired position he would have little hope of retrieving his lovely Moonbeam, and so Cordelia, who’d been vital in his ascension to power, had practically engineered her own recapture.

Of course in the end he didn’t chuckle. How could he when the piercing agony of Cordelia’s loss was burning through what was left of his rational mind leaving only a vicious and desperate animal in its place?

And it wasn’t just his own well being that concerned him. He and Cordelia had suited each other so well because her emotional and mental strength and his physical strength worked in such harmony. But it was in their areas of relative weakness that they would suffer. And while he abhorred the fact that his mind seemed to be unraveling, he knew that the true danger was to Cordelia. As a human her fragile makeup was especially vulnerable to the overwhelming stress of such intense supernatural pressures. He was acutely aware that with every passing moment her body would be slowly succumbing to the crushing despair that his absence would bring.

Leaping off the bed he began pacing furiously as a flurry of obscenities flew past his lips. Once again he was overcome by a truly mind-numbing hatred of the slayer. He hated her insipid, pasty face, her pathetic, needy nature, but most of all he utterly loathed the hypocrisy that allowed her to pretend she was saving Cordelia when they all knew she was simply letting her die in a different location.

It was this hatred more than anything that was keeping him even remotely functioning now. He’d find Cordelia, he’d bring her home, and then he’d annihilate the slayer, her watcher, her little gang, and anyone connected to them; any trace of their existence wiped from the memory of the entire dimension. And as often as his lovely little pet had tried to stop him before he couldn’t contemplate that she’d do so in the future; not after her so called friends had left her somewhere to die.

Forcing his thoughts from the pleasurable contemplation of violence and mayhem to more pressing matters he returned, once again, to earlier events.

Things had started out well as they’d entered the library. With Dru beside him, finally recovered from her bizarre and ill-timed “spell”, they’d used the element of surprise to their advantage, quickly launching powerful attacks against the slayer and the watcher as his minions, greatly decreased in numbers by the slayer’s previous two assaults, forced the lesser fighters back and out of Buffy’s circle of protection.

How could he have foreseen that it would be that very strategy that would signal the downfall of what had started as such a promising strategy? Although in retrospect his biggest error had been in not killing Xander fucking Harris and parading his mutilated corpse around town when he’d had the chance. Who knew it would come back to haunt him at such a critical juncture?

He’d had the upper hand. Although the separation from Cordelia was wearing him thin, the slayer and her friends hadn’t had it much better. It was clear to even his muddled mind that the White Hats were almost at the breaking point as they tried to live with their choices and failures of the past months. And as much as it pleased him to watch them crack under the weight of their unbearable guilt, it also worried him as it spoke far more eloquently than words to Cordelia’s current condition. There was no way their souls would seem this heavy if their former comrade in arms was well.

Putting aside his rage at those thoughts he used his knowledge of their pain to weaken them; showering them with verbal taunts and vitriolic recriminations. And it had been working until the moron had managed to make his way to the weapons cage. It had taken Angelus a moment to realize what the boy was doing as his minions began to fall, screaming in agony before being dusted by one of the other do-gooders. When enough minions had been cut down he’d seen exactly what was happening – they had modified a fire extinguisher to shoot pressurized Holy Water. It was a truly ingenious weapon, but all he could think about when he saw it was that it shouldn’t work. How could water possibly remain consecrated when one was spewing it out of a nozzle much like a clown with seltzer water?

And yet…

The efficiency of the weapon had been ruthless. While it would be bulky and unwieldy to lug into battles; situated conveniently in their base of operations it was stellar in its defensive capabilities. He and Drucilla had been fortunate to be so close to the door that they were only moderately burned by the scalding, sacred liquid before they made their escape.

Angelus ground his teeth at that last thought. He hated escaping. Loathed being in a position of weakness; having to run.

Even as he contemplated the cosmic wrongness that was his night his attention was diverted by his childe’s anguished screams from across the hall. With his sanity dwindling by the minute and no outlet for his frustrated fury, Angelus made his way across the hall in a swirling cloud of imminent threat.

Angelus read the look on Spike’s face as the door crashed against the stone wall. It was painfully obvious that the younger vampire was concerned about the condition of his sire and laying the blame for her injuries at Angelus’ feet. He would have found it merely pathetic if it wasn’t so damned annoying.

But as useless as Spike was even he had a vampire’s innate sense of self-preservation and it was that instinct that had him swallowing whatever angry reprimand he was planning to deliver and it pleased Angelus to no end that the death promised in his dark eyes was so easy to read.

Before Angelus could fully enjoy yet another victory over his hapless grandchilde Drucilla’s screams transformed into whimpers and then moans as she was overtaken by sights that only she could see.

“I see her. Daddy’s little light.”

Her ramblings needing little decoding, Angelus reached forward shaking the injured brunette in his desperate need to learn what she knew.

“Where is she Dru?”

He vaguely heard Spike’s protest at this treatment, but the unholy sound that clawed its way from deep inside his chest caused even the cocky blond to blanch and shrink slightly back into his chair.

“Cold. The eyes are so cold. They’re all around her. Little light not so bright.”

The demented giggles that followed would normally have amused Angelus but instead they infuriated him as he knew that they signaled the last usable information that would be forthcoming from his childe for a while.

Angelus’ gut clenched as he tried to decipher the clues that were hidden underneath Drucilla’s incoherent ramblings. He knew that the answer was there but with his ever evaporating cognitive capabilities the solution eluded him, dancing just beyond his mental reach.

“Dammit! Its right there, I know it!”

Apparently Spike disagreed and had Angelus not been so consumed with the task at hand he would have shown the boy who was Master and who was only fit to serve.

“Now you’re just graspin’ at straws. So people are watchin’ over the girl. Nothing strange in that. Her mates were hardly likely to dump her of in some sleazy motel ‘til this thing was over.”

He literally felt it click and for one blissful moment his mind seemed clear. A creepy and menacing smile crept across his face.

“They’re watching her. How could I be so stupid?! Of course they sent her to the people with the magick and the manpower to guard her from me – the Watcher’s Council. Fuck! I’ve wasted over a week dealing with the wrong people.”

He began to pace once again, but this time it was with a leashed and considering manner as opposed to the frenetic energy of his earlier movements.

“Well, well, well. Apparently I’m not the only one engaging in miscalculations. Could they honestly believe that the Council will protect her?” His cold laughter echoed sharply as it hit the stone walls. “They’re so naive. They believe that just because they’re all “truth, justice, and the American way” that everyone’s like that. But the Council? They’d sell their souls to the Devil himself if it advanced their agenda.”

Angelus sighed in near bliss as hope filled him for the first time in days.

“This will be far easier than I thought. I don’t need to recapture Cordelia. I just need to find something the Council wants more than they want to help one young woman that plays no part in their plans. Once I do that I won’t have to go to her. They’ll bring her back to me.”

His mind filling with possibilities, Angelus left his childe to her would be protector determined that his next plan would be foolproof.


Chapter Eighty-One

The expressions of dejection on the faces of those seated around the library table were incongruous with the fact that a victory had just been won. The reason for the despairing looks was quickly summed up.

“We need a plan.”

Buffy’s declaration was a reflection of everyone’s thoughts and her somber tone matched their gloom at the complete and utter lack of ideas to defeat such a brutal and relentless enemy.

Jenny fidgeted for a moment in her chair. Although she’d been generally accepted back into the groups good graces she still felt as if she were somehow on probation and was thus hesitant to bring up what she was sure to be a controversial proposal. Still, she owed it to the group to let them consider every possibility for themselves.

“I might have an idea.”

All eyes snapped to her doing nothing to decrease her uneasiness.

“I’ve developed a program to translate the original curse. If it works I may be able to recast it, to return Angel’s soul.”

The sheer stillness of the room was not unexpected but still nearly unbearable as the young teacher waited for some kind of response to her tentative plan.

“Angel.”

Buffy’s tortured whisper seemed to jolt everyone from their various states of shock, but it was Xander who first recovered the power of speech.

“No. No! Don’t get all moony-eyed as if we’re going to save that bastard. Jenny wants to restore his soul then I’m all for it. After all, I’m sure once he’s ‘Angel’ again it’ll be much easier to get him to stand still while we stake him.”

For once the pain that lanced Buffy’s gaze meant nothing to the fuming boy.

“Don’t even think about it, Buffy. You believe what you want to believe, but the rest of us know that the soul doesn’t replace the vampire. Angelus will still be there. The monster that’s killing Cordelia will still get to live. For what he’s done to her I won’t just kill Angel, I’ll enjoy every second of it and dance in his dust. And slayer or not – you won’t be able to stop me unless you’re willing to kill me instead.”

And Buffy believed him. At the end of this terrible ordeal it would come down to Angel, her first love, or Xander, her best friend. More than anything, at that moment Buffy wished she could escape back into the barren wasteland of detachment that had surrounded her far too briefly. But she couldn’t. She wasn’t destined to be the slayer by default; to due her duty because she was anesthetized to the ramification of her actions. No, she was meant to care, sometimes far too deeply. Ultimately she would do what was right not because of her calling and not because of the Council, but simply because she believed in the cause and she cherished those who depended on her.

As she looked at her adopted family she urgently hoped that that caring would be enough to keep her world from shattering when she murdered the soul she’d come to love so deeply.

“What do we need to do?”
Chapter Eighty-Two
Seated at her desk, Jenny tried to force down the nervousness and fear bubbling within her. She was surrounded by ceremonial tools of the Kalderash clan; pungent herbs, ritualistic bowls, and a glass orb.

A noise caught her attention and as she peered into the shadows a dark figure separated itself from their depths.

“Angel…” She knew it would push his buttons to be referred to by the chosen name of the soul, but she couldn’t seem to help herself. After all he’d done, all the pain he’d caused, anger was winding its way through the dread surrounding her. “How did you get in here?”

“I was invited. The sign in front of the school… ‘Formatia trans sicere educatorum.”

If the situation hadn’t been so dire she’d have rolled her eyes at the looming vampire. He knew he didn’t need an invitation to a public place but he just had to be arrogant; had to show off. Well she could show off, too.

“Enter all ye who seek knowledge.”

Angelus nodded his head in acknowledgement of her response.

“What can I say? I’m a knowledge seeker.”

Hating the stupidity of what she was about to say, she pushed forward nonetheless.

“Angel, I-I-I’ve got good news.”

He smirked at her, loving the superior feeling of being one step ahead.

“I heard. You went shopping at the local boogedy-boogedy store.”

Jenny flinched as a large arm stretched towards her, but at the last minute it fell to pick up the glass orb on her desk.

“The Orb of Thesulah. If memory serves, this is supposed to summon a person’s soul from the ether… store it until it can be transferred.”

The glass caught what little light there was in the room in a spellbinding display as Angelus twirled it with long, deft fingers.

“You know what I hate most about these things?”

Although the tone of his deep voice was pleasant enough there was no way that Jenny could fail to notice the underlying menace that made clear that this was a rhetorical question.

Suddenly every muscle in her body tightened in preparation for fight or flight, neither of which would be successful, as the orb Angelus had been holding whispered past her ear to shatter against the chalkboard behind her showering the floor beneath with tinkling shards of glass.

Smiling cruelly he answered his own question. “They’re so damn fragile. Must be that shoddy gypsy craftsmanship, huh?”

Jenny barely registered the insult to her people, cringing back as Angelus lunged towards her. Her worry, however, was needless as Angelus was knocked sideways before he could get within fangs reach of her. She sneered down at the fallen vampire, her courage greatly restored by the presence of the slayer in the room.

“I wonder Angelus, is it the repercussions of your separation from Cordelia or your natural arrogance that would allow you to believe that I’d be stupid enough to attempt to recurse a vampire in a public establishment at night.”

Inching closer as he rose from his position on the floor Buffy couldn’t help but heap her own ridicule on his head, happy to be the giver rather than the receiver for once.

“She’s right. How the mighty Angelus has fallen that he couldn’t see what an obvious trap this was. Did you really think that if we were going to recurse you we’d let that information out to the demon population at large? But believe me; I’m not going to waste the opportunity your complete stupidity has provided.”

Her words hit the mark as Angelus lunged wildly at her with none of his usual finesse. And so it began.

The fighting was fierce. While Buffy had the advantage of familiar terrain and her taunting was definitely making Angelus sloppy, what they hadn’t accounted for was that while his skills suffered his waning stability and terrible rage gave him a strength that seemed to almost mitigate his weaknesses.

But no matter how poorly his mind was functioning his finally honed instincts were still in tact. Sensing that he wouldn’t be able to hold it together long enough to succeed against the slayer and that once her lost control she would most certainly move in for the kill, he swung his leg outward in a wide arc, catching Buffy off guard and sending her staggering backwards long enough for him to crash through the large windows lining one wall and disappear into the night.

As the two women watched the darkness swallow the vampire they silently acknowledged that their last attempt on Angelus had failed and that there was no choice now but to gather the second set of necessities for the spell and deal with this unqualified disaster once Angel had returned.
Chapter Eighty-Three
Angelus sat in a large, leather chair, a smile at odds with his injuries curving his lips as he stared at the monolith before him.

He’d been furious as he left the school after the fight with the slayer. Shrouded in a cloak of impending doom, the menace he radiated spread out before him pushing anyone with even the smallest sense of self-preservation from his path.

In an attempt to even marginally relieve his pent up rage, he embarked upon a spree of property damage as he made his way back to the mansion. Kicking out at a particularly offensive newspaper rack in much the same way as he had the slayer, his eye was caught by the front page of one of the papers as they floated down to the sidewalk.

“Mysterious Obelisk Unearthed – Excavators Discover Ancient
Artifact”

The suspicions he had as he gazed at the picture were confirmed as he returned home to find Drucilla dancing in front of the enormous fireplace enchanted by the whispers she said were filling her head.

It had taken less than an hour to retrieve the massive stone vault; less than sixty minutes to procure the key to Cordelia’s return. Nothing could spoil the exquisite ecstasy of this moment.

Although Spike’s sudden appearance cut it fairly close.

As if he sensed the rare instance of peace engulfing his grandsire the blond sought, almost instinctually, to shatter it.

“It’s a big rock. I can’t wait to tell my friends. They don’t have a rock this big.”

Seeing Angelus’ lazy smile simply stretch wider, Spike sighed and resigned himself to merely discovering the genesis for such an unexpectedly good mood, having to sadly discard his earlier plan to spoil the contented feeling.

But, as always with the older vampire, one didn’t have to do much to get him to blather on and on about his supposed genius whenever he thought he’d done something exceptional.

“Spike, boy, you never did learn your history.”

For a moment Spike let himself dream about the expression on the blowhard’s face if he just stood up right then and walked out on the longwinded speech that was coming. But even as phenomenally impulsive as he was, Spike knew that annoyance, no matter how extreme, was not a good enough reason to throw away his wild card. Embracing the mantra, ‘My time will come’, he resigned himself to being the captive audience Angelus obviously wanted.

“Let’s have a lesson, then.”

True to character, he needed no further prodding.

“Acathla the demon came forth to swallow the world. He was killed by a virtuous knight who pierced the demon’s heart before he could draw a breath to perform the act. Acathla turned to stone, as demons sometimes do, and was buried where neither man nor demon would want to look. Unless of course they’re putting up low-rent housing. Boys…”

At their Master’s call Spike watched two minions scurry in, crowbars at the ready for the grand unveiling. As strong as he liked to believe himself to be, he couldn’t help the frisson of fear that shot down his spine as the heavy lid crashed to the floor clouding the air with dust and ancient debris.

He hated to admit that Angelus was right about anything, but in this case he had been doubly so – The demon resting inside was exactly how Angelus had described him; and it was, indeed, of as great an importance as he had conveyed. Simply being in its presence was enough to make any sane vampire in the immediate vicinity skittish. Which of course ruled out both his grandsire and his sire who had just entered the room. Despite his misgivings Spike knew he had to follow what was sure to be Angelus’ dubious logic in this undertaking.

“Let me guess. Someone pulls out the sword…”

“Someone worthy…” Angelus responded leaving no doubt that that someone was him.

“Mm. The demon wakes up, and wackiness ensues.”

And his fears were confirmed –

“And every creature living on this planet will go to Hell.”

As if things weren’t bad enough, Spike realized that he now had to deal with the end of the world. As much as he truly hated it, it seemed he and the slayer agreed that ending the world probably wasn’t the most productive thing one could do with their life. It wouldn’t even be memorable if you wiped out anything with a memory. Damn shortsighted pricks the lot of them. Sure, Spike had always liked a bit of fun himself, he’d even helped patch the judge together. But sending everything to hell? That was just throwing the baby out with the bathwater…before you ate it.

“He will swallow the world.”

For one brief moment Spike’s unease was eclipsed by the hypnotic sway of Drucilla’s alluring form as she danced around in rapturous agony as the demon called to her.

“He fills my head. I can’t hear anything else.”

Dragging his eyes away from the beautiful sight Spike decided to confront this insanity head on.

“You can’t be serious about this Angelus. For fuck’s sake, I know you’re runnin’ low on reason lately, but even if you don’t give a damn about the rest of us, what about your little pet? How’d you plan to get her out once Rocky here gobbles her up with the rest of the world? A fat lot of good she’ll – ”

Spike expected a lot of responses from explosions of anger to fanatical mutterings, but genuine, lucid laughter hadn’t been high on his list…or on the list at all.

“Try not to be any more stupid than is absolutely necessary, Spike. The point of stealing this ancient fool isn’t to revive him, it’s to trade him.”

Despite the insult to his intelligence Spike immediately grasped Angelus’ plan and, as much as it pained him to admit it – and it hurt on a par with being crushed by that church – it was absolutely brilliant.

The Watcher’s Council would jump to the same conclusion that he had; that Angelus was set on unleashing Acathla’s wrath and they’d be scrambling to stop him. Returning what for them was simply one insignificant woman would be a painless way to resolve the situation in their minds. If nothing else, you could always depend on with the Council higher ups for their consistency. They were all complete bastards whose morals conformed to whatever grand plan was currently hatching in their pea brains.

Of course, there was always a fly in the otherwise antiseptic ointment.

“What about the slayer?”

“What about her? That’s the beauty of this plan Spike; it’s slayer-free.”

Propping his booted feet up on the oak table in front of him Angelus stretched out his still healing body as he mused over the particulars of the situation.

“I think I’ve finally pushed the slayer to her breaking point. And while I’d love nothing more than to drive her over the edge, I can take care of her later. Fact is, once I get Cordelia back her little gang will be so demoralized that it won’t take more than two minions and a stick to do away with them all.”

Since he was out of the immediate line of sight Spike felt safe in rolling his eyes at the unwarranted cockiness that oddly enough he hated in Angelus and yet nurtured in himself.

“Funny, I would have thought you’d be more concerned what with the word on the street being that they’re workin’ on shovin’ that tortured, slayer-lovin’ soul back inside you.”

Angelus growled at the mere thought of the atrocity he’d feared ever since he’d heard the rumors from one of his informants at Willie’s.

“It was a hoax. No worries on that front. Let’s face it; they’ve got themselves an authentic Kalderash gypsy. If there was a possible hope in hell of bringing the vomit worthy Angel back for an encore they would have done so long ago.”

“No, Spike; the only thing I have to concern myself with right now is getting the Council to take this relic off my hands so I don’t do something in my lunacy that we’ll all regret. So don’t look so worried, it’s not the end of the world…yet.”


Chapter Eighty-Four

Usually the late morning would find the Master of the Order of Aurelius in bed, deep in the grips of an ever growing exhaustion. However, this morning found him not abed, but in his study; brandy in hand and joy lighting his handsome visage.

Angelus had never been a demon to doubt what he considered to be his superior intelligence, but to have it confirmed in the way it had been that morning transformed his generally smug personality to totally unbearable.

But as the morning passed his conceit had been validated as, one by one, things fell into to place to right the wrongs in his world.

He’d contacted the Watcher’s Council unsurprised at how the name Acathla opened the avenues of communication. Once they’d established that he did indeed possess the demon, those warriors of morality had fallen all over themselves to meet his needs.

On the one hand, Angelus could admit that he was beyond happy to know that Cordelia would be returned to him by the next evening. Just the knowledge of that fact soothed the ragged edges of his frayed mind.

Conversely, he was furious with those very same men delivering his pet back into his hands. Even though there was no disputing the fact that Cordelia belonged to him, the thought that those pathetic humans who had been entrusted with her protection would so easily bargain her away sent fury pounding through him in mimicry of a racing heartbeat. The need to destroy not only her pseudo-guardians, but those who foolishly thought that the Council was worthy of the honor of caring for his property burned through him, bleeding a haze of red into his gaze.

It was a frustrating dichotomy and so, since moving against the Council at this time would be ill-advised, he simply chose to embrace the delight that came with the painfully sweet anticipation of Cordelia back in his arms where it was her destiny to be.

Honestly, Angelus knew it was a good thing that they had enough sense to accurately assess the situation and comply with his wishes. No matter how he’d played things off with Spike, the truth was that he was fast losing his grasp on reality, and frankly he’d stopped trying to stem the receding tide of reason days before. He’d needed every advantage he could get to reclaim Cordelia and if that meant sacrificing the higher functions of his mind, so be it.

Normally he would never have considered awakening Acathla…well, he may have considered it, but not seriously. But he knew that if he couldn’t have Cordelia back then he’d wake the stony son of a bitch up without a second thought.

After all, since they’d taken Cordelia the world was hell for him; so why shouldn’t he return the favor.


Chapter Eighty-Five

Matthew Worthington was a picture of righteous fury as he stormed into Quentin Traver’s office.

“Tell me it’s not true. Tell me that we’re not giving her back to that monster!”

The bland expression on the older man’s face never changed as if he’d been expecting the angry young man to make just such a scene.

“I’m sorry, Matthew; but if you’ve heard that she’s leaving I’m sure that you’ve heard why. We don’t have a choice.”

While he’d never really cared for Travers, at this moment he could only hate the man so blithely dismissing the future of the girl that he’d spent the last three days with – talking to, eating with, trying to ease, however slightly, the crushing burden she bore.

He had known that it wasn’t the smart thing to do, wasn’t in keeping with the Council’s credo of ‘Justice through indifference’, but he hadn’t been able to help himself. Every minute he was near Cordelia he grew more and more enamored of her strength of spirit, her will to survive.

No one had given her more than three days before they believed that the bond would break her down and steal away her life. Not only had she shown them all that they didn’t know anywhere near what they liked to think that they did; but she’d gone on, defying the odds by not just surviving but slowly returning to health in the past few days. He’d be damned if he’d see all of her excruciating efforts laid to waste by returning her to one of the most vial forms of evil the world had ever known.

“There’s always a choice.”

Quentin’s mouth quirked slightly as if he was amused by the younger man’s indignation. In a tone of clear condescension he addressed what he obviously perceived as naiveté.

“Try to remember, this isn’t about the girl; it never was. This was about weakening Angelus so that the slayer might actually kill him.”

There was no attempt to hide his disdain for the Chosen One.

“Unfortunately, all it’s managed to do is to make him more psychotic and unpredictable then before; and who could have foreseen that was even possible? It’s not an idle threat, you know. He’ll unleash Acathla.”

Deep down Matthew couldn’t disagree with that assessment, but for Cordelia’s sake he buried his doubts.

“No he won’t. Angelus might live through whatever horror Acathla would bring, but the suffering would be unimaginable, even for him.”

An abrupt snort answered what they both knew to be an untruth.

“He’s so obsessed with the girl that he’s sure his suffering can’t get any worse. He doesn’t believe that he has anything to lose, and there’s nothing more dangerous than that.”

Travers rubbed an angry hand over his head as he spoke to the only part of the current mess that truly concerned him.

“This wouldn’t even be happening if we could just find the new slayer. It’s been months since we lost Kendra in Indonesia, we should know something by now. It’s inconceivable that this is the second unidentified slayer called in the last decade.”

It was Matthew’s turn to smirk.

“Well maybe someone up there doesn’t like the way we’ve become the type of people who will deliver a young woman into a hands of a monster. Could be they’ve decided not to trust us with anymore.”

“Don’t take that moralistic tone with me.” The growl would have frightened many subordinates, but Matthew held his ground. “We don’t’ have a choice here. It’s one life for billions.”

“Wow. Isn’t that the rallying speech they give before throwing virgins in volcanoes?”

The futility of the entire confrontation apparent, Matthew made his way out of the stifling office without waiting for another feeble justification, simply desperate to get back to Cordelia; determined to do something for the girl who’d come to trust him.
Chapter Eighty-Six
“Watcher.”

Even if he actually made it through an eternity Spike knew he would never get tired of being the thing that goes bump in the night and that first burst of fear it always drew forth even from hardened men like the one before him.

Of course, inducing fear, while fun, wasn’t the point of this particular visit.

Giles turned, keys still in hand, obviously irritated to once again not have made it through his front door unaccosted.

“Spike.”

If he didn’t have a job to do Spike would have chuckled at the man’s long suffering tone. He really couldn’t wait for Angelus to be out of the way so he could enjoy the small joys of the Hellmouth once again.

“We have a problem.”

“Only one? Well then, with the exception of your appearance this is officially the best day I’ve had all year.”

He hated finding common ground with the enemy so often lately, but Spike was all over relating to the watcher’s sarcastic summation of their crappy lives since Angelus showed up.

“Loose the attitude, mate. Angelus has made life a living hell for all of us but I’m the one who has to bloody well live with him, so if anyone gets to bitch and moan tonight it’ll be me.”

Which brought him ‘round to his original purpose.

“Speaking of ‘living hells’. Have you White Hats misplaced anything lately? Say something massive? Weighty? Able to swallow worlds in a single bound? What the hell is wrong with you people? You go to all the trouble to stop these demons then you just leave them lying around for anyone to find. How is it that you morons keep winning?”

“The missing obelisk from the museum?”

“One in the same. Only here’s the funny part – it’s not an obelisk. It’s a gift box chalked full of a larger than life Acathla action figure.”

He watched as Giles reared back, only sudden contact the door stopping his movement as he heard the demon’s name.

“Acathla? Good God, man; are you sure?”

A small, inappropriate laugh filled the air.

“Good – God – and Man. Three words that haven’t applied to me in over a century. And yes, unfortunately I’m all too sure what with having a ringside seat at the grand opening.”

For the first time in more years than he could count, the arrogance faded from his eyes leaving Spike carrying an aura of gravity that was so inherently foreign to his nature that, as he watched, it called forth a level of alarm in the man before him that no words could have.

“This is serious, Rupert. If anyone’s destiny is to wake this guy up and ruin things for the rest of us it’s sure to be Angelus’. And if anyone has enough screws lose to try it, again, my grandsire’s probably your guy.”

And just like that the moment of earnestness passed.

“Now don’t get me wrong; I like killin’ people as much as the next demon. But this Acathla bloke’s apparently worse than a vampire when it comes to sharin’ and there’s not gonna be anything left for the rest of us when he gets done.”

“Spike, are you asking me to help stop Acathla so you can kill us all instead?”

“Well…yeah. But look at the bright side, watcher; it’ll take me years to get to you all while tall, dark, and mineral will apparently swallow you up in one mouthful. So let me introduce myself – I am, what you’d politely call, the lesser of two evils.”

“So in the end I’m still left with nothing but evil. You should investigate a career in motivational speaking, Spike.”

The cigarette he’d lit while waiting for Giles had finally burned to the nub and Spike flicked it away carelessly in preparation to leave.

“Look, we could stand here all night trading jokes, but it would be a waste of time ‘cause you’re not funny. Here’s the deal – Angelus is planning to work whatever mojo he needs to wake up sleeping ugly tomorrow night. He’s worried about you guys catching wind of his plans so he’s holdin’ his little party about twenty miles north of the Hellmouth at the abandoned dairy off Highway 9.”

“If you guys want a chance at stopping him you need to be there before sundown. He’s still light on minions, and if you don’t royally fuck everything up I’ll step in and help should an opportune moment present itself.”

This time it’s was Giles’ laughter that shot out.

“So what you’re suggesting is that we not count on you for support.”

“I’m not suggesting it, I’m stating it outright. Unless it actually looks like you have a snowball’s chance in Acathla’s hell dimension of pulling this off then I’m not throwing myself under the bus with you. After all, you’re the one’s who get paid for the selfless act…although from the looks of your suit, not all that well.”

He came, he saw, he irritated the watcher; Spike was pretty sure that was it for his ‘to do’ list.

“Remember; tomorrow at sundown. Tell the slayer to be packing her balls in her pants and not her sticky panties. We need a fighter out there, not a lovesick teenager. She’s a killer and you’re not doing her any favors letting her believe otherwise. If her tragic romance gets us all sent to hell I’ll – ”

“You’ll what, Spike?!” Clearly the man had been pushed too far. “Believe me, if we fail and Acathla swallows the world the last thing I’ll care about is one, second rate vampire’s opinion of me as I die a fiery death. Now leave so I can call my slayer and tell her that tomorrow either the shell of the man she loved dies or the human race does instead.”

Spike watched, somewhat stunned, as Giles stormed into his apartment with no fear apparent whatsoever, despite having just antagonized a sadistic mass murder. He wanted to turn the man more every time he talked to him.

Deciding he’d been out long enough for one night he headed back to the mansion, careful to avoid the common hang outs of Angelus’ minions and informants. As he made his way home he was startled to realize that a part of him wished he could have told the watcher the truth. But when he’d overheard Angelus earlier in the day agreeing to trade Acathla for Cordelia the following night he knew what had to be done.

It would be different if the slayer had been able to face Angelus successfully on a regular basis. But really, except for rescuing the cheerleader, which took two tries, she hadn’t been able to do much of anything; not to stop his reign of terror, to halt his ascension to power, or to prevent him from gaining access to a demon that could end life as they knew it. No; no matter how formidable he knew this slayer to be, Angelus was her weakness and this was just too important to leave in her hands.

And so, knowing that tomorrow night the Council would bring Cordelia to the docks to make the trade for Acathla and ship him to their headquarters in England, he’d made sure to send the do-right brigade miles in the opposite direction.

While it was true that he wanted to be free of his grandsire, in fact no one could want his death more than he did, now just wasn’t the time to make that move. Too much was riding on this and Angelus, with his dwindling grasp on reality, had become far too unpredictable to challenge when the stakes were so high. If it took the return of the girl to give the older vampire back his sense of proportion then so be it. Because anyone who doubted that he wouldn’t destroy the world if this separation continued was drowning themselves in an ocean of denial.

It was funny; the watchers had hoards of information in their little diaries on Angelus and yet they seemed to understand nothing about him. They were blaming all of his current actions on the bond which it seemed they also misunderstood.

The bond between vampire and pet did tie the two together and it was difficult if it was prematurely severed, but while the vampire usually did suffer to a certain extent it passed in time and rarely impaired functioning to a detrimental level. It was the human who bore the brunt of the separation as their fragile bodies cracked under the mystical forces that were denied their appropriate outlet.

In fact, the bond, a foreign state forced upon the human, grew stronger for them over time. But for the vampire, who was used to acclimating to bonds as an innate part of their makeup, the compulsive pull waned over time as it did for all bonds, even sire-childe. Although the pull of such connections never truly disappeared, for a demon they grew more manageable with time.

Therefore, theoretically, Angelus should be able to handle this without the implosion he was experiencing, and if the watchers were even half as smart as they thought they were they would realize that this irrational and perilous behavior was due more to Angelus himself as opposed to just his bond with the girl.

While vampires were possessive by nature, Angelus was different; he was obsessive. And from what Spike had been told by Darla, he had been as a human, too.

When Darla had spoken of Angelus’ time as before being turned it had always been tales of a man so obsessed with his father’s love and approval, or lack thereof, that he had literally been killing himself through drinking and debauchery to prove to the man that he had no control over his son; forcing himself to become the embodiment of everything the man hated. It was a fixation that would follow him even into death.

Once, not long after Angelus had been cursed, Darla had told of how devastated he’d been to realize that by killing his father he’d lost the focus of his compulsive fascination and negated all opportunities to indulge in his obsession in any meaningful way. Hearing Angelus’ own rare but rambling recounting of his previous life only confirmed that the abrupt interruption of his plotting to punish his father until he won his love still bothered him deeply.

Which led to another misconception of vampires. Although this one seemed to be more on the part of the slayers than the watchers who, for obvious reasons, kept their little killing machines out of the loop on the particulars of their fated foe.

Demons had souls. That was obviously proven as in old times humans often dealt with many malevolent creatures by entrapping their souls in various containers.

When a vampire procreated it was no different than with any other living being – it created a new and unique life with its own distinctive soul. As the human died its soul was released. At that point the demon soul entered and animated the body. And there was the difference –

When a human was created it was a completely blank slate. It inhabited a body with no experiences, no information yet hardwired into its brain defining them except those of a genetic nature.

When a vampire was created it took over a body with a brain burned full of memories and years of defining events. So the new and impressionable soul was bombarded immediately with these previous occurrences and the feelings they evoked. Generally these feelings were so confusing and overwhelming, so at odds with a vampire’s basic nature that they generated nothing but hatred and disgust. That was why many new vampires returned to dispose of their friends and families – to eliminate what they saw as the cause of their emotional maelstrom. Every once in a while though, you’d find vampires who would turn certain members from the human’s past because the feelings generated by the memories concerning those particular humans gave them a sense that was inherently pleasing to their demonic temperament – power, control, lust. It was always a unique process decided by the melding of the new soul and the debris the soul so recently departed left behind.

So it was reasonable to assume that, since it was a given that Liam had been an obsessive jerk, he had undoubtedly left a plethora of memories defined by that characteristic. If the demon’s soul had also had such a bent the combining of the two would created an almost maniacal personality who would never cease to pursue whatever fascination had captured his undivided attention.

That was what was causing Angelus’ mind to dissolve into a stagnant pool of madness. The bond wasn’t helping, but even if there was no bond, if he’d wanted the cheerleader and they’d taken her he would still end up doing something monstrously stupid in his impotent fury…alright, maybe not something this mind numbingly idiotic, but he’d never let it go; he would pursue her until the very day she died. ‘Cause really, look what he’d done to Dru and there’d been no bond there.

It was this failure to understand the basic underworkings of the situation at hand that was going to get them all killed. So, despite the fact that he had no desire to either make Angelus happy or betray his little brunette quasi-friend, it really was the only avenue left to him under the circumstances.

But on a positive note he’d missed having the little firecracker around. It would certainly be no hardship having her back for however long it took for him to do away with his grandsire. And he would eventually destroy Angelus. Maybe it wouldn’t be as soon as he’d like, but it would come. He could wait; after all, he had nothing but time.
Chapter Eighty-Seven
Closing the door behind him Giles bypassed his living room phone, which he knew was compromised, choosing instead the secure line hidden away in his bedroom. The now familiar fatigue filling him as he dialed the number he knew by heart.

“We have one less ally.”

Giles nodded his head in agreement with the obscenities coming through clearly from the other end.

“I’m not sure how much Angelus trusts him, but he was here tonight trying to convince me that the slayer and I needed to be miles away from the exchange point tomorrow night to stop the awakening.”

More outrage sounded in his ear.

“Of course he’s lying Matthew! I’m not a fool. The plan is still the same – the council brings Cordelia in by plane tomorrow at 2:00 and we make our stand at the airport before the night’s trade at the docks.”

While he understood the reasons behind the near frantic reiteration of the preparation by his friend, Giles found it irritating in the extreme.

“I don’t have the energy for this tonight. I appreciate that you care about Cordelia, but you’ve known her for a few weeks; so just think how much we must care about her having known her substantially longer. We know what has to be done, and you have my absolute promise, Matthew, no matter what the cost, we won’t fail Cordelia again.”

Hanging up the phone, Giles stretched out on his bed, too tired to even bother changing for sleep. Despite his impassioned words to his friend he too was worried. Not only had he been woefully unsuccessful in protecting the young woman from the greatest of fiends, but he’d only compounded his many errors by sending her to a bastion of moral bankruptcy that would sell out an innocent soul who’d done more to combat evil then they had collectively. It was such a continually painful admission that, much like his slayer, he was developing a mildly persistent numbness to simply keep functioning on a daily basis.

As those thoughts swirled around his brain Giles sighed, resigning himself to what was most likely going to be yet another night of minutes of sleep interspersed with hours of waking nightmares; and no matter how much he feared the coming confrontation and the epic consequences it would carry, tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.


PART 16 – THE BEST LAID PLANS
Chapter Eighty-Seven

Sunny California was living up to its name and Quentin Travers couldn’t have been more pleased. Even though they were working, however reluctantly, with Angelus at this time, he didn’t have any intention of trusting the vampire. Although they would have to meet that night to make the exchange that would ensure the world’s continued safety, it didn’t mean that he wouldn’t take advantage of any and all protection of which he could avail himself in the meantime. Thus the landing at the previously used, private airstrip in the scorching sunlight; the greatest protection against the demon they were facing.

As he stepped off the plane he spotted the unremarkable black limousine that would spirit them discreetly to the nondescript safe house where they would pass the hours until the night’s meeting. He had been very specific in his orders that the car that met them have extremely dark tinted windows. It wouldn’t do to alert the Chase girl that they were back in Sunnydale. They certainly didn’t need the hysterics at this delicate time and there was no need to cause any excess distress for the young woman; after all, he wasn’t a monster.

Turning he saw the object of his musings leaving the aircraft. She was amazingly stable given the circumstances, although she still leaned on Worthington for support.

Worthington. There was a problem all its own. Travers knew that the man had lost his objectivity in this matter; their earlier conversation had made that clear. He had proved, as had Rupert Giles, that he could not be trusted. As soon as this matter was settled and the new slayer was found both men would find themselves stripped of their positions and no longer a part of the Council. The only reason that he had allowed the younger watcher to accompany him was that the girl would have been suspicious traveling without him. Of course there was also the added benefit that Matthew’s effect on the girl had been startling and it could only be to their advantage to return Angelus’ pet in the best condition possible to minimize the vampire’s wrath.

Following the pair were the three mages maintaining the spell that was obscuring the bond. The amount of mystical energy produced was immense and would create a signature that eventually Angelus would be able to identify. But even with the resources of the Hellmouth at his fingertips it would take him about two or three days to pinpoint them. By then the trade would be made and they would be safely back at the Council’s Headquarters.

As they drew close to the car the driver’s door opened. But instead of the man he had assigned, Quentin found himself facing a petite slayer, coiled for a fight and vibrating with anger.

Every day she was feeling stronger; however Cordelia knew that without Matthew’s steadying presence she wouldn’t have even made it out of her room in England much less all the way to wherever the hell they were.

And frankly, that last thought bothered her. She understood that the last time they’d spirited her away she’d been in no position to question it, but she’d been recovering by leaps and bounds since her altercation with Matthew and she was more than ready to start making her own decisions again. After all, she was Cordelia Chase. She was no weak willed wallflower to be dictated to by a bunch of self-righteous bastards. She had survived the Scourge of Europe! She’d be damned if she’d let a paper pusher like Quentin Travers boss her around. As soon as she figured out where she was she’d start weighing her options. While she acknowledged that their blocking of her bond with Angelus was certainly beneficial, if worse came to worse she could always fall back on her original plan of moving from place to place, staying one step ahead of the vampire and relocating before he could get a fix on her whereabouts.

Stumbling slightly, she felt Matthew’s arm tighten around her waist and she smiled up at him gratefully. She wasn’t sure what she would have done without him. As soon as she’d begun crying on his shoulder the morning he’d confronted her she’d realized his true intentions. Usually she’d resent being manipulated, but she understood that she’d needed something to shock her out of the traumatic fog her separation from Angelus had thrust upon her. The fact that she was up and moving, albeit with assistance, bore out that her Guardian Watcher had made the right choice.

Since she’d managed to gather her wits about her once again she found that she was hyper-sensitive to her surroundings. Although she trusted her friend to protect her, she knew that, ultimately, it was up to her to take care of herself; and while she was in no way physically capable of doing so right then she could maintain her constant vigilance, knowing that her vastly underrated intelligence was her greatest weapon.

It was this awareness that had her head snapping around at the sound of a car door opening. Although Matthew had taken another step forward Cordelia had stilled in horror of the sight before her. Buffy.

Her dread increased as the back doors opened and Giles and Xander quickly made their way to the blonde’s side. The frozen form of Quentin Travers put paid to any hope that her friends had arranged to visit her at some neutral location. No; they were back in Sunnydale.

As Buffy surged forward in a blur of motion to attack the guards who had exited the plane behind them Cordelia realized that the bond between Council and slayer had obviously been severed. She knew that of the two groups currently locked in combat only her friends could be counted on to have her best interests at heart. They were obviously here to save her, which meant that the Council had become a threat. They’d betrayed her and the only way to have done that was to have made a deal with Angelus. They were giving her back.

Although she had initially begged to be returned to the vampire she knew that she was now lacking vital information to make an informed decision as to what to do. When in doubt she’d choose to place her faith in her friends every time and this was no exception. Heart breaking at the thought that Matthew, her rock during her time away, had plotted against her she jerked her body away from his, determined to make it to her friend’s sides even if she had to crawl there.

But before her stumbling step could land her on the ground she felt strong arms surround her, pulling her close as warm lips rasped over her ear.

“Calm down. I’m working with the slayer. I won’t let anyone give you back to him.”

As she met the fierce, hazel eyes above her she knew that he was sincere. Stilling her movements she allowed Matthew to swing her up into his arms and weave his way through the fighting, slipping inside the hanger and into the waiting van.

“Hi, Cordelia.”

Willow’s cautious greeting and friendly wave brought a smile to the brunette’s face. It was something warm and familiar. It called to her memories of a simpler time and she cherished the brief moment of normalcy.

“Hi, Willow. So, come here often?”

The quiet girl seemed startled by the humor, not doubt having had it impressed upon her the dire straits in which Cordelia would be returning to them. But after having a minute to rebound a lopsided smile tilted her lips.

“Actually, more than I would have imagined.”

Cordelia’s grin softened as a look of gratitude passed across her face.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s too quiet without you around, so what else could we do?”

Even with all that they’d done on her behalf in the past months, Cordelia still wasn’t used to such selfless interest in her welfare. At a loss with how to proceed she nodded and turned, tucking her head into Matthew’s shoulder.

That move didn’t go unnoticed by either Willow or Jenny who was occupying the driver’s seat. The two exchanged silent looks as they pondered the ramifications of this unexpected development.

The quiet that had descended over the vehicle was broken as three people threw themselves through the side door.

“Go!”

The van lurched forward as Jenny slammed on the gas peddle and raced through the narrow opening in the large hanger doors. As they swerved onto the road leading away from the airport they left the fuming watchers behind, missing Quentin Travers’ livid demand.

“Restore the bond.”


Chapter Eighty-Eight

There was an awkward silence in the close confines and it occurred to Cordelia that life was indeed weird when Willow was the most socially adept of a given group.

Suddenly all thoughts of small talk were wiped away as a burning sensation, missing for weeks, burst through her.

Although the full brunt of the bond had been somewhat obscured, the pain of separation had never fully left her. But even that pain, which initially had been sapping away her life, was nothing compared to the feelings flooding her as her bond with Angelus was completely restored, connecting them once more in a fiery explosion of love and loss.

Held hostage by forces that would not be denied, Cordelia’s body shuddered violently and she clung in desperation to the solidness of Matthew’s muscled form, the only stable presence she could process at the moment.

Xander watched, half in fear and half in envy, as the new watcher stroked Cordelia’s hair, whispering soft words of comfort into her ear. He knew that this was about Cordelia and not him, but he couldn’t help the piercing longing to be the one that held her, the one that soothed her pain.

While Cordelia’s dysfunctional family had pushed her to be the epitome of social perfection, his home life had resulted in a pariah status he hadn’t been able to shake. People judged early on in life and were reluctant to admit they might have been wrong despite the intervening years. Xander would blame it on the ignorance of youth, but those opinions hadn’t been confined to those of his own generation. Instead he’d found that they encompassed the adults in his life; his family and teachers making clear, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in overt ways, that they felt there was something lacking in him.

Although both Buffy and Giles had embraced him as a being of worth, Cordelia had been the first truly “normal” person to say that he had value. And, trusting her expertise on all things popular, he borrowed some of her belief in him as a salvageable person and had begun to rebuild the self-esteem his family had so brutally extinguished.

For that, no matter how the rest of their lives played out, Cordelia would own an abiding place in his heart.

Immune to the glare being tossed his way by the young man across from him, Matthew instead locked eyes with his fellow watcher.

“Son of a bitch!”

The silent communication between the two men did not escape Buffy’s notice and the coarse words coming from Giles’ normally cultured mouth were enough to pull her out of her shock and horror at Cordelia’s current condition.

“What’s happening?”

“It’s the bond.”

It was Matthew who answered her, and though she knew he was on their side she wasn’t sure that she was ready to fully trust him yet. Up until that morning he’d been with the Council and they had definitely lost all credibility with their slayer. But Giles trusted him and she trusted Giles, so until he proved himself unworthy of their faith she’d give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, a little healthy skepticism never hurt anyone and Buffy turned to Giles for conformation.

“That fast?”

Whatever explanation Giles was about to offer was cut off by Cordelia’s low moan.

“They want him to find me. Oh God, they’re giving me back.”

Matthew’s arms tightened convulsively around the trembling brunette as if somehow sheer force of will could hold the bond at bay.

“But you’re not with them any more, Cordelia. You’re with us and we’re not letting you go anywhere. I know it hurts, sweetheart, but we have a way to block it, just hold on.”

Although she couldn’t make out the words, the gentle tone eased the discomfort slightly; but nothing short of either the resuming of the spell or a reunion with her bondmate would truly end her suffering.

“I feel him. He’s all over me – inside of me.”

Drowning in unfamiliar feelings of helplessness, Matthew pulled her in even tighter looking to Giles for some kind of guidance with these disturbing feelings.

Wearily Giles shook his head at his friend. “It never gets any easier.”

“Can’t we give her something?”

As a slayer Buffy was, above all, action oriented. Watching Cordelia suffer without doing something to stop it was just another torture for which she had to thank Angelus.

With a sympathetic look Giles explained their dilemma.

“If we give Cordelia any type of sedating substance she looses whatever small ability she has to fight the bond. Although it isn’t enough to keep him from finding her it will allow us a small yet precious window of time in which to restart the spell.”

As they finally pulled into the driveway of the small house in which they were currently hiding, Buffy couldn’t hold in her sigh of relief. She’d seen a lot of pain during her short tenure as the slayer, but she didn’t think she could stand the suffering in the van much longer.

Cordelia’s pain, Xander’s fear, Giles’ guilt, even the new guy’s protectiveness were overwhelming and oppressive in the small space.

Upon entering, a brief sense of optimism filled the group as they saw a small circle of wiccans from a local coven in the beginning stages of the ritual that would once again inhibit the tie between Cordelia and Angelus.

Apparently the spell was nearly instantaneous as Cordelia’s body fell limp within seconds of the whispered incantation.

“He’s gone again. He’s gone.”

It was hard to tell if there was gratitude or regret in the pained mutterings, and Matthew found himself uncaring which it was, as neither emotion seemed to calm the girl’s mental sufferings. Making his way upstairs to the bedroom to which Giles had directed him, he sat on the bed, leaning back against the headboard. Carefully arranging Cordelia against him he gently kissed the top of her head murmuring words of solace in hopes that sleep would overtake her, granting her the brief respite they could not provide.

So intent was he on the welfare of his charge that he once again failed to notice her young suitor who stood framed in the doorway, fists clenching in helplessness and anger before he turned and stormed back downstairs.


Chapter Eighty-Nine

The ringing in Giles’ pocket drew curious stares from the young people around him. Pulling out the small phone he ignored the shocked expressions that were bordering on an insult to his intelligence and refrained from informing them that the contraption belonged to Matthew who had left it in his care so as not to disrupt Cordelia’s rest when the inevitable call came.

“Hello, Quentin.”

“Rupert. What the hell do you think you’re doing? Stop this madness and bring the girl back before it’s too late.”

Giles’ bitter laughed seared across the connection.

“You didn’t really think that after all we did to rescue her we’d just give her back to that monster did you? Dammit man; she’s a girl, not some anonymous pawn in your twisted game.”

His former boss seemed less than impressed.

“I would hardly categorize the ending of the world as a game.

You are aware, of course Rupert, that even if we somehow manage to avoid disaster, if you don’t return her you’ve effectively ended your career.”

Giles struggled to speak around the rage clogging his throat.

“You unbearable ass! Do you honestly imagine that I’d continue any association with an organization that would throw an innocent to the wolves? That’s precisely what we were created to prevent.”

He wasn’t alone in his anger as Quentin’s voice also crackled with volatile emotion.

“Our job is to stop evil. Don’t delude yourself. If Acathla is awakened that girl will perish with the rest of the world.”

And the insults to Giles’ intellect just kept coming.

“Do you really think we haven’t considered that you pompous pillock?”

Without warning Giles found both hands free as Buffy relieved him of the phone to vent her own rage and frustration.

“Look, you may have time to waste on some pissing contest but we don’t. In case you haven’t noticed we’re not taking our marching orders from you anymore. Where my watcher goes, I go; and if he says he doesn’t work for you anymore then you can consider yourself slayerless.

Quentin was furious at Giles’ blatant insubordination, but he’d be damned if he’d accept a dressing down from a seventeen year old girl.

“You’re not the only slayer, Miss Summers. It’s only a matter of time before we find Kendra’s successor.”

Buffy’s snort was an inelegant yet clear sign of how unimpressed she was by the implication of her redundancy.

“That’s just peachy with me, but until then I’m the only Chosen One you’ve got; and believe me, I was chosen by beings with far more power than you.

You want action, Travers, here it is – If you come near Cordelia, make any move towards her, or conspire in any way with our enemies against her, I’ll kill you; human or not. Believe me; my conscience is as burdened as it can possibly get. The death of a man who would make a young woman into a demon’s slave – it won’t even touch me.”

Barely restraining herself from crushing the small device she snapped it closed on the voice still sputtering through the small speaker and tossed it back to her watcher. Shaking with rage, she took a deep breath and tried to calm down as Willow moved to her side to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Cell phone, Giles?” Xander asked with raised brows. “Aren’t you the same technophobe who struggled to master the mechanical pencil?”

Giles rolled his eyes at the inane comment but it had done its job and the tension had, for a moment, been broken. However, seeing the doubt in Buffy’s face brought it rushing back and he hastened to assure her that their course of action was sound.

“We’re doing the right thing by not going after Angelus tonight, Buffy. I know that you want to do something to fix this, but we have to remember what happened the other times that we’ve underestimated Angelus and the resources he has available. And he’ll be sure to arrive with everything at his disposal for the meeting tonight.”

“Keep in mind that Angelus felt the break in the spell as strongly as Cordelia did. He knows that she’s close and he’ll attempt to find her before he does anything rash. We only have to hold on for another two or three days until Jenny has finished translating the spell.”

Quiet up to that point, Jenny cast an anxious glance at the computer in the corner before turning regretful eyes back to those depending so heavily upon her.

“If I could make it any sooner…”

Seeing her overcome with the same sense of failure burdening them all, Giles put his arm around her, reassuring her as he had done his slayer.

“It’s alright. You’re doing everything you can. We all are.”


Chapter Ninety

Giles’ steps slowed as he neared the room he’d readied for Cordelia. He wanted to go to her, to assure her that they had things in hand, that they would protect her; and yet how could he possibly expect her to be comforted by any promises he might make no matter how sincere. After all, he had promised to protect her from Angelus, and then, when they’d finally managed to secure her release, it was less of a rescue and more of a minor stay of execution. He shuddered to think what would have happened had Matthew not grown so attached to Cordelia that he was willing to betray the council to save her.

Kind thoughts of his friend dwindled as Giles paused in the doorway, startled by the sight of the handsome young man reclining against the headboard with the beautiful young woman curled up against his chest.

He could tell that Matthew was less than impressed with his stern and disapproving look as he returned it with a steady and remorseless gaze of his own. Nevertheless, he gently eased Cordelia away from him and slipped out from underneath her, tenderly lowering her down to the mattress.

A small startled cry caught the attention of both men and a frown drew Giles’ brows together as he watched Matthew calm the young woman’s sudden fright with soft shushing sounds. He was in no way happy about this apparent turn of events. Things were complicated enough for all of them without yet another man falling under the sway of Cordelia Chase’s considerable charm.

“We’ll speak about this later.”

Giles’ warning to the departing Matthew was purposely hushed to avoid creating any more upset for Cordelia then the day had already brought.

Once they were alone Giles turned back towards the bed surprised to see a slight smile alighting Cordelia’s face. It was a welcome sight that fanned the minute spark of hope within him that had nearly been extinguished when he had seen her frail form collapse in the van.

He returned her smile as she arranged herself in a seated position and motioned him over to her. Glad to have the chance to finally speak with her and assess her unexpected recovery for himself, he pulled a chair up next to the bed waiting for Cordelia to speak so he could take his lead from her.

Once again she surprised him as she reached out a slightly trembling hand and placed it on his own.

“I’m so sorry, Giles. I didn’t mean to make it so hard to get me away from – ”

Without conscious thought his hand turned in hers, their fingers entwining.

“Cordelia, no. I won’t hear another word of this. We all know why you wanted to stay. No one could ever possibly hold any of this against you, we know that you were just trying to protect us.”

“Pfft. Great job I did; now we’re all going to die.”

At first Giles had been inclined to chuckle at the familiar sound of dismissal that was so unique to this girl; but on hearing the rest of the statement he found anger crowding out any amusement.

“Matthew told you about Acathla.”

Cordelia was still tired and feeling slightly disconnected from the earlier resurgence of the bond, but even she could pick out the subtle signs of Giles’ rising irritation.

“The guy who’s planning to have the world as a bedtime snack. Yeah, he told me. But come on Giles; did you think I wouldn’t want to know why the people who were supposed to be keeping me far away from Sunnyhell were suddenly bringing right back into the lion’s den? Don’t be mad at Matthew. You wouldn’t have fared any better if it had been you I’d been interrogating.”

His smile reappeared as he both acknowledged the truth of her words and rejoiced to see the return of the fierce spirit that was such an integral part of her. He’d been so afraid that they’d been too late, that even if she lived she would simply be a shell of her former self; traumatized beyond all repair. After months of misfortune at every turn, Giles chose to interpret this near miraculous recovery as a positive omen; that the winds of fate were finally shifting in their favor.

Cordelia was relieved to see the anger fade from Giles expression, replaced by a look that, under any other circumstances, she would describe as hope. As she pondered the oddness that was Rupert Giles, her eye was caught by a movement at the door. Wondering when the room had become Grand Central Station, she turned her head and nodded to Buffy who was waiting hesitantly, as if unsure of her welcome.

“Giles, Matthew said he needed to talk to you. It sounded important.”

Nodding to Buffy, he gave Cordelia’s hand a final squeeze and left the two girls alone in an uncomfortable silence.

Cordelia’s mouth tilted slightly at the ridiculous reluctance to speak that they were both exhibiting. Of all the problems they’d had during their time in each other’s company having nothing to say was never one of them. If anything, most of their problems came because neither one of them could seem to stop talking.

Although the chair Giles had abandoned was still next to the bed, Cordelia tucked her legs underneath her in a silent invitation for Buffy to join her.

Watching the blonde’s uncharacteristically uncertain movements, Cordelia barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes at their shared timidity. Tentative actions didn’t become either of them and it was all she could do not to use her minuscule amount of strength to grab Buffy and hurry up the relatively short journey to the bed. Superspeed was clearly wasted on this slayer as her gallows pace finally brought her close enough to sit.

She waited patiently for Buffy to tire of the fascination she apparently had with her hands and meet her gaze. When the slayer’s eyes finally locked with her own Cordelia almost wished they hadn’t as the raw pain swirling in their depths seared her.

“Cordelia, I’m so sorry – ”

No, no, no. Cordelia couldn’t handle any guilt but her own.

“Don’t.”

To her absolute horror, the anguish contained in Buffy’s expression grew and Cordelia realized that the girl thought she was rejecting her apology. Her face took was a contrast of compassion and wry amusement as she considered the high maintenance of slayers.

“Buffy, believe it or not I know what it’s like to love someone inappropriate. Of course I used to think that meant Xander. My parents said I couldn’t possibly do any worse.” She couldn’t stop the bitter laugh from bubbling up. “Shows what they know, huh?”

She could almost see Buffy turning the words over in her head. She was clearly considering their meaning, the ramifications, and her response.

“Do you hate me for loving him? If I’d listened to everyone and stayed away from Angel…”

As the words trailed off, Cordelia gave her answer the same careful reflection that Buffy had.

“Sometimes. But not because Angel lost his soul. You couldn’t have known. Maybe I hate that you had more of him than I did, that you had the soul and not just the vampire. Maybe I hate that you have the excuse that there was some good in him – some part of him that could see people beyond their usefulness to him.”

Her voice grew softer as if shying away from the confession of so great a sin.

“Maybe I just hate you sometimes so I don’t have to hate myself all the time.”

Before her eyes slid away in shame, she saw her own previous kindness on Buffy’s face.

“But you didn’t really love him; it was just the bond.”

While Cordelia longed to avail herself of the absolution being offered, she wasn’t dishonest enough, with herself or others, to allow Buffy to continue to place herself in the middle of this situation with so clear a misunderstanding of its workings.

“Do you know how much I wish that was true? I don’t know what Giles told you about the bond, but it creates love in both parties. For him, it’s a vampire’s love – it’s selfish and it’s about possessing what he needs to be happy. But for me it’s a human’s love; giving and generous. The more time I spent with him, the more I wanted him to be happy, too. It’s simple to say that it’s not real, that I just feel it because of the bond, but Angelus told me once that love’s just a feeling, and since we were both feeling it that made it real, no matter what caused it. I know it’s not love like you think of it; still…I miss him. I’d never want to live through that again, but it wasn’t what you think it was.”

She gave a weary sigh but continued.

“There were times – many times – when, if I just could have forgotten how I got there, things would have been perfect; times when his behavior and the bond were in complete harmony and I felt like the most beautiful, precious thing in the world.

It’s so hard to explain, but the stalking, the kidnapping, the terror – those weren’t the worst things that happened. No; the awful times were the times that weren’t awful at all. How messed up is that?

Angelus knew things about me. So many things. And he used them; not to hurt me, but to please me. He gave me tulips to make me smile, he got hold of Winky, the orange kitty my dad won got me at the carnival when I was seven, to cheer me up; he took me to the movies, for God’s sake.”

Cordelia hadn’t been able to talk about these things with anyone, not even Matthew, and she couldn’t help wondering what was compelling her now. Maybe it’s because Buffy was the only person who had even the slightest chance of understanding, or maybe it was because she seemed willing to listen. Well, not willing so much as compelled; like when you can’t tear your eyes away from the scene of a car accident.

“I didn’t want to like the things he did for me. I’m not stupid, I knew he was doing them for his own selfish reasons, to manipulate me. But with the bond getting stronger and stronger, every time he did something wonderful his selfishness was easier to ignore. It’s like the bond made me love him, but his affection made it seem almost rational to do so.

Don’t get me wrong; I never would have had any thoughts other than the staking variety about him if it hadn’t been for the bond. I know that I didn’t have a choice, that even if all he’d ever done was hurt me, I still would have loved him eventually. But it wouldn’t have been like this. I wouldn’t have felt like this.

It’s not love like you know, like you’d understand; but he told me once that when he loved it was real, it was passionate, and it hurt when it was taken away. I don’t have the kinds of feelings that you’d normally associate with love. It’s not hearts and flowers and it’s definitely not what you had with Angel; but it is real, and not only do I not know how to make it go away, sometimes…I just don’t want to. Sometimes it’s all I can do not to run back and feel like, for once, I’m everything to someone. And maybe it makes me horribly weak, but sometimes, just for a few seconds, I thought about staying because he was bound to me, too, and it felt almost good to be with someone who couldn’t leave me.

Pretty pathetic, huh?”

Buffy moved forward and for one wild instant Cordelia thought she was going to attack her for loving Angelus. That thought and most others fled as Buffy’s strong arms wound around her and pulled her into a tight embrace. And before she knew it, Cordelia found herself returning the warm hug; clinging to the girl who had once been her nemesis in silent acceptance of the fact that they were the only two people in the world qualified to understand each other. And in a break from all they had been before this moment, they each relinquished their right to judge the other and held instead to the cold compensation that at least they weren’t alone in their tragedies.

In a voice choked with tears Buffy whispered a desperate plea to the now shaking brunette.

“Please; please don’t hate yourself. You were so strong. You stayed alive and protected us all when I couldn’t. Now it’s my turn to protect you. If you don’t hate yourself then it will give me hope that soon I won’t have to hate myself either.”

Cordelia pulled back, detangling their limbs. While she cherished the shared comfort, the emotion-laden atmosphere was making it hard for her to breathe.

“So, I’ll like me and you’ll like you? With our history that would probably work better than us trying to like each other.”

Buffy’s small smile told Cordelia that she hadn’t been the only one being crushed by the oppressive sadness in the room. Still, it was nice to hear the humor that laced the slayer’s retort.

“Yeah, no need to press our luck.”

A dark brow arched.

“We have luck?”

A blonde brow followed.

“I guess we’re due.”


Chapter Ninety-One

A boundless fury surged through Angelus as he gazed at the fossilized demon before him. His rage had been growing unchecked since he’d been informed by the Watchers Council two nights before that they’d lost Cordelia when the slayer had attacked them at the airport. Not that he’d needed them to tell him something was wrong. As soon as he’d felt their bond flare briefly to life he’d known that the watchers’ plans had somehow gone awry.

Those all too short moments when he could feel Cordelia once more had been a double-edged sword. Having her fill him again, knowing that he was filling her had created an ecstasy he hadn’t felt since he’d last been buried deep within her. Unfortunately experiencing that rapture once again only emphasized the terrible emptiness that was constantly clawing at his insides.

There was a sort of hollow joy in threatening the watchers who had delivered his property into his enemy’s hands. Though a part of him feasted on the fear he could feel, even through the phone line, he knew his words were wasted. He had, at his fingertips, the resources of the entire demon population of the Hellmouth; if he couldn’t find his wayward pet it was unlikely that the bumbling group of men who’d lost her to [i]their own[/i] slayer would be able to make any headway in her recapture.

His frustration was growing in concert with his outrage as every lead resulted in a dead end. Without the bond to follow he’d been forced to resort to tracking down the large spurts of mystical energies that would surround the casters of such a massive spell. It was a relatively easy concept, and theoretically he should have had Cordelia back before the sun had risen. But in the last forty-eight hours there had been more than a dozen upsurges of magickal power spread out across town. He was fairly certain he had good ol’ Rupert to thank for the overabundance of false leads, and on their next meeting thank him he would.

But even thoughts of bloody retribution were not enough to stave off the pain and longing that were slithering through his mind like twin serpents spitting a poisonous venom at each other that was little by little dissolving his tenuous hold on reason.

Sometimes, when the fog in his head thinned, he wondered if madness was contagious. Lately any being with a modicum of sense avoided being in his presence and in the resulting quiet he could swear that he heard Acathla calling to him; whispering his name, like a siren to a hapless sailor, as Dru had claimed.

The sounds scorched through him like a rain shower of holy water and the longer he was kept from Cordelia the more he was drawn to the petrified demon in her place; and if absolute love were to be denied him he would have nothing less than ultimate hate.

Angelus wasn’t the only vampire searching for the lovely brunette. Slipping silently through the darkened alleys of Sunnydale, Spike was questioning and killing informants as he went; not merely to conceal the proof of his returned mobility, but also to work off some of the roiling temper that had consumed him ever since he’d learned what the slayer’s little gang had done. All their endless struggles to save the world and for once the solution was not only simple but right at their fingertips and they were going to let an entire planet die just to have their own way. Self-righteous pricks.

Worse, he’d seen Angelus skulking around Acathla more and more with a nearly maniacal look on his face. The white hats had made this a contest in the older vampire’s mind and Angelus wasn’t one to settle for second place, no matter the cost, even to himself. Spike knew, with an almost unnatural certainty, that they were all down to the last grains of sand in their collective hourglass.


Chapter Ninety-Two

Another scream echoed through the cavernous room, and a malevolent smile cut into Angelus’ face. The relief he felt was so heady that it was almost smothering him in an intoxicating cloud of delight.

His head, formerly laden with desolation, was now brimming with the beautiful agony of Acathla’s vast power.

Another shrill scream pulled him from his thoughts and turned his attention back to the vampire before him. He was rather unfamiliar with the fledgling he faced and bore no personal grudge against him. It was simply the young vampire’s misfortune to be sent by the older, wiser minions to deliver the disappointing message that they’d hit another wall in their search for Cordelia.

His sanity, stretched progressively thinner as the hours without her drug on, had finally given way, unable to withstand the emptiness of the bond interrupted. As the mental dam had broken, the abyss left in its place allowed, near instantaneously, the presence of the sleeping demon to rush in, filling him completely.

In the mood to celebrate his newfound sense of peace he had decided to indulge in a little ‘me time’ and had proceeded to chain his unsuspecting follower to the wall. Having sent for his entire clan, he had nothing but time and a minion to kill and he used them both wisely, entertaining himself by carving breathtaking murals of the upcoming apocalypse into the young demon’s flesh.

Angelus frowned as he realized that his hard won cries had dwindled to muted whimpers which were hardly satisfying to the demented vampire. With a vicious wrench the chains snapped in his hands and, grasping the jagged links, he pulled the barely conscious underling across the room, regretting that his hideously frightening smile was wasted on the pathetic being at his feet. With one modest heave he lifted the flaccid form and flung it into the large, stone fireplace.

Ahh, there were the screams he’d longed for.

Sighing, he took a moment to mourn the loss of such an ornately adorned canvas; but disfiguring vampires generally cursed one’s art to impermanence, and seeing the minion well and blemish free would only serve to remind him of all his hard work lost, so really, it was all for the best.

The noise behind him alerted him that his orders had been carried out. The frightened whimpers of the terrified human being unfortunate enough to have been randomly chosen to be the sacrifice for their little dimension opening filled the room.

“My friends – it’s time.”


Chapter Ninety-Three

Spike definitely didn’t like the sound of that. Although he really hadn’t liked the sound of much since Angelus lost the soul that, frankly, the blond was beginning to miss.

As far as he could see the situation was impossible. First, even with the element of surprise that his healed body would provide he would never be able to overwhelm the sheer number of vampiric lemmings that would follow Angelus literally to the end of the earth. Second, even if he could clear out the minions he’d never be able to take on his sire and grandsire. Especially given that, while he was perfectly willing to dust Angelus, he would never be able to seriously hurt Dru. And last on his list of why they were all going to die; if he could somehow manage to eliminate everything that stood between the two of them and face him man to man, figuratively speaking, he knew with utter conviction that he would fail.

Since the last time he’d seen him, Angelus had move past hatred, beyond evil, and now he’d settled into that dark and squalid recess of the mind where madness lived; and somehow, in the brief span of a single day, the zealotry that gripped seemed to make him near invincible.

With a horror that had no place on the face of a master vampire, Spike watched as Angelus reached forward and with the light of the righteous burning in his eyes, recited some ancient gobbledygook, killed the sacrifice, and with the man’s blood on his hand, grasped the sword and –

and…

and…

Spike forced his muscles to relax enough to allow him to pry one eye open.

His first thought was that hell looked an awful lot like Sunnydale. That didn’t actually surprise him all that much, but he honestly didn’t believe that even evil was evil enough to leave him to suffer in the same hell he’d been living in for months, so he disregarded that theory.

His next guess was that hell was so truly hideous, like infomercials for spray on hair or a Barry Manilow concert, that his mind had literally shut down to allow him a brief respite from the new and torturous reality. But as the seconds became minutes he realized that something had gone wrong…or right, depending on how many of your marbles you still had.

Although, seeing Angelus’ expression in the face of his failure he began to wonder if they might not have been better off being sucked into hell. It wasn’t the wild look of minutes before; rather it was the calm and serene conviction that only fanatics can ever truly know.

“Well, I can’t say that this isn’t disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world. Of course, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Well, you know what they say – ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself.’ ‘Cause while there may be no I in ‘team’, there’s definitely one in ‘kill’.”

The words were not the acceptance of failure Spike was hoping for, and as Angelus continued he questioned whether things were going from bad to worse. Or, as was more common in his life, from immeasurably horrific to equally immeasurably horrific.

“So if Acathla doesn’t want in on the fun then we’ll just have to let sleeping rocks lie. We’ll bring death to every living thing on this earth even if we have to go door to door to do it. My friends, the Hellmouth is our playground and tonight I feel like breaking some toys!”

Since the focus of the room was on Angelus’ overblown melodrama Spike felt safe in rolling his eyes. Sometimes he felt trapped in an endless episode of Dawson’s Creek…only with more disembowelings. Although he was never a demon given to prolonged bouts of self-deprecation even he could appreciate the sad state of affairs that had led to him somehow becoming the voice of maturity and reason in any given situation. It was disgusting, that. He wanted to enjoy a night of wanton homicide with the rest of the gang. But it seemed that love had decided to share its bitch with fate, and destiny was decreeing that it was his night to serve as the designated demon.

The worst part was that frankly he didn’t give a flying fuck about the good folks who were stupid enough to homestead on the mouth of Hell. But what apparently only he was able to appreciate was that a rampaging mob of demons burning down an entire town and feasting on the human rats that scurried out of the flaming wreckage might, possibly, in the right circumstances, attract the attention of oh, say…[i]everybody[/i]!

He understood Angelus. He’d never run on more than a one cylinder engine and right now Spike could see that even that one wasn’t firing. But what he couldn’t figure out was the rest of the morons surrounding him. True, minions were rarely the yellowest bananas in the bunch, but he was beginning to think that Angelus had a special talent for finding the stupidest people to turn. Of course the promise of a virtual smorgasbord of victims and violence that their master was offering them was tempting, but could he alone see that one of the chief benefits of being a demon of eternal evil was the [i]eternal[/i] part. If they brought this kind of attention down on their heads, forever, for them, would be about a day and a half.

There was little love lost between Spike and the Watcher’s Council, but that was because he thought that it was made up of middle aged gits with stakes up their asses, not because he thought they were powerless. The Council, no matter how inept its members might be, had their fingers in many a pie and their influence extended well past the realm of the supernatural. It wouldn’t surprise him in the least to learn that they had managed to subtly infect various governments with their demon phobia. The overnight leveling of an entire city wouldn’t go unnoticed and even people’s overwhelming need for denial couldn’t possibly stretch far enough to sweep the rubble under the rug.

The heavy doors hit the wall as two vampires came in, a body between them. The sight interrupted both Spike’s hopeless thoughts and Angelus’ sadistic ramblings to his clan; and while he was glad to shake off his despair and doubly so to hear Angelus finally shut the hell up, his stomach dropped to see the price of his peace.

The watcher.

Well, fuck.


Chapter Ninety-Four

Consciousness tiptoed its way back into Giles’ head and yet it might as well have barged in like a charging rhinoceros as he was certain his head couldn’t possibly have felt any worse. As one eye cracked open, letting in the muted light of the room, he realized how truly wrong he was – apparently his capacity for new pain was infinite.

“Have a nice nap, Rupert?”

And apparently his capacity for appallingly bad luck was still at full force too, Giles thought as he finally opened both eyes, already knowing exactly where he was.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much trouble you’ve caused me recently. Well, I could, but we’d be here all night and I have more pressing business to attend to.

Speaking of which, how much do you know about our good friend Acathla? I’m guessing quite a bit. I mean let’s face it, you have the kind of knowledge that only a guy who never gets laid has the time to gather. So tell me, what’s the secret to convincing our slumberous friend to join our little party here.”

A rusty sound that could loosely be called laughter pushed from Giles’ throat.

“Please, I wouldn’t even tell you the secret ingredient in my grandmother’s bread pudding.”

With a good natured sigh Angelus shrugged.

“That works, too.”

And with those words Giles felt blood spew out of his mouth as Angelus’ fist slammed into it. And so it began.

Spike quietly left the room. He could swear in seventeen different languages, including eight of the demon variety, and yet he couldn’t think of one word foul enough to fit the situation in which he found himself – he needed the slayer. Feeling vaguely ill at the thought he realized that he might actually prefer being sucked into a hell dimension.

“Ubreheox eposit!”

Spike sighed as he slipped past the minions guarding the perimeter of the mansion. Apparently demon swear words weren’t enough to ease some of the tension twisting his insides. Pausing for a moment he tried to think of where the slayer might be found.

If I were a slayer, where would I be…

“Govno!”

Russian profanity was a bust too as it certainly didn’t wash away any of the considerable taint of trying to think like a slayer. Deciding to go with the oldies but goodies, he resigned himself to the tedious task of making the rounds of Sunnydale’s oh so many cemeteries.

“Shit!”

Spike would have been pleasantly surprised as that particular word seemed to be somewhat effective in venting his spleen if it hadn’t been prompted by his being unceremoniously thrown against a tree.

Oh well, he thought encouragingly, at least he’d found the slayer.

Buffy took a step closer to the prone figure of the blond vampire. Her body was shaking with barely leashed tension that had little to do with Spike’s sudden appearance.

They were fast running out of time. Over the last couple of days Giles had been going to different locations around town and preforming rituals that would cause spikes of magik to be felt across the Hellmouth. It was their best plan for disguising the location of the safe house. But they knew they were working against the clock; that kind of outpouring of magic couldn’t be sustained indefinitely. And now, to make matters worse, he hadn’t returned from performing the last spell.

Then, as Buffy had finally come to accept that matters in the life of a slayer could never stop at ‘worse’, Jenny was back at the house preparing the ritual that couldn’t be preformed if she didn’t find her watcher soon.

Even though she was prepared to do what needed to be done, a part of her had been hoping that they could just restore Angel’s soul and it would all be over; that she wouldn’t actually have to kill the last chance that he’d ever come back. But if what she feared was true, if Angelus had Giles, then the spell wouldn’t matter; she’d dust him in a heartbeat to save her watcher.

Of course, even if none of this mess with Angelus had been happening at all, it was never a good thing for a person to go missing on the Hellmouth. And that’s why, for once in her life, she was happy to see Spike. Grabbing his leather duster, Buffy lifted him from the ground and slammed him back against the large oak.

“Hey! Hey! Hold up, slayer. I’m on your side, remember?”

Spike wasn’t remotely surprised at how quickly the girl could wear out her welcome. Barely three seconds before he’d been pleased to have found her and now he just wanted to kill her. Which he wouldn’t; although he tried to console himself with the thought that that decision was based entirely on his attempts to stop Angelus and not on the fact that she was on the verge of successfully kicking his ass.

“Spike, you’ve never been on anyone’s side but your own.”

He almost laughed as she sneered at him as if she’d expected better.

“Yeah, well – vampire here. But it just so happens that your side and my side seem to be one and the same.”

From the roll of her eyes Spike could see that he was going to have to convince her. He bit back a growl at the time that would be wasted with these idiotic recriminations when it could be much better spent introducing Angelus to the sharp end of the slayer’s stake.

“Is that why you tried to send us on a wild demon chase the other day?”

Now that was one decision Spike actually stood firmly behind.

“That was for all of our benefit, slayer, as time is clearly showing.”

He felt himself pulled forward and then pounded once more into the rough wood behind him to emphasize how strongly she seemed to disagree with his assertion.

“Somehow I don’t think Cordelia would agree with you.”

“Well she’s not gonna get a chance to agree with much of anything ever again when your ex kills us all.”

Spike braced himself, expecting more violence with the mention of Angelus, but instead, he found himself stumbling forward as she suddenly released her hold on him.

“Enough!”

His mouth dropped open slightly. [i]She’d[/i] had enough? She’d been the one blathering on and wasting their all too precious time.

“I’m not going to argue about this with you, Spike. You say you’re on our side – prove it. Where’s Giles?”

“Well if you’d let me get a word in edgewise. You know you hero types have the worst manners that -”

“Spike! Where – Is – Giles?”

“Where do you think? He’s with Angelus. And if I know my grandsire, and unfortunately I do, your watcher will be spilling his guts any minute now – figuratively; and then Angelus will be spilling the man’s guts – literally.”

Realizing that there was nothing more to gain by wasting time with Spike, Buffy turned to leave. Knowing that she wasn’t lucky enough to have that be the end of their unpleasant interaction, she was unsurprised to hear him call out behind her.

“We’re going to get the cheerleader, right?”

As frantic as she was to get to Giles she couldn’t seem to stop her body from pausing and then turning to face the clearly mental vampire in disbelief.

“Are you insane?” Realizing that she was once more wasting time she resumed walking, knowing that he’d be following close behind. “What am I saying? Of course you are if you think that I’m going to give Angelus anything, much less Cordelia. So be useful or be somewhere else!”

Having believed that she’d made her intent clear, Buffy picked up her pace hoping he’d take the hint that she was through with this pointless discussion when she refused to respond to his further calls. But peace was apparently not to be had as Spike rushed past her, turning to jog backwards so that he could convince her with what she assumed he thought to be the earnest look on his face.

“Don’t be so bloody stubborn, slayer. For all we know the watcher’s already blabbed the entire Acathla owner’s manual. Just give back the girl. You saved her once; you can do it again – after you’ve gotten the demonic garden gnome out of the picture.”

“It’s not happening, Spike. He’s not getting Cordelia and he’s not keeping Giles; and if it sends us all to Hell well, welcome to my world.”

“Just great. So no matter which side I’m on I’m helping someone send everything to Hell in a handbasket.”

And that was it for the nearly nonexistent reserve of patients Buffy had left after endless months of dealing with the damned Aurelius family. Her arm flew back before she knew what was happening, but once she realized that it was poised to strike it seemed like the best of ideas. Putting all her frustration into the forward motion she connected with Spike’s face with a sickening thud.

Her enjoyment at the sight of the vampire’s form hurling backwards through the air before being halted, abruptly, by the asphalt was interrupted by the clearing of a throat behind her. Grabbing the stake conveniently tucked into her waste band, she spun around prepared to attack.

“Whoa, whoa, Buffy! Here to help.” Xander raised his hands and motioned to the threatening wooden shard. “Which I can do much better without the added ventilation; but thanks for the offer.”

As she was stashing her weapon once again, Xander took the opportunity to peer over his friend’s shoulder, smiling at the sight of Spike struggling to his feet. His grin widened as he watched blond vampire trying to stem the flow of blood from his nose while moaning loudly.

“Far be it from me to interrupt you from your spiking Spike, Buffy, but we’re sort of in a time crunch here. So if you could hurry up and kill him we can get on with the world saving portion of the evening.”

A look of confusion replaced the anticipation on Xander’s face.

“Hey, where’s Giles?”

The young man took no comfort in his friend’s anxious expression. No good could ever come from anything that worried a slayer.

“Angelus has him.”

Xander hated when he hated being right. He was right so rarely that it seemed grossly unfair when the universe conspired to keep him from enjoying it.

“Yeah, Xapper; the watcher’s gone and gotten himself hijacked; so if you’d stop puttin’ a twist in the slayer’s knickers we could go and get him.”

Xander discounted Spike’s words as per usual but took a step around Buffy to spit out, “Ha! Like Buffy would ever buy that you’re really going to help us.”

His words dripped with scorn as he finally basked in the joy of being right…until he noticed guilt and then embarrassment flit briefly across Buffy’s face.

“You’re not, right Buffy? No, no, no! Come on; how many times are we gonna fall for the whole “vampire with a heart of gold” routine?”

“Hey now!” Spike cried in outrage at the slight against his nature. “Don’t be spreading malicious rumors like that. My heart is, and always has been, black – like the darkest night. There’s just a big, inky void – ”

“Much like your head.”

Before Xander could build his initial insult into one of his entertaining but at that point far too time consuming tirades, Buffy grasped his arm and pulled him back, placing herself between the two once more.

“Guys, take your interpersonal relationships to couples therapy. We actually have more important things happening tonight, remember?”

Seeing that she finally had their attention she pushed her feelings aside and let the slayer take control.

“Spike, you go and stall Angelus. If Giles doesn’t come out of there alive neither will you and your girlfriend. Xander and I have to make a quick stop but we’ll be right behind you.”

Giving her a hard, assessing look, Spike was satisfied that her natural instincts were driving her instead of her girlish sensibilities. And while he didn’t care for the threats he didn’t balk; instead taking off for the mansion at a run, never doubting the slayer’s words.

Xander also recognized the shift in Buffy’s attitude and, without another word, followed her lead as she spun on her heal and headed off in the direction of Giles’ house.
Chapter Ninety-Five
Buffy looked back to where Xander stood just outside the door, an odd expression on his face. Slayer instincts already on high alert, she pulled a stake from the waistband of her jeans and spun gracefully in a complete circle in a search for some unsensed menace.

“Why do you have a key to Giles’ place?”

Buffy looked down at the keys still resting in the lock, slowly realizing that there was no danger here, just stupidity.

“Geez Xander; could you be any grosser? Obviously I have a set of keys in case the forces of evil rise up and I need to get some serious weaponage.”

Suspicion gave way to concern as his brows furrowed.

“You know, I think that we live in the only place where that’s actually the most likely answer.”

With a small shrug Xander followed Buffy through the house and up to Giles’ bedroom. Throwing open the closet door she began tossing clothes haphazardly to the floor.

“Good thing this stuff doesn’t wrinkle.” Xander muttered as he attempted to avoid the tweed carnage surrounding him. A humiliatingly unmanly squeak ended his commentary on the librarian’s wardrobe as Buffy spun around, the point of the large sword she was holding coming dangerously close to what he’d always considered the most important part of his body.

“Hey! I’m not done using that!”

Smirking at her friend’s outraged tone, Buffy allowed the point of the sword to fall gently to the ground.

“I didn’t know you’d started using it.”

By the time he’d thought up an appropriately scathing reply to the slur on his manly prowess he noticed that Buffy had left the room. Running out to catch up with her he was distracted by the large, gleaming sword.

“Exactly why did we need this sword as opposed to the seventy three others we have back at the safe house?”

With a look of condescension and a tone worthy of Giles, Buffy began her lesson.

“This was the sword that was blessed by the original knight who…”

“Knight who?” He encouraged.

“Yeah; that’s actually when I tuned Giles out. But I’m pretty sure that at the end he said it would kill our friendly, neighborhood Hell demon. I mean that’s got to be why Matthew went to all the trouble of getting it to us.”

Xander’s face twisted at the mention of the young watcher. He knew he was heroic. He knew he’d turned his back on the council. He knew that he’d saved Cordelia. He knew and he didn’t care. Every time he saw him he was filled with an anger that almost bordered on hate. It wasn’t fair, but that Englishman-come-lately got to comfort Cordelia, hold her when she was scared, so Xander wasn’t particularly inclined to be generous to the man.

As they made their way to leave, the sound of a clearing throat had Buffy pivoting once again in search of danger. Only this time she seemed to find it.

“Slayer.”
Spike wheeled himself into the large room just in time to see Angelus about to do the watcher some serious harm. From what he could see, he’d taken quite a beating, maybe garnered himself a few broken bones, but he was pretty much in one piece. Now he just had to think of how he was going to keep him that way.

The one thing in which Spike had absolute faith in in the topsy-turvy world of the Hellmouth, is that if the librarian was irreparably damaged the slayer would stop at nothing to hunt him down and dust both him and Dru. Luckily, in the absence of a sane sire and thanks to the abandonment of his grandsire, Spike had an uncanny ability to think on his feet…well, in his chair.

“Not that I don’t enjoy the senseless violence thing you’ve got going here, but you know there are other ways to get what you need. Ways that might actually work.”

Normally Angelus would take his time with someone as strong willed as Rupert Giles. In fact, under other circumstances the answers would be secondary; simply a destination that gave the torture context and meaning. But there was no point in dragging out one person’s pain when he could awaken Acathla and unleash pain on every person. The infinite destruction that awaited would even be worth listening to Spike.

Sable eyes tinged with madness clashed with wary blue.

“Enlighten me.”

Fighting down a the survival instinct that told Spike that increasing the insanity quotient in the room was a very bad idea, he reached his arm towards the doorway and called out, “Drusilla? Sweetheart? Do you want to play a game?”

As his sire glided in and wrapped her arm around his shoulder, Spike couldn’t help but wonder what the hell was taking the slayer so long. As far as diversions went, this one was fairly suicidal. After all, what did it matter if he saved the watcher from being killed by Angelus only to have him killed by Acathla.

Drusilla knew she needed to do. He sang in her head, his words echoing against the stone in which he was encased. He showed her things; beautiful, terrible things and this battered yet unbroken man before her was the key to make those visions a reality.

She circled the bound watcher, coming to stand before him. Gently she touched his head, smoothing her cool hand over his damp brow.

“Poor thing.”

Her voice was soft and her accent conjured up thoughts of home for the weary Englishman. He knew something wasn’t right, but he’d been swimming in an ocean of agony for so long that he couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

Sliding her hand down across his cheek she pulled back slightly to hold two delicate fingers before his eyes.

“Look at me.”

He knew not to; tried to turn away, but pain left him muddled and the passage of time had beaten down his will.

“Be…in me.”

She was sliding into him or he to her; he couldn’t tell. All Giles knew was that he was falling; too far, too fast. And then he was caught.

“Jenny.”
Giving Xander a small shove, Buffy placed herself between him and the worst dressed menace she had ever seen.

“Who are you?”

“Whistler.”

Buffy recognized the name. He’d helped Angel, so she wouldn’t kill him just yet.

“What are you doing here?”

Letting out a small sigh he returned Buffy’s penetrating gaze with a piercing look of his own.

“It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. Nobody saw you coming. I figured this for Angel’s big day. But I thought he was here to stop Acathla, not to bring him forth. Then you to made with the smoochies and now he’s a creep again. Now, what are you prepared to do?”

Quietly fuming, Buffy was rethinking her decision not to slay first and not have to deal with questions later.

“I’ll do whatever I have to.”

“Maybe I should ask, what are you prepared to give up?”

The sword twitched in the slayers hand.

“You don’t have anything useful to tell me, do you? What are you; just some immortal demon sent down to even the score between good and evil?”

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. This slayer was smarter than most.

“Wow. Good guess.”

Buffy wondered if that immortal part was set in stone.. Surely Giles wouldn’t be too mad if she killed this jerk. He’d probably be more mad about having to pick intestines out of his carpet. Thinking about her watcher pissed her off even more.

“Well, why don’t you try getting off your immortal ass and fighting evil once in a while? ‘Cause I’m sick and tired of doing it myself.”

Okay, maybe she wasn’t that smart.

“In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.”

Taking exception to that, Xander stepped from behind Buffy.

“You’re wrong. She has us.”

Buffy cringed. She’d been so caught up in her frustration that she’d forgotten all about Xander standing there as she went off about having to do everything herself.

The demon rolled his eyes.

“Save the sentiment for Hallmark, kid. You’re the sidekick here, not the hero. You can walk any time you want and the story goes on, But you,” he turned to Buffy, “without you there’s no tale to tell. That’s why it will never let you go. No matter what you do or where you go, it’s in you. Fate, destiny, shitty luck; call it what you want, but you can’t escape it.”

Xander watched some of the fight go out of Buffy at those ominous words. This kind of help they didn’t need. Buffy might be the Chosen One, that wasn’t all that she was. At the end of the day, when all the fighting was done, Buffy was a young woman, and if she did have to be alone as a slayer she didn’t have to be alone as a girl. Maybe he couldn’t fight like a slayer and maybe he hadn’t memorized a set of supernatural encyclopedias like a watcher, but he could be something Buffy needed just as much. He could be a friend.

This time it was his turn to place himself between the other occupants of the room.

“Well, aren’t you just a demony ray of sunshine. You know, there’s a reason people shoot the messenger. While we appreciate your underwhelming support, if you done making sure we find the cloud in every silver lining we’re just gonna go and actually do the things you just talk about.”

Buffy’s spine straightened at Xander’s words. He was right; they had real things to do. But once again her exit was stalled by their uninvited guest.

“The sword isn’t enough. You gotta be ready. You gotta know how to use it.”
The dark vampiress smiled as she heard a woman’s name slip from the bound man’s lips.

“Yes. See with your heart.”

And he did. There, in front of him, was the woman who had dug herself a place so deep inside him that even the explosive revelations of a myriad of secrets hadn’t been enough to shake her loose.

“Oh Jenny. Thank God. We have to get out of here.”

A small yet firm hand kept him from trying to rise from the chair despite the ropes binding him.

“Slowly, love. Slowly.”

He settled under the soothing touch.

“Jenny, we have to stop him. We have to…we must get get him away.”

Tender lips whispered against his.

“Away from what, my love? How can I help you if I don’t know what to do?”

Help; yes, he needed help. Jenny would help him and he was so very tired.

“We have to get Angel away from Acathla.”

He struggled to say more, but reason were fleeting taking words with it.

“Angel himself? He’s the key?

He was so glad Jenny had come for him. She’d always understood. With a small sigh of relief he confirmed his thoughts to which she’d given voice.

“Yes. H-h-his blood…H-he mustn’t…”

A soft cheek rubbed against his then pulled away. As the chill air rushed to fill the empty space around him, his eyes snapped open. Pain rushed through his body, once again, and yet it was dwarfed by the agony of his soul as his beloved’s face faded into that of his enemy and he realized that he’d just doomed them all.
The grinding of Buffy’s teeth was almost audible.

“If you have something useful to say then cut the pompous crap and spit it out.”

“Angel’s the key.” Whistler waited for a reaction, but the slayer just stared, her grip on the sword flexing in a silent but effective threat. “His blood will open the door to Hell. Acathla opens his big mouth and creates a vortex. Then only Angel’s blood will close it. One blow will send them both back to Hell. But I strongly suggest that you get there before that happens, ’cause the faster you kill Angel, the easier it’s gonna be on you.”

She’d known it would come down to this, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear.

“Don’t worry about me.”

He might not have shown it, but how could he not? “It’s all on the line here kid.”

“I can deal.” She had to believe that. “The world’s about to end; there’s nothing left to loose.”

As Whistler watched them stride purposefully through the door he finally let the worry show on his face.

“Wrong, kid. There’s one more thing.”
“We have to start.”

“Were can’t start without Giles!”

Willow had been listening to this same argument for almost thirty minutes now. About an hour after Buffy left to look for Giles they had all realized that something was wrong. Not only had Giles not returned at the appointed time, but he hadn’t contacted them. And if Buffy had found him where he was supposed to have been then they would have made it back twice over.

So back and forth it went. Matthew saying the needed to start and Jenny demanding that they wait. In her mind Willow sided with Jenny. She’d do so out loud, but as the argument grew more and more heated she was afraid of becoming its first casualty. After all, Matthew was needed to help protect Cordelia, and there was no way they could do the spell without Jenny, so technically, she was the only expendable person in the room.

Willow knew that she was probably overreacting, thinking of a ridiculously improbable, worst case scenario; but in a town where teachers were giant bugs, the local teen hang out was infested with vampires, and she and Cordelia had actually become sort of friends it was clear that anything was possible. So in the interest of her continued well being she let the two adults have it out.

They were almost toe to toe and, as Matthew took a step closer and lifted his arm, Willow was afraid that it was going to get physical. That situation she’d get involved in regardless of safety. But as she started to rise from the sofa she saw Matthew’s hand come down gently on Jenny’s shoulder.

“I know you’re worried, Jenny. I am too. Having Giles here is definitely the optimal situation for recasting the curse. But he’s not here and we’re running out of time. I know that none of us want to entertain the thought, but it must be considered that if Giles didn’t return it was because he was prevented from doing so.”

Willow knew that he was right; no one had wanted to mention the fact that Giles might have been taken…or worse.

“I’ve known Rupert Giles for a number of years now, and he’s a survivor; and more than that, Angelus will probably keep him alive for the twisted joy of making him watch the world end. I believe that, wherever her is, he’s alive. But I don’t believe for one minute that he’s safe.”

Willow winced. She’d been reassured by the first part of the watcher’s impassioned speech, but the thought of Giles being hurt was unbearable. It was the same with all of her friends. She was a worrier; she couldn’t help it. Her parents weren’t very, well…parental. For a long time all she’d really ever had was Xander and Jessie, and because she had so few people to care about she lavished all of her love on them. So now, even though she had more people in her life, she didn’t know how to care about them any other way but than with everything in her. And considering that they lived on a Hellmouth and were, therefore in constant danger, she was always in a state of worry. She wasn’t sure, but she suspected that the recent pain in her stomach might be the beginning of an ulcer. Which worried her. Irony was a bitch.

“Jenny, Buffy says she’s ready to take on Angelus, and we all hope she’s right, but it’s not something on which I’m willing to risk Rupert’s life. This spell may be the only chance he has. Of course I’d rather he was here. His experience would be invaluable. But he’s not, and instead of preventing us that is the very reason we need to go forward. His life could depend on this. Everyone’s lives could.”

Watching as her mentor’s shoulders slumped, Willow knew that the arguing was over; Matthew had won. But she still wondered how they’d manage with just two people.

“But we need three people for the spell.”

The young girl smiled as her teacher gave voice to her very own thought. But her grin was wiped away with Matthew’s solution.

“Willow can help.”

On the list of really bad ideas that should never be spoken of aloud, Willow thought that might be number one…and number seven…and maybe number fifteen. It was such an incredibly bad idea that it was probably on the list a lot. Sure, once she’d learned of the world of magic she’d dabbled. Who wouldn’t? Floating pencils was cool. Invoking ancient spirits to rain vengeance down upon your enemy was…not.

“No way. These are powerful magiks. There are some doors that are better left closed.”

Willow nodded vigorously. She was unspeakably glad that they were on the same wavelength tonight.

“Yes,” Matthew stated dryly. “And chief among those would be the ones leading to Hell dimensions. You know that if there was any other way I’d never suggest this; but we’re desperate here. This is dangerous, but do you think that it’s any more so than living on the Hellmouth or being best friends with the slayer?”

Jenny was about to argue but Willow broke in.

“He’s right. I take my life in my hands just going to the Bronze. You know once I was almost killed by a guy who asked me to dance. Well, not a guy guy – I mean a live guy – and so not the point,” she mumbled, embarrassed by her well-honed ability to verbally stray off course. “Even if it wasn’t the entire world in danger, it’s Giles. That makes it more than worth the risk.”

Jenny gave a terse nod of her head; acceptance, but not approval of the plan. Willow watched her walk over to where the necessities for the spell were laid out. Picking up the orb, she sat down in the designated circle, motioning for them to do the same.

“Okay, let’s get started.”
Buffy and Xander slowed down as they reached Crawford Street. Xander wasn’t surprised by the pensive look on his friend’s face. Given the circumstances he’d be shocked if she freaking out completely and thinking about what Aruba might look like at this time of year. Oh, wait…that was him.

“I’m not worried, you know.”

He realized that he must not have been all that subtle what with the staring and the concerned looks.

“Really?” he tossed back. “’Cause it sure looks like your wearing your worried face.”

Her lips quirked. “Yeah, well it was the only one I had clean.”

They walked a little further in silence.

“I’m really not worried about this Xander. Go in, get the bad guy, get out. We do that almost every night. What’s really bothering me is what excuse I’m gonna give my mom for being home late again tonight.”

Xander understood. It would be hard enough for her to do this once without having to to go over it in her mind time and again. If she needed her head to be somewhere else for a moment he could do that for her.

“So, what are your choices?”

“Well,” her teeth worried her lower lip as if in deep thought. “I think I’m down to a mild case of mad cow disease or a wolf gnawed of my right foot.”

Xander made a show of giving the matter careful consideration.

“Won’t she notice that both your shoes are full?”

“Yeah.” Buffy blew out on a long suffering sigh. “I hadn’t actually worked that part out yet.”

They stopped as the mansion came into sight and turned to face each other. The time for levity was over.

“You’re not here to fight. You get Giles out and you run like hell, understood? I can’t protect you.” She unwrapped the jacket she’d been using to conceal her sword and headed towards the stone edifice. “I’m going to be to busy killing.”

She’d closed down. He knew it was what she had to do to get through this. And just as Xander had assisted her denial so he supported her acceptance.

“Buffy.”

She stopped at his call but didn’t turn.

“Kick his ass.”

And with a nearly imperceptible nod, she was gone.
Cordelia had listened to the fight from her somewhat concealed position at the top of the stairs. The part of her that was desperately worried about Giles was angry that the debate had taken as long as it had; but the part of her that was so deeply bound to Angelus wished the matter had never been settled.

As Matthew’s loud, clear voice reading the required Latin text signaled the beginning of the ritual, Cordelia felt a cold dread building in her chest. She knew that this was necessary, but as each word passed the crushing pressure grew and though she would do nothing to interrupt it, she began to wonder if she would be able to survive Angel’s return.
Spike didn’t like being scared. He enjoyed being scary, but since the day he was turned fear just wasn’t his thing. Which is why he was sure that what he was feeling at that moment wasn’t the first stirrings of terror. But he was demon enough to admit that it was something damn close.

He watched as the creepy smile slid back onto Angelus’ face as he leaned over the horror-stricken watcher.

“Your help’s been invaluable, Rupert. As a thank you, you can be the first human to greet Acathla on his awakening.”

As Angelus strode past him to begin the ritual, Spike had to shove down the urge to stick out one of his supposedly useless legs, trip his nutty grandsire, and see if the resulting shock would give him enough time to stake the bastard. It was an idiotic plan, most likely destined for failure, and Spike was surprised he could resist. He tended to fly by the seat of his pants most of the time, more because it was fun than effective, but this was just too important for his customary cavalierness. Of course, if the slayer didn’t show up in the next three minutes it would definitely be his plan B.

By the time he’d rolled his way into the room Angelus was standing before the entombed demon in preparation for the ritual. Since no one was facing him he felt safe in sneering at the two minions gazing in awe at Angelus as if he was some sort of visionary instead of a bloody lunatic. Even his princess was wearing a look of besotted anticipation; but since she’d never been wrapped to tightly he didn’t hold it against her. It was all part of her appeal…except when she was helping to end the world. Then it was mildly annoying.

Vampire senses were greatly enhanced, and not just those that they had while human. Being creatures so deeply connected with mystical forces made them more sensitive to the fluctuations in mystical energy patterns. Spike could feel a shift in the pulsing flow at that moment and the force of it was making him slightly sick. Suddenly Angelus’ deep voice filled the room, the dark tones resonating in the vast, stony space.

“Acathla…Mundatus sum…pro te necavi.”

Latin. Nothing good ever came from it’s use.

“Sanguinem meum…pro te effundam…”

Spike slowly moved his feet to the floor as Angelus started to move towards Acathla. Slayers were apparently like cops, he thought snidely. There’s never one around when you need them.

“Quo me dignum…esse demonstrem.”

He shifted forward in his chair Since almost all of the minions had been sent out to waylay the slayer after the watcher had been captured, and the three that were left were focused on the spectacle before them, Spike had the freedom to maneuver himself next to the fireplace. With no way to sneak up behind him and blunt instruments at his fingertips, it was a strong tactical position. No matter what happened he couldn’t let Angelus put his hand to that sword. Now he just had to figure out how to prevent that without getting his head ripped clean off his shoulders; because there was one thing Spike knew for sure – he might be able to delay Angelus, but nothing less than a slayer was going to stop him.

“Now Acathla…”

Keeping his gaze fixed the demon, Angelus held out his hand to Drusilla who reverently laid a knife in it.

“You shall be free.”

The blade slid across his palm, leaving a swell of blood in it’s wake.

“And so shall we all.”

The knife fell to the floor as he reached out for the sword.

A muffled choking sound broke the stillness and Spike was covered in a fine layer of ash that used to be a minion. Apparently the slayer had arrived and her voice was as cold and empty as Angelus’ had been maniacal.

“Hello, lover.”
“Not dead…nor not of living. Spirits of the interregnum, I call.”
Xander gave Buffy a two minute head start knowing that she’d kill everything in her path and that she was right, in her current mindset he’d just be a distraction. It was fairly easy to find how she’d entered the building – he just followed the piles of dust to a side door.

He went slowly, making sure that it was safe as he moved from room to room. The usual bravado that he worked up to compensate for his extremely rational and realistic fear in the face of never ending apocalypses tended to make him somewhat incautious; but he couldn’t afford any mistakes in this, not when it could make the difference in saving Giles.

He might not have ever said it, and goodness knows the poor guy might explode if he’d tried, but Xander truly cared about Giles. He hadn’t had many people in his life who honestly believed in him, and certainly no adults, but for some reason, still unknown to him, the older man did. Sure, he probably spent half his time telling him to shut up, but Xander knew it wasn’t motivated by the belief that he was inferior, ’cause when the chips were down and the very world was at stake, Rupert Giles believed in him, relied on him. So Xander wouldn’t fail him now.

Peering carefully into the next room he saw the watcher and was bombarded with conflicting emotions. He was vastly relieved at finally having found him, but his horror at his condition was immense. Giles was bound to a chair in the middle of the room. His clothes were torn and bloody, obscuring Xander’s view of any major injuries he might have sustained. His eye were closed and his head was thrown back, and if not for the clenched muscles of his jaw Xander would have mistaken his pose of pain and exhaustion for unconsciousness.

“Giles!”

Xander rushed to the man who hadn’t even flinched at hearing his voice.

“Giles!” He called out again, gently shaking him.

As Xander frantically began untying the ropes binding him Giles managed, with obvious effort, to raise his head.

“Xander?”

The inquiring voice was weak but it sounded wonderful to the concerned young man’s ears. The ropes finally undone, Xander began to give thought to how to get Giles out of there.

“Can you walk?”

Giles peered at Xander for a moment before slowly tilting his head back, once again.

“You’re not real.”

Okay, not what he’d been expecting. “Sure I’m real,” he assured him.

“It’s a trick. They get in your head, make me see things I want.”

Xander realized that Giles must really be hurt because he was usually far more logical. “Then why would they make you see me.”

Giles’ head slowly rose as he considered that bit of sound reasoning. “You’re right. Let’s go.”

Even though Giles groaned as he placed an arm around him to help him rise, Xander found that his relief was beginning to outweigh his horror because if he was able to stand then he might not be as injured as he looked and, frankly, Xander didn’t care for their odds of getting to safety if he had to carry the sizable librarian slung over his shoulder.

Xander tightened his arm as the injured man shook with the first step. But although he was obviously struggling, Giles pushed himself to go even faster.

“We need to get back. We have to begin the spell.”

Seeing what had been done to Giles, knowing what had happened to Cordelia, Xander didn’t feel remotely bad about the truth he had to deliver.

“The fighting’s already started. It’s too late for the spell.”

And so Xander kept his promise to his friend – they ran like hell.
Dark circles of blood colored the stone floor as Angelus turned his attention from Acathla to the slayer.

“I don’t have time for you.”

His tone was bored, dismissive and it occurred to Buffy that they had come full circle, past all of their conflict and turmoil, to a new meeting of the minds. Except for the fact that she was interfering with his plans, he couldn’t care less about her. And finally, if it wasn’t for the fact that he was trying to end the world, she could say the same. This wasn’t Angel; she’d loved the soul. This was simply the body – not deserving of her love, not worthy of her hate.

“You don’t have a lot of time left.”

Her declaration was serious, but simply he smirked at her in a condescending manner as if she were a recalcitrant child. And for once it didn’t ruffle her, didn’t shake her calm. He was a vampire and she was the slayer. It just wasn’t personal anymore.

“Coming on kind of strong, don’t you think?” Angelus made a point of glancing at the other vampires in the room before turning his attention back to Buffy. “You’re playing some deep odds here. Do you really think you can take us all?”

Buffy smirked back. This was, so far, the politest world ending she’d ever attended.

“No, I don’t..”

And then there were still to people in the room smirking, but Angelus wasn’t one of them. While he’d been he’d been posturing before the slayer he’d missed the fact that he’d overestimated his allies by one. A fact which came to life a Spike leapt from his chair and, grabbing a convenient andiron, knocked the older vampire into unconsciousness.

“Painful, isn’t it?” He spat bitterly at his unmoving grandsire. Months of ridicule and helplessness finally found release as he hefted the heavy metal and brought it down over and over again.

But Spike’s catharsis was destined to be short-lived, and a shrill scream rent the air as Drusilla finally clued in to the fact that Spike had aligned himself with their enemies and threw herself onto his back sending them sprawling to the floor. As they climbed to their feet and began to circle each other a soft look filled Spike’s eyes.

“I don’t want to hurt you, baby.”

She growled deep in her throat and lunged at her traitorous childe, catching him by the throat and slamming him into the wall behind. With a sharp lift of his arm, Spike dislodged Drusilla’s crushing hand and with a snap of his right, he drove his fist into her face.

“Doesn’t mean I won’t.”
“God’s bind him. Cast his heart from the…evil…realm.”
Buffy watched with cool detachment as the last of the three minions she’d seen disappeared in a cloud of smoke at the end of her sword. One more and then she could finally finish this. Of course, that was assuming that Spike could hold up his end of the deal and get Drusilla out of the way. From the brief glimpses she’d caught of their battle while she fought her own, she wasn’t sure which way it would go. Not that it mattered. If the dead bitch was the one left standing, she wouldn’t be for long. Nothing would keep her from eradicating the evil she’d oh so unwittingly released all those months ago.

Ducking a clumsy blow, she swung her leg high, her foot slamming into the vampire’s jaw. As he stumbled backwards she followed. An elbow to the stomach. A right cross to the face. A sword arced perfectly to slide through a neck and yet another vampire’s dust rained down around her.

She spun back around, ready for the real battle to begin, only to freeze in horror. Somehow while both she and Spike had been struggling with his followers, Angelus had regained consciousness and was stumbling, hand outstretched, towards the waiting demon. So close, and yet Buffy knew that even with all of her strength, all of her speed, she’d never be able to cross the distance in time to keep his blood from that sword.

“You almost made it, Buff.”

It would have been a taunt if he’d cared; if this had been about her, or him, or them. But it wasn’t, and so it was less of dig at her defeat than it was an statement of his victory.

“It’s not over yet.”

No hate filled, slayer-threat, just a steady declaration of intent.

With a nod to acknowledge that they’d both finally embraced their destinies, Angelus curled his crimson hand around the sword’s hilt. With a sharp tug and a burst of light, the weapon slid free and became a silver blur as he spun around and pointed it towards Buffy.

“My boy Acathla here is about to wake up. You’re going to Hell.”

Buffy watched him as he tested the weight of his sword. She could see that it impressed him. She wondered if he’d be so enthralled if he knew that, while his sword could start this, hers could finish it. She was about to find out.

“Save me a seat.”
“Return. I call on…”

Cordelia watched as the words got more and more difficult for the young gypsy to utter. She could feel the magik building in the room and she was nearly choking on it. Whatever spirits they’d invited in were angry and, although she detested it, her soul whimpered that Angelus would be the focus of so much hate.

“Jenny?”

At the concern in Matthew’s voice, Cordelia leaned forward to get a better view.

“Are you okay?”

The fear in Willow’s voice told her something was wrong but she knew the spell was working, the force of it was pulsing through her.

Suddenly Jenny’s head jerked back. When it jerked forward again Cordelia could make out the utter darkness that had overtaken her eyes even from where she sat. Cold shivers began to run down her spine as words she’d never heard before boomed out in the small room.

“Te implor, Doamne, nu ignora aceasta rugaminte.”
Sometimes relative sanity had it’s benefits. One of them was knowing that nothing in the universe was more interesting than preserving your own existence.

“Oh…Here he comes.”

Drusilla’s shifting attention showed clearly that soundness of mind was not her forte. And in that brief moment of distraction, Spike made his move. Wrapping a hand in the long, silky strands of her hair, he jerked her head backwards, spun her towards the wall, and slammed her into it face first.

“Sorry, baby. Wish there was another way.”

Lifting her slumping body, Spike turned towards the doorway ready to leave this Hellhole behind forever. A flash of silver caught his eye and he glanced outside in time to see the slayer’s sword fly out of her grip as she fell into a stone table with crushing force.

“God, he’s gonna kill her.”

Even as he said it Spike was turning again to leave. He’d seen his fair share of slayers in his day; killed a few of them, too. As much as it galled him to admit it, this one was different. She had something he hadn’t seen before. He couldn’t put his finger on it but it made her sharper, better; far more effective than the others of her kind. If this girl couldn’t kill Angelus then no one stood a chance. And whether it would do him any good or not, if she did lose, if Acathla did wake up…well, it might not make a difference but he’d prefer to be as far away as possible when it happened.
“Nici mort, nici al fiintei…”
Angelus twirled his sword as he gazed down at the battered slayer on the ground before him. A few months ago she would have been in this position because she’d had the love of a soul. A few weeks ago because she’d taken the love of a demon. Now she was here merely because she stood in the way of the only peace left to him in this world. With a genuine curiosity he wondered if she knew how irrelevant she was.

“That’s everything, slayer. No weapons…no friends…no hope.”

He pulled his sword back, ready to end this.

“Take all that away and what’s left?”

As he propelled the blade forward for the killing blow he was jolted as the weapon was halted in mid-thrust. With instinct and reflexes that bespoke of her calling Buffy’s hands had snapped together, surrounding the sword and impeding it’s progress. And so she answered his question with both her actions and her words.

“Me.”
“Lasa orbita sa fie vasul care-i va transporta, sufletul la el.”
The fighting had moved back inside, and it was fierce. Buffy had managed to regain her sword, slowing Angelus’ momentum and putting him on the defensive. Now that she’d been able to separate her feelings for Angel from Angelus she was able to let her instinct, rather than her heart guide her. Slayers were stronger than vampires, and that gave her an edge.

However, it was always easier to destroy than to protect. While the fate of the very world rested on her every move, Angelus had had his desires, but nothing of real value hanging in the balance. It was an equalizing situation and she wouldn’t have put money on who would walk away the victor.

The blows were flying fast and furious, movements blurred by speed no human could possess. Spinning, Buffy slammed her elbow into his face and as he stumbled back, pivoted and sliced upwards with her sword.

The blow tore across the skin of Angelus’ hand and sent his weapon skittering off to the side. In his moment of distraction, Buffy’s foot crashed into his chest, sending him to his knees. She raised her sword.

Angelus knew he was in trouble, but that had never bothered him before. Vampires were like teenagers; they couldn’t truly conceptualize their demise and so they tended to dance on the edge of reason more than was healthy. He’d waltzed clean over that cliff a while ago so he never panicked, even when it looked like the end. After all, he hadn’t died yet, and it certainly wasn’t because there were a lack of people trying.

He didn’t look the slayer in the eyes, didn’t watch her face for some sign of her intent. No; he locked his gaze onto her shoulders. Watched the muscles contract as she held her sword a lot. Waited for the slight ripple that would herald it’s decent. That’s when he’d make his move; a sharp roll to the left and he could grab his weapon and be back on his feet in mere seconds. He’d take some damage; it was an iffy plan at best and he didn’t give himself better than one in three odds of success, but it was always his audacity that served him best in moments like these.

He saw the telltale bunching of flesh beneath her skin as the muscles reshaped themselves for the strike. Shifting his weight almost imperceptibly, he waited…waited…just an instant more –
“Asa sa fie! Asa sa fie! Acum!”

Cordelia’s eyes filled with the blinding light filling the orb. This was it. There was no going back. It was finally over.

Acum!
He let out an anguished cry seeming to almost curl into himself.

Buffy knew that, even backed into a corner, Angelus would have a plan; one last, desperate move. She just hadn’t suspected it would be bellowing in pain and then almost collapsing to the floor.

Watching the vampire warily as his face lifted, she gasped, her sword slowly lowering as an eerie glow filled and then faded from his eyes, leaving pools of fear and confusion in its wake.

He stood slowly, with none of the tightly leased power that had characterized his previous movements. Tears gathered in those wounded eyes but the slayer maintained her defensive pose. This was to important to play a hunch.

“Buffy?”

It wasn’t her name, said gently – y included, that told her. It was the broken sob that followed, so human in its textured tones of anguish and pain, that convinced her that they somehow managed to do the spell, that it had worked. This was Angel.

“Angel?”

It wasn’t a question of his identity, but rather a breathless exclamation of wonder at the rebirth of this soul. She reached her hand towards his face, needing tactile proof that this was real, but before she could touch the face once again so dear, her hand was grasped in his.

“You’re hurt.”

Everything was so foggy, so muddled that, at first, Angel could only focus on one thing at a time. Buffy. He was with Buffy. As he grew more sure of that fact he allowed himself to really look at her. He could see that she’d been in a fight; she was hurt. Maybe he’d been hurt to. Maybe that’s what was causing his confusion and this heavy feeling inside that something wasn’t right.

He stepped forward as she did and their arms slid around one another. The disquiet inside of him grew. He rested his forehead on her shoulder. He was so tired.

“I…I feel like I haven’t seen you in months.”

As Buffy felt his heavy form lean into her she refused to think that it was finally over. If she thought about the nightmare being finished then she’d have to face that it had happened. She wasn’t fool enough to believe this moment would last forever; hat it would push away those less pleasant. But right then it was just the two of them with no vendettas, no bloodshed. They could just hold each other, and he didn’t need to kill her and she didn’t need to –

It was the slight, crackling sound that caught her attention, that pulled her out of her thoughts and opened her eyes.

No.

No.

She wouldn’t believe it. They wouldn’t do this to her. Whoever called her, whatever chose her as the slayer, there had to be some small mercy in them. How could they ask this; expect this? When was it enough? Was this cold, hard world with its relentless anguish and death really worth protecting if it wouldn’t even allow her this brief moment of joy?

Minutes ago she would have cringed in shame at her next thought, but that was when she had believed in compassion, had faith in grace; now those seemingly childish ideals lay shattered around her like the pieces of her heart. Angelus might have been right. If this world could be so cruel, then why should she care if it existed?

And then Whistler’s words came back to her.

“In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.”

Buffy thought about her life. How it was before Sunnydale; how it was now. She pictured her friends’ faces and could hear the whispers of their laughter. She remembered an existence of popularity, but not acceptance; where shallow threads of meaningless interactions were all that bound her to the people in her life.

And then she knew. She knew that Whistler hadn’t understood at all.

Yes, she alone was the slayer. But that didn’t mean that she, as the slayer, was alone. If there was only herself to consider at this moment, she would sink into Angel’s embrace and let fate do it’s damnedest. She’d steal these all too short seconds of happiness in a world that had never offered her anything more.

But this world had offered her more. When she had felt lost, it had given her Giles; and so she had guidance. When she had felt vulnerable and alone, it had given her Xander and Willow; and so she had friends. When she had felt cheated that her life would most likely end before she’d ever gotten a chance to live it, it had given her Angel; and so she had love. And when every accounting for a thousand years demanded that she walk this path alone, this world had given her a family.

So in the end, her actions wouldn’t be motivated by her duty to the world, but rather by her place in it.

She could see the vortex spilling from Acathla growing larger.

“Buffy, what’s happening?”

She cradled his cheek in her hand and ran her thumb gently over his lips.

“Shh. Don’t worry about it.”

Leaning up she pressed her moth softly to his in a tender caress.

“I love you.”

There was a flicker in his eyes; a swirl of turmoil that she knew hinted at the conflict that would erupt within him given time. But as he refocused on her face it slipped away from him and she knew that, in his shock, he could only manage on thought at a time. She hoped that would make it easier for him.

“I love you, too.”

She wondered how something could feel so good to say but so bad to hear. How could she ever have foreseen longing for Angelus’ scorn.

She had to do this but he didn’t have to see it coming. She’d give him this one final moment of peace.

“Close your eyes.”

Trusting her to guide him through his haze, she watched his lids fall without a second thought.

She couldn’t be sure if an eon or an instant had passed; but when time regained it’s natural pace her sword had found its place in Angel’s chest as he stumbled back into the sucking void behind him.

In the stillness of the mansion all that could be heard was a broken sob.

Miles away, in a small, unassuming house the same fractured sound fell from another’s lips.

And in this dimension, Angelus – in all his incarnations, ceased to exist.


…TO BE CONTINUED…

THIS FANFIC APPEARS TO BE UNFINISHED


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